For all those (and perhaps there weren't many) who liked the extract from the unpublished manuscript "Back to the Wall" I notice it is a long time since I last updated this part of the blog so I thought I would change the extract to be chapter 2 of the account. If you have forgotten chapter 1 I am sorry but it is now gone until such time as we can all see the account in print - in that respect I hope you can be as patient as me for it may be some time!
Please also remember that the driving force behind this blog is to seek anecdotal evidence of the places and people he encountered on his journey for my overriding plan is to see whether I can get the guide published and perhaps even get it onto TV aka Julia Bradbury/Skyworks' "Railway Walks" and "Wainwright Walks" for the project is a combination of those 2.
I hope you enjoy chapter 2............
BUCKDEN TO MUKER
I have no reason to suppose that I am anything other than what might be described as ordinary. I base this supposition on limited observation of my own abilities as compared with the abilities of others. I was always ordinarily average at school, usually attaining examination results somewhere between just scraping through at worst and mid-grades at best. I was always one of those who, after completing an examination, would feel that my performance would astound the assessor and that I had finally prepared a paper that would be the envy of the rest of the class. That never proved to be the case, though, and I remained baffled as to how it was that the students who exited the exam-room laden with doubt and fearing that they had failed miserably usually were the ones who, at result-time, passed with flying colours and top grades. Invariably these doom-mongers were girls – it was rare, in my experience, for the boys to gather afterwards at the post-mortem and be full of woe. It was always the very bright girls who, year after year, performed supremely well but always came out of the silence of the exam and, largely, remained silent and sullen and fearing the worst. At least, that’s what they appeared to be doing. It might be that they knew they’d probably done rather well but would let the boys make fools of themselves with their boasting as to how they had answered so-and-so question. The problem with these examination post-mortems was that there would nearly always be a point where the realisation sank in that a particular question had been answered entirely wrongly. The girls who remained quiet would equally quietly go off to lunch and be equally quietly confident that all was well with the world. As ever, with the results, would arrive my grades that varied between, as expected, just scraping through at worst and achieving mid-grades at best. Sure enough, with the same results those quiet girls would receive their accolades of another job well done. Smart arses.
I have always been very ordinarily average in other things too. I have enjoyed, from time to time, too much beer in an evening and then, for some obscure reason, the belief that a curry would be a splendid idea and that I could cope with the hottest vindaloo as though it were a plate of mince. Usually, also, after having enjoyed too much beer and curry in such fashion, the morning after, with raging hangover, halitosis and curry emanating from the very pores, I will suddenly feel as though I am sexually irresistible and fail to comprehend why my advances are met with a firm refusal. In most things I have little evidence to put me anywhere other than on an average footing. The only areas where I appear to have excelled are an ability to run fairly rapidly although in this I was usually propelled by a desire for self-preservation. When an especially mean-looking rugby player was clearly proposing to do me some personal damage I would always manage to find an extra turn of speed. I discovered that it would be easier to stop playing rugby than to wait for the inevitable pain for I knew that one day someone would catch up with me and it would hurt. I did, just once, play for Ilkley Rugby Union FC and when, after only a few minutes, the opposing left-winger sidestepped me as though I weren’t there, I set about after him and leapt on him in fine style. What I hadn’t realised was that our own fullback, having seen the danger, had come across to deal with him also. At the same time as I was leaping on the adversary so too was our fullback – the upshot was that we stopped the winger but in so doing I landed on our fullback and broke his collarbone. I apologised profusely and decided afterwards to retire gracefully in the hope that our player would quickly forget me. My only other ability, which appears to have very limited use, and to date has been of no commercial personal gain whatsoever is to be able touch my nose with my tongue which, based on informal competition, is rare indeed.
On the basis that my character traits are largely average then the majority will understand why it was that this morning I was awake, wide-awake, at five o’clock. I always find the same – when I have great anticipation of a day’s activity I am awake hours before the alarm like a little boy on Christmas morning. During the working week I could sleep all day but by the weekend many’s the time when I am sitting and planning on the doorstep with a cup of tea and cigarette at five o’clock in the morning. I am a greater planner than I am a doer and often my planning will wake me and sleep is then impossible until I am satisfied that the next stage of a particular plan is complete.
So it was at the dawn on this second day. I made a cup of tea and rolled a cigarette which I then smoked out of the open window whilst studying the map. It may have been acceptable in 1938 for the first action of the day to be a cigarette whilst still in bed but by 1998 most guesthouses disapprove highly of smoking in the rooms. Hence my shivering position at the window, watching the very first hint of daylight on the underside of the few whispy clouds. It was cold and there had been a heavy dew on the lawn to the rear of the house but it would be a second fine, sunny day. I had plenty of jobs with which to busy myself until breakfast at half past eight. I had to read the relevant chapter, again, of “Pennine Journey” to ensure that I knew of any particular landmarks or incidents that happened to my predecessor on his way. I had to repack the rucksack which was something of an art for if the contents weren’t packed in the right order then there would be items left over, rather like stripping and rebuilding an engine – the rebuild is complete yet there are a few cogs and odd bits apparently spare. This was another area where I had found myself to be extremely average when once having attempted to rebuild a motor bike engine many years earlier it never worked again. Bags packed I was ready for a second cup of tea and cigarette in my precarious position at the window having a brief scan through the book that Mrs Lightfoot had lent me which outlined an alternative coast to coast walk. The author, David Maughan, had stayed with the Lightfoots and had sent them a courtesy copy.
In the introduction to his book David Maughan quoted Wainwright who had said that he “… would feel (he) had succeeded better in arousing interest for the planning of long distance walks if the book induced some readers to follow their own star..”. Oh, dear, thought I at first. Here was I following sheepishly a walk that I knew would have long sections of road walking that in 1938 may have been quiet car-free by-ways but in 1998 would probably be most unsatisfactory. I had already encountered nine miles of road walking and would face many more before my escapade was over. What was I doing? Wainwright would be looking down with disdain on this poor unimaginative mortal who was unable to find his own star to follow. But then I cast these negative thoughts asunder in the knowledge that I had had much detective work to do to plan this walk for his book had not been a guide but a description of his journey and I was here not to follow his walk but to reflect against the yardstick of life sixty years ago. He would be pleased, I decided, that someone was showing an interest and, besides, my enjoyment would come not just from the walk but from having made the effort to re-plan it into a pleasant modern-day circular tour of history, and contrasting geography and geology.
