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.

44 Responses to “Backpacking the untrodden delights of Meugher”

  1. It was a fantastic mini adventure. A sense of remote land and contrasting landscape. Very cold at one point. Lets put it into perspective. You had a bag rated to -15 and a down jacket on rated to -15 and were not super warm all night. I hate the cold. But one nice walk and thanks for that James.

    • Its was a great 24 hours in the hills Martin. And yes it was cold, very cold. I think that I need to get an extra fat sleeping bag for next winter as I sleep cold. Although with what I had I should have been warm. Look forward to your write up.

  2. Pesky stones in those traps, how on earth did they get there?

    Looks like a great little trip that, I love choosing something based on a whim and seeing what it ends up as. Have been planning routes completely based on silly hill names in the borders, irresistible. Also, fantastic pik of 2 trees near the end.

    • No idea how those stones get in the traps David, gravity is a strange old thing.

      Turned out to be a cracking little trip. There are some great silly names in the borders to aim for, you could do a trip based on the rudest sounding ones.

  3. Thought I knew the Dales well, but I have to say I’ve never heard of Meugher before. Looks like a great area for a trip. Did once bivi out on Great Whernside one January night though, in similar temperatures to yours. Seem to remember I didn’t sleep too good.
    Notice Reuben was sensible enough to keep his pyjamas on ’till after breakfast. In fact in that photo of him with Martin, it almost looks like he’s begging to be rescued and taken somewhere with a nice log fire to lie in front of…

    • Reuben was not too keen on being parted with his pyjamas that morning Chrissie. He was a happy chappy though. In the photo with Martin his tail is wagging so hard it has vanished! Mind you a nice log fire would have been good to warm my feet next to……..

  4. Never heard of Meugher before. Some good photos of the classic Dales scenery. Looks like tough going on some sections with the tussock grass and heather. Did you conclude that it was the remotest hill in the Dales ?

    • Some of the walking was tough Mark but thankfully the ground was bone dry, it would have been very unpleasant otherwise. Not sure if Meugher is actually the remotest hill in the Dales but remote it most certainly is. It made a good basis for a short backpack.

  5. I am always amazed at the number of empty Larsen Traps I come across. I have yet to find one with an incumbent…
    Smashing trip.
    I was a little bemused at seeing at Martin’s log sack, too.

    • Cheers Alan. Crows are pretty intelligent birds so maybe they have worked out a way of securing their friends freedom?

  6. That was great, having sat down at my computer eating breakfast before work I’ve already enjoyed a two day trip out in the dales, I am not tired at all.
    Great stuff, Paul

  7. Nice report. I haven’t been to the dales for a while. I ought to fix that. I don’t know if you’ve ever done the walk through Conistone Dib but if not it’s well worth it some day.

  8. Hi Richard. Not walked through Conistone Dib but it looked good from above.

  9. So you found a good line up to Meugher, I’ll remember that one. We passed by it on our Nidderdale backpack approaching Sandy Gate and couldn’t bear the challenge on that occasion, the terrain was dreadful from the south-eastern side (as you discovered). No wonder the Stean Moor grouse moors are on those flanks.

    • Our approach was reasonably easy Geoff, much better than our descent route. A couple of cracking places to camp on the summit.

  10. Looks like you had great weather in the day, on the Southern Upland Way one Easter it got that cold that I pushed my dog to the bottom of my sleeping bag, best nights kip I’ve ever had in a tent, your not convincing me with the Tarps, I reckon in a closed tent you would have been a couple of degree’s warmer. The worst case of bad Gamekeepering I’ve come across is on a Moor near the cat n fiddle Pub in Derbyshire, basically a fence ringed area with snares all around it, my dog got caught in one of the snares, dog was ok but sadly there was a Badger in it’s death throes near by, when we left all the snares had magically closed!

    • Unfortunately I don’t think that Reuben would fit in the bottom of my sleeping bag. Dogs do give off a lot of heat though, handy tent heaters. A tarp is a couple of degrees cooler than a tent but having a light bivvy stops some of the heat escaping from your sleeping bag, The snares around Cat and Fiddle sound illegal to me, did you report them?

