Archive for December 17th, 2011

December 17, 2011

Bothy then Bongo in the Yorkshire Dales

by backpackingbongos

Driving up through the roadworks on the A1 my eyes kept drifting towards the western horizon.  Was that snow that I could see on the hills in the distance?  Indeed it was and as I approached the Yorkshire Dales the snowy moors rose up around me.

I drove up and down through the Dales village a couple of times before settling on a spot where I would be happy to leave the Bongo overnight.  I then spent an age having a good faff whilst kitting up both myself and Reuben for the wintry conditions on the hills.  It was during this faff that the skies darkened and a wet and sticky snow storm blew in, covering everything in a slushy layer.  I relaxed in the van and ate my lunch until it had passed.

The minor road that left the main street soon turned into a track as it snaked its way up onto the moors.  My rucksack was heavy, for although I had left my tent behind, it had been replaced by several kilos of coal and wood.  I was heading  towards a bothy, the shelter of four walls being preferable to a long night in a tent.  The snow became firmer the higher I climbed, everything covered in what looked like white icing sugar.  The light was lovely as the sun went in and out of the clouds.  One minute the world would have a bluish tint to it, then the snow would have a pink hue as the low sun reflected off it.  The occasional flake of snow would be pushed along on the frigid northerly wind.

The security of the track was left as we headed cross-country across the moors, following a drystone wall.  Reuben was suddenly in his element, he loves being on the open moor.  He bounded up and down through the snow covered heather, his face often being dusted with the white stuff.  I in the meantime proceeded with caution, stumbling over hidden boulders and tussocks.

A hut was spotted below and I went down to investigate.  On the way an extensive marshy area was crossed, a covering of snow hiding the bogs.  Luckily I sloshed across without incident and reached the hut which thankfully was unlocked.  My timing was spot on as just as I stepped inside the world outside disappeared to a wall of white as a heavy snow shower passed over the moor.  It was a lovely spot, but not one to spend the night in the middle of winter as it was lacking a fireplace.  I shouldered my heavy pack and started a steep ascent next to a lively stream frothing with brown peaty water.  Higher up the stream meandered lazily through a flat expanse of moorland and I picked a route alongside it.

The going was tough higher up as I was on the lee of the hill, spindrift from above being deposited in large drifts.  The source of the stream thankfully was not frozen and I filled my water bottles, the cold water burning my fingers.  Reuben discovered a small cornice above the stream and plunged through it with a look of surprise on his face, whilst a smile filled mine.

Thankfully the hut I planned to spend the night in was unlocked.  If it had been locked it would have been a long walk back to the Bongo by torchlight.  Initially I thought that someone was already there as the door was wide open.  It was empty apart from a rabbit seeking shelter, the storm of the previous day probably blowing it open.  With my pack deposited inside I spent a while happily exploring my snowy surroundings.

It was not even four o’clock and the last of the daylight was being chased towards the west.  It was time to go back inside and light a fire.  The few kilos of wood and coal that I had hauled up with me was dwarfed by the pile of logs and coal already sitting next to the fireplace.  However Bothy karma dictates that you should always bring in fuel if you can.  Bothy karma points are deducted if you don’t do this and one day you end up shivering in a cold bothy with no fire.  A healthy blaze was soon lifting the temperature in the drafty building by almost a quarter of a degree and I added to the warmth by lighting my stove to consume numerous hot drinks and plentiful food.  After a few hours the temperature was raised to a positively balmy three degrees and the ice melted from the windows.  The moon shone through the windows with an eerie glow and I once again found myself outside, mug of coffee in hand to take in the frigid night atmosphere, high on the hills and with civilisation glittering far off in the distance.

The concrete floor was far from inviting to sleep on, even with a down mat.  I pushed two benches together to make a narrow rudimentary sleeping platform, just wide enough to place my mat and sleeping bag.  Reuben kept eyeing it up, his body language requesting that he be invited to snuggle up with me.

It was rather toasty laying near the fire whilst reading my kindle until late into the night.  Every hour or so I would have to get up to throw a little more coal on the fire.  In the end sleep caught up with me and the fire went out, the chill soon rising from the concrete floor and stone of the building.  Darkness itself never really came with the moon reflecting off the snow through the large windows.

I awoke to a change of colour through the window, a promise that dawn was about to break in a spectacular fashion.  Encased in my down jacket I got up and lit my stove to make a coffee before setting about bringing the fire back to life.  The next hour or so was spent watching a rather special sunrise, punctuated by frequent trips to the fire to thaw out.  Reuben was suitably unimpressed by the light show outside, the fire providing him with what he appeared to be craving.  Warmth.

I quickly packed up after several cups of coffee and a steaming bowl of supernoodles, the breakfast choice of kings.  I have to admit that I then rather disgraced myself.  The toilet round the back was much more inviting than walking across the moor and digging a hole.  It even had running water, soap and a nice fluffy towel.  I should have realised flushing would be an issue with the cistern being outside and it being rather on the cold side.  I left feeling rather ashamed after writing my apologies in the visitors book!

