I’m starting this one with a ‘gripe’, an observation, a complaint, call it what you may, but I have an incessant need to clear it off my chest! Mobile phones and their apps are not trustworthy and reliable on the hills and fells. As navigational aids, if you’re lucky, you have a map with a directional arrow within, on a two inch screen, aiming you in a point of travel. That’s if you can receive a signal and your battery doesn’t drain. I don’t claim to be an expert, not by a long shot, but, with the combination of a hand held GPS and one of my beloved OS maps, I do have the confidence to venture out there, be it alone or with others, once you have the grid reference on your GPS, and you can fix it to the map, your navigational battle really is greatly reduced, you know where you are, where you need to go and any obstacles you can expect to meet, you can see the surrounding terrain and relate with it, and, hopefully, continue with confidence and in relative safety, (terrain, spare batteries and weather permitting), gripe over, thank you.
The challenge facing me on that cloudy but warm, May Saturday afternoon far outweighed any navigational difficulties of this horseshoe route around Crummock Dale via Norber Erratics. Today’s major obstacle came in the form of a reluctant 10 year old boy who much preferred the home comforts and the anti-social media of the Xbox, my son. Time would tell.
Austwick is a quiet attractive village situated off the A65 Settle to Kendal road, nestled against the upland limestone country of Crummack Dale. People have lived in the area for about 4,000 years. The name ‘Austwick’ is of Norse/Viking derivation, meaning ‘a settlement to the east’, presumably to the east of Clapham, a neighbouring village. More recently, Austwick Manor was mentioned in the Domesday Book. The modern village lies wholly within the Yorkshire Dales National Park but the Parish of Austwick extends south of the A65 into the gritstone moorland of the Forest of Bowland Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
Drystone walls, many dating from the time of the enclosures around 1814, form attractive and distinctive field patterns around the village and surrounding farms. Today, while tourism contributes largely to the economy of the village, farming still remains an important occupation. It is not uncommon to see sheep being driven along the main street.
The overall walk was somewhere between eight and eight and a half miles, I’m not sure, with the camp destined for the half way point at Sulber Gate, at the head of Crummack Dale, totally unknown territory for me. The time factor made no difference what so ever, long gone are the days of watching the clock, it wouldn’t bother me if I didn’t wear one. These days, if it takes me 2 hours to cover only a mile, so be it, it means I’ve enjoyed and absorbed my surroundings. After a few tears from my weary son, the thought of the ascent seemed more daunting to him than the actual required effort, we reached the illusive and strange Norber erratics.
The Norber erratics are one of the finest groups of glacial erratic boulders in Britain. They are found on the southern slopes of Ingleborough, close to the village of Austwick in the Yorkshire Dales. The Ordnance Survey grid reference of the boulder field is SD764698.
The Norber erratics are classic geomorphological features from the glaciation of northern England. In his chapter on the Pennines, Trueman (1949, p.169) wrote: “Particularly well known are the great perched blocks of dark grit which stand on the limestone platform at Norber near Settle.”
Many of the Millstone Grit boulders at the site are perched on pedestals of limestone up to 30cm high. The boulders were probably deposited by melting ice sheets at the end of the last ice age, around 12,000 years ago. The pedestals have developed because the erratic boulders have protected the underlying limestone from solution by rainfall, giving estimates of the rate of lowering of the surrounding limestone pavement of around 25mm per 1000 years. Recent cosmogenic dating suggests that the boulders have been exposed for around 17,900 years.
The unusual terrain had a magical and uplifting effect on my previously reluctant and disheartened son, he was almost in awe at the moonscape he’d newly discovered, he soon forgot about the achy effort he’d undergone to reach this spot and, without hesitation, he was climbing on the rocks, running around them, and, behaving how 10 year old boys should, suddenly, there was some excitement and new adventures to be found after the previous strenuous ascent, this was good stuff!!!
This isn’t a walk for summit bagging, there are none, there are no views from a trig point, there isn’t one, it’s nothing more than a wonderful walk and journey of discover in the Yorkshire Dales, just what the doctor ordered.
