…in which I’m doubly stuffed with suet, attractively garnished with slurry and lightly poached in hot water.
Ponden to Gargrave, 17 miles.
Signs advertise a campsite at Ickornshaw off to the east of The Way, which might be a way to extend these first four days into a less challenging five. What might have once been a pub to the west is now a manufactory of artisanal kitchens. Cowling, a short walk east along the A6068, allegedly has resources possibly including a pub, but I like the Hare and Hounds at Lothersdale, which is directly on The Way. In May 2016 the lunchtime special here was homemade corned beef and onion suet crust pie. It was lovely, with perfect veggies and hot gravy. Recklessly, I followed this with the ‘treacle’ suet pud which turned out to be golden syrup but no less awesome for that, and in a small lake of piping hot custard. Tremendous.
Gargrave has a unique and wonderful cafe (see Pennine Way 2), shops including a pharmacy and a modern Co-Op with cash machine, and an excellent pub, the Masons’ Arms. This is directly on The Way and provides accommodation and top-notch food. We stayed in one of the motel-style rooms out the back. The ambience was a little urban but the facilities and comfort more than adequate, including a hot bath that was much needed, I’d happily stay there again. The belly pork was stunning and the ale unimpeachable. Usefully for section hikers, Gargrave is accessible by train from Leeds.
The buildings at Dean Fields are confusing but the NTG directions make sense. If you go too far uphill as I did you’ll reach the road too soon; just walk left along it to the bend at the top of Dean Clough. I then tried to get up to Crag Top too soon via a steep unofficial path that presents itself alluringly opposite the houses but isn’t in fact The Way. You’re supposed to go all the way past the houses on the left and then double back up a clear track off to the right. At Old Bess Hill the helpful wall runs out and you’ll need your compass in fog.
There’s an odd bunch of marker posts at the county boundary on Ickornshaw Moor at about 974 396 and most of The Way across here is at least partially flagstoned. I couldn’t find the stone wind shelter mentioned in the NTG (p. 64). The stone ‘hut’ at N is more like a small but substantial bothy (private, unfortunately) and a good aiming point although in a dip rather than on the skyline.
It’s silly but possible to miss the little path on the north side of the A6068 that heads down steeply through Ickornshaw, especially if you’re distracted by checking that the kitchens place is no longer any kind of refreshment facility. The path down is just a few paces west of the ducks, there’s a clear sign. How I missed it I’ve no idea; I just walked back down the sloping road in the end. When crossing the horrible A56 at Thornton don’t fail to realise that The Way continues directly over the road, up the hill through the houses, it doesn’t go into the town.
Somehow in 1999 I got lost on the way into Gargrave. I think I went northeast uphill after crossing the stream at 916 518, rather than following the stream just a gnat’s east of north towards Newton Grange Farm. I ended up ploughing over Mickleber Hill, rather than Scaleber Hill, then trudging into town along the station road. In 2016 I found the Way here straightforward so either the signage or my navigation have improved, probably the former. Turn left into town, see the church opposite and you’ll pass the Masons’ Arms on a corner. Actually, don’t pass it, have a pint. Northbound, Gargrave doesn’t look much at first sight. Fear not, most of the facilities including the justly famous Dalesman Café and the shops are on the north side of the lovely old Aire bridge which according to Wainwright is the lowest point on the Pennine Way.
I said I wouldn’t mention pain, but walking out of Ponden at 5 am I was in some discomfort, and chilled by the riverside miasma. By Crag Top I still hadn’t warmed up; a restorative brew and some hot Supernoodles were indicated. My stove wouldn’t light. I fixed it eventually, but was it going to be one of those days? By the time I reached the poles on Ickornshaw Moor the breeze was still nippy but the sun was out and the world seemed a much brighter place. The walk down through the mysterious shacks and past the atmospheric derelict farmhouse (where I was repeatedly dive-bombed by noisy, anxious Curlews) is very pretty and the duck sanctuary is refreshingly mad.
The Hare and Hounds at Lothersdale saved my day in foul freezing weather back in 1999 and so I remain sentimentally attached to it, even though the landlord can make walkers feel a little uncomfortable on arrival, while sucking his e-cig for England. He’ll probably fret about his carpet and remind you to remove boots or don his plastic covers. He may fret about your rucksack, and will probably tell you to put it in the poolroom even if the place is otherwise empty.
Bear with him; it’s just his way. Once he’s got this out of his system he becomes amenable, even friendly. He seems nostalgic, as if he yearns for his pub to be once more full of things that will never return, clouds of choking fag smoke, perhaps, or half-naked miners wrestling for a hogget. Customers, even. He’ll cheerily let you charge your phone (if politely asked, anyway), there’s free WiFi and his Theakstons was excellent. But the main reason I’d stop here for lunch is that the lady who does the food is a smiley delight, a total treasure and her traditional family grub is splendid.
After two suet puds and the pints to wash them down I soared up Pinhaw Beacon on a high-octane beer rocket, glowing and giggling with rude, lardy vigour. In 1999 I cautiously didn’t drink enough beer on this walk and hence endured days of pain and existential angst. I wasn’t going to make that mistake again. From Pinhaw Beacon, Penyghent suddenly looks close and Gargrave more so. Both are illusions.
Cravendale is not the most uplifting section of The Way. Much of it passes through the ecologically blighted intensive dairyland that pays the wages in these parts, although I didn’t notice filters on the cows’ udders. On the last day of May, already the first cut of silage had been shaved virtually bald from the high-yield ryegrass monocultures, leaving not a blade for a Skylark to hide behind, let alone for a Lapwing’s nest. And, indicating extreme nitrogen-enrichment along the fencelines, to quote A.E.Housman:
The stinging nettle only
Will still be found to stand:
The numberless, the lonely,
The thronger of the land,
The leaf that hurts the hand.
Muck spreaders were rushing about, gulping their rebated diesel, forcing from what is now like so much British farmland essentially a hydroponic substrate the next of its two or even three annual scalpings. At Brown House the driver of one definitely grinned – oops – as a little spare slurry accidentally spattered onto a lone Wayfarer.
Above Gargrave I was forced to rest my feet yet again at a bench memorialising a walker who’d expired in the vicinity. I called my loved one who it turned out was already in the bath at the Masons’. Spurred on by tub envy I hobbled on, alluringly perfumed with cheesy manure. ‘I saw you cooming down and thought maybe I’d call t’helicopter’ observed the landlord. That bath was the best thing I saw all day, apart from t’aforementioned loved one of course.