One of the other areas where I believe that I am average is that I tend to prefer to breakfast alone. However, space in the dining room being at something of a premium meant that a communal breakfast was held with the other three guests. I had seen a pair of boots on the door mat the evening before and I now met their owner, another lone walker who was following the “Inn Way”, comprising 76 miles of walking with 26 pubs en route. The idea is that a drink is taken at each and he explained that that was not as simple as it appeared. Some of the dales pubs still operate “old fashioned” lunch and evening opening hours and at one he had found himself arriving at three o’clock to be refused service as the time bell had just been rung. On explaining his mission and that he only wanted a very swift half-pint, the landlord yielded but insisted that he stood outside to consume his drink and that he should leave the glass on the window sill when he had finished. His walk today would take him in generally the same direction as me, over Stake Moss and on to Askrigg in Wensleydale. The overnight stop in Askrigg was necessary, I assumed, as there were too many pubs to allow for safe walking afterwards without a vastly increased likelihood of falling in the river. The two other guests, a pleasant enough couple, were definitely valley-tourists for she especially was more than a little too plump for me to imagine her pirouetting about atop hills. A fair amount of weight would need to be shed if they were ever to be serious about walking any distance, which had been the main subject of our discussions throughout breakfast. Communal or not, breakfast was very welcome and by nine o’clock I was paying my dues and donning my various bags and other accoutrements and thanking the Lightfoots for their hospitality.
I stepped out into a bright morning which, when a little older, promised to develop into a very warm day. During Wainwright’s overnight stay in Buckden he had found accommodation with the Falshaw family and, as I was leaving, I inquired as to whether they still lived locally. It was not enough to simply retrace the physical route of his walk; I wanted to connect with other aspects of it also, one of which was an effort to find out something of the people with whom Wainwright had stayed. Mrs Lightfoot answered immediately that the Falshaws now owned Grange Farm on the road to Hubberholme and that they provided accommodation for walkers. They had provided accommodation for bed and breakfast at the farm some years previous but now only operated on a self-catering basis in a bunkhouse barn attached to the main building. They had, apparently, a certain claim to fame in that they had provided a bed for the night to J B Priestley but, sadly, it was after his death in 1984. In life he had indicated a desire for his remains to be buried at Hubberholme Church and so it was that his ashes were brought to the church only to find that all requisite paperwork was not in order and that, until it was, he could not be interred. In the light of this the bearers of his remains stayed the night at Grange Farm. A somewhat bizarre claim and I did wonder whether, perhaps, it was something of a rural myth.
It was a myth that I did not have the nerve to ask Mrs Falshaw to confirm or deny when I knocked at her door twenty minutes after setting out from Buckden. After I explained the reason for my intrusion she told me of her husband’s grandmother, Ada, who had lived in the centre of the village at Prospect Farm providing refreshment and taking in guests for bed and breakfast. Ada Falshaw lived with her husband, Fred, and their seven children at the farm where the family had resided for over 300 years. Not only did the Falshaws farm the area, there had been a further five farms in the village, a sad contrast to the present when the only working farm remaining is one that was bought and is now run by the National Trust. In 1938 it would have been entirely normal in a farming community to see Prospect Farm operating from the centre of the village in its location immediately to the rear of the Buck Inn. It no longer existed as a farm but had, instead, been renovated and converted into self-catering apartments, which could only swell the transient nature of the village’s population. All the old families have moved away from the village itself. What had no doubt been a settled but hard way of life for centuries had, in the space of sixty years, changed beyond all recognition. Like so many other villages Buckden had boasted its own joiner and cobbler but the services of such tradesmen had been dispensed with many years ago. This changing of the demography must add to the sense of the village having become a museum to be visited rather than a living and breathing place of domicile for anyone in particular. It is impossible for the younger generation (and I include myself) to comprehend what the spirit must have been like as the farmers would visit each other to play cards of an evening for a tanner or two. At least the Falshaw name was still linked with farming as two of the children, Gordon and Sydney, had moved to Grange Farm fifteen years after Wainwright had visited. I was told that Ada had earned a healthy reputation among the cycling fraternity with great gangs arriving on a Saturday or Sunday for her generous catering. The bed and breakfast was of simple fare with single sex communal dormitories and an earth closet in the garden. As I had left Buckden I couldn’t help but notice the plethora of signs, tasteful though they were, advertising accommodation – it seemed that almost every house offered en suite guest rooms with television and tea-making facilities. Perhaps, though, these houses, all so very nicely turned out, provide for an altogether more pleasing environment and add to the sense of the village’s picturesque quality. Maybe we should not mourn what has passed but should welcome and cherish the new.
I left Mrs Falshaw, thanking her for her time and only a short walk from Grange Farm took me back to the hamlet of Hubberholme. I had returned to see the church in more detail just as Wainwright had done and I had quite enjoyed the walk along the valley road for it was much quieter on a Monday morning than it had been the evening before. Passing another guesthouse I arrived at the George Inn and crossed the quaint bridge and entered the gates of the churchyard with its mature yew trees growing to the side of the path that leads to the ancient timbered door of the equally ancient church. The church itself is probably best known for two things. The first is that when the internal woodwork was refurbished in the 1950’s it was carried out by a woodworker whose name escapes me but whose trademark was to discreetly carve mice on particular sections of the pews and woodwork. The second is its association with the Bradford playwright J B Priestley to whom, when finally he had been allowed access after his unscheduled bed and breakfast stop, there is a plaque acknowledging his love of “..one of the pleasantest places in the world”. Priestley was a reasonable judge as he had been well travelled and had, only four years before Wainwright’s journey, published an account of his own, wider, travels in the book “An English Journey”. Although Wainwright never makes any reference to Priestley’s book it seems too coincidental for it not to have had a bearing on the titling of “A Pennine Journey”.
