Escarpments, moors and mines – backpacking the northern Yorkshire Dales

by backpackingbongos

Day 1 – 11.1 miles with 710 metres ascent

Reeth is a thoroughly charming dales village, a huddle of cottages spread around a large green.  Although the village has a homely feel to it the surrounding moors still dominate.  It was a bright but cool early autumn morning when I parked outside the village post office.  I had my usual post drive faff before setting off across the green, Reuben in tow wearing his Ruffwear panniers.

We soon escaped the village, heading through fields next to Arkle Beck.  When we entered one field a horse that was grazing with some cows decided to come over and say hello.  Reuben although leashed decided that he would also say hello by jumping up.  The reaction by the horse was not a positive one and it reared up on its back legs.  With several cows in the middle of the field that would also need to be navigated I decided to backtrack and detour through a field with a stern, ‘private’ sign.  Rather the wrath of the landowner than being trampled to death.

Fremington Edge rose steeply above the Dale and a grassy path took us towards the isolated cottage called White house.  The views were soon opening up, the moorland lump of Calver hill catching my eye as we would be passing it later the following day.

I managed to get navigationally challenged just before the cottage and had to resort to a bit of fence climbing to get back on track.  Stopping for a rest near the cottage the owner came past in his 4WD.  I expected a telling off for my trespass but instead his attention was on Reuben who he thought looked magnificent in his panniers.

We continued steeply upwards above the cottage, this time on a well-worn track.  A narrow grassy trod then left it to follow the edge of the escarpment.  For the next couple of miles the walking was simply glorious, soft springy turf providing a luxurious carpet for the feet.  Steep limestone slopes fell away to the left, plunging towards Arkengarthdale far below.  I took my time on this section, sitting down on a couple of occasions on perfectly situated natural rocky seats.  The early autumn light was crystal clear, high fluffy clouds throwing shadows on the surrounding hills.

The path that I was following is unmarked on the map and it soon intersected the bridleway that links Arkengarthdale with the hamlet of Hurst.  My route north was then blocked by a sturdy drystone wall with no gate visible nearby.  It was easy to cross without causing any damage, Reuben proving the most tricky to get over.  There was an abrupt change in terrain on the other side, green limestone vegetation being replaced by deep heather.

The plan was to follow the boundary of the Yorkshire Dales north across pathless ground until we reached a track near St Andrew’s cross.  I noticed that about a kilometer away a shooting hut had a line of 4WD vehicles glinting in the sun next to it, voices drifting across to me.  Although I had seen no signs indicating that dogs were banned from this access land I was aware that this is sometimes the case.  I was glad to reach the track just as the vehicles began a long convoy in a different direction.  The deep trackless heather had been hard going and I enjoyed sitting at the edge of the track in the warm sun.  Soon the peace was shattered by a flurry of gunshots, the convoy of vehicles obviously finding some grouse to blast from the sky.

The walk towards the hut was a little confusing as the tracks on the ground did not relate exactly to those on the map.  We passed a couple who were confused to their exact whereabouts, I left them trying to work out a route to Hurst.

A climb through old mine workings and we were once again on the edge of limestone country, short-cropped grass above another rocky escarpment.  Being at the edge of high ground the views were once again outstanding.

A steep descent brought us below the scree covered slopes, perhaps part natural part due to the old lead workings.

I was aware that the day was progressing faster than I wanted it to and that it would be getting dark in a couple of hours.  I began to doubt that we would get to where I had planned to pitch for the night.  Although short on time the dry short grass was too inviting to pass by without a quick sit down and snack.

My revery was soon disturbed by a convoy of 4WD vehicles, probably the ones that I had seen earlier.  I received a friendly nod from each of them but what struck me was the how most of the occupants resembled George Osborne.  George Osborne in tweeds and with a very red face.  After they left me choking in a plume of dust I sat and thought for a while.  There is clearly a parallel universe that exists in our country that most of us will never visit, I’m fairly sure that even if we wanted to visit we would not be welcome.

We dropped down and crossed the Stang road below Shaw farm.  On the map the short walk down and across the valley of Shaw beck to reach a bridleway looked easy enough.  In reality I lurched down through boulders and waist high vegetation to the stream at the bottom.  It was actually a gloriously wild spot, the golden moor grass catching the low sun.  Climbing up the other side was even harder work, steep slopes being covered in man eating bracken.  The map mentioned a lead level and I suddenly had visions of falling down a hidden mine shaft never to be seen again.

