Two Dales in Two Episodes - Ted Maden - 'Afoot in Two Dales 2006'
Two Dales in Two Episodes
Soon after sunrise it was already warm and sultry. A boom reverberated from down the dale. It must be blasting at a quarry. What quarry? At 6.30am on a Saturday morning? Through the hazy blue sky I could just perceive a towering cloud in the east. Another boom. It was thunder! An ominous prelude.
Since joining the LDWA in 2006 I had done several excellent 20 to 25-milers, a 40-miler and a couple of 45s, and I now wanted to do a 50. Afoot in Two Dales seemed an attractive possibility. I had driven across from Windermere and was checking some details in and around Wensleydale for the latter part of the walk, which I would have to do in the dark. This exercise was of limited usefulness as in the time available I was only able to visit the road crossing points. In particular I hoped that the cross-country section between Bainbridge and Thoralby would not be too tricky.
In Leyburn the streets were wet but the thundercloud had drifted northwards and the sun shone. My recce had cost time and I arrived at the start at Harmby with only a few minutes to spare. Thus I did not have the opportunity to pare down my kit to the minimum and I probably had a couple of pounds of unnecessary items in my rucksack: not a lot, but too much for a walk of this length.
At 9.00 we were off, about 120 of us. I spotted a couple of Westmorland and N. Lancs walkers ahead, but they were faster than me and I soon lost sight of them. What I did not expect was that everyone would be faster than me! When I reached the escarpment above Leyburn I was on my own, hoping that a few of the pack would slow down. They didn’t. I would have missed a path down from the escarpment and across meadows if the three sweepers, Alan, Roy and Phil, had not caught up with me at that point. I was to enjoy their company for several hours.
The intricacies of valleys and farmland can cause more navigational problems than the open slopes of uplands and I would certainly have had difficulty finding my way to Redmire without my personal escort of friendly sweepers. From Bolton Castle I was allowed off on my own up the hill that separates Wensleydale from Swaledale. My companions caught up with me in the intermediate high valley of Apedale and I was again glad of their company for the correct descent to Swaledale. From the higher slopes a village was visible some way up the dale. “Muker?” I asked hopefully. “No, Gunnerside.” Only the 16-mile point!
We had been protected from the sun’s heat by a veil of high cloud, but it was warm and muggy, and at Gunnerside we learned of some retirals. I was still on schedule for completion within the 24 hour limit, but I did inadvertently express doubts with a remark that ended “… if I get to Hardraw. “When you get to Hardraw!” affirmed Alan.
From the checkpoint at Thwaite I again set off ahead. I had climbed Great Shunner on three previous occasions, once from Thwaite at the start of Richard Gilbert’s excellent “Swaledale Watershed” walk, described in Wilson and Gilbert’s Wild Walks. This time however I made heavy weather of the climb, and was caught up again before the top.
The veil of high cloud seemed thicker but the slopes of Great Shunner concealed the reality of a wall of blackness that was building up on the other side. I arrived at the summit cairn to a clap, not of applause, but of thunder. This released some adrenaline, as I hate being on exposed ridges in thunderstorms, and I made good pace downhill, now with five companions for the radio operators Bill and Simon were coming down as well.
It was climatically a luridly spectacular descent. To the left cloud and rain engulfed the quaintly-named Lovely Seat, though there was no more thunder. To the right the evening sky was clear to the horizon and the distant Howgills were visible between the massive Bough Fell and Wild Boar Fell. Afterwards my wife Sybil told me what a beautiful evening she had enjoyed on a boat trip on Lake Windermere.
With the radio team present the question arose as to my plans for the rest of the walk. I realized I was taking up a good deal of the support resources for the event, but asked if the organisers would mind my continuing, as it seemed to me that after Hardraw the terrain would be mainly low level. This was agreed, but then came a happening.
We had turned eastwards into the rain and were less than a mile from Hardraw when I tripped. I should have been able to control the resulting stumble but I was carrying a bottle of water in one hand and this interfered with my reactions. I fell heavily, my upper left thigh landing on what must have been a rock or a hard place. For a minute or two I groaned with pain, but I had not broken anything. I accepted a bit of help onto my feet and we made it to Hardraw, where I did only limited justice to the fine fare on offer.
