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PW day 11: Thu 03 Mar 2016; Middleton to Langdon Beck

PW day 11: Thu 03 Mar 2016; Middleton to Langdon Beck
Walk descriptor Pennine Way Day 11
Date Thu 03 Mar 2016 Start to end time 05h 19m
Start point Middleton End point Langdon Beck
Miles today 9.58 Cu miles 168.21
Ft today 1,385 Cu ft 27,891
Route miles left 118.68 Route ft left 17,707
Today’s weather Moderate cloud but some sunny intervals.   Mostly dry with light drizzle later, light north westerly wind.   Temp approx. 4C
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Today’s location
(the red cross in a circle shows where I am at the moment)
GPX based track of today’s walk
(click button to download file) GPX
Commentary

Today was a really good day, although it started inauspiciously.

There is a bug in my website which has been interfering with photo uploading, especially over low quality internet connections.   The problem has been getting worse as I have migrated into the remoter north Pennines, to the point where it was taking 3 or 4 hours to upload photos, when it should only take a few minutes.   I contacted my web-hosting company, and they sent me a reply which was so technical it might as well have been written in Martian.

So because the hosting company were of no use unless you come from the outer reaches of the solar system, and because the bug was really annoying me, I vowed to get up early this morning and do my best to fix it myself.   So I was up at 5:30, and eventually, after 2 hours googling, I found not an answer but a work around.   It took another 2 hours to implement it, so by 9:30, after a hasty breakfast, I was sorted out.   If anyone’s interested I can send the solution but basically it involves FTP and a plugin called “Add from Server”.

So after this bit of impromptu internet surgery, I set off a bit later than planned – but without really too much concern as today was a short day, up the Tees valley heading for Langdon Beck.

I’m not usually a fan of valley walks, as they tend to be a bit farmyard-y, but today was an exception.   For a start, the Pennine Way today was both “Gold” – because large stretches of it were paved and thereby mud-free, and “Lite” – because it was short and easy.   Only nine miles to cover, and no major hills. But more to the point, it was scenically beautiful.   The Tees is a lovely river, especially up here, with waterfalls, wooded banks, and deep gorges along the way.

First up was Low Force – a spectacular cataract of racing water, diving down narrow gaps between huge boulders, creating a foamy spray as it went.   The churning pools reminded me of nothing more than giant vats of Guinness.   Then, a couple of miles further on, I came to High Force, one of the “biggest” (however that is defined) in Britain.   Today, after recent rain and with still-saturated ground draining off into it, it was impressive.   The roar of the downfall (and no wind could have been strong enough to upturn this fall) was deafening and, being a February midweek, I had the place to myself.   No hordes of tourists or yappy dogs to spoil the experience.   But best of all, and in contrast with Hardraw, I didn’t have to pay to view this natural spectacle.

As you climb past High Force, the countryside undergoes a sudden transformation.   In the space of only a few hundred yards you seem to leave behind the rural lowlands and transition into a much remoter, wilder-feeling valley.   No neatly manicured fields up here, just bracken, sheep and heath.

I paused at High Force to eat the packed lunch I’d bought at the B&B that morning.   The sandwiches and crisps were fine, but the lunch bag also contained a rather mysterious small box whose contents I couldn’t discern.   I opened it with some trepidation, for fear that it might contain something liquid and messy.   But to my horror, it was something far worse.   It was salad!   Well that might be fine for day-trippers not straying far from their cars, but for a long distance hiker, it’s absolutely the last thing you want.   There are so few calories in salad, you probably expend more energy eating the stuff than you get out of it. Next time I’ll have to make my own and make sure that the salad is discarded and instead the box filled with millionaire’s shortbread and cake.

After passing a massive quarry with complex mechanical equipment which looked like it were eating a nearby hill complete (actually it is a whinstone mine, used for building and roadworks), I was soon in Langdon Beck.   Despite the late start and leisurely pace, I was there before 4.   Plenty of time to check out the IT and to prepare for the much harder trek over the Pennine backbone to Dufton tomorrow.

