Not far from here is a wood. And in this wood, there is a lake, Eavestone Lake. It’s always quiet here, because there is no road nearby. Simply quiet, leaf-mould paths. The trees look ancient, but in the main, they’re not. We met an old forester recently, who told us he remembered when these woods were cut down for timber when he was a boy. The trees have simply regenerated.
Some of the older trees were left. And they tend to twist characterfully and lean over into the lake. Like this one, of which I show two images, one for Becky’s Walking Squares, while the header photo is for Jez’s Water, Water Everywhere.
This place always puts me in mind of Rudyard Kipling’s The Way through the Woods, which, if you’re so minded, you can read here.
This year has offered proof after proof that the times they are a changin’. Here, harvesting was started in mid-July, and was all done and dusted for early August. Yet schools and churches will probably continue to hold their traditional Harvest Festivals in late September, early October. Blackberries have withered a whole month early, so the Devil must have been along and spat on them. Autumn-ripening apples are already at their best. And, most worryingly of all, the reservoirs are drying up. Here are some shots of Scar House Reservoir in North Yorkshire. The header photo, and the last one of all were taken two years ago. The rest, only last week.
I’ve only been a walker – a proper walker, yomping over moor and mountain, hill and dale – for the last fifteen years or so. It happened when we went to live in France. What better way to discover the secret paths of the Pyrenees, and get to know our French neighbours, and improve our French too, than join the local walking group?
So we did. At first it was les Randos de’Aubo in nearby Mirepoix. We explored the foothills and higher slopes of the Pyrenees, we investigated the nearby Aude, and enjoyed the fellowship of scouting new paths together. What I remember most was the achievement of climbing, climbing, often through seven or eight hundred metres before lunch, while constantly rewarded by mountain views, colourful plant life and changing vistas. Because of these calorie-busting achievements, we might walk as few at five or six miles. But it was harder – much harder – than walking ten to twelve miles round here, and I know I couldn’t do it now. But after the effort, there was a shared picnic lunch with a splendid view thrown in, a downhill walk back to base, and a convivial drink, in whatever bar was to hand near the end of our walk.
On Thursdays I went walking with a smaller group – mainly women – who’d got to know each other either through walking or singing together – I ticked both boxes.
Then we were among the founders of the walking group that developed in our own community, Laroque d’Olmes. We had the confidence by then to offer to reconnoitre and lead walks ourselves. And this group had even better picnic ideas than the last one. Marcel, our local butcher brought sausage to share, as did a local amateur charcuterie enthusiast Michel. Sylvie’s daughter was a sheep farmer, so she’d bring along sheep’s cheese. Someone brought a few baguettes, Yvette and I always had homemade cake. Jean-Charles had a bottomless bottle of wine in his rucksack. And everyone brought sugar lumps. Sugar lumps? Well, yes. Someone or other would bring a bottle of grandfather’s home-made digestif, heavy on alcohol and locally harvested fruit, and would dribble just a few drops of it onto your sugar lump for you to finish off your feast in style. And we would sit for an hour or more, chatting and relaxing before continuing our hike. I miss those moments as much as I miss the countryside and mountain views we shared together.
Now we’re in our local walking group here in Yorkshire. Again, we wanted to discover Yorkshire better by walking its footpaths. At midday, we eat our own pack of sandwiches and that’s that. But the comradeship is as good as it was in France.
Since lockdown, I’ve appreciated the pleasures of walking alone. Undistracted by companions, I notice the sounds around me – the calling birds, the running water, the sighing wind, and observe more closely the changing seasons. While I’ll always enjoy a walk with a friend, I suspect that my love of solitary walking will continue.
Brimham Rocks. A must-visit destination near where we live, simply to marvel at the unlikely tottering piles of fantastically shaped rocks gathered there, or, if you’re athletic and in touch with your inner-child, a challenging climbing frame.
These sandstone blocks were laid down and formed during the last 100,000 years – before, during and since the last Ice Age. Glacial action, weathering and water erosion have fashioned the rocks, leaving some apparently precariously balanced, as wind blasting continues to sculpt their contours.
