Rock Art and the Ilkley Style – Part 1

This was a walk with a difference, unlike any other, navigation was as basic as any, the distance wasn’t in any way challenging, and, as for isolation, that too was a complete no, but, as for escapism, they certainly don’t come any better. The music I selected for the blog was historically inaccurate, but, the sound, the mood, the language, the aura it creates, well, from my point of view, was perfect. (Then again, we are in the land of Trolls, paganism, sacrifice and neolithic carved stone symbols, an area so spiritual, the most heathen of pagans can taste it, Stonehenge eat your heart out, so, there is a connection to the wonderful Swedish folk song and from my location, only a few miles north stands an isolated, hidden and secretive valley, Trollers Ghyll, thus, any time difference the historians of whichever ology, choose to curse me with, I challenge them to do it).

What are Cup and Ring carvings? – They are basically symbols (petroglyphs) which have been carved into rocks. Although they appear in other countries, in Britain they are found mainly in the north and Scotland. They are believed to be between 4000 and 5000 years old which places them in the same time period as the construction of Stonehenge, the Neolithic and Bronze Age period.

DSC00374
Wonderful example of cups, cup and ring and channels, carved stone, Ilkley Moor

What to look for:- Cupmarks, these are hollows cut into the surfaces of rocks which can be singular or in groups.
Cup and Ring Marks, A central singular cup surrounded by singular or multiple rings.
Cups, Rings and Channels, These can be cups and rings with ladders or channel joining them together.

These 3 are the most common in Britain although there are many more designs such as, spiral chambers, cups in rosette patterns, chevron channels, ladders, grid and curl like motifs.
After close examination of uneroded carvings, it was deducted that the carvings were pecked into the stone using tools with about a 5mm point with metal, flint or deer antler been the most likely tool used. The only real facts about the carvings meanings are, and will probably remain the only known facts, are, there is no clear picture of their real purpose.
There are some clues:-
* The carvings are situated close to or incorporated within burial mounds and cairns, there may be a link with burial practices, ancestral connections or the after life.
* They are also found on standing stones and close to stone circles, locations believed to have both ritual and religious purposes.
* They frequently appear on outcrop rock where there is an uninterupted view over the surrounding terrain, indicating, their locations had been specifically chosen, bearing in mind, at this period of time, most of the terrain was heavily wooded.

This outing was the first of three on this, an area I consider, one of the least understood and most metaphysical locations on the planet. I’m not alone thinking that, I know two people whose ashes are scattered on the moor, both parents of friends who, for whatever reason, asked for their remains to be shed there, so, it makes me wonder, how many others have done the same, what is the attraction and why?

Pan4
Located in Panorama Woods, Opposite St. Margarets’ Church, Queens’ Road, Ilkley (GR SE 11475 47288) – The Panorama Stones

The route was simplicity itself, nothing technical or difficult, about 6km in total with a return journey being the reverse of the outward, on a very well-defined, ancient footpath, there are many testing and far more difficult walks in the area, but, on this occasion, that wasn’t the purpose of my visit. I’d come in search of neolithic stone carvings and there became the challenge, finding them. On this occasion, they were all adjacent to the footpath, for reasons I will explain later, but, they’re not all obvious, and, if I was a gambling man, I’d place good money that the majority of walkers are oblivious to the carvings and stroll past unaware of their existence, just as I used to.

From the church I followed the road west for a couple of minutes till I saw the entrance to the moor at Hetchell Ghyll, ascending this overgrown, wild and picturesque ghyll to the, westerly bound, required footpath is a pleasure in itself.

Originally, The Panorama Stones were located half a mile away, on the moorland edge, in the woodland at the rear of the small Intake reservoir, but, they had to be moved to be saved, as 19th century development in their surroundings would have vandalised and destroyed them. Fortunately, in 1890, a Dr. Fletcher Little, purchased them for £10 and, in 1892, in order to save them, had them moved from their natural location to the present one, sadly, during their transportation, the largest stone was broken in two places, fortunately, better them broken and saved, than lost forever. Still, over the years, the combination of weather and vandalism have taken their toll and the carvings are now quite difficult to discern. In total there are 25 cups on the Panorama, 16 surrounded by between 1 and 5 rings, some incomplete, some linked by ladders and parallel grooves joined by perpendicular lines, the ladders are believed to be unique to this and the Barmishaw stone. The smaller stone has about 40 cups with 3 incomplete or eroded rings and some linking grooves. The smallest stone has 12 cups, one of which may have been a partial ring and stone.

Hetchell Ghyll and the ascent from Queens Road to Woodhouse Ridge and the wonderful, carve riddled, required footpath.

Emerging from the woods onto the westward bound footpath, which is also part of the long distance routes of the Millenium Way and the relatively new Dales High Way, it’s like leaving a jungle for a bleak moonscape, maybe an unfair comparison, but the change really is that immediate and instant, there’s no gradual gradient. Bear right, and onward, the second and probably, the most famous stone carving on Ilkley Moor, the world-famous Swastika Stone.

Left to Right:- The fenced and protected Swastika Stone from its high vantage point overlooking Lower Wharfedale, then, the original 4000-5000 year old and severely worn and weathered stone above the Victorian duplicate carved beneath. GR SE 09557 49697.

By far the most famous carved rock in the moor and, still the most mysterious in age, origin and understanding. Completely unique to the British Isles but almost identical to the Camonica Rose in Val Camonica, (Bresica, Italy), which suggests to some, there may be a connection to Roman troops situated at the outpost in Ilkley, which, would cancel the believed date of the original carving. There are enough suggestions to its meaning to drive anybody to the verge of insanity, the bottom line was, and remains, nobody knows. There are 9 cups within and around the 4 curves, with an additional and random curve to the top right with its own cup within. (Well, I’m not going to start to add all the random and wild suggestions to their representation, instead, I’m going to offer my own, the 9 cups are there to represent the 9 worlds of Viking Norse mythology with the 10th and outside one representing an expanding outlook! It was carved by the maverick, Soren the Norse as he roamed these lands in search of wild boar and continued his never ending battles against the Trolls from their homeland a few miles away close to Appletreewick, let’s face it, during winter, these parts certainly have the feel of Nifhelm). One there for the many ….ologists to contend with.

Only a few yards away, on the opposite side of the footpath, laid there like dormant stone coffin lids are 2 fallen stone gateposts, not that their carved structures would immediately strike the average passer-by to their original purpose, that is, if the average passer-by should actually observe them, I never had, and, I’m quite a fine representative of the average passer by, one of the gateposts plays host to 2 cup carvings. In my humble

DSC00402
One of 2 gateposts close to each other, this one containing 2 cup carvings, I wonder if they were overturned, would they reveal more?

opinion, these are more confusing than any other carving I’d yet discovered, there is no visible evidence to why the stones are there, there is no visible boundary for the posts to represent, nor are there any visible signs to where they formally stood, but, the carved cups are very visible within one of them.

DSC00404
The 2 cup carvings are clearly visible although any sign of surrounding rings has either eroded away or never existed.

Onward and westerly I continued, next stop, the Anvil Stone, this one, did cause a little self-inflicted confusion. The GPS I was using, is, in my opinion, the best thing since sliced bread, but, it does have a single fault, man, or in my case, me! As long as the GR number is correctly added, it will find a needle in a haystack, or in this case, any stone required, the thing is, you have to ensure the figures added are correct, one error and you could be miles away, and, in this instance, I placed 03 where I should have inserted 30, and, I was about 100 yards out, on a hillside with hundreds of stones scattered around, but, after appearing a complete eccentric loonatic to the young couple sat above me on the hillside, I eventually found the temporarily illusive stone.

The Anvil Stone (SE 0928 4700), no prizes for guessing how it gained its name. It’s a triangular flat slab which perches on the top of other rocks with its point facing north-east. Like others, it’s sat close to the track following the northern edge of Rombald’s Moor above the River Wharfe.

DSC00412
No question about it, cup and rings on the top of the Anvil Stone

I climbed onto it and looked carefully for any carvings, and, although there were many indents into the surface, if they were originally cups, or cup and rings, then in this case, time, weather and erosion had delivered a particularly harsh blow upon them and it was particularly difficult for me, with my untrained eye, to decipher if they were or had been natural or man-made. Still, a magnificent stone with, space beneath for shelter or, as has been suggested, burial.

