GetOutside and explore the Dales Way

Sometimes in life the best adventures are those you don’t choose for yourself. The Dales Way doesn’t involve bog trotting or peak bagging, but instead winds through picturesque valleys and villages following the rivers. It was a beautiful weekend; full of wildflower meadows, sheep and sunshine. Except for the day we got thoroughly soaked in a thunderstorm, but more about that later.

The suggestion for Sharon and I to do a long distance walk together was first uttered over beers at Christmas (were we drunk?) and despite the potential for it to be forgotten about after the hangovers had vanished we committed to completing the Dales Way – a route which could be done over a long weekend.

Covering 80-ish miles (that’s the official length!) the Dales Way passes through villages as it follows rivers from Ilkley to Windermere.

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From Dalesway.org

Day 1 – Ilkley to Kettlewell – 22 miles

It was a very early start to get to Ilkley – Sharon’s dog Ted was as excited to be on a train journey to Ilkley as he was about the long walk ahead. Sharon and I were excited too but also aware we’d set the challenge of a 22 mile hike to Kettlewell and it was a very hot day.

The route from Ilkley winds along the River Wharfe northwards, through little clusters of houses and cross under the busy A59 as it reaches Bolton Abbey. This 6 mile stretch felt harder than it should as Ted was busy keeping cool in the river and we were baking in the sunshine. So arriving at Bolton Abbey at lunchtime we decided ice creams were in order.

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Bolton Abbey is hardly a hidden delight as it is  popular tourist attraction, but its the first delight you pass through on the Dales Way. The grounds of the 12th Century Augustinian monastery are worth a visit in their own right but provide a spectacular back drop to the walk and the route winds through the grounds woodlands as it crosses the River Wharfe.

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Eventually we reached Burnsall, a usual stop over on the route but for us a quick stop before we carried on to the suspension bridge over the river at Hebden.

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The narrow suspension bridge across the River Wharfe at the tiny village of Hebden was built by the village blacksmith, William Bell in 1885, with 262 yards of redundant steel rope. It is quite narrow so you might have a tight squeeze if you’re carrying a very large rucksack!

From here our next big stopping point was Grassington – at which time it had also become late enough to justify a stop at a pub for food and drink. This was a great idea but did make it very difficult to start walking again to reach our final destination for the day at Kettlewell. It was tempting to keep drinking in the pub!

Out of Kettlewell the Dales Way heads on to the fells of Lea Green, past old hut circles and across the limestone pavements above Swinebar Scar. As we started to descend into Kettlewell the sun was setting across the River Wharfe, making for a magical finish to our walk for the day.

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Day 2 – Kettlewell to Gearstones – 16 miles

Our overnight stay at the Bluebell Inn had set us up for a day of walking, a good sleep and good food. It was such a good morning we didn’t start till 10.30am and following the river we meandered through wildflower fields towards Buckden, the sun was shining and Ted was having fun playing in the river.

Reaching Buckden it started to cloud over and as we joined the road at Hubberholme we could hear the thunder in the distance. By the time we got to Yockenthwaite it was already raining heavily. From there it rained on and off until the heavens opened at Beckermonds and we got totally soaked as we crossed the river and started to head along the road. With heads down we trudged along.

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The route to Oughtershaw was a plod along the road, but once there we started heading along a track past Nethergill and Swarthgill farms before heading out on to the fellside.

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Heading up to Cam Houses and onto the hill top to join the Pennine Way the rain started to come down heavily and we were totally soaked on the plod down the track to Gearstones.

This isn’t the most inspirational part of the route at the best of times, I’ve walked this previously when doing the Pennine Way and thought then it should only be tackled on a mountain bike. So to trudge down the hill in the heavy rain was a bit of a demoralising end to the day.

 We’d been unable to get accommodation locally so we were lucky to hide in the hostel out of the rain while our taxi arrived to take us to Hawes. There seems to only be two taxis locally, both very competitive with each other but thankfully one was happy to pick up two soaked women and a damp dog.

