I’ve never been disappointed when I’ve stayed at Tan Hill Inn and this time was no different. We had planned to camp on the rough, boulder-strewn land behind the pub but when we were sitting at the bar ordering beer and food we spotted their bunkhouse offered a Full English breakfast. Even better, it had no other occupants and a bed was only £18. We had a pleasant evening at a table for eight, with other people coming and joining us as the evening progressed. Several pints of Theakston’s Old Peculier and an excellent home-made burger later we dropped into bunks and fell sound asleep.
We had breakfast at 7:30; it was OK, but not the best I’ve ever had. We were joined by Mark Pennington, a novelist, working on a book which involved the main protagonist walking from Dent to Booze, via Arkengarthdale Moor, amongst other places. He was a writer rather than a walker, so I passed on some advice on crossing the moor, which has a thin path that isn’t easy to follow in places, wished him luck and set out ourselves for the same crossing.
Our plan was simple; we were going to walk from Tan Hill Inn to Kettlewell logging the route for a project we have been discussing for a while now, but more of that in future blog postings I hope. We would spend Friday, Saturday and part of Sunday traversing the 35 miles between and camping when we needed to. As usual, for our weekends away, the weather forecast was marginal; with cloud cover most of Friday, rain for most of Saturday and Sunday and light winds for the whole trip.
A partial eclipse was due this morning, but the clouds were rampant and we didn’t expect to see anything than a slight darkening behind them, but to our delight they split right on cue and we got a glimpse of the moon in front of the sun, the clouds helped us to see the event without the need for special equipment and we both survived with eyes intact! The light resulting from the eclipse was fantastic and the clouds seemed to peel away for most of the rest of the day from that point.
The wind stayed with us though, for the whole trip, not so bad today, but still present as we tried to stick to the path across the Moor. This is a wonderful place to be, the views down into Arkengarthdale from Annaside Edge and West Moor are fantastic – the road is barely visible and the view is of endless moorland stretching off to the horizon – my kind of walking scenery, but not completely to the taste of Chris. “Next time we’re going to the Lakes” he said, “I’m getting a bit tired of heather-bashing”.
We were soon out of the worst and stopped for a brew out of the wind. A short section of road walking followed and we manfully resisted the temptation of two pubs before another short break, munching on Chris’s Mum’s Thorntons chocolates at St. Mary’s church in Langthwaite. In the sunshine and out of the wind, the weather was great! A couple of easy miles beside Arkle Beck soon brought us into Reeth and time for a proper lunch stop. I was robbed in Reeth Bakery; £10 for two pasties and three flapjacks and Chris was accosted by a guy who wouldn’t stop talking! We ran for the hills.
On the way out of the village I did my good deed for 2015 and helped an old lady across the road. Seriously! That still needs to be done in places and I was the right bloke in the right place! The good deed payed for itself immediately as I spotted this little beauty in the process.
We’d been mostly downhill, or flat all day, but now, after 12 miles we began a long steady pull up to Greets Hill, outside Grinton. Our plan was to camp on the far side, near water and shelter. On the way down, the hills all around us were bursting into flame and gouting white smoke into the sky as heather was burnt back to encourage new growth, to feed the grouse that live on the moors and provide targets for the shooters later in the year – it was an impressive sight I must admit.
As we dropped down the weather worsened considerably, the wind rose and it began to rain. I diverted us to a shooting hut I knew about, to wait out the worst of the weather. I’m not going to provide the details of the place, if you know the area you’ll know the one I mean, but it’s not a bothy and we wouldn’t have stayed in it if the weather hadn’t been so foul. It was a welcome respite though.
We were up early and the rain had stopped, but the wind was howling worse than ever. We had 14 miles to our proposed camp on Buckden Pike and another seven beyond that to reach Kettlewell via Great Whernside. We decided quite quickly that if the wind was bad down here it was going to be awful on the tops. We decided to combine both days, push hard and get it all done today!
