Archive for April 5th, 2012

April 5, 2012

Backpacking the untrodden delights of Meugher

by backpackingbongos

Whilst researching a potential backpack in the Yorkshire Dales I came across the following entry on Wikipedia:

Meugher is a hill in the Yorkshire Dales, England. It lies in remote country between Wharfedale and Nidderdale, in the parish of Stonebeck Down less than 1 km outside the Yorkshire Dales National Park. The hill has a conical peak, which has been described as “perhaps the remotest and least inviting summit in the Yorkshire Dales”.[1]

It was the sentence, perhaps the remotest and least inviting summit in the Yorkshire Dales that got my backpacking juices flowing.  Meugher suddenly became a must climb hill and a route was planned that would involve a wade to its summit.  Although I wanted wild and remote I have to admit that I was feeling a little bit lazy so I settled on a short and sweet route mileage wise.

Day 1 – 7.7 miles with 490 metres ascent

Martin Rye was already settled into the village cafe when I arrived in Hebden.  A quick catch up and we then kitted ourselves up for a night on the hills.  Once again Reuben was not going to get away without carrying his own fair share so was fitted with panniers.  This caused a small amount of amusement from the builders eating lunch in their van.  As we walked up the main street it was evident that the unseasonably warm weather had come to a halt, a cold wind was blowing down the valley.

The walk up Hebden Beck is an easy pleasant affair and we soon left civilisation behind.  The lower reaches of the valley are idyllic with a combination of rocky outcrops and lush grassy banks alongside the river.  I would imagine it could be a popular spot for a picnics in the summer.

Further up the atmosphere changes as the track snakes its way into the higher reaches of the valley.  Old mine workings scar the hillsides and spoil heaps makes it feel much more austere.  A young couple approached us carrying a new-born lamb.  They had found it next to its dead mother and decided to take it to the nearest farm.  We confirmed that we had not passed any farm buildings and suggested that they try Yarnbury, only a mile or so away.  Nature can be pretty cruel at times.

A steady climb up above the chimney that dominates these moors and we passed though a lunar landscape.  With a grey sky overhead and the ground devoid of colour due to the presence of industry it was a bleak monochrome experience.

A long straight march along a shooters track took us onto the open spaces of Grassington Moor.  A bleak landscape but much more inviting than that which we had passed.  A large sheepfold next to the beck provided shelter from the breeze and we sat and had lunch whilst contemplating the best way onto the summit of Meugher.  The next few miles would be across the trackless moors.

A gap in the sheepfold had been bridged by a plank of wood on which had been placed a trap.  This was the first of many that we passed on the surrounding grouse moors.  The only place I have seen so many is on the Durisdeer hills in the Southern Uplands.  I find the trapping of so-called ‘vermin’ rather offensive to be honest.  One predator only being replaced by another with lots of money and a gun.  Unfortunately the traps are perfectly legal and probably should not be tampered with.  However occasionally small stones accidentally fall on them which unfortunately set them off.  Shame.

This made me think of one of the best wildlife encounters I have had on the moors.  A few years ago in Northumberland I was sitting having lunch in a small grassy clearing amongst the heather.  A rabbit suddenly ran out of the heather straight towards me, hot on its tail was a stoat.  The pair of them ran literally inches from my foot, unfortunately the encounter over in a couple of seconds.  Anyway I think it was a stoat and not a weasel because weasels are weasily recognised, whereas stoats are stoatally different………….

A feint sheep path was followed alongside Sleet Moor Dike, which had been reduced to a trickle.  Our objective for the day was still hidden behind the moorland ridge on the horizon.

The open moor gave surprisingly easy walking, the vegetation was low and the ground bone dry.  We left the winding stream bed and headed directly across the moor and onto the wide watershed.  We got our first glimpse of Meugher, gently rising above a sea of heather and peat groughs.

We were soon standing next to the trig point on the summit, the final grassy slopes giving surprisingly easy walking.  For a hill lacking in drama and ruggedness it easily makes up in terms of spaciousness and a feeling of isolation.  Even with the honeypots of the Yorkshire Dales only a few miles away I am pretty certain not many people stand at its summit.  There were a couple of patches of grass near the summit that would make good wild camping pitches.  It was tempting to stay the night but the wind was strong and it would have been a long walk to collect drinking water.

We lingered at the summit for a while before making a descent to the west, the bulk of Great Whernside filling the horizon.

