BUCKDEN PIKE – Why Buckden Pike, simply because I’d never done it and for what ever reason, the name sounded a sufficient excuse, so, Buckden Pike it was.
The fell stands proudly at the head of Wharfedale, above the village of it’s namesake, Buckden. Its summit is marked with a cairn and a trig point, (No 1744), and, standing at 702 meters (2,303 ft) it doesn’t have the honour of being the highest in the area, that’s held by the nearby ‘Great Whernside’ which stands at 704 metres. Not to be confused with Whernside (736m), of the Yorkshire 3 peaks fame, located 17 miles away. Unlike Little Whernside which stands 2.4 miles north of Great Whernside, so, once the Whernside confusion has being established, I promise never to mention the name again.
The village of Buckden stands in the parish of Craven in the West Riding of Yorkshire on the east bank of the River Wharfe and, in the 2011 census had a population of 187. The name derives from two Old English words, ‘Bucca’ and ‘Denu’, meaning respectively ‘he goat’ and ‘valley’. In 1748 a flood destroyed a bridge there and it was replaced by the present one which is called Election Bridge, after it became the pledge of a perspective MP as part of his electoral campaign.
On this occasion, one man and his borrowed dog commenced their journey, not from Buckden, but from the village about 1k south, Starbotton, which, is still part of the walk, but, I wanted to complete the horseshoe trek after immediately descending instead of continuing it to the next village to Buckden. (Starbotton – Old English, Staefer replacing the norse Stafn, the place where stakes are gathered). I intended to leave the car overnight in Starbotton’s pub car park, The Fox and Hounds, but, the sign in the car park stated clearly that should I have done such a thing, I would have being clamped and fined for their removal, fortunately, only a few yards from the pub, was a little lay by in the road which I used.
After a ‘tough one’ up Kinder Scout a few weeks previously, my 9 year old son Christian, had opted out over this, maybe it’s not his favourite form of entertainment at the moment, but, that didn’t make this a solo expedition, far from it, my company on this occasion was a very enthusiastic canine Springadoodle called Meg.
Starting from Starbotton, the walk was intended to cross the river and join part of the Dales Way before crossing the river again at Buckden, as there was no clear way to the river crossing, and as Meg was pulling so strongly on her leash to commence in any direction, I decided it would be easier to simply follow the road to Buckden. Not my greatest of decisions, I didn’t realise how busy, even on a midweek afternoon, the road could be, so, I wasn’t upset on arriving in Buckden and starting the ascent.
Once there, it’s easy enough to see the wonderful entrance and official route to the famous fell. The wooden gate to the side of the car park next to the pub is one of the finest starts to any ascent I’ve ever seen, it’s wonderfully blatant and inviting. Then, on approaching it, there’s a meaningful message attached to it that could deter anyone with a slightly nervous disposition from going any further, I should have photographed it, but, for whatever reason I didn’t, but, it read something on the lines of, “Cows are grazing in this field, if you are unhappy with that, please find another route”.
It’s no secret that cow’s aren’t always the docile animals people generally believe them to be, far from it, in the last 8 years (of incidents reported), 481 people have being attacked by them. If a cow has a calf and a walker has a dog, then, the combination has a potential for becoming difficult, the cow, especially if startled, will attack, it’s prime target being the dog but, if a person is still close to the dog, then the cow won’t discriminate and the result could be fatal. Only recently, David Blunkett, the former Labour MP, whilst out walking with his guide dog, was attacked and he suffered a fractured rib and a black eye, worse still was the incident involving Liz Crowsley, a vet who was walking along part of the Pennine Way with her two dogs, cows stampeded and killed her.
When possible, if you find yourself is such a situation, try to maintain as much distance between yourself and the cows, should they charge, release the dog from it’s leash, the dog will be the cow’s prime target and, although a cow can reach a speed of 25 mph, a dog, can still outrun and avoid it, but, should the dog seek it’s owner for protection, and stay close to you, then, the real problems could arise.
Realising that ‘Mans Best Friend’ could become a farmers shotgun target for chasing sheep, or, the owners termination from a protective cow, I did hesitate before venturing too far from beyond the gate, there were a couple of cows in the field, to my right, but, at least 200 yards away, other than that, there was nothing, so, still frustratingly for man and dog, and still attached to the leash, upwardly we commenced.
Later on during our ascent, I did see some cow pats, I’d strayed from the official footpath onto open moorland, so, feeling quite vulnerable, I tapped the pats with my boots for their texture, fortunately, each one I tested was quite solid and obviously not too recent, proving they had being around, but, they weren’t visible anywhere close whilst I was there. Remaining vigilant, with the thought of a possible free running bull being in the vicinity, I continued.
From Starbotton, I’d being walking for a good couple of hours, I wasn’t in any hurry, I wasn’t rushing, I was enjoying being there, this was/is, pure escapism, it’s liberating, I wasn’t in any race, and, at the point I’d then reached, I was starting to feel hungry. Looking at the map, I’d almost covered half the entire route, so, I weighed up the situation and decided to settle down for the night. It may have being earlier than I’d intended, but, as the climb hadn’t being anywhere as difficult as I thought it may have been, then again, after Kinder Scout, ascents could only become easier. I’d not eaten since breakfast, the clouds were gathering and becoming threatening, there’d being a few spots of rain, so, I looked for a sheltered location, decided on one, next to a dry stone wall beneath the brow of a hill, and decided it was time to erect the tent.
