If you’d have asked me last week if it was possible to have a proper ‘adventure’ in somewhere like the Yorkshire Dales I’d have probably laughed in your face. According to the dictionary, adventure is defined as ‘an unusual, exciting, and possibly dangerous activity, such as a trip or experience‘. I like to think I know the Dales quite well – I’ve racked up around 250 individual day walks inside the National Park over the last few years and I’ve visited around 60% of the OS map squares inside the boundary – so I would have thought it would be impossibe to have a real adventure in somewhere I know so well.
Turns out I was wrong! Turns out it’s not where you walk that constitutes an ‘adventure’ but how you walk it! Let’s backtrack a little and I’ll explain what I mean, and you’ll get a clue as to what I’m planning.
A few years ago I found a book in a second hand shop by Nicholas Crane (the guy with the umbrella on Coast), called Two Degrees West, in which he describes following the longest meridian in the UK from north to south. I enjoyed the book and the concept, but once I’d finished it, I didn’t do anything other than add it to my bookshelf. Fast forward to earlier this year and I was interested to follow Colin Ibbotson as he walked ‘Five Degrees West‘ over some pretty tough terrain. A few weeks later and a couple walked the longest straight line without crossing a road in the UK, through the Cairngorms. It seems straight line adventures are ‘a thing’ and it got me thinking…. “could I walk a straight line across the Dales?”
In some small way I’ve already done some straight line walking myself this year, as I walked my Cross Dales Trails. These were four walks that crossed the Dales from north to south and west to east, but they took leisurely and often circuitous routes between villages and were designed for aesthetics rather than discipline.
With that in mind, I sat down to plan a much more disciplined straight line route across the Dales. I first needed to select a start and end point. The Dales is taller than it is wide, so this would be a south-north route and my immediate thought was to pick the longest line possible. I initially thought it would be useful to begin and end at a train station, so I chose Ilkley as the southern point and Appleby as the northern. This wasn’t the longest line through the Dales though, so I scrapped the idea of stations and went back to the longest possible line through the park, without the line going outside the boundary. There was no science behind the selection of points, I just went by eye and ended up with the the following.
I was quite lucky that both points were located on public rights of way, so there would be no issues getting to them at least. The rest of the route was a different matter of course. A quick look showed me that it went through peoples houses, never mind their gardens, and other places I just wouldn’t be able to get to. However, I’d never expected to be able to walk a direct straight line.
Calum Maclean and Jenny Graham had managed it in the Cairngorms because it was open access and there were no man-made obstructions to worry about. Nick Crane had allowed himself a margin of 1km either side of the 2nd meridian and Colin (unwilling to swin lochs) forced himself to cross the 5th meridian line at least once every day. Given the easier terrain I thought I could improve on Colin’s rule, so I initially tried Nick’s rule and added a 1km line either side of my ‘meridian’ – the result was too easy, I barely needed to leave rights of way or open access land. I narrowed my corridor to 500m either side of the centre line and straight off I knew this was a much more challenging set of parameters! I had the bones of a plan, now I just needed to add some meat.
The Devil's in the Detail
Firstly I needed a name for this challenge. I’ve already used Cross-Dales Trail, so I couldn’t use that again. I mulled over some options and came up with ‘Tip to Tip‘ – so this is my Dales Tip to Tip Challenge, or the T2T for short.
I ran the idea past my most excellent walking companion Chris, and surprisingly he jumped at the chance to come along. I say surprisingly because I do tend to focus my walking efforts on the Dales and although he enjoys them, he also likes a change of scenery now and again, so I was expecting some push back from him.
I needed some rough guidelines for choosing the exact route through the corridor, so I drafted these:
- The route must pass through the start and end points. Obviously I can’t parachute onto the start point or levitate away from the end, but I must enter and leave the park at these points.
- Once inside, I can’t leave the national park at any point on the walk, although I can walk along its boundary if needed.
- If I have to leave the corridor for any reason (e.g. access to parking) then I must rejoin at exactly the same point.
- Applying the ‘all of the ball, all of the line’ rule, I can step onto the corridor line, but I can’t cross it. The width of the line is defined by my navigation app.
- There are no excuses for leaving the corridor, none at all – except within the limitation of point 3.
Rule 5 is probably the most important one. It’s certainly the one that makes this, in my eyes at least, a proper adventure, especially now that I have the route planned and I see what’s ahead of me.
I have at least three river crossings, and that’s not counting minor becks and ghylls. I have to cross the Ure and the Wharfe without bridges – fortunately I have a 1km length (or there abouts) to find a suitable crossing place.
I have a railway line to cross, which would be illegal without using a public right of way or legitimate crossing point. I’m very lucky here, as there appears to be a bridge I can use, albeit on private land. However, even if the bridge weren’t there, I would have probably still crossed.
The Dales have scant few large bodies of water and I’m lucky there too, as I don’t have to swim across anything wider than the two main rivers and I can almost certainly wade them.
The biggest challenge is finding routes across land that is not Open Access. If there’s a right of way then great, but when there isn’t I have to try and avoid blatantly obvious trespass and then I have to find gates which let me pass between fields and give me access to lanes and Open Access land. I expect to have to climb a wall or two along the way!
When I do have Open Access land to use, the selection of the route is no less difficult. OS Maps and Google Earth can only give you so much information as to what the terrain will offer and I’d rather not end up waist deep in a bog! There are going to be a couple of really rough days, where I have no paths at all and I’m sometimes walking against the grain of the land, whereas any sensible person would be able to walk with it.
I’m not backpacking the route (those days are behind me now), which would certainly bump up the adventure element and I’m going to do it in stages, not as a thru-hike. Despite this I’m extremely excited to see the Dales in a completely new light, thanks to applying a brand new lens through which to view it.
I’m not going to release my route just yet (for fairly obvious reasons), but I think it ticks all the ‘adventure’ boxes; unusual, exciting, and possibly dangerous! Perhaps I can transform what has always been a safe and comfortable environment, for me, into an adventure playground!