Continuing along the footpath, for maybe another couple of hundred yards, I wasn’t counting my footsteps, delivered me to the next famous stone on my journey, The Sepulchre Stone, (SE 0907 4700). Easily recognised by its unusual shape and strata, plus, it’s smaller adjoining stone, this too is home to carvings and a potential shelter beneath, and, as the name suggests, a possible ancient grave, so too does it dominate a prominent view over the valley below.

DSC00420
The local Trolls named this Soren’s Stone, after their leader, made a solo bid to kill Soren the Norse, King Troll had single-handedly pursued Soren close to this spot, when, after realising the rest of the Trolls had given up the chase, and, it was a one to one, Soren hurled this stone at the defiant Troll, landing it directly on top of it, so, the King of the Trolls remains, to this day, buried beneath, is there a man brave enough to raise the stone and confirm this story, knowing full well, King Troll’s have been known to rise from the dead with the first hint of daylight, well, I for one, have no intention of finding out!

There’s no disputing I wasn’t feeling very pleased with myself, the route took no working out, but the stones, well, they aren’t sign posted so it’s still a pleasant feeling individually identifying them.

DSC00419
Unusual and unknown (to me), stone, a distinct cup on the surface and a strange seat like structure to its front. I’ve decided, once Soren the Norse, the maverick wanderer, wild boar hunter and Troll destroyer, used this spot to rest and dine after a day’s hunting and, of course, he could keep an eye out over the valley for any trespassing Trolls should they venture from their hidden valley close to Appletreewick.

Five done, (including the gate post), two to do, that meant, continuing along to the Noon Stone and the famous and prominent Doubler Stones, they all seem to have unusual and interesting names, who named them and why were the selected names chosen? Maybe I’d find an answer for the next one, the Noon Stone, another few hundred yards along the track to find it.

The Noon Stone from each compass point, and, a view of the cupped summit, it’s a natural stone and mentioned in Paul Bennetts ‘Old Stones of Elmet. Initially described as the Noon Stone in 1579. It’s been suggested that it may have been used for some form of time keeping, or, as it’s been described as the stone over which the noon-day sun appears. I wonder how well it keeps the time?

The day had been wonderful, not a great distance covered, but, slow due to the interest and discoveries, now came a little more effort, the footpath needed maybe another mile completing prior to reaching my final destination, there was a left turn at the junction known as Windgate Nick prior to about half a mile’s walk to the famous Doublers’.

The Doubler Stones are 2 naturally shaped rocks on the western edge of Rombalds’ Moor above Silsden. Their peculiar shapes are due to the top stone been gritstone standing above the softer and easier eroded sandstone. Both tops have cup carvings with the eastern one has 2 whilst the western one has several cups and 3 deep basins with grooves.

DSC00432
The western Doubler stone with its 3 deep basins and grooves

So, after spending half an hour or so climbing around and on top of the unusual and quite incredible Doublers, it was time to return on my outward route back to the car. My canine companion, the never tiring Mountain Meg, didn’t seem to mind which way we went, so, after a little self appraisal at achieving my target on the first attempt, the hour or so return walk to the car began. Another successful day in the hills.

GO STRAIGHT TO HELL BOYS – GO STRAIGHT TO HELL GHYLL

Having just watched one of the best documentaries I have ever seen, an hour-long, brilliantly filmed testimony to one of the Lake Districts finest, Blencathra and Sharp Edge, the memories of my visit there 30+ years ago came flooding back, we climbed it in bad weather, low cloud, mist and drizzle, we scrambled the ridge and at one point, I lifted myself up one of the rugged rocks, pulled myself up and almost over the shiny, slippy rock, as my head and shoulders ascended the edge, the view awaiting me was, to say the least, very memorable, a sheer drop of maybe 500 feet below me to Scales Tarn, I can still feel that absorbing breath of shock which immediately absorbed me, one of the most memorable breaths of my life. The point I’m eventually and gradually making is quite simply, that such a wonderful documentary will guarantee an over population of Blencathra (Saddleback to the purists), and, for me, the Lake District is and always has been, over populated, the beauty of the entire region guarantees it. This mass of people, for me, defeats the object of the challenge and the solo trip. Navigation is made easy when you can ask for guidance and directions, check with others of your location, where to aim for if you feel lost and isolated, how to react if you do become lost, these skills are vital to learn for yourself, that’s why, I choose quieter locations, new to me, and, often, in poor weather, that way, each outing I take, my skills improve, and that’s my target; you never know, one day I may master it!

hell-ghyll-img011

So, why Hell Ghyll, simple, until recently I’d never heard of it, and, it’s located in an area I’m unfamiliar with, on a route I’d never walked, and, as it happened, on a day of cloud and mist, more challenging to navigate and free from people! Basically, with a name like that, the attraction was instant!

The route was roughly a 7 mile horseshoe with the wonderful looking pub at its start and finish, not that I’d have the opportunity to sample its fine ales, my visit was a day one and, from what I could see, there were no facilities for camping, (I may be wrong on that one, I hope so, the location is wonderful for various alternative walking routes, so, outside a pub, would be a marvellous spot to pitch a tent for a couple of days).

From the pub the route took me about a mile, via a footpath and Cobbles Hill to join the The High Way footpath, a gradual ascent, but not over difficult, even for these old and weary legs, trek and a tremendous introduction to what would become a wonderful day in Wensleydale.

DSC00299.JPG
The High Way

In February, in the Yorkshire Dales, usually, there are 2 kinds of weather, rain, or, it’s about to start raining, it suits me fine, I’m prepared for it, and, it virtually guarantees the hills and dales, if only for a few hours, belong to me, and only me. Lost in this world of silent contemplation I can forget about everything and any issues or problems that may be on my mind.

People put time recommendations on routes such as these, I think this one had a 3 hour time attached to it, who decides such times? Why are they suggested, if a walk such as this takes me 10 hours, I’m happy with it, I try not to look at my watch if possible, watching the clock instead of the scenery simply defeats the purpose of being there.

After ascending to a footpath/bridleway marked on the map as The High Way I became slightly confused if this was part of the relatively recently formed Dales High Way, or not. I don’t know it’s route even if it has been included on recently published OS maps since March 2014. The High Way footpath was my route for a couple of miles, it was a delight to follow, littered with the ghostly remains of farm buildings, lime kilns and fast flowing streams descending down the hill-side into the early stages of the River Ure. An easy NWN route to follow which took me towards my next destination, Hell Ghyll Bridge.

Had I been there a few days earlier, the sound of the trains running along the Settle-Carlisle railway line in the valley below, would have been powered by steam engines, as, during the previous weekend, as part of the celebrations of the reopening of the line, steam engines had been running along the famously scenic route.

The mist covered moorland to my right, Abbotside Common, is home to the black grouse and there are warning signs to protect them along the route, it mention’s how dog’s must be kept on a lead which, isn’t a bad thing, although, I’d covered half the track with my canine companion before I saw any such signpost, not that Mountain Meg, has the heart or the temperament to harm or catch anything, respecting the rules isn’t unreasonable.

dsc00310
An old, long time abandoned and forgotten Lime Kiln

The weather had been unfavourable all day, and, as the hours progressed, it gradually deteriorated, there was no heavy rain, it was simply becoming mistier, wetter and heavier in dull, grey cloud. It didn’t deter my day, it simply spoiled the views of this magnificent valley and the surrounding terrain.

Of all the tracks I’d covered over the years, this particular stretch of the High Way was truly dynamic, it was littered with history and fascination, it had fast flowing ghylls descending into the valley below, shake holes, abandoned farm houses, buildings and lime kilns, all the evidence of a once well worked location, fed on harsh surroundings and tough physical labour, a place without modern comforts or luxury, isolated and exposed to the wild elements, if only these structures could tell their tales, stories of long harsh winters with little or no means of communication to the outside world, an amazing couple of miles hiking, truly exhilarating. Now, the only residents are the ghosts of those long gone, and, when the weather permits, the sheep, as they graze and maintain their wild and rugged lifestyle, in their challenging, bleak but outstanding terrain.

