…in which we encounter uninhibited young cattle, unenviably grown-up hikers and unexpected families on safari.
Gargrave to Malham, 7 miles.
Having supported the pub by staying and eating an excellent dinner there, we breakfasted frugally in morning sunshine outside the Co-Op. That in itself would be more than enough resource for a Wayfarer at Gargrave. It does hot bacon, sausage or fish finger rolls as well as hot drinks, pastries and a massive range of convenience food. Gargrave also has a pharmacy and other shops as well as the Dalesman Café of course. It’s connected by regular trains to Leeds and all points north, including Horton in Ribblesdale – blistered Wayfarers think on’t.
Malham is a tourist honeypot and also lavishly resourced although there’s no grocery shopping, the tiny ‘village shop’ looks like something from The League of Gentlemen and seems to keep random hours. Hence an important reason to visit the Co-Op at Gargrave is to stock your pack for the long day over Fountains Fell and Penyghent. Otherwise you’ll have to improvise: the Lister Arms sells flapjacks, The Old Barn sandwiches and cakes. There’s a handy outdoor shop at Malham too with spare and repair stuff and a range of entry level clothing and footwear understandably aimed at daywalkers.
I like the Old Barn Café because I like friendly, family cafes with simple family food. Despite their small size they take cards and their Yorkshire curd tart is great. Twice in 2016 I ate dinner at the Lister Arms and found it excellent if slightly intimidating. Despite appearances they’re friendly and don’t actually mind muddy walkers.
Ignore reviews that claim the campsite at Town Head Farm is unfriendly; we found it quite the opposite and we thought the instructional signs were characterful, funny and helpful. The lady who runs this pretty riverside site is lovely and has an ‘always room for a Wayfarer’ policy so you don’t need to book. It has showers (at a small extra cost, I believe) it’s directly on The Way and gives you a head start in the morning.
Straightforward once out of Gargrave although in general wayfinding through farmland is often harder than on the high tops, needing a surprising amount of concentration and compass work. The Way heads directly out of town opposite the Aire bridge down the road to the right of The Dalesman Cafe. If you want to visit the Co-Op and other shops, just carry on down the High Street. Turn left into North Street then right past the car park back up to the canal bridge, there are PW fingerposts. From Hanlith we took Wainwright’s recommended riverside route rather than the higher official Pennine Way; having now done both I agree with Wainwright.
A walk with a companion is a very different experience, especially one with the person you would choose conversation with over any other activity. It becomes dominantly an interaction with the companion rather than with the trail and its landscape. The journalist of the journey is left with the dilemma of how to reframe the tale of a trail, how to project its altered image through the refocused lens of a portable domesticity.
Many accounts of accompanied travel major on allegedly humorous foibles and eccentricities of companions. I’m blessed with an omnicompetent partner and I find such accounts often patronising and even inappropriate, riddled with everyday sexism. Walking in company introduces debates and compromises, even arguments. It introduces frustrations, as your capabilities and priorities inevitably differ. It reintroduces the humour that you’re shocked to realise how much you’d missed walking alone. Much of that is lost in translation and the account better for its loss, I think.
This was an easy country walk through green fields along a pretty river, some frisky cows providing the only drama. At the footbridge just after Airton we met a man about our age claiming to be well through his fifth Pennine Way; his third north to south, he said, which he preferred. This sowed a terrible seed of competitiveness in my middle-aged mind, especially as he seemed remarkably unencumbered. However further enquiries teased out an initially unadmitted amount of vehicular and wifely support. He was in fact a section hiker. Well, really.
Listening to his tales were a couple about our age in identical his’n’hers rainwear and with identical his’n’hers pack covers. They sipped ostentatiously from their his’n’hers hydration systems, the fiddly and unhygienic bladders of Satan in my opinion, and toyed with their his’n’hers astronaut pouches, which contained all-weather GPS’s, all-weather cameras and goodness knows what all-weather else. I considered showing off my Lidl juice bottle and my budget smartphone with its cracked screen but they were busy explaining their paid-for daily schedules with distances to the metre, booked luxury accommodations and programmed waypoints. Apart from spurious gadgets, they too were surprisingly unencumbered. They were paying for baggage transfer. Well, really. Let the record show that DofE kids have pack covers. Wayfarers have socks, Supernoodles and Compeed in a Tesco ‘bag for life’.
We approached Malham through a huge temporary car park. The village was heaving with kids as, unknown to us, it was the day of the ‘Malham Safari’, a marvellously creative poetry- and wildlife-themed activity for families. We arrived just in time for the duck race, then pottered about among the amazing papier-maché animals, ate chip butties and ice creams, pitched our tent in pole position by the beck, pottered a bit more, ate a splendid supper at the Lister and retired early. We were then kept awake for hours by a gaggle of children, inspired by the ‘safari’, loudly telling each other wildly creative tales of the lives and families of the imaginatively-named ducks inhabiting the campsite river. Frustrating but wonderful.