28th August 2022: Kettlewell to Yockenthwaite – 8.5m
We had another lazy morning and I enjoyed just taking time over the daily routine, rather than rushing to get an early start. I had a nice spot beside the road, set a little way back and with the sliding door of the van facing the hillside (as I normally try to do). I sat, had breakfast and enjoyed the morning as it gently warmed up from its initial chilly start. The road through Wharfedale, from Beckermonds (a little further up the valley from where we were parked), all the way to Kettlewell is a nightmare. It’s one of the narrowest roads in the Dales and has enclosing walls for much of it’s length. If you get stuck behind a nervous driver, or meet oncoming cars who don’t know how to use passing places then it becomes twice as awful. We’d driven the road three times yesterday and had to do it another three times today – not the best part of the weekend!
We found a handy parking spot right beside Yockenthwaite Bridge and I left the van there. It would be easier to park the car in Kettlewell than the van and sure enough, Chris found a roadside spot just behind the village ‘green’. We could see the steep face of Middlesmoor Pasture even as we were getting ready, complete with a couple of walkers plodding up it. I was glad we’d decided to take the longer, but much less arduous option this morning. We walked through the village, now lovely and warm in the morning sunshine, crossed the bridge over the Wharfe and picked up the permissive path we’d used yesterday, to return up the hill. I was careful to ensure we crossed back into the permitted corridor at the same point we left it. The incline was nothing like as bad as yesterday and although Chris soon had a good lead on me, I was feeling fine. Rather than continue along the zig-zap all the way to the ladder stile in the wall, as soon as I could see the wall on my right I cut across to it, over the lumps and bumps of the hillside. I took a few hundred yards out of the cut-back and bagged myself a 5 minute sit-down while I waited for Chris (who’d decided not to short-cut) to catch up.
The path is easy and clear beside the ridge’s summit wall and we walked and talked and admired the long views up and down Wharfedale. Unfortunately the views closer to our noses were dominated by clouds of black flies and these kept sticking to the sweat on my face and arms and I even inhaled a couple as I gasped and wheezed up the slope. The middle views were also lovely, the heather was rife on the far side of the wall, although its colour is somewhat muted now towards the end of its flowering season. As we approach it, we diverted across the hillside to bag the trig point and took an early rest stop on a rocky outcrop, thanks mainly to its perfectly placed boulders. The flies made the stop more of an ordeal than a pleasure though, so we were soon heading off again. We spotted a couple of walkers ahead and were soon passing them, Chris as usual trying to pry their life stories out of them, while I’m more than happy with a quick ‘morning’ and a friendly (while at the same time slightly distanced) nod. They were just out for a bimble, not hill or trig bagging and just walking as far as they were happy with before heading back down to the pub. We pushed on.
I’ve been very lucky in that the permitted corridor incorporates a long section of the summit ridge path, but as we approached Firth Fell and crossed the ladder stile in the wall, the path headed off gently left and outside of the boundary. This meant that for the next mile or so I was constantly on the GPS, ensuring I didn’t cross the boundary and making the best possible way across tussocky moorland. There were few landmarks to aim for to maintain a straight line and although we were contouring for some of this section I ended up weaving around the hillside trying to stay inside the boundary while at the same time not losing too much height. As soon as we found somewhere suitable we took another break, with fewer flies and had our lunches, watching the cloud shadows play across the opposite fells. There are great views of Buckden Pike and Great Whernside from here and of the wonderful scenic path up Buckden Beck beside the waterfalls.
As we approached and then passed Birks Tarn we took advantage of a thin sheep track beside the broken wall which just about stayed within the boundary and wasn’t quite as tussocky and hard-going as the previous mile. We stepped outside the boundary to bag the Dales 30 summit of Birks Fell, making sure to return via the same point. As we’ve been ticking off the Dales 30 summits it seemed daft not to divert the hundred yards or so to bag this one while we were here, saving us a walk later in the year.