It may well be that Wainwright would not have wanted to allude to having been influenced by anything other than his own imagination. These were days long before he had become well known in his own right and although he was, in 1938, making his regular trips to the Lake District his guidebooks were still in their embryonic stages being a mass of drawings and notes with no form. He did, however, have a hankering to be a writer and the streak of conceit that lived in him would not have allowed him to admit that his ideas were even remotely shaped upon plagiarism of others’ work. He makes a reference in his account to an earlier book that he had written which was a long- and best-forgotten novel that was never published. He exhibits very much a picture of an artist who somewhere had taken a wrong turn and had, through a desire no doubt to be a respected member of society, followed a career that took him into accountancy and book-keeping. This must have been a strange environment indeed for one who preferred the loneliness of the hills and displayed talents that relied far more on an artistic bent. I never found reference to Wainwright nursing a profound and long-held dream to be a writer but surely he must quietly have wished that his life had developed in a direction that would have allowed him more access to the things he loved rather than the things he had to endure. He must have stifled any dreams for the sake of respectability. I have thought often that I have an artist’s mind but did not nurture it at some time in the past to allow it to flourish with the result that I have, from time to time, wondered about the quality of where I have been, where I am and where it is that I am going. This is a dream, but to dream is a wonderful thing for in its absence all that we have and all that we are is laid out before us with no hope or aspirations for anything better and more fulfilling.
I find that such dreaming does, though, in a sense, give a personal assessment about where we are, where we want to be and why we aren’t there. I suggest, though, that you keep your dreams to yourself for only the person who has the dream can gain any support from it. Others are not interested in your dreams unless they share the same desire such as the conversation that most have held from time to time about winning the lottery - what would you do if you won the jackpot? There cannot be a single person who does not buy that red and white ticket without seeing it as the passport to the realisation of their dreams - without the desire to win there would not exist the motive for buying it in the first place. If the motive were solely to be seen as a benefactor of the good causes then this is false economy for these can be donated to far more directly and without the government and the organisers diverting a sizeable percentage to swell their own coffers. Only in such very general desires will there be interest in your dreams and besides, for a dream to have a genuine value it must be inwardly felt to be achievable. The desires of securing the lottery jackpot can only ever remain desires; for something to become a dream then its attainment must be realistic. Perhaps, then, I ought more accurately to class these dreams as personal aspirations because I would not waste my time dwelling on things that could never realistically be attained for that would prove to be pure frustration.
For my own part I have questioned for too many years whether, at a junction in life, I took a wrong turn and by the time I first questioned my sense of direction, I felt it was too late to turn back. The problem with not turning back when a wrong turn is discovered is that at some point in the future the doubt associated with the what-might-have-been may develop into a self-absorbing desire of an effectively unachievable alternative life-style. Very often by the time we recognise our earlier mistake it is too late to correct it for our lives are mortgaged to the hilt and changes of direction are impossible to implement, and must forever remain only desires. So we are very similar to the goldfish that swim around in the bowl that is clearly too small for them - we are firmly trapped in our little environment. We can only look out with envious eyes at the larger world around us for we know that if we smash the bowl in a bid for autonomy it is very likely that we would not survive to reach the perceived freedom of the garden pond. Not wishing to give the impression that I am close to severe depression I have simply addressed my faulty navigation through life and I know where my past-decisions have been found wanting. I believe that it is only a very few who have the opportunity of time to be able to pause, take stock, and conclude that they are entirely at one with themselves and all that is around them. I am at one with myself because I have paused from time to time to look at myself and what lies around me. It is not dissimilar to the alcoholic – part of the battle is won when the disease is recognised and acknowledged.
I am no different to anyone else – I have a mortgage that during this walk would be put to the back of my mind although it would loom large immediately again upon my return to civilisation as would the various other financial commitments with their voracious appetites. This was all part of the throw-away society which also welcomed with open-arms the society where we are taught not only to spend, spend, spend but are encouraged to burden ourselves with loans that can be ill-afforded and then remain steadfastly holding us as a yolk to the millstone of life.
I was entertaining these thoughts as I sat on a grass-overgrown bench on the riverbank just by the church. I was sitting on this glorious day listening to the quiet tune of the river, looking at the birds playing their games on the opposite bank and smelling the pleasing aroma of Golden Virginia rolled in liquorice paper. So, I thought, why the hell was I giving time to such profound matters. In an instant I knew the answer. It was exactly because I was sitting on this glorious day listening to the quiet tune of the river, looking at the birds playing their games on the opposite bank and smelling the pleasing aroma of Golden Virginia rolled in liquorice paper. That was the answer – I was at one of those rare points on life’s track from where I was able to look back and recognise and acknowledge that I had lost my way. On that Monday morning I was given the very briefest of tastes of perfection and it provided me with a harsh contrast between this moment and all the more usual moments in which my life was spent. The moral, I decided, was really quite simple - unless we are extremely lucky we all lose our way but only the very few are given a taste of perfection, a brief taste of life as they would have loved to have lived it. This was such a taste and it was momentarily giving me the desire to want to cry over spilt milk.
This type of thinking can be rather depressing for both writer and reader so I will venture along this thought process no further. The fact is that we are all trapped to a greater or lesser degree - Wainwright was clearly ensnared within his existence and so was I. That was all there was to it. Simple. Right, then, no more grumbling about it. I could only think that these profound thoughts must have been penetrating through my buttocks from earlier literary and lonely buttocks that may well have sat here long before me.
I very soon returned to reality as I ambled parallel to the river on the quiet road leading across the head of Wharfedale. The classic-shaped glaciated valley opened up to the right of me allowing views down toward Kilnsey Crag, some eight miles away and the last strands of morning mist were being burnt off the flat grass pastures of the valley floor. The morning was now beginning to emit considerable warmth in the sun so that the shade of the trees along this stretch of the river was welcome. They were kind enough to accompany me on my way all across the wide head of the dale until I reached a fork where I turned left up the narrow and steep lane toward Cray. The road at this point is very little used by traffic other than the local farmers and the lack of cars was a blessing and made for enjoyable walking with hedgerows to either side busy with life as birds chattered in them, bees buzzed on them and rabbits scurried under them. I knew that the pleasures of this section would be short-lived for I would soon arrive at the junction of the road from Buckden to Bishopdale where, for the next mile, there would be no escape from the dales visitors on the busy road over to Aysgarth in Wensleydale. Even had I felt that I could veer from my ordained route there was no alternative path upon which I would be able to avoid road walking through Cray and up to the pass at Bishopdale Head.
As I slowly made my way up the hill toward the junction I came to a corner in the lane where, resting for a few moments, a Landrover approached coming up the hill toward me. Realising that he would not be able to see around the corner I waved him through to indicate that all was clear ahead. As he drew alongside he acknowledged my action with a cheery wave and a smile and I raised my hand and returned his smile. Such a small action but one that pleased me and, I’m sure, gratified the driver – a little courtesy costs nothing but can give that warming sense of having earned so much. I feel sure that we both went on our separate ways a little more content than we had been just a few seconds earlier.
