Yesterday’s outing was a gem. We walked in bright late summer sunshine as the trees began changing colour for Autumn. Great views over Nidderdale and a few interesting animal encounters added pleasure to the day. And best of all was the chance to tease Our Leader For The Day – let’s call her Ms. X, to spare her blushes. Within 10 minutes of starting, she’d taken us off-route. A landowner called us off the steep hillside that she was already scaling. ‘It’s private land – but in any case it doesn’t lead anywhere.’ That wasn’t surprising. There was no path.
Never mind. We were enjoying fine panoramas, and a path that led onwards and upwards into ancient woodlands where large rocky outcrops showed us we weren’t at all far from Brimham Rocks. The paths round here were the stamping ground of lay brothers from Fountains Abbey who lived and worked in this area. They would have appreciated the fresh water springs, one of which has a carved stone alongside: ‘Adam’s Ale’, it says.
The monks of Fountains Abbey had complete control of the Hartwith area from 1180 until the dissolution of the monasteries. It was home for their sheep; a source of wood; and animal fodder; and stone from the glacially deposited millstone grit , which was used to make mill-stones (‘quern-stones’). It was here too that the Abbot of Fountains Abbey had his own private hunting park.
After that we were on National Trust land, and the outer-reaches of the Brimham Rocks estate. Here, the landscape changes for a while to austere and fairly barren moorland. But it was easy walking, and we were entertained by a fine herd of long-snouted ginger Tamworth pigs corralled on the edge of the moor. They were vocal, curious, and keen to eat my gaiters.
Then we got lost again. Ms. X led us through impenetrable bracken, at the edge of which she promised us a stile. There wasn’t one. We returned through the impenetrable bracken, and found the correct – and easy – path. We passed the handsome Jacobean Brimham Lodge, built on the site of the Abbot’s Hunting Lodge. Those Abbots knew how to choose a good view.
Now we were onto areas of pasture-land. These fields have been progressively cleared in the years since the Dissolution of the Monasteries by the landowners who took over monastic lands. We picnicked in a field by a little-used track. Two of us spread ourselves out on the little-used track. We opened our sandwiches. And a large tractor advanced on us – down the little-used track.
Throughout the afternoon, we passed several ponds, probably originally fish ponds for – yes, you’ll have guessed – Fountains Abbey. Ducks escorted us along the roads, geese protested at our presence: it was all very bucolic.
At last, we reached ancient woodland – Old Spring Woods is known to have existed in prehistoric times. Remains of stone enclosure suggest that at one time, the area was used for grazing stock, but later, hunting became more important. And it was here that Ms. X led us astray for the last time. At the bottom of a long descent she insisted she’d gone wrong. Up the hill we trailed, and all of us had a go at re-interpreting the map in our own way. By popular vote, we all traipsed down the hill again, and found the path we’d needed all along, just there, beyond the woodland gate. And we were nearly home and dry.
But our day wasn’t over yet. Ms. X suggested finishing off the afternoon at an ice cream parlour a couple of miles along the road. It wasn’t her fault that the signs to it on the main road all read ‘Open’. It wasn’t her fault that there was a long and bumpy farm drive down to the café . And it wasn’t her fault that when we got there, the café turned out to be shut. But we blamed her of course, just as we blamed her for every mishap along the way, even though we all had a hand in reading the map.
She knows we don’t mean it. We’d had a Grand Day Out. We’d had a good work-out, a scenic walk full of interest, a fine day out with friends, and a chance to tease Ms. X unmercifully. Thank you, Ms X.