Leaving Cowling on a grey morning
After a decent night’s sleep, we awoke to a grey, cool morning, with low cloud threatening rain scudding across the sky. Gordon and Rowan made their customary early getaway and we weren’t too far behind them as the cool, blustery conditions didn’t encourage us to linger and we were soon back on the trail after a quick breakfast. While packing up the tent, I managed to cut my finger on a tent peg and after covering various items of gear in blood, had to stop and bandage up the finger before finishing packing the rucksack. Today had been the turning point on my previous attempt a year earlier when all of the issues that had plagued my walk came to a head and I made the decision to finish at the halfway point. A combination of factors had culminated in a terrible night where I got virtually no sleep as a noisy road and church bells ringing from a nearby tower every fifteen minutes meant that I woke in a foul mood. This wasn’t helped when I discovered that my second canister of gas had mysteriously emptied itself during the night so I didn’t even have the comfort of a hot cup of coffee to start the day. After an annoying experience in a cafe later in the day, I had finally given up and ‘dumped’ my malfunctioning camping gear and booked bed and breakfast rooms for the rest of my truncated trip. This year however, as we left the campsite in Cowling, I felt totally different and despite the gloomy conditions, was raring to go and felt very energetic. We passed through the village of Ickornshaw and headed off into fields but were soon stopping to put on waterproof jackets as the rain had started and didn’t appear to be in a hurry to stop.
Descending to Lothersdale
We crossed fields that were now becoming increasingly wet and it was here that I got the chance to experience the sensation of my feet getting wet through my lightweight trail runners, which let the water in almost immediately. I had decided on this approach based on my experience of walking in heavy rain on the Coast to Coast the previous year as I had returned from my Pennine Way trip. Then, I had arrived in Keld to find that the bus service to Richmond was no longer running so had to walk to a town with transport links the following day utilising a section of Wainwright’s famous trail. I had decided on Kirkby Stephen because I had long harboured an ambition to travel on the Settle to Carlisle railway and this would give me a chance to sample at least a section of it. Once there, my uncle was going to drive from his home in North Wales to pick me up in Settle as we hadn’t seen each other for a number of years and he had invited me to spend a few days at his home. It was during this walk over Nine Standards Rigg from Keld that I had decided not to worry about the weather conditions or trying to keep dry and I walked in shorts, as I had for the whole of the Pennine way trip. I was wearing a waterproof jacket however but my only real problem was with my goretex lined boots that continually filled with water, which meant that I had to regularly stop to ‘empty’ them. Other than this, I had thoroughly enjoyed my watery trip across the Pennine Watershed and decided to investigate the principle of walking in less ‘waterproof’ clothing and footwear when I returned home. The lightweight trail runners I was now wearing had no waterproof lining and a mesh top so water just flowed in but the reasoning was that it could just as easily flow out and the action of the foot bending caused the water to be ‘squeezed’ out, like a sponge. It did feel odd at first as the water filled my shoes but once I became used to the sensation, I had no problems. Indeed, as the day wore on, the weather dried up, as did my shoes and socks, meaning I finished the day with dry feet, which was exactly the point of the exercise. Had I been wearing the boots I had worn on my previous Pennine trip, they would have been wet for a day or two after. Walking in the trail runners also meant that I had very little weight on my feet, which wasn’t increased by being waterlogged as with ‘waterproof’ boots.
Double bridge on the Leeds-Liverpool canal
After negotiating the series of wet fields, we descended steeply into the idyllically situated village of Lothersdale, nestled in its snug valley location, the incongruous chimney of it's long abandoned mill signalling the end of the former mill-town country of the South Pennines. Passing briefly through the village, we climbed alongside a deep, wooded ravine before we found ourselves back on open moorland where we soon reached the trig point on the summit of Pinhaw Beacon. Here, we had magnificent views of the surrounding countryside, in an almost 360 degree panorama as the strong wind whipped at our clothing and rucksack straps. We descended to a road and the rain began in earnest and we retreated under our hoods and plodded on in the deluge looking for the tell-tale fingerpost ahead that would signal the point where the Pennine Way veered off once again onto the moors. As we approached the turn, we spotted Rowan and Gordon, who appeared to be setting off after a rest break and we greeted them before carrying on across the wet moors together with them commenting on how quickly we must be walking to have caught them so soon. It was here that I realised that I must have been forging ahead in the poor conditions as Alan commented to them that I was a very fast walker. I had to admit that I felt in really good shape and the conditions meant that I just had my head down and was bowling along and really enjoying the sensation of walking and feeling fit enough to tackle anything that the trail could throw at me. It hadn’t occurred to me at that time that I was walking any faster than anyone else.
