Backpacking the far western Yorkshire Dales

by backpackingbongos

With the TGO challenge fast approaching and my fitness levels stalled at around the zero mark it was time to head outdoors with a pack on my back.  The knee which gave me grief on the Isle of Rum is slowly getting less painful so I planned to spend one of the days recreating an average challenge day, i.e 14 to 15 miles with a thousand metres of ascent.  It was also a good opportunity to visit a part of the Dales which I have not been to for a while, a part which for some reason does not feel the feet of many walkers.  I like it that way.

Day 1 – 6.9 miles with 500 metres ascent

I left the van in the car park of the village hall in Cowan bridge and set off up the road towards Ireby though a pleasant pastoral landscape.  Spring had truly sprung and the fields were full of lambs of varying sizes.  I had to hold a trio back when I opened a gate to enter their field they were so eager for attention.  They were obviously orphans and they followed me as I crossed to the other gate whilst some geese barked their disapproval.  I finally ended up on the dead-end lane out of Masongill, heading towards the open hills with almost a purposeful stride.  This was spoilt by a bench situated close to where the tarmac ran out.  I think that it is rude to pass by a bench without testing its general load bearing capabilities.  I therefore sat down for a while.

A rough stoney track called the Turbary road continued on from the lane and I steadily gained height to the 400 metre contour.  The views to the south had really opened up with the Forest of Bowland dominating the horizon, its moors stretching for miles.  Leaving the track for a while towards Keld Head Scar the views towards Ingleborough opened up.  It was a view dominated by limestone with the lower flanks of Whernside looking like they were attached to Ingleborough.

Whernside itself had finally lost its cap of cloud but it was still a grey scene, with a feeling that rain could be imminent at any moment.

The Turbary road provides a great mid level promenade where distance is gained with ease and my mind slipped into the rhythm of walking.  My non thoughts were suddenly disturbed by the sound of water running underground as I passed the impressive entrance to Rowten pot.  Now this is the sort of place which makes my stomach do funny things.  I have the fear but at the same time I am compelled to look over the edge.  It is an impressive gash in the hillside with a huge drop down to running water below.  I spent a while trying to get a good look into its depths, unfortunately impossible to photograph without the risk of falling in.

Soon after Rowten Pot the track turned towards the hills and I left it to descent to the road that runs through Kingsdale, a lovely unfrequented valley.

I had lost the height that I had gained over a few miles so that I could visit Yordas cave which I have read is both accessible and spectacular.  I am glad that I did, a huge chamber leads through to an underground waterfall at the far end tumbling from unseen heights.  Unfortunately the air was too full of spray and mist to take a photo of the waterfall, but I did manage to get a few shots within the cave using my Gorillapod.

After an enjoyable half hour exploring I shouldered my pack once more and exited, climbing steep slopes alongside the woods that fringe the cave system.  It was getting late and just below the moorland intake walls I found a nice little spot to set the tent up on, a fast flowing stream nearby.  The cloud started to lower on the surrounding hills but with the sun trying to fight through.  There was one dramatic moment when the distant Ingleborough summit rose above the surrounding clouds making it look much more the mountain than it really is.  Unfortunately impossible to photograph without a huge zoom.

Day 2 – 14.6 miles with 1,010 metres ascent

Whilst packing up the following morning I noticed a figure with dogs climb a distant drystone wall and start heading my way.  As they got closer I noticed that they were dressed in a rather ‘tweedy’ manner and were carrying a shotgun.  I got a shift on with my packing just in case I was about to get a telling off for camping on the moors.  Emerging from my tent I was relieved to see that they had passed a couple of hundred metres away and were heading downhill.  Potential confrontation averted!

All packed I started the climb towards the summit of Gragareth, initially heading for the enclosure of Turbary pasture.  I soon entered the low cloud so popped on some music for the steep climb alongside the wall.  The summit itself was nothing special with no views so I turned and followed the drystone wall along the ridge towards Great Coum.  I spent a while pondering if the old chair found resting on the wall was a bit of abstract art, if not how and why did it end up there?

