Bullocks, Bunnies and Bluebells – Part 1

Lady Hill is a prominent landmark between Aysgarth and Worton on the A684 as it winds its way through Wensleydale (ooh, I love alliteration!) It’s a small hill, topped with a copse of scraggly trees and, according to the OS map I had downloaded to my phone, it is bordered on either side by footpaths running almost parallel to the road. I decided that this was going to be my next walk, despite running mostly on the flat in the middle of the dale. This was partly because I’d always wanted to see it up close and partly because the map states that there’s a rabbit warren there. Aha! says I, methinks I’ll see if I can get some pictures of some cute little bunnies.

The sun was shining from the bluest of blue skies as I set off up the hill from Thoralby to Aysgarth. As usual I had packed my raincoat in my backpack, along with my tripod, remote shutter release and a magazine (clean, I promise you). Huffing and puffing along the road, I was beginning to give serious consideration to going back and ditching everything but the camera and my water bottle. The sun was shining, as I said, so did I really need a raincoat? Well, all the best advice says to be prepared and so I carried on slogging and admiring the view up Bishopdale towards Kidstones pass.

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Bishopdale looking towards Kidstones. (c) Kim Ralls

The road from Thoralby to Aysgarth is a series of short, sharp inclines broken by level stretches like a set of steps. I’ve found you don’t notice the level bits so much when you’re on foot and especially not with the sun burning a hole in the back of your head. At almost the half-way spot, the road curves round a bend over Tom Gill Bridge and up Tom Gill Bank and here was where I left the road and took to the fields.

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Tom Gill bank. (c) Kim Ralls

The little patch of shade near the bridge was very welcome and, not for the last time, I wondered if I shouldn’t have borrowed a hat from somebody before setting off. The footpath climbed steeply, like the road, but at least once I reached the top it was over and I could catch my breath whilst I watched gulls swooping over a nearby pasture and, behind them, the slopes of Addlebrough that, one day, I intend to climb if I can find a footpath. The view from the top must be truly splendid.

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Addlebrough (c) Kim Ralls

I left the gulls to their play and followed the path towards Aysgarth. I had a choice of two gates and I chose the left one that would take me over more fields and out onto the Thornton Rust road at the Hawes (West) end of Aysgarth. The footpath became a muddy track between two houses and I kept my mouth clamped firmly shut against the horde of midges and flies buzzing around my face. I’ve no idea if Australians really do hang corks from their hats, but I could see why it might be a good idea. Perhaps I’ll try it one day – I’ve no fashion-sense anyway.

I left the flies behind and stepped onto the road as a tractor and muck-spreader rumbled by with their own collection of insects trailing behind. I turned right and followed the tractor into Aysgarth to where the Thornton Rust road joins the A684. Aysgarth is a pretty village that tends to be overshadowed by the waterfalls nearby – scene of the stick fight in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves with Kevin Costner. I once worked at the pub above the falls and the landlord at the time did his best to convince oblivious holiday makers that Kevin Costner had stayed at the hotel. We had a number of ‘Kevin Costner sat/stood/drank/stubbed his toe here’-type anecdotes we were supposed to repeat ad nauseum to the patrons. Some even believed us.

Crossing the road, I followed a footpath down towards the river – the sign mentioned the mill, but that was not where I was headed. No, there was a little patch of wood by the side of the river that I was headed for. I’m a sucker for a woodland trail – and pasta and old books, but not necessarily at the same time.

The track lead down to the river and another choice between right or left. Right went off to the mill and the upper falls – worth a visit if you’ve never been before. Left took me through a field and over a ladder style into the trees.

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One of the easier stiles I’ve had to climb over the years… (c) Kim Ralls

Out of the sun it was blissfully cool and either side of the path were tonnes of bluebells between the trees. I could have quite happily sat down with a novel and a plate of spaghetti and stayed there for the day with the birds in the trees and the soft hush of the river below.