Today’s photos (click to enlarge)
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Unusual church in Middleton – one of only three in the country with the bell tower separate from the main church (the tower is at the top of the churchyard, to the far left) Unusually photogenic tree stump.  Hard to judge the scale – could be a giant redwood or a bonsai..
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Action shot (actually I didn’t realise the self-timer on the camera was about to go off..) – High Force in the background Salad.   OK for gerbils but not hikers.
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The yew trees which clothe the riverbank near High Force are infected with a distant relative of potato blight.   Hence the sheep dip for people, to kill off the spores Mountain-gobbling quarry just above High Force
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Glorious, silvery, upper Teesdale, near Langdon Beck
The previous day’s blog follows below the blue line
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PW day 10: Wed 02 Mar 2016; Bowes to Middleton

PW day 10: Wed 02 Mar 2016; Bowes to Middleton
Walk descriptor Pennine Way Day 10
Date Wed 02 Mar 2016 Start to end time 06h 28m
Start point Bowes End point Middleton
Miles today 12.71 Cu miles 158.63
Ft today 1,677 Cu ft 26,506
Route miles left 127.63 Route ft left 18,764
Today’s weather Cloudy with occasionally sunny intervals. Mostly dry but with snow shower late afternoon. Moderate northerly wind. Temp appx 1C
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Today’s location
(the red cross in a circle shows where I am at the moment)
GPX based track of today’s walk
(click button to download file) GPX
Commentary

I knew something strange was happening last night when I noticed that the television screen, at the end of the bar where I was having dinner, was becoming blurred.   I am now at the age when any optical impairment signals in my mind the imminent onset of blindness – or worse.   And my sense of unease only intensified when I thought I noticed a strong smell of smoke.   This is it, I thought.   I have had a stroke.

So I was wondering what to do when the barman came up to me and said “I’m sorry about this”.   Maybe he’s going to call an ambulance I thought.   But he went on “it always happens when the wind changes”.   Yes if only I’d turned around and looked at the fire instead of the TV, I’d have noticed that the smoke, rather than going up the chimney as it was supposed to, was now actually billowing out of the fireplace and filling the bar with a woody haze.

So apart from the relief at not having to contemplate my imminent demise, I did wonder what this would mean for the next day’s walking conditions.   I could quickly tell what it would mean when I got up this morning and found a covering of snow on the ground outside.   This was the first time I’d seen snow in any quantity since I’d set off on my walk.   But given that it’s still only early March, I guess it’s not entirely uncommon.

As I set off from Bowes this morning, I wondered if this was going to be a “Gold” or a “Classic” day.   It quickly became apparent, however, that it was going to be classic, and very classic at that.   There was mud, water and slush in great abundance today, and none of the nice flagstones that had so easily paved my way in the earlier sections.   The path was at best indistinct, and the dusting of snow rendered what little trace of it there was, more or less invisible.   I was glad I’d got my electronic GPS gizmos to guide my route, or else navigation could have become very tedious indeed.

I’d spent the night in Bowes, which is actually on a section of the Pennine Way called the “Bowes Loop”.   This is an alternative to the main route, which allows hikers to take in the earthy pleasures of civilisation.   Actually there isn’t much there except a Working Men’s Club and the B&B where I was staying (the Ancient Unicorn, which was very nice actually).   I had hoped that when the Loop and the main PW reconnected near the charmingly named Hagworm Hall, the path would recover, but it didn’t.   So I squelched on through the mud and snow, glad that today was only a short walk.

As it happens, today was one of the less interesting sections of the walk so far.   A bit like the day from Horton to Hawes, it lacked a significant summit en route, but unlike the Hawes section, it didn’t have the compensations of elevation and fine views.   This was mostly a trudge through farmland, repeatedly ascending and descending, oscillating between the valleys of Greta Vale, Deepdale, Baldersdale, Lunedale and Teesdale, and the saturated moorland between. But at no point climbing above 1,400 ft.