During the 18th and 19th centuries, many believed that Druida could have been responsible for carving them. It was only in the 20th century that their origins became well understood, and we also came to recognise the wealth of natural life flourishing here: it’s now a Site of Special Scientific Interest.
Not that William and Zoë cared when they visited last week. For them, this visit was an adventure. William climbed and Zoë looked for natural windows to gaze through. And asked to come again next time they visit.
If you’re from the UK, you’ll recognise the person in my featured photo. It’s Clare Balding, presenter of sports programmes, stories featuring animals, and as far as I’m concerned, BBC Radio 4’s Ramblings, and today, my One Person from Around the World. I’ve been lucky enough to be in two of Clare’s programmes, walking with her first on the route of the Jarrow March, and then, exactly four years ago, on the Nidderdale Way. Let’s revisit my post from that day, especially for Fandango’s Flashback Friday. There are even four Bright Squares. I’m multi-tasking today.
And lo! Now they have a six-programme series in the bag, waiting to be transmitted in May and June, on …… the Nidderdale Way, all 53 miles of it. She invited me to be part of the last leg, together with my friends Chris and John.
Let me tell you how it works. We walk. We chat. Lucy walks beside us with her muff-on-a-stick, recording little and often. Clare stops from time to time and paints evocative word pictures of the scenery, the sights, smells and sounds, the passers by. She chats to us about everything from geology, to history, to walking, to long-lost industries, to living near Nidderdale.
We see our local landscape through fresh eyes. Instead of its being the backdrop to our daily lives, it becomes vivid again, and we remember the wonder and the intense pleasure we experienced when it was new to us too.
Clare loves people. At Brimham Rocks, where we insisted she take a detour, she chatted to children with their families and took part in their photos. Later, she hung over a drystone wall and talked to a farmer. She patted dogs and enjoyed a few moments with their owners.
Just as well she’s good at this sort of thing. When we arrived at Pateley Bridge, she became a sort of stand-in for the Queen. She was whisked from shop to shop, always leaving with a little local speciality -a pork pie, some home-made fudge. With Lucy, she was given a newly-minted badge for completing the entire Nidderdale Way. They got flowers, a book by a local historian, hugs and handshakes galore, and repaid all this attention with genuine interest and friendship. Pateley Bridge by the way is in the thick of preparing for the Tour de Yorkshire 2017, which goes through the town – and past our front door – on Saturday 29th April.
Please listen to this series when it comes out: it’s available as a podcast even if you don’t live in the UK. The first programme will be on BBC Radio 4 on 18th May, and the programme featuring our team will be transmitted on Thursday 22nd June. You’ll make immediate plans for a holiday in Nidderdale after you’ve listened.
You can’t live near the Yorkshire Dales and not love a drystone wall, carving up the landscape into pasture-sized segments. But are they better photographed in black and white or colour? They are after all, fairly monochrome themselves, Only you can decide …
Near Grassington, Wharfedale
Near Hebden, Wharfedale
Enough of decisions. Here are a couple in good old-fashioned black and white.
This one’s for Monday Window. It’s not often you see a window above a dry stone wall. And this one’s not quite in the right place. The view could have been better framed. And a bit of double glazing wouldn’t come amiss.
I love bleak. Typically rolling English countryside is lovely. And you can’t beat a verdant Daleside vista, criss-crossed with dry stone walls dividing its pastureland, its river along the valley floor edged with trees. But here in Yorkshire, every now and then, I have to have my fix of bleak.
And one way to do this is to go over to Angram and Scar House reservoirs, both constructed in Nidderdale during the inter-war years last century, to provide water for the citizens of Bradford. Here are slopes, sculpted by long-gone streams and the often savage weather. These hillsides are covered in thin, tussocky grass – and not much else. Few trees. Few buildings – the odd hunting lodge or barn. But there are sheep, and birdlife too. One of our memories of walking here was once seeing a small meadow pipit struggling to feed ‘her’ baby, a cuckoo fledgling three times her size.
My friend Sandra and I went there this week. The day was perfect. Not too hot and not too cold. Briskly breezy. And as we arrived , the reservoir was as blue as we’ve ever seen it, almost cobalt in its intensity. We planned to walk our way round both reservoirs.
