Saturday, 27 June 2015

The Dales Way - Day One - Ilkley to Addingham (13th June 2015)

"I hope you haven't got far to walk with this," the helpful guard commented as he helped me lift my rucksack off the train.

"Oh, not really," I replied.  "Only 80 miles".

I don't think he believed me.  At 21lbs my rucksack did feel very heavy, until, that is, I was wearing it, when it actually didn't feel too bad at all. 

It was a little after 2.30 p.m. when we got off the train at Ilkley station and went in search of a toilet.  There hadn't been one on the train from Leeds and now, it seemed, there wasn't one at the station either.  At least if there was I couldn't find it.  I spotted a pub across the road and Tom and I dashed over.  Let's start as we mean to go on, I thought.  With a beer! 

The bar was dimly lit and the only customers were a handful of men gathered around a large screen TV watching a football match.

"Are you going for a walk?" the barmaid asked as we ordered a pint of Tetley's (definitely not my favourite beer, but the best on offer).

"We're going to do the Dales Way," I told her, mistakenly believing everyone in Ilkley must have heard of this popular long distance path which starts practically in the centre of their town. 

"Is that up Ilkley Moor?" she enquired.  "You should definitely go up Ilkley Moor.  Visit the Cow and Calf rocks".

Apparently not everyone in Ilkley has heard of the Dales Way after all. 

Having downed our pints and used the facilities we set off for a walk around the town.  On this, our first day on the Dales Way, we only had to walk the short distance of three miles to our first night's accommodation in the nearby village of Addingham.  I'd deliberately planned for a short ramble on day one, to enable us to get into our stride with the rucksacks and to allow for a reasonable walking distance of 16 miles the next day, to Grassington.

It was still a little too early to begin our walk to Addingham, so we went in search of an outdoor clothing store.  Whilst packing our bags that morning I'd realised that Tom could do with one extra pair of lightweight hiking socks and I was hoping we'd be able to pick some up en route.  We soon located a suitable shop and could instantly see that they stocked a good selection of Bridgedale walking socks: our favoured brand.

Now don't get me wrong, I do appreciate helpful staff in outdoor clothing stores, but sometimes they really can be just a little too, shall we say, "enthusiastic", especially when, as was the case on this occasion, customers seem to be a bit few and far between.  As we made our way over to the sock display an assistant stalked after us.

"Have you used Bridgedale socks before?" he asked as Tom inspected a likely looking pair.
His question took me slightly aback.  Here we were, dressed from head to toe in very obvious hiking gear, carrying large rucksacks, looking at socks.  Socks!  Not a new Ford Focus ("Have you driven a Ford before?") or a camera ("Have you used a Canon before?"), but socks. 

"No!", I wanted to say.  "Could you run us through some of the finer points and then perhaps we could take a pair out for a test run?".  Instead I simply replied "Yes. All the time."

Once the socks were purchased (I'm sure he was just trying to be helpful, but a test drive really was unnecessary) we decided the time had come to leave Ilkley behind and let the adventure begin.  (Incidentally, this wasn't the end of this qualifying round of "Sock Salesman of the Year 2015", as will be revealed during my blog for Day 2.)

Ilkley Bridge - Starting point of the Dales Way

The Dales Way begins by the side of the narrow, 17th century hump-backed Ilkley Bridge which we reached by first walking to the more modern Middleton Bridge.  Here, instead of crossing the river, we descended some steps into Ilkley Park and walked alongside the River Wharfe, which we would now be following closely all the way to its source near Oughtershaw.  

The starting point for our walk was a stone bench bearing a metal plaque inscribed "For those who walk the Dales Way", which is situated right by the side of a small garden centre.  There were people walking around with hanging baskets and potted shrubs as we posed for the traditional "And we're off" type selfies, feeling ever so slightly conspicuous.

It all starts here

The starting point also had an information panel, showing a map of the full route and a direction sign telling us that it was 82 miles to Bowness - an extra two miles to the 80 quoted in my guidebook for the walk, the excellent "Dales Way: The Complete Guide" by the founder of the walk, Colin Speakman.  Tom set his GPS watch.  80 miles or 82?  We were about to find out for ourselves.

80 miles? Or 82?

Our train into Ilkley had been crowded with people carrying sports bags and tennis rackets and now the reason why became apparent as the path led us towards Ilkley Tennis Club.  We had arrived, it seemed, during the opening day of a major tournament.  The Aegeon Ilkley Trophy is the highest ranking tournament ever to be held in Yorkshire, which accounted for the thwacks and grunts we could hear in the distance as the path turned away from the tennis club and returned to the banks of the Wharfe.

The river was wide, slow and still here, reflecting perfectly the lush greens of the trees along its banks.  I paused for a while to enjoy the scene and to admire this beautiful river which was to be our almost constant companion for the next three days.  Today was always meant to be a leisurely start and, like the Wharfe at this point, I was in no particular hurry.  In fact, as I'd left home that morning I'd made myself a promise.  I was going to remain in the present moment as much as I could and, no matter how tired I became, I wasn't going to wish away a single mile.  This was an experience I intended to savour.  Because time has a habit of passing all too quickly sometimes and, if I didn't remain vigilant, before I knew it I'd find myself back in the office playing the "this time last week" game. 

