In spite of all this blissful silence, I still managed to wake up much earlier than necessary and, once again, spent the time before breakfast familiarising myself with the route for the day ahead. Not that I really needed to do this. We'd walked some sections of this walk a few times before and I was already familiar with many of the delights that awaited us.
I appreciated the fact that the hotel served us our breakfast at 8 a.m., which was half an hour earlier than their usual time and enabled us to get a reasonably early start. The sun was shining and it was pleasantly warm as we headed out of Grassington, passing by a little shop with a plaque explaining that this was once the blacksmith's forge owned by Tom Lee, the notorious murderer we'd learned about the previous day.
The Dales Way left Grassington at the northern end of the village, leading us along a narrow lane which climbed towards fields enclosed by drystone walls.
After a steady climb we crossed a ladder stile and stopped in our tracks to admire the glorious view along Wharfedale. I had stood on this spot to admire the view before, with the drystone walls and barns epitomising the Yorkshire Dales, but somehow it had never looked so lovely as it did in this moment, with the foreground carpeted with buttercups and sunlight dappling the distant hills.
On the higher ground the terrain evened out, making for a pleasant walk among sporadic patches of limestone pavement with one solitary tree in full leaf looking particularly splendid against a backdrop of limestone scarred hillside. My pace slowed to enable me to savour this wonderful landscape. We had a shorter distance to walk today and plenty of time in which to cover the 12 or so miles to our base for the night at Hubberholme. Unusually for the Dales there was no one else around, the only sound being the occasional bleating of sheep or the cry of a curlew.
So far the majority of our Dales Way walk had been alongside the banks of the River Wharfe and it made a very pleasant change to be on the higher ground, among the limestone which so typifies the Yorkshire Dales. Stepping off the path for a while I paused to wait until a break in the clouds allowed the sunlight to illuminate the hillside ahead of us, the foreground dotted with fragments of limestone pavement.
At the top of the hill, in an area known as Old Pasture, we passed the well-preserved remains of an old lime kiln. A field lime kiln such as this one was ideally situated to exploit the limestone which can be found in the many outcrops surrounding it. The limestone would have been burned to produce quicklime which was then slaked with water to produce calcium hydroxide (slaked lime). This was mostly used to improve grassland by reducing the acidity of the soil, especially on reclaimed moorland during the enclosures of the 18th and 19th centuries. Slaked lime was also an important ingredient in making lime mortar.
After a short walk from the lime kiln we reached the head of Conistone Dib, a deep limestone gorge with views down towards the village of Kilnsey. At the top of Dib Scar we crossed a track known as Mastiles Lane which was once a monastic route connecting the lands belonging to Fountains Abbey in the Lake District with Nidderdale in the east. Again I paused to drink in the view, continuing to try and maintain my intention of staying in the present moment as much as possible. It really wasn't too difficult to remain in this particular moment though, being surrounded by such natural beauty.
As we set off again, crossing over Mastiles Lane, I picked up the pace and my mind was already beginning to wander. I was thinking about pie. Conistone Pie to be precise. This sounds like it ought to be an especially tasty dish, but in actual fact it 's a landmark; a knoll of limestone which was formed by glacial movement. This was to be the first time I'd visited Conistone Pie and, for me, it was a particular highlight of this section of the walk. From a distance it almost looked manmade, rather like a castle turret, and the fact that a small group of people was standing on the top added to the effect.
The people were already climbing down from the pie as we approached and we exchanged greetings with them as we passed them by.
"Save your photos for the top", one of them commented, seeing that I had already got my camera at the ready. "It's the best view in the whole of Yorkshire from up there."
He wasn't wrong. As I stood on the edge of the limestone knoll ahead of me stretched the valleys of Littondale and Upper Wharfedale. It was breathtakingly beautiful. It was sublime. It was, quite simply, Yorkshire showing off. And in that moment there was nowhere else I would rather have been.
We lingered on the top of the pie for quite a while. I was in no particular hurry to leave such a wonderful place and it felt like something of a privilege to be the only ones up there on such a lovely day. When we eventually decided to hit the trail again I turned to take one last look at the mound of limestone, which from this angle looked more like a natural feature than a fortification; more like a lump of limestone than a pie. But that lovely word "pie" had worked its magic. And the village of Kettlewell wasn't too far away.
Continuing northwards along the higher ground, we followed a ridge of exposed limestone until we reached a cairn which appeared to have been built for no particular reason at all. It didn't mark a junction of paths, a summit or any other feature.
"I wonder where the stones came from?" Tom joked, prompting me to take a photo of it rather than just add another rock to the somewhat pointless heap.
Now the Dales Way headed steeply downhill, following a farm track to the lane at the bottom of the hill. Even though the sky was filled with clouds the sun continued to shine and a light breeze meant that the temperature was absolutely perfect for walking.
A short section of road walking led us closer to Kettlewell with the final section turning off the lane to cross meadows carpeted with wildflowers. I knelt down briefly to take a photo from a low angle, forgetting what a struggle it could be to get upright again under the weight of my backpack. By now though I'd almost perfected the technique of hoisting myself up with the aid of my walking poles and thankfully there was no one around to witness my clumsy, almost geriatric, performance.
In Kettlewell a selection of pubs and cafes awaited us. In spite of the fact that we'd taken our time on the first section of the day's walk we still had time to spend an hour or so here and so we made our way to the Racehorses Hotel by the bridge. We'd spent an enjoyable night at this hotel just over a year ago and already knew that the food and beer was especially nice.
The hotel's beer garden is pleasantly situated, by the banks of a stream which feeds into the Wharfe, and so we settled down with a glass of Timothy Taylor's Ram Tam (an exceptionally tasty, dark ale) and ordered fish finger sandwiches. It felt so good to be free of my rucksack and the beer was so delicious that I could have cheerfully spent the rest of the afternoon in this lovely spot.
Three pints of Ram Tam and an hour and a half later it was time to be moving on. My feet and shoulders were now completely anaesthetised and I felt wonderfully, giddily happy. Did I mention that Ram Tam is such an excellent beer? It really, really is!
We crossed a bridge out of the village to return to the Dales Way as it rejoined the course of the River Wharfe which looked so beautiful. Everything looked so amazingly wonderful. I was practically skipping along the riverside path.
Briefly the path turned away from the river to follow a lane between drystone walls. It suddenly seemed way too quiet, so I fished my phone out of my rucksack and played my favourite Muse album on loud speaker, happily singing along as I walked.
There was no one else around, thankfully, to be affected by my tuneless attempts to match Matthew Bellamy's impressive falsetto, unless you could count one rather startled wood pigeon which popped out from a hole in the barn door to get a closer look at the source of the screeching.
"Hello Mr Pigeon," I called out. "Isn't it a beautiful day?"
He flew off shortly afterwards, but not before I'd taken a photo. I'm actually quite proud of the fact that it's in focus, given that I was quite obviously more than a little bit Ram-Tammed.
Soon we were back beside the Wharfe again as it wound its way through buttercup meadows.
"There's another pub in Starbotton," I shouted to Tom who was a few yards ahead of me at this point. "And another at Buckden."
"I think we should give Starbotton a miss," he wisely pointed out, "but perhaps we can call in at Buckden if there's time."
It was a sensible decision. Buckden was only a couple of miles further along from Starbotton, but the extra distance along with the delightful scenery and the exertion of walking combined to sober me up pretty quickly. I'd soon turned the music off, realising that it was a shame to shatter the silence in such an idyllic place. The river flowed lazily by, snaking its way along the valley bottom, having become noticeably narrower as we approached Upper Wharfedale.
At a bend in the river the path continued on a straight course, passing through a field of sheep. It was obvious they were very well used to people passing this way as they made no effort to move away as we approached. One of them seemed to call out to us from where it was standing on top of a drystone wall, as if to shout "Hey! Look at me!". I walked over to snap a quick photo, expecting it to leap off and run away, but it stood quite still, obligingly posing, almost defiantly.
A little further along the trail we entered the Upper Wharfedale Estate, an area of 2,670 hectares owned and managed by the National Trust. Parts of this estate are designated as Sites of Special Scientific Interest or Special Areas of Conservation due to its important flower-rich hay meadows, beautiful riverside and valleyside woodlands.
This section of the valley was particularly lush with wildflower meadows and woodlands of ash and hazel. And, of course, lots of drystone walls and barns.
I'd been enjoying this particular stretch of the walk so much that I hadn't noticed we had already reached Buckden, which we could now see, just across the river. To reach the village we crossed over a bridge known as Election Bridge, so named because it was built following an electoral pledge made by a prospective member of parliament after the original was destroyed by a flood in 1748.
Buckden is a very pretty small village which nestles at the foot of Buckden Pike. It has a population of around 200 people, a shop, an outdoor centre and a very nice pub, The Buck Inn. To get to the Buck Inn just entailed a short detour off our route and, as my shoulders were aching a bit, I decided I really needed to remove my rucksack and have a sit down. And if that short break also involved another beer, well, so much the better. Beer really does an excellent job of numbing aching muscles I find. A pint of Theakston's Old Peculier really hit the spot and soon had me back on my feet and raring to go, with just a mile and a half remaining before we'd reach Hubberholme.
Now the Wharfe was little more than a stream, flowing sedately over a rocky bed. The late afternoon had become overcast and the air alongside the banks of the river was thick with midges. Fortunately I had anticipated this and had liberally covered myself with not only Jungle Formula repellent but also an added layer of Avon's Skin So Soft (a DEET-free, pleasantly scented yet highly effective midge deterrent).
The final section of the day's walk was completed along a quiet country lane at the end of which we got the first sight of our base for the night, the very pretty George Inn at Hubberholme. I'd been especially looking forward to spending a night at The George which had been the favourite watering hole of the famous playwright and author J.B. Priestley whose ashes were scattered at the church nearby. Priestley had described Hubberholme as "the smallest, pleasantest place in the world" and it was soon very easy to see why.
As we stepped over the threshold of this charming Dales inn we were instantly greeted by a cheerful voice from behind the bar.
"Good afternoon! You have reached your destination!"
The voice belonged to Ed, the George's landlord, an extremely pleasant and friendly man who immediately walked round from behind the bar and shook our hands before asking what he could get us to drink. I instantly liked Ed!
"Are you carrying everything yourself," he asked as he poured our drinks, "or have you got bags coming with the Sherpa Van?"
"This is everything," I answered, gratefully removing my rucksack to prove it.
"Ooh....serious hikers," said someone immediately to my right and I turned to look around. As my eyes adjusted to the dimmer light of the pub's interior I became aware of several other walkers sitting at tables around the bar. Ed immediately provided introductions at which point we learned that there were a couple of other groups of Dales Way walkers also spending the night here. Unlike us, they were using the Sherpa Van service, meaning that they had a large suitcase of clothing each at their disposal every evening. I was going feel decidedly under-dressed for dinner, I thought, but then, I reasoned, we were "serious" hikers, after all. We chatted to the others for a while over a very welcome pint of Wensleydale Dub (a superb ale!) before Ed showed us to our lovely room, which was situated over an outbuilding to the rear of the inn.
After a shower and a highly delicious evening meal of steak pie, followed by apricot crumble and a few more Wensleydale Dubs, we took a short stroll along the banks of the Wharfe, stepping onto the rocky riverbed to dip our toes in the water. The midges soon drove us back indoors, but not before they had feasted merrily on my freshly showered, unprotected skin...as I discovered to my cost, later the next day.
Back in our cosy room I sat on the bed to read my Dales Way guidebook and awoke in the early hours, still clutching the book at the same open page. I could hear what sounded like a gentle rain pattering on the skylight window above my head and soon I had drifted off again into the deepest, most contented, dreamless sleep. A blissful end to what had been the most enjoyable of days.
Total distance walked: 12.5 miles
Total walking time: 7 hours 52 minutes (including breaks)
Next time... We leave Hubberholme behind to follow the Wharfe to its source above the hamlet of Oughtershaw before continuing along the Cam High Road to Ribblehead and our base for the night in the shadow of Whernside and the mighty Ribblehead Viaduct.