Carrying all our own kit and travelling light, we were very grateful that the White Hart Inn in Hawes let us dry our clothes in their drier.

Day 3 – Gearstones to Sedbergh – 16 miles

Thankfully the rain held off for the route out of Wharfedale and into Dentdale as we headed across the fields and down the road under the Dent Viaduct.

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This section of the route includes a lot of road walking on country lanes and so we were pleased to reach Ewegales and start to head through the wildflower meadows towards Dent. Late spring is definitely the best time to walk this section of the route to see field of Bistort, Eyebright, Buttercups, Yellow Rattle, Red clover and Meadowsweet.

The fields in Dentdale are not bounded by dry stones walls like elsewhere in the Yorkshire Dales, but by laid hedges creating habitats and making the valley look softer and much more picturesque.

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After food at Dent we continued down the valley along the river and on country roads, eventually heading over the hill towards Sedbergh. By now Ted had worked out how to tackle the ladder stiles too. His first was a bit of a panicked scramble, a bit like me when I’m rock climbing!

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Day 4 – Sedbergh to Burnside – 16 miles

Breakfast at the Wheelwright Cottage was an experience, sat with two ultra runners completing the route in 3 days we stuffed ourselves with a full English breakfast on fine china plates. Ted got leftovers too.

The route out of Sedbergh was a contrast to Dentdale – gone were the wildflower meadows as the path follows the river under viaducts and past farms.

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The viaducts in this area are part of the former Lune Valley railway and would make fantastic cycleways if there was money to invest in them.  The Lune viaduct is made of Penrith stone with a huge cast iron central arch which carried the track 100 feet above the river.

After a morning of drizzle the weather did as predicted and stopped at 2pm so we had a pleasant afternoon walk through fields, eventually crossing the M6 and into Cumbria.



We arrived in Burneside tired and pleased to be stopping at a pub for the night so we didn’t have to travel far for food, and the Jolly Angler certainly didn’t disappoint.

Day 5 – Burneside to Windermere – 10 miles

We’d planned to set off walking for 9am so that we wouldn’t have to rush our last day reaching Windermere station with plenty of time for the 3pm train we had booked.

However we both overslept and so had a mad dash out for breakfast and so we didn’t get going until 9.30am. Despite being tired we managed a decent pace to leave Burneside.

The route isn’t pretty as it heads out of Burneside around the back of the large Mill, but it eventually leaves town and heads through fields along the River Kent to Staveley.


This is an area of Cumbria I’ve never explored due to the lack of mountains and fells, but it is worth a walk through the farms and fields to see a quiet side of Cumbria without the crowds.


We had decided to branch off at the bridleway to finish at Windermere station making it easy for our journey home.

The Dales Way isn’t an adventure I would have chosen for myself, but was an opportunity for me to enjoy an adventure with a friend something I’ve not done often. What I learnt is that adventures don’t have to include mountains or extreme endurance to be achievements and the Dales Way is a fantastic route, accessible for all at whatever pace you wish to complete it.

Try Caving

I hate caving. I know hate is a strong word but having had a go I can honestly say, I hate caving. Wading around with wet feet inside cold wellies wearing a rubber boil-in-the-bag suit with a fibre pile onesie underneath so any physical exertion leads to being really sweaty. Having a mild panic attack in the dark, when the choice presented to you is to either wriggle through a tiny slot barely big enough to fit in or to slide down rock and somehow avoid landing in the pool of freezing water at the bottom. I feel a bit sick just thinking about it now. There’s always the choice to turn around but I’m not a quitter and like to push my boundaries of fear.

But I didn’t know any of this when I agreed to give it a go. I thought ‘It’s a bit like rock climbing, but underground’. Walking through passages marvelling at rock and fossils and wandering into huge caverns.
The reality is more like grovelling in the dark, wedging myself through rock and losing my dignity and nerve as I lower myself over the void to disappear into the abyss, dangling in free space.
The weekend was organised by Ben and Aly, both really experienced cavers and both in Mountain Rescue teams with experience in cave rescues, so if I was going to give it a go I was at least going out with experienced people. 