The High Way, at least the stretch of it I covered, between Hell Ghyll Bridge and the point I joined it, just below High Dyke, I found confusing with the modern long distance trail known as the Dales High Way. The one I walked is an ancient track, with evidence supporting it was used in the Bronze Age, (discovery of flint tools), then, used by the Romans (discovery of the Mallerstang Hoard), as they tracked between their forts in Wensleydale and the A66. In more recent times it was often used by Lady Anne Clifford, the Countess of Pembroke, as she journeyed between her many castles, the track was in use until the 1820s when the new turnpike road (now the B6259) was built.. Even the buildings ruins along the High Way seem far too elaborate in their construction to have been merely for sheep, these were dwellings, and, it’s said that one, of the ruins was used as an inn called the Highway House, on a well-used route through the mountains – well used, not only by nobility, but also by drovers, tradespeople, and highwaymen, too. And Mary Queen of Scots is said to have passed along it in 1568, on her way from Carlisle to imprisonment in Bolton Castle.

dsc00306

THE DALES HIGH WAY was conceived in 2007 by husband and wife, Tony and Chris Grogan. It’s a 90 mile route across the high points of the Yorkshire Dales. It starts in Saltaire and finishes in Appleby with a return journey via the Settle-Carlisle railway line. Since March 2014 the route has been shown on OS leisure maps, and it is recognised by the Long Distance Walkers Association. It is described on Bradford’s official tourism site and the Yorkshire Dales National Park website.  An informal “Friends of A Dales High Way” group has been established.

dsc00303

The High Way really was as it’s name suggests, an ancient road, well known as an important route through the hills and dales, how many feet have walked across it, how many incidents have occurred on it, how many lives have been lost along it, who knows, I certainly don’t.

Hell Ghyll Bridge
Hell Ghyll Bridge – viewed from the West Riding of Yorkshire across into Westmorland

Dating from 1825, Hell Ghyll Bridge is a single arch span which replaced an earlier structure. One of the parapets houses a particular stone which is believed to be an original boundary stone between the traditional counties of the West Riding of Yorkshire and Westmorland, the true counties, I always choose to ignore the ludicrous boundary changes introduced in 1974.

Prior to reaching Hell Ghyll Bridge, (who named it that and why?), all the ghylls, streams and becks were feeders for the River Ure below, the county border really did leap out and define itself here, Hell Ghyll is a feeder for the River Eden. It’s entirely Westmorland and is one of the few large rivers in England that flows northwards. The source of the river is on the high limestone fells above Mallerstang Common, near the West Riding border, and makes its way across eastern Westmorland, with the hills of the North Pennines to the East, and the fells of the Lake District to the west, to Carlisle. Here it merges with other rivers to form the great Solway Firth estuary, before reaching the open sea, 90 miles (145 km) from its source.

The River Ure is approximately 74 miles (119 km) long from its source to the point where it changes its name to the River Ouse. It is the principal river of Wensleydale, which is the only one of the major dales now named after a village rather than its river. The old name for the valley was Yoredale after the river that runs through it.It’s is one of many rivers and waterways that drain the Dales into the River Ouse. Tributaries of the Ure include the River Swale and the River Skell.

DSC00333
Descending Hell Ghyll from the bridge to the waterfall

I felt as though I’d almost achieved my target, not my complete route, I’d only achieved half of that, but, Hell Ghyll was the mysterious object of desire and, without any real difficulty, I’d found it, a feeling of gratification.

Although it had been a wet and drizzly day, it hadn’t rained heavily, had it done so, the surrounding view and running water would have been tremendously more aggressive. Once at the base of the stream, there it was, in all it’s magnificence, Hell Ghyll Force. The waterfall is a single drop fall of around 8 metres (25 feet). Hell Ghyll, which begins its life as Red Ghyll, is fed by water rising from the High Seat range of fells. I was informed that, as part of the Duke of Edinburgh Award, on conclusion, participants were expected to leap into the pool at the waterfall’s base, not something I intended to copy, not  that day.

DSC00340
Hell Ghyll Force

At this half way point it was time for some refreshment, even with all the modern equipment and fast boiling cooking kit, this was the occasion to divulge into the traditional pre-made sandwiches and a flask of piping hot coffee. At least the coffee was mine, the sandwiches I had to share, old Mountain Meg simply stared at me the moment I’d sat down and opened my snack, it takes a stronger person than myself to refuse a hungry hound some tuna sandwiches, besides, she was great company and she deserved every bit.

I was surprised to see how close to the waterfall stood the Settle-Carlisle railway line, maybe 200 yards from each other and the waterfall is clearly visible from the train.

DSC00342

My intention had been to return to the car via a route ascending Grisedale Common on the opposite side of the valley. A walk through clearly defined marsh and bog, with an ascent to the common, prior to returning to the car. I departed with a full intention of completing the route, but, only a few minutes into it I had second thoughts. The terrain was saturated, and, the marsh was unforgiving. Each step through it requires twice, or even three times the effort of an established track or footpath, the mist and cloud were covering the summits and the drizzle was turning into rain, I made the executive decision to descend back to the road and opt for the easier option. I took the direct route and found myself confronted with a dry stone wall, as I climbed over it (had I damaged it I would have immediately repaired it), I slipped and fell backwards into the marsh, I was saturated, soaked to the skin, a shame, but these things happen.

I was disillusioned, cold, wet and now pretty miserable, it was about 3 miles back to the car and considering my state, it was going to be a long three miles, but, these moments ensure these outings are memorable and they make good conversation.

As I slogged along the road back to the car, it was too late to take to my Gortex jacket, the damage had been done, but, the railway line and it’s viaducts and tunnels became a major attraction, something I’ve decided to treat my son to during the school holidays at Easter, he will love the journey to Carlisle and back to Leeds, so will I. Anyway, maybe the route wasn’t completed but my target of Hell Ghyll had been achieved, I’d had a wonderful day and I was looking forward to arriving home and divulging into a good stew and vegetables, another wonderful day in God’s Own County.

“And I Bring You FIRE”- A pyromaniacs dream come true

OK, call me a whimp, but, solo wild camping in winter doesn’t deter me, I love been out in the snow and ice, it’s the 8 hours of daylight that’s the disincentive, the thought of the isolation, in sub-zero temperatures is one thing, the thought of having to spend up to 16 hours of it in total darkness, simply lacks the appeal to me as it may not to others, even with the potential of watching downloaded films on the Ipad, the fact remains, I’d still be stuck within the confines of a bivi or one man tent for 16 hours, exposed to the elements, in the middle of mist filled cloud, and possibly, snow, ice and constant rain or sleet absorbing the terrain, it really doesn’t sound like much fun. There are only so many spoons you can whittle in one night, besides, once the shavings fall inside the sleeping bag, well, it would be worse than the Highlands and Lake District midges.

So, as I have rediscovered my love for the outdoors, I  needed to discover a new alternative. I’ve been a devotee to Ray Mears for many years, and, Paul Kirtley certainly knows his stuff too, as do many others. With the assistance of the marvelous YouTube, and, so many hours of watching many publications, I decided to venture to the woods and make an attempt at the first and foremost necessities of the outdoors, fire-making, with a ferro rod, steel, tinder and kindling, which, in January, in northern England, one of the wettest and frozen parts of the UK, the testing challenge certainly was awaiting me.

2017-01-02-13-01-39
Storm debris covers the footpath on the Ebor Way

Another, and probably one of the biggest challenge, was finding some secluded woodland which doesn’t have, ‘Private’, ‘No Camping’ or ‘No Fires’ signs daubed all over them, especially, been situated so close to a major English city. What little woodland there is available, much of it really is littered with heavy traffic, I’m not the only one who enjoys the benefits of wild woodland.

The greatest natural ally for fire-making in the outdoors is the deciduous Silver Birch. I’m not going to pretend I’ve magically transformed into some kind of woodsman overnight, I certainly haven’t, but, this particular tree offers bushcraft, amongst other things, a bark which can be used for both tinder and fire-starting, a nutritious sap which can be tapped and drank, the bark can be heated and the resin collected, which is useful as a waterproof glue and again, helpful for fire starting. Plus, if you visit Canada with Ray Mears, he’ll take you to a native American who, minus instructions or a plan, can, transform the bark and timber into a traditional canoe.