Wainwright had not found Cray overly endearing in 1938, sensing an air of desolation about the place and although I had driven through it many times I had never studied it closely on foot as I had chance to do today. As I neared the cluster of buildings, which still only comprise those that have stood from long before Wainwright was here and will remain so no doubt long after I had passed, Cray is a place unchanged. The pub is still there, The White Lion, and the farm buildings are still there but beyond these there is nothing. The pub, I was later to discover is one of the 26 on the “Inn Way” and already appeared to be plying a reasonable trade even at eleven o’clock in the morning. There was a bare-chested group of what looked like workmen sitting in the sun with their pints and cigarettes – early lunch I thought. That was all I saw at Cray and I was leaving it behind almost as quickly as if I had driven through. The pub is in a very fortunate position on a much trodden triangular walk commencing and finishing at Buckden, and taking in Cray and Hubberholme. Except for that walk the White Lion would have long ago closed for it has not the chic of the Buck Inn nor the charm of the George Inn and, as all three barely a stone’s throw from one another I fear the White Lion would have yielded the commercial battle for custom. Without the White Lion as its centrepiece there would be very little left of Cray. Even with the White Lion there was little of it now, although Wainwright was a little unfair for it does stand in a picturesque location adjacent to Cray Beck and surrounded by towering fells on all sides except to the southwest down the steep sided valley to Wharfedale.
The road up the valley follows Cray Beck as it cascades over steps in its bed at slab-like terraced waterfalls. The road twists and spirals around outcrops and spurs until it finally manages the final climb around the sharp bend at Cow Pasture and onto a more level route as it nears the gate which gives access to the green road over Stake Moss. As I climbed the stile next to the gate I looked forward to the eight miles of track walking and looked back as I said good-bye to Wharfedale – it would soon disappear from view as I continued on into my next valley, Wensleydale.
Wainwright had decided that the route of his walk would take in all the valleys to the east of the Pennines and had accurately described the topography as being like that of a single-sided rib cage, with the ribs represented by the hills separating the valleys. It is to the east of the backbone of England that these ribs lie, each running west to east. As I would be travelling north then I would have to climb each rib and descend into each valley between. On the return southern journey, down the western side of the Pennine chain, I would be walking the ribless side of the backbone and would not encounter the same ascents and descents that I was to be confronted by for the first four days. On most of these early days I would have to traverse two dales, yesterday had been Ribblesdale and Littondale, with today’s valleys being Wharfedale and Wensleydale.
It is not clear from Wainwright’s account what had been the motive for his lonely expedition, especially lonely in those bygone days for cars were very much fewer and walking was something that was undertaken in the main to propel the majority of people to work. Although recreational walking had become popular the commercialism that surrounded it had not evolved. He would be astounded if he were able, in 1998, to visit a place like Ambleside in his beloved Lake District where almost every other shop, it seems, caters for the walking or outdoor pursuits enthusiasts. Towns like Ambleside in 1938 would certainly not have been the home to such lavish shops – if a pair of boots was required there would be the cobbler who would make them in his workshop. The cobbler would ply his trade and would not be trying to impress with his window display. He existed to do a job, to carry out his trade, and that trade did not include marketing and sales promotions – he knew the villagers would come to him for their needs and he relied upon his skill to retain their loyalty. This, and the fact that he was probably the only cobbler in town and as cars were so few most inhabitants had more than likely never been beyond the next town or village, so of their trade he was fairly well-assured.
It is apparent from his account that Wainwright was worried about the Crisis as the newspapers referred to it as. Hitler was stomping about over parts of mainland Europe and beginning to show his military teeth to the extent that Britain ran the risk of being backed into a corner. If the worryingly aggressive diplomacy could not alleviate the situation then it was clear that we would have been at war with Germany. This diplomacy was at its peak when Wainwright was far away from the newsstands and the only connection he had with the outside world was during evenings when his hosts might, perhaps, make reference to the Crisis during the evening chat with their guest. Whether or not it was this concern that forced Wainwright to escape the tension for a while is never made clear. It is strange that with his great love of the Lake District he should spend nearly two weeks of his annual leave tramping up and down bleak Pennine moorland rather than the more majestic Lakeland fells. The one thing that held him spellbound, though, was the interest that he developed for seeing Hadrian’s Wall and especially in the means of transporting himself to it. To arrive at the wall on foot was to arrive in a manner that would have been similar to an arrival nearly two thousand years earlier - and now, sixty years later, I was becoming equally attached to the notion of seeing the wall after having walked for five days. By all means drive to the wall, visit the sights, buy the souvenir, watch the instructive video, but if you really want to soak in the ambience and taste the history and savour the anticipation then there could only be one way – on foot. Wainwright’s objective had been set as the fort at Housesteads. That would be the northerly point of his walk and from there he would return to his starting point. My objective had, then, been established too and I could not deny that I sensed a challenge had been set for me – in 1938 Wainwright was eleven years my junior and certainly was not carrying as much baggage weight. I was now into my second day and, although my legs and feet had been very tired as I neared Buckden the evening before this morning, as I neared Kidstones Fell, I had a new lease of life and felt as though I could walk forever.
This newfound energy was most opportune for I could not afford to fail in my venture. How could I possibly return home if I had failed especially if I had failed so abominably early. I would never be able to show my face in public again lest I would hear the whispers of the doubters of whom I was sure there had been plenty. No one had actually said within my hearing that they considered that I stood little hope of fulfilling my ambition but I had detected that there would be knowing sighs if I did not complete the journey. As so often is the case the doubts of others are seldom aired until after the event. It is only afterwards that retrospective wisdom provides for the “…well, I did wonder…” attitude, uttered in a certain patronising tone, almost luxuriating in the admitted failure. No, I would not succumb to a few aches and pains. I was here to enjoy these days alone. I was a dog and this would be my day.