Our route continued in a North East North direction, there are many tracks, sheep and rabbit runs to choose from, nothing official or unofficial, basically following the compass and your nose, nothing difficult. If there’s any doubt to your whereabouts, a view of Ingleborough is on the left and one of Pen Y Ghent is on the right, if they’re not, head back to where you started and take up watching cricket.
Cairns litter the terrain, I love them, another game for Christian, ensuring he contributed by adding a rock on the top of each one, these little essentials added to the overall fun for him, added to the enjoyment, the memories, the challenge, all encouraging and positive contributions. The physical effort required had been forgotten, the little challenges were now the call of duty. Not forgetting the essential check for a phone signal to ring Mum and update her on the days activities.
We continued north with the touch of east being included, at some point, no exact point, we’d meet the Pennine Way and join it for a while. Meg, our tail wagging canine companion, suddenly shone, she’d discovered water, I couldn’t see it, it wasn’t within view, but she found it, tucked away from sight in a hidden dip, and, delight she did in taking a drink and splashing around, incredible how these so called dumb animals can discover something, so important, and we, alleged, more intelligent humans can’t or didn’t. Although I was concerned about not having the opportunity to replenish the water I was carrying, I didn’t feel comfortable to use the water Meg had discovered, it was nothing more than a standing puddle, even with purification tablets and boiling it, I didn’t deem it safe enough, besides, I didn’t have any spare water, but I had a sufficient amount not to be worried and, I wasn’t prepared to contaminate the existing supply.
Food, time and distance had so far evaded the day, but, it was early evening when we arrived at our half way point and location for the nights camp. I was feeling very proud of Christian, he’d done well and without saying anything, I could tell he’d enjoyed himself. He was thrilled to know we’d reached the planned spot to erect the tents and settle down for the night. Through choice, he was using my Goretex Bivi, and, again through choice, he was quite capable of erecting it himself, so he reliably informed me.
I like to think I chose the location to camp wisely, we were on a sheltered and hidden corner, exposed to the valley below but protected from intruders and the elements on two sides, (intruders of the 4 legged kind, cows and sheep), the terrain underfoot was level and lump free, yes, I’d settle for that. The exposed side didn’t remotely worry me, the weather forecast was good so there seemed little to worry about. What did raise an eyebrow or two was the time, I’d not looked at my watch all day and it was 21.30, and, we’d not even thought about food. Over riding Christians self confidence I showed him how to erect the bivi and how to insert tent pegs into shallow surface soil, the rest he did himself, I threw my one man tent up as fast as I could, we needed to eat.
Trangia or JetBoil, that, is the question? On this occasion it was the JetBoil, fantastic kit, it does as the label describes, especially with the hot drinks and the boil in the bag meals, you can be eating and drinking hot food and fluid within a few minutes, lightweight, versatile and flexible, but, without the expensive accessories, they’re not as good for traditional cooking as the old faithful Trangia, and, as Mr I Don’t Like Much Christian is, regarding his diet, frying fresh chicken on the JetBoil isn’t as easy as it is with the Trangia, but, as acting chef, I had to oblige, it worked, and, as a reward for his days efforts, he received tea/supper, under torchlight, in bed, it was now 22.30, later than I’d anticipated. He devoured his meal and even complemented the chef, I’d have to settle for a coffee and have my boil in the bag curry for breakfast, I too, was ready for the tent and some shut eye.
If 5 star hotels could guarantee a room with a view as good as this one, well, this room would be fully booked with a 10 year waiting list to use it. I didn’t sleep too well, maybe because I hadn’t eaten or due to the location, I don’t know, Meg had eventually ventured inside the tent’s fly sheet, only to disappear out again. On previous trips she’s never been happy under canvas and goretex, her animal instinct remerges and she takes sentry duty, that night had been no different. She took pole position on the brow of the hill overlooking the terrain and guarded us well, dogs, she’d seen her role in our pack to protect us, and, instinctively, that’s what she did, amazing.
