Driving to the top of Bishopdale along the narrow, winding road is not my favourite experience. After looking out over fields and barns and farm buildings, the walls and hedges close round and you’re left with just the road ahead to look at. Eventually the road takes a steep climb that seems neverending until, engine labouring and brow damp with sweat (or perhaps that’s just me), you reach Kidstones Pass and look out over the majestic hills and weather-worn crags of Wharfedale.
Back in May I went on a half-day photography course run by Guy Carpenter (of Gullwing Photography) around Semer Water. It was a very rewarding experience and when Guy announced a photography walk around the top of Wharfedale, I got in touch and said I’d be there. The van managed the climb up to Kidstones a little better than the old 1 litre hatchback I used to own – first gear and swearing was my method of ascent in that vehicle – and I was rewarded with the sight of the sun-bathed countryside sprawling beneath a clear blue sky.
I met up with the rest of the group – Guy, Iris, Vanessa and Sarah – in Buckden pay-and-display car park and we set off down the Hubberholme Road with the sun at our backs and cameras in hand.
The first stage of the walk followed the banks of the Wharfe upriver towards Hubberholme – one of my favourite Dales place-names. The water was beatifully clear and flanked on either side by lush meadows teaming with wildflowers and herbs that Iris – an expert in such matters – pointed out to us and listed their various medical or nutritional properties. I had been sneezing violently all morning and began to hope that Iris would suddenly announce a wild herb that, if munched, would not only prove tasty, but would alleviate my hay fever (or, even better, cure it completely).
“Well, we won’t have to worry about losing Kim, today,” said Vanessa, after I had a particularly loud sneezing fit. “We’ll hear him coming, no matter where he is!”
Such unbridled sympathy was to set the tone for most of the day.
The talk wasn’t all instructional. Guy had pointed out that the aim of the walk was more social than anything else and we talked with each other about ourselves and our interests (other than photography) and whatever else came to mind. Vanessa mentioned she is a postlady in Swaledale and Sarah runs her own design and framing business. It was all very informal and pretty soon it was like meeting up with old friends who I hadn’t seen for years.
Our progress was slow and sedate as we stopped at various points to take photos of the hills and the trees climbing their slopes. I had looked on a map before coming out and noted with regret that there were no footpaths marked through the trees. I’ve mentioned my love of rivers and waterfalls in previous blog entries, but I should also say that I am a sucker for a woodland trail. I made a mental note to look on my map when I got home to see if there were any woodlands walks nearby – I wouldn’t mind if I had to drive, either.
The path veered away from the river bank and we headed towards the road. The meadows were carpeted with buttercups and other wildflowers waving their heads in a gentle breeze. We passed a rusting trailer sitting amongst thistles by a dry stone wall. Naturally I climbed on top, marvelling at how hot the metal was under the sun. The others took photos and then I jumped off and landed in a patch of thistles; somehow my hay fever didn’t seem so bad at that moment…
For a narrow country lane, the road to Hubberholme was very busy. Cars rolled passed in long convoys, the passengers waving to us and our cameras. Some had the windows up – presumably the ones with air conditioning – whilst others had the windows or roofs down to enjoy the breeze and the smells of the countryside.
We walked towards Hubberholme, jumping onto the verge when a car or caravan came by. The road goes through Hubberholme and, eventually, to Gayle and Hawes. It’s not the easiest of routes, being narrow and winding and steep in places, so I was surprised to see so many vehicles on it.
We passed the pub at Hubberholme and crossed the little stone bridge over the Wharfe. The village is tiny – more a large farm with a couple of houses, a pub and a church – but beautiful, hidden away as it is at the junction of Wharfedale and Langstrothdale. A little stone bridge crosses the Wharfe and we went over and into the churchyard. I’m not religious, but I love peeking inside the little country churches around the Dales. After the heat of the sun, it was blissfully cool inside. Sunlight illuminated stained glass and the building had that musty-sweet smell of old hymn books, wooden pews and cool stone. I learnt, later on, that this church is the resting place of JB Priestley’s ashes (apparently, he had a particular fondness for Hubberholme and I can’t say that I blame him).
Even with the sun through the windows and lights hanging from the church ceiling, it was dim inside the church and it took a few adjustments before I got the settings on my camera right. With a modern DSLR, you can have the camera do everything for you, or you can select different modes that give you more and more control over the images it takes. This is one of the reasons I enjoy photography so much; working with a piece of technology and learning what it can and can’t do through my own experiments and mistakes and successes.
Near the door, like so many other churches in the Dales, was a table with a charity box and a collection of leaflets and souvenirs made by members of the congregation. In a little bowl, someone had left a number of knitted mice with a suggested donation written on a piece of laminated paper. Of course, we all bought one.
I wanted to call mine Yockenthwaite after the next village on our route, but Iris pointed out that Yocken is actually a Dutch first name and so I went with that.
I was a little reluctant to leave the church behind. I was enjoying the peaceful atmosphere and there were many more photos that I wanted to take. We left with our mice and walked into the sunlight, remarking to each other just how hot it had become whilst we were inside.
We followed a footpath round the back of the church and up a slope that followed the river once more. We passed through more meadows and my hay fever came back with renewed vigour.
