Another weekend, another Bank Holiday. They do come thick and fast at this time of year. Not that I’m complaining, mind – I reckon I could manage a three-day weekend every week.
Anyway, Whitsun found us in the Western Yorkshire Dales once again – a favourite place of ours, but with an unfavourable weather forecast. Saturday dawned overcast and wet, so we spent the morning ducking into gear shops and bookshops. In such circumstance, who could resist buying something? We couldn’t.
After an excellent lunch at the Barbon Inn we found the weather had improved a little, so we took a short stroll along the river and back, just to stretch our legs and get a bit of fresh air, and hatched plans for something a bit more challenging for the following day whatever the weather.
But on Sunday morning we woke once again to low cloud and more rain. Given that we were still functioning at less than 100% our resolve crumbled rather easily. Still, the Howgills will be there another day. Instead, we borrowed our friends’ dog and walked along the Dales Way to Dent whilst considering our alternatives, which was when we hit on the idea to try something new.
We made the short drive to Dent Head and parked beneath the viaduct. Walking up the road (at this point part of the official Dales Way route) we soon reached a gate on our left replete with new signage for the Pennine Bridleway, a newly created route for walkers, cyclists and horse riders that, on completion, will run from Middleton Top in the Peak District to Byrness in Northumberland. This section has only just been officially opened and represents the northern-most part of the trail so far.
We headed off up the well-graded track. Despite being well below the surrounding summits we were quite exposed, buffeted by strong, blustery winds and squally rain. On a clear day, the view south from here would be marvellous, taking in all of the Yorkshire 3 Peaks and surrounding countryside.
The track became grassy underfoot as we crested the hill, the length of Widdale stretching before us. A slightly boggy descent brought us to the top of Arten Gill and a crossroads of paths.
We left the Pennine Bridleway and followed the path alongside the Gill, the stream and it’s tributaries plunged down the hillside, swollen after recent rain. Ahead was the Arten Gill viaduct and the hamlet of Stone House in the dale beyond.
By now it was mid afternoon. Having eaten nothing since breakfast, we decided to drive to Hawes for Fish & Chips and a look round. As the afternoon wore on, the cloud began to lift and there were hints of sunshine breaking through. It seemed a pity to waste the best part of the day, so we planned to head back via the Coal Road and find somewhere to take a short stroll.
Wanting to trust to more “natural” route finding dictated by the lie of the land and the obstacles we might encounter, I left the map behind. Having followed the track for half a mile, we struck off uphill alongside a wire fence. Neither this, nor the track (I later found out) were marked on the map.
Being moorland, the ground was a bit wet and boggy in places, and picking a suitable route through was necessary but easy enough. Lapwings’ cries filled the air, and the ground was speckled white with bog cotton. Soon we came to the top of the rise and found ourselves looking over a small pond I later confirmed was Widdale Little Tarn.
The views were spectacular. By now the cloud had dispersed slightly, sunshine had broken through, and a breathtaking panorama of high and wild fells was laid out before us – a view I imagine few people will have seen.
Back at the car, we were quietly excited about the potential we had uncovered. OK, many will have walked pathless routes before, some very regularly I should imagine. And true, we were barely more than half an hour from the road. It wasn’t even as though we were breaking new ground – there were fences and walls up there, for heaven’s sake, so I’m not claiming this as some major navigational achievement! But to walk somewhere with no path marked on the map or evident on the ground and no fixed route predetermined was a valuable piece of experimentation that has unlocked a wealth of opportunities for future exploration.
I wouldn’t be too concerned now, with suitable allowances, to plan a longer walk in which Access Land plays a significant part. Our normal kit, including map/compass and GPS, would be fine, although gaitors might be a useful addition. Other than that, the main difference is that route finding on the ground needs to be much more pro-active so you don’t work your way into a dead end, and an open mind and flexible approach certainly helps.
Monday, the weather was again poor. So we just did a brief walk beside the River Rawthay before beginning the long journey home. In many ways, we’d had a quiet and unremarkable weekend, at least from the point of view of epic walks and major attractions with well under 20 miles of walking actually completed. But we definitely came away with much to think about, having pushed our boundaries a little further than before.
That orange shading on the map suddenly seems full of potential, and we will definitely be back for more.