Finally locating the bridleway it was clear that it is hardly ever used and it was with relief that I reached the road.  There was a brief moment of excitement passing the farm at High Eskleth when a small three legged dog took a dislike to Reuben.  His face simply said, “Get me out of here”.

A network of paths took us down to the valley bottom and along to Whaw bridge before a steep lane brought us to the main Arkengarthdale road.  I had planned to camp at the head of Gunnerside Gill, but it was evident that would be impossible unless I fancied walking across trackless moorland in the dark.  I did not.  Therefore as we started the walk towards Danby lead level I started to keep my eyes peeled for a suitable pitch.

I noticed that the hill above and on the other side of Great Punchard Gill was an oasis of green amongst the surrounding rough moorland.  I decided that it would be worth the climb to get a comfy pitch for the night and the views should be good.  We continued along the track and descended into the Gill, stopping at an old mine building.  I filled up a couple of water bags from the stream, the contents of which was the colour of tea.  It was a long slog up the hill, finally settling on a spot that was reasonable flat and out of sight of the surrounding farms.

It was dull, grey and windy as I started to pitch the Trailstar.  Reuben had taken himself off to build a nest to keep himself warm as he waited for his bed for the night.  Suddenly there was a shift in the clouds and the light transformed my surroundings, the hills being bathed in a warm glow.  The views to the north were absolutely stunning, with gently rolling moorland finally giving way to the North Pennines on the horizon.  There was no man made intrusion to break the horizon.

With the temperature quickly dropping I was glad to get out of the wind.  Wrapped in down I got dinner on whilst trying to keep Reuben off my sleeping bag.  Dressed in his fleecy romper suit he happily wolfed down his dinner and curled contentedly on the foam mat I had brought for him.

Before turning in for the night I took Reuben out to the toilet.  I stood outside for a while, a freezing wind biting straight through me, a bright moon lighting up the moor.  In the distance I could make out the A66 and it looked like vehicles were floating in the air.  The blue flashing light of an emergency vehicle looked totally surreal as it slowly drifted from right to left until it finally vanished.  Soon the cold was unbearable and I sought shelter once again.

Day 2 – 11.4 miles with 400 metres ascent

During the night the breeze dropped completely and the temperature plummeted.  The inside of my shelter and the outside of my sleeping bag was covered in condensation.  In some conditions it does not matter how much ventilation you have, you are still going to get damp.  You can’t get much more ventilation than inside a Trailstar!

I made a cup of coffee and stood outside for a while with Reuben, taking in my surroundings in the crystal clear air.  The corners of the Trailstar were coated in frost, the first of the season.  I was aware though of my proximity to several farms so I decided to pack up and head off early.  A landrover driving across the moor less than a kilometer away spurred me on.

To the north were gin clear skies and almost unlimited views.  However to the south the sky was hazy and milky and it looked like the promised weather front was arriving.  Right in front on me mist started to form on the higher slopes and soon we were walking through thick hill fog across trackless slopes.  The boggy moor reminded me that the season for unlined fell shoes is coming to an end, the freezing water filling them not being particularly pleasant.  We hit the track just before the Punchard coal level as the clouds shifted below us, a sandwich of clear air between clouds above and below.

The security of the track was soon left behind at the old workings and we continued along a narrow trod along the stream until even that fizzled out.  We climbed up and away from the stream through deep heather, the ground full of booby trapped holes.  The going was tough and the landscape exceptionally bleak, mist drifting past only adding to the foreboding.  Even Reuben was not his usual bouncy self as we lurched across the moor.

I spotted a line of grouse butts a few hundred metres away and decided to head towards them.  I reasoned that the George Osborne lookalikes the previous day would not walk too far from their vehicles to shoot a few grouse from the sky.  I was right and was soon walking along a firm track that was cunningly concealed amongst the peat hags.

This led to the head of Gunnerside Gill and a fantastically situated shooting hut which was unfortunately locked.  It looked like it would be a splendid place to spend the night.  The track contoured high above the Gill, giving splendid views despite the gloom.

A long line of walkers approached and they were all rather taken by Reuben in his panniers.  They crowded around him to take photos and he relished all the attention heaped upon him.  His owner found it all rather embarrassing!