2017-01-02-14-48-16
The caveman returns, but next time, the Kuksa will be replaced by a bigger and modern equivalent, a metal outdoor mug, simple reason been, although the Kuksa looks and feels the part, this particular one is far too small, I want a mug full, not half a portion of hot coffee.

Now let’s be realistic here, if my memory serves me right, man has made fire since forever and a day, and even earlier than that, which, really does pre-date Swan Vesta, Ronson or the legendary Zippo, not to mention the 10 for £1 disposables readily available on any swag market stall in the country, so, it’s fair to suggest, that today’s modern hi-tech equivalent, old Homo Sapiens, [citation needed] should easily equal and surpass these ancient people’s, we’ve progressed, haven’t we?  In my new Swanndri shirt I felt like an oversized Hobbit but, the question remained, could I step back in time 4,000 years and equal primitive man? That, was the question. Who fears progress?

This is how it’s done, (not the fire, she’s cheating, but the rest, the shelter, bedding and cooking, she’s good), the thing is, where on earth, around my neck of the woods, would it be possible to find a traffic free spot, in the woods, where you could construct something as good as this? Thank you Survival Lilly 🙂

The landscape I was searching for was heavily wooded, close to running water, isolated and free from traffic, and hopefully, containing Silver Birch and dead standing trees, I’d no intention of destroying anything living, that wasn’t on the agenda.

20161208_110407
The tinder pouch, a circular piece of leather, punched and threaded with paracord, a simple but robust piece of kit, handy for a variety of tinder

The location I found, was close to the Ebor Way footpath, far from been isolated or free from traffic and as far as silver birch were concerned, there wasn’t one to be seen for miles around, but, the decision for the location was simple, it was tucked away down an embankment, adjacent to the river, an area, which on viewing, was frequently flooded and an over flow for the main river, and, absolutely abundant with dead driftwood, there was more dead wood around me than in a timber yard, and, even without the silver birch, this was a superb spot to practice fire making, especially as I was now using my own tinder and nothing more, the challenge awaited.

fire-base
Not my photo, but, an example of how I initially made a base and platform of almost equal length logs to build the fire on, thus, allowing oxygen to flow into the fire from beneath, raising the fire from the cold ground and slowly contributing to the overall structure once the fire had become established. It doesn’t need to be pretty, it needs to be effective and, the deeper the log platform base, the longer and hotter the fire will burn.

The next step probably was the most time-consuming of the entire manufacturing process, that been, the collection and distribution of the required materials.

“The greater the need for fire, the greater the difficulty in its manufacture”

Preparation is imperative and following the simple initial procedure really does ensure the end result flows smoother, I had a tinder pouch with a variety of potential contents, old man’s beard, silver birch bark, cotton wool, cotton wool soaked in fat/dripping, old bicycle inner tube – cut down into small pieces and a piece of magnesium block, I’d yet to find and prepare any fatwood. The ferro rod and striker were itching to make their debut.

“Manufacturing fire really does warm  you three times, the first, collecting the firewood, the second, igniting the tinder, and third, the fire itself!”

It took me, probably, the best part of an hour to prepare the location and collect all the wood, due to the terrain it wasn’t difficult, dry and dead wood littered the area, dead bracken lay everywhere, to say I was only yards from a river, a river that floods and can be treacherous, the debris it had gifted me during its last flood was abundant.

2017-01-02-14-14-39
I was too busy preparing everything to remember to photograph the early stages, but, this is the result in the fires second stage of ignition, once the tinder and kindling had ignited and taken shape, the second elements were added, the middle range, the  roughly 10 to 20mm thick pieces and finally, the heavier, thicker logs, the ones that really do make a fire burn with a raging warmth and comfort.

Excluding the tinder, the 3 required stages are as follows, 1:- a pile of dead twigs, dry leaves, bracken, or anything small and combustible enough to take a small flame, 2:- a second pile of bigger twigs, small branches, roughly between 10 and 20mm in diameter, then, 3:- the bigger and substantial content for the fire, the dead and hopefully dry logs, if they seem too wet, take the axe to them and split them into smaller, dryer pieces, usually, the centre of random logs will be reasonably dry, the more the merrier.

canteen-1
Home made belt attachment for fire making. Contents include:- water bottle and metal canteen, multi-tool, ferro rod and steel, magnesium block and steel, various tinders and water purification tablets.The possibles pouch was intended as simply that, but, it was a wonderful surprise when I discovered the water bottle and canteen fitted perfectly  within, so, I added a belt loop at the back, an additional pocket and loops for the knife/multi-tool and the ferro rod, thus, ensuring it’s complete fire kit purpose. When ever possible I use leather for any outdoor kit, handcrafted and recycled leather, for me, adds to the outdoor wilderness feel and a subtleness for the primitive  alter-ego.

So, the moment of truth finally arrived, the preparation completed and a pile of twigs and dry leafs collated on the surface of the base logs, the neat piles of the following stages located at arms reach, some cotton wool and rubber inner tube placed within the kindling, and, we’re off. Had they still failed, I could have soaked the cotton wool tinder with the used cooking fat, I had in a tin in my rucksack, or shaved and feather the centre of a piece of the thicker logs I’d collected, adding more dry and combustible content, but, fortunately, it deemed unnecessary. The ferro rod sparked immediately, and the cotton wool ignited, and, for a moment I thought I’d achieved immediate success, not this time, unfortunately the kindling didn’t immediately take to flame. With my second attempt, I ignited the rubber from the cotton wool, and, although everything was slightly damp, the kindling took to the combination or rubber and cotton wool, and, hey presto, I had fire, a wonderful feeling.

tools
Tools of the trade – The axe, I found the rusty and discarded head in an old ammo box with various other clear-out tools outside an antique shop in Whitby, a little challenge to renovate it, so I cleaned off the rust, had the blade ground and added a little paint and a new shaft, the banco folding saw; a must for bushcraft, the Spyderco folding pocket knife, a fixed blade knife; this one been the Norwegian Helle Viking Bushcraft Knife; a wonderful piece and, the wire saw. The guitar to the right, unfortunately, not part of the kit and something I simply don’t have the patience to learn, and, sadly, because it would be an ideal situation to hear it been played, after cooking over an open fire, in the woods, with a few beers or a bottle of wine, and some good tunes been strummed away, sounds truly wonderful. A pair of work gloves, although not included in the photograph, really are advisable to wear throughout the procedure.

I’d anticipated the result to take longer and be more difficult, but, I’d made it easier, simply by preparation and planning, by collecting all the required elements, having them close at hand and available. If I can do it, anybody can do it. Referring back to the base logs, it’s also useful to lay two more stage 2 bits of wood between the base and the tinder/kindling, if the 2 pieces are laid in an inverted V shape, hanging beyond the fire so the two ends could be used as handles, should the kindling require a little air blowing inside to encourage the flame to emerge, it’s possible to, relatively safely, lift everything, using the V shaped sticks, and blow at the kindling to assist the flames to manufacture.

Summary, for a first attempt I was quite satisfied, there are things I could have done to have improved it, such as increase the base platform by adding more logs, it’s something I’ll take with me for next time, I could have stockpiled more reserve fuel, but, I wasn’t intending to stay too long, my challenge was simply to build a fire and, I achieved it, and, it was superb practice, my methods worked for me and I learnt a lot, so, with this little extra knowledge gained, next time, I’ll be there to advance myself a little more, I’m looking forward to it.

2017-01-02-14-39-48
The result, a raging fire, plenty of additional fuel at hand, waiting to be added when required and a billy tin with water inside awaiting to make a much required coffee.

And finally, the golden rule applied, Leave No Trace or Leave Only Footprints, even though the area where I’d been, will, without doubt, flood in the next few weeks or even days, my conscience dictated my decision, so, I scattered the ashes and covered the location with wet leaves and mud, conscience cleared.