Learning rope access skills

We’d spent Saturday morning learning rope techniques to ascend and descend the ropes, get past knots in the rope (re-belays) and also passed clips where the rope has been anchored to the side to make the descent better (deviations). In Bradford Pothole Club’s hut, a couple of feet off the ground, it was easy and fun. I enjoy learning rope skills, and this didn’t feel like it was that different than the rope rescue skills we do in my Rescue team. This was going to be a piece of cake.
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Jess, Me and Aly rocking the onesies

On a hot sunny afternoon we then headed out to descend into Sell Gill, a cave system with all the rope work problems you could ever encounter. I didn’t have any problems getting down into the bottom of the cave. And yes, I had this look on my face all day.
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Just passed a deviation in the rope and continuing to head down

Later on, hauling myself back up the rope to get out I managed to jam my ascender (croll) at the top next to a knot. I was less than impressed with the ten minutes of wiggling it required to get it off. As you can imagine I was sweating in my rubber suit as I dangled, frustrated, trying to free myself. Ben at this point was being very reassuring with advice about how to free myself and was about to come and get me himself when I sorted it out. 
It wasn’t a horrible experience but Sell Gill isn’t the most attractive cave, as Ben pointed out its more of a training ground for learning the skills, so I was still wondering what the point of caving really is. Aly tried to explain that reaching the bottom of the cave is what cavers go underground for, but I’ll be honest I still didn’t understand.
I was even more confused to discover some of the club’s cavers had spent the day digging underground, to excavate new caves. I understand the desire to be the first to do something, even if it’s be in a cave, but really?! In the dark, cold and wet, digging dirt out of the ground.

Venturing into Alum Pot

I admit to being filled with a sense of dread after hearing two cavers spent Saturday night trapped underground nearby and had not been rescued till 5am. So I was a bit happier that Sunday’s trip out was to Alum Pot, a day lit shaft that descends 80m into the ground. At least I wasn’t going to spend all day in the dark I thought.

We initially headed upstream, wading through the river to reach Dr Bannister’s Handbasin, a huge underground pool. We had an awkward climb up a short waterfall to exit the last bit of the cave, awkward enough but much more so in wellies. 

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Once back out in the real world, we walked back down to the entrance to head downstream and into Alum Pot itself. The route down wasn’t too complicated and involved mostly walking through passage ways or around the edge of pools.

It was along this bit of the route that I was presented with the option of squeezing through a narrow crack to wriggle through, or sliding further down rock to avoid a pool. I can confess that watching Jess crawl through the gap and even thinking about having to follow her, made feel sick and teary. I opted for the slide down and managed to avoid the plunge pool.

From here we continued to ‘Dollytubs’, a roped descent down 15m to where we could see Alum Pot and daylight. Descending Dollytubs required a traverse along a ledge and to reclip the rope past a deviation as we descended. 

Even getting my descender (stop) onto the rope felt like a mental effort as I leaned over the drop. Ben did point out to me to just get my bum on the wall to balance, clearly logical thinking isn’t a skill of mine when I’m concentrating on not panicking! Despite always being clipped to a rope and therefore safe, I didn’t have faith in the gear, which is ridiculous I know. Clipped to a rope I wasn’t going to fall. So every time I had to faff with the stop I felt a bit uneasy. 

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Yes, I did shut my eyes to descend!

I was happy to get into Alum Pot and see daylight, and the descent down Greasy Slab was actually pleasant in the daylight. Alum Pot feels like another world when you look up to daylight, surrounded by leafy vegetation, moss and slime.

It was like being in Jurassic Park, another world that I wouldn’t ever see again and that hikers who pass by the surface never get to see. I knew I was lucky to have the opportunity to be there.

