Last year was a disaster. The death of 75,000 Britons, in any context is a disaster. We aren’t out the other side of this yet of course, but 2021 looks like it could see the tide begin to turn. We have two vaccines being distributed and more in the pipeline. I’m hopeful that this coming year will see us able to return to some of the activities we all enjoyed in 2019. For me this is primarily a return to long distance walking and the ability to link a series of day walks with B&Bs or Inns.
I had plans for last year that had to be shelved, or amended and in the end it was the first year since 2005 where I didn’t manage a traditional multi-day walk. It did leave me time to think though. While I was out walking my local paths, my mind drifted (as is so often the case) to the Yorkshire Dales, thinking about walks I’d done and hatching plans for future ones. I also managed to do a lot of reading, sending my mind to my beloved Dales, when my feet couldn’t be there. I have a bookshelf full of guide books for old walks, forgotten paths, routes that were designed and written up by walkers who have retired, or sadly died. I keep them as a source of inspiration for future guides of my own. I love to resurrect old walks, bring them back into the 21st century, open them up to a new audience.
The Trans-Dales Trails
During a search of my shelves I stumbled across a series of booklets I’d purchased years ago, and subsequetly forgotten. They had been written in the late 1990’s by an enthusiastic walker and writer, Arnold Underwood. He’d devised three walks that cut across the Dales in different directions, entitled the ‘Trans-Dales Trails’. I read them all again, book in one hand, digital map in the other and thoroughly enjoyed them. Not just the routes, many parts of which I was familiar with, but also the idea of travsering the National Park in different ways, visiting different dales, hills and villages in the process.
This was a different approach to my other Dales guides, which follow rivers (the Swale, the Ure and the Eden), or have a particular theme like the Herriot Way. This was searching out the best route between two points without any constraining factors other than paths and accommodation.
I exchanged a few emails with Arnold and he was more than happy for me to resurrect the walks if I chose to. When Arnold had created the walks there was limited access to the hills, there was no Open Access legislation as there is now, so he’d chosen the best paths he could at the time. The more I read the guides and looked at the maps, the more I wanted to amend his routes. It soon became apparent that I was no longer resurrecting his guides, as much as creating new walks between his original start and end locations. In many cases, places he used as an overnight stop no longer had any accommodation available, so some days became very long or too long!
I came to a difficult decision. As much as I loved Arnold’s routes, I didn’t think I could respectfully bring them into the 21st century. They would be too heavily changed, certainly not the walks Arnold had devised. I still wanted to use the concept though, a series of walks bisecting the park, using the best possible paths between two points. So I started from scratch.
The Cross-Dales Trails
So arose the ‘Cross-Dales Trails’ from the foundations of Arnold’s ‘Trans-Dales Trails’. My title is as much in homage to Arnold’s as it is plagarism I guess – this wasn’t my idea and the original deviser of the idea should be recognised.
I plan to create four guides, two of which will use the same start and end points and these two routes could be combined to create a circular walk. Each guide will describe a four-day walk, of around 55 miles, starting and ending at a location with some form of public transportation.
Cross-Dales Trail #1 - Skipton to Kirkby Stephen
In 2015 I devised an Alternative Dales Way, a walk that more accurately reflected my view of a Dales Way – and this is that walk. It starts and ends in towns with a station on the Settle-Carlisle railway, so getting to and from the walk is fairly easy. From Skipton it crosses Barden Moor and Thorpe Fell and drops down into Grassington. The second day walks up Wharfedale, mostly on the actual Dales Way, through Kettlewell and Starbotton to Buckden. Day three walks up Langstrothdale, over Dodd Fell Hill and along the West Cam Road into Hawes (or Hardraw). The fourth and final day cross the valley of Wensleydale and climbs Great Shunner Fell, at which summit it heads west across Angram Common, High Seat, High Pike and down across Great Bell to Kirkby Stephen (or its station).
Cross-Dales Trail #2 - Kirkby Stephen to Skipton
I’d looked at various route options when I was creating my Alternative Dales Way, so it wasn’t a great leap to turn some of these options into a set of different walks between the same villages and walk them in the other direction. As such, this walk begins in Kirkby Stephen (or from the station) and walks down the Eden valley, into the head of Wensleydale to reach Hawes (or Hardraw). The next day climbs Wether Fell and then cuts east, down to Raydale and Semer Water before climbing again, along the old Roman road over Stake Moss and into Buckden, in Wharfedale. Day three climbs to Firth Fell and follows the windswept ridge between Wharfedale and Littondale, to Hawkswick before passing through Kilnsey and Conistone into Grassington. The final day follows one of my favourite Dales paths, up to and around the edge of Cracoe Fell, before dropping down our destination in Skipton.
Cross-Dales Trail #3 - Sedbergh to Masham
A generally east-west traverse was something I was committed to from the outset, but it ended up being the most difficult of the four walks to devise. The paucity of accommodation in Dentdale made logistics difficult. In the end I used the Dales Way through Dentdale for the most part, from leaving Sedbergh to arriving in Cowgill and the lonely Sportsman’s Inn. Day two crosses Gayle Moor on a new bridleway and enters Langstrothdale via Oughtershaw before arriving once again in the perfectly placed Buckden. Day three see a little more southerly travel, before turning east and a bracing climb, at Starbotton, over the peaty saddle of land between Great and Little Whernsides. Dropping down to the reservoir the Nidderdale Way provides a useful path into Middlesmoor. The final day climbs up to Ouster Bank and then along a good track across Masham Moor, before picking up scattered footpaths and quiet lanes into Masham.
Cross-Dales Trail #4 - Settle to Richmond
There are almost enough walk options betwen these two towns to create a fifth trail and create walks in both directions, like I have done with the first two trails. However, this walk leaves Settle and climbs east, walking beneath the limestone cliffs of Attermire Scar. It cuts between Malham village and the Tarn and crosses the grassy moorland around Hawkswick before dropping down to the village and then around the nose of Middlesmoor pasture into Kettlewell. Day two begins with a long steady climb along Top Mere Road, not quite reaching Buckden Pike, instead cutting north east above what I like to think of as Waldendale into West Burton. Day three passes Aysgarth Falls and Bolton Castle before venturing into the mining ruins on Redmire Moor and then down, through Grinton into Reeth. From Reeth there are so many options to reach Richmond, but I have selected a path across Marrick Moor, down to Marske and then via Whitcliffe Scar into Richmond.
Accommodation for all these walks is now booked and I’m hoping that the light we see at the end of the tunnel, is not a train, but the actual end of the tunnel, and my walks can proceed as planned.