Backpacking Great Whernside and upper Nidderdale

by backpackingbongos

Sometimes it’s possible to over plan and plan too far in advance.  A long-standing commitment to spend a couple of nights in the Snowdonia Mountains with my good friend Rich was postponed because of the weather.  Rain, low cloud and gales do not maketh a fun weekend.  Rich had booked a day off work and we were still keen on tramping the hills, even if it would only be for one night.  Therefore instead we found ourselves parked in the small Yorkshire village of Lofthouse on a Friday lunchtime.

As we were getting ready a chap from a nearby house was watching us intently.  He managed to grab and interrogate Rich who had set off in search of a bin.  He was very keen on wanting to know why we had parked there, concerned that we were not using the car park.  Rich explained that we were about to set off for a night in the hills and car parks often do not allow overnight parking.  ‘Good job I had spoken to you then’, he said ‘as otherwise I would have reported your car as abandoned to the Police’.  I’m sure that the local police have better things to concern themselves with to be honest.  Rich was then quizzed on what he was going to have for dinner.  With the local busy-body satisfied I felt safe in the knowledge that someone had their eye on the car.

Day 1 – 23 kilometres with 900 metres ascent

Whernside day 1

Looking at a map the night before I just came up with a vague idea of a route.  We would head in the general direction of Great Whernside, see how far we got and pitch our shelters.  There were a couple of options for the return the following morning.  With a complete lack of planning I felt strangely relaxed.

It was warm, humid and rather murky as we set off up the steep lane.  It was forecast to brighten up later before a weather front arrived in the night to give a couple of days of heavy rain.  We were keen to make the most of this dry day.

Reuben is usually pulling at the lead at the start of a day in the hills, the excitement of new sights and smells getting the better of him.  However for once I was pulling him up hill, the heat of the day meaning he was lagging behind.

The track that contours high above the valley provided an airy promenade and easy walking.  Unfortunately the views were lost in the hazy conditions.

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Once we were high and there was a cooling breeze Reuben was once again in his element.  A happy dog on the moors.

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A shooting house gave shelter from the wind and somewhere to sit whilst we made coffee and ate lunch.  The bright and airy side of the building with its large windows and panoramic views was locked.  We had to make do with the dark and dingy unlocked section.

It did not take long to reach Scar House Reservoir, the high level track was flat once we were up high.  As we approached the reservoir the clouds started to burn off and the sun came out.

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An initial idea had been to pitch at the head of Angram reservoir, however with our speedy progress and improving weather we decided to aim for the summit of Great Whernside.  There were still hours of daylight left.  Descending off the moors we took to the track on the northern side of the reservoir.  It was an enjoyable walk up a valley I have never visited before.  The scenery was idyllic and we were surprised at the lack of people out on such a fine summers afternoon.

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Sitting in a grassy meadow for food and water it was tempting to just pitch and relax in the sun.  However we still had a way to go to the summit, yet alone find a place to pitch for the night.  A track which was horribly eroded in places took us onto the moors again.  We left it at the watershed and picked up the right of way to Little Whernside, a faint path through the grass.

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The conditions had well and truly changed since we had arrived at midday.  The skies were almost cloudless and the visibility was superb.  Even the distant North York Moors looked close and we could make out a distant city which we though was Middlesbrough.  Best of all though was the immediate moorland.  It was carpeted in the bobbing white heads of cotton grass.  I have never seen it so abundant before, in places it looked like the moor was dusted in snow.

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We stood for a while under a blue sky and decided we had made a wise choice by coming up with a plan B rather than staying at home.

Steep grassy slopes led us to the summit of Little Whernside.  The small plateau gave difficult walking as it is covered in bog, deep vegetation and peat hags.  Continuing down its south western slopes the going underfoot became easy again with another display of cotton grass.

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High on the Great Whernside plateau we came across the first person we had seen on the hills that day.  Being local he had nipped up after work, a great way to spend the evening.

The summit area is vast and flat.  In clear, warm and still conditions it is a place to linger and take in the expansive views.  Moorland gives way to a rock strewn grassy plateau.  We slowly wandered around taking photos and generally feeling pleased that we were high on the hills in unexpectedly good weather.

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Conditions can change though, and quick.  Cloud starting piling in from the west, the sky soon covered in a bruised sheet.  It was the edge of the weather front that was due to come in overnight.  We felt it wise to move to lower, more sheltered ground to seek a pitch for the night.

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The skies cleared as quickly as they had clouded over.  It was a fine late evening as we descended into the headwaters of Mossdale Beck.  Steep rough ground did not initially look very promising but we soon found a grassy patch amongst the tussocks.  The air was warm and still whilst we were pitching our Trailstars.  This meant that a few midges came out to play.  Not enough to make us thrash about in a music less dance but the annoyance factor was getting high before a nice breeze started to pick up.