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(c) Kim Ralls

I took photos and breathed in the smell of trees and bluebells and wildflowers. I’ve had fourteen years of living in the Dales and I had never known such a beautiful place lay a short walk from my front door. Incidentally, I looked at my map and discovered this wood is called Roger – check for yourself if you don’t believe me.

Anyway, I walked through the wood and admired a view of the river I hadn’t seen before. I love a good river walk and from a couple of angles the sun was in just the right place so there was little or no reflection on the water; photographers spend money on polorising filters to achieve this (and I will too), but today I was incredibly lucky.

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One river, sans reflection (c) Kim Ralls

The footpath rejoined the road a few yards down from where I left it in the village. What might have seemed an unnecessary detour had proven more than worth it. Walking along the road was not the most pleasant experience – farm vehicles and HGVs move for no man – and I was glad when I came to a layby next to the river with the iron footbridge that was the start of the main path I would be following.

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(c) Kim Ralls
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(c) Kim Ralls

The bridge was rusty, but solid and the view either side of the river was beautiful. The sun sparkled in the water and it was easy to ignore the constant noise of traffic in the background. I crossed the bridge and followed the track up a gentle slope, pausing to look at the ruined railway bridge that used to carry the Wensleydale railway between Northallerton and Hawes before joining with the Settle to Carlisle at Garsdale. The railway as been restored and carries passengers as far as Redmire, though the company is attempting to raise the funds to reopen the line all along the original route, though with so many bridges demolished, it may be far in the future before this is realised. I tried to photograph the ruined bridge, but the bushes and weeds had grown over it so much that it was hard to make out the structure in the image.

The footpath joined the upper Wensleydale road and I turned left. Yet again I was assailed by farm vehicles and had to hug the wall running along the road and wonder what on earth was under the pile of leaves I was standing in. Eventually I came to another footpath sign and left the road with a certain amount of relief. Now I could walk through the fields without fear of tractors and lorries and caravans.

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View of Addlebrough – there were a lot of flies about, hence the black spots on the image (c) Kim Ralls

Walking along I had a lovely view of Addlebrough and, once again, I wondered if there was a path that would climb to the top. I imagined the spectacular views I might have from the summit and filed it away in my mental list of walks to do.

Most of the fields I walked through had sheep in them with lambs gambolling (maybe even gambling as well, don’t let their innocent little faces fool you) over the hillocks and in and out of patches of long grass. Overhead peewhits and gulls soared and the once-clear sky was now dotted with fluffy white clouds. I had come out wearing a hooded jumper just in case the weather turned foul – you never know – but by now I was swealtering and so I tied it round my waist. There was a gentle breeze blowing and I was glad I had remembered to pack my water bottle. I was going to need it.

I climbed over another stile and had my first close look at Lady Hill.

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Lady Hill (c) Kim Ralls

Thoughts of climbing it crossed my mind, followed by ideas for photos that I could take from within the copse. But if there’s one rule I always obey when out walking it’s that you never wonder off the path if you don’t have to. It’s easy to forget that somebody owns the fields that you’re walking through, not to mention the livestock you see. True, I’ve gotten lost on more than one occasion and found myself wondering if I’m trespassing, but I’ve always made every effort to get back onto the path at the earliest opportunity. My photo ideas would have to remain in my head for the time being, especially as I had arrived at the rabbit warren.

In a dip in the ground was a pile of rocks spotted with holes like Swiss cheese (yes, it’s an overused simile, but I’m afraid it’s the most appropriate in this case and so you’ll have to forgive my lack of originality). Now, I thought, I can snap a few bunnies for the archives.

Or not.

I’ve often lamented the short-comings of my only camera lens, but on this occasion it was I who was lacking. The two rabbits that I did see poked their heads above ground and dissappeared again before I had a chance to press the shutter. I had crouched low and was certain that if I waited they might come out again. Not a chance. I must have been there twenty or thirty minutes before I decided I was wasting my time. Obviously I needed to be much further away and for that I needed a longer lens. If you’ve read my previous blog posts, you will have realised that wildlife and I don’t seem to get on. And it’s not as if I haven’t made an effort.

However, I was to have a definite close encounter later in the day…

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