Due to life's precarious nature, I do try to remain in the present moment when I'm mindful enough to do so.  All too often though, my mind has a tendency to resemble the higher reaches of the Wharfe, rushing and tumbling around, trying to work a way round this obstacle and that, so that life in general can pass too swiftly.  Mindfulness is an ancient Buddhist practice which, simply put, means not becoming lost in the dreams of thought, but rather remaining present to what is arising in the moment.  Minding the mind, if you will.  And it's a practice which is much easier to uphold when surrounded by the beauty of nature.

The slow and still River Wharfe

At a bend in the river we followed a path along the side of a field.  The day was overcast and slightly humid, but at least it was dry.  Earlier in the day it had been raining quite heavily.  In fact, the rain had been so torrential that the Met Office website had given out a weather warning for the whole of Yorkshire.  Remarkably though, the ground was now dry underfoot.  Over to our left we could see the outline of Addingham High Moor, home to some ancient rock carvings, including the "Swastika Stone" which is believed to be around 2,500 years old.  Whilst the route of the Dales Way mostly follows the lower ground, its companion long distance path, the Dales High Way, crosses both Ilkley and Addingham High Moors and is a strong contender for our next long distance walk.

A peaceful grassy path below Addingham High Moor

For now though we were staying close to the side of the Wharfe as the path left the fields and joined a short section of roadside pavement.  We had only walked for a mile or so at this point, and this section of road was reasonably quiet, but already I couldn't wait to be away from traffic again.

Path between road and river

Just before the path turned onto a quieter lane, heading in the direction of Low Mill, I spotted a beautiful patch of harebells, growing through the fence by the side of the road.  We had plenty of time, so I spent a happy few minutes attempting to capture their gorgeousness with my camera, which wasn't made easy by the weight of my rucksack.  Getting up from a kneeling position, I discovered, was a rather undignified process which almost resulted in the crushing of a particularly beautiful patch of wildflowers.  The best of my photographic efforts falls far short of expressing how delightful these little beauties were, but is included due to the efforts expended on this one shot. 

Beautiful harebells

Having crawled away from the harebells so that I could grab a section of fence and haul myself back on my feet without destroying them, I trotted along the path until I'd caught up with Tom.  He had continued ahead of me, unaware of my impromptu tortoise impersonation and was patiently waiting by a direction sign pointing us in the direction of Low Mill.

"Don't ask," was all I said in response to his questioning look.

 My guidebook describes Low Mill as "a former mill workers' hamlet whose little terraced homes and former industrial buildings have been transformed into very desirable residential cottages".  The Dales Way passes right through the centre of Low Mill which, to my mind, had been a little too "transformed" and had the feel of a gated community, or one of those suburban cul-de-sacs where the curtains twitch when a stranger passes by.  I'm sure my impression was wrong though and the residents must be well used to the footfall of many strangers.  Even so, I couldn't help feeling like a trespasser and was somewhat relieved once we'd emerged onto the lane at the other end of the hamlet.  I didn't even take a photograph.  It felt like too much of an intrusion.

As we approached the village of Addingham the Dales Way took us on a slight detour, passing through the churchyard.  St Peter's Church was built in the 15th century to replace an earlier, Norman building, traces of which can still be seen within the tower.  The magnificent large blue clock was made in 1830 and I especially liked the wrought iron arch and lantern over the gate which we passed through on our way towards the centre of the village.

St Peter's Church, Addingham

It was just after 5 p.m. when we checked in to the Crown Inn, Addingham.  Perfect timing to unwind a little in our very nice room before heading down to the bar for a delicious meal of pie and mash, washed down with a couple of pints of Dark Horse ale.  The Crown Inn, it turns out, is a "Pie Minister" (see what they did there?) pub, their menu consisting of a selection of pies accompanied by mash, mushy peas and gravy.  And what delicious pies!  We loved everything about The Crown.


After dinner we took a short walk around Addingham, visiting another of the village's four pubs.  It was surprisingly empty, save for a band setting up and performing sound checks in a corner of the bar.  We sat sipping on our pints, listening to the twangs of guitar strings and random drumbeats, accompanied by the time-honoured "one, one, one-two, one-two, one" (I've often wondered if musicians really can count beyond two).  All of a sudden the band struck up with a somewhat unexpected but nonetheless polished rendition of a Madness song (the name of which escaped me), and we found ourselves bobbing up and down in our seats in time to the music.  Then the music stopped as abruptly as it had started, providing us with our cue to leave.  It's not that we don't appreciate this type of music, but by now it was getting quite late and we wanted an early start in the morning.  There was only a handful of other customers in the pub and, as much as we'd like to have stayed to hear a few songs from the ska band, it was easier to quietly sneak out, rather than later having to conspicuously get up to walk out mid-performance.  I do hope a few more people turned up though, because they really did sound very good.