2017-01-02-15-48-34
No trace remains 🙂

Roman Forts and Priest Hole Escape Routes – Bardsey and Scarcroft

Two locations of which I can only describe as been completely off my usual beaten track, but, in the same breath, two locations with an interesting history and unusual attractions, the fact that they both stand about a fifteen minute drive from my home, and I’m very familiar with both villages, and, numerous villagers, proved sufficient enough for me to spend a dull autumn Saturday afternoon investigating for myself. Not that the Bardsey pub, The Bingley Arms, needed a great deal of investigation, over the years, I’ve spent many an hour or two investigating the fine ales available there!

DSC00245.JPG
Allegedly, the oldest pub in England

Both villages stand within an invisible line on the map known as ‘The Golden Triangle’, the reason being, the area within it’s borders, North Leeds, York and Wetherby, are said to be amongst some of the wealthiest in the UK, two streets in Scarcroft, Ling Lane and Bracken Park are the most expensive in Leeds, and probably, the rest of Yorkshire. There lay the interesting question of how you define wealth? Needless to say, on this occasion, my visit wasn’t to hunt for a new home, I’ll leave that for another day, it was a far less expensive visit, that been to follow a walking route which would lead me to the alleged oldest pub in England and an ‘off the road’, hidden and almost unknown, Roman Hill Fort.

DSC00246.JPG
All Hallows Church, Bardsey, dates from the 9th century and contains one of the best surviving Saxon buildings in the county.

The route was relatively short, about 3 miles, maximum 4, with a section of it following an undisputed old roman road. Starting at The Bingley Arms in Bardsey, joining the A58 for about 100 yards, southerly, prior to crossing the road and entering Hetchell Woods and following the footpath to Pompocali Roman Fort, then, heading back on the horseshoe route into Bardsey via Scarcroft.

bardsey-fort

Now, let’s not dwell on me been some kind of local history buff or expert, I’m definitely not, I have a strong interest in my local surroundings and the historical value they contain, but, that’s where it ends; but, it really did come as a surprise that I’d never previously heard of this Roman Fort a few miles up the road from my home with a very Italian name of Pompacali, up Pomay? Nor am I a closet police detective, but, Pompacali does have a very Italian ring to it, and, not a particularly Roman one, but, that’s only my very amateur opinion, regardless, this one had to be seen.

Hetchell Wood, to me, is the epitome of how a woodland should be, dense, limited sunlight, a variety of trees and vegetation, boggy in parts, steep and flooded areas, and, almost teaming in wildlife, overgrown with broken trees and moss covered rocks and branches littering and decomposing en masse. Perfect escapism.

DSC00262.JPG
Dismantled railway bridge, Hetchell Woods, Bardsey

Not only does this magnificent woodland subscribe to all of the aforesaid, further hidden gems are simply awaiting discovery. There used to be a railway line running through the area on the Leeds – Wetherby line, this ran through many of the local villages, including Scarcroft, Thorner, Bardsey and Linton but, in 1963 during the Beeching cuts, this line, like so many others, was closed, leaving only the haunting remains of stone bridges and cuts in the ground where the trains once ran.

dsc00260
Where the ford crosses the Roman road, Hetchell Woods

Whilst I was hovering around the first impressive visual evidence of the former railway I’d encountered, I had the pleasure of meeting a really friendly local man who, like myself, was walking his dogs, we started chatting about the terrain and its history, where, very enthusiastically, he asked me to follow him to witness for myself, the Roman remains of the potential, seemingly anonymous, hill fort.

To discover this outstanding, obviously man-made landscape came as an exciting and wonderful surprise, the Pompocali Roman Fort. Breathtaking as it appeared, a Roman fort remains, at least in my amateur mind, disputable. There’s no denying it’s lacking any strategic location and a superb defensive quality, there’s quite a strangely romantic aura in the surroundings, not excluding the very prominent Roman road leading to and from the location. The problem is, sites such as this, throughout Britain, are listed and recognised by English Heritage, they are, to a certain degree, protected and appear in the history books and, latter-day, social media sites, this doesn’t. To me, the mounds appeared somewhat random and none uniformed, there was no stonework anywhere, no evidence there had ever been any. I’m not convinced. The minor roman road running alongside the site may be, as some suggest, been used for transporting the granite from nearby quarrying, and, the numerous mounds been the resulting spoils from the digging, to me, that sounds more feasible, maybe it’s a job for Tony Robinson and the Time Team?

dsc00268
Scarcroft corn grinding mill, built 1810

Following the footpath of the Leeds Way, it wasn’t long before I’d discovered another fascinating ruin, this been of a former corn grinding mill, from its appearance and rather diminished remains, it appeared that a more recent form of quarrying had occurred and most of it had been recycled, but, this too, must have had an important role in its day, especially for the local farming community.

Onward, returning towards the affluent neighboring village of Scarcroft, I continued. The local and surrounding roads I’m very familiar with, I drive around them on  a weekly basis, but, taking time to leave them and venture ‘off the beaten track’, (literally), can be both rewarding and gratifying, it takes such little effort to discover so much.

DSC00272.JPG
Disused railway bridge, Scarcroft

My destination was now the New Inn, the only pub or amenity in this ridiculously over priced suburb/village. The pub is located on the A58 Wetherby Road and was constructed in 1852, for a while, a few years ago, its name was changed to the Bracken Fox, then, in 2011, it reverted back to its original name of the New Inn, I’m guessing, but it was originally a staging post for horse-drawn traffic using the roads. The present building is a 1930s roadhouse which stands on the site of the original one. So too does it seem too coincidental that it’s located on a cross roads junction, opposite the old toll house. The Toll Bar House, (pictured below), was used between 1826 and 1876 when a toll system was in place between Wetherby and Leeds.

The pub is close to an area known locally as Wayside, I’m sure there is an interesting history to this part of the suburbs of Bardsey and Scarcroft, but, sadly I’m unaware of any of it, the two streets standing there is Wayside Crescent and Wayside Mount, the latter been situated on a bridleway, and, my return route to Bardsey cum Rigton and the Bingley Arms, my starting point. Another pair of local streets where the house prices defy logic.

dsc00287
Billys Path

Following the bridleway back towards Bardsey it took me down a footpath which reminded me of an old friend of mine who, very sadly, passed away a while ago, Billy Gilmore, a larger than life local character and former police officer. He was almost of celebrity status within the area, to such an extent, that, on news of his death, the local newspaper, featured a full-page article about him. I think this footpath was his short-cut home after his very frequent visits to his local, The Bingley Arms, even if it wasn’t, in Billy’s memory, it deserves the title I have given it. A little story between Billy and myself was, many years ago, whist sharing a pint with him in another pub a few miles away at Moortown Corner. The long gone Chained Bull, in the days when 10.30pm was the Sunday closing time, I complained to him how I was frustrated at having to go home at such an unearthly hour, he asked me if I wanted to go elsewhere for a while and another drink, needless to say, he took me across the city to a sports club, where, at 5am on Monday morning, we finally left and headed back across the city, home, I failed to make it to work that day, RIP Billy.

dsc00285
Descending Billys Path back into Bardsey with the prominent All Hallows church tower within clear view. The church is believed to be the first Saxon towered church in England.

Bardsey cum Rigton, my starting and termination point for this enlightening little blog of mine, for a village of its relatively small size, has more than one claim to fame. A sports club with a cricket and football team. Its mentioned in the 1086 Domesday Book as “Berdesei” and “Bereleseie”. A motte and bailey castle dating back to post 1066, and, the birthplace of playwright and poet William Congreave – (Hell hath no wrath like a woman scorned, twas WC and not Shakespeare who gave us this much used and very true line of phrase). Lastly, and not least, the famous Bingley Arms. Originally named The Priests Inn. It proudly claims to be the oldest pub in Britain, with a history dating back to between AD 905 and AD 953, and says that it served as a safe house for persecuted Catholic priests, and also as a courthouse from around AD 1000 from which offenders were taken to the pillory across the road. 

