Despite my run-in with the bullocks, I was glad I had come along this route. The views of the river Ure were lovely and there was an abundance of water fowl on, in and around the water. There were more clouds in the sky by now and so my photos were looking better – a clear sky might look lovely, but in a photograph it becomes no more than empty space.
I was thankful that there were less flies on this part of the footpath and absolutely no cattle that I could see. Sheep might have followed me in a similar manner, but I knew I could scare them off if necessary. However, I’m labouring the point. It was still a beautiful day and I was looking forward to lunch.
The river was tranquil, unlike the Swale on my walk to Easby Abbey, and ducks and gulls and wading birds swam in the water and ignored me as I walked by.
So far on my walk I had seen few signs with more information than the word ‘Footpath’ carved into the wood. As the river bent away from the path I was on, I climbed through a thin stile and saw a sign that proved a little more helpful.
On the other side of the stile was the road from Worton that runs down and crosses over the river and then climbes up to meet the upper Dale road between Askrigg and Newbiggin. I crossed the road and into a neat field with, of all things, a paved footpath. Oh, what luxury!
My new walking boots had proven very comfortable, but it was nice to have my feet on a solid surface for a change, especially when you consider that most farmers in the Dales do the bare minimum to maintain footpaths on their land (and I suppose they do have other things on their minds).
Across this field and into the next where ewes moved lazily when they deigned to move at all. Lambs played in and about the clumps of long grass until I came near. Then they scampered back to their mothers and huddled together. I muttered ‘mint sauce’ as they ran.
The paving came to an end at a stile reached by a flight of stone steps with a metal bannister – would wonders never cease?
For those who don’t know, Askrigg was used as a location for the TV series All Creatures Great and Small starring Christopher Timothy as James Herriot. It was also my parents’ choice for our first holiday in the Dales when my sister and I were kids. The holiday cottage we rented is still there, though I didn’t go looking for it this time. I was ready for something to eat.
The village is beautiful and unspoiled by its brush with fame – the house on the right of the photo was used as Skeldale House in the TV series and is now a B&B called, funnily enough, Skeldale House B&B. At the bottom of the village stands St Oswald’s church and the beginning of a waterfall walk that I’ll cover in a later blog.
There are three pubs in the village – The Kings Arms, The Crown and The White Rose – and it had been years since I had ventured into the Crown with my family for an evening meal when we had our holiday, so I simply went with the Kings Arms because it was the first one I came to. Inside the walls were covered in photos from All Creatures Great and Small as well as shots of the cast and crew relaxing at the pub, which also served as the Drovers’ Arms in the TV series. The bar was empty when I went in and I was glad for a chance to sit down to a sandwich and a half of dark beer. The woman behind the bar said it was a lovely day and I agreed.
“Come far?” she asked.
“I’ve just walked over from Thoralby,” I said.
“Oh,” she said, though I think what she really wanted to say was ‘why?’
I ate my sandwich and drank my beer and had a look at some of the photos on my camera. There were quite a few where the sky was washed-out, and though I would try to rescue them on the computer once I got home, they were destined for deletion. It’s always disappointing when photos don’t come out the way you hope, but I learn something new each time and so no photo is completely wasted.
The bar was lovely and cool and the beer was sending me to sleep, so I decided it was time to move on. I felt the back of my neck and was surprised at how hot it felt. I was burnt on my forehead as well and I knew I was probably going to feel rotten later. Still, I’d come this far and I certainly wasn’t going to let a little sunburn spoil the walk home.
I left Askrigg and walked back along the paved footpath until I came to the field near the road from Worton. A farmer was driving his tractor across the field and towing a muck spreader behind. Manure was flying out of the back and coating the field where I was suppposed to be walking. But what about my new boots?!
Living in the countryside, the smell of muck doesn’t phase me as much as it did when we only came here for our holidays. I climbed into the field, realising that the farmer would take a little time to cover the whole area. I didn’t look at the ground – I knew exactly what I was stepping in – and gave the farmer a wave when he saw me. I was ready to stand and let him past, but instead he stopped the tractor and motioned for me to continue. I carried on, all the while hoping I didn’t slip in anything nasty.
Leaving the field, I turned right and followed the road over the river and up into Worton. The village is tiny and apart from the pub has nothing much of interest. I had looked on my map and seen that I had two options. I could go up through Worton and then on to Thornton Rust and finally over the tops to Thoralby. Or I could go back the way I had come and have to run the gauntlet again. Do I really need to say which was the more appealing?
The map showed no footpath from Worton to Thornton Rust and so I followed the single lane road up a steep hill that offered a splendid view of Askrigg and the hills behind.
I took my time climbing the hill, jumping onto the verge when a tractor or car came by. At last the road went round a tight bend and levelled off. I looked down at Worton and was surprised at how high I had climbed. To my right was Addlebrough again and I passed a footpath sign with the hill’s name on it. This was something to file away for future reference. As was the footpath sign I then passed on my left pointing down to Worton. Well, you live and learn.
I followed the road into Thornton Rust, another picturesque Dales village that I had last visited in March with The Penhill Poachers, a folk-rock band I play in. Next to a red phone box was the footpath I was to take for the final leg of my walk.
This was one of the last photos I would take on this walk for two reasons. First the battery in my camera was running low and the second was that the footpath from Thornton Rust to Thoralby covers a couple of difficult spots where I needed both hands free. I put the camera in my bag and walked up the hill, watched by a few inquisitive sheep.
Almost immediately I ran into difficulties. Not from the terrain I was walking on, but from the confusing signposts I encountered. Before I started walking regularly, I had no idea just how many paths criss-cross the hills in this area. The sheep continued to stare whilst I compared my map with the directions the signs were indicating. Eventually I realised that I was in fact on the right route and carried on. The path climbed steeply and at one point a small stream ran across the path, the stone beneath was slippery under my feet.
At last I found myself on the top and enjoyed a 360 degree view of Wensleydale and Bishopdale and the hills of the North, South, East and West. Forgive the cliche, but it actually did take my breath away and I took my camera from my bag again to take a couple of shots.
I walked on and noticed that a lot of the fields had shallow dips in them. I remembered that these were called shake holes. The hills in this area are mostly limestone and, over the centuries, rain has seeped into the rock and carved out caves and pot holes all over the place. Any Dales farmer will tell you stories of sheep going missing on the tops and how the most likely explanation is that the unfortunate animals have walked into one of these dips in the ground. The soil is very thin there and it only takes one mis-step for it to give way into the caverns below.
And I was walking amongst them.
I put the camera away and carried on. My feet were aching and my head and neck were burnt to a crisp. It didn’t take long to reach the final descent into Thoralby, marked by a stand of scraggly trees like those atop Lady Hill. As I crossed one field, there was a rustle in the long grass and a hare darted out from its cover and away before I could bring my camera to bear. It wouldn’t have done any good, of course, because my lens simply can’t zoom in far enough for that kind of image. But it was beautiful to see.
I passed the stand of trees and walked down into Thoralby. Part way down, the footpath went through a metal gate and onto a steep concrete track. I could see the village below and tried to take one final photograph looking across the Dale to Pen Hill, but my battery had run out at last and so I headed for home.