Yesterday, Greg and I went for a walk. It was our first proper walk since last September when we walked up to Pavey Ark, then up Pavey Ark and then down again. There was a bit of a false start to the actual going up Pavey Ark bit when I thought it would be fun to go up via the spectacularly inappropriately named Easy Gully and then realised it wouldn’t be fun, came back down again and went via the easier North Rake. Since then, we’ve done a lot of Morris dancing but not much walking and, as we are going to be walking the South Downs Way in a week or so, we thought it would be rather a good idea to get a walk in and get some practice at this walking lark.
It would also be a good opportunity to try out some new walking gear we’ve acquired in advance of the adventure to come: specifically walking socks and a fleece. So we put on our new gear (including my Go Outdoors own brand double skinned socks), got in the car and set off. I didn’t even make it out of the car park because I changed my mind about not bringing my waterproof and went back to get it. Then we set off again and about half way to the motorway and too far to turn round, I realised I had forgotten my walking pole. Well, that was too bad: I wasn’t going back for it, so I would have to make do without it.
So we got on the motorway and at the point where we join the M6, the Satnav told me to go south. “South on the M6?” thought I, “That’s silly! Pen y Ghent is north of us!” and so I ignored it and went northbound. After a brief recalculation, the Satnav said, “Continue 19 miles on the motorway.” It sounded irritated, yet resigned (I do ignore it a lot). Greg then told me I had added 10 minutes to the journey and we were now going to have to take an enormous detour whereas the Satnav’s route would have been more direct. I have learned my lesson and I will listen to it from now on (I probably won’t).
Once we were off the M6, it was quite a scenic diversion as we went through the likes of Caton, Bentham, past Clapham and through Austwick (very pretty with very narrow roads) and up a variety of single-track roads but we made it into Horton in Ribblesdale, where, according to Jack Keighley, whose circular route we were going to follow, the walk should start. There we parked in the overflow car park (a field) and paid £3 for the day. I made a quick visit to the toilet where I got my phone out and started up Viewranger, a very useful walkers’ app which was to record our every footstep along the way. We then picked up some butties in the Pen y Ghent Café (I am congenitally incapable of making butties in advance of a walk, so we usually do this) and had my camera admired by the man who served us.
We then set off and walked past the 12th century church of St Oswald and, after a wrong turn that turned out not to be a wrong turn (we saw the bridge afterwards), the walk proper started. There was an easy walk along a path and then a hard slog up quite a steep gradient straight after we turned left at the signpost in the farmyard and, as always, I was convinced I was going to die of exhaustion after no more than a couple of hundred yards. I didn’t die and it was a good cardio-vascular work-out but I needed plenty of short breaks and to justify them, I needed excuses. Excuses there were. I had my camera around my neck and the view kept widening as we climbed, so I would have to stop to admire the view and take pictures. It was a sunny day but with plenty of clouds, so it wasn’t too difficult to get some quite nice ones.
All this time I was checking Viewranger and was disappointed to discover that instead of the 10.8 miles I thought we’d walked, we had in fact only walked 1.92 and then 2.14 and then 2.34 miles. After about 2½ miles, Greg took over the backpack, which made things much easier for me. I only had to carry the Jack Keighley book and make sure we weren’t going wrong (which would have been impossible, the path is so well marked). Once we were on the Pennine Way, the climb got steeper but I’d got my second wind and found it much easier. There were plenty of crags and rocky scrambles to do but none of that bane of my walking life – scree. Well, none on the path anyway, although there was evidence of plenty off the path.
There was a point between two rocky scrambles where the path had a steep drop to the right. A man was coming down an awkward scramble ahead of us with his small daughter, who looked about 6 or 7 to me. She obviously didn’t like the look of the descent and was hesitating, so Greg and I took the opportunity to have a sit down and let them get past without putting any pressure on them. The girl decided to go horizontally instead of coming down and her father, who was getting increasingly anxious as she was getting further from a safe way down, asked her to sit down (safer than being stood up at that point). She did so and picked up a large stone, which she threw down and it bounced down about 2 or 3 feet to the side of us. At that point, father’s anxiety was joined by irritation and annoyance and she was given a proper telling off. Greg and I decided that discretion was the better part of valour and we left father and daughter to it. As we were ascending the awkward scramble, Greg heard the father telling her she should be acting like an adult, not like a child. We assume that she did not fall because we didn’t hear any anguished shouts from the father after we made our escape.