Within the chimney, in the main part of the building, stand secretly hidden are two priest holes dating back to 1539AD. Here Catholic priests hid for safety following the Dissolution of the Monasteries by King Henry VIII.  Priest holes are not rare, but it’s uncommon to find two in the same location. During alterations to the building in the 1700s a wonderful stone inglenook fireplace was discovered. It takes pride of place in the tap-room next to a fully-functioning Dutch oven for bread production – one of the few to still be in its original position in the country.

In 1780 the Inn was renamed, the Bingley Arms, after it was taken over by Lord Bingley. With such a rich history it’s no wonder that its had its fair share of ghostly occurences over the years. Objects have moved or disappeared, pans of water have boiled on stoves whilst switched off and candles have ignited on their own. Several ghosts have also been spotted at the pub. A cavalier, known as a practical joker with a great sense of humour, has been seen by staff dressed in fine clothes with a large hat, a young girl is said to have been responsible for strange activity and a mysterious dog has been seen walking around by visitors.

I was once talking to a resident who lives on the hill which looks down onto the village, he claimed, that during constructing an extension to his house, and digging the new foundations, they discovered brickwork which turned out to be part of an escape tunnel, leading from the pub to the top of the village.

DSC00288.JPG
The old village shop, in all the years I’ve driven past, I’ve never known it open, but, who knows, one day it may make a come back.

No, not an average outing to the dales, mountains, fells and moors of northern Britain, no wild camping or navigating through wild wilderness, bleak and weather beaten, exposed terrain, but, a couple of hours walking, discovering wonderful hidden gems, only a few minutes drive from my own home, I may live in north Leeds, but, surprisingly, just beyond the fringes of the ‘Golden Triangle’, that may be something I can live with, regardless, a wonderful Saturday afternoon.

The Hole of Horcum – ‘The Devil’s Punchbowl’ – North York Moors

The Hole of Horcum is located on the North York Moors, (not the North Yorks or the North Yorkshire Moors, as some suggest, they don’t exist), in the Tabular Hills, (an east west line of distinct hills running from Scarborough in the east to the Black Hambleton hills in the west). It stands within a section of a valley known as the Levisham Beck, upstream of two local hidden villages, Levisham and Lockston, both of which pre-date the domesday book.

dsc00244
Levisham village with my starting point to the right of the Horseshoe Inn which stands at the top/centre of the village

There are two suggested starting points for this walk, one being Levisham, where, it starts and concludes at the village pub, and the second being the viewing point at Saltergate on the busy A169. Needless to say where my decision lay, even if I have ‘been on the wagon’ for almost a year. To me, a walk like this deserves such a scenic English village as its first and last port o’ call.

DSC00201.JPG
Early into the walk

There are two theories regarding the formation of this 400 feet deep and 3/4 mile wide unusual hollow in the ground.  One claims how the gorge was created by a natural process known as ‘spring sapping’, a process where the water which has welled up from the hillsides, gradually undermines the slopes, slowly eroding the rocks, and, over thousands of years, gradually forming the valley as it slowly, both widens and deepens into this huge and deep cauldron, a process continuing to present day.

DSC00204.JPG

The second, and in my opinion, discarding all this geological nonsense regarding its creation derives from a Saxon giant known as Wade, who, by today’s standards may have been considered to have anger management issues. He was certainly famous and legendary, as, he features in, amongst others, the works of both Chaucer and Thomas Malory. I’m not sure if he was a local giant or simply travelling through the area, either way, he was with his wife, and, I’m not too sure what really happened, nobody ever understands what really happens with couples behind closed doors, it depends who tells their story first, either way, it’s fair to say they had a row, it could have been after a session on the mead? But, it resulted in Wade hurling a huge mound of mud at his estranged wife, and, probably due to the over consumption of mead, and, fortunately for her, his shot missed and landed on the location of Horcum Hole, thus creating the aforesaid hole in the ground, and, that’s the version of its creation I trust to be the truth.

DSC00206.JPG
Levisham Moor and rainbow

I think Wade named it too, who else could have given us a location which is said to be the tenth rudest place-name in Britain, a true Saxon sense of humor.

The opening 3 miles of the walk is relatively easy, clearly defined and quite bleak regarding viewpoints and landmarks, but, looks can be deceiving as I’ll explain later, the history of the landscape is both interesting and historic. The return route is taken after accessing a wooden gate at the Saltergate junction with the A169 close to the viewpoint and car park on the roadside. Then, descending the footpath down into the Hole and gorge below, prior to following Levisham Beck back to the village, en route, there’s an alternative choice of route, one avoiding the difficult woodland walk and taking a route known as ‘The Griff’, or, the one I followed through the woodland.

DSC00214.JPG
The Saltergate end and turning point of the footpath, starting the quite steep descent into Horcum Hole. The A 169 in the background

Crossing the moor I soon discovered I was far from being alone, it’s a popular walk, easily accessible from the main road and enjoyed by many who appeared to have taken a chance as they drove by and decided to venture along the walk. For a while, after seeing these people, I felt somewhat overdressed and over prepared. Only a few other walkers seemed correctly kitted out for the outdoor weather and elements. People in jeans, training shoes, shorts, thin jackets, etc, carrying nothing for inclement weather, it seemed so strange to me, but, after a little thought, it was their lookout, even, if been realistic, the terrain wasn’t particularly dangerous or too far from help, but, my personal experience derives from the boy scout motto, be prepared, and, I do try to be.

DSC00217.JPG

On first sight the open moor seems quite bleak and featureless, it’s deceiving. It’s full of history and archaeological remains, from bronze age burrows, iron age boundary dykes, mounds, ditches, banks and ridges, evidence of burial sites, fortified farmsteads, enclosures and field systems are all confirmation of a once populated area, although, from the footpath, none of them are particularly easy to see.

Walking through Horcum Hole towards Levisham Beck was a wonderful experience, yet another Yorkshire gem, a superb walk and another adventure. I was also testing out 3 new pieces of kit, some new walking shoes, new Fjallraven zip off trousers (they weren’t zipped off on that day) and, my own hand made leather water bottle/fire starter containers. All 3 items proved valuable and durable.

The valley eventually became wet and muddy and, as I advanced towards the dense woodland and the final mile of the walk, I really did underestimate the difficulty of progressing through it, a magnificent summer location for a tarp and hammock, but, still a rude awakening through very wet woodland with a very narrow footpath through  steep and slippy terrain.

saltersgate-inn-levisham-n-york-moors
The famous Saltersgate Inn on the A169. I visited this on numerous occasions over the years. Allegedly the open fire was never extinguished due to it covering the grave of a murdered excise officer who disturbed local smugglers distributing their booty. Sadly, it closed down and became derelict, on a happy note, it is now being renovated and restored to its former glory, some good news for the area.

Emerging at the bottom of Levisham came as quite a relief, the last mile had been quite difficult and a real sting at the end of the walk. There too was the benefit of being in the quiet and sedate village, the Horseshoe Inn has a splendid reputation for fine ales and good food, a temptation I’m sure many would benefit from after a few hours in the open air, sadly for me, I wasn’t to benefit from such a delight, it was time for my homeward journey. How did I rate the walk in this wonderful part of North Yorkshire, on the North York Moors in the old North Riding, a reet good ‘un.

THE BOWDERDALE & THE CALF HORSESHOE – THE HOWGILLS – WESTMORLAND

En-route to these northern delights, I always drive via Skipton, the gateway to the Dales, and, this also takes me passed the village of Addingham, which sits alongside the River Wharfe between Skipton and Ilkley. Although there’s little relevance to my blog, hike and wild camp, I have a wonderful story about the village which I find intriguing and incredible, and, because of that, I feel a desire to share it, mainly because, each time I pass by, I think of it so it does become part of every trip.

  • “AD 867. The army went from East Anglia over the Humber’s mouth to York in Northumbria. There was great discord in this people amongst themselves; they had overthrown their king, Osbriht, and had taken an unnatural king, Aelle. They decided late in the year that they were going to fight the others, yet they gathered a great army and sought the force (Vikings) at York, they broke into the fort; some went in and there was immeasurable slaughter among the Northumbrians, some inside and some outside. The kings were both killed, and the survivors made peace with the force. The same year, bishop Ealhstan died; he had the bishoric at Sherbourne for fifty years, and his body lies there in the churchyard.”
  • Fearing for his life, Archbishop Wulfhere of York, fled to Addingham where he remained until 875 until he was recalled to York by the then Christian Danish ruler of the city, Guthred. Remaining in York until his death in 900. An interesting story I always think of when I’m driving past the village.