Back at the Crown Inn it didn't take me long to fall asleep, which was surprising given the short distance we'd walked.  It was just as well though.  Because the next day's walk would be significantly longer.

The Crown Inn, Addingham

Total distance walked:  3.25 miles
Total walking time:      1 hour 33 minutes

Next time... We follow the River Wharfe to Grassington, through some breathtakingly beautiful countryside, including some stunning medieval architecture and (according to one website) the world's third most dangerous natural feature.  And then there was those socks....

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

The Dales Way (June 2015) - Overview & Accommodation Reviews

A year ago we walked the Yorkshire Wolds Way long distance path, from Hessle in East Yorkshire to the North Yorkshire seaside town of Filey.  It was a wonderful experience which left us with a longing to undertake another long distance walk at the earliest opportunity.  Although it was tempting to tackle a longer walk this time, such as the Cleveland Way (110 miles) or the Coast to Coast (192 miles), we decided to opt for a walk which could be fitted easily into one week and included plenty of beautiful scenery and pubs along the way.  This criteria made the choice very simple indeed.

Opinions seem to vary as to the actual length of the Dales Way, which traditionally starts in the West Yorkshire town of Ilkley and follows the course of several rivers through the Yorkshire Dales, skirting around the Howgill Fells before heading through Cumbria to finish above Windermere and the popular tourist town of Bowness.  Of course, it can be walked in the opposite direction, but most people prefer to end the walk in the Lake District and it's not difficult to understand why.  My guidebook for the route (the excellent "Dales Way Complete Guide" by Colin Speakman, founder of the walk) states a total distance of 80 miles.  The direction sign at the starting point, however, disagrees, giving a distance of 82 miles.  In various places along the way we saw the distance given as 83 miles.  We kept a record from Tom's GPS watch and at the end of the week we'd notched up a total of 90.75 miles, although this did include a few (intentional) diversions.  None of the walk was particularly strenuous, but then our intention was never to be challenged.  We simply wanted to walk from one place to another, enjoying the scenery, wildlife and places of interest along the way, leaving us with the sense of having completed a journey.  To escape from everyday life, with nothing more pressing to occupy our time each day beyond putting one foot in front of the other.  And to enjoy a stay in a different place each evening.  A "challenge" would be the Pennine Way.  In comparison the Dales Way is a ramble.  And a very enjoyable one at that.

Direction sign at Ilkley

As with our Yorkshire Wolds Way walk, I'm going to be writing a day-by-day account of our experiences on the Dales Way, but for now I'm starting with a brief overview, including reviews of our accommodation along the way.

Unlike the Yorkshire Wolds Way, the Dales Way is covered by the Sherpa Van Project, a baggage transfer service which will carry your luggage from your last destination to the next for a very reasonable fee.  They also provide the option of booking your accommodation for you and have an excellent website listing all the establishments between which they will carry luggage.  Although I can certainly see the advantages of using this service, it wasn't for us.  Part of the fun, for me, is plotting an itinerary based around places I'd particularly like to stay and then working it all out for myself.  Also, we prefer to carry everything we need.  It feels more of an adventure that way.  Along the way most of the other walkers we encountered were using the Sherpa service and we were often met with surprise when checking in to our accommodation carrying our large rucksacks.  "You're carrying it all yourself?" one barman asked us.  "Hardcore!"   Not really.  If we were going to go the whole nine yards then we'd be carrying tents and camping every night, but even so, there was a certain amount of satisfaction in being reasonably self-reliant.  For us, anyway.  It's definitely not for everyone.  And those rucksacks do chafe a bit after 18 miles!

Crossing very safe stepping stones with a loaded rucksack

When I began planning the walk, back in January, I had a couple of specific places in mind where I would like us to spend a night.  It therefore made sense for me to book these first and then work the rest of our itinerary around them.  Towards the beginning and end of the route there are plenty of options for accommodation but in the middle section the options become fewer.  For this reason I started planning in the mid-point and worked my way out in both directions.  This did create a slightly uneven itinerary but, in the end, it worked out very well.

Our schedule, along with the approximate distances we walked each day, was as follows:-

Day 1:  Ilkley to Addingham (3.25 miles)
Day 2:  Addingham to Grassington (16 miles)
Day 3:  Grassington to Hubberholme (12.5 miles)
Day 4:  Hubberholme to Ribblehead (13 miles)
Day 5:  Ribblehead to Sedbergh (18.5 miles)
Day 6:  Sedbergh to Burneside (16.5 miles)
Day 7:  Burneside to Bowness-on-Windermere (11 miles)

The distances given above include a few diversions along the way.  For example, on Day 7 we turned off the route to visit a cafe in Staveley which added an extra mile and Day 4 includes an extra mile and a half from the trail to our accommodation.

