The only pre-planning I’d done for this little venture was the fact that there’d being no pre-planning, I’d being looking at routes on The Walking Englishman’s web site, a great site it is too, but, for one reason or another, I couldn’t decide on which one to follow, so, for what ever reason, I landed in Settle, there ending my organised plans..
I didn’t even arrive in the town until about 16.00, and, what an arrival it was, the place was an absolute hive of activity, unknown to me, it was holding the annual ‘Settle Folk Gathering’, and, amongst the mass of bikers who seem to always be around the town, were, the colourful, clog wearing, bell jingling, scarf bearing, Morris Dancers. I’ve never being able to understand Morris dancing, and, I wonder, without ridiculing anybody, if the Morris dancers do, the reason being, the true origination of it remains unclear to this day. It’s a little like Stonehenge, all these professors of this and doctors of that, archaeologists and anthropologists can only offer us are positive suggestions, the same applies to Morris dancing, my humble opinion is that it’s roots are pagan and relate to offerings for successful harvests and crops, and, that will do for me, too much complication isn’t required in my simple life.
Situated at the gateway to Upper Ribblesdale and the forest of Bowland, Settle is a wonderful market town in the Yorkshire Dales, it has a great deal to offer for tourists and the outward bound alike, it guarantees quality fell walking, cycling, mountain biking and sight seeing. The surrounding scenery is abound with dry stone walls, meadows, scars, the famous Yorkshire 3 peaks, waterfalls, becks, caves and potholes, have I forgotten to mention anything? I don’t think so. Sorry, I have, sheep and cows, they are as much of the terrain as any of the dales or fells. Two long distance walks pass close to the town, the 70 miles Ribble Way and the famous Pennine Way. Adjacent to Settle are two other villages, Langcliffe and one with a name I absolutely adore, Giggleswick, no disputing the origin of the latter one, the suffix ….wick being of Norse origin.
Giggleswick has a famous old school for both day and boarding pupils, and, can boast one of the most controversial former pupils to emerge from any English school. Arnold Leese (1878-1956), a British fascist politician and a veterinarian. He gained success in his veterinarian work, primarily with camels, but, he was also well known for his virulent anti-Semitism. Leese led his own fascist movement and was a prolific author and publisher of polemic work both before and after world war two.
Eventually I decided on a route, I think, on this occasion I’d decided on one I was familiar with and it certainly wasn’t the most testing regarding early and tough ascents. I’d decided to join and follow the Ribble Way, along the footpath the 4 or 4.5K to Stainforth. So, on this wonderful sunny later afternoon, my enthusiastic colleague and borrowed ally, the canine, ‘Mountain Meg’, and I, commenced our journey.
We can’t have being walking for more than 10 minutes when I couldn’t believe my eyes, an obstacle, a very relevant obstacle considering the recent warning signs I’d so recently being confronted with.
A riverside meadow full of grazing cows and sheep with the footpath running directly through its’ centre. I’d no intention of risking anything, the riverside lacked any footpath between the field and the river, just some overgrown vegetation alongside a barbed wire fence, the terrain underfoot was unstable and challenging, but, I’d rather face that than charging cows. Not the kind of start I was hoping for, but, there’s worse things in life. Half way through our riverside jungle experience, I looked across into the field, I looked up and saw a group of walkers strolling along without a care in the world, running free amongst them was their dog. A potential for bitter sweet images if there ever were any.
I rejoined the footpath close to the mill at Langcliffe, and, felt quite satisfied with myself being on the safe side of a dry stone wall which separated myself from the cow filled meadow. A wonderful woodland footpath with waterfalls, leading to Stainforth lay ahead, and thankfully, with no more disruptions.
On more than one occasion in the past I’ve stayed at the official campsite at Little Stainforth, it’s a wonderful location, popular and scenic. The river runs wild there, Stainforth Force being an impressive sight especially after heavy rain, the waterfalls are restless and very intimidating. The signs state, clearly and without doubt, how the fishing there is ‘private’ and so too do they read how dangerous the river is, and, categorically warns about the dangers of entering into it, something else I don’t challenge at any level. I think you could tattoo such warnings on some peoples foreheads and the dangers would still be ignored, There was a family there, quite a few of them, they’d made a fire and were jumping in and using a rope swing as another form of entry into the dangerous waters. In the space of a couple of miles I’d witnessed two forms of behaviour that could have being fatal, and, one look at the swimming family, I could have imagined their reaction had I attempted to warn them of the dangers, I didn’t waste my breath. It’s a shame others, more responsible people, are called out to recover the proceeds of this kind of behaviour.