After my aborted and  disastrous previous visit, this time, I was definitely following the map and designated footpaths, no shortcuts through fields containing cattle, no barbed wired walls to climb and no unnecessary  difficult terrain to  scramble over, this time I was going to complete it, something I had convinced myself of..

DSC00159.JPG

The walk is about 12 miles long and, although the ascent to the Calf isn’t easy, I’ve known many greater challenging ones.  The route  basically heads south from the tiny hamlet of Bowderdale following  the valley basin adjacent to  the Bowderdale Beck, before ascending the footpath to The Calf. then, reversing the route in a northerly direction along the wonderful Dales High Way footpath, over the gently rolling summits of the Bowderdale Ridge home to  Hazelgill Knott and West Fell prior to descending back to Bowderdale.

DSC00162.JPG

Initially, I found (as I usually do), the opening footpath awkward to find, on this occasion I shouldn’t have done, but, I became confused regarding the visible choice of two, and, where each one led, basically, as the OS map clearly displays, it’s a matter of following the outside of the dry stone walls, where, the path takes the upward or downward route, one taking the lower walk along the beck, and the other, taking the ascent to the summit route.

DSC00163.JPG

As recommended I chose the lower route to follow, starting at 1500 hrs, this walk can easily be completed in a single journey within a few hours, depending on age and fitness, but, for me,  it’s the wild camp challenge of which I choose to participate, so, if I commence at late afternoon, it gives me time to complete half, prior to bedding down overnight and completing it the following morning, that way, for me, I achieve the best of both worlds.

The footpath is exceptionally good, (once I’d discovered it), and, although it was a cloudy, late summers day, the terrain was saturated, I don’t know why I bothered purchasing my canvas summer boots, they’re no use at any time in the mountains of northern Britain, regardless should I feel the desire to wear them. The biting cold wind funnelled down the valley as I trudged along this bleak location, surrounded by these gargantuan, bleak and featureless herd of sleeping elephants. The only visible evidence of any other recent human activity were those from a single mountain bike and it’s tracks, and, like myself, at certain saturated parts of the footpath, the rider had obviously sunk into the marshy ground.

DSC00167.JPG

It’s not surprising they are called the lonely Howgills, it’s not a location for the autophobic. Not that my canine companion noticed anything in the form of an obstacle, she was, as always, in her element, bouncing through the landscape as though it was her second home, she was in her element and enjoying every second of it.

The ascent to the Calf commenced at Ram’s Ghyll, where, the stream runs down to Bowderdale Beck and the ascending footpath veers to the right, for me, after this wonderful but testing, wet and very windy trail, this seemed an excellent spot to take a rest and make myself a well deserved coffee, and, as it was the last running water on the map, top up my two water bottles and purify the contents. Clean water on summit ridges isn’t always readily available, and, for my evening meal and hot drinks, water is essential, not to mention, for the following days refreshment, a little forethought can reduce a potentially difficult situation. This break gave me the opportunity to add a plaster to a blister which I’d acquired on one of my toes, a small blister but irritating and annoying, a simple plaster covering it and the problems solved, a small detail but one better been addressed than neglected.

The ascent for the Calf wasn’t too aggressive, I’ve done many more severe ones, but, it’s still an ascent and none are easy, this one was simply less strenuous than so many others that I’ve done, and, as my old legs are definitely lacking the strength they once had, it soon became very noticeable that I was ascending. The rewards for this effort, as always, awaited me. Unfortunately, as it was early evening, the weather was deteriorating, the clouds were becoming darker and full of threatening rain. The thing is, if you wait for sunny warm weather before venturing out, you’ll never go, so, be prepared for the worst weather, hope for the best, and, just do it.

DSC00182

I reached my destination sooner than I’d anticipated, but, entering the Dragon’s Den of summit camping, the weather isn’t going to improve. Level and sheltered locations aren’t easy to find and exposure to the elements is guaranteed, on a more positive note, isolation is virtually guaranteed, not necessarily peace and quiet, strong winds, thunder and lightening, hail and storms are always a potential for a wonderful nights sleep, but, solitude is almost confirmed,  so thought I!

I discovered a little, seemingly level, little dip where I pitched my bivi, at the time I didn’t realise just how close I was to the summit footpath and ridge, a matter of yards, but, the dip did provide me with some shelter from the now biting cold  wind and mist which had covered and surrounded me. I’d fed Meg, fed myself with a boil in the bag meal, (in future I’m bringing my own pre cooked meals), made myself a hot coffee, and, I was sat perched on a little step overlooking the pitch black valley below. I love these moments, drifting away into my alter ego of the wandering Norseman, thinking about Saga’s and runic stone carvings, wondering to which Pagan god would be guiding and protecting me, it turned out that the message would come via a shaggy, curly haired, smelly black dog sat alongside me.

DSC00183.JPG

The ever alert and very protective Meg suddenly and protectively, broke into alert mode, I recognise her sense of reaction and immediately realised that we weren’t alone, she’s amazing, for a soft, daft dog, she’s as sharp as a razor. I turned around to see a fellow lone walker only a few yards away descending the footpath towards the valley below. Good old Meg. It turned out he was heading for the waterfalls around the nearby Cautley Spout, but, he wasn’t too sure which way to take from our present spot. He was a young lad, in his early 20’s, and like myself, spending the night on the hills. We chatted for a few minutes and he was gone, I’m not too sure about walking in the dark in search of Cautley Spout, that certainly  is pushing the safety barrier, one slip around there and it really is good night. I knew which direction they were located but I didn’t tell him, simply because I knew of the dangers, so, in the end, he aimed for the lights coming from a farm house at the bottom of the valley, and, informed me of his intention to return to Sedbergh the following morning, after he’d camped out, a safer decision, we said our farewells and he was gone.

DSC00184
The views from here on a clear day include many of the most famous summits in both the dales and the lake district

The rain came down all night, due to my weight, the gradient and gravity, the bivi slid down slightly, tearing the 2 canvas loops which held the tent pegs at the front, thus collapsing the arched front. It wasn’t an evening to become claustrophobic, and, it would ensure some necessary repairs once I’d reached home.

Once awake it was time to make a move, I fed Meg, packed the kit away and ventured for the Calf’s trig point, no home comforts but a necessary part of the agenda. After taking a grid reference reading, I realised I was only a few yards from the trig point, and, not far from the Dales High Way footpath junction which separated the ascending one. At some point I must have crossed it but I certainly didn’t see it, this caused a little confusion, as, it hadn’t vanished, it was around there somewhere? It turned out to be located alongside a flooded area, and, after another check on my map and GPS, I walked to where it should be and happily discovered it, a little tester, not something I needed on that wet, windy and rainy morning, but, at least I’d found it, the Dales Head Way footpath and my second part of the journey and the homeward bound section, the decent.

I was still relatively dry even though the mist and cloud were doing there worst, the bivi had gathered condensation, but managed to keep the rain out, my new goretex jacket was incredible, my second one, a lighter and thinner version of my winter one, and, ideal for the conditions. Now, all I could hope for was the blowing cloud would disperse and supply me with the wonderful ridge summit views I was constantly been tormented with, it could occur at any second, and, it may not have, I remained an optimist. On my ascent I’d had a brief view of the Calf, it appeared for a couple of seconds as an intimidating black solid carbuncle in the distance, but, that was as much as it displayed itself.

DSC00185.JPG

The return journey across the Bowderdale Ridge did improve as the cloud passed over and the terrain became visible, thus ensuring I’d received full benefit for my efforts. The surrounding hills and valleys are absolutely breath taking and magnetic, this wonderful, ignored landscape, the forgotten Howgills, they are absolutely outstanding, shared almost equally between the traditional counties of Westmorland and the West Riding of Yorkshire, and, on this occasion I’d even crossed over from my home county to Westmorland, a worthy piece of treason by my standards.

