8th September 2005 – Hawes to Aysgarth – 13 miles
The final day dawned with much anticipation, some regrets and loads of sunshine! We would be visiting England’s highest above ground single drop waterfall today, but it was the last day of what had become a fantastic holiday, but we had the sun again.
I really wanted an early start today as I had to drive us home from Aysgarth at the end of the day and I had work the next day. Breakfast was pretty dreary from what I remember and we were out and walking by about 8am.
We took a wander through Hawes, it’s a very picturesque town full of old stone buildings and 4×4’s that look like they really could winch a fisherman from a frozen river if they had to. As we left the village we stumbled across a rather incongruous railway museum complete with station and steam train, unfortunately not steaming.
The path involves a long double dog-leg to take in Hardraw Force, a rather odd natural feature in that it’s located on land owned by the Green Dragon Inn and you need to pay an entrance fee to go and see it. We made our way into the pub to find a sour-faced old woman who grudgingly agreed to take the £2 fee off us, so we could wander up the path to see the waterfall. I often wonder why some people are in the hospitality business at all. I didn’t take away a lasting memory of the awesome falls at Hardraw, rather the miserable old landlady who wouldn’t let us leave our packs in the pub. Rob made good use of the pub to perform today’s bowel movement, which at least meant we wouldn’t need to find a suitable place later and relieved me of keeping look-out again.
The waterfall was okay, it didn’t seem like 90 something feet, but then we weren’t allowed anywhere near it. We had to illegally climb over a fence to get a half-decent picture of it and the path that used to take you behind the falling water was strictly off limits, upon pain of death, by order of Obersturmbannfuhrer Miseryguts. I guess with a wetter summer it would have been more impressive.
Day four is a low level day with no single point over 1000ft and a total ascent of about 900ft all day, so we weren’t expecting great views. As it was we had superb scenery, none the less impressive for the level we were at. It’s often quite nice to look up at a hillside from the valley.
Day four is also bloody narrow stile day. The Dales stiles were built when the walls were built and they are actually part of the wall, so no maintenance required. However the principle is, build the narrowest gap possible into a wall to stop sheep getting through but to let people’s legs through. These are not designed for chunky townies with packs strapped to their backs and various accoutrements hanging from their belts, they are designed for Dales’ farmers who are built like whippets as they walk up and down hills all bloody day.
And speaking of sheep, I have seen plenty of sheep in my time (steady now), but I don’t think I have ever seen sheep as ugly as those in the Hawes area of Swaledale. These are Neanderthal sheep with huge foreheads and massive bollocks (well the boy sheep anyway). They must have evolved this former trait by constant attempts to get through the narrow stiles in all the walls, but only succeeding in banging their heads against them. I don’t want to speculate on the latter trait.
Another day for spills as Rob almost broke his neck coming down from a rather tall ladder stile. He was already in a bad mood for some reason and this didn’t seem to help at all. A period of silent walking followed, which allowed us to breathe in the fresh air and enjoy the marvellous scenery.
We walked through one field with a herd of cattle in, complete with the biggest bull I have ever seen. He was absolutely huge and that was evident even while he was lying down. Rob decided he wanted a picture of this superb specimen so cautiously approached the beast with camera in hand. I was intent on keeping my back away from him at all times as I didn’t want him to see my red pack! As Rob approached, the bull rose gracefully from the ground to stand impressively before him. I was off, trying to back away quickly without falling over, Rob faltered in his approach but the bull just stood there impassively allowing Rob to get a couple of pictures before making a sedate exit from the field.
Just after lunch, which we took by a beautiful brook at Skell Gill, we arrived in Askrigg. The town was used for the James Herriot TV series and is the absolute epitome of a Dales’ town. Although rather overrun with cars, it still manages to evoke images of a time gone by, when life was run at a slower pace. We stopped for an ice cream and parked ourselves on a bench outside the shop, we would soon be back to normality, traffic in the morning, deadlines to meet, bosses arses to kiss and I wanted to savour the moment while I could.
From Askrigg the path runs down to the River Ure where it meets a set of huge stepping stones which would be used to cross to the other side. Despite not needing to cross it seemed rude not to take advantage of these monster stones. So we did the mature thing and ran across and back again…. a couple of times.
From Nappa Mill the path now follows a dismantled railway almost all the way back to Aysgarth. We made good time along this with the Ure a close companion for most of the journey. Rob’s mood had improved and we made light of the fact that we were almost finished. We managed this mainly because we had the Coast to Coast to look forward to next year and that would be two weeks and not just four days.
About 40 minutes from our destination and we were forced to cross a slippery section of stones by the Ure that led up towards another path. Rob took his eye off the stones for a second and missed his footing, he crashed to the ground with an audible thud, which I knew immediately must have hurt like a sonofabitch. I was about to offer my hand to pick him up when a haughty voice called cheerily down from the path “Slippery is it?” I take my hat off to Rob, because if our positions had been reversed, the comedian would have got at least a verbal ear-bashing and possibly a smack in the mouth. As it was Rob ignored him and simply turned his back on the oaf, treating him with the respect he deserved.
On our final approach into Aysgarth we missed the footpath sign on a gate post and blundered into someone’s back garden by accident. This someone just happened to be in his garden at the time and was obviously hacked off by people repeatedly barging in on him. Rather than letting us use his gate to get onto the road, he insisted we go back the 400 yards or so through the field and out onto the road that way. “Well if I let you go through the gate you’ll never know where you went wrong, will you?” We both managed to suppress our true feelings and left him with a cheery “Thank you”.
Returning to the Cornlee B&B we collected our luggage, I let Rob carry it to the car for me as usual (I could get used to this sort of service – I must come up with some wheeze for the C2C), we said our thanks and good-byes to David and Elizabeth and got her to take a “mission accomplished” photo.
So ended our superb Herriot Way holiday, which I can thoroughly recommend as a great long distance path.