Rain in the Dales

I am never at my best in the early morning, especially a cold morning in the Yorkshire spring with a piercing […] wind sweeping down from the fells, finding its way inside my clothing, nipping at my nose and ears. – James Herriot

The confluence of D of E groups in your campsite and a Bank Holiday weekend can only mean one thing: the perfect storm. We woke in the night to the sound of torrential rain on the walls of the tent, pretty much exactly as forecast. The campsite night chorus of snoring coming from nearby tents was unexpectedly accompanied by curlew and lapwings, and I wondered whether they were alarm calls, and whether their nests were being robbed by owls or night predators like foxes.

When we awoke properly at 6.20, the rain was absolutely sheeting down, so much so that it was impossible to cook any porridge for breakfast. We foraged around and found an oaty breakfast bar and a packet of crisps. Luckily the day was not going to be too long, only about 20km, but it was quite clear from the weather that we were not going to be able to take any stops.

Our tent is really cleverly designed. There is a self-contained inner tent which hangs from the flysheet, meaning that you can put the sleeping compartment away undercover and completely dry. We managed the packing and get-out like a military operation, and started out with everything completely dry, including the groundsheet. Stephen carried the tent poles and the wet flysheet in his rucksack so as not to have to mix damp tent bags with any of the stuff that we are sending on in our big bag each day.

So we crawled out from under the flysheet with everything packed, and already wearing boots and full waterproofs, knowing that this was going to be our gear for the day. As we set off, at a smart place to keep warm, an enormous family of foreign tourists with lots of children of various ages came towards us, enthusiastically setting off in the direction of Pen-y-Ghent in the pouring rain and high wind. Most of them didn’t have walking boots, none of them had walking poles, and the waterproofs they had were of the brightly-coloured, very thin plastic dustbin-liner-with-hood variety. We warned them that it wasn’t safe to go up there today in these weather conditions and they wondered whether Ingleborough would be a better hill to climb today. No! Stay off the hills and go on the steam train instead!

We set off in the opposite direction up a track. Luckily the navigation today was not going to present any problems: the Pennine Way follows a Roman Road for much of this section, as straight as you like, and signposted where necessary. We were not expecting to meet many other people today. We were overtaken at one point by three mountain bikers and met two cheerful and exceptionally well-equipped young women walking in the opposite direction. There were also some idiots out there, though: three young lads terrifyingly underdressed and ill-prepared were attempting the Yorkshire Three Peaks. They seemed to have sacrificed space in the rucksack which they might have used for waterproofs (one was wearing shorts made of cotton sweatshirt material which were so wet and consequently heavy they kept falling down and he was constantly having to yank them up to cover his buttocks) to make way for Bluetooth speakers which were blaring out rap music at top volume to which the three were marching in time. We had chosen not to stop because we didn’t want to get too cold, but we opened one fieldgate to find a veritable posse of older walkers sheltering happily in the lee of the dry-stone wall eating their packed lunches and sipping coffee and tea out of thermos flasks.

None of this was photographed. It rained for four solid hours and my camera remained deep and dry within my rucksack. It was quite a boring time, but I entertained myself by imagining writing today’s blog as a version of Shakespeare’s King Henry the Fifth… in which Shorts Boy was exhorted to address himself ‘once more unto your britches’, and a sheep called Lord Scrope stuck its head over a wall to try and get us to bottle out and visit the Black Sheep Brewery in Masham rather than slog along in the rain and mud; and there’d be a Yorkshire farmer instead of Fluellen, and some gag about the luggage (hoping our bag hadn’t been pinched from the campsite before we arrived); and some insulting witty wordplay again with a taunting sheep about lamb chops, and some controversy about the Saline law which states you must rehydrate with electrolytes at the end of each day’s walk; and the Prologue (for it was she) tried to find the right descriptions get you to imagine it all, in the absence of photographs. All of which I was thinking with my head down and an extremely narrow field of vision, walking at a pretty constant pace of 4.8km/hr to keep warm and to reach Hawes as quickly as possible.

And then the clouds started to lift, and there were glimpses of sunlight on fields at the end of the dale down which we were walking. There was a dry-stone wall on our left which provided a perfect windbreak: we could hear wind howling and ripping on the other side of the wall but we were completely protected. Waterproofs dried really quickly especially when the wall came to an end, and we had to keep ourselves upright with our walking poles as we staggered along the exposed track down into Hawes, bearing the full brunt of the wind.

Bainbridge Ings campsite is a little way out of Hawes. It is the kind of campsite with a warm drying room, charging points, and lovely flat turf. Karen the exceptionally wonderful site manager took pity on us when we couldn’t get a taxi into town and I badly needed food but didn’t think I could manage the 15 minutes walk in flip-flops having taken off my soaking boots, and she offered to arrange a lift for us. Her partner Colin called over to say that he was phoning ahead to book a table for us at the Crown pub which had nearly completely filled up on this Bank Holiday Sunday. We ate well, sampled the Theakstons, re-stocked with food supplies, and got the taxi back. Only to realise that I had left my phone in the back of the car. But the lovely Street Taxi driver found it and brought it back. Would he accept any money?

We are living in a world of kindness.

Fly-through with (not very many) photos and elevation

Horton-in-Ribblesdale to Hawes

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