(14th February 2012 – 14 miles)
There had been no let up with the weather. And as I ate breakfast, thick, grey cloud still lay heavy on the fells. Afterwards, I studied the ordnance survey map in the dining room and decided to cut across country from ‘The Station Inn’ to pick up the Dales Way.
I wanted to avoid the long road-walk of the day before back down to the official route and also, I wanted to see the Ribblehead viaduct up close.
Completed in 1874, the viaduct took four years to build, using one and a half million bricks and cost the lives of over a hundred men.
With that shocking sacrifice, at least Ribblehead – unlike many other railway viaducts across England – is still in use.
My new route carried me away from Pen-Y-Ghent and it was a shame that I wouldn’t climb it. It’s also a shame, I think, that The Dales Way doesn’t divert over it. It would make a far more impressive highest point on the path than Cam High Road. In retrospect, I could have stayed an extra night at Ribblehead and had a day’s walk to the summit. But I didn’t – so I should stop moaning.
Because I was ‘off route,’ I was also off the small map in my guide-book and, with no ordnance survey map either, it wasn’t long before I went astray.
There was a well-defined path to and past the viaduct but shortly afterwards it forked and I was unsure which way to turn. Relying on my innate path-finding skills and honed sense of navigation, I confidently plumped for the obvious right choice. It wasn’t. After several hundred yards, it swung away in the wrong direction and stubbornly, rather than retrace my steps, I left it behind to cut across a wide, pathless bowl of boggy peat bog.
My compass gave me the correct bearing but a wide stream blocked my way.
I followed its bank for a couple of hundred yards
but as I didn’t fancy wading across, I walked another two hundred.
Eventually, I found a narrow point where I hurled myself across. I climbed up the far steep bank and back on my way to Dent Head and a return to the Dales Way. When I descended a steep, north facing and icy hill, I resorted to Yaktrax again – for the last time. At the base of the hill and for the first time since leaving Ilkley, I left the snow and ice behind.
My way down Dentdale followed the River Dee – also a happy home for dippers.
One of the delights of long-distance walking is arriving at a pub at an opportune moment. One of the disappointments of long-distance walking is arriving at a pub at an inopportune one. ‘The Sportsman’s Inn’ was shut as I walked past, my head swivelling at the closed door as I walked glumly past.
This was easy walking along a quiet country road. I picked up the pace and soon made up the lost time from earlier blundering about over bog.
I reached Dent at midday and (this time) found an open pub, ‘The George and Dragon’ and ordered a pint and a tuna salad baguette. I was chewing it thoughtfully (read wolfing) when a sliver of sweet pepper lodged itself in my windpipe. Apart from me, the pub was empty, the barman had disappeared and I seriously worried that I was going to choke. I couldn’t breathe and, as much as I retched and coughed, I couldn’t dislodge the narrow finger of pepper. Is this how it would end? Found blue-faced on a pub carpet? Then, somehow, the pepper cleared and I could breathe once more. The pub was still empty, the barman probably still having a fag out the back. Shaken at how vulnerable we are to mischance, I finished my pint (it soothed my sore throat), gathered up my stuff and scurried out. That small piece of pepper was scarier than anything I have ever encountered out in the ‘wilds.’
I pulled away from pretty Dent, grateful for life and rejoined the river for an easy afternoon stroll toward my bed.
The weather was clear and the day brightened but after the wintry beauty of the past three days, I missed scrunching over frozen snow. That’s the problem with snow and ice: it can be a real pain in the neck but I miss it when it’s gone.
My night’s stop was in the town of Sedbergh which, though still in the Yorkshire Dales National Park, lies in Cumbria. At about 4pm, I checked into ‘The Dalesman Country Inn,’ soaked in a very long, very hot bath and then set out to explore. I dressed first.
Sedbergh is a handsome, little place and packed with bookshops. I liked it a lot and it seemed a huge and bustling metropolis – at least compared to Burnsall, Cray and Ribblehead.
The Dalesman was one of the best B&B’s on my walk; with a large comfortable room and a big en suite. But the pub bar was oddly soulless. After an unremarkable pizza and writing a few postcards, I went up to bed. This night, more than any other on my walk, I missed company. Walking solo is a fine thing but not having anyone to talk to and laugh with, especially in the evenings, can be a dull payback.