Once I had made my way beyond the Kidstones escarpment, the old green road over Stake Moss became a fine unmade track, enclosed on both sides by limestone walling with wide green verges. I wound my way over the rib between Wharfedale and Wensleydale for a peaceful six miles of silence only broken from time to time by the bleating of sheep or the call of the moorland bird life. As I looked around me I was surrounded by open moor bathed in sunlight except to the east where, from Bishopdale, there crept a white ghostlike mist with its fronds reaching out toward me and its bulk apparently following me as I carried on up and up. My pace kept me ahead of the white drifting sea and when I finally reached the crest of the moor the sun was still shining strongly and I afforded myself the comfort of a quiet rest by a field gate. These gates often mark the highest point on these cross-moor tracks and, during my rest at this one, I changed into the shorts that, although I had brought them with me, I had not dared to believe that the weather would be sufficiently clement to allow their wear. The changing of leg-wear proved to be a lengthy process for in and around my trousers I carried a variety of accessories that all had to be transferred; my tobacco, roller and papers; a dictaphone machine; wallet and loose change; two cameras strapped to my belt and a makeshift map-holder. Not forgetting, of course, the supply of handkerchiefs that accompanied me on each day, but I will make no further mention of these for I was still being a brave little soldier about the foul bug that held me in its grasp.
I was still in the throes of my undressing and redressing when the sound of approaching footsteps made me look around quickly and see the lone walker with whom I had talked at breakfast. He paused for a few moments, probably dazzled by the very great reflective powers of my lilly-white legs, and told me of his latest difficulty in successfully completing the “Inn Way”. His walk had, today, taken him first from Buckden to the White Lion at Cray where the first drink of the day would be consumed. That is, it would have been consumed had the landlord allowed him service. He had arrived at eleven o’clock to find the group of workers that I had seen sitting in the sun all partaking of a little dales hospitality. Making his way inside to the bar he asked for a half of bitter only to be refused service by the landlord who went onto explain that the workers outside were a private party and that the bar was shut to all others. The walker remonstrated with the landlord to no avail and returned back to the sunlit patio to contemplate his failure. One of the workmen inquired as to why he had no drink and, upon relating his recent misfortune, the workmen kindly offered to buy his drink for him. This proved insufficiently cunning and was not fooling the landlord who simply refused him service also. I never did find out from the lone walker exactly what reason the landlord had for taking the stance he had but it seemed to me to be a somewhat churlish way of treating customers and lowering his own turnover all at the same time. Cray, and more particularly its pub, is not so attractive as to be un-missable and my advice to the author for future editions of the “Inn Way” is to re-route the walk via Hubberholme instead. This would, presumably, please the landlord if it were indeed a lower turnover that he aspired to. I don’t believe that the George Inn at Hubberholme would object too strongly.
Before I had completed the operation of re-fixing all my various attachments he was well on his way again across the flat moor. In reality it was more of an au revoir than a farewell for we were both heading for the pub at Bainbridge for a lunchtime break and we would meet again there at approximately two o’clock. He set off most purposefully for today he was not taking any chances – he had missed lunch on more than one occasion as a result of some rather draconian opening hours and was planning his arrival well before the pub might have stopped serving food.
I was not many minutes behind having finally secured all extraneous bits about my person and, checking that no odds and ends had been left strewn on the grass, I swung my rucksack onto my back. I looked around me for a second or two to see just who it was who had put half a dozen house bricks in it whilst I had been sitting for it seemed a great deal heavier than it had twenty minutes earlier. Satisfying myself that I was carrying only my own luggage I set off along the track northwards towards Wensleydale and was soon walking along the stretch of flat moor where Wainwright had exclaimed that cricket pitch after cricket pitch could be laid end to end. He was only partly correct – yes, it would be possible to measure twenty-two yards of level ground but the result would definitely be a bowler’s pitch with batsman after batsman retiring injured due to the uneven bounce caused by the ankle-turning terrain underfoot.
As I became accustomed again to the weight of the rucksack I was reminded of Wainwright’s comments regarding his own minimalist payload carried during his walk. He had explained that all he ever took with him on his excursions were his maps, a camera, a cape and very little else. He walked each day in the same clothes; if they became wet then he considered that to be an occupational hazard. He walked, on this occasion, for eleven days in the same clothes. By the end of those eleven days it must have been possible to sniff the air the following morning and proclaim “…ah, yes, Wainwright stayed in the village last night.” Throughout the account of his journey he makes reference to the girl of his dreams. She only ever appeared in his dreams and, frankly, it was highly unlikely that in the light of his apparent ignorance of personal hygiene, she would have ever been anything more than an apparition. Perhaps, also, he secretly would not have wished her to become material for while she existed within a dream world she was perfect and without fault or vice. This is the dilemma of dreams – for all the time that they are unrealised the world is at your feet; you can imagine great happiness, great success, great acclaim. Anything can be attained for all the while that the ambition remains firmly rooted in the mind’s eye. It is only when the dream steps over the threshold of reality into the cold light of day that the flaws can first be seen. Wainwright’s sweet girl has bad breath or yellowing teeth or an annoying tendency to sniff. The specific nature of the flaws matter not – it is the fact that they exist at all that is the difference between imagination and reality. It is, of course, entirely possible to avoid encountering these faults but this can only be achieved by denying reality and maintaining self in a world where external influence exists only in the mind in perfect harmony with the psyche of the dreamer. For this to be achievable then a state of oneness must largely exist, without interference and without, predominantly, interaction with others. People and things can be viewed so as to fuel the imagination but their potential effects upon the dream must mainly stem from observation – if they are allowed the opportunity of feed-back then their influence takes some control of the content away from the dreamer. The whole point of such mental wanderings is that their perfection is a function of the mind of the dreamer alone. Wainwright pondered long on the benefits of walking alone which was, without any doubt, because of his desire to be allowed to mentally wander during his days of physical wanderings. For my part I confess also to being a dreamer. I firmly believe that we are all dreamers but most have reduced the propensity to dream, through necessity no doubt, to a small rivulet whose flow is controlled by a manmade dam further up its course. Rather than allowing imagination to flow free, fresh as a cascading mountain stream whose course knows no bounds, we have become thwarted by the apparent desire for material gain and choose to forego spiritual aspirations. We look only to attaining wealth that can be measured by others in a never-ending striving to achieve our ambitions.