I’d being really anticipating using my new cooker, having recently finally realised and understood how equipment and clothing had improved since my early days, I’d finally accepted that the time was right to put my hand in my pocket and invest in some. I still love the good old Trangia cookers, they really are the dependable old man of outdoor cooking, but, in windy and exposed conditions, they are vulnerable to the elements and very slow, so, after reading about the JetBoils and the praise they were receiving on various Facebook groups, I’d invested in one, they are just as compact as the Traingia, and, as much as I hate to admit it, far more efficient. They have a boast that they can boil 2 cups of water in 2 minutes, something unheard of with the Trangia, and, much to my wonderful surprise, they really can. They can boil water as fast as the kitchen kettle, so, in very little time, I had a greatly needed fresh coffee and, a boil in the bag simmering away, yes, this really was bringing me into the 21st century.
As the evening dusk turned into the black night sky, that incredible sound of silence echoed vibrantly, it was a wonderful noise, Having wrapped my rucksack and it’s contents in a ground sheet, I left them outside the tent, thus giving the one man tent a little extra room for my loyal companion, I could see in her face as I climbed into my sleeping bag, she thought she was going to be excluded from being permitted inside, she was wet through and looking so forlorn, but, once I had settled myself in, I called out to her, with a relieved expression and a wagging tail, in she came and bedded herself down alongside me, the tents zips I closed, the torch was switched off, and, the time to visit the land of Nod became the call.
Making life as difficult as possible for myself has, and still is, a lifelong success story, ascending open moorland seemed more appealing than did an established footpath. Slogging up Buckden Out Moor was strenuous, it was challenging underfoot, wet, lumpy and difficult, because there is no established route, you need to invent your own, and, whilst doing so, you make poor decisions so covering the wild terrain takes longer, but, I knew I was heading in the right direction, so, it was simply a matter of time until I reached it.
In my kit improvement and overall reduction of the weight of my rucksack, part of the minimilisation was the bulky map, instead of carrying the whole map and case, I’d photocopied the area I was covering onto an A4 sheet of paper and I was using it. It’s so more efficient, but, the downfall is, the distant hills and summits which you can easily see on a clear day, without the complete map, you can’t recognise and name them, maybe next time I’ll carry the full map in the rucksack and the A4 one in my pocket, that way, should I feel the need to name and locate the surrounding summits, I can.
Finally emerging on the summit footpath was a relief, I’d appeared only yards away from it’s numerous features, the trig point, a sign post, the cairn and the wooden pole, the pole has holes drilled into it which view different locations from the summit, it used to have cards attached to it stating what the views through the pole were, but, they’re no longer there.
Weather permitting, the summit is always where myself, and many other like minded fell walkers, take a well deserved break, so, with the added stream water recently filled into my water bottle, and the new JetBoil still being novel, I made a quick brew, it was good fun. It was whilst taking the break that the first people I’d seen since commencing appeared. There was an elderly man with a young girl approaching, they were carrying tools and I assumed they’d carried their equipment from the village. We said the usual ‘hello’s’ and I offered them a fresh coffee, I guess I wanted to use the cooker again, they thanked me but declined my offer.
It turned out he was the park ranger and she was a volunteer, they’d ascended most of the way on a quad and there objective was to replace a style over the nearby wall, the previous one had needed renewing and it was their job was to do it, the ranger asked where I’d come from and then informed me of the best route up, that being ascending up the valley behind Buckden village, via Buckden Beck to the redundant lead mine, then, following a footpath to the summit, informing me that his suggested route was more interesting than the ‘dull’ official footpath. Not that I didn’t appreciate his local knowledge and useful information, even if it was a little late, but, he did seem bemused when I said I’d come up neither and invented my own, if quite unconventional, avenue. He told me how the timber to replace the style, like the paving for the footpath, had being delivered via the use of a helicopter, which made perfect sense to me, the thought of carrying such heavy materials to the top of a mountain was, by anyone’s standards, rather difficult to say the least.
Having finished my break, it was time to continue, the hard work was complete, now, it was time to really enjoy the day and the forthcoming scenery ahead, and, something of historical interest which really had attracted me to this particular summit. About 1k from the trig point, following the footpath south, towards the descent into Starbotton stands a war memorial to a sad air crash dating from world war 2.
The cross is a memorial to five Polish airmen who died when their Wellington Bomber crashed on Buckden Pike during a snowstorm in 1942. The sixth crew member survived with only a broken ankle. Following the footprints of a fox in the snow he managed to crawl to the safety of the village of Cray. The survivor organised the building of the cross in 1973.
In my opinion, the story is better told by the sole survivor of the accident than I, or anybody else ever could.
From this sad memorial, the descent back to Starbotton was a sheer delight, although the footpath was nothing more than a peat bog in parts, it simply added to the fun, I have no idea when I intend using the pair of summer boots I purchased some time ago, the terrain, even in summer, is rarely dry enough to benefit their use. The footpath, according to the OS map, changes it’s status to a road, (Walden Road), it’s unconventional as roads go, and unlike any other that I’m familiar with, but, that’s what the map says, I did consider entering it into my car’s Tom Tom to see if it registered as existing, but, I didn’t.
The sunny morning only enhanced the wonderful dales scenery, the descent was truly magnificent, and, in a way, I was sorry to be approaching its completion. Meg was still wagging her tail, she was still in her element, being part of this little pack, running around the wilderness and the hills, she loved every minute of it, At least she had done, until we reached journeys end at the car, at which point, she nearly pulled me over in her eagerness to make the homeward journey.
Buckden Pike, I salute you, another of Yorkshires finest, accomplished with pride.