From this point, all semblance of a path, or even a sheep track were left behind us. We had over 1200 feet of height to shed over the next mile or so and all of it was across rough hummocks, tussocks, long marsh grass, dried up (thankfully) boggy sections and a couple of very steep escarpments which we’d need to circumvent rather than drop down. I’m happy to report that this was one of the toughest sections of moorland walking I’ve done in a while. No two foot placements were the same, I post-holed at least a dozen times into holes hidden by the long grass and the terrain was so inconsistent I could hardly decide from one moment to the next, which was the best way down. I alternated between contouring for short sections and then heading straight down what felt like vertical hillside. It was bloody hard work – but at least it was warm and muggy!
As is often the way Chris and I had slightly different views on the best way down. We were already separated by a couple of hundred yards and I decided to try and cross one of the walls across our path sooner rather than later and Chris went the other way, dropping down the hill to look for a better place. This meant that although were never too far apart, we were out of sight of each other for most of the descent. The first thing I knew about his accident was the rather unsettling sight of him descending ahead of me, naked to the waist and with his shirt wrapped around his head.
As I caught up to him at a rather awkward barbed wire fence he explained what had happened. He’d slipped on a steep section, his foot sliding out from under him and throwing him backwards against the slope behind him. Unfortunately he hit his head on a rock as he fell. Head wounds can be right bleeders and he was soon covered in blood. He used his shirt to staunch the flow, holding it on his head with his Tilley. I sat him down on a rock and cleaned his wound with supplies from my First Aid Kit (only the third time I’ve ever needed it in all the years I’ve been walking). He assured me he hadn’t blacked out and to be fair the wound looked superficial (not that I’m an expert) and once he’d cleaned the blood off his face, hands and arms he looked a lot less like a butcher! Thankully he was now able to put his shirt back on and we completed the ridiculously steep descent to the road below.
My planned route now took us along the road for a mile or so to Yockenthwaite, but I’d had a thought on the way to the start, based on the depth of the river at this point in the valley. The Wharfe had been almost completely dry at Yockenthwaite when I’d parked the van this morning and I reckoned that if we could find a way down to the river and back up the other side, we shouldn’t have too much difficulty crossing it. This would mean we could use the Dales Way, rather than the road to finish the walk. Again we lucked out. We found a gate in the wall that gave us access from the road, into the fields beside the river. On the other side of the river I could see another gate, that was just inside the permitted boundary, all we needed to do was cross the mighty Wharfe! It was so low at this point we didn’t even get the soles of our boots wet. Perfect!
The rest of the walk was along the Dales Way, passing small groups of people out enjoying the walk and one or two paddling in accessible stretches of water, where there were deeper pools. By the time I got back to the van I was absolutely shattered. My shirt was completely soaked with sweat – it looked liked I’d dunked it in the river. Even my Tilley was soaked in sweat! It had been a tough descent across the tussocks of Kirk Gill Moor and my calves and quads knew they’d had a work-out.
We drove back to Kettlewell, along the narrowest road in the Dales and collected Chris’s car. I’d not had a consistent phone signal for the last couple of days, so I took advantage of the weak one in Kettlewell to call my wife and check everything was OK at home. After that I headed back up the dale, leaving Chris to download some content for his entertainment that night. We met up again later at the overnight camp spot. I had a restful night, albeit feeling very stiff in the calves and thighs and surprisingly tired in the shoulders.
It sounds like Chris had a much worse night, with very little sleep and an increasingly painful headache. Early the next morning he asked if it would be OK if he called off the day’s walk and spent the morning recovering. I was happy to accept and my stiff legs were also happy with the decision. We’ll certainly come back and finish off the route, assuming the Tip-to-Tip curse allows it!
Update: 26th September 2022
Chris felt much better over the following 48 hours and he suffered nothing more than a sore head. Unfortunately, this walk is looking more and more cursed as time goes on! It’s unlikely Chris and I will be rejoining this route until next Spring at the earliest now. A recent change in location for Chris has meant that travelling to the Dales is a bit impractical and most of our walking over the winter will be concentrated in the Peak District. We both certainly want to finish this walk, and there is even talk of us trying to create a West to East version of it as well, but for the time being we’re going to have to put it on hold.
Those readers that have shown an interest in this adventure have requested maps of the route we’re using. As some of the walk requires us to trespass, we decided early on not to release the route until we’d completed it. You can see today’s walk below.