Our first day was very short for a reason.  First of all, we had to get to Ilkley, travelling by train and arriving at 2.30 p.m.  I specifically wanted to stay the second night in Grassington but didn't fancy walking over 19 miles on our first day, so starting with a gentle amble from Ilkley to Addingham not only shortened the second day for us, it meant that we had an easy start to get used to the weight of our packs with the added bonus of being able to stay in a really nice pub (The Crown Inn, Addingham).  I also wanted to spend a night at The Station Inn, Ribblehead, so it made sense to spend our third night at Hubberholme which was almost exactly halfway between Grassington and Ribblehead.  This turned out to be an excellent choice.

Lane above Grassington

Once I'd worked out the schedule I then set about booking accommodation, starting with the two places where I especially wanted to stay - Grassington and Ribblehead.  Once those two were booked I then worked outwards, booking Hubberholme, Addingham and Kendal in that order. 

The eagle-eyed amongst you will have noticed that I previously listed Burneside for our sixth night, not Kendal.  Well, at this point in my scheduling I made a bit of a silly mistake.  For some reason I had it fixed in my mind that the Dales Way passed through Kendal and so originally I booked us in to the Premier Inn, which was reasonably priced and situated smack-bang in the middle of Kendal.  It was only actually two weeks before setting off that I read my guidebook again and realised my error.  To stay in Kendal would have added almost an extra two miles to an already quite lengthy day.  As it turned out, having realised my mistake, I was extremely fortunate on two counts.  First of all, an amazing bed and breakfast establishment in Burneside (which is usually booked solid months in advance) just happened to have a spare room that evening and secondly, the conditions attached to my Premier Inn booking allowed for cancellation right up to 1 p.m. on the day of arrival without having anything to pay. 

This leads me to our accommodation choices and, as with my Yorkshire Wolds Way blog, I'm now going to provide a review for each of the places we stayed.

Day 1 - The Crown Inn, Addingham
There are just two guest rooms at The Crown, a former coaching inn dating from 1769 which is situated on the main road through the centre of the village.  Our room was very clean and comfortable, with an excellent en suite stocked with really nice quality toiletries.  The staff were very friendly indeed and the bar, which was obviously popular with locals, served an excellent choice of beer.  Unusually, the only food served here is pie and mash.  But what a choice of pies!  We went for the highly delicious chicken, ham and cheddar pie, served with mashed potatoes, mushy peas and gravy, washed down with a glass of Dark Horse beer.  It was all excellent.  After a fantastic night's sleep (which surprised me, given the short distance we'd walked), we chatted to the pub's owners over a very enjoyable breakfast.  I can certainly recommend starting the Dales Way from The Crown, particularly as I've heard mixed reviews of some of the accommodation in Ilkley.

The Crown Inn

Day 2 - The Black Horse Hotel, Grassington
We'd stayed at The Black Horse before, when we did the Mossdale Scar walk in August 2013, and based on the excellent time we had back then, I particularly wanted to stay here again.  Unfortunately, this time it was a tiny bit disappointing.   As I had remembered our room had been a bit on the small side when we'd stayed here before, this time I paid extra for a "king sized" room.  It really wasn't much bigger.  In fact, it was rather cramped.  Having said that, it was clean and comfortable and, after all, it was just for one night.  But, at the same time, we had much better accommodation in the week for quite a lot less (although, to be honest, I don't know how the price compared with other establishments in Grassington - it may well be cheaper).  I remembered having a lovely meal in the hotel's restaurant on our last stay and so we decided to dine here again.  Sadly, this meal was not very nice at all.  We had slow roasted belly pork, which was tasty, but I still have absolutely no idea what it was they served up with it.  The best description I can offer is a compressed square of some sort of vegetable matter.  It was very weird and tasted strange too.  Thankfully, the beer (Grassington Bitter) was top notch!   The biggest shock about the Black Horse though was to discover that, at the time of checking in, we were the hotel's only guests!  Later that evening we were joined by a lone cyclist who, out of all the bedrooms available, was checked in to the one next to ours, which reminded me of those people who park right next to you in an otherwise empty car park.   The staff at the Black Horse were very friendly and, as both ourselves and the cyclist were keen to make an early start, they served breakfast half an hour earlier than the advertised time, which was greatly appreciated.  It seemed ironic that out of all the places I booked, this was the one I was most looking forward to and yet it proved to be our least favourite.  I guess we'll have to go back another day and allow the place to redeem itself.  Because I know it can be a lot better.

