Herriot Way: Day One

5th September 2005 – Aysgarth to Grinton – 13 miles

We arrived at the B&B, the Cornlee Guest House, about 6pm on Sunday evening, receiving a warm welcome from our hosts David and Elizabeth. After Rob took our bags up to our room (I was under doctor’s orders not to lift anything heavy for 6 weeks) we decamped to the George & Dragon pub across the road. For such a small village and a Sunday evening, the pub got very busy. The beer and food were both quite acceptable and we were sure the carbs would come in useful in the morning.

My job entails a fair amount of travel and inevitably a number of nights away from home every month, generally we get to use decent hotel chains (Holiday Inn, Marriott etc.) with room service and gyms and all the usual facilities. I’ve found that B&B’s are a bit like staying at your aunties; it looks like home, but you’re always aware that you’re in someone else’s house and you need to be on your best behaviour; fold your towel up after using it and make sure the room is tidy before you leave.
Back in our room we sorted our gear for the morning and attached the labels provided by Sherpa to the bags that would be transported to our next stop. A couple of shots of vodka from the bottle I had brought with me helped us towards a fair nights sleep. It turned out we were the only people in the B&B that night and we had the breakfast table to ourselves in the morning. Elizabeth’s breakfast was pretty good my only slight complaint would be the reliance on bacon to make up the bulk of the meal, there must have been four huge rashers each but only a single sausage.

We were walking by 08:30, we had 13 miles to do and I wanted plenty of time to complete it just in case my recent operation decided to give me any discomfort. Besides, I have always felt that the best part of the day is the early morning, in fact if we had been able to persuade Elizabeth to provide breakfast earlier I would have been away by 07:30.

The bridge at Aysgarth

The bridge at Aysgarth

As we headed off towards Aysgarth Falls it became clear that the day was going to be warm and sunny. The falls (all three of them) were tranquil and quiet at that time on a Monday morning, it had been a fairly dry summer in the Dales and the water level was lower than it would normally have been.

Aysgarth Falls

Aysgarth Falls

The walk up to Castle Bolton was an easy warm up for the day, but the expected Post Office and shop was missing, which was going to mean hard tack for lunch as we had not ordered a packed lunch from the B&B. The guide book we were using was “The Herriot Way by Norman Scholes”, which is obviously quite a bit out of date as the building that used to house the Post Office is now a residential dwelling called ironically “The Old Post Office”.

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The castle that lends its name to the village is fairly well preserved and the central keep is open to the public without any charge as are the gardens at the back, which made a peaceful spot for a drink and short break. There are parts of the castle obviously still in use as we could hear choral music playing in the building, very atmospheric.

The view down Apedale Beck

The view down Apedale Beck

Sweaty and red faced but having a great time

Sweaty and red faced but having a great time

From Castle Bolton the path led us up onto East Bolton Moor alongside Apedale Beck, this is lovely heather covered moorland although the path uses a number of access roads so the going is easy and relatively quick. There’s plenty of evidence of the mining activities that used to go on here, including an abandoned railway carriage located at Apedale Head that we could see for a couple of miles before we actually reached it. The moor is now commercially exploited for grouse shooting and the evidence of this activity (i.e. the grouse butts) is also widely scattered across the landscape. Some of the butts are very well appointed, one group sported very colourful blue gravel in their base and heather covered rims, presumably to hide the shooters.

Grouse Butt, not quite as deep as it would appear :)

Grouse Butt, not quite as deep as it would appear πŸ™‚

Day one of the Herriot Way makes a wide westerly swing around Gibbon Hill and once you are on the northern side of the hill magnificent views of Swaledale open up before you. The early(ish) start and the good going underfoot meant that we had plenty of time in hand, so we spent a very relaxing 30 minutes or so sitting and admiring the views across the valley, looking forward to where we would be walking tomorrow. The only problem with sitting down in the Dales is finding somewhere that isn’t littered with sheep and rabbit droppings!

After our short sojourn we followed the path across Harkerside Moor to Grinton Lodge youth hostel, located above the small town of Grinton. The lodge itself resembles a fortified castle, complete with crenulations, a curtain wall and a central keep although rather disappointingly lacking a moat of any description. We were very early, arriving at about 2:30pm and weren’t able to check-in until 4pm, so we made use of the outdoor furniture and the very welcome cold drink vending machine in the yard. We polished off about 2 litres of ice cold Vimto while waiting for the warden.

We Brits are generally a very orderly people, and this is certainly the case amongst the civilised walking community, so although a horde of people were waiting to check-in at 4pm, we were still at the head of the “queue”, this also meant we were first into the showers, a serious consideration when there are 4 cubicles for 20 people. Thankfully our luggage was waiting for us in the reception, unerringly delivered by Sherpa (as it was all week) and I graciously opened all the doors for Rob as he struggled manfully with both large bags and his daypack up to our room. We were given a four berth room (two double bunks), so we immediately grabbed the two bottom bunks, however the hostel was not full and we actually had the room to ourselves.

This was the largest of the three hostels we used for the HW, large communal rooms, a games room with pool table and large dining room. The food here was probably the best on the trip although, for the life of me, I can’t remember what was served at any of them. My hostelling fears were proved groundless when we didn’t have to wash up, we were just asked to clear our plates off and stack them.

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We decided to visit the pub in Grinton for an after dinner snifter, it was only a little over half a mile and we only had half a bottle of vodka left, so we would need additional alcohol to sleep soundly that night. The Bridge Inn in Grinton, spookily located right next to a beautiful old bridge over the Swale served very passable Jennings ales and appeared to have a well respected restaurant. The road down to the pub was very steep and the return journey was complicated by the fact that it was pitch dark and we’d not thought to bring a torch. You forget living in a town, just how dark it gets at night in the country. The beer scooter and beer night vision goggles worked a treat though and we were soon back in the room to polish off the remaining vodka.

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