It was our second Christmas in the house in Thoralby and the snow was on the ground. The parents and I decided to go for a short walk ‘over the top’ from Thoralby into Walden and back via West Burton. Back then the plantation that we walked through was a small forest of conifers and other trees and it was a delight to walk through – even if I did slip over on my backside on one or two occasions.
Twelve years later, my father and I decided to do the walk again and see what progress had been made since the trees had been chopped down and new saplings planted. The wind was quite strong, even low down, and I tightened the drawstrings on my new wide-brimmed hat and ignored Dad’s laughing derision.
I’ll admit, I have no fashion-sense.
We took the road from Thoralby to Newbiggin, passing the old Crosslanes School (now a bunkhouse) and where the Newbiggin road bends to the right to run through the village, we went left and climbed a stoney farm track towards the first gate.
Through the gate, the ground rises in a steep climb over grass that offers a beautiful view of Thoralby and Bishopdale. We could, in fact, see our house from up there.
Up on the tops the birds were out in force. We saw curlews, jackdaws, lapwings and pheasants (guess who got a book of British birds for his birthday) and Dad had brought his binoculars with him so we could look across two dales to Bolton Castle and spy out the path we were to take. It perhaps doesn’t come across through the photos, but the visibility was stupendous as we paused in our assent every now and then to admire the scenery.
We were heading for a gap in a dry stone wall that marked the start of the old plantation. Driving down the hill from Aysgarth the other day, I glanced across to Wasset Fell opposite Thoralby and saw the sun glinting off countless plastic tubes set around saplings on the hillside. It will be some years before they come into their growth, but I can already imagine a great expanse of woodland stretching the length of Bishopdale. They’re only grown to be chopped down and sold for timber, but it will be beautiful no matter how fleeting.
We climbed and pointed out birds or features in the landscape. Dad’s done this walk many times and I let him guide – he kept ribbing me about my hat and the fact that what I had thought was the path on the map was in fact a steep-sided ditch, one that we’d never have climbed out of.
Finally we reached the plantation. Even though they’re only saplings, it’s still a pretty place to walk. My only memory up to that point was of a deep wood with the snow on branches and the sweet smell of pine needles and rich soil in the air. Now it was open to the sky and the long grass weaved and rustled in the wind whilst birds flitted between the young branches.
A track had been mown though the long grass. The soft surface wasn’t easy on the legs; like walking on deep snow and having to lift your feet higher so you can see where you’re putting them next. Dad told me he’d seen birds of prey on his walks up here and I eagerly looked for them, just in case. I’d never be able to photograph them with my equipment and I’ve seen hawks and the like in falconry centres, but to see them in the wild would be have been a treat. Of course, I didn’t see any, but I wasn’t dissappointed.
Over another stile Dad pointed out a path we could have taken to climb Wasset Fell where clouds were casting long shadows over dry stone walls. Then we found ourselves walking through an area thick with young conifers.
Well, I assume they were young. They hadn’t yet reached the gargantuan heights of the ones we had walked through so many years ago, but the smell was fantastic. Even in the middle of Spring with the sun shining and the sounds of Summer birds overhead, I had to admit to feeling festive.
“That’s next Christmas’ tree sorted, then” I said to Dad.
He laughed. “They grow so close together, they’d be too thin.”
The path began to slope down, bordered on both sides by conifers, the plantation stretching across the hillside as far as I could see. Saplings wrapped in plastic had been planted in neat little rows looking like strip bulbs with one end stuck in the ground.
Where the conifers ended, the path became a track laid with hardcore that curved down to the Walden road that runs from the top of West Burton and up the length of Waldendale.
We could see across to Penhill and Harland Hill. Dad pointed out a track running up between the two hills that would, if we followed it, take us over into Coverdale. It would be a lovely walk to do, though as Dad pointed out you’d need to leave a car at the other end to get home.
“We could always drive over and leave the van at the pub,” he said. “Then drive back in mine and start the walk.”
He leant me his binoculars and I could trace the path winding its way up between the two hills before it rounded a spur and went out of sight. I could see a small stream running below it.
“Thupton Gill,” Dad said.
Yorkshire place names always have a warm, friendly sound to them, like Thupton Gill, Thoralby and Thornton-Le-Beans. If you do the research, you’ll find the majority of them have Norse origins from when this part of the country formed part of Danelaw and was ruled by the Danes.
We followed the road downhill, jumping onto the verge when a milk-wagon thundered along at a rediculously fast pace.
“They don’t care, do they?” said Dad.
“I hope he doesn’t meet anyone coming the other way.”
A moment later a hatchback past us going in the opposite direction at an even brisker pace. I don’t think they cared, either.
Walking along the road we could see some of the paths criss-crossing Penhill and we started hatching plans to follow some of the ones I hadn’t been on yet; Dad thinking of the journey whilst I was thinking of the photographs.
The road would have taken us into the centre of West Burton, but we took another footpath that skirted around the top of the village. We stopped for a breather and I looked down the length of the village green towards the pub and the shop and the village hall where The Penhill Poachers rehearse (we’ve also played there on several occasions).
The path took us away from the village and across fields to join the farm track from Newbiggin. The wind hadn’t dropped all day, but the sun was getting hotter and I was glad for my hat, no matter how foolish it made me look (which is pretty foolish, if you ask my father).
We cut across the fields to the main road and walked home in time for lunch, a host of new walks filed away in my head for future reference.