Despite the lack of challenge in today’s walk, I enjoyed it because of the novelty value of the snow, but also more excitingly because of the tantalising glimpses occasionally afforded of the high northern Pennines – Knock Fell, Dun Fell and Cross Fell.   Today they were clothed in a pristine white blanket, and to me they looked very alluring.   The PW does traverse these summits, but for me, not for another three days.   I have to wait until Saturday for this elevated section of the walk, though I do have the compensations of High Force, Cauldron Snout and High Cup Nick to look forward to in the meantime.

In fact, because of the vagaries of the PW route, for the last section of the walk today, I was actually heading away from the High Pennines – I had to keep reminding myself that this isn’t a race to the end, but a journey to be savoured.   And so far it’s been great.   Long may it last.

Today’s photos (click to enlarge)
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Entering Cotherstone Moor.  Plenty of hazards to deter you from straying too far off the path.. Setting out onto the first of four upland crossings to be made today 
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Curiously this farm at Levy Pool has a thatched roof.   Presumably made of rushes, of which there is an abundant local supply My patent method for crossing bogs.   Crush the rushes gently to one side with your boot and you will sort of float across.  Well, that’s the theory at any rate
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The northern hills beckon in the distance.   Cross Fell, where I’m heading on Saturday, is somewhere in the middle of this lot Substantial road bridge over the Tees at Middleton, where I’m staying tonight
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Panorama looking back on the wintry landscape south over Greta Vale, where Bowes is located
The previous day’s blog follows below the blue line
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PW day 09: Tue 01 Mar 2016; Keld to Bowes

PW day 09: Tue 01 Mar 2016; Keld to Bowes
Walk descriptor Pennine Way Day 09
Date Tue 01 Mar 2016 Start to end time 06h 23m
Start point Keld End point Bowes
Miles today 13.71 Cu miles 145.92
Ft today 1,521 Cu ft 24,829
Route miles left 139.95 Route ft left 20,321
Today’s weather Intermittent cloudy periods with blustery intervals of bright sun.   Strong to gale force westerly wind all day.   Occasionally squally showers.    Appx 6C
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Today’s location
(the red cross in a circle shows where I am at the moment)
GPX based track of today’s walk
(click button to download file) GPX
Commentary

Have you noticed how companies sometimes attach peculiar words like “Lite©” or “Gold®” to the names of otherwise ordinary sounding products, in order to make them sound more attractive?   Well another of these descriptions, “Classic™”, has recently appeared on the scene. I think this adjective has been invented by marketing executives who have been presented by their product development people with a new model which is actually worse in every way than the one it is supposed to replace. Coke Classic™ is a case in point, and you will know what has happened when Apple launch the “iPhone Classic™”.

I’m not usually seduced by marketing jargon, but I have to admit that the “Classic™” adjective is useful in relation to long distance walks.   And in particular to today’s long distance walk, which I have decided to call “Pennine Way Classic™”.

So far, I have been enjoying Pennine Way Gold® because it has been such an easy, almost luxurious experience.   But today, things started to change.

For a start, I discovered when I checked into the lodge where I was staying last night that there were no other residents there at all. Just me and the barman.   So although I mostly managed to banish thoughts of the Overlook Hotel from my mind, I did lie awake for some time, uncomfortably keeping an eye on the door and awaiting the crash of the axe accompanied by the cry “Heeere’s Johnny!”

So I slept a bit fitfully anyway, and my slumber wasn’t exactly eased by the sound of heavy rain lashing on the wind and roof, decisively signalling the end of the long dry spell I’ve enjoyed so far.

I came down to breakfast a bit bleary-eyed and checked the weather forecast and it seemed to indicate that the rain might break for a period from about 10 am until early evening.   So I lingered over my bacon, and then enjoyed it for a second time as I picked the bits out of my teeth with fantastic floss afterwards.

And to my surprise, the rain did indeed ease at about 10 o’clock.   But the barman (who I mentally nicknamed Jack) observed probably accurately but definitely not encouragingly, that “Well – it might have stopped raining but it will still be wet underfoot.   VERY wet”. So, with this cheerful thought running through my head, and a little later than normal, I ventured out, glad to have survived the night.