We dropped into Castle Bolton and the followed fields and lanes to Carperby and Aysgarth, crossing the wonderful scenery of Wensleydale. The Ure was in spate and the waterfalls at Aysgarth were a grand sight.
If we were going to aim for the full 21 miles today we didn’t need most of the gear we were carrying anymore. So we began to look for somewhere to offload it. We would have to drive through Aysgarth on the way to Tan Hill to collect my car, so it seemed logical and would make the day much easier. We looked into a couple of field barns, which were locked and I discounted hiding them behind walls – we had a long day ahead and discovery would be inconvenient at best and disastrous at worst. We got a stroke of luck as we passed the Aysgarth Falls Hotel, which seemed to be open, even at 9.30. We went in for a coffee and we promptly told it was shut. Chris is a cheeky git though (bless him) and asked if the landlord could watch a bag for us for the day. He agreed (bless him too) and we ditched one bag and most of the contents of the other in his shed. We shared bag carrying duties for the rest of the day.
15 minutes after leaving the pub a vile expletive exploded from Chris! He’d left his car key in his bag, back at the pub. I was just glad he remembered when he did. Although he had a spare in the car it would still have been a catastrophe to reach Kettlewell and discover the error.
The tidy village of Newbiggin marks the end of Wensleydale, the start of Bishopdale and the gateway to Wasset Fell – the lower slopes of which would become Buckden Pike, given enough time and height. The lighter load was fantastic, we fairly scampered up the long track. The only slight problem being not enough water for a brew, so we headed for a well marked on the OS map. A little searching and we found Lady Wasset Well – a tiny pool of clear water ringed by rushes. We found a shake hole, out of the wind and had lunch. The weather was great – apart from the bloody wind! I had three layers on and needed my sunglasses! I had caught the sun across my nose and without the wind it would have been a perfect day.
There is no real path up Wasset Fell, or across Naughtberry Hill, all the way to Buckden Pike summit we followed either the wall, or a faint quad bike track that services the grouse feeders along the ridge line. It was hard going in places even without a full backpack, but I certainly feel some fitness returning to my legs and we were soon at the summit. Buckden Pike has a lot of summit ‘furniture’ and we struggled against the wind to try and get some steady shots.
Within 100 yards of leaving the summit we passed about 30 people. We’d done about 30 miles since leave Tan Hill and other than folk in villages, we’d seen no-one on the hills. There are still truly desolate places in the Dales, we’d just walked across some, but Buckden Pike isn’t one of them! The wind on the summit was ferocious and our decision not to camp there was well justified.
The path to Great Whernside from Buckden Pike is very, very badly eroded and the underfoot conditions got really bad at this point. The peat is still trying to process the snow melt and the recent rain probably hasn’t helped – we both had wet feet now.
At Tor Mere Top I requested the low route into Kettlewell, my feet were sore and even without a full backpack 20 miles isn’t easy across the sort of terrain we’d covered. I was knackered. Chris agreed a bit too easily and I got the impression he was glad I’d asked. We ended up on the same path into Kettlewell that we’d used on our last trip out. It was no easier on the feet today than it had been then – we still both hate that last mile along Top Mere Road.
In the village we stopped for pies at the village shop. Truly excellent pies and half the price of the pasties in Reeth. We recovered Chris’s car and headed for Tan Hill, via Aysgarth to collect our gear.
Sometimes the weekend is all about the camp, this weekend it had been about the walk. I have been worried about fitness levels with my long walk coming up in a few short weeks and this 35 mile trek has helped alleviate my concerns. The #MicroAdventure in the unofficial bothy was great, but I still feel a little guilty about taking advantage of the shelter the way I did. Sometimes the illicit fruit is the tastiest though!
I have to thank Chris for putting up with a tired and probably slightly grumpy Lonewalker towards the end of the second day and for letting me drag him across endless miles of wonderful, desolate heather moorland, which he doesn’t really share my passion for. Cheers mate!
Maps and more photos can be found here: