The number of times I’d driven through the idyllic borderline Wharfedale villages of Cracoe (the spur of land frequented by Crakes) and Rylstone (the village by the brook), on the B6265 en-route to and from the Yorkshire Dales are too numerous to even consider. Both villages have fells named after them and each have a monument on their summits. Monuments which are clearly visible from the road below and magnetic icons to the curious minded, myself, been included in the latter description.
There was nothing complicated about the route, after parking the car behind the Devonshire Arms pub in Cracoe, unknown to me at the time, the footpath ascending to the Cracoe memorial starts there, about 6 feet from the car, a gap in the bushes is the start of the path, the most convenient of starts to any walk I’ve ever known.
Preparing the kit and backpack, in public view, late in the afternoon never fails to attract curiosity and comments, this occasion was no exception. To be fair, most people are returning to their cars and tents etc late in the afternoon, not preparing to venture out into the moors. A bearded guy, on approaching his black 4×4 after leaving the pub looked in disbelief at me, I asked him if this was the correct footpath to the summit, he told me it was and asked if I intended camping there, when I told him I was he was speechless for a few seconds, “Oh, well, you’ll have it to yourself” he eventually and surprisingly stated, I smiled, that’s just how I wanted it.
From the car park to the summit didn’t look too far, these views never to, nor did it seem to intimidating or challenging, experience has taught me not to be so confident, I’ve yet to discover an easy ascent of anything, although, Skiddaw in the Lakes did seem easier than most, but, that seemed a one-off and a very long time ago. The ascent followed a track with the appropriate name of Fell Lane, a journey passing some wonderful old buildings and converted farm houses. The leisurely and seemingly gentle climb through fields of grazing sheep was soon to transform into the reality of the harsh wilderness I’d come in search of. The terrain soon became steeper, wetter and strenuous under foot. It was marshy, reed covered and soggy, every footstep was sinking and the drenched grassy tufts became obstacles and impossible to avoid.
My intention was to reach the summit at least an hour before nightfall and pitch my camp somewhere sheltered close by, then, after breakfast, we could cross the escarpment to the cross on Rylstone Fell prior to a descent to both villages and the car. We almost achieved the destination in the required time, but, the ascent was tougher than I’d anticipated, I wasn’t expecting the marshland, and, because of that, we weren’t on the summit when the dark and threatening cloud was moving in, the clear and sunny evening was transforming into a threatening dark dusk, my 11 year old son was becoming tired and hungry, and, he was my responsibility and without doubt, my priority.
We were in a kind of ‘no man’s land’ regarding terrain, ascending was becoming quite severe and beneath us was open terrain with little or no protection, fortunately, about 50 yards to our right, stood concave crags, with, from what I could see, the most level of terrain available, we headed for it. The hill we were on beneath Cracoe Fell was Abrahams Hill with the sheltered crag named Owslins Fold, perfect, a wonderful stroke of luck. I told him where we needed to be, and, like a determined little trooper, although tired and hungry, headed straight over the challenging terrain towards it, he did well. On arriving there I congratulated him on some epic climbing and rewarded him instant priority regarding food and shelter.
Basically, I threw his bivi together, gave him the roll mat and sleeping bag to place within, told him to take off his boots and tuck himself inside, he didn’t need asking twice. I’d already prepared his favourite meal, fried diced chicken and pasta, so, once I’d reheated it, delivered it to him, he’d earned everything, and his reward was his tea served in bed. On completion, surprisingly, still having a signal on my mobile phone, from the home comforts of his waterproof and windproof shelter, his final reward, a phone call to mum.
In the knowledge that Christian was safe, fed and secure, I addressed my own needs, erected my tent on the best available spot, and, ignited the Jetboil for one of my luxurious last two remaining army surplus boil in the bag meals of roghan josh with chick peas, never again will I purchase army surplus food on line, so, I made myself a coffee and ignited my portable pocket fire. The intimidating black cloud overhead never did release it’s saturating content, which, rewarded me with the privilege of been sat, eating, in front of a real fire in a tin, overlooking the southern Yorkshire Dales at dusk, your money can’t buy you this, your sports car won’t take you there, your designer clothing is of no use there, and, if you’ve never been there, I can assure you, you’ll never understand what I’m saying, and, it really is your loss. “A perfect place to recollect in tranquillity” – William Wordsworth
Unlike my young partner, I didn’t sleep well, my tent was on an angle, on the top of bumpy ground, I had no roll mat, as the little guy had priority, I couldn’t blame him for forgetting to bring his own, and, as midnight approached, the live music coming from the Devonshire Arms seemed to increase in volume the later it became, c’est la vie.
