…in which we plod along breezy tracks and scoff a lot of cheesy snacks.
Horton to Hawes, 14 miles. Jump to Journal.
None until Hawes which is a proper town. Try to arrive in time for the Wensleydale Creamery café. I traditionally indulge in a simple Wensleydale sandwich although the Wensleydale and ginger cheesecake is also pretty impressive. Hawes has a range of accommodation from the traditional Youth Hostel (at which you can also camp) to an upmarket out of town spa lodge. We stayed in luxury at The Old Board Inn on the main drag which was delightful and did delicious and quite cosmopolitan food while also being a bit of a locals’ boozer, which was absolutely fine with me. The Chippie just uphill towards the hostel is a fabulous option too if you like fish and chips.
If Hawes feels a little too urban consider staying instead at Hardraw, which seemed to have two campsites, at least one bunkhouse, a tearoom and a pub, although the latter was up for sale in October 2016. (Thank goodness, it was very much still in business in September 2018).
Head to the north end of Horton, avoiding the massive quarry trucks over the narrow bridge, then go right through the pub car park to pick up The Way. Subsequently straightforward, in fact the Cam High Road is at first rolled stone and then bafflingly tarred up to Kidhow Gate.
As so often, things get confusing when you get towards the town. Just follow your nose downwards. A short cut from Gayle is to turn left into an alley directly opposite Ivy House, which is confusingly an ivy-free zone, it’s just a terraced house with a numberplate-style nameplate up on your right. The NTG route goes diagonally along Gayle Beck but simply heading down the road towards the school instead takes you very handily past The Creamery.
Leaving Horton I was shocked suddenly to recognise, outside the cavers’ hut, the very car park in which on a January morning in 1978 during a college caving club weekend I’d pulled out of a van and onto my slight and shivering body a wetsuit that was unhelpfully solid due to its being full of ice; an extraordinary experience I’ve never quite forgotten. Apart from the frozen wetsuits, I used to enjoy caving as it’s dark down there, so you can’t see the drops. In my distant youth I’ve abseiled on what today’s cavers would probably condemn as a length of rotting string down into Alum Pot and marvelled upwards from the very bottom of Gaping Gill – almost as unforgettable as the wetsuit. Ultimately I wasn’t tough enough. I’m terrified of drowning and prone to bronchitis, which is a caving-unfriendly combination.
Horton to the north is dominated by its quarry. Vast trucks pour out of this first thing in the morning and roar terrifyingly over the tiny bridge – there’s no pavement, so walkers need to watch out. Both the unattractive quarry and the unenjoyable Penyghent remain visible for miles as you rise up from the pretty bridge at the head of intriguingly invisible Ling Gill onto the Cam High Road. This soon becomes inexplicably tarred, presumably to service the forestry in the valley although at one point a family in a normal car passed us rather rapidly, stopping to open the Kidhow Gate and mysteriously driving through it to who knows where. Again, be alert. It’s easy to forget about vehicles on The Way.
The Way gets a little wilder here but no harder to follow. You might think it would enable us to see the view from Dodd Fell but, according to a Hewitt-bagger we met descending therefrom, the summit is an appalling swamp missing out on which can only be a good thing. A shame, though, as this day lacks topographic interest otherwise. Gaudy Lane was gorgeous, lined with wild flowers, Marsh Marigolds, Water Avens and many others. This must be one of the prettiest lanes in England in early June, although perhaps a tad bleak at other times.
I may have mentioned The Creamery which, glorified as The Wensleydale Experience on the map (NTG p.93), is clearly visible from quite high up. You can just aim straight for it and enjoy a nice cup of tea with their wide range of dairy-oriented edibles. Try not to pinch too much free cheese from the tasting bar. Their pure, fresh cheeses are all superb but what I just don’t get is the plethora of baffling mixtures. If I want to eat cheese with, say cranberries, I can buy cheese and I can buy cranberries and enjoy savouring them separately, as well as mixing and matching them variably to suit my mood. Why would I possibly want them ready-mixed, any more than I want butchers’ meat pre-marinaded in luridly-coloured flavourings? I can flavour my own meat, and mix my own crazy cheese combos, thank you.
Hawes, thank goodness, isn’t a mad mixture at all. As a town it seems all of a piece and of just the best and most manageable size. Everyone was friendly, including the proprietors of The Old Board Inn who were impressive ladies in every way; their ales were on point and their food delicious.