Rob, Teresa and Bill would accompany me to Bainbridge. Despite being far adrift from the rest of the field I was still within my own 24 hour schedule. It was still daylight and I was cautiously optimistic about completing. But I had underestimated the extent of soft tissue damage from my fall. This only became fully evident during the next few days from a large area of bruising over much of my thigh. Meanwhile I was in more than average pain and was finding the many gated stiles difficult, my escorts kindly taking turns to hold the gates open. We got into conversation, as one does, until suddenly on a minor country lane I went dizzy, had to sit down, and the next thing I knew I was coming round from a swoon. My supporters asked me if I would like a recovery pick-up vehicle, but I stubbornly insisted on continuing. On crossing the bridge over the Ure at Bainbridge I felt a minor satisfaction on passing this landmark., but with darkness falling I entertained private misgiving about the next section to Thoralby. Moreover I had been naive to suppose that, with a radio operator present, my questionable physical condition would not be known to the organizers. The checkpoint personnel at Bainbridge received me in the manner of a kindly but not very encouraging reception committee.
Albert put the case courteously but irrefutably. The section to Thoralby was difficult, and especially so for any rescue. He advised me to withdraw, adding that I could claim a certificate if I completed at a later date. I saw sense and conceded. Many thanks, Albert. It was the only safe course of action.
Two marshals drove me back to Harmby. On the journey we discussed the merits of 20 and 25 milers. They advised me sleep awhile in the hall at Harmby, but the fast walkers were already arriving and the hall was brightly lit. Only the stage was dark, and I could not climb up there with my bad leg! So I drove slowly and cautiously back to Windermere. So ended episode one
I had learned a bit about myself and a lot about the quality and quantity of organization that go into an LDWA event, especially a long one. Subsequently I heard from Rob and Teresa that quite a few walkers had gone astray before Thoralby, and Rob and Teresa had guided the torchlight procession into the village.
Summer turned to autumn, autumn to winter and winter to spring and I still had not returned to finish the walk. I really wanted to do it and a free day appeared on the horizon in May. I was not sure that I could predict my time for the 16 miles from Bainbridge to Harmby sufficiently well to coincide with a bus back to Bainbridge. Then I had the idea of driving to Harmby and being collected by a pre-booked taxi which would take me back to Bainbridge for the start of the walk. This strategy worked perfectly, and the lady taxi driver talked enthusiastically about her horse-riding leisure activities.
The walk itself was easy enough in the daytime and afforded superb views over Wensleydale in pleasantly cool conditions. However, much of the section from Bainbridge to Thoralby follows the faintest of faint paths, across undulating ground in the second half, and I could imagine the difficulties of following the line in darkness and finding the many gated stiles. From West Burton to Pen Hill Farm was familiar to me as I had done it previously in another Wilson and Gilbert Wild Walk, Pen Hill and Buckdon Pike. Then Middleham Moor has easy firm tracks next to the horse training grounds. Middleham has a castle and is twinned with Agincourt.
The last mile and a half to Harmby was mostly across fields and was unexpectedly complicated. After the turreted bridge over the River Ure the passage of one field was enlivened by a herd of inquisitive bullocks. Many years ago I had read in the Boys Own Paper that wild animals can be frightened away by singing. So I now sang to the bullocks “A bear went over the mountain, to see what it could see”. The strategy had worked previously for me when I encountered a bear and her cub in the Canadian mountains. However, either it does not work with domestic animals or the bullocks were stupid. I walked on trying to look bold as they converged around me until, safely on the other side of yet another gated stile, I turned around and gave them a steely stare.
Due to the lie of the land I could not actually see Harmby until I was almost there. Fortunately I had chosen correctly from a plethora of paths and I was back at the car six and half hours after starting from Bainbridge; not a fast walk, but a very pleasant one. And so I concluded my two episodes of this adventure Afoot in Two Dales. Thank you Jill King and colleagues in the Cleveland LDWA, including all those mentioned above, for setting up this challenging walk through superb surroundings, marshalling it so well, and awarding a certificate to a slow but appreciative walker.
In closing, I understand that a navigationally easier route will be taken from Bainbridge to Thoralby next time.