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Owen sat on ‘The Bridge’

The 45m descent down from below ‘The Bridge’ the large rock seen in the photo above, wasn’t really any more difficult that anything I’d done so far, only one deviation clip to get passed by unclipping and re-clipping.

Dangling in free space with daylight showing how far away the floor of the cave was, and the roaring sound of the waterfall pouring down made the whole thing feel a lot more scary. Plus having to sort out a deviation which was more than an arms length away and manage to re-clip it back on the rope without letting go of it was stressful.

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By the time I eventually got to the bottom of the rope I only had to walk along and do one more 20m descent down to reach the Sump, an underground pool and the end of the cave system. But on seeing the last rope descend down into the dark again and trying to sort out my rope whilst getting soaked under a waterfall I’d reached the edge of my mental strength.

Am I disappointed I didn’t see the Sump? As I sarcastically put to Ben as he tried to encourage me to continue, “its just a puddle”. Ok, I’m sure to cavers out there the Sump is something special and worth a visit, but I just didn’t care enough at that point to carry on. I was mentally wiped out. 

I’m still not disappointed either. I don’t have a great head for heights which is a problem with climbing at the best of time, but in dark and wet caves I’d found my limit. I felt bad for letting Ben down. For me it was a big enough achievement to have got to where it did. 

Hauling myself back up the 45m rope was challenging enough for me.

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Whilst I’m unlikely to ever go caving again, I would recommend a trip into Alum Pot if you can find someone to take you. Its not somewhere to go without experience – you need to be able to rig the ropes and understand ascending and descending safely. Being able to do that with Ben and Aly was great.

I was totally amazed and grateful for Aly’s calm and cool manner in dealing with me, being stubborn and sobbing at the bottom of Alum Pot. She’s an amazing caver and clearly really good at coping with novices like me. She was also out in front the whole weekend rigging the ropes and taking responsibility for safety. Whilst I’m not sure caving would ever have been for me even if I’d started younger, I believe girls need more role models like Aly. I found her totally inspiring.

I’d also like to say a massive thanks to Ben for letting me tag along, for being a good teacher and being calm when teaching me skills, and giving me the opportunity to see the amazing world of Alum Pot. And for taking photos – without which I’d have manage to banish all memory of the day!

Dealing with injury and getting active again

Sorry for the lack of posts for the last month. I’ve done nothing worthy of writing about. By that I mean I haven’t walked more than a mile in a day – its been mind numbingly boring and cabin-fever frustrating.

After a fantastic trail run at the Keswick Mountain Festival and then completing the Dovestones Diamond 10k in the rain a week later I felt fantastic and totally ready for running a half marathon. Nevermind the summer months rock climbing and peak-bagging over the fells.

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Then I managed to tear my right calf muscle which put pay to any ideas of running more races. I wouldn’t mind if I did it on a long romp across the moors, or during a race – then I could understand it being from overuse. Instead, I stepped off a kerb crossing the road and it went just went pop! I knew right away that it wasn’t going to be something I could just walk off.

So for the last month I have spent a massive amount of money (I dread to think) on physio, but its been worth every penny. Nothing means more to me than being able to enjoy being active outdoors, so I don’t care about the expense. During this period of hobbling around and calf stretching I have also learnt that my left knee which I twisted 6 years ago has a degenerative tendon so I need to start strengthen around it. And my left big toe which causes me agony when climbing is degenerative arthritis – nothing to be done about this according to the specialist, just deal with it when it gets worse. Not good for 33! Can I trade in my legs for an upgrade?

So lots of physio and a steroid injection in my toe later I managed to get back out for a hike this weekend. Nothing spectacular – I picked a couple of peaks that were on the tick list, but would normally be a terrible dull romp over the moors on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales. I didn’t want to over do it, and the hills need ticking eventually… (even injury doesn’t stop me being addicted to peak bagging!)