Linton Falls near Grassington

Day 3 - The George Inn, Hubberholme
I could sum up The George with one word.  Wow!  Naturally though, I have to expand on that, starting from the moment we stepped through the door of this charming, delightful little medieval inn nestling by the side of the Upper Wharfe.  I already knew that the owner was a friendly man, from the pleasant email exchanges we'd had at the time of booking.  As we stepped through the door we were greeted with a cheery "Good afternoon! You have reached your destination".   The owner, Ed, then proceeded to walk round from behind the bar to shake both our hands and introduce us to everyone else in the pub.  As my eyes adjusted from the brighter light outdoors I could see that there were several other customers sitting at tables, some of them clearly being Dales Way walkers like us.  We instantly felt at home as Ed went on to describe the various ales he had on offer, pouring us a glass of the very tasty Wensleydale Dub.  Our room at The George was above an outbuilding and had low beamed ceilings (which made contact with Tom's head several times!), a good sized en suite with excellent shower and comfy beds.  Our evening meal of steak pie and chips followed by apricot crumble was superb and breakfast the next morning (served at the much appreciated early time of 7.30 a.m.) was of an equally high standard.  We were sorry to be leaving as Ed set us on our way with a really good (and very reasonably priced) packed lunch, wishing us well for the rest of our journey.  We promised him we'd return before long for a slightly longer stay, which is something I look forward to with much pleasure.

The George Inn, Hubberholme

Day 4 - The Station Inn, Ribblehead
In November 2013 Tom and I spent a weekend in Dent, culminating with a climb of Whernside.  After the walk we called in to the Station Inn for a drink to discover that they were holding an open day to celebrate the refurbishment of some of their bedrooms.  Tom stayed in the bar while I went up with the landlord to have a quick tour of these rooms and I was very impressed, particularly with a room named after my particular hero, The Wainwright Room.  It wasn't an especially large room, but it was nevertheless well equipped and nicely decorated with the most amazing view over to the Ribblehead Viaduct and Whernside.  I left The Station that day with a stay in that room placed high on my (very modest) bucket list.  Foolishly then, in January when I booked us a room at The Station, I omitted to mention that I would like to book the Wainwright Room.  A couple of days before setting off I read some very mixed reviews for The Station, depending on which room a guest had been allocated.  As we approached the inn I commented to Tom "Oh heck...I wish I'd asked for a refurbished room".  The guy checking us in must have thought I was a bit loopy, because when he said "We've put you in the Wainwright Room" I practically jumped over the bar and hugged him.  We weren't disappointed.  It was a lovely room.  A little on the small side, but very comfortable and clean.  And the view!  Our evening meal at The Station was top notch, followed by a game of pool and several pints of Main Line from the nearby Settle Brewing Company.  In the morning we decided to have the continental buffet breakfast, which was very enjoyable.  I later heard from others who stayed at The Station that their experiences were a bit mixed, but I can happily report we had the most enjoyable, relaxing stay there and wouldn't hesitate to return.

The view from our room

Day 5 - The Dalesman Country Inn, Sedbergh
 In a complete reversal of our previous night's accommodation, I was rather disappointed with our room at The Dalesman.  I had visited their website before booking and had seen some images of very nice looking rooms.  Ours, unfortunately, wasn't one of them.  It wasn't particularly bad in any way, it's just that there were no windows (just a couple of skylights) and the walls were painted in a rather gloomy shade of grey.  Added to this the fact that the bed was crammed into a small space (we had to shuffle to the end to climb in and out) made the whole experience rather claustrophobic and resulted in something of a restless night's sleep for me.  This, however, was the only (rather pedantic, I suppose) negative point of our stay.  The bar and dining area were lovely, the staff were very friendly and our meal was without a doubt the best we had all week (suet crusted steak pie with twice-cooked chips, followed by sticky toffee pudding and ice cream).  The bar served an interesting range of beers and our breakfast was first class.  We later spoke to others who had stayed here and learned that their rooms were very nice, so I suppose we were slightly unlucky this time.  (I can't have all the luck I guess!)  We would certainly stay here again.

Sedbergh and the Howgills

Day 6 - Lakeland Hills, Burneside
As I mentioned earlier, I had previously booked a night at the Premier Inn in Kendal for the sixth night of our walk, but was lucky enough to be able to cancel this and book a night at Lakeland Hills instead.  And "lucky" is very much the right word to use here.  Lakeland Hills is owned by Tony and Caroline Hill, providing two rooms (one twin and one double) almost exclusively for Dales Way walkers.  Having read the outstanding reviews on Trip Advisor just two weeks before our departure, I tentatively sent them an email along the lines of "I don't suppose you have anything available at this late stage?" and was both surprised and delighted to receive a reply from Caroline to say that they did, in fact, have a twin room available.  I booked it like a shot!  Tony is a former Lake District Park Ranger and highly experienced mountaineer/sailor/all-round adventurer, and a very friendly and helpful man into the bargain.  Our ground floor room was very spacious, light and spotlessly clean with an amazing en suite.  And as if that wasn't enough, our room had its very own little "shop", selling beers, wine, chocolate, crisps, biscuits and even blister plasters, all at cost price.  As it's a B&B which doesn't serve evening meals, Tony provides free transport to and from a nearby inn where we enjoyed a most enjoyable evening meal, accompanied by the other guests, a couple who were also walking the Dales Way.  Our beds were very comfy and I enjoyed the best night's sleep of the week.  Over an amazing breakfast (American style pancakes with fresh fruit), Tony provided us all with a brief description of some of the highlights of our last day on the trail, along with his personal recommendations for a couple of diversions.  As, on top of everything else, he's also a member of the Dales Way Association committee, he certainly knows what he's talking about!  I would go so far as to say that a night at Lakeland Hills is an absolute must for anyone walking the Dales Way.  If, that is, you're lucky enough to get in.  I count myself very fortunate indeed!