      • We did report them to the RSPCA but heard nothing back, the area was a bit dodgy for public access!

  11. Great trip report with superb photos to illustrate your outing.It looks an interesting walk with the mix of moor and drystane walled land.

    • Thanks Sheila. We enjoyed the contrast between the bleak moors and the limestone area. Two totally different days.

  12. LOL Love the pics of Reuben – especially the one of him in his fleece PJs! Brilliant! 🙂 It’s been a while since I’ve been to the Dales. I’m a big fan of the limestone paving too James. It’s a fantastic sight, especially at sunset.

    • Shame you could not make it along Terry is was a great couple of days in the Dales. Reuben actually seems keen when it is time to put his PJ’s on!

  13. Nice report and photos. However, perhaps you should reconsider your attitude in setting off game keepers traps. You would probably be pissed off if a game keeper interfered with your wild camping, so why interfere with their livelihood?

    If you want to learn more about the importance of predator control in maintaining a diverse population of species, I suggest you have a look at the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust site, where there are many research papers on the subject.

    [A gamekeeper amongst many other things].

    • Hi Ian. I will check out the website of the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust. Are they totally unbiased though?

  14. Thanks for this – we’ve just got back from walking around Litton, Halton Gill and Plover Hill – wonderful snows, sunshine and silence.

    • Sunshine, snow and silence sound excellent. Was the snow just on the hills and was there much of it?

      • The whole of the Litton/Halton Gill end of Littondale was covered in snow for a couple of days, then quite quickly retreated from the valley. Lambs being born into a cold world! Is there a way of posting images into the comments here?

      • Sounds good. Not sure if or how you post images into the comments to be honest. You could always post on your blog though 🙂

  15. Looks like you had a really nice couple of days there James.

    I think I’ve walked that section of the dales way myself a few years ago. I remember there being a gorge like descent through limestone down to Grassington…

    • Cheers Charlie, it was a great couple of days. Grassington was a nice village too but probably best avoided in the summer as I imagine it would get very busy.

  16. The GCT’s research is published in peer reviewed scientific journals. One study you may be interested in took place at their farm at Loddington. They monitored various species over several years In the first half of the study there was no predator control, in the second half tthey controlled the predators

    I am afraid it really annoys me when people decide they want to interfere with things which they don’t really understand People who use the countryside should understand and respect the ways of other users, even if they may not agree with them If the gamekeeper had erected a whopping great fence to prevent you gaining access to the moor, I am sure you would have been the first to complain) He respects your use of the moor and you should respect his/hers


  17. Great pictures yet again but oh that stoat joke….don’t give up your day job.


  18. Just catching up after a busy couple of days …

    Nice report, great looking walk, and a reminder we must get to the Dales again as soon as Missy G is up to it.

  19. I have seen Meugher from afar but never climbed it…so I took yesterday off and followed your route from Hebden, then across to Sandy Gate (nightmare) and Great Whernside before taking a long cross country route back to Hebden (19 miles in all). The section from Meugher onwards was done in heavy hail/sleet which didn’t let up until Grassington. It was a long, tough day…but good Challenge training. I was getting a bit bored of the Dales and searching for new routes and hills – so thanks for your inspiration!

    • That sounds like a good Challenge training day James, a tough 19 miles. Pleased to hear that the route provided some inspiration.

  20. Mighty fine expedition there James. I have to say I agree with your comments on the traps. The stance of “only people who live in the countryside can possibly understand it” is patronising in the extreme. There is always a better way to control what are perceived as pests – but hell what do I know – I’m from the Black Country.

    Mind you I might have to set traps for you if you persist with the poor quality puns. I did enter a pun contest once, I wasn’t sure I was going to win so I entered loads, 10 in fact. Still, none of my efforts won a prize, in fact………

    No pun in ten did

    I thank you

  21. Came across the account of your Meugher trip whilst planning a walk for my local rambling club. I have wanted to visit Meugher for some time and had decided to approach via Grassington Moor. Your account and route have really helped with the “off piste ” section. I am now looking forward to recce-ing the route. Thanks for your help!!

    • Hi Jonathan. Glad to hear that the route has been of some help. Enjoy your walk onto Meugher, its a cracking remote spot.


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