I have often pondered on the subject of ambition - I recall Sue once outlining that it was her aim to earn ten thousand pounds and drive a company car. It did not seem to matter greatly as to the nature of her labours that would generate this reimbursement but, moreover, that the ends would justify the means. We talked at length over the subject because even then (it was several years ago) I was very wary of unfettered ambition. As anyone who has walked over Pennine country will know, there are many horizons that give the appearance of being the summit before fulfillment is finally achieved in reaching the top of the hill. True ambition, in the usual meaning of the word, will result in the seeker never finding the contentment of achievement because there are an infinite number of horizons with no ultimate summit - each false summit can only be a resting place in the fruitless search for the ultimate goal. Sadly, the ultimate goal is as a mirage – it does not exist and, at best, although it may lie tantalisingly close it is still just out of reach.
True ambition relies on the seeker being able to recognise that there can be no true ambition achieved through material gain. Sue’s ten thousand pounds was a finite and absolute goal. However, if the level of remuneration that signified attainment were to be indexed-linked then I suspect that she would have been so busy looking for the end of her rainbow that she would have overlooked that fact that the rainbow itself was a thing of beauty. To be able to appreciate what is around you provides pleasure which brings its own reward - the sooner this fact is realised then the sooner the seeker of achievement is able to stand still and take stock and be thankful with whatever level has been reached thus far. Sue was very fortunate for she recognised that her love of the Lake District provided her with a sense of spiritual achievement which is always a far greater sense of realisation of ambition than can ever hope to be felt by way of material gain. Too much in life is judged by a material code of measurement. It is somewhere along this avenue of thought where Wainwright must have mentally resided. His love of being alone was a product of his need to feed his imagination and his love of his imagination was a product of his being alone. So is created an unbroken circle with the result that he could be content with his own company. I have seriously digressed from my journey, but, then again, perhaps such digressions are an integral part of my walk for such lateral thoughts are all a part of having the time and the freedom to contemplate weighty matters.
Still deep in this reflection and satisfied that I could see the answer I paused, took a few moments to look around me, and was very pleased with myself. This was a time when I could revel in what existed as being the present and as I progressed on toward Raydale I looked forward to experiencing new country, new hills and new valleys. Although I had visited some of the places that lay ahead such acquaintances had always been the briefest of encounters. Now I had the opportunity to savour their delights, the first of which would be Semer Water and Raydale. Semer Water, Wainwright had been told by a Bainbridge resident, was as lovely as Windermere. Although he had never been to Semer Water he had seriously doubted this assertion and his deep love of all that was the Lake District filled him with resentment that there may exist, in Yorkshire, a contender to Windermere’s beauty. Any comparison of the two is difficult to draw because in the intervening sixty years Windermere has taken on a character that is supported almost entirely by commercial activity. Any serenity that it exuded in 1938 has largely been extinguished in direct inverse proportion to the increase in materialistic ventures feeding off the hordes of trippers that clog the approach roads. Semer Water, on the other hand, appears to have little changed lying quietly and unassumingly in its tributary valley to Wensleydale. The only taste of commercialism being the arrival of the farmer to collect the parking fees of the few tourists that sat in their cars on the beach at the northern end of the lake. No steamers here plying their business in trips up and down the lake; no hotels here, vying for the best location overlooking the lake; no screaming speedboats here, with their jet-set owners. Just a few people taking in the sunshine. For goodness sake, though, get out of your cars, walk around the lake, breathe the fresh air – do anything but please don’t stay imprisoned in your little metal wombs. Forgetting Windermere, though, further comparison is not easy but if you have spied Grasmere from the summit of Helm Crag on a pleasant and quiet evening then Semer Water will not impress.
From the northern end of Semer Water the outflowing watercourse is the River Bain, England’s shortest river, and the path that follows it is in a delightfully pastoral valley running two miles in a north easterly direction to Bainbridge. Derelict barns and peace and serenity are the hallmarks of this dale. If I were to find religion it would be here that I would open my retreat for like-minded people to discover their peace – naturally I would charge, just to cover costs you understand and make a small commercial profit. Ahead lay Wensleydale, still shrouded in a mist that concealed its charms as though stuffed with cotton wool. Only the upper slopes of the far northern side of the valley could be seen extending above the cloud. Over those slopes lay my goal, my ambition. Muker in Swaledale still lay nine miles away but I was content for as I walked along the well-formed path I would arrive in Bainbridge at two o’clock and would have time to take a rest and renew my acquaintance with the lone walker. The far northern end of Raydale is somewhat frustrating in that the easy-going path lulls the walker into a false sense of security. Without warning the previously pacific River Bain suddenly fights ferociously for its life as it becomes trapped within a steep-sided ravine before it is victorious and secures access to join the River Ure. At this point and the path climbs steeply to the east of the river. On such a warm day the effort of this last mile worked up a thirst that would certainly justify a well-deserved drink at the Rose and Crown in the village that is first seen from a high vantage point as the path joins an unclassified road south of an old Roman fortress.
Keeping to my schedule I arrived at the Rose and Crown at two o’clock and ordered a pint of still orange, drank it and ordered a second. Today was not a day for beer, not yet anyway, that pleasure would wait until evening. My lone walker friend was not to be found in the room in which I was sat and I assumed that perhaps I had not noticed him sat outside as I entered. But no, he arrived after me having walked a less direct route along the shore of Semer Water. He had followed the directions of his guidebook around the lake and whilst that may have been the correct thing to do it did result in him meeting, yet again, with a refusal to be served food for the kitchen had closed ten minutes earlier. No, there were no sandwiches; no, there was no soup. It was unfortunate for him that there was nothing that could be provided except a packet or two of crisps. The moral of the story is clearly if you decide to walk the 76 miles of the Inn Way then do so only after the most comprehensive of strategic planning if you do not wish to suffer frequent hunger.
The lone walker’s remaining journey for the day was the final mile to Askrigg and, as I left him at the pub, I suspected that he would spend some time chatting to, and drinking with, three other walkers that had arrived a few minutes before my departure. The three were clear in their joint-hobbies of walking and drinking and they had covered fourteen brisk miles to ensure early arrival at Bainbridge where their second hobby would begin in earnest. Their route was a coast to coast walk and their goal for the day was also Askrigg, It was not Wainwright’s coast to coast that they followed – they, too, were following their own star. I had addressed this earlier in the day and had satisfied myself that my agenda was different – for these eleven days I was a detective following clues as Jules Verne’s characters had followed clues and the briefest of waymarks in their journey to the centre of the earth. I ventured forth from the pub into the bright sunlight and made my way for a short distance along the macadam road across the valley floor and over the River Ure. As I exited the pub I could look south up the full length of the village green and back towards the hills from which I had made my way. I did not dwell on thoughts of southward – my way was to march north until I reached Hadrian’s Wall and it was north to which I then turned my attention and to look at the hills that lay ahead. The final part of this second day’s walking was predominantly road walking but there was little alternative to the crossing of the moors over the next rib into Swaledale. This side of the rib looked very steep and I decided that I would not rest again until I had reached the more gentle gradients that lay waiting for me at Askrigg Common.