I was also dog sitting Ted, my favourite border terrier, who has also been suffering from a limp. Once out on the hills though you’d never have known we were both injured – Ted especially, as he pulled me along all day wanting to chase sheep.

We headed up Gragareth, a hill supposedly the highest point in Lancashire sat firmly in the Yorkshire Dales National Park. I’m not going to lie, its not a fantastic ridge with miles of interesting terrain. It is a moorland fell top which stretches out as miles of grass and sphagnum moss bog which would be awful in the depth of a wet winter and midgy ridden on a hot summer’s day. Thankfully it was neither yesterday, so while we got soaked bog trotting, it was otherwise a perfect day for such a walk. Ted did take a dive in a bog up to his neck though which wasn’t ideal.

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The whole round only took about three and a half hours, which was good, as by the time we got back to the car, my knee was screaming and my calf aching. I was also hoarse from shouting at Ted to slow down. Well, at least we got out!

Limestone in Crummack Dale

Its hard to find peace and quiet in the Yorkshire Dales at the weekend unless the weather is horrible. Despite heading out from Clapham, a favourite starting point for walkers heading to the top of Ingleborough, if you avoid the hill top its possible to find peace and also some fantastic limestone pavements, which in my opinion are more impressive than those at Malham Cove.

Following the track up the river from Clapham you head through woodland and Trow Gill, a narrow ravine. As the path appears out of the top of the ravine follow it onwards to the access point for Gaping Gill one of the largest caves in the UK at 98m deep. Twice a year the cave is open to the general public through the caving clubs.

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From here head across the moorland towards Juniper Gulf, another popular caving point.

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To head around Crummack dale it is necessary to climb over the fence and head across towards the limestone towards the Pennine Bridleway.

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Follow this only a little way as to see the full splendour of Crummack dale you need to skirt around Moughton Scars heading southeast, eventually up towards the trig point.

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The reason I think that Crummack dale is more impressive the Malham Cove is for the expanse of limestone pavement which is far larger than that at Malham, and as you stand near the trig point looking back at Moughton Scar you can see the impact of glaciation and erosion on a large scale. Its also a hell of a lot quieter, I didn’t see anyone once I past the Pennine Bridleway.

From the trig point head down hill, cross the Dales High Way and head across fields to walk below Norber, passing the erratics left by the ice age, to head back to Clapham.

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The interesting route up the Howgill Fells

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It might be the quieter side of Cumbria but the Howgill Fells get just as many people walking them so its always good to find a path that is a bit quieter.

Despite Cautley Spout being a great waterfall and worth the short walk in, the path at the side looks steeper than it is to the inexperienced walker, or in this case scienceboy who was dragged with me for the days walk. “Are we nearly there yet?” was the constant chatter to the top, I forgive him – its been a while since he’s joined me and I’ve certainly been on some long walks recently.

Cautley Spout

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Its a shame that the path across the summit is a metre wide stone one, looking like a road from a distance.

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We descended directly back to the car at Cross Keys from the final top of Calders, following the fence line and the continuing on to pick up Pickering Gill and following it down to the footbridge and back to the road.

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Picking up where i left off on the Pennine Way- Day 7

Its been 7 years since I started walking the Pennine Way. I always intended to walk it in sections but long distance walking has taken a side step for climbing ever upwards to reach summits and the sky and so for a few years I haven’t walked any of the route.  But I decided it was about time I got around to finishing it, and so dedicated a few days to making a dent in the remaining miles.

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I’d so far managed to walk to Hawes in 6 days (not 1 day per year though as I had a 3 year break somewhere in the middle). My first problem is getting to Hawes from where I live on public transport and having made the same mistake twice in not looking at bus timetables before heading out, and then finding myself stranded at the end of the walk (once being able to hitch a lift to Skipton and once having to walk on to the Ribblehead viaduct for a train) I wasn’t going to make that mistake a third time.

