Deepdale, The Occupation Road & Dent – approx 13.10 miles
Saturday March 30th 2013
Map: OS Explorer OL2 – Yorkshire Dales Southern & Western Areas
Dentdale – Dyke Hall Lane – Deepdale – Mire Garth – White Shaw – The Occupation Road Blea Gills – Ralph’s Moss – South Lord’s Land – Barbondale Road – Gawthrop – Dent – Dentdale
After yesterday’s relatively easy trundle we wanted something a bit meatier to get our teeth into today, so we chose this circuit linking Dentdale, Deepdale and Barbondale by the Occupation Road.
The sun was already shining as we set off, and last night’s bitter cold and frost had all but dissipated as we made our way along Dyke Hall Lane and on into Deepdale. Even at busy times, this route below the western flank of Whernside is usually quiet, and today proved no exception – apart from a couple of chaps staying at Mire Garth Farm we saw no one at all.
Last time we came this way – unbelievably Whitsun 2010, if I recall correctly – the sun was shining and the fields full of meadow flowers. But today the ground was wet and marshy: despite the cold and lack of rain, too wet to be mud free, not frozen enough to make for easier going.
The climb out of the dale across White Shaw is always steep. With snowy patches and part-frozen ground underfoot purchase was sometimes difficult to come by, but we made the road without incident. Behind us, Aye Gill Pike and the distant Howgills were topped with the merest sprinkle of snow.
Ahead, though, was a different story. Here, winter was still holding sway, snowdrifts were very much in evidence, and the whole walk took on a new, more interesting dimension.
The Occupation Road wends its way around the flanks of Great Coum, Crag Hill and Towns Fell, until it reaches Barbondale Road some 5½ miles later. In days of yore, it was a smooth, green packhorse track, allowing the movement of goods such as peat and coal from the high fells. Now, apart from the first mile or so (which has been repaired), it is quite badly damaged, deeply rutted and eroded, and prone to being wet and muddy for much of the time.
So the deep snow was a help to progress, at least in parts where the crust was firm and the snow compact. Admittedly, it was possible to break through to the puddles beneath and get an unpleasant boot full of cold, muddy water, but this happened to only one foot and didn’t detract too much from the sense of enjoyment.
After a couple of miles, we found a slightly sheltered spot for lunch. On a day such as this, a mug of hot soup is a real spirit lifter – as are the views, which are always a real highlight of this path.
We continued along the track, past the turn-off to Slack, and on to reach the top of Flintergill – the direct route down to Dent. We had initially intended to make our way back from here, but the day was yet young and we were keen for more, so we modified our plans and carried on.
On reaching Barbondale Road we passed a couple of farmhands sorting sheep. With snowy patches at higher levels and bitterly cold nights, bringing the expectant ewes off the fells to lamb in lower, more sheltered fields makes a lot of sense.
Finally, in the late afternoon sunshine, we wandered home – through Gawthrop and on towards Dent, where the lure of a pot of tea was too much to resist. Cake also appeared, consumed with no guilt whatsoever as we looked back on a good day’s walking.