The descent went well, the surrounding fells and dales eventually came into view, the Langdale valley to my left opened up and displayed its treasures, the pleasure of been there, descending and having the entire area to myself, well, it takes some understanding why they are the least favourable in the area, they have just as much to offer as the Lakes and Dales, but, that’s my secret and I’m keeping it to myself.

The Bowderdale Washout – The Howgills

How’s your glass, half full or half empty? Well, it is British summertime, so, the chances of some sunshine, although slim, is possible, and, the weather forecast had informed us that although that particular Friday would be cloudy, the following day would be warm and sunny. Well, if you have a desire to be out in the northern English fells, you need your glass to be half full, otherwise, you’d never venture anywhere. From my point of view, it could be the sunniest day on record, and I’d still carry all the required 4 season layers in my rucksack, thinner layers, but still, the same amount.

My new found love affair with The Howgills, (situated in the north of England, divided almost equally with north and south sections of the traditional counties of Westmorland and the West Riding of Yorkshire), greatly influenced my decision to discover this new dale, valley and horseshoe route.

I should have known there could be some issues awaiting me as I approached Kirkby Lonsdale and passed the county sign for Lancashire, a strange part of the world indeed, best to be avoided at all costs, but, that’s another story.

Bowderdale, not only does it not register on my old Tom Tom satellite navigation, but, actually discovering its location is a alone an incredible challenge. The walk I’d intended to follow from Bowderdale to The Calf, took the valley basin footpath to the summit, prior, after a wild camp, back to Bowderdale via the summit bridleway, absorbing the fell summits of Hazelgill Knot and West Fell, both on the northern route of the Dales High Way, a walk of about 12 miles covering, from what I’d imagined to be, some of the most beautiful scenery the Howgills has to offer. I was eager to commence.

DSC00155.JPG
Bowderdale, or as much as I saw of it

Over population during this route wasn’t something I anticipated!

So, having fought for a parking space and avoided the threat of a traffic wardens ticket, and, applied my boots, rucksack and wonderful Fjallraven  trousers, (I hate name and label dropping, but these really are worth every penny), and, calmed down my over excited companion, the famous cockapoodle canine Mountain Meg, it was time for my journey to commence.

Discovering the starting point wasn’t an issue for this one, after following the road for a few yards there was a sign pointing in the required direction stating the bridleway, a pleasant change. The bridleway was part of the Dales High Way, a route I intended to take on my return journey, the outward route ran parallel to it, but, on the valley basin, basically, following the stream, Bowderdale Beck, for most of the way, prior to ascending for the Calf at Ram’s Gill (GR 678988), and, a severe ascent, just what the doctor ordered after a 5 mile hike.

I followed the bridleway sign at Bowderdale, a few yards up the tarmacked road from the houses, the weather was threatening but like I said earlier, my glass was still half full. Mountain Meg’s enthusiasm equalled that of a Siberian tiger, which, I was soon to discover was to become a slight problem. On the brow of the hill in the field I was intending to cross were a herd of cows, with calves and, a prominent bull. How did I know there was a bull amongst the happy grazing group, simple really, he was behaving bullishly, as only a bull could do. OK, it’s not the end of the world, a slight change in my route, after all, it was eventually taking me along the valley basin, adjacent to the beck, who fears change?

DSC00156.JPG

The track was wet, it was muddy, there were no previous footprints, again, to be expected in this isolated part of the world, had this been my objective then I’d certainly hit the jackpot!

Due to no visible footpath it soon became apparent that I was on grazing land and, according to the map, there were a couple of dry stone wall boundaries ahead of me, no problem, I’m a fan of dry stone walls, and, when I need to climb over them I ensure I commit no damage and, whenever possible, replace displaced parts. I’d done nothing wrong, I hadn’t intended to climb over walls, but, it seemed that was soon to become my only option, I’d followed the sign displaying the bridleway and taken the direction of the valley.

I descended to the beck, that was the route, I’d simply joined it earlier than I’d anticipated, underfoot was the difficult marshy, boggy and moss covered terrain, this was becoming a slog, each footstep sank ankle deep into the water and within minutes my feet were saturated, this wasn’t the best of starts I’d ever had, and, it was certainly draining my still aching legs from the previous outing a few days earlier, never mind thought I, it would soon improve!

We continued, parts of the bank had collapsed into the beck, this meant steep climbs over and around the landslips, when, on reaching the top of them, I could see  the herd, they were heading in our direction, probably descending the valley side for a drink, again, this wasn’t too impressive, we were been stalked by a herd of cows and a horny bull in open land with nowhere really where we could escape from them. Make haste for the first dry  stone wall thought I, a hop over it and freedom, no problem, come on Mountain Meg, let’s go. squelsh, sink, thwump, exert and pull, each step, this wasn’t fun, it wasn’t something I was unaccustomed to, but, that wasn’t the issue,  that old piece of oncoming prime steak and his harem were becoming more than a slight concern, the first dry stone wall couldn’t come fast enough.

There it was, a well constructed wall with a delightful, inviting barbed wire fence attached to the corner of it, the signs of walkers unwelcome didn’t need displaying, the message was loud and clear, so, in this wonderful valley, I was cornered with the approaching potential of been stampeded and crushed to death, a little disheartening in such a cold and isolated location?

Once the wall was cleared, it couldn’t come fast enough, we continued, a feeling of liberation from a potentially awkward situation came as a slight relief, the terrain underfoot was now another issue, my boots and feet were now waterlogged, the alleged footpath displayed no signs of ever emerging, I had to ascend steep riverbank erosions to bypass them, only to discover that bloody herd of livestock were now in the second field, I couldn’t believe it, they must have known of an opening in the wall that I didn’t, hardly surprising as they were at home in those fields and I was nothing more than a gypsy passer by. I daren’t ascend the fields in search of the illusive footpath, in a game of confrontation I’d only win the runners up medal, not something on the days agenda, continue I had to, over the physically draining terrain towards the next stone wall obstacle and potential liberation.

After we’d continued, maybe another mile, and, escaped the potential interests of Bully, the Daisy’s, and their offspring, I actually stopped for a break, that wasn’t easy, finding a dry spot in that marshy location was another challenge, finally I found one and, when I looked at Mountain Meg, she’d decided to perfume herself in some of the plentiful cow clap that littered the entire area, she rolled over, straight on her back into the biggest pile available, it may have been dry and crusty on the surface, but, once she’d rolled onto it for a couple of seconds, she’d succeeded in breaking through it’s crusty surface and smeared it over her entire back and body, why do dogs do that, are they reverting back to their hunting and survival days and aiming to hide their scent by blending in with the terrain, I don’t know?

It was then I studied the surrounding fells, they were cloud and mist capped, all of them, the clouds were black and appearing ready to open and discharge themselves, this simply wasn’t my day, what was the point of continuing another 3 miles onto cloud covered summits to camp down for the night, it would be nothing more than a viewless ascent into rain and unnecessary difficulty, with potential for danger and problems, no, on this occasion, I decided to accept defeat and  head back. So, having checked the area for Bully Beef and Co, having a clear view of them on higher ground, I retraced my disappointing journey back to Bowderdale and the car.

DSC00158.JPG
Looking back into the cloud covered valley on returning to the car

Bowderdale is a beautiful valley, it’s challenging, a little more than I’d expected on my initial arrival, but, I will be returning, but, only when the weather improves, I’ll be taking Mountain Meg and the footpath above the fields where the livestock graze, but, I will be back to conquer this quiet and wonderful Westmorland valley, so, Bowderdale, until we meet again, I bid you farewell.

I’ll add a little summary to this outing, the valley is hidden and quite difficult to find, it’s obviously not a popular route as the lack of footprints and to be honest, the lack of a visible footpath, seem to confirm, it is wonderful for escapism, there isn’t an abundance of hidden locations similar to this one in England’s national parks, but, the lanscape underfoot alongside the beck is horrendously difficult, it’s not a pleasure walking through marsh, bog and moss, the constant climbs around the eroded river bank only adds to the difficulty, there are many easier walks in the area to be done, but, my stubbornness dictates and I will be returning to complete this one and hopefully, take more photographs and avoid the livestock.