The ridge was a trudge with no views and it appeared that I had picked the boggiest side of the wall to walk on, the other side often looked temptingly dry, a case of the grass being greener and all that?  Leaving the ridge and descending to the north there was a brief moment when the mist cleared for a few seconds, a chance for a very bleak photo.

I used a drystone wall as a secure handrail to follow across the featureless moors meaning my compass could remain in my pack.  A rusty old trailer providing a brief diversion.

Thankfully I soon picked up a well-worn track which is not marked on the map and this took me quickly and easily down to the green lane and the head of the Barbondale road.

The long summit ridge of Calf Top was directly ahead of me, its slopes looking impossibly steep, a direct ascent being very unpleasant.  It closely resembles the Howgill fells on the other side of Dentdale.  Being separate from the surrounding hills it has alway escaped my attention, because of its isolation I now had a punishing climb ahead of me.  I took a contouring line to reach a cairn above the steep Combe scar and was rewarded with great views up to the head of Dentdale and across to Great Coum from which I had descended.

The wall along the summit ridge took me easily to the trig point where I suddenly felt the need to remove my socks and footwear as my heels felt like they were on fire.  Looking blister free I continued (after putting footwear back on) but was very aware that my Adidas Terrex were rubbing my heels making walking uncomfortable.  The narrow secure heel cup was gripping my wet socks leaving my foot to move within the sock itself causing a bit of friction.

Continuing along the ridge to Castle Knott the sun finally came out and visibility improved putting more of a spring in my step.

The summit of Castle Knott itself is a great place to soak up the views which extend all the way to Morecambe bay.

I then wished that I had studied the map a bit closer, taking into account the close contours before plunging headlong towards Blindbeck bridge.  It all started off ok but the grass slopes simply got steeper and steeper, I gingerly walked down with my knees screaming at me.  Thankfully the close-cropped grass was dry as a slip in the wet would probably be fatal, a quick way to get to the bottom.  A final sting in the tail came further down when the slope became convex and even steeper.  Much cursing and slow and careful foot placements finally got me safe and sound at the bottom.

The area around the bridge is about a beautiful spot as it is possible to get and it looked like a lot of people agree by camping next to the river and leaving a bit of a mess.  I looked at the way I had descended and shuddered, turned my back and walked the bridleway to Bullpot farm.  It was obviously party night at this caving club hut, with music blaring and groups standing around enjoy a beer in the evening sunshine.  A few friendly hello’s and I passed on by following a track and then a path down towards Ease Gill.  A flat spot was found and the tent erected just as the sun set in a ball of fire over one hill, whilst the moon rose from behind another.

I realised that I was in full view of Leck Fell house across the valley but it was about a mile away so surely no one would come and ask me to move.  It really was a lovely spot and I was surrounded by birdsong, the call of the curlew being most dominant.  For the first time this year I heard Snipe drumming, surely the most evocative moorland sound?

After dinner I thought that I would lay-down for a few moments before reading my book………………….

Day 3 – 4.2 miles with 80 metres ascent

I awoke with the moon casting a glow through my tent and looked at my watch, it was 2.30am.  A few moments had lasted a few hours and the tent was still open.  There was a slight frost on the grass as I zipped up and tidied away my cooking gear.  The still windless night meant that everything was coated in condensation and my sleeping bag was slightly damp.  However it did not take long to drift off to sleep again.

The warmth of the sun woke me up in the morning and the birds were celebrating the new day with vigor, it is great to wake up on a sunny spring morning on the moors.

Tent packed and legs and feet aching from the previous day I walked down to the dry Leck beck, the water often disappears down into the extensive cave system.  I thought that it would be fun trying to follow the river bed downstream rather than remain on the moors.

Descending into the hidden depths I found a lovely limestone gorge with a trickle of water running into a deep pool, in hot weather a perfect spot for a dip.

Previous visitors had elected to fill the dry river bed with some artfully crafted slender cairns.

