It was one of the best long distance walks I’ve done. I had a new pack (wore the old one through at the hips – you should have seen my hips) but nothing hurt whatsoever and I hardly used my poles – except the day Matt hubristicly decided to deviate from Mark Reid’s route and I was forced, as he says, “to tread on a rough rock”. I think we both regretted that afternoon in the eroded bog between Little Whernside and Great Whernside – put it this way, I can’t get my feet clean.
But the many turf tracks were a pleasure to walk on.
There were fascinating animals – birds, bunny upon bunny, ancient dogs who wanted only to be petted, cuddlesome cats, lambies and toads to kiss – everywhere.
Everywhere. I’ve missed out all the wild birds.
Everywhere. This dog nearly garotted himself in pursuit of our affection.
Everywhere. A chicken stole my tofu roll at Bolton Castle (but we got it back)
The wild flowers were enchanting.
The gills, becks, rivers and waterfalls made you want to linger.
The weather was fabulous and the villages winsome.
…but it was early enough in the year for the innkeepers to light their enormous Yorkshire fireplaces at night.
The glacial valley views were awesome.
And the inns were almost all splendid. Our favourite was not so much splendid as tiny and perfect – the Victoria Arms in Worton.
There we met Roger, a punter, who had been born in the first pub we stopped at (Tennants Arms, Kilnsey), and another bloke, an emigre from Bermondsey, a newly redundant civil engineer (of an age where you could be apprenticed into it sans qualifications), who had just frozen the gravy given to him by the departing holiday cottagers next door. A word of advice – don’t sit under the fox’s back end – there’s a squirter behind the bar. And the toilets are outside as they were at the nearly equally perfect Falcon at Arncliffe where a sardonic man at a hatch serves swishes Timothy Taylor round in his jug before pouring it into your glass – they love a head on their beer in Yorkshire (but did hear somebody ask at a bar in Grassington for them to pump his drink with the sparklers off).
What a holiday.
Other observations – I like a old-malty, very hoppy beer but, with the exception of Seabrook’s crisps new hot and spicy range, Yorkshire flavours are somewhat subtle for my palate. This includes the tea. Relatedly I think, North of Skipton we didn’t see a single dark-skinned face in the Dales (this is unnerving for a Bedfordian / Londoner).
It’s funny that baked beans are so rarely advertised on breakfast menus (though hash browns are usually mentioned).
We were surprised to find that in one inn the old towels had been left hanging on the door of our room, in another the shower didn’t drain, in another there was a half-used sachet of shampoo and an opened soap in the shower, and in a fourth, the sheet press had been left in the middle of the room (we dried our pants and socks on it).
The Dales rivers are beautiful – clear, shallow and fast-flowing. I really enjoyed walking across them. The Swale frequently rises 3 metres in 20 minutes.
Dales lambs vary in temperament from farm to farm. Some (the ones who are given molasses licks by their farmers, is my guess) would peg it towards Matt when he arrived in their field only to screech to a halt at the last minute, realising that, what, no flat cap, strange bare legs and a gingery beard – Jesus Christ it’s not him – it’s somebody else – and who the fuck is that with him?? Run, run for your life. Other lambs are wary.
The rabbits, whose rifle-shot corpses littered the tracks and roads, knew to run even at a distance of 200 metres. I found this very sad. You could tell the ones which had been preyed – their picked-over bones were scattered over metres. But we must have seen 150 abandoned corpses killed apparently for nothing, slowly dessicating in the hot sun at the side of the roads. Those shot rabbits and the frantic fear of the living ones were the only blight on the holiday.
In the Dales a packed lunch is a single round of sandwiches. I like this. On the Essex Way we were given Easter eggs and cakes and Tuc biscuits and cartons of juice. Matt used to spoon it all in while I looked on enviously.
We carry everything, and take a single change of clothes. This worried some people we met, but think about it. You get to your destination, shower, and then spend a clean 5 hours or so in your change of clothes in non-smoking environments. How dirty is that change of clothes going to get? You only need to take one. I took some flip-flops and toe socks too in case my feet got cold). And in fact, your evening clothes are the only things you could leave with a sherpa service. You need to keep your waterproof, fleece, first aid kit, water, etc with you for the day, and there’s no getting around the fact that that’s the stuff which weighs most. If you are worried about your knees with a heavy pack, a pair of walking poles will save them – and poles are invaluable for testing spongey ground, balancing on rocks holding back brambles, exercising your triceps and many other things besides.