The walk towards the watershed at Sandy Gate was tough going with deep heather and peat groughs putting up a good defence.  It would have been torturous climbing in and out of the groughs in wet weather.  We both managed to get across with only damp trail shoes, although large amounts of heather stuck to my socks.  Due to the rough ground any ideas of camping somewhere high en-route to Great Whernside were quickly dismissed and we descended down to Mossdale Beck.

We were spoilt for choice on places to pitch our shelters.  We chose an extensive grassy area next to the stream which thankfully was still running in the dry conditions.  Reuben made it immediately clear that he was tired, curled up in the late afternoon sun he was soon fast asleep.

We pitched our shelters and after collecting water enjoyed the last of the sunshine which would soon dip behind the surrounding hills.  We sat in our respective shelters chatting whilst we cooked dinner and relaxed.  For me the best part of the backpacking experience is when you have pitched and you remove your footwear for the first time.  I am usually happy to simply sit for a couple of hours, mug of coffee in hand whilst enjoying the view.  Simple pleasures.

Winter returned long before darkness had chased the light from the sky.  During a short wander I noticed that frost was already starting to creep from the ground to the corners of the Trailstar.  With every few minutes that passed the frost got higher and higher.  By the time that darkness was setting it both of our shelters were bejewelled by ice.

We had planned to take loads of photos of lit up shelters after darkness fell.  However the intensity of the cold took us both by surprise.  I only managed 10 minutes before the cold drove me back under frozen nylon, Martin did not stay out much longer.

Day 2 – 7.7 miles with 140 metres ascent

It was a cold night and I woke several times feeling the chill air penetrate my many layers.  Next to me Reuben was wrapped in his fleecy PJ’s and a blanket, only his nose poking out.  As the night progressed he slowly got closer, attempting to share my narrow mat.  I’m not sure how cold it got during the night but at one point the thermometer on my watch read minus 4C.  That was inside the Trailstar next to my head.  It may have been even colder outside.

Martin and myself were both up before the sun rose over the hills, the valley deep in shadow and full of frost.  My bivvy bag has a slippery base and I had slid half way down the Trailstar in the night, exposing the end of the bivvy to the elements.  It was covered in a layer of frost.

With a hot drink in my hands and freezing cold trail shoes on my feet I exited my shelter into a still and frigid world.  It was cold but beautiful.

The sun was just beginning to flood into the valley when we packed up.  My Trailstar had doubled in weight overnight, ice coating it inside and out.  A few shakes and the air was filled with falling ice crystals.

It was with relief that we climbed onto the track through the valley, the sun warming our cold bones.

Mossdale scar was still deep in shadows and we did not linger.  Mossdale Beck disappears underground by the cliffs and is the scene of a tragic caving accident.  I started to wonder why Reuben was making the effort of walking through the freezing cold water when I noticed his snout buried in dead rabbit.  Throughout the two days he always managed to find something disgusting to sniff or attempt to chew.  He must get fed up with me yelling at him every time he finds something nasty.  How he has the nerve to turn his nose up at the expensive dog food I buy him?

The track climbed slightly and at its crest we entered limestone country, the austere moors replaced by green pasture and drystone walls.  Wharfedale was spread below us as we descended into a classic Yorkshire Dales landscape.

Above the Dales Way long distance footpath sits an area of limestone pavement, one of my favourite types of landscapes.  We rested for a while in the sun calling our respective partners and snacking.  Martin was keen to get some shots of his new rubble sack Cuben pack for a future blog post so I spent time exploring the immediate area.

We picked up the Dales Way which passes above the limestone valley of Conistone Dib.  We still had the hills to ourselves but we could make out the first lot of day walkers climbing up the valley.

The Dales Way gave quick and easy walking on a path of short springy turf.  You almost glide across its surface and I would imagine it would even be a pleasure to walk barefoot.  We passed a backpacker with an enormous pack, a large day sack strapped to the top, the whole lot towering above his head.  It looked impossibly heavy and I cannot begin to imagine exactly what he was carrying.

We were soon walking the busy streets of Grassington and in search of coffee and fried food.  Reuben caused a bit of a stir with his rucksack and we received lots of comments.  This is the first time that he has worn it in a populated area and it was nice for him to receive lots of attention, however it soon got just a little bit boring and repetitive!  Strange really as without a pack many would view him as a mean Staffy but with it he suddenly became irresistibly cute.

Bellies satisfied we made our way back up through the village and took to a path across the fields to Hebden.  A short and sweet 24 hours in the hills but with some parts feeling surprisingly wild and remote.  It’s easy sometimes to forget just how good the Yorkshire Dales can be.