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  My rucksack was heavy, for although I had left my tent behind, it had been replaced by several kilos of coal and wood.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.


46 Responses to “Bothy then Bongo in the Yorkshire Dales”

  1. Those photos look absolutely fantastic; pity the snow didn’t last the whole weekend for you, but it was obviously an excellent plan B. Rueben did look a bit like he’d had enough curled up by the wall! Dixie sometimes does exactly the same kind of resigned pose with me, complete with a very audible sigh!

    • It did turn out to be a good plan B in the end Chrissie, the weather for the first 24 hours was great. I think that Reuben does feel the cold a bit, even in his jacket. He loves his walks but he does also appreciate his home comforts as well!

  2. Not bad for a plan B – looks like you had a decent trip with the added bonus of a nice set of desolate bothy and sunrise shots as well. Aysgarth falls look very impressive and not for the first time over the last couple of weeks either.

    • It’s not very often you get conditions like that on the hills in winter David. The good thing about winter though is that the sun rises late in the morning so it’s easy to get up for. The power of the water flowing down Aysgarth was very impressive, I was amazed at the speed the water was flowing down the river. You would not want to slip in there when it is in spate.

  3. James, one of the best posts I have read on your blog. The photos exude the cold raw weather you must have experienced in contrast to the warm glow of the fireplace. I am typing this is as I am warmed by my wood burning stove, so it seemed to come alive as I read this post.

  4. Love the shot of the bothy with the window lit up and the one below it with the lights of the village below is amazingand of course Reuben the worlds cutest Staff. Have a great Christmas matey! 🙂

    • Have a great Christmas too Jamie. Reuben is a star hound to be honest, we are lucky to have come across him at the rescue centre.

  5. Nice one – some lovely shots of the bothy!

  6. A great read, thanks for sharing your chilly trip. Concerete floor in a bothy?! *shudders* Also laughed at ‘Bothy karma points’: great 🙂

    • You definately get negative karma points for leaving rubbish and not using the bothy spade! That concrete floor would have been very chilly indeed!

  7. loving the bothy photos, think you may have caught a satellite crossing the sky in the first one. 😀

  8. Idyllic James, is it boards of canada at the start of the video music wise?

  9. Have been looking for a Bongo and stumbled across your blog….fantastic…can’t wait to spend some time going back through all your adventures.
    Just reading this post alone has opened my mind to a completely different world……..of which I never had a clue.
    I would love to have a go at a walk and staying in a Bothy overnight….can you suggest something fairly easy as a starting point……we live in Macclesfield, Cheshire.

    • Hi Karen, thanks for stopping by, glad that you like the blog. You have made a good choice by thinking about getting a Bongo as they are excellent vehicles. A great way to spend your weekends and holidays.

      As to Bothies, there are many out there to choose from. Wales is not too far away from you and there are a few nice Welsh Bothies in the hills. Have a look at the MBA website, they list all their bothies and give grid references of where they are located. Some are a fairly short walk in as well.

  10. fantastic pics. I feel like I know Reuben quite well now through your words, he’s a card

  11. Top notch bothy pics Mr.Bongo.!
    I`ts a long while since I`ve been in one with a well stocked woodpile such as that 🙂

    • Thanks Alex. The well stocked wood pile was rather useless to be honest as the logs were far too big for the fireplace and there was no axe. However the coal was highly appreciated!

  12. Stunning stuff James.
    I need to get a different career, so I can go out in the hills.
    Well I need to get Wendy back first!
    I see dawg is with you this time.
    Love the photo’s!

  13. Great pictures there, but that shot of the illuminated bothy is rather special. There does seem to be a lot of interest in bothies but I can’t honestly say they appeal to me – always a tent here!.

    • It’s one of my favourite photos Geoff, I may even get it printed. Bothies are great for when the weather is rubbish or when the midges are biting. Obviously that always depends on the company in the bothy. A fire is pretty much essential as they are otherwise colder than being in a tent.

  14. A cracking read there, I could almost feel the temperature in my toasty house plummeting in sympathy! Echoing other folks here, the bothy photo and the one following it are particularly stunning. Really inspiring stuff.

  15. Stonking post James, some top notch photos and great writing as always – really brings to life the wild winter days. Been spending a happy few minutes trying to work out where the bothy was 🙂

    The things you put poor Reuben through though…..

    • As you can see Reuben has rather a hard old life Andy. The bothy was superb, a great place to get out of that biting wind.

  16. Another fine post James, you really set the scene well, helped of course by some fine photos.

  17. Excellent post Mr B, some cracking pics too; I especially like the illuminated bothy at night and Reuben’s trig-top bat-dog picture. I think you should see if Manfur manufacture canine bodywarmers though, as the little fella was obviously feeling the fresh conditions.

    This is the second of your posts that I’ve missed lately. Very poor.

    • I keep on sneaking the posts out whilst you are not looking Pete. I have to admit that I am rather proud of the illuminated bothy picture, I may even get it printed. Poor old Reubs does feel the cold, even his plush new jacket did not appear to up to the job in the brisk weather. He should have been born a labrador.

  18. Wow – looks like a fantastic trip alround. Asygarth Falls look stunning, but pride of place obviously goes to the bothy trip. New Year’s Eve here and once upon a time that always meant a night in a bothy somewhere in the highlands for me. Not so tonight sadly.

    • Happy New Year, I hope that you had a good one. That bothy trip was superb, a great night high in the hills with only the dog for company, one to remember.

  19. Pen Hill always looks so inviting from the edge of the Dales. We went up the track from Waldandale and up the the Heights of Hazely this Christmas with the same idea of finding the top.! what a chew getting across the heather….. we tried to make a straight line for the wall instead and followed it to the beacon. I think there could be a good route in there somewhere.

    • I have looked at that hill many times before finally climbing it. The views are excellent from the edges, however I’m not sure it was worth the heathery slog to get to the actual summit.

  20. Hi, where abouts is the hut that you stayed in? How would someone else go about finding it? Thanks!

  21. Fantastic adventure in our hectic stressfull working life. i love fell walking and camping. wild camping or staying in a bothy is the next stage for me…and looking at your video something i shall look forward to. thank you for sharing. Ps. i thnk i will take my jack russell to keep me warm 🙂

    • Thank you. Wild Camping or staying in a bothy are well worth doing, makes each trip that bit more special sleeping out in the the wilds. Dogs are always good company on a cold night!

  22. Looks great. Where is this bothy and what’s it called? Tried locating it from your description and video but struggling. Fancied trying a bothy as I’m feed up with noisy campers. I know the bothy code as I’ve read up on it.


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