Thursday, 10 May 2012

Three Roam the Dales

In the preternatural late evening half light, we leave the pub in Horton and begin to ascend up to Moughton Fell to pitch camp on the steppes of Ingleborough. I am a little worse for wear, having not eaten and existed on purely liquid sustenance for much of the evening. In the presence of digital friends, I should be comfortable, but meeting in the flesh, without the screen to distort perceptions, carries with it unnerving discomfort. These are people I have conversed with for months, if not years, yet here and now I am overly keen to appear competent and efficient - a knowledgeable, yet self-effacing companion. Compensation comes in liquid form and soon I am relaxed. This gentle amble through the Yorkshire Dales is nothing more than slackpacking (I concur with others’ assessments) so oiling the inertia of anxiety with a little alcoholic assistance is not something I am too worried about. It does however have unforeseen, almost comical, consequences. 

We three, Messrs Mazibrada, Rye and Terrybnd, arrive as dusk descends and I pitch quickly and efficiently. Soon the Fly Creek is taut and all is ready for me to slip into my down jacket, wrap myself in my sleeping bag and drift into slumber. I reach for the zip of the door on my tent and find it stuck. Clearly, had I been more alert, I might have teased and cajoled rather than tugged. Alas, impatience and the clumsiness of inebriation leads to a moment of hilarity for the other occupants of our little step and embarrassment for me. The zip comes away in my hand and the door is suddenly next to useless. Muttering expletives reserved for after the watershed, I press two velcro tabs at the bottom and middle of the door together and, sublimely quickly, fall asleep. 

The morning is sharp with frost and my tent’s fly is adorned with myriad fine crystals. I have slept in my clothes, including my down jacket, and been warm enough. I crawl out into the blue sky morning and begin to capture the moment around me. The sun paints the dry, tussocky landscape with a warm, coppery, autumnal hue, despite it being early May. I set my meths stove to work and amble around with my DSLR welded to my retina. My companions prepare breakfast for themselves, although I only feel like a hot drink. A byproduct of last night’s excesses. 

I am fortunate to have seen two shelters which have caused me hours of interested curiosity - the Mountain Laurel Designs Solomid and the Rab Ridge Master Bivy. Alternatives to traditional dual-skin tents, I have been intrigued by both for some time. I greedily seize the opportunity for closer inspections while we break our fast.

Once we’re packed, we head off along a craggy edge and skirt round to the easy, languid climb up to Ingleborough. We break more often than I would normally, and I enjoy the pace. We seem more in touch with the landscape around us this way, giving ourselves time to enjoy the hills rather than hurtling through them as if they were not the purpose of our visit but merely an obstacle to be overcome. Perhaps I move too fast throughout my professional life to permit myself to slow down without persuasion from others to do so. Each time we sit, probing each other for intelligence on our personal existences, I am able to get to know these people I have conversed with for so long and, at the same time, revel in the scenery around me. I half expect a gaggle of hobbits to appear, each barefooted with poles slung over shoulders and a kerchief filled with lunch tied to one end. The Dales feel rather like Tolkien’s imagination might have conjured Hobbiton from nearby. 

The ascent of Ingleborough becomes steeper but, in reality, we are moving with the luxury of time. We have just under 30km to cover in a day but so much time to do it in. As we climb the steps up to the plateau summit, once adorned by a fort of some renown, we are still deep in conversation, dissecting each others’ daily lives and discussing the morsels we find within the carapace of our existence. We are open and frank, which is liberating and it is not only the outdoors we have in common. 

I am fortunate to have two knowledgable companions, well-read and happy to share their learning with me. Ingleborough, Terry explains in his typically humble manner, once had a fort on its summit. He shows me the stone circles which denote the foundations of the walls of circular buildings within the the fort and points me to the wall on the edge of the plateau which can be clearly seen. 

Inspired by Terry's example, I do some research. The summit itself is a broad plateau with an Ordnance Survey trig point (number S. 5619, for your information) at the highest point, just off the south-western corner. An imposing wind-break shelter dominates the plateau, as does a huge cairn. At the point where the Ingleton path crests the summit rim is an even more imposing cairn which represents the remains of a round tower, built in 1830. Sadly, the raucous revelry of the celebrations that night nearly two centuries ago result in the almost complete destruction of the hospice it was intended to become. The rest was destroyed somewhat later and now it has been reduced to so much rubble. I cannot help but drawn a parallel between their actions and my own alcoholic fumblings the night before. Along the northern and eastern edges are the dilapidated remains of a wall to a military camp, thought to be Roman. We could also see the remains of several stone circles, thought to be Celtic from Iron Age Britain. Used all year, which was unusual, the Roman weather was clearly more mild than the sub-zero temperatures we were experiencing during the few days we were in the Dales. 

From the summit, the Howgills, the Lake District fells and the sea can all be seen with startling clarity. The Ribblehead Viaduct, to which we were headed, seemed too far away to be realistic from our lofty observation point. Pen-y-ghent seemed even further. 