Crossing the river, between the hamlet of Little Stainforth and the village of Stainforth means crossing a wonderful, stone arched, pack horse bridge, for all it’s beauty, it certainly wasn’t constructed for modern traffic. Unfortunately, for the newcomer or first time tourist to the area, should they follow their car navigation to Stainforth, and need to cross the river to the camp site a few hundred yards away at Little Stainforth, the gps will direct them to follow the road and bridge over the river, not an option for the feint hearted, it happened to me once, and, foolishly, I couldn’t face the thought of turning the car around on such a narrow and winding hill which leads from the main road down to the narrow crossing, I tucked in both the wing mirrors, and with an inch to spare at either side of the car, drove over, I was lucky, I didn’t scratch it, but, I would never attempt it again, like I said, not a width to take your prized possession through, that’s if your car is your prized possession (I know a few who value their cars more than anything else), I wonder how many have followed the road to the crossing whilst towing a caravan?
Crossing the river and following the road led us over the Settle – Carlisle railway line, one of the most scenic railway routes in the UK, to the idyllic village of Stainforth, a picture postcard English village if ever there was one, lovely old stone houses surrounding a village green with a good old fashioned pub neatly tucked away on the modest main street. A stream runs through with old and rounded stepping stones crossing it, a challenge for anybody to use, late on a Saturday night, after a few beers in the Craven Heifer, the pub.
In my state of ‘what happens next’, I sat on the bench at the village green, Meg took her nose to everything around, it was a pleasure to be there, it would be a greater pleasure to live there, to become ‘another bloody Townie’ moving in. That’s something I find really amusing, how, some, not many, but some, yocal minded locals complain about townies and tourists, it’s a sad fact that without the money the aforesaid bring into these communities, without which, certain parts of these communities would struggle to exist. Besides, Yorkshire’s mine, and, within its borders, the real borders, those being the original Ridings, the only borders true Yorkshiremen will ever accept, I’ll live where the bloody hell I want!
Decision made, the ascent to Catrigg Force it was, I was going to wild camp there and worry about where to proceed from it the following morning, it’s a hard life making such critical decisions, but, some of us have to do it.
Whilst making our ascent up this road, another track with the wonderful name of Goat Scar Lane, we were confronted by a couple descending in our direction, the man was explaining to his partner how Ingleborough was once home to a Roman Fort, he was right, then he continued to explain how the romans in the area had fought with the local tribes. This was good listening, after the recent research I’d done regarding Venustius and his indigenous Brigantes tribe, prior to them being subdued by the Romans, and their construction of the Roman marching fort close to Malham and, the hill fort on Ingleborough summit, all this guy was doing was confirming my own research.
It’s great how sound travels so well around these locations. We greeted each other as we passed, they asked where I was headed, it was a bemused reaction they expressed when I confessed to not knowing, as yet I remained undecided, it was clear to them that I didn’t intend spending the evening in front of the tv or inside a cosy dales pub, but, the truth remained, I didn’t have a clear destination. I’ve ascended Ingleborough more times than I have any other summit, it’s my favourite beast, but, I’ve never seen any Roman remains, not that I doubt their existence, it’s simply that I was neither aware of them or did I comprehend at what I was observing, had I seen them! Nor have I seen the famous Ingleborough bucket man, although I have seen people wearing printed T-shirts claiming their sightings of this illusive character. The Ingleborough Bucket Man has the fame of being spotted streaking around the summit wearing nothing more than a plastic bucket on his head, now, should I be wild camping up there, and, I was awoken by such a sight in the middle of the night, my reaction would be quite extreme to say the least, funny old world.
Catrigg Force waterfall is a delight to the eyes, it’s hidden away in a deep gorge and set back amongst the trees, but, as you enter, it opens out and boldly displays itself. There are 2 main drops of over 20 feet separated by a 60 foot copse. This spot is said to have being the composer, Elgars’, favourite location, he was known to be a keen cyclist, but, it’s still quite an achievement discovering such a location on an old fashioned bicycle. From above the waterfall are the profiles of both Pen-Y-Ghent and Ingleborough which boldly impose themselves on the horizon.
Meg was still bouncing around like a new born lamb, given the opportunity, she’d be bouncing around with a new born lamb in her mouth, but, to date, I’d succeeded in restraining her. The evening temperature was hastily dropping and hunger was beginning to dominate, it was time to pitch the bivi, sort the sleeping bag out and prepare some hot food and coffee. I surveyed the surroundings for a suitable location and it didn’t take me long to discover one, I had checked around for any evidence of any cowpats or sheep droppings, there were none, so, the next step was to look for somewhere offering some shelter from any potential change in the weather, there was one, about 50 yards from the waterfall, tucked away beneath a dry stone wall was a little dip, with a the stream on one side and the remaining part of an old wall on the other, it meant crossing the stream to reach it, but, that wasn’t too complicated. The only evidence around of anything were a couple of mole mounds, I could live with that.
