11 August 1976: Ponden Hall to Gargrave, 17 miles
I woke, breakfasted, packed, and noted that my Wainwright (with times dutifully logged) was gone. I reported it to the kind owners, who were most distressed, and explained that it may have been taken as a souvenir – the only other guests were a group from a desperate Leeds estate on a scheme holiday. Being a left-wing sort of person, I accepted this as understandable redistribution (no, really) and anyway the owners had a spare copy which they insisted I have. It has stayed with me ever since.
Leeds & Liverpool Canal, 1976
On to the walk. A slab of moor, then the first villages proper since Edale, Cowling and Lothersdale. Soon, a third, Thornton in Craven – you wait days far a village then three come at once – and a short canal-side stretch before fields to Gargrave. This village has the first rail station since Edale directly on the Way and so is an important place when considering the logisitics of walking the Way in stages. I took the bus to Malham and splashed out on the Buck Inn: £4.75 B&B, even more than the Jolly Rambler at Edale! 2009 price, £50 … there was a pretty constant 1:10 inflation ratio over the three decades.
3 April 1973: Earby to Malham, 13 miles
A few years before, Dave Travers, Mike Chant and I had met up at Earby Hostel. The day before, I had failed my first-ever interview for a proper job, as a teacher near Hull. Perhaps it was because I attended in fell-walking kit plus rucksack. My notes record that I was selected for another interview in Cornwall in a few days’ time; clearly, I thought better of it.
On this first day, we joined the PW at Thornton, had a pint in Gargrave (‘beer as cheap as it deserved to be’, my notes record), strangely had difficulty finding the PW immediately thereafter, but had no problems once we joined the River Aire. This is limestone country – the first on the Way – and at Aire Head there is a great view of Malham Cove and Gordale Scar, representatives of the Craven Fault which trainee geologists study to this day. We stayed at the Youth Hostel, and moaned that it was full of ‘a group of schoolkids some of which [sic] are distressingly pseudy’. Yes, we three wanted to be teachers.
Diverting to Horton, 1973
4 April 1973, 12 August 1976: Malham to Horton, 15 miles
How different can two days be. ’73, and the last remnants of a cold northern winter; ’76, a foretaste of hot summers to come. We’d noticed the snow on the fells the day before, and after lunch by a snow-girt Malham Tarn, decided to skip the hills for lanes and tracks into the Ribble Valley. Given our inexperience, very likely a wise decision. We still had flooded lanes to circumnavigate though. It wasn’t wall-to-wall sunshine that day in ’76, but a glorious afternoon led past Malham Cove, over Fountains Fell and Pen-y-Ghent, the latter hill being one of the great scenic highlights of the Way; as Wainwright records, “A real mountain, at last”.
For the ’73 walk, we were booked at the Crown Hotel, whereas in ’76 I economised at Mrs Claughton’s B&B (£2.50). At the Crown, we found that my father had arranged to pay for the meal for all three of us, including the wine and brandy he had pre-arranged, for it was my 22nd birthday; alas, in ’76 I was barely out of grieving, for he had died four months before. But thank you, dad, for nigh-on 25 years, and the vision that has inspired me ever since.
6 April 1973: Horton to Hawes, 15 miles
What happened to 5 April? You may well ask. We hung around in the morning, started diffidently for Pen-y-Ghent in the afternoon, nearly turned back for snow showers, but got ourselves to the top and back again. Then I went down with the runs, but Dave had it far worse than me overnight and was in no shape to walk the following day, though this being the 1970s he was up for hitching, while Mike and me took the PW. My notes record a snowline and some drifting across the Way, with driving hail below Dodd Fell. Dave’s hitch went well and his stomach was recovered enough to have eaten gammon and chips before we got there. We stayed at Hawes Youth Hostel and were most impressed. In 1976 I skipped this stage – it’s perfectly good but pretty straightforward – I think I must have hitched from Horton but can’t remember. I stayed at the then Stonecroft B&B (£2.50).
7 April 1973: Hawes to Keld, 13 miles; 8 April 1973: Keld to Bowes, 13 miles; 14 August 1976: Hawes to Bowes, 26 miles
Great Shunner Fell is the sprawling hill that forms such a landmark when viewed from the picture windows of Hawes hostel. In ’73 it found out my stamina, as I trailed unusually behind my colleagues, thinking the top would never come; in ’76, buoyed by an easy day before, I hopped over it as if it were not there. Indeed I was on my way to something of a personal record, mostly bare-chested I recall (thankfully no photographs were taken), gulping a quick sandwich at Thwaite, two instant pints of shandy at the Tan Hill Inn, knocking off miles while only late in the day setting the goal of Bowes. The Tan Hill Inn back then had no mains electricity, and the juke box played Jimmy Osmond tone-depressed by the ailing generator.
Back in ’73, there’s hail to contend with coming down from Great Shunner, and messy conditions underfoot, but time for a proper lunch in Thwaite, and to savour the view over Swaledale, before an early finish at the Youth Hostel in Keld. “What a dump”, I wrote. “Conditions are worsened by two dozen Cumberland schoolkids” – that instinctive feel for the teaching profession showing itself once more. It closed as a hostel in 2006, and is now the rather more upmarket Keld Lodge, “a comfortable hotel and restaurant”. It started to snow quite heavily beside Frumming Beck, and my notes show us diverting to road, presumably the lane from Sleighthome Farm.
In ’76 I stayed at Clint Farm, just north of the village, £3 including meal; un-named guest house in ’73, ham salad. Note that both times I took the Bowes loop, an official PW diversion into the village. The main route of the Way takes a direct line about three miles to the west, through bleak country without habitation.
Forward to the High Pennines and Cheviot