( 11th February 2012 – 14 miles)
The owner of Tivoli Place B&B looked at me with a mixture of curiosity, pity and condolence as I tackled a big breakfast the following morning. She couldn’t quite understand why anyone would undertake The Dales Way in winter. And later, as I hefted my rucksack and stepped outside to begin my walk to the Lake District, I was inclined to agree with her. Why exactly was I setting out on an 80-mile walk across tundra? The weather didn’t dispel my doubts either: overcast, grey and perishingly cold.
As I left Ilkley behind, I could barely imagine a bleaker, more Breughel-winter-landscape. Old snow, flattened by countless feet, had frozen hard into smooth, treacherous ice and for long stretches, fearful of falling over, I took tiny, hesitant steps. I wondered how on Earth I would cover fourteen miles.
I know it doesn’t look much of an obstacle but this little footbridge at Addingham was fiendishly difficult to cross. It reduced me to giggles because I simply couldn’t walk across it. However hard I tried, my boots gained no purchase and I slid back down its little humpback. Eventually, red-faced, I surrendered and crawled across on all fours. With my rucksack I must have looked like a black-clad tortoise – but less dignified. Thankfully there was no-one about to witness my buffoonery.
The Dales Way follows the River Wharfe for all of day one: it is a pretty walk, easy-going and full of interest. It was also starkly beautiful today though I couldn’t help but wonder how much softer it must look, how lovely it is in spring and summer. For a Saturday morning, there weren’t many people on the paths I followed – until I arrived at Bolton Priory (which sits in the village of Bolton Abbey, obviously).
Though I managed to omit them from my photos there were dozens of people here. And understandably too – it is a stunning site. The Priory dates from 1154 and, amongst others, captivated: Ruskin, Wordsworth, Landseer and
Turner who painted this watercolour in 1798.
Not a huge change in over 200 years, eh? During the dissolution of the monasteries, the leaded roofs were stripped and the building left open to the skies. In time, stone too was filched for building works up and down the valley. But the Priory has aged well. You couldn’t have designed a fairer, more handsome ruin.
As I left the Priory behind and continued my walk along the Wharfe, I passed this tree trunk.
Someone had hammered coins into it. I wondered why. But only a little.
As the path climbed above the river, walking became nigh on impossible. I’d already seen several people go down like bowling pins despite wearing decent boots. The frozen paths were like glass and it was now that I played my ace card.
If I’d carried a bugle, I would have blown a toot as I pulled a pair of Yaktrax from my rucksack. They saved the day. Actually, no. They saved the walk. I was to rely on them many, many times over the next three days and when other walkers gave up or else slid past me with looks of bewilderment or panic, I waved and cheerfully strode on. I savoured their looks of envy at my wondrous feet.
I found a non-snow-covered tree log to sit on for lunch – but ended up giving half of my M&S sandwich to the starving bird life of Strid Woods. They seemed very grateful for it, so I probably will go to heaven.
The Wharfe runs through a narrow gorge here called the Strid (or Stride). Stride because of the narrowness of the water – you can supposedly step across it. But the swift running water has gouged deep channels and underwater caverns into the rock. The force of water might well hold and drown anyone who falls in. So if I were you I wouldn’t bother trying to cross it. People still try; people still drown.
I continued my walk through the grey-white light
always with the Wharfe close-by; clucking and chuckling over rocks.
Often, especially near roads, farms and cottages, the path was hammered smooth and dangerous again and I pulled on my Yaktrax.
I still hoped that the sun might burn off the cloud and treat me to clear skies and warmth. But nope.
The path crossed several bridges near the village of Appletreewick – like this one designed for a skinny person; a skinny person without a fat rucksack. It was here that I met a couple who were terrifically excited that I was walking the DW in winter. They went out of their way to shake my hand and slap me on the arm. I felt a little bad that their enthusiasm outshone my own.
Alone in my slow-moving radius of snow and ice and cold, I was surprised to look down on Burnsall suddenly, my halt for the night. The village was originally a Viking settlement and its name possibly derives from Bjorn’s Hall. Or it might come from ‘the hall by the burn’ (stream). But I’m plumping for Bjorn the Viking Chief’s Hall. If there is Viking country in England, this is it. All Burnsall needed was a vaulted, wooden mead hall, full of warriors and a vast open fire at its heart.
As I climbed up and over Burnsall’s five-arched bridge, I noticed that ‘The Red Lion Inn‘ was open and softly calling to me. Softly but insistently. As there was no mead hall, I settled on the pub instead.
My day’s walk along the River Wharfe had kept me warm – so long as I kept moving – but nevertheless, I was grateful for a pint in front of an open fire. After booking into my B&B (Wharfe View Farmhouse), I showered, changed into evening wear (non-muddy trousers otherwise no change) and hurried back to the pub for a couple more pints and an excellent pigeon breast supper.
As I sat in front of the fire, one hand rested on contented stomach, one clasping a pint of bitter, I foresaw a problem with the Dales Way. It was too darn short. Day one done, only four and a half left. It was going to be too darn short.