I started preparing everything about 19.30, by 20.00 I’d fed Meg, prepared the camp and I was tucking into my hot food and coffee, I adore JetBoils, the meal comprised of one of the remaining boil in the bag ones, I had bought a job lot of military surplus ones, they’re not the kind of thing you’d serve to impress the future mother in law, or, depending on your opinion of her, maybe you would, but, definitely not if you were trying to impress her, but, they are warm and filling, They do boast a meat content, that’s the packaging claim, but, I’m still waiting to see any evidence of it.
The dark night was quickly closing in. it was my turn to repay Meg some of the loyalty she’d shown me, I could tell she was nervous about being exposed in the hills during the hours of darkness. She’d stopped wagging her tail and she displayed a fear of the unknown surroundings. I called her over, sat her beside me on the ground sheet, wrapped my arms around her and made a fuss of her, a little reassuring that she was safe and protected, we made a good team.
Bed time, it was pitch black and the temperature had plummeted. I climbed in the sleeping bag, persuaded the reluctant Meg to climb inside the bivi, she didn’t seem too happy to be in such a confined space, but, eventually, in she came. She settled in at the front, the space reserved for kit, I’d wrapped that up around the ground sheet and left it outside so as to accommodate space for her, and finally, with the sound of the stream distracting her from any other surrounding noises, the two of us, finally fed and sheltered, took to the land of Nod.
I awoke the following morning around 7am, it felt cold, my arm was outside the sleeping bag, and, I could instantly feel the drop in temperature from only a week or two previously. I unzipped the bivi. Meg leapt out into the early daylight and I followed her and then slid myself out, what surrounded me and the sheltered kit? Frost, the first of the year, the first of maybe the following 7 or 8 months, a warning to me of what kind of clothing I should be taking in the future.
Breakfast complete, a route organised, fresh stream water boiled and sterilised for both coffee and later refreshment, with all that done, we were ready to move on, Meg displayed a happy mood again at the thought of departure, so, leaving absolutely no trace of our presence there the previous night, other than the flattened grass we’d slept on, onward we continued. We were taking the established track in an easterly direction which would bring us out on the B road close to Winskill Stones.
Winskill Stones is a 74-acre area of limestone grassland and limestone pavement. Limestone pavement is one of Britain’s most threatened habitats; vast areas have been destroyed since the 1950s to meet the demand for garden rockery stone. Over 160 different vascular plants have been recorded at there. These include noteworthy species such as spring sandwort, horseshoe vetch, meadow saxifrage, mossy saxifrage, mountain everlasting and moonwort. A number of bird species nest on the reserve including skylark, lapwing and curlew.
I followed the road down towards the footpath at Clay Pitts Planation, I don’t think I was in a very adventurous mood, not that it mattered, like Meg, I was quite happy plodding along at my own pace, oblivious to the time, without a care in the world, simply enjoying and absorbing the beauty of the wonderful surroundings.
It was a sunny Sunday morning, I was very close to the Settle and the Folk weekend occurring there. My surroundings were slowly and surely being invaded by like minded people, initially two mountain bikers past me by, followed by two walkers heading towards Malham, then, a group of walkers not particularly sure where they were going.
The only irony regarded my boots, the summer ones I’m still eager to wear, would have being very suitable for this particular overnighter, the terrain had being dry and firm underfoot, the Autumn frost warning would place the doubt whether I’d be able to use them again for a while, I also wonder if they’ll give me the same blisters that my all season ones constantly do?
Back in Settle, with a new ‘Cave Walk’ already being planted in my head, I couldn’t help but notice the hive of activity within the town, Morris dancers were gathering en masse, bikers were arriving in drones. Walkers and tourists were in preparation for their days outings.
The visit and overnighter had being great, without any real planning and simply following my nose, I’d completed yet another superb over nighter in those glorious, magnificent, Yorkshire Dales.
NB – A finishing note – A few weeks earlier, I had taken my 9 year old son on one of his first wild camps on Kinder Scout, I’m trying to mould him into the positive and challenging world of the Great Outdoors, sadly, whilst up there, his jacket, an expensive GoreTex one, fell from his backpack and, by the time I realised, it was too late, we were back at the car, we were upset thinking it was long gone. The day after the school holidays, (it had his name and school written on a tag inside), the school received a phone call from a certain Steve Robinson, he’d found the jacket and forwarded his phone number, at present, I’m awaiting his reply after sending him a message to arrange contact to retrieve it, no words, what a kind man.