It was easy following the dry river bed, hopping from one bank to another until I came to another dry waterfall hidden deep in another gorge.  It was like entering a lost world down there.

A footpath followed the river all the way down to the hamlet of Leck and it was an idyllic walk in warm sunshine with only sheep and lambs for company.  By the time I reached the van it was hot and I was glad to get my pack off and visit the village shop for a cold drink and sandwich.  A splendid walk though Dales scenery without hardly seeing another hiker.  Driving home along the A65 it was evident that everyone was heading somewhere else.

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11 Comments to “Backpacking the far western Yorkshire Dales”

  1. Sounds like an excellent Shake-Down. Not long now!

  2. Ah, great territory there and few people as you say. I can’t remember the rusty bits of equipment though!. I hope you had a better light than we did when exploring Yorda’s cave: it has a great atmosphere but we couldn’t get in very far with our weak head torches at the time.
    You chose damned steep ascent and descent routes for Calf Top, particularly the descent, I’m surprised your knees didn’t regress by a month after that.
    The last picture is Ease Gill Church, the ‘arched window’.

  3. Lovely, James. Reading your posts is the next best thing to actually being there and sometimes probably better! Another part of the world I’m clueless about, but you really capture a tangible sense of place with your evocative words and images. I love your approach to the business of going for a walk; you seem to get the balance between effort invested and enjoyment of the experience of the landscape you’re walking through excatly right – mishaps included!

    Still not convinced by your trainers vs boots position though. Five days walking on Rum, dry feet, no chaffing in my knackered old Meindls. The £5 pseudo-Crocs are the way forward for fashionabe bothy-wear, by the way; might even do a kit review!

  4. James
    A perfect ramble. Very best of luck with your knees. If you can do no harm then pain killers are a good thing. Great to see you out so much and inspirational blog writing as ever.

  5. Hi Alan, time is ticking along nicely and the TGO challenge is just around the corner. Lots to prepare, little time to do it!

    Geoff luckily my headtorch had new batteries in it so was good to explore the cave, did you get to the waterfall? The ascent of Calf top was not too bad but that descent was a killer, highly not recommended! Ease gill is a splendid place to explore eh?

    Thanks Peter. I look forwards to reading about your most recent visit to Rum, was the weather good, did you get into the hills, stay in bothies, lots to ask about! Good to hear that the pseudo-crocs worked out well, surely not as fashionable as my down slippers though?

    Cheers warren, pain killers are on my list for the TGO challenge!

  6. I love caves too – there is a childlike quality to my fascination with them I’ll admit but it still gets me every time. We saw a few on the TMB and there are a fair few in the Lakes that we descended into – care must be taken of course, but like all things, if we didn’t like a bit of adventure and intrigue, we’d have taken up croquet!

    Love the Yorkshire Dales – sadly, there are more places for me that I’d like to get to and as time is limited, the Dales are not that far up the list so it was really nice to read your post.

    • I agree that there is a childhood feeling of exploration with caves, descending into the unknown I suppose. I have got a mate who is dead into croquet, definately not a man who visits the mountains! The Dales are worth a visit but if there are other places you would rather go you need to prioritise if time in the hills are limited. I am greedy and like to grab a bit of everything!

  7. just catching up…yet another nice read, you put us all to shame getting out so much. I really must move more central! We only did 3 10+mile days on our jaunt and they hurt with ascent too, I need to get some more practice in. Worked out long day, shorter day was a good way to go for us at least. looking fwd to reading the TGOC reports

    • Living in the Midland does have its advantages Dave, nice easy access to the hills. Can’t wait for the TGO challenge, I just hope that I manage to complete!

  8. Leck Fell and Barbon Fell are brilliant places, even on a warm, sunny week-end day you’ll hardly see anybody up the hills (quite a few cavers knocking ’round mind but they stick to the bottom…) and you have a feel of being in a “wild” place, far away from the crowds of the more classic Dales destinations.

    • You are right there Moonlight Shadow, a good wild spot on the edge of the Dales away from the crowds.

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