Herriot Way 2019 – Day 1

18th April 2019: Aysgarth to Hawes – 13.1m

I set out from Aysgarth in a mixed frame of mind this morning. It  was good to be walking again, but the disappointment from last night was still weighing heavy on me. City’s Champions League quarter final against Spurs was one of the most intense football matches I’ve ever seen. City put the ball in the net in the closing minutes, which would have seen us go through, only for it to be disallowed for offside (correctly I’m afraid to say). The highs and lows of those few seconds was the screaming climax of a nerve wracking game which saw us take an early lead, then go behind, only to rocket ahead and then concede again. I slept badly and woke way too early.

Aysgarth is 100 miles and a 2 hour drive from home and I arrived at the Falls Coffee Shop at about 9am. I’d agreed with Liz, the proprietor that I could park there for the duration of my walk. I chatted for a while as Liz set up for what she was expecting to be a very busy weekend and managed to cadge a brew while I was at it. This is a fantastic place, with loads of room for parking, wonderful cakes and attentive service. It’s also one of the best place to get a picture of the church at Aysgarth, because of its length this is quite difficult when you’re standing in front of it

St Andrew’s church, Aysgarth – famous for its 16th Century rood screen

By 9.30 I was out on the path, the sun was a watery red ball behind a thin mist that shrouded the hills on both sides of the valley. The mist soon burned off as I progressed through the village of Aysgarth and out into the fields beside the Ure and through the splendour of Wensleydale. Once the sun burned through it was not obscured again for the rest of the weekend!

There’s something quite special about the Yorkshire Dales in April and very early May – the fells may still be mostly brown and the trees are only just budding so they are brown and sparse too, but the spring lambs are playing and the meadow grass is greening nicely, peppered with the yellow and blue of the early summer flowers. Great clumps of daffodils can be seen in all the villages and bluebells are already bobbing their heads beside the wooded paths.

I’m updating the Herriot Way guide book, so I was photographing everything; which makes the update process all the easier – I was also taking it easy, both concentrating on the task in hand and emptying my mind of everything else. I selected a new path into Askrigg, one that avoids passing the town’s little sewage works and the unpleasant factory unit. I purchased some lunch items and a cold bottle of juice and headed out to Mill Gill Force. The path was busy with family groups enjoying the sunshine and the long weekend and I eventually ended up walking beyond the waterfall to find some peace for my lunch.

A rather disappointing spectacle at Mill Gill Force, one of the only downsides to the recent dry spell

One thing that struck me throughout the day, as I meandered through one of the most beautiful valleys anywhere in the north of England, was that the soundtrack of a Yorkshire dale should be the bleating of lambs and the cry of Curlew, Plover and Oyster Catcher, and not the almost incessant scream of Yamaha, Suzuki and Kawasaki. The roar of motorcycle engines never seemed to stop, some of them could be heard for 2 or 3 minutes at a time as they howled up and down the gears along the length of the valley. I know the National Park is for the enjoyment of everyone, and driving these sometime quite challenging roads is probably great fun on a bike, but do they have to be so noisy?

I had a little break at Sedbusk and perused a novel book stall beside the village green, an old shelving unit offering a selection of paperbacks for £1 with the proceeds going to Sightsavers. A family wandered down from the fell road and I gave up my seat, much to their obvious relief and I entered the “Sedbusk Steeplechase”. This is what I have come to call the 1km stretch of fields between Sedbusk and Simonstone, which includes 16 separate gates, stiles or gated-stiles!

Yes, I know one is duplicated – I just couldn’t be bothered running the collage maker again!

I breezed straight through Hardraw and on my way into Hawes I was waylayed by a guy who wanted to chat. We walked together into the town, talking about our mutual love of the Dales and walks we’d done. I left him as I reached my hotel for the night. I’m staying in the Fountain. First time for me in this place, but it’s good to try different places and on initial appearance it looked OK.

I’d been craving a pint of Old Peculier since leaving Hardraw. Not willing to stop for long at the Green Dragon I hadn’t partaken of their wares, but I wanted to rectify that as soon as possible. Unfortunately the OP had just been taken off in the Fountain so I struggled, unsatisfied, up four flights of stairs to my room in the upper attic! My plan was to have a shower and then head back out to see what I could find.

Without any shadow of a doubt, the shower in room 9 of the Fountain is the worst shower I’ve never had! I tried for about 20 frustrating minutes to get the bloody thing to run warm. It would do cold, it would do scalding but could it do anything in the middle? Could it buggery! At one point I tried switching off the hot tap and it continued to run hot with just the cold water tap running – I mean, how the hell does that work? In the end I switched off the mixer head thing and settled for a bath. Unfortunately, as I was getting in, I slipped and fell in, and about half the water sloshed out onto the floor. I expect the person in room 5 had a better bloody shower than I managed!

After my less than satisfactory ablutions I grumped out of the hotel and headed to the Crown. I know they serve OP as I’ve had it in there in the past. After waiting about 5 minutes I finally got served, only to be told the OP “wasn’t ready yet”. Great! One of the locals at the bar suggest I head up to the Green Dragon, “they always have it on” he said. I explained I’d just walked from there and as much as I enjoy a pint of OP I certainly wasn’t walking back again. I asked if there was anywhere else in town that may have it. The barmaid shrugged but the local pointed me to the White Hart, which drew a frown and a tut from the barmaid. I legged it.

Memorial Cross in Askrigg

The White Hart had a roaring fire going, which was a bit strange considering the weather was now cracking the flags. But they had what I wanted, so I perched myself on a very uncomfortable padded pew thing and drank it. Within a few minutes I was almost falling asleep. I have no idea what they put in their beer in the Hart, but I was struggling to keep my eyes open. I tried to write some of the blog for the day, but couldn’t focus. I decided it was time to retire, in case I actually drifted off in the pub. I decided to skip tea, instead I bought a sausage roll and a massive bag of BBQ flavour Hula Hoops and a bottle of Diet Coke in the Spar, and headed back to my room.

The ten flights of stairs seemed harder this time round and the room was a bit like a sauna. The rad in the bathroom (that I couldn’t switch off!) had done a fair job of converting most of the water on the floor into vapour which hung in the room like a wet towel. I rang home, lying on the bed trying not to yawn. I watched a bit of TV and came back to blog, but I was too shattered. This walking malarkey is hard work and today was the easy day!

My feet feel a little abused and I can feel a couple of hot spots developing, but I have what I need in my kit, so tomorrow will involve tubes and tape.

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