Bainbridge is a spacious village with its houses not so apparently cramped as those in Buckden. Its green extends for two hundred yards or so surrounded by buildings of one sort or another, the pub of which was one. The bridge in Bainbridge is also of considerable size bearing in mind that the river that it crossed only boasted a two-mile course. Bainbridge has its ghosts, too; the disused mill which once contracted the locals, the disused railway which once conveyed the locals and the disused stocks which once controlled the locals. Many would argue that the passing of the mill, which I believe had been a cotton mill, was simply indicative of the change in emphasis to a more economical geographical location for the siting of industry within urban areas where better means of communications were possible. As regards the railway many might consider that its closure was inevitable in the light of the growth of private car ownership. As for the stocks then perhaps we should all believe that there are better ways of ensuring that all parts of society conducts itself within the law than by holding the threat of such primitive punishment over them. However, regardless of such argument, consideration and belief, it is sad to note that the sense of community surrounding the closure of local-based industries eats away at the very heart of village life. It is also sad to see that the only alternative to tourism-related employment is to work away from the village hub and with the railway link no longer in existence this results in the permanent residency within the community ebbing away. Saddest of all, though, must be the fact that it is, perhaps, our kind treatment of those who would transgress that has only served to provide insufficient deterrent and now erodes the sense of security within the wider society as a whole whether village, town or city.
It is undoubtedly too late to return our infrastructure to its more basic roots. Perhaps we should rejoice in all the improvements that our technological advances have made to our society or, then again, perhaps we could be justified in mourning the passing of a simple life as we mourn the deceased. Of one thing we can be certain - no amount of crying will bring it back. For my part there are aspects of modern lifestyle that are of extreme annoyance and extreme irrelevance. I will not, however, digress any further at present for I must press on as I still have seven miles to cover before days-end.
Immediately after the bridge over the river I picked up the course of the defunct railway line and headed east for Askrigg. Wainwright would not have had this option for, during his walk, the railway would have been in use making its connection with the Settle-Carlisle line at Garsdale Head. Such a railway had little chance of survival once the operating ethic of the authorities was to set greater store by profit than by service. A pleasant mile brought me into Askrigg village where there was a greater general hustle and bustle of activity than I had seen anywhere else. I decided to carry straight on without pausing which was a shame for I feel sure that Askrigg has plenty to offer the inquisitive visitor. But not for me today though as I walked up the main street to find the by-road signposted Muker as being six miles.
Almost immediately the road signs indicated a steep ascent and, although I knew this from the map, the extreme severity of parts of the climb and the length of the steeper parts took me by surprise and I very soon found myself resting regularly admiring the rearward views. I generally avoided looking ahead during these rests for that way seemed to rise forever and I knew well that what I thought appeared to be the last climb would invariably not be. When I was walking my head was usually looking at the tarmacadam surface just a few feet in front. My shadowy companion appeared to be as tired as I for he also walked at a crooked angle and was making heavy weather of the steep terrain. Wainwright had largely written Wensleydale off as a valley that holds no surprises for the visitor – he ought to have returned, in spirit at least, with me today for as I climbed her northern slope I received the very intrusive surprise of a RAF Tornado flying low over me. When jets fly as low as this one had there is no hearing their approach; they simply arrive silently with the noise following afterwards. It is an ear-wrenching ripping noise that is felt as much as heard. There is no chance to catch a dramatic picture for by the time the camera is to the eye the fly-pass is over and the pilot is looking down upon another valley. He (or she for I must be politically correct) must be able to tell apart the tourists from the locals - the tourists stare skyward whilst the locals go about their business undeterred for they are well used to the intrusion. Besides this noisy encounter the walk to the flatter moor top was peaceful with only a handful of cars passing either one way or other.
Wensleydale as a valley is altogether less dramatic then Wharfedale – it has no level floor and it cannot boast so steeply terraced valley sides as Wharfedale. The river does meander but only because it needs to do so to navigate its passage east between the undulations throughout this stretch of the dale. Neither would the valley sides of Wharfedale allow a road to pass as straight as the road I was now on. The Wharfe valley would demand much more respect from the road builders and users and the byways would have to swing back and forth in their ascent and descent to and from the valley floor. Probably the single most interesting vista was that looking back toward the mouth of Raydale. From my raised viewpoint across the valley it was apparent that the environment around Semer Water would have been a more closed place many years ago before the river broke through at the northern end of the valley between the hills of Addlebrough and Yorburgh. Semer Water itself would have been of much greater size and then, perhaps, would have been a serious challenger to Windermere. I do not pretend to be an expert geographer or geologist and as I looked back and pronounced my thoughts to myself I knew that someone would be waiting to correct my undoubted erroneous topographical diagnosis.
My views back into the dale became fewer and my rests became less frequent as, finally, the gradient eased and I could, at last, think about a place to pause awhile and gratefully consume my late lunch and drink the still orange that I had filled my bottle with at the pub. There were very few obvious resting places for I was seeking a location where my boots could be removed and my feet dangle – they did, after all deserve the rest most of all. I finally found a drainage culvert running under the road and was able to sit by the roadside on the culvert-surround and be thankful as I removed the various bits of baggage that had weighed me down on the ascent just completed.
The road ahead of me was now much easier for I had finished all the day’s ascents and now had the luxury of being able to rest for thirty minutes if I wished. I did so wish and sat on my culvert slab very pleased with myself enjoying the heathery vista east toward Woodhall Greets high above the valley. I was afforded a wide panorama of purple moorland topped with a sky that was clear blue save for one or two high, straggly, benign cirrus cloud formations. Trees there were none, walls there were none; the sheep in these parts are left to roam and look for what sparse shelter they can when the weather turned malevolent which, I could imagine, it would do with a vengeance when such temperament took its fancy. Today, though, they needed no protection for it was now one of those rare balmy September afternoons when, if three such days fall together, the fragrance of re-lit barbecues drifts across the neighbourhood and the question on peoples’ lips is whether Summer has arrived at last. This was the third day in succession of the most agreeably balmy weather and, as I sat quietly eating a piece of cake that I had found in the bottom of my waist bag, I wished that it would continue for another nine days. The cake had travelled the whole way with me and was now rather dry and somewhat flat and contorted. I doubted whether I could possibly be so lucky but was ready to take each day as it came for, unlike Wainwright, I carried with me wet-weather clothing and a change of clothes so at least whatever was thrown at me during the day I would be dry come evening.
