22nd May 2021: Kettlewell to West Burton – 12 miles
My delayed start to this walk seems to have paid dividends, as I only had a couple of stomach cramps today and only a single false alarm, which occurred when I was in the middle of nowhere and I would have coped OK if it had been a real ‘need’ ?
I did spend a nervous night in Craiglands B&B in Grassington – it’s one thing having a ‘trouser accident’ at home, but something completely different when you’re a guest in someone else’s house! Fortunately my troublesome stomach didn’t cause any embarrassment and I had a lovely stay in an absolutely fabulous B&B. My only slight complaint (and regular readers will know I like to complain), is that the pillows on the bed were a little lumpy, but other than that, from arrival to departure I was treated like royalty (the traditional meaning, not the current reality) and the place was fantastic.
I settled for a very light breakfast, just tea and toast, not wanting to tempt fate too much and place unnecessary strain on my delicate digestive system. That did mean I ended up with a grumbly tummy by about 10am and ended up having 2 lunch stops, but I figured better safe than sorry.
Grassington isn’t on the route for this walk of course (Settle, Kettlewell, Aysgarth, Reeth, Richmond), but the B&B I had booked for tonight in Kettlewell had been sold out from underneath me, the new owners not wanting to take on the business, just the property, so I’d had to find somewhere else. The only other room I could find in Kettlewell was £120 and I’d rather sleep under a bush than pay that sort of money for a bed for the night! In the end I found a bed in Grassington and planned to use the Upper Wharfedale Venturer bus service to shuttle me between the two villages.
So it was, that I was out of the B&B and walking to the bus stop to catch the 9am bus up the dale. I needed to be there early as they were limiting passenger numbers to 8 for Covid and if I wasn’t in the first 8 I had a 7 mile walk to get to Kettlewell, with no hope of getting a taxi this far from civilisation. Fortunately there were only 4 people ahead of me in the queue and only the 5 of us in total. I hate relying on public transport, it’s very stressful for someone like me who tends to expect the worst and likes to have things planned out.
Unusually for me, I had a nice chat with one of the guys on the bus and we swapped stories of walks we’d done as we headed to Kettlewell. He was walking back to Grassington on the Dales Way, so I said farewell as we alighted and I headed up the very steep road out of the village towards Leyburn. The road quickly becomes a stony track and the views open up rapidly to reveal some spectacular views up and down Wharfedale. It was cold this morning, more like March than May and I was glad I’d brought the Paramo jacket rather than my lighter (and less thermally useful) Regatta hard shell. The delayed start to the walk had meant that on Friday I’d been able to check the weather forecast and pack appropriately. As it turns out, I wish I’d packed my long sleeve baselayer, the one with the zip up neck, it would have been welcomed today.
It got colder as I climbed of course and I soon needed to replace my Tilley with my fleecy warm beanie. This was later supplemented with my buff to keep my neck warm on what was generally a good weather day, just nitheringly cold.
The climb soon flattens out a bit, but it’s pretty steady for the first 4 miles or so and once I left the track the ground was sodden. The recent rain has filled the peat hags to overflowing and my feet were soon sodden. I was quietly impressed with how fit I felt though. This was the first proper hill walk I’d done for over a year, I’ve done short hill walks and long flat ones, but today was about 11.5 miles and over 2000 feet of ascent (OK, I’m not breaking any records here, but it’s been a while since I’ve done a day like this). I felt good and strong, despite eating almost nothing for the last 72 hours. My pace was nothing to shout about, but I was steady and only felt the need to pause and catch my breath a couple of times. I stopped a lot more for photos of course, the scenery along this stretch of path is superb. Great Whernside looms over the valley to the right and Little Whernside looks impressive from this angle too. The views to the rear just kept getting better and better.
I stopped briefly just beyond Tor Mere Top, the sun had come out and I found a sheltered spot out of the wind behind a peat hag and had one of the butties I’d packed. It helped stop the beast from growling, but gave me the only false alarm of the day. After that my stomach felt pretty good and although I still dare not risk a fart there was none of the ‘pressure’ I’ve been feeling for the last week or so!
