…in which I insomniacally wander down the Aire, improbably recall Milan among sweetie jars and enjoyably eat a dragon’s egg on a beacon.
Malham to Ickornshaw Moor, 21 miles.
Gargrave for shopping, including a useful pharmacy and a substantial Co-Op with a cash machine, and for catering including the eccentrically wonderful Dalesman Cafe and the excellent Masons Arms pub.
Then at Lothersdale there’s the Hare & Hounds. I’d stocked up at Gargrave Co-Op for a picnic, thinking I’d get to Lothersdale too late for the pub but it turned out to be open all afternoon although not for food. In October 2016, food was available here 12 – 2 and 6 – 9 Monday to Friday and 12 – 9 on Saturday, Sunday and Bank Holidays.
Wild camping at the top of Ickornshaw Moor turned out to be problematic as the whole area was very boggy and uneven – it had seemed quite dry in June. There’s a bit of a view and I was lucky with a still night but all things considered I’d camp lower down another time. There might be a nook somewhere around the mysterious huts along Andrew Gutter although these are private property of course so must carefully be respected. I passed better campsites lower down around Eller Hill but all this area is very visible from houses on the other side of the valley, which put me off. Had I left Malham at a later time I might have stopped earlier at a better campsite.
Leaving Malham in the dark I took the higher ‘official’ route above the river, as it looked easier to follow. Wainwright suggests the riverside alternative between Hanlith and Malham; that’s definitely prettier. For some reason the yellow Pennine Way line on the NTG map (p. 77) diverges from the lower dotted line path just before Hanlith. If you follow this yellow line along the wall you get to a farm whose occupants are clearly fed up with Wayfarers taking this higher line, judging from the large ‘no right of way’ sign on their gate. You have to turn right at this gate back down to the lower path alongside the houses and onto the road (R, NTG p. 77). You may as well have followed that lower path in the first place.
The shops in Gargrave are along the High Street to the northeast of The Way. On entering the town turn left just below the canal along North Street, then head right along the High Street to pick up The Way again southwards across the Aire bridge.
I got lost southeast of Brown House Farm where the path is indeed ‘vague’ as Damian Hall observes in the NTG. I must have missed the right turn at the top of the steep hill because I ended up at Wood House, facing Elslack Reservoir, which is fortunately a good landmark in decent visibility. Approaching Park House I realised my error and tried to get back to The Way over Park Hill. This looked easy at first but turned out to be a nightmare of cattle-poached bogs and gapless walls, not to mention private land of course. I might as well have gone all the way to Clogger Lane. Southbound, the path up to Pinhaw Beacon isn’t especially clear: don’t miss the vital left turn at about 942 470.
South of Cowling Hill Lane the route into Ickornshaw is quite confusing. If you were sensibly stopping at Cowling, Gill Lane would be a short cut. Ickornshaw Moor is bleak and exposed but The Way is intermittently flagstoned and easy enough to follow; a good job too as by the time I got up there it was dark again. Short days are a real problem in October.
There was little sleep available in Malham hostel as the women in the dorm upstairs nattered and laughed loudly until way past midnight, then were inexplicably at it again by quarter to five. I can’t imagine what they were all doing that early that needed loud, hilarious and continuous multilateral discussion. As their male companions were all snoring boozily through this racket in the bunks adjacent to mine, I guess they must have assumed from domestic experience that nobody would be disturbed. I packed up grumpily and stomped out into pitch darkness, realising as I reached the beck that I’d forgotten to clean my teeth.
Luckily Malham has a public toilet which, as so often in these austere times, is now maintained by the village via a donation box. The village was full of posh cars, their owners presumably sound asleep in the posh BnBs. Once I’d remembered to cross the beck at the smithy, the path out of the village was easy to follow with only minimal use of my headtorch. Below Windy Pike I came upon a Wayfarer wild camping right on the path and still soundly asleep, judging by the snoring. I wished I’d done the same, although then of course I wouldn’t have had a rucksack full of nice clean, dry kit. I always creep respectfully past other wild campers, wondering as I do so how many people will creep past me the very next night.