Sprint Mill near Burneside

Day 7 - The Watermill Inn, Ings
This accommodation isn't actually on the Dales Way, but it's where we chose to have our last night before travelling home on the train from Windermere.  Ings is situated about three miles north of Bowness and so it's away from all the touristy hubbub, which to be honest, after a week in the countryside we couldn't wait to escape.  And, if only for that reason, the Watermill Inn provided the perfect place.  It did add a walk of an extra three miles, mostly uphill, to what had been an otherwise short day's walking of 11 miles, but the extra was well worth it.  Not only that, but unlike every other accommodation provider around Windermere, the Watermill allowed us to book for just one night on a Friday and at a reasonable price, for the Lakes.  The biggest plus for the Watermill though is that it has its very own brewery and a fantastic choice of excellent ales.  Our room was spacious (a family room as it turned out), and very clean and comfortable.  We enjoyed an excellent evening meal in the bar, celebrating with several of their top notch beers, followed by a good night's sleep and an excellent breakfast.  The staff were very friendly and helpful and there was a bus stop close by with buses running to the station at Windermere every half hour.  We couldn't have wished for a better conclusion to a wonderful week.

The finishing point of the Dales Way

Finally, for now, a few words about what we packed for our walk.  There are those who would say we carried too much, but I was quite happy with my choices and didn't find the weight too cumbersome.  We each carried a 65-75 litre rucksack (mine is the Lowe Alpine Kongur and Tom's is the Berghaus Verden).  In addition to what I was wearing when we set off (wicking t-shirt and lightweight trousers), in my pack I carried four wicking t-shirts, a pair of shorts, a pair of three-quarter trousers and a micro fleece, along with a waterproof coat, lightweight hoody, waterproof overtrousers and a feather-light Rohan wind cheater.  I had a clean pair of Bridgedale walking socks for every day's walking, along with enough undies for the week, a selection of travel sized toiletries, two water bottles, camera, phone, phone charger, a very light pair of shoes (Hi-Tec Zuks) for evenings, a pair of trekking poles, Buff, sunglasses, guide book and map (I also had all the OS maps on the iphone View Ranger app), notebook and pen, tissues and a lightweight folding trowel (if you have to ask why you've never been on a very long walk, but suffice it to say, it wasn't for pointing drystone walls!).  Tom carried pretty much the same stuff, along with our first aid kit which included plasters, sting relief, bug repellent, sun cream, Paracetamol and Voltarol.  I weighed my pack before we set off and it was 21 lbs.  It seemed very heavy until I had it in place when, thanks to its excellent design, it was soon virtually unnoticeable.  Regular readers of my blog may recall that last autumn I put myself on a diet.  All the pies and beers we had consumed after walks had certainly taken their toll over the past couple of years!  Happily I can report that I set off on this walk almost three stones lighter than when I set off on the Yorkshire Wolds Way.  Which is twice the weight of my loaded backpack - and it certainly made a difference.  Of course, I've gained a few pounds over the week (beers and pies strike again), but I know I'll easily shed those and soon be back on track.

I will shortly be writing a day-by-day account of our Dales Way adventure, including some of the many photographs I took on this, the most delightful long distance walk.  I hope you'll be able to join me as I relive what, for me, was the best walking experience ever.


Monday, 22 June 2015

Egton Bridge & Glaisdale Rigg (North York Moors) - April 2015

Sometimes I have no clue where I would like to go for a walk.  As our favoured walking day is Sunday, I usually spend at least an hour on a Saturday evening pouring over my maps and browsing walking sites on the web, searching for inspiration.  But sometimes that inspiration just doesn't come.  This was the case one Sunday morning in April, when I got up to make breakfast without a single idea where we would be heading.  And then I discovered we were out of honey.  The decision was made!  We would go to Egton Bridge, on the northern edge of the North York Moors, because there, from a little cottage by the river, can be found the finest heather honey money can buy. 

Over breakfast I plotted out a circular route from the centre of the village which would take us along the banks of the River Esk to the neighbouring village of Glaisdale, along the high moorland at Glaisdale Rigg and back over Egton High Moor.

It was a lovely spring morning.  The sun was shining brightly and it was unseasonably warm, which made a nice change from the rather murky weather we'd been experiencing.  It was therefore something of a surprise to find that there were very few people about and we were easily able to find a parking space by the side of the river at Egton Bridge. 

