I could, of course, have walked along the road to Grassington, where there is a decent bus service to Skipton, but that would have been a sad end to the trip. Much more interesting was a track running south-west from the head of Nidderdale, across the watershed at Sandy Gate, and picking up the Dales Way to Grassington. And what a watershed it is: gritstone to limestone, from rough peat and shooting moors to disappearing streams and ancient field systems.
11 April 2004: Pateley Bridge to Middlesmoor, 8 miles
From Pateley Bridge take the Nidderdale Way north, beside the river, to and beside the Gouthwaite reservoir. Part of the path here is on the old light railway that ran up the valley. You could continue on the Way to Lofthouse before taking local paths to Middlesmoor, but instead I walked across to Ramsgill to pick up the western loop of the Way, which gains a little height (so giving good views) before heading down to How Stean Gorge. You can pay to go in the gorge if you want. From here, field paths take you up to Middlesmoor village, where I stayed at the simple Crown Hotel. Although it may seem natural to walk along the road by How Stean Gorge, it is a road, and there is an alternative field path through Whitbeck Farm which might be worth a try.
12 April 2004: Middlesmoor to Grassington, 11 miles
Out of Middlesmoor paths run to the farms of Low and High Riggs before striking south-west across the moors. Trackless valleys like Backstean Gill are made for right-to-roam exploration, but continue on the path (if you can find it, and I couldn’t always), heading inexorably up to Sandy Gate. It is only here you enter the national park – and join my later walk from Horton. Great Whernside is at the head of the ridge running north, but descend into Mossdale. Here I came across a couple exploring the industrial archaeology of the old mine shafts, but there is a sad side to the dale too. Beneath Mossdale Scar, six young cavers lost their lives in 1967 exploring the subterranean system here, Britain’s worst caving disaster. From here you cross typical limestone country to join the Dales Way at the head of Scot Gate Lane. Grassington is an hour from here; it’s a honeypot village, and will be very busy in most holiday seasons.
If there is one thing I would change about this walk, it would be to avoid the Dales Way section itself. It’s a very good final three miles, but something of a motorway – you’re never far from someone. Another day it would be worth exploring a line through Bare House (005669) where the track may not be so beaten.
9 May 2009: Horton to Buckden, 14 miles
Pen-y-Ghent must be one of England’s most-climbed hills, indeed Dave and I had been there more than 30 years before on the Pennine Way. It towers like a lion above Horton-in-Ribblesdale, a distinctive sight from all over the dale, and the profile of its south ridge beckons all who pass this way. To take the path out of Horton and then turn up the south ridge on a spring day in May is to follow the crowds. But something very strange happens if you continue northwards, beyond the depression where the Pennine Way heads west: nobody follows you. It’s likely you will have the subsidiary summit of Plover Hill all to yourself; we did.
Dave descending from Horse Head
Below to the north lies Foxup Beck, with a bridleway contouring above it. This leads to the tiny hamlet of Halton Gill, a good spot for lunch. A track heads above the gill itself to Horse Head Gate, a shallow depression on the broad ridge separating Littondale and Langstrothdale. A hail shower came in as we ascended, and although we bagged the trig point at Horse Head summit, we decided against the traverse eastwards towards Birks Tarn. Another one for another day. The rain stopped on cue at Yockenthwaite, and we headed along the Dales Way to Hubberholme. There were remnants of a wedding in the church, the final scattering-place of the ashes of the great Yorkshire writer and socialist JB Priestley. In Buckden, our overnight was at the Buck Inn, much improved since a visit some years before; there is also a village shop/cafe, where we fell foul of the grouchy owner.
10 May 2009: Buckden to Kettlewell, 15 miles
Buckden Pike, Pen-y-Ghent and Ingleborough in view
The ascent of Buckden Pike from Buckden, starting off on a Roman road, is almost as popular as the climb to Pen-y-Ghent. On an atmospheric day like this, there are superb all-round views. Just below the summit, there is a memorial to the Polish crew of a wartime bomber which crashed here, killing all bar one; the remarkable story of that man’s survival is well told on the memorial website. There are deep peat hags as you drop down from here towards the Kettlewell – Coverdale road, which make for slow going. At the road, Tor Dike is clearly visible; it was a sort of anti-Hadrian’s Wall, built by Iron Age British tribes to keep out the Romans. Didn’t work.
Great Whernside is very different in character to Buckden Pike. Its top is more Dartmoor than Dales, capped by a succession of gritstone outcrops well worth an afternoon’s exploration. There is a quick way down to Kettlewell but that would make for a short day, and with high cloud and barely a breath of wind, we continued down the rarely-trodden watershed to Sandy Gate. A boundary fence keeps route-finding simple; rather a shame really. We went this way so that I could show Dave the extensive lead mine workings at Mossdale (moz-d’l, said a local). Mining had largely ceased by the end of the 19th century but there is much to see still, with spoil tips and levels continuing up the hill as we turned westwards. Over Benfoot Brow, limestone country is regained, and the route to Kettlewell becomes a pleasant stroll on grass, Birks Fell ahead, marred for me only by the dive-bombing and incessant squawkings of a pair of lapwings incapable of telling large mammals that are a threat from those that are not.
11 May 2009: Kettlewell to Grassington, 6 miles
Dales Way all the way, so straightforward stuff. After taking fields out of the village, the Way joins the minor road on the eastern side of Wharfedale, before climbing up to run below the limestone escarpment nearly all the way to Grassington. There’s a definite sense of walking away from the big hills, but Burnsall & Thorpe Fell beyond Grassington looms ever larger and is probably a nice small excursion. This was a very pleasant couple of hours on a lovely sunny day with a light breeze behind us. In Grassington, we even had time for an open-air cup of coffee and a bit of souvenir shopping before the bus home. I reprised this half-day, in reverse, on my way north on my cross-England walk.
Looking back towards Kettlewell