4th August 2022 – Askrigg to Middleham – 14.2m

I feel completely done-in! I’m sitting in the Richard III in Middleham after having walked the 14.5 miles from Askrigg, had a shower, got changed and gone searching for a decent WiFi signal. I don’t know why I feel so knackered, it’s not a particularly difficult day and the weather was mostly good, but my feet feel like blocks of lead (sore blocks of lead) and my legs feel like they belong to someone else (who’s just run a marathon). My feet felt pretty bad yesterday afternoon, but I put that down to walking in wet boots all day. All I can think is that my fitness levels have dropped off significantly in the past few weeks and I’m just not in good enough shape for multiple long days right now. However, I don’t want to quit, I really enjoyed today and I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s walk too.

I had a lovely stay at Thornsgill House, I had a good night’s sleep in a double bed. The bed had a metal railing at the foot end, but I covered it with the spare blanket and I never kicked it once in the night. I was awake at 5.30 as usual, but manged to snooze until just before 7am. I had a full cooked breakfast at 7.30 and I was ready to leave at 8.20. I got talking to Ann and Barry as I was settling up and they said they were switching to two night minimum stays, due to the amount of work involved with single night bookings. I can understand their position, but it’s a bit of a blow as they’re the best B&B in the village and essentially closed to walkers from now on.

I was out the door at about 8.40am and headed north out of the village. Rather than walk the traditional Yoredale Way route into Aysgarth, which I’d done as part of the Herriot Way rewrite earlier in the year, I’d picked a more circuitous high level route, using paths that would be new to me. It was warm as I left, at least when the sun was on me, but as I gained a bit of height I could see back down the valley and the dark clouds looked ominous. With the wind at my back the clouds would be on me in a while. I climbed higher, through hay meadows heading towards the impressive looking Ellerkin Scar that runs above the valley. I was aiming for a path that runs beneath it, but still offered some great views.

All too soon I was dropping back down to Woodhall, where I used another path through hay meadows that soon gave out onto some lovely lumpy limestone scenery around The Straights. I passed the clump of trees on Lady Hill that I’ve always admired from a distance when walking the Herriot Way and then the rain caught me. I got the jacket on just in time and a mile or so later as it began to come down quite hard I took shelter under a couple of huge trees beside the farm buildings at Bear Park, where I watched a guy and a girl shearing a flock of sheep. The rain soon eased off and I dropped down to get a look at the Upper Force of Aysgarth Falls. I’d never used this path before and it has a good view point for this impressive set of waterfalls, that I’d only ever seen from a distance. Two weeks ago these were dry, today they were in full spate and there’s no way you’d have been able to walk across them without getting washed away to your probable death.

I crossed the road bridge and climbed steeply up to the church. I found a bench, now in good sunshine and stripped down to my baselayer. I stowed the coat and my softshell and donned my shirt instead. This is cooler than the softshell and I can roll the sleeves up. I ate part of one of the toffee flapjacks I’d bought in the Spar in Hawes yesterday and washed it down with some warm juice. From here the walk is never far from the Ure and it’s a truly wonderful few miles.

I passed the Middle Force (no access from this side of the river) and then the Lower Force, which required a short diversion, but I was already beginning to feel pretty tired, so I decided to skip it. There are more falls further down, right beside the path so I wasn’t short of white water views today. I crossed Hestholme Bridge and got some more great river views at Slapestone Wath where I had intended to stop for another break, but there was a family enjoying a picnic in my spot, so I pushed on a bit further. I found a shady spot beneath a tree and ate some more dry flapjack. It was hard to get going again as I set off, my legs taking a while to get into their stride. The river views and riverside paths along this section are special, long stretches of narrow paths through dappled woodland, right beside the river.

I stopped again just beyond Redmire Force, at what has to be my favourite view of any river, not just the Ure. It’s a mix of white water, tall trees either side, blue sky above and it looks like a remote Scottish glen and I absolutely love it.

Even the scenery couldn’t invigorate me though, and with almost 5 miles still to go I was seriously flagging. The undulating meadows beside the river were hard work, but I just tried to keep a steady pace and grind them out. There’s a beautiful section of path through woodland between Lord’s Bridge and Wensley Bridge and I found a fallen tree with a bouncy bough that I took another break on.

Once I got to Wensley Bridge I felt like I’d broken the back of it, with only 3 miles to go, the number felt low enough to do no matter how knackered I was. The truth is, this was one of the hardest 3 miles I’ve done in ages. The path is a narrow strip between overgrowth and when it comes to leaving the Ure and heading into Middleham, the path has been consumed by the river and I had to cut through a meadow with long grass that dragged at my feet and felt really tough. There’s then a couple of long climbs through more long grass and a long tarmac drive into Middleham.

I arrived in the village at 2.50pm and initially thought I would go into the shop and stock up, but the Dante Arms (and my bed for the night) is right across the road from it, so I decided to check in first. I got there just in time too, as they were closing the bar at 3pm (I imagine I’d have been able to knock and still check-in if I’d arrived after 3pm). The landlady remembered me from my last stay in 2019, which I thought was pretty impressive, she then proceeded to mock me for being a walker and obviously having a screw loose somewhere. I took a cold drink (which I later found out was on the house!) up to my room and immediately collapsed into the shower. It felt heavenly! Powerful and warm and refreshing. I was in there for a while!

The room is crap, it’s only marginally wider and longer than the double bed, there’s no chair, nowhere to hang my stuff up, no room for anything really. It’s the same room I had last time, and I remember giving it a poor review then. The pub at least does food in the evening now, but tonight is pizza or nachos, so my dislike of melted cheese puts paid to that, I’ll have to go next door to a pub with a more diverse menu.

I’m sat in said pub right now. The Richard III and it’s loud and raucous, everything I hate about a pub, but it’s better than the room and it has passable WiFi. They don’t serve food until 6pm, so I’ve manged to write up the journal and I still have an hour to kill, but only 20% battery life to see me through. The table I’ve been given has an old church pew with a thin ratty cushion, so my arse has already gone to sleep!

I ordered a burger, but they don’t have any left, the pie of the day has mushrooms in it and that basically left a gammon steak. I had egg and bacon at lunch, so it’s gonna be a double ham and 4 egg day! Plus it was £18! I’m going to stop now, as this is becoming a moan-fest and that’s not fair. The day has been excellent, despite my aches and pains and it’s a shame to overshadow that.

Into Masham tomorrow, hope I feel a bit more with it in the morning.

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