We descend an easy path, all the while chatting like school children. Our pace is easy and relaxed and it is not long before a steep, grassy slope takes us to a road and with it, almost inexorably among men with opinions, the subject of politics. By the time we have reached the pub, the Station Inn, just by the viaduct itself, we are sure we would be running the country better than those currently charged with its management. Of course. Within the confines of the friendly Station Inn, we gorge on pork pies (with filled with pork and black pudding, no less) and cold, fresh liquid cascades down our throats. I demur from alcohol this time and stick to the copper peeling properties of Diet Coke. All too soon, our repast is over and we are on the move. The clouds have drawn in and the wind picks up. It starts to get bitterly fresh and the pace quickens to get us warm. Conversation continues to flow like wine at communion and soon we cut off the road and back onto access land. A long, slow flat walk to our chosen spot to pitch in the shadow of Pen-y-ghent leads us past a few curious drains into the landscape. We investigate further and they are all entrances to cave systems. We are intrigued, certainly, but I confess it’s not something that draws me in. Claustrophobia would hit me, I am sure. I like the sky above me, whether it is dominated by greys and blacks or a deep, perfect shade of blue. 

Eventually, we arrive in the lee of Pen-y-ghent and eventually, after some searching, we find a sheltered, flat spot. PItching quickly, stoves go on. I have dragged an extra FDF meal with me and Terry seems grateful of the warmth it provides. I am happy to oblige, if only to prove to ol’ doubting Thomas, Mr Rye, that 35ml of meths will boil 800ml of water with the caldera cone of my sidewinder. Although, in these temperatures, I am little surprised. 

I find sleep a little hard to come by, wrapped as I am in down jacket and down bag, and read for a little while before drifting off. The morning comes and brings with it another crystalline dusting of frost - perhaps even more severe than the night before. I delight as usual in rising early and strolling around, enjoying the serenity of the morning. 

Again we break camp quickly and head up Pen-y-ghent. We know three peaks challengers will soon start their routes for the day and we want to be in Horton before that happens. Sadly, we are deprived of that luxury. We reach the summit after a gentle climb and the views seem to extend for an eternity. 

The morning mist drifts through the valley below but our attention is drawn from the beauty of the vista by hordes of walkers ascending the steep scramble beneath us. The line seems to stretch along the path all the way to Horton so we hasten our descent to try and get past them. Over-dressed in thick shell layers, despite the warmth of the sun, and the lack of either wind or rain, they are sweating profusely as they ascend the incredibly steep face of Pen-y-ghent. I remark more than once, each time with astonishment, at the lack of knowledge between them. Layering, I thought, was a simple principle known to all - not just walkers. Yet, they are in the hills enjoying the countryside and for that each and every one ought to be commended. They all looked as if they were enjoying themselves too. 

The descent to Horton is in keeping with the atmosphere of the walk throughout. We stop off for tea and bacon sandwiches before taking our leave from this wonderful shire.


  1. Nice read and photos. I guess one of the attractions of that area is the 'big skies' - which is not necessarily a factor you would consider for hill walking. Has the seamstress worked her magic yet?

  2. I would agree it is an area with beautiful skies especially with the weather we had. Mrs M will be looking at my Fly Creek this evening in fact.

  3. A good walk in classic Dales country. Despite the crowds that can gather on these tops, it is a place to come back time and again. Good report Maz.

  4. It was a great wall with great company. A real gem of an area to which I'd never before been. A discovery.

  5. Superb.  No mention of the chat about Hells Angles and the like?.  We had a good time with many random topics to talk about thrown in.  The hills superb, the time in your fine company a joy Andrew.

    We wont mention that tent breaking too much ;)

  6. Martin, if I covered everything we talked about, the post would have been so long, Tolstoy would be considered a short read by comparison.

  7. Yes, it would seem that you all had a very pleasant ramble with plenty to discuss while experiencing Mother Nature first hand.
    Thank You for sharing your walk with us. :-)

    Happy Trails.
    Barefoot Child (Rex)

  8. An excellent write up of what looked to be a pleasant amble through some fine looking Yorkshire scenery. There looks to be a whole lot of interesting history up on Ingleborough. Some day I must get around to visiting some of these - they are quite local to my parents...

  9. Looks like I missed out on a cracking weekend backpack there Maz.  I hope that you were not trying to keep up with Terry pint by pint on the night of the broken tent?  I have to say that being surrounded by the hoards of day trippers on the last morning does not really appeal!

  10. Zipping good read Maz. Love the pics too. You do put together a good story.

  11. lol Unfortunately for him - he was ;) I had to prop him up on way to camp at times! 

  12. Aye, twas a good trip. Really enjoyed it. Thanks again for the company mate and a nice wee write up too :)

  13. I was less trying to keep up - it was more a case of the beer going down a little too well. Sadly, I am a lightweight in more than one respect...

  14. It was a pleasure - really enjoyed it but I am sure you know that by now! Rab Infinity 500 bag (in a fetching shade of orange dubbed "satsuma") en route as of today - when I looked at the weather for Vågå Besseggen, my next route in Norway, sub zero temperatures clinched the deal for me. I am testing some kit for a well known manufacturer as well: insulating hoody, soft-shell mountain pants and a new winter pack. Really looking forward to working with them.

  15. Thanks Alan. It was an amble, but a very nice one.

  16. I think you'd like it up there Nick. The views are good, the pubs are nice and the welcome friendly. Plenty of good places to pitch a tent (so long as the zips work).