Then there was a hard climb and a quite difficult scramble up to the top. As we emerged, we spotted the trig point which marks the summit and I knew we’d made it. It felt like quite an achievement. First we did the traditional summit photos and then we sat down to have our butties and a drink and, most importantly, a rest. After a while a couple sat down quite close to us and started talking in loud voices about all the mountains they’d climbed and all the difficult ridges they’d tackled and stuff like that. They were being really irritating but I managed not to turn round, not tell them they were irritating twats and not tell them to fuck off. Quite an achievement again.
We were sitting with our backs against a wall and it was nice and warm and sunny but when we climbed over the wall for the descent, I discovered it was not nice and warm that side at all and then the sun went in. So it was time to test the new fleece and it did a good job, although I could have done with some gloves. The descent was easier than the ascent, although I was missing my walking pole and a couple of times we were overtaken at speed by a small child. I could see a long path below stretching out into the distance like the Yellow Brick Road (although it was, in fact, the White Gravel Path). I kept looking back to Pen y Ghent but this wasn’t its good side, although Greg at one point likened it to Easter Island and later to Mount Rushmore. Oh well, you have to try.
We got onto the White Gravel Path and not far along it, we heard a helicopter. It circled Pen y Ghent a couple of times and we were beginning to wonder if the small girl had come a cropper but it flew away without landing. Further on, about ¾ of the way along, we took a diversion off the path to see Hunt Pot. This is a narrow but very deep pothole and very well worth the diversion because it is so beautiful. We sat down, had a drink and I ate my chocolate bar, which I had kept back for just such an eventuality. We also discussed the possibility of getting Lyme disease from tick bites. On the way back to the path (and through long grass), Greg pulled his socks up to shield his legs from potential tick-attack. We then carried on along the White Gravel Path and took another diversion up to the larger but not as scenic Hull Pot. It was definitely less easy on the eye and its charms were not a whit increased by the decomposing sheep lying at the bottom. However, its size was impressive, so the journey was not entirely wasted.
After that, we had the long, stony and gruelling path back to the village with few features to keep our interest going and no walking pole to save my knees. It was at this point where we started discussing issues from our more mundane existence, with few breaks in the conversation for me to say “Ooh look! A limestone pavement!” or “That’s a nice ghyll there!” There was, in fact, the eroded remains of a limestone pavement to the left of the path but the grikes had expanded to the point of non-existence and the clints looked more like solitary boulders and, a bit further down the path, a small geological formation looking a bit like a well eroded pot hole managed to catch my eye but there was little else to look at.
Eventually we got back to the village and we decided on a pit stop in the Pen y Ghent Café, where Greg had an ice-cream and I had a mug of tea. I had a proper look at Viewranger and was mightily impressed with the breadcrumb trail it had done of the walk. I was also mightily impressed that we had not got lost and had followed the path to such a degree that the route on Viewranger looked like the route in the book. Our eventual stats were: distance – 6.91 miles, time – 4:02:33, number of points – 1214 (don’t ask; I don’t have a clue), average speed – 1.7mph, maximum speed – 7.1mph (impressive!), altitude – 2,438ft, actual height climbed – 1,765ft.
The journey home was the way the Satnav would have had us go and when I got out of the car at the end of it, I was a bit stiff but my legs didn’t give way underneath me, like they’ve been known to do before and the socks had served me well as there was no sign of even a developing blister. It was all very reassuring, as we have a 17 mile walk on the first day of our South Downs Way holiday and I have been slightly worried that my legs won’t work at the end of it. Well, I think that unless it is a seriously uphill/downhill 17 miles, I should be okay.