Lock gates at Gargrave
Eventually, Rowan and Gordon let us go ahead and we agreed to meet them at the Abbot’s Harbour cafe on the Leeds-Liverpool canal and soon left them behind as we negotiated even more soggy fields. We passed through the neat but largely anonymous village of Thornton in Craven and were soon plodding along the banks of the canal, where we turned off to the cafe for a welcome break of hot drinks and food. Probably because of the weather, the cafe this time was a complete contrast to my earlier visit the previous year where it had been invaded by a couple of dozen lycra-clad cyclists. It was here, that I had finally decided to abandon my attempt to walk the entire Pennine Way after my anticipated leisurely lunch, which I had promised myself as a reward for the lousy night in the campsite at Cowling, had turned into a cramped, noisy interlude listening to a loud female cyclist expounding dietary advice to all within earshot. The crowded, noisy cafe had caused me to flee into a nearby field and phone ahead for a room and having secured one, dump my camping gear in a wooded hollow. This time, the cafe was as I was hoping for the previous year with as there were only a handful of people and we spread out on a table to enjoy pots of hot tea and bacon rolls. After a while, Rowan and Gordon arrived and joined us for a pleasant lunch where we chatted and satisfied our appetites while chatting about the walk. Eventually, the time came to leave but by now, the weather had turned for the better and we set off across fields, passing the wooded dell where I had previously dumped my camping gear. I did stop to look but it was no longer there so someone had scrambled down to retrieve it. I hope they found some use for it. The countryside now began to subtly change as we approached the Yorkshire Dales. Limestone country always ‘feels’ comfortable to walk in as often you find yourself walking on springy turf, which makes the going easier. It certainly felt comfortable as we approached Gargrave in the improving sunshine and we passed through the town without stopping, despite the numerous temptations of pubs, cafes and shops. It had only been an hour since leaving Abbot’s Harbour so we couldn’t justify stopping again so soon. As we crossed Haw Crag we spotted a group of young boys doing their D.O.E standing on the crest of the hill studying maps and looking confused. We didn’t pass close enough to ask them if they needed help but as we descended to the road I looked back to see that they had taken a path signposted to ‘Bell Busk’.
As we approached the road, a path veered off to follow the River Aire, which we would follow virtually all of the way to Malham where we intended to obtain a room for the night. This decision had been made during the heavy rain of the morning and we had decided that even though the weather was now fine, we would still carry out our intention to sleep in a proper bed for the night as we had spent the previous five nights in the tents and we now wanted the luxury of a proper bed. We crossed the road at Newfield Bridge at the same time as the route crossed to the other bank of the river and we stopped at a convenient spot for a break. As we sat, a man walked over to us from the road and enquired if we had seen a number of young boys along the route. We said we had and pointed out to him on the map where we had seen them. They were indeed doing their D.O.E and should have been following the same route as us but had obviously become confused as we had seen them heading off in totally the wrong direction. The man was the boys’ ‘shadow’ and now hurried off in search of his missing charges.
The rest of the walk was a pleasant stroll in the sunshine along the river bank to Malham, apart from one unwelcome steep ascent on a road at Hanlith Bridge, where the route veered away from the river briefly. As we descended again, the village of Malham came into view and we had glimpses of the cove looming in the background. Arriving in the village, we secured a room in the same guesthouse I had used the previous year, which despite being fairly old and tired was quite cheap. I seemed to offend the owner when I asked him for a key to lock the room when we went out to eat and was given a sermon about how they ‘have no need for such things around here’, before giving me a key that didn’t work anyway. I decided I would have to trust the veracity of the other residents, which in the event was well placed. After we had attended to our various chores, we spent a leisurely evening in the Lister Arms pub before returning to enjoy a comfortable night sleeping on a proper mattress.