“Try not to scare the sheep,” said Guy.
Following the river meant walking in the shade of trees and bushes growing along the bank and a slight relief from the sun’s heat. Back home the news would be commenting on how long it had been since the country had experienced such sustained hot weather. In the meadows we were enjoying the views and hoping we’d all packed enough sun cream – I was turning a shade of red to match Yocken.
A low dry stone wall followed the river on our left. At a break in the stones we climbed down to a shaded stretch of the river and took shoes and socks off to enjoy the cold water. There was a tiny waterfall where the water had carved a trough in the rock. Along the length of the trough, the water had undercut the stone and I took far too many photos of this feature before realising I was crouching down in water with my phone in my shorts pocket. Luckily it was dry and still working, even if there was no mobile signal. In fact, I had been without a mobile signal since Kidstones and I wasn’t missing it.
We were thinking about getting our packed lunches out when Iris said “Look, there’s a crayfish!”
We all rushed over and Guy fished it out of the water. Well, what was left of it. The back half of the body was missing and, nearby, we found another crayfish in the same state. Perhaps they had fought to the death – one was larger than the other, but from what happened later on, I don’t think size was a problem.
We left the halves of crayfish behind and moved to a sunny part of the rocks where we broke out the sandwiches and water and (in Iris’ case) the cheese and crackers.
Yes, Iris actually brought cheese and crackers!
In fact, it was her own homemade nettle cheese which I tasted and was pleasantly surprised by. Not only that, but it turns out that nettles had anti-histamine properties and my hay fever didn’t surface once for the rest of the walk!
Whilst we were feasting, we noticed movement in the water and were delighted to find a live crayfish waddling along the shallows. We jointly christened him Kevin and Guy picked him up out of the water to get a better look and so we could all photograph him. Kevin wriggled and squirmed and escaped from Guy’s fingers, landing on a rock with pincers raised to attack anyone foolish enough to get too close.
Eventually, Kevin scuttled back into the water, though he stood for a few moments regarding us with beedy eyes and open pincers before retreating for good.
We followed the path through more meadows until we reached Yockenthwaite and another bridge across the river. The infallible font of human knowledge that is Wikipedia refers to Yockenthwaite as both a hamlet and a village (I’m not going to split hairs by mentioning that, lacking a church, the former is the correct term), but it’s more of a loose collection of farms close to the river.
Except that, when we arrived, the river wasn’t there; the bed had completely dried up leaving nothing but rocks and stones. Guy’s intention had been to carry on for a little way and then come back along a higher footpath. Instead, we walked through the little farm that sat beside the river bed and climbed the track until it levelled off and followed the slopes of the hill back towards Hubberholme.
The path was rough and uneven and in a couple of places we were not so much walking as scrambling up the hill. The view across the dale was stunningly clear and beautiful, the colours of the land and the sky so sharp (even with sunglasses on). I’m no good as a painter, but I can imagine that any artist would love to sit and paint the landscape of Langstrothdale, especially on such a splendid summer’s day.
By this time, I had emptied my water bottle and was regretting not bringing a spare with me. However, Sarah was kind enough to let me have one of hers – everybody else had brought several bottled drinks with them and I felt a little amateurish in comparison. We reached the top of the climb and looked out across the dale.
The wall at the top of the climb was broken in places and there were sheep grazing everywhere, even in places that you wouldn’t expect them to reach. Ruined barns stood on the edges of crags like watchtowers on ancient cliffs looking for marauders. The only marauders in the dale that day were photographers and ramblers – the latter carrying alpine sticks instead of battleaxes, though I still wouldn’t tangle with them.
The path followed a broken wall up to the edge of a small wood where we sighed with collective relief at a break from the sun. It was mid afternoon by now, but the heat was showing no signs of abating and we were glad for even a brief respite.
We passed out from under the trees and walked down the hill to Scar House. The couple who own it have turned their home into one of the best tea rooms I’ve ever had the pleasure of visiting. We sat on a picnic bench in the front garden and tried to decide what flavour of ice-cream to order. A group of ramblers were seated on the other benches enjoying cream teas. Iris, Vanessa, Sarah and I had a helping of ice-cream each and Guy went for a scone with jam and cream. I’m afraid my respect for him plummeted when he put the cream on his scone before the jam – is nothing sacred?!
We left with some reluctance, bidding farewell to the ramblers and thanking the house’s owners for the ice-cream. It was getting into early evening and we were all starting to feel worn out from the day’s exertions. The path from Scar House down to Hubberholme was paved and a lot easier on the feet than the climb up from Yockenthwaite. Looking to my left, I could see Buckden pike and the slopes where the B6160 climbs up passed the White Lion pub at Cray and then levels off over Kidstones before dropping down in Bishopdale. Above Kidstones was a beautifully smoothe cloud formation that begged to be photographed. So I did.
The path sloped down and rejoined our original route above Hubberholme church. From there we simply retraced our steps back up the road and over the meadow by the banks of the Wharfe. It had been a beautiful day and, as we parted company and went our seperate ways, I felt a tired satisfaction from having spent a rewarding time exploring a new part of the Dales and making new friends.