Never one to turn an offer down, I made the most of the offer of a lift and so found myself with a sherpa service on the three days of walking from Hawes to Dufton, no carrying a tent for me! Which was just as well as it turned out to be the hottest days of the year so far, not ideal!

Day 7 – Hawes to Tan Hill Inn – 15.6 miles/ 25.3km

On paper this sounded like a good idea; just over 15 miles is not really that far. And in fact the route was not only easy navigationally but also good walking on tracks and paths and with a pit stop en route.

If not for the relentless heat and burning sun I might have been able to really enjoy this.

Start of the walk at Hawes

Path across Great Shunner Fell

The path up Great Shunner Fell is a good start to the day, not steep and a nice ascent to a really good cairn which is a great place for a break. Its a popular summit which if I’m honest I couldn’t understand as it is a long moorland hill to ascend and from the summit cairn the view isn’t of the surrounding villages and valleys, but the expanse of the hill itself.

Despite the dry weather I did find myself hopping stones to avoid disappearing in the peat up to my knees, so watch your footing in wetter weather.

Thwaite a good pitstop

Thwaite a good pitstop

After burning in the sun heading over Great Shunner Fell it was great to be able to pop in the pub and get a cold drink in Thwaite, a pretty village. I’d already managed to drink my water supply so was also grateful to be able to refill, and with COLD water as I’d been drinking luke warm water for a few hours!

From Thwaite it did seem punishing to be heading uphill to walk around to Keld. The route is however is fantastic and has some great views down the valley to Muker and beyond. As the path circles the hill looking down on the river below, it reminded me of walking in the Alps. It would make a great circular walk from Thwaite to Keld in its own right.

Its also worth it for the waterfall at Keld; if I was stopping here I would have dipped my toes in the river to cool, but I had to head onwards and upwards.

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I wasn’t looking forward to an uphill slog at the end of the day in the scorching heat, but was pleasantly surprised to find that the walk wasn’t that bad after all and gives the first taste of the isolating moorland to come.

The steady climb to the Tan Hill, a couple of miles to go.

the first glimpse of the Tan Hill

So in the end I reached the Tan Hill pub, the highest pub in England, after 7 hours and 10 minutes. Phew! Time for a pint I think!

Pennine Way Horton in Ribblesdale to Hawes 2011 Day 6

I’m not much of a cyclist but if someone put a gun to my head and made me walk this section of the Pennine Way again, I would attempt it on my bike. Its simply just not a very interesting walk I’m afraid to say, and I’m not usually that disparaging of an opportunity to get out. It was a hot day as I recall but the route undulates, has no significant peaks and is therefore a long dull slog. Only the promise of cheese in Hawes at the Creamery was a motivation!

Day 6 Horton in Ribblesdale to Hawes – 13.5 miles/ 21.6km

Setting off from Horton in Ribblesdale the route heads along a track circling a large woodland. These pictures are looking back along the route to Pen-y Ghent, Horton and nearby Ingleborough.

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From here the route climbs up to the single track road and Dodd Fell Hill. Having felt a bit like I was just trudging, I took a detour at this point to bag the trig point, since it is technically a mountain top by its height, and thus on the Nuttall list of hill tops. Frankly it was a bit of a non event but a highlight in a day lacking in one.

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From here the route starts to drop, still on a track down to Hawes village, which represents the centre of the Yorkshire Dales for public transport links, pubs, shops and of course the Creamery, the home of Wensleydale cheese.

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Of course no day on the Pennine Way would be complete for me without a lack of consideration of how to get back. Having left my car in Horton in Ribblesdale I made a wild assumption I could get a bus or at the very least an overpriced taxi back from Hawes. But this was before Easter weekend and so out of season, and not even an overpriced taxi was to answer my call.

So I was grateful to find my parents were having a day out in nearby Skipton and so could ferry me back to Horton to get my car. It took me until 2013 before I got around to doing any more of the Pennine Way, partly due to life getting in the way but also due to a need to properly consider how I was going to get from the finish back to the start as the route now enters more remote areas.