The beautiful horses of enviable Hanlith Hall kindly let me pass along their path through their elegantly landscaped park. By halfway to Gargrave it was light and Dippers were busy along the river, chasing each other and calling loudly. A police car nosed slowly and incongruously over Newfield Bridge. Dawn in Airedale can’t be a particularly busy beat but I suppose you never know what might be the aftermath of a mad Friday night in Malham.
I stocked up on picnic grub at the Co-Op. Some tinnies of reassuringly familiar Adnams (bottles are heavy and you can’t seem to get decent Yorkshire beer in tins), several intriguingly named Dragon’s Eggs and a bag of custard doughnuts. I managed to resist the hot food as I was determined to visit at last the well-reputed Dalesman Cafe, although I was initially put off by the general tweeness outside. Bravely, I nosed in and was amazed to find an interior that is twee squared but somehow in a good way, quirky, creative and full of humour. I was also struck by how it seemed fresh, clean and unique when so many kitschy catering interiors are jaded and generic. Whether or not you enjoy the outcome, it takes hard work and determination as well as a good eye to achieve this effect.
The menu is surprisingly sensible and walker-friendly. It’s not the cheapest bite in Yorkshire and the bap around my tasty bacon and sausage could have been more substantial but having run a rural cafe myself I know only too well how much energy it takes to keep a place like this open, how shockingly seasonal the income is and how tiny amounts of extra cash insignificant to individual customers add up to the difference between failure and survival. I enjoyed my visit to the rightly legendary and characterful Dalesman and took care to leave a tip.
Above all I was thrilled by the coffee, so much so that I asked the lady proprietor about it. Not only was she familiar with the Italian word amaro, she understands why a pure arabica espresso is a pretentious nonsense. The coffee at The Dalesman reminded me of the coffee you buy on Milan station when you get off a train there on a foggy November morning. The coffee with that little hit of robusta bitterness I crave whenever I see an espresso machine in England but almost never get. It was probably the coffee I enjoyed most on the whole Pennine Way.
It’s a long haul through Cravendale. The weather in the valley was dull going on foggy and the farmland is depressing. Above Brown House I heard and then met some Saturday shooters in typical fancy dress, all checked tweeds and cartridge belts. They were friendly enough but I find shooting unnerving. I think worrying about getting my head blown off contributed to my losing The Way below Park Hill, an annoying and energy-sapping error only redeemed by a splendid sunny picnic above the fog on Pinhaw Beacon, one of my favourite spots.
The landlord of the Hare and Hounds was in typical form. On entering I got told off for obscuring his view of the racing on TV, thereafter he was perfectly charming. I tried a pint of Lees Manchester Pale and found it insipid. If you like these trendy golden ales Thwaite’s Wainwright is far better, an opinion I was pleased to reconfirm in the Pack Horse Inn the next day.
I climbed out of Lothersdale in bright sunshine and there was still light left as I came to the mysterious shacks above Ickornshaw. A dog walker told me the tale of these. Apparently certain local families have ancient rights on the moor, of grazing, shooting or whatever, and a while ago these were questioned by some higher power. The families were advised that erecting bothies would assert and hopefully secure their rights, so that’s what they did and presumably it’s worked. I’ve never seen any of these charming and cosy-looking huts actually in use and can’t understand why the owners don’t get together and rent them out for weekenders or Wayfarers.
Ploughing onwards and upwards into the gathering gloom I encountered a very muddy young German couple hoping to find their BnB at Cowling, then a Spine Racer in training. The latter astonished me by explaining he’d now be jogging onward in darkness the 20 miles it had taken me all day to trudge from Malham, crossing the top of the cove by headtorch around 11 pm and aiming to breakfast at Horton. Incredibly impressive. A professional mountain leader, he kindly cast an eye over my gear and gave me some very useful tips. It’s always worth taking time to talk with such awesome folk.
The top of the moor was a bleak and lonely place as the moon rose over Keighley. I wandered around a good while searching for a pitch but the heather was deep and springy and the sedge patches knee-deep mires. Near the county line I found a slightly raised hummock of slightly shorter heather and by torchlight pitched the tent shoddily on that. Luckily there was barely any breeze and after the preceding short night and long day I slept damply but well.