We kept missing Mark Reid. He’d stayed at the Kings Arms in Reeth the night before we did, and was due at The Bluebell in Kettlewell the day after us. Nice life. His books, by the way, are excellent. You begin with some statistics about the journey and its stages, there’s a list of pubs, contact details, amenities, and history, a list of towns and their amentities, and then the guts of the book is the stages – each chapter begins with a step-by-step guide to the route (turn right at the stile… ignore the 3 waymarks signposted to X… go through 4 gates… etc) and then comes the guide to each village. Between the book and a 1:25k Ordnance Survey Explorer map, we didn’t get lost (hardly used the GPS).
Appendix – vegan food. The Woolly Sheep in Skipton was very nice to me – chef came out to discuss and went off piste without prior warning (we’d have given notice of special dietary need but assumed we’d eat elsewhere in Skipton) and for breakfast they gave me unasked-for but very welcome soya milk and (the only one) margarine. The Buck Inn in Buckden did an unorthodox basmati mushroom risotto which was pretty tasty and came topped with parsnip curls. However – and they had gone out of their way to get the peanut butter, which I appreciated – my breakfast toast arrived with peanut butter spread on already, and to the extent that when scraped to manageable amounts I had enough over to cover 2.5 slices. This wasn’t a big deal – what was sad, and my own fault, was that I hadn’t remembered to ask for salad in my sandwiches for lunch and the peanut butter was spread half a centimetre thick there too. At the White Rose in Askrigg I had a nice marinated mushroom starter followed by stuffed pepper in tomato sauce and then two caramelly baked apples (they really made an effort). In the Fox and Hounds in West Burton they had a pizza oven and I had a very nice pizza with raw avocado instead of cheese, a great salad and a very excellent fruit salad too. The Kings Head in Gunnerside did an excellent lunchtime two-bean curry with half chips half rice. That was a very nice pub. The Kings Arms in Reeth, another beautiful inn, did something called a fricasse which turned out to be vegetables in tomato sauce again. But his breakfast was the best – to make up for the lack of margarine I had a hell of a lot of fried bread that week and some of it was shocking, but his was so good. And his coffee was excellent.
At the Bluebell Inn in gorgeous Kettlewell, they were strangely secretive about the chef’s vegan creation. It turned out to be vegetables in tomato sauce again. It was pretty nice, and you always appreciate any extra effort. But so often it was vegetables in tomato sauce. That’s why I have to work so hard to stave off protein malnutrition.
All-in-all, comparing it to Matt’s, I wasn’t satisfied with my food, although this is not at all particular to the Dales and I did appreciate the efforts of the various kitchen staff and others who prepared for me. This deserves recognition. But in general too often when I phone in advance I’m asked what I eat, and when I list what I eat (grains, seeds, pulses, vegetables, fruits, sugars, chocolate, nuts, oils, soya products – not effing Quorn) I’m told – incredibly, and often by front of house rather than the kitchen – that it’s going to be difficult to accommodate. Too often I’m asked what I want. Now, imagine I prepared myself a day-by-day menu of what I want, possibly (because after all I’m on holiday and hopeful of treats) taken from the menu of Manna, or Saf, or Rasa, or The Gate. Or even – more down to earth like – a veggie lasagna with soya bechamel and potato cheese. They’d laugh in my face and offer me vegetables in tomato sauce. I don’t want to be asked what I want. I want to be given a choice from a thought-out repertoire for such occasions. It’s happened before – this wonderful place, the Castle Inn in Cumbria – that I was given a choice of 4 starters and 4 mains, all of which were exciting – why not everywhere? Well, really I want to see vegan food dominating the menu, which is – as everybody who cares about the environment (if not sentient animals) knows, even if they reassure themselves meat must be fine because it continues to feature so heavily – the responsible thing to do. Only today Douglas Kell predicted food riots because the demand for food and energy would increase by 50% by 2030. And we feed soya and molasses to Dales sheep…
It’s a little bit fucked up.
But the Dales are beautiful (and partly because of the sheep)
But we don’t got to eat em.