I was awake and out of the tent by 6am, I didn’t rouse sleeping beauty, I’m not that brave. The sun was already beating down on the hills, it was a stunning morning with a view over Crammack Dale one could only dream of. The limestone pavement below, with it’s challenging grykes duly awaited our arrival, it wouldn’t have to wait too long.
According to the OS map, which I’m not questioning, we either camped at or descended down, a location known as ‘Thieves Moss’, a great name of which I’d love to know where it derived, and, it brought us onto the eagerly awaited limestone pavement at the head of Crammack Dale. We were heading towards the wonderfully named cairn of Beggar’s Stile before descending into the awesome valley itself.
This entire part of the dales are littered with these wonderful limestone pavements, the most famous standing above Malham Cove, but that’s just one of many. A limestone pavement is a natural karst landform consisting of a flat, incised surface of exposed limestone that resembles an artificial pavement. The term is mainly used in the UK where many of these landforms have developed distinctive surface patterning resembling paving blocks. Similar landforms in other parts of the world are known as alvars.
Conditions for limestone pavements are created when an advancing glacier scrapes away overburden and exposes horizontally-bedded limestone, with subsequent glacial retreat leaving behind a flat, bare surface. Limestone is slightly soluble in water and especially in acid rain, so corrosive drainage along joints and cracks in the limestone can produce slabs called “clints” isolated by deep fissures called “grikes” or “grykes”, terms derived from the North of England dialect. If the grykes are fairly straight and the clints are uniform in size, the resemblance to man-made paving stones is striking, but often they are less regular. Limestone pavements that develop beneath a mantle of topsoil usually exhibit more rounded forms.
We had great fun clint and gryke hopping over the rugged terrain, even Meg seemed to enjoy herself, I’d no real reason to warn Christian about the ankle snapping potential of the terrain beneath our feet, I warned him and he warned Meg, it was on going. Soon enough, the spectacular view of Crammack Dale really did emerge in front of us. I struggle to put it’s majestic grandeur into words, but, as long as the Dales hot spots such as Malham, Goredale Scar and the 3 Peaks remain the favoured tourist destinations, this piece of Yorkshire’s finest, will remain, to me, one of my hidden gems, and that’s just what it is.
Christian and I were having some wonderful father and son bonding as we approached this prominent sentinel. We were chatting how we’d had the entire valley and dale to ourselves for the whole journey, we were joking how it was, at least temporarily, our dale, moral was high and the mood was encouraging. He did sneak in the occasional ‘how far is it now?’, but that was to be expected, I’d no complaints about the effort displayed by this intrepid 10 year old.
At the cairn we agreed to have a break, I’d received a little complaint of tiredness and I didn’t object to having a coffee, the JetBoil comes into it’s own at times like this, boiled water in under 2 minutes, there’s no competition. It was whilst we were pondering around that we heard approaching voices from the valley footpath below, their conversation was very legible considering the distance between us. Times like this I call my ‘gloating moments’, yes I know, it’s sick, (maybe there’s a little envy), but, it’s still wonderful being on higher ground, so early in the day, watching as the days fresh walkers are fighting the ascent, I need to grow up, then again, no I don’t, I love it.
Descending the valley brought us to the tiny hamlet of Thwaite, and, unfortunately, especially for Christian, the footpath has high walls on either side which restrict the surrounding views. There is popular picnicking spot near Wharfe . where there were many people passing by and lingering, simply enjoying being there.
About 20 minutes later we returned to Austwick and the village green, the only spot I could find to park the car, that’s often a problem in small villages. We both pleasured at the simple delight of taking our boots off and sitting on the neatly kept green. Mission accomplished and a very proud dad. Did I mention the slight blackmail involved in persuading him to join me, there was a little involved, either way, without too much complaint, he completed the walk and camp, but I’m not too sure what it will involve convincing him to do the next one, c’est la vie.