(14th February 2012 – 14 miles)
After breakfast the following morning, I decided to cut across country to pick up the Dales Way.
I wanted to avoid the long road-walk of the day before and also see the Ribblehead viaduct up close.
Completed in 1874, the viaduct took four years to build, used one and a half million bricks and cost the lives of over a hundred men.
With that shocking sacrifice, at least Ribblehead – unlike many railway viaducts across England – is still in use.
My route carried me away from Pen-Y-Ghent and it was a shame that I wouldn’t get the chance to climb it.
I was now 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 the viaduct but 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 wrong one. After several hundred yards, it swung away in the wrong direction and stubbornly, rather than retrace my steps, I left it 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 and found a narrow point where I hurled myself across.
Eventually, after a stiff climb, I was 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 still closed as I walked past, my head swivelling at the shut door as I walked sadly past.
This was easy walking along a quiet country road and I picked up pace and soon made up lost time.
I reached Dent at midday and (this time) found an open pub, ordered a pint and a tuna and salad baguette. I was chewing it thoughtfully (read wolfing) when a sliver of sweet pepper got lodged in my windpipe. The pub was empty, the barman had disappeared and I really thought I was going to choke. I couldn’t breathe and, as much as I retched and coughed, I couldn’t dislodge it. Is this how it would end? Then, somehow, the pepper cleared and I could breathe once more. The pub was still empty and 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 more scary than anything I have ever encountered out in the ‘wilds.’
I pulled away from pretty Dent 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 was a little underwhelmed by the countryside I was passing through. That’s the problem with snow and ice: it can be a real pain in the neck but I miss it when its gone.
My night’s stop was in the town of Sedbergh which, though still in the Yorkshire Dales National Park, lies in Cumbria. I reached it about four o’clock and checked into The Dalesman Country Inn. I had a very long, very hot bath with a good book (‘The Help’ actually) and then set out to explore – having dressed first. Sedbergh is a handsome, little market town 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 and after an unremarkable pizza and writing a few postcards, I went up to bed. This night (more than any other) I missed company. Walking solo is a fine thing but not having anyone to talk to in the evenings can be a dull payback.