(16th February – 6 miles)
It was my last day on the Dales Way and guess what? It was warm, it was clear, it was bright. Sometimes walking in February can be bloody lovely. Sometimes. After clearing breakfast, I paid up, sat outside the Eagle and Child, pulled on my boots and smugly watched locals scurrying off to work or running their kids to school.
As I set off to regain the path, my mind had mostly left the Dales Way behind. I was thinking now of the next three days and hiking across mountains and valleys to Keswick.
This short six-mile stretch only took me a couple of hours. With my eyes firmly locked on the peaks ahead, I barely took any photos and the time whizzed by. The previous day’s scenery had been pastoral and gently rolling. But now there were rocky knolls and outcrops, rough pasture, Herdwicks and those mountains.
Soon, I could make out the unmistakable outline of the Langdale Pikes (my day’s target). The Dales Way ends at Bowness-on-Windermere and I confess now that I didn’t complete the official route. My plan for the day had been to leave the DW just before Bowness, walk through the town of Windermere, follow the shore of the lake to Waterhead and then strike westwards to Elterwater and Langdale. But the night before (during my couple-rowing-interrupted-ruminations), I realised I had underestimated the distance and decided instead to catch a bus from Windermere. As I approached the town, I left the Dales Way behind (without much of a backward glance actually) and, after briefly getting lost in a large and depressing housing estate, emerged into the town centre. I picked up a few bobs and bits and hopped on a bus to Ambleside. I took another from there to Elterwater and walked the last couple of miles to
the ‘Old Dungeon Ghyll’, Great Langdale – a favourite haunt.
And now I regret that decision. I wish I had finished the DW properly and sat on the stone bench at its finish, looked out over the lake and slapped myself repeatedly on the back. Perhaps if I had done that, I wouldn’t feel as I do now – that the end to the ‘Way was a little disappointing.
It seemed a shame that the Dales Way stopped just short of the Lakeland fells. My guide-book – ‘The Dales Way‘ by Terry Marsh (Cicerone) – scores the path’s end full marks for “an intoxicating mixture of relief and elation”. But I couldn’t agree: first I found the DW too short for any sense of relief at its finish; and secondly, the path leads you to the threshold of spectacular scenery … and stops. Rather like arriving at the door of a super pie shop but then turning round and walking away again. I suppose you might argue that it wouldn’t be the Dales Way if it continued into the Lakes. But if you are planning on walking the path, I’d suggest that you don’t stop at Windermere/Bowness. Tag on a day or three and finish at Coniston, Langdale or Borrowdale. And if you don’t fancy the long trek around the northern end of Lake Windermere, you can catch a ferry at Bowness to the far shore. Any of those would be a more climatic end to your holiday, I think.
But I am being unfair. The Dales Way is a fine and rewarding walk and I had thoroughly enjoyed my five-day traipse from Ilkley – the first three days especially. It had been very beautiful; if difficult and challenging too. Icy paths had been impossible without crampon-lites but that had just added a whiff of adventure. The downside was that when the weather grew kinder, the Way seemed tamer, duller even; a quiet lull before I could climb back up into the snow. The last two days to Bowness would always struggle to compete with crossing from Langdale to Wasdale; on to Borrowdale and finishing at the northern tip of Derwentwater.
But having dissed the end of Dales Way, I can’t fault it as a five or six-day romp across some stunning countryside. And if you only have five days, then do ignore my curmudgeonly grumblings. It isn’t a difficult path by any means and if you haven’t tried a long distance footpath, this is a perfect introduction.
It might be said that the final verdict on any long distance footpath is whether it merits walking more than once. I have completed some walks (the Cotswold Way, Icknield Way Path and Vanguard Way spring to mind) which I can’t see any reason to re-visit. But the Dales Way? Yes, I’ll go back. One day.