I awoke about 6am, and, I needed a pee, so, up and out I was, that’s after the initial wrestle within the one man tent with my boots, it’s always a battle to put your boots on within the confines of a small tent, but, once victorious, it was time for a hot coffee. My neighbour was still fast asleep, he’d managed to slide to the base of the bivi but it hadn’t spoiled his sleep, he was snoring like a lion. I sat myself down on one of the rocks, added some water to the Jetboil, ignited it, stretched over to my drybag with the food and coffee sachets, picked my metal cup up which I had left standing in the grass all night, removed the plastic lid, where, to my horror, it contained an ugly black slug, the horrible little thing had squeezed itself inside through the tiny opening within the lid, brilliant, just what I needed, a slug tasting cup of hot coffee. I wondered if had been the same slug Christian had placed his hand on earlier in the evening when he’d slipped and fallen?
My breakfast consisted of my final military surplus curry and slug free coffee, finally, those dreadful meals were gone. The little fellow emerged, refreshed and excited, completely different from the tired little soul who’d gone to bed the previous evening, he even commented about the beautiful sunny morning and the wonderful surrounding views. I was about to make his breakfast, fried sausages, but, he told me he wasn’t hungry, probably due to him eating so late the night before, maybe because he was excited about his surrounding terrain, either way, he needed a task and something to burn off his newly discovered surplus energy, and, we both needed to discover a track or footpath to the summit and monument, he responded to the call of this important role with immediate dedication, and with full enthusiasm, away he went, to fulfil his important mission, he didn’t let me down, returning a few minutes later having discovered not one, but two, tracks to the summit, he’d done well, yet again.
Rewarding his success in discovering the tracks to the summit, I asked him to choose the one we should follow and then, take point, with fine efficiency and adult responsibility, he took the lead roll as I, subordinately, followed his route and decision. There was still some effort required to reach the summit, it was steep, the newly discovered footpath didn’t head directly to the monument, but, we eventually reached our destination. Surprisingly, the fell runners were already up and about, 3 passed us as they descended from the memorial, Christian, having greeted each one of them as they passed by, then, on arriving at our destination, appeared a solo fell runner, I was chatting to him, although he was only wearing a pair of shorts and trainers, he wasn’t cold, hardly surprising, he was half way through his daily 12 mile route from Embsay, over the dales, half way being the summit of Cracoe Fell and the monument, prior to another 6 miles home, he described the monument as his cathedral.
We were both relieved to reach the summit, the last stretch of the ascent was another tough one, especially at my age, but, we’d finally succeeded, the aching legs would have to work a little harder now, but, not upwards, the route was now either level or descending, still requiring effort, but not the same unforgiving amount required as the ascent. The route was simple and didn’t require a map and compass, it was simply a matter of following the dry stone wall along it’s south westerly route, (which, would require a map and compass in bad weather). The earlier enthusiasm and excitement was beginning to dwindle with my young companion, the usual questions were being raised again, “Why can’t we go back the way we came?”, “I can’t see the village anymore, this is the long way round”, “You lied to me, this is further than you said!” My replies were just as childish and feeble, “Because, because, because etc etc etc!”
We were following the wall on it’s western side, and, eventually, we ran out of footpath, we hit an impassable crag, which, gave us no other choice than to clamber over the dry stone wall and rejoin the footpath on the other side, a far better and established path, but one that remained hidden from view until we crossed the wall. At this point, an elderly couple came passing by, they were really friendly and enjoying themselves. The lady immediately commented on Christian’s soft toy, Mr Loveheart Bear, she told him how her children always used to carry them everywhere and, how, the mere fact he was carrying it, displayed an affectionate side of his personality that would be with him throughout his life, then she said how being out with his Dad, doing this kind of activity would ensure he would refrain from becoming a ‘Yob’ in his later years. I hope so on both counts, but, little did she know how he entertained himself with the loveable Mr Loveheart Bear, given the opportunity, it became a victim of being thrown over streams, gulleys, rocks and anything else available, I suppose it may be an affectionate display, but I doubt it was the kind of affection she had in mind.
Having reached the last stretch of the footpath to the Rylstone Cross, I reached a section of the footpath which was flooded, and, as another couple approached, I decided to display some manners and stand aside so they could pass, they thanked me and we mutually smiled at each other, then, a few moments after they had gone, I realised who the lady either was, or was a deadringer of, the Danish born British TV presenter, Sandi Toksvig, it probably wasn’t, but, it didn’t matter.
Having crossed the gritstone escarpment and reached the concrete crucifix, it was time for a break and a coffee, the young one again, discovered a new lease of life and began his affectionate display towards Mr Loveheart Bear, I can’t begin to explain the torment he put it through, had I attempted to explain it, my story would ensure censorship of this document, suffice to say, it bordered torture to the highest degree. The concrete cross was placed in it’s present location in 1995 when it replaced a former wooden one. Why a wooden version was originally placed there I don’t know, I’d like to know, but, as yet, I don’t.
Incidentally, Cracoe and Rylstone are the homes of the original Calendar Girls, the ladies who posed discreetly nude for charity fund raising calendars, and, had an internationally successful film made about their success and story, well done.
So, another wild camp completed and a little information gathered concerning the two curiosities which had eluded me for many years, gripping stuff eh 🙂