My roadside idyll was disturbed only once by a passing car – an elderly couple heading in the direction of Wensleydale slowed as they passed where I was sat and then made their way into a lay-by a little way down the road. There they sat on such a day with windows shut and engine running. They might just as well have rented a video of the dale for in their closed metal cocoon they all but completely restricted any sensory enjoyment. They paused for less than a minute before pulling out of the lay-by and continuing on their way toward Askrigg. The only other company that I encountered was the occasional flying insect and once, as though in ridiculous contrast to the low-flying jet that had so shocked me on my way up from the valley, a squadron of low-flying grouse swooped and wheeled around me. During thirty minutes of rest these were the only interruptions of my peaceful retreat.
A brief study of the map had showed that I still had something close to an hour and a half walking so, at half past four, after a splendid repast of squashed cake, melted chocolate and warm orange, I once again set off this time on the final leg of day two. I had barely risen to my feet when a tractor approached from across the fields and made for where I was stood. I could not begin to imagine what I might have done to annoy the driver who was obviously a farmer but I had visions of some minor altercation. I need not have been concerned for he was simply wishing to pass the time of day and inquire as to whether he could give me a lift – had I been an hour earlier he could have brought me all the way up the steep hill from Askrigg. I did not go into any detail as to how I could not possibly accept any help but I thanked him for his very kind offer and went on my way with a renewed faith in human nature. Perhaps I should have suggested to him that his kindly demeanour might be better served by becoming landlord at one of the less-than-friendly public houses. Once removed from the hard thankless slog that is farming he could, at least, have the choice of whether or not to make a decent living – or, equally, he could choose to not serve customers and follow the example of public house husbandry set by Cray’s White Lion.
I have mentioned that the popularity of walking can lead to a feeling of being a partaker within a procession and I had rather feared that by this stage on the second day I would have come across some other wayfarer or, worse, a group of walkers following the same route. I perceived this walk very much as being my possession and I would have found it difficult not to be resentful of discovering that others were trespassing on what I saw as my territory. I decided that if there were to be others repeating this journey then I would have surely met them by now. I was, I satisfied myself, alone in the spirit of revisiting Wainwright’s travels of sixty years earlier and that thought pleased me. The “gorge road”, as Mrs Lightfoot had referred to this narrow by-road as, still had the guide posts at fifty yard intervals all across the uppermost portion of its extremely exposed course only now they were no longer ten feet tall. Five-foot high concrete fence posts have, in the intervening years, replaced them – perhaps, I mused, the snow doesn’t fall so deep anymore on these tops as a result of global warming.
The road itself had not changed in generations. It still serves as the only connection over these wild fells between Askrigg in Wensleydale and Muker in Swaledale and it still passes the spectacular gorge below Oxnop Scar, which gradually open outs into a wider tributary valley of Swaledale. The tiny Oxnop Gill leaps down the gorge into and out of a wooded valley-bottom until it finally finds sanctuary in the River Swale just upstream of Gunnerside. As the Oxnop valley opened wider for me then so did the views of the Swale valley, especially east down the dale. Western views remained obscured by the shoulder of the hills that rose above me to my left and I had to near the floor of the valley before I was permitted to see by goal for the day, Muker, which lay a further mile up the main road leading up the dale. To refer to this as a main road is something of an over-statement but with the sun shining straight into my eyes and making seeing ahead almost impossible, the few cars that I did meet made for an unpleasant last half-hour to the day. I was relieved to finally cross the arched bridge into the tiny village of Muker at just before six o’clock. I had covered eighteen miles and was ready for a soak, a smoke, a drink and a meal.
Of my four wishes the first was not to be granted. Once again my plans for a long soak in a bath were thwarted and I had to make do as best I could with a shower. On the second wish, however, I fared better for Mr Metcalfe with whom I was staying was sympathetic to the needs of the smoker and allowed me to smoke with my head protruding out of the Velux rooflight. He would have allowed smoking in the room but as a mark of courtesy I would never want to leave a room smelling of stale smoke. Stale smells of other things are unavoidable but smoke, no. By seven o’clock I was out and about looking to satisfy my third and fourth wishes and a walk of only a few yards took me to the Farmers Arms, the only pub in the village but one that even on a Monday night in September was throng with both locals and tourists alike. For those following me to the Farmers Arms at Muker do not make my mistake – I noticed the sign for the pub on a building to the left of the road. On trying the door I thought that my wishes were to be dashed for it was turned seven o’clock and the door was barred. I stood for a moment looking for a sign giving details of the opening hours. Surely I was not about to encounter the same problems with pub hours as my lone walker friend on the Inn Way. I had been told that the pub would be open, it was after seven o’clock, there was the pub sign, so what was I doing wrong. What I was doing wrong, I then found out, was trying to gain access to a building that was in absolutely no way connected to the pub. The sign, had I read it properly, was simply a bit of additional, off-site, advertising. Whilst I had been rattling at the door of the disused building the Farmers Arms lays directly behind me with customers coming and going wondering what on earth the strange chap on the other side of the road was doing.
I walked to the door of the pub trying desperately to give the impression that I was just checking and that I knew exactly where I was going. It is always more difficult to make fools of ourselves when we are alone for there are no friends and companions with whom you can share your embarrassment. Any discomfort at my error was soon forgotten as I sank into the very affable ambience of the pub and ate and drank my fill. It would have been very easy to over-indulge but I resisted and returned back to “Hylands” at nine o’clock to be offered coffee and biscuits in the lounge with Ron and his wife, Yvonne. We chatted generally about Muker and what I was doing here and Ron said that he would look into the questions that I had asked about where Wainwright had stayed.
I said good night as I was tired and had notes to write up and wanted to be up in the morning for the days’ mileages were getting longer and Romaldkirk lay twenty-one miles from Muker.