It was gone 10pm by the time we were pitched, making the most of the longest day of the year.  After a 14 mile day carrying his own pack, Reuben was totally pooped.  The minute we arrived he curled himself into a ball and started on an evening of snoring.  I barely heard a peep out of him all night.  It was about 11pm by the time I ate my dinner.  It was not long before I joined Reuben in the land of nod.

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Day 2 – 12 kilometres with 130 metres ascent

Whernside day 2

The rain arrived as planned in the night.  I was aware that I briefly woke a couple of times with the sensation of moisture being blown onto my face.  The wind had changed and the rain was being blown straight into the Trailstar.  I can briefly remember thinking that I should be doing something about it but was soon asleep again.  Rich said that the rain had been hammering down at one point.

I woke up dry but Reuben who was nearer the door was a bit on the damp side.  Thankfully he was wearing a fleecy waterproof doggie jacket so was nice and warm.

Later as I cooked my breakfast he did the important job of guarding my shelter.  He had eaten a lot of wet food, he becomes fussy when backpacking so gets more meat than normal.  This leads to unfortunate squeaks and a distinctive odour.  I was pleased when he decided to pay Rich a visit.

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We managed to pack during a dry period, I almost considered risking not wearing waterproof trousers.  I’m glad that I did because it started drizzling, then raining before finally tipping it down.  It was a wet old trudge down the trackless valley.  During the heaviest rain Reuben would let out a little whimper and try to bury himself in the long grass.  The looks directed my way suggested that it was all my fault.  There were no endless views across the moors that morning.

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Just before crossing the watershed at Sandy Gate we came across this nifty little shelter.  It only fits one person and Rich made some excuse about needing to sort out a camera or something.  So he sat inside nice and snug whilst I enjoyed the rain with Reuben.  Whilst there he decided that a snack was in order.  Mates eh?

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From Sandy Gate a right of way led down the long and remote valley of Straight Stean Beck.  There is no sign of an actual path on the ground which made the going rather tough through the bogs and vegetation.  With the constant rain we were on the damp side by the time we approached the first farm.  A farmer out on his quad bike was mightily impressed by Reubens panniers.  He thought that they would be a good way to knacker out his collie.

Further down the valley we entered colourful meadows, the river lined by lush green woodland.  The sun finally decided to come out for a while and we had a pleasant loiter by a drystone wall to dry out.

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A very scenic stroll along the river and we were soon back at the car.

Although made up on the hoof, the route turned out to be a fine one.  Mid summers day was well spent.  Fish and chips in Pateley Bridge were the reward for the physical effort.

Reuben slept for a week when we got home, however I think this short clip demonstrates that he had a good time.

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13 Comments to “Backpacking Great Whernside and upper Nidderdale”

  1. “Unfortunate squeaks and a distinctive odor” 🙂
    Game of two halves there. Walked up there many times when I lived up near Keighley, I love the wild moors, not been up there for ages

    • If the blog had smelly vision your eyes would be watering Andy. Its a nice quick journey from nottingham, so somewhere I will be returning if a short overnight trip is needed.

  2. Nice summit, Great Whernside, have bivied out there. Super views and sun you had on the Friday, but I think Tilly and I had less rain than you a touch further west, on the Saturday. Obviously a good plan B though!

    • Looked like there were some good bivy spots amongst the summit rocks Chrissie. Good to hear that you did not get totally soaked in Keilder that weekend.

  3. Lovely pics of what looks a fine wee backpack. That Rich is a bit fly though, eh? Glad to see Reuben the Devil Dog enjoying himself….

    • Cheers Mr Edwards, always nice to get out even for short periods. You have to keep an eye out for that Rich fella. Reuben always at his happiest when on the moors (as long as its not too cold that is).

  4. Alway a good idea to change plans and go for the better weather.its a few years since i been to that area. Great pictures again.

    • Thanks Andy. Somehow your comment ended up in the spam folder, just found it lurking there! Good weather for me is always worth seeking out.

  5. In a couple of weeks I’ll be doing my first ever solo backpacking trip on the West Highland Way! (Might not be your cup of tea, but is perfect for this inexperienced backpacker!) I can’t think of a more perfect way to finish up my year in Scotland.

    • Have a great time Cali, are you doing the whole of the West Highland Way? It was the first long backpack that I did, something I really enjoyed. Your year in Scotland must have whizzed by!

      • Thanks, it has gone by so fast! I’ll miss it; it’s a unique and amazing place! Yes I’m going to do the whole of the trail. How great that you did it too, and your first!

  6. Enjoyed this wee report mate….but I nearly spat my morning coffee out upon viewing the pic of Reuben guarding the camp!! Love it! 🙂

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