A short climb and we passed the devastation at the inappropriately named Merry field, the ground scarred by lead mining leaving a desert of gravel and a few rusting pieces of machinery.  I like bleak but this is a rather charmless place, like a gravel pit stuck on the top of the moors.  a descent into Flincher Gill and another climb through Forefield rake brought us to another scene of bleak devastation.  Reuben was not impressed.

Great Pinseat needed to be bagged, but it was on the other side of a huge drystone wall which I did not want to risk climbing.  I did however manage to touch the trig by extending my pacerpole to its fullest extent and then leaning over the wall.  I think I can still add Great Pinseat to the list.

A track led easily across the moor, giving a quick and easy descent.  We passed a vehicle in a bog which had clearly seen better days.

Calver hill soon came into view with Fremington edge our outward route visible on the horizon.

We dropped down to the narrow moorland road, passing surrender bridge which was in the opening shot of All Creatures great and small.  It’s a lovely spot and would make an ideal place to spend the night in the Bongo.  A series of paths and tracks then led us easily back to the car at Reeth.

Reuben continued to gather many comments as we passed through the village, what had started off as a novelty soon became rather trying as every single person said, “I see you have got him carrying your stuff”.  Reuben however relished all the attention and greeted each and every person as if they were long lost friends.

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15 Responses to “Escarpments, moors and mines – backpacking the northern Yorkshire Dales”

  1. Lovely. Gorgeous pics with very vibrant colours. Do you think there’s a George Osborne cloning factory out there somewhere? I think there is a parallel universe in our country and it also makes me think that when you encounter such people the friendly nod feels like it’s being provided for PR reasons…

    Anyway, the “I see you have got him carrying your stuff” comments are also a very familiar experience when backpacking with Dougal – Hohoho! It’s the novelty I suppose.

    In other news, apparently it was Stefan and his mates who you encountered in the Kungsleden, according to his parents.

    • Cheers Pete, it’s a great time to be out in the hills taking photos, bright skies and vivid colours. The nature setting on my camera helps as well. I can’t think why any one would want to clone George Osborne, surely there must be better candidates for cloning!

      What did Stefan and his mates think of the solo beardy bloke on the Kungsleden then?!

  2. I’ve walked quite a bit of the area you were in on the second day – the last time I was around there, was on a boiling hot summer’s day. Your photos all look fantastically wild and atmospheric.

    Still not sure about that carrying of 5 litres of water for a kilometre though……….

    • The edges above Arkengarthdale are fantastic Chrissie, a real sense of height and space. The 5 litres of water was rather heavy it has to be said, I recon that 4 would have been plenty for me and the dog.

  3. Looks like a great couple of days. I was over at Surrender Bridge and Gunnerside at the weekend and whenever I walk over this way it always strikes me how good nature is at claiming back the landscape after all those years of industry. That said there are some areas like Great Pinseat that have very little growing on them that are going to take a long time to recover. I note you stopped at almost the exact place I did during the winter to grab a pic (6th pic of your post) http://www.bluestoneimages.com/photo_5523221.html You cannot help but stand and stare when you reach that cairn.

    • Hi David. That cairn gives an amazing viewpoint, in fact the whole of that Escarpment is pretty special. Also seems to be a bit overlooked as people head to the better know parts of the National park.

  4. Your photos give a feel of autumn with winter soon approaching. Will you take out the Trailstar in winter conditions?

    • Cheers Mark. Will probably continue to use the Trailstar over the winter, perhaps not in snow though, would prefer to seal myself away then!

  5. Is there a better time of year to be out walking than early autumn? The light and the colours can be majestic. I love walking through these old mine workings providing the devestation isn’t too bad. Something very evocative about a world and an age long gone.

    I really do envy your backpacking trips. I keep promising to get out for more than day walks but I never seem to find the chance what with keeping the family happy. Your write ups will have to do for now 🙂

    • Love Autumn myself too, a sad season with winter hot on its heels but the colour and light make it worthwhile. If you need a backpacking partner give me a shout Andy.

  6. A fine trip in grand walking country there, lovely views. We still have a few hills and edges to do in the NYD, we think of the northern half as the North Pennines because of the grouse shooting activity and the terrain is more like the NP at times!. Merry Field does have an odd desolate atmosphere doesn’t it?.

    • Yep Merry Field is a strange old place, I could imagine it being a bit spooky at night in the mist! There are some gems to discover in that part of the national park and I agree that it is like the North Pennines at times. Shame that all that grouse shooting can make things a bit restrictive this time of year.

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