Which way though? Clockwise? Anti-clockwise? Sandra counselled clockwise, and Sandra won. That way, we’d get a slightly boring bit of track over and done with. We’d get the wind-in-our-faces over and done with. And most importantly, we’d get the squishier, less managed paths of Angram Reservoir over and done with.
It’s rained a lot lately, so walking round Angram involves some wet pathways. Not muddy, just paddleable. Juncus grass lining the route offered the odd springboard to drier grassy ground. But with water to right of us, bald barren hillside to left of us , the route is easy to see. And each reservoir terminates in a stout dam, each worthy of walk in its own right, and in Angram’s case, with water tumbling to its sister reservoir below.
Scar House Dam.
Finally we left our wet pathways behind, and joined the springier drier turf pathways of Scar House Reservoir where sheep kept us company.
But even though we knew from the car park that we weren’t alone, we felt that this particular expanse of hillside, sky and water was ours and only ours for the six and a half mile walk in the middle of nowhere.
… except the same walk is never the same walk. Last week, Chris and I walked from Lofthouse to Ramsgill to Middlesmoor and back to Lofthouse. On Sunday, we did the route again, joined by eight friends from our walking group.
It was less sunny. It was more muddy. The intervening week had been largely dry and breezy: but before the walk, it had rained all night. It was a day to pick our way carefully through mud, artfully stamped with the outlines of sheep hooves, tractor tyres and farmers’ boots.
It was a day to notice dry stone walks, scabbed with moss and lichen.
Discarded bits of farmyard furniture and buildings.
Swollen streams, tumbling and scurrying.
All of these were subjects for Jude’s 2020 Photo Challenge, requiring us this week to look for texture – rough texture.
But it was a day too for moody landscape. Look! I didn’t take this view over Gouthwaite Reservoir in black and white. But where’s the colour?
And here – this rainbow appeared more than once on our walk that day, always elusive, always vanishing as we approached.
Join us. It’s a virtual walk. You won’t need to clean your boots at the end.
The walk starts as it means to go on. Plenty of water.
Sheep prefer eating dry hay to wet grass.
A well-dressed dry stone wall.
There’s a prevailing wind on these hills. As you can see.
Mud. I can’t be doing with it. Viscous, squelchy, squishy, sticky, over-the-top-of-your-boots kind of mud. We’ve had ground slick with treacly mud here for weeks and weeks. But then there’s also Cabin Fever, and the need to plan a walk for our walking group in a fortnight’s time, when spring might have sprung. Walking won out over yet another day indoors.
My friend Chris and I set forth for the Yorkshire Dales, parked up in Lofthouse, and set off. Really, it could have been worse. It was a full twenty minutes before we came upon our first serious mudbath: prior to that we’d only had water-on-the-path to deal with.
But climbing now, we saw what the fields were like: yes, those are fields you’re looking at. Gouthwaite Reservoir’s not here: it’s over there in the distance.
We had our rewards though. The views: the remnants of a snowscape: sheep – and oh look! Our very first lambs of the season – a little huddle of black ones, and just one snowy specimen with its mum.
The last remnants of the snow.
Nidderdale, between Lofthouse and Ramsgill.
White mums, black lambs.
A single lamb resting near its mother.
Middlesmoor in the distance.
Surveying the scene.
This sheep inspected us as we sat on a log for a snack.
And then, a pleasant surprise. The café at How Stean Gorge was open – on a weekday in February! Coffee and home-made cake while enjoying the view of the stream jostling and hurrying through its narrow ravine. I forgot to take a photo for Jo, but the website shows the Yorkshire Slice Chris and I shared.
We were on the home straights now. All we had to do was struggle up a steepish hill to the now barely-populated village of Middlesmoor. Just outside its church, on the path that plunges down to our starting point are thoughtfully-provided seats. This is one of the best views in England, and despite the wind, we wanted to appreciate it.
And then, half way down the hill- a traffic jam. This herd of cattle blocked our path. The farmer asked us if we’d mind waiting five minutes. He turned out to have a countryman’s clock, but no matter: we weren’t going to argue with all those cows.
More mud …
… and more mud …
Finally, the cows moved on, and so did we. We got back to the car just as the rain, and then the sleet, started once more.