The River Esk at Egton Bridge

We started our walk by crossing the river via two sets of stepping stones which can be found at a point where the river divides.  I sometimes find stepping stones a bit unnerving.  Even if they're evenly spaced with a flat surface, the fact that there's a river below makes me step very cautiously from one to another, knowing full well all the while that if they were simply rocks placed on a grassy surface then I would bound across them in a much more carefree manner.  It's psychological!   And, as it turned out, one of the stones right in the middle was particularly slippery, so my caution was not misplaced on this occasion.

Egton Bridge Stepping Stones

Having made it to the other side without a dunking, we followed the course of the Esk Valley Walk along a quiet country lane in the direction of Glaisdale, enjoying the sight of new born lambs in the warm Spring sunshine.

View from the roadside

After about half a mile or so we turned to follow a path through East Arncliff Wood, still following the Esk Valley Walk, a long distance path of 37 miles which follows the course of the River Esk from its source on the moors above Castleton to where it flows into the North Sea at Whitby.  To begin with the path through the trees was very wet and boggy in places.

Muddy path in East Arncliff Wood

A little further into the woods and the walk became much cleaner and easier, thanks to a series of ancient paving slabs, known as "trods".  This ancient form of paving can be found in several places across the North York Moors and the oldest examples date from medieval times.  The slabs in East Arncliff Wood are known as the "Monks' Trod" and are believed to have led to the former St Hilda's Church which was dismantled in 1871. 

The Monks' Trod

The path through the trees gradually descended until it reached the banks of the River Esk, where the still waters were lined with occasional clumps of daffodils, looking very pretty indeed in the Spring sunshine. 

The River Esk is a very clean and healthy river, supporting a large variety of wildlife.  It is also the only river in Yorkshire where both salmon and sea trout thrive.  It also supports the last surviving, but dwindling, population of freshwater pearl mussels in Yorkshire.

Springtime by the River Esk

As we walked along the riverbank a sudden movement on the path caught my eye and I stopped in my tracks, just in time to avoid stepping on a Common Toad.  He was sitting right in the middle of the path, partially camouflaged by mud and so we carefully picked him up and set him down in a much safer place.   He was quite a handsome chap and didn't seem at all fazed by this sudden interruption to his previously peaceful Sunday morning.

Common Toad

The path left the wood via a series of stone steps, emerging at a ford over a tributary stream, which was conveniently placed for rinsing some of the mud which had inevitably accumulated on our boots.  Judging by the depth gauge at the side of the ford, sometimes it may be necessary to swim over, but on this occasion it was shallow enough to easily wade across.

A shallow ford

Just beyond the ford we passed the legendary Beggar's Bridge, arguably the most romantic place in the whole of the North York Moors.  A stone on the crest of the bridge's parapet is inscribed with the initials 'TF' and the date '1619'.  The initials are those of the "beggar" in question, one Thomas Ferries, the impoverished son of a moorland sheep farmer, and the date of 1619 was the year in which he had this bridge built.  Legend has it that Thomas met Agnes Richardson, the daughter of a wealthy Glaisdale farmer, at an annual fair in Whitby.  The couple fell in love, but Agnes' father said that he would not permit his daughter to marry a mere beggar.  Undeterred, Thomas persuaded Mr Richardson to consent to the marriage on the condition that he would go to sea and return a wealthy man.  In 1586 Thomas set sail from Whitby in a ship which joined the English fleet that conquered the Spanish Armada, earning Thomas the praise of none other than Sir Francis Drake.  He then went on to sail with Drake to the West Indies where he earned his fortune as a pirate, returning to Glaisdale in 1592 having acquired enough wealth to enable him to marry Agnes.  Thomas is supposed to have commissioned the building of this bridge to mark the spot where he had previously had to swim across the river to meet Agnes in secret, their story commemorated in an old poem:

 The rover came back from a far distant land,
 And claimed from the maiden her long-promised hand.
 But he built ere he won her the bridge of his vow,
 And the lovers of Egton pass over it now.

Beggar's Bridge

Our route didn't continue over the bridge, but I walked out into the middle and spared a thought for Thomas and Agnes before continuing back along the road and into the village of Glaisdale.

The sun was shining brightly as we climbed away from the village and the light cloud cover from earlier in the day had all but dispersed.  As we gradually ascended towards the higher moorland we had a clear view all the way across to a distant Robin Hood's Bay and the sea beyond.  There was hardly a breath of wind and the temperature began to grow unseasonably warm.

A view to the sea

Looking over to the north we also had an excellent view across Glaisdale Moor.

Glaisdale Moor

As we began to follow a track higher up onto the open moors we passed a small area of wetland teeming with frogs.  They seemed to be everywhere - sitting on the path, basking in the sunshine or swimming in the little ponds by the side of the track.  It was fascinating to watch them and some of them looked quite comical as they skimmed straddle-legged across the surface of the water.