I passed the first person I’d seen since leaving the bus, coming the other way and we were both dodging back and forth either side of the path searching for the driest line. We swapped hellos and carried on with our dance of the peaty path.
I left the soggy peaty path just before it turns up to the Fox Memorial and Buckden Pike, and struck out along a much firmer path that follows a line of rocky outcrops. It’s shown as a bridleway on the map, but good luck getting a bike or a horse along it! It served me nicely though. I needed a way to reach the 4WD track that runs beneath Naughtberry Fell and above Waldendale. As this is going to be a guide book walk, I wasn’t prepared to take folk over Naughtberry Fell, it’s a great little walk, but it’s almost completely pathless and it’s bloody hard going in places. So I’d selected the 4WD track instead. It’s longer, but easier for navigation and generally safer.
There’s a handy post on the rocky path that identifies the start of the shortest descent route down across the open fell to the 4WD track. And what a view meets you when you get there! A lovely waterfall and a deep limestone valley that reminded me of Gordale Scar. The head of Waldendale is not going to be visited by many folk, but it should be, its quite lovely.
The 4WD track is not a RoW, but it’s all on Open Access land and although it’s an easier option than going over Naughtberry Fell it has its own downsides. It’s long for one thing, it’s the best part of 5 miles and it’s hard on the feet in places, so it feels relentless. Some sections have a grass strip down the middle and there are occasional grass verges, but for the most part it’s just hardcore. I tried to focus on the scenery though – which was fantastic. Brown Haw and Harland Hill may be a tough, mostly pathless, peaty slog to walk over, but they certainly present a nice profile to the walkers on this track.
I found a handy step, at the foot of a flight of steps in an old quarry, used to get shooters up to the grouse butt’s on the fell above, and had my second lunch stop. It was about 1pm now and I was hungry again and the quarry was sheltered so I took the opportunity. I only had another 4 or 5 miles to go and plenty of time. I’ve been trying to walk at a slower pace, to support my foot (which had been injured at the end of February) and regular stops also help to rest it during a walk. It’s been hard to adapt to a slower pace, but it’s working and it seems to help with my general feeling of fitness too.
Towards the end of the 4WD track, I spotted what I assumed to be a runner, standing in a grouse butt beside the path ahead of me. They were dressed in a flimsy high-vis vest and a hat. Their back was to me, and they seemed to be looking down the track. They never moved though and as I got closer I began to doubt they were a runner. They’d have been frozen half to death in that wind and cold, in just a vest if they’d been stood there for very long. I began to suspect it was a dressed manikin and as I drew alongside it, I could see it was just that, cable-tied to the grouse butt, but remarkably life like when seen from the back. I even said hello, before walking around in front of it, just in case I was mistaken!
Turns out it was a female shop dummy, with a fur-lined deer stalker hat, bright yellow vest and very fetching skin-tight jogging pants! One of the oddest things I’ve seen on a walk for a while!
I left the track, somewhat relieved to be off the hardcore, and picked my way along a narrow path through the heather that would link me with the bridleway across Wasset Fell. I do love thin paths through the heather and this one was great. The bridleway beyond the the fell’s summit cairn wasn’t though. It was very wet and boggy and I had to keep jumping a little beck to find firmer footing. I don’t think the beck should really be there, but there’s so much water running off the fell at the moment, it has to go somewhere.
The last mile or so into my destination was steeply downhill and my right knee started to complain, so I zigg-zagged as much as possible and was soon on tarmac again.
I’m staying at the Street Head Inn tonight, in Newbiggin, in Bishopdale, just outside West Burton and its a lovely little pub. I received a warm welcome, had a warm shower, put on warm clothes and ordered a cold drink. I’m just about to go down and order some food. I’m going to risk a proper meal for the first time since Wednesday! I’m absolutely ravenous, so I’m hoping it doesn’t backfire (quite literally) on me later tonight. Wish me luck!
There’s no mobile service here, fortunately the pub’s WiFi offers a very creditable 7mb download but an absolutely incredible 0.01mb upload – I’m not even sure how that’s possible! That will put a bit of a crimp in uploading today’s report which may have to wait until I get to Reeth tomorrow.