The walk back to the Bongo was entirely downhill and I was back in just over an hour, a great snow-covered, blue sky start to the day.

I rather fancied a day walk, a visit to a summit without being weighed down by a backpacking sack.  I was a little unsure as to the condition of the roads leading up across the moors towards some of the higher hills.  I therefore decided that it would be prudent to stick to the main roads through the valleys.  In the end I drove to the lovely little Dales village of West Burton where I left the Bongo next to the village green.  I have to admit that I risked the life of the Bongo on the way by following a land rover through a large section of flooded road a couple of feet deep.  My heart was in my mouth during the crossing, leaving a series of waves in my wake, the cars behind being sensible and turning around.

Following the lane of Morpeth Gate out of the village I was in a much greener world than I had woken up in.  A rise in temperatures meant that any low level snow had quickly melted leaving the ground waterlogged.  After spending nearly twenty four hours surrounded by white hills, the green fields suddenly felt rather drab.

As the track climbed up to a shelf above the valley the snow was met once more, puddles frozen over.  There was a moment of panic in Reubens eyes as he attempted to cross a flooded section of track which was frozen.  Half way across the ice started giving way and he found himself up to his elbows in freezing muddy water.  He soon learnt to avoid frozen puddles.  The peace was then shattered by four huge green rumbling Chelsea tractor things thudding past complete with chinless occupants in their ‘country’ clothing.  Soon afterwards there was the sound of shotguns from behind as feathered / fluffy wildlife was blasted off the hillside.

I had thought about spending the evening in the bongo at the summit of the moorland road between West Witton and Melmerby.  However the steep bends were covered in a layer of snow and ice as I walked past, not a place to take a two tonne campervan.  A right of way leads from the road to Penhill Beacon which a man with his two dogs had just started ascending.  I watched as his dogs scattered sheep across the hillside whilst he bellowed ineffectively at them.  He had passed me on the narrow lane earlier at some speed, wheels spinning as I held Reuben into the verge.  As he was clearly a bit of a dick I decided to avoid him and took a longer route to the Beacon, Reuben on the look out for rabbits, whilst the mans obscenities drifted across the hillside.

Thankfully he had disappeared by the time I reached the substantial cairn and I stopped to have a chat with a guy and his two sons who were out snowboarding.  I followed the defined edge above Penhill Scar towards the trig point, excellent views across the snow fringed Wensleydale.

I realised that the blog has been lacking ‘Reuben on a trig point’ photographs recently so I tried to encourage him to pose for one.  He declined and instead crouched on it looking mournful at the indignity of it all.

Not long after Black Scar the set of footprints that I had been following through the snow suddenly disappeared and the terrain became rougher as I approached Height of Hazely.  I decided to break away from the edge of the plateau and walk directly to the unmarked summit.  This was a big mistake as I bashed through deep snow covered heather, occasionally plunging into boggy pools of water.  With both boots full of freezing water I began to curse at my lack of progress, realising that it would soon be dark.  Even Reuben appeared to have had enough and I heard him whine a couple of times when I stopped.  Visually though it was lovely on the snowy moors with the sun disappearing and clouds building.

With the featureless summit attained there was more frustratingly rough moorland to cross before I intersected the bridleway down into the valley of Walden Beck.  Half way down the gathering clouds expelled a shower of rain and I stopped to pull on my waterproof trousers.  Reuben also stopped, looked at me in a dejected way, turned around three times and curled up with a sigh.  It was clear that his initial excitement at being in the hills had diminished.

Back at the van he was happy to curl up on the backseat and be covered with a blanket.  I now had to seek out a quiet spot to park up for the night, somewhere I would not be disturbed.  Usually I would head for the moors, but did not want to risk ice or snow covered roads.  In the end I parked up in the car park of a local nature reserve near Askrigg.  A comfy night followed as I lay in my sleeping bag watching ‘Breaking bad‘ on my iPad, Reuben curled up on the seat having doggy dreams.

In the morning I opened the door to a completely different world, almost all of the snow had been stripped from the hills by a night of heavy rain.  With the snow gone and the hills covered in a grey blanket my enthusiasm for heading for the heights had diminished.  I decided that it was time to head for home.  With flooded fields and the hillsides flowing with water I thought that first it would be good to have a quick daunder along the River Ure and visit Aysgarth falls.  This turned out to be an excellent decision as the river was in full spate, turning the waterfalls into raging torrents.  The power of the water roaring down the small falls was rather impressive.

The weekend had been a hastily thrown together ‘Plan B’ after storms had made visiting the Highlands rather dangerous.  The night in the bothy however turned out to be one of those memorable moments in the hills.

Here is a video I put together of my night in the bothy on the moors, unfortunately the wind played havoc with the sound in places.