Swimming frog

After passing through a gate we emerged on to Glaisdale Rigg, a stony track which traverses the top of Glaisdale Moor and forms one of the final sections of the Coast to Coast Walk (for those walking west to east, that is). 

On Glaisdale Rigg

Along the way we passed some of the standing stones which can be found across the North York Moors, serving as boundary markers or milestones.  From this vantage point we also had an excellent view down into the valley of Glaisdale and across to Egton High Moor, which we would later be passing over on our return route to Egton Bridge.

Moorland stone on Glaisdale Rigg

Sometimes the moorland milestones have crude yet decipherable writing still visible, despite the weathering of passing centuries, and further along the rigg we came across one such stone on which it was just possible to make out the inscription "Whitby Road".  I really like these old stones.  They  always make me pause to think of all the packhorses, drovers, stagecoaches and long-dead people who have passed this way before me, in the days when a track such as this would have been the "motorway" of its time.

Whitby Road milestone

We walked for a couple of miles along Glaisdale Rigg, occasionally passing way-markers of a more modern origin, directing walkers to various public footpaths leading away from the track.  As we neared the end of the rigg I turned to look back along the route we had taken and to the sea on the distant horizon.  It was the perfect kind of day to be out on the moorland and, remarkably, there wasn't another soul in sight.

Looking back down Glaisdale Rigg

As we approached the end of the track we passed a direction sign for the Coast to Coast Walk.  With just a few miles to go to the traditional finishing point at Robin Hood's Bay, this must be a sometimes welcome, sometimes sad point for the many hundreds of people who follow this 192 mile long route from west coast to east.  We thought the sign looked rather lonely and couldn't resist the urge to liven it up a bit, if only for just one photo.

On the Coast to Coast route

At the end of Glaisdale Rigg we turned to follow a grassy path downhill, into the valley of Glaisdale.  From this point we could already see the path we would be taking up out of the valley, which lay to the right of the two wooded areas on the hillside across the valley.

The path down from Glaisdale Rigg

Below us lay the green, fertile valley of Glaisdale, a scene typical of the rigg and dale landscape of the North York Moors.

The Glaisdale valley

At the foot of the hill we walked along a quiet country lane, lined with daffodils.  It was such a lovely day and the temperature was beginning to soar, yet still we hadn't seen anyone else.  No people, cars or even cyclists.  I couldn't imagine such a day in other national parks, like the Lake District for instance, being so blissfully silent, save for the occasional honking of a pheasant or bleating of sheep.

A peaceful lane

We followed a narrow lane for a mile or so, heading in the direction of Glaisdale Head from where we began our climb onto Egton High Moor.  Along the way we passed a field of lambs - I counted 14 of them, but curiously only two adult sheep were visible.  Was this a day nursery for lambs, I wondered, or was I looking at two particularly prolific ewes?  They all looked very relaxed anyway, basking in the Spring sunshine.

So many lambs, so few ewes

Our route up the side of Wintergill Plantation was rather steep and hot work in the blazing afternoon sunshine, but the lovely views back down Glaisdale provided me with a good enough excuse to stop every few paces.  Even so I seemed to be disproportionately out of breath by the time I reached the top and found myself a large rock on which to sit and take a short break.
View from Wintergill Plantation

After a short section of road walking we turned to follow a track which led across Egton High Moor, an area of approximately 4,900 acres of heather moorland which is designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest. 

Crossing Egton High Moor
The track led us over an area known for its peat bogs which were in evidence at both sides of the track.  As we walked along we passed areas known as Pike Hill Moss and Mirk Mire Moor, both seeming to fittingly describe this boggy area of upper moorland. 

Peat bogs

Once we had crossed Egton High Moor and its boggy pools, we turned onto a muddy farm track which led downhill back in the direction of Egton Bridge.

Muddy track downhill

The track took us through a farmyard where a group of cows peered out at us from behind the iron bars of their barn.  They were the cleanest cows I've ever seen and they eyed me curiously as I edged closer to take a photo.

Very clean cows

Shortly after the farm with the very clean cows we emerged back onto the lane into Egton Bridge, crossing the stepping stones again which led us to Mill Cottage, the source of the best heather honey in Yorkshire.  I was relieved to see that the "Honey for sale" sign was out by the roadside and shortly afterwards we were driving home again, stocked up with several jars of the richest, tastiest honey that you are ever likely to find.  We enjoy eating this honey every day, so it won't last us long.  All the more reason to plan another walk in this lovely, peaceful corner of the North York Moors. 

Total distance walked - 13 miles.

Coming soon....  Even though I've got several walks to write blogs about from April and May, I'm going to interrupt the flow of things and jump forwards to June for my next blog.  This is because we have just completed the Dales Way - 82 miles from Ilkley in West Yorkshire to Bowness-on-Windermere.  It was a truly amazing walk and I can't wait to share it.  Once I've written a day-by-day account of this wonderful long distance walk, then I'll return to writing about the lovely walks we undertook in April and May.  In the meantime, I regularly share mini updates and photos on my Facebook page.