II hadn’t quite appreciated how much it had rained in the night – but soon did.   The waterfall just below Keld, at the confluence of two rivers, was in massive bloated spate.   A deafening maelstrom of boiling peaty water hurling itself over the boulders and down the valley.   Fortunately the bridge was in tact but I hurried across it anyway, in case it decided to succumb to the cataclysmic pounding.

It was on the hike up from Keld to Tan Hill that I realised that “Gold®” had become “Classic™”.

For a start, the weather was blowing a whole gale with flecks of rain and hail thrown into the icy blast.   Quite a contrast to the sun and more gentle breezes of the southern section of the Way.   But more noticeably, the path had reassumed a much more familiar Pennine Way state.   I.e. there wasn’t one.   Just a muddy, boggy stream marked occasionally with white posts, heading generally north.   Gone were the comfortable, dry flagstones of the Peak and Dales, in their place a soul-sapping morass of cold porridgy sludge to wade through.   Yes, this really was the Pennine Way as I know and love it.

But today was not at all without levity.   The Tan Hill Inn (although only semi-remote, in my opinion) served a very welcome cup of hot coffee which I had with a calorie intense Snickers bar (and the bar lady agreed with me that the name should never have been changed from “Marathon”.   Presumably the misguided change was devised by the same marketing people who thought that Gold, Lite and Classic could transform the ordinary into the extraordinary).

But most remarkably of all, as I sloshed my way across Bowes Moor, the most amazing rainbow opened up directly in front of me.   It remained in the sky for fully two hours – quite remarkable for what is normally a transient phenomenon.   I realised as the rainbow appeared that, just as in 2016, on the Pennine Way in 1977 I was also infected with an earworm – in that case it was Elkie Brooks “Sunshine after the Rain”.   It was appropriate in 1977 as I had a lot of the latter and not much of the former.   Anyway, suffice it to say that now that it has popped into my head, I can’t get rid of it, so I strongly suspect that once I’ve had tea tonight, Elkie, like Cathy and Heathcliffe before her, will too have to succumb to expulsion by iTunes.

I wanna see sunshine after the rain
I wanna see bluebirds flying over the mountains again
Oh where is the silver lining shining at the rainbow’s end?

Today’s photos (click to enlarge)
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Catrake Force, just below Keld.   Mmmm yes, it did actually rain rather a lot last night Looking a bit apprehensive as the stream in the background is normally narrow enough to be casually stepped across, but today was in full spate and required a great deal of care
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Yes it’s remote but they do nice chocolate bars.   And it’s nowhere near as remote as the Crask Inn Pennine Way Classic™ – a marker post, a bog and a lot of water.   And nothing else. 
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New bridge at Sleightholme – previously the path crossed the river by nearby stepping stones, which today were submerged under two feet of raging water This really isn’t very helpful
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I asked a farmer this evening what the name of the castle I could see in the distance, on the approach to Bowes was.   “It’s Bowes Castle“, he said- a clear if unimaginative name.   But he went on “and there’s nowt much too it except four walls“.   Well that’s true, but I did think it looked rather dramatically windswept against the glassy evening sky
The previous day’s blog follows below the blue line
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PW day 08: Mon 29 Feb 2016; Hawes to Keld

PW day 08: Mon 29 Feb 2016; Hawes to Keld
Walk descriptor Pennine Way Day 08
Date Mon 29 Feb 2016 Start to end time 06h 38m
Start point Hawes End point Keld
Miles today 13.63 Cu miles 132.21
Ft today 2,867 Cu ft 23,308
Route miles left 152.82 Route ft left 21,609
Today’s weather High cloud, no sun. Dry. Moderate to strong south easterly wind. Temp appx plus 4C in valleys, minus 3C on tops
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Today’s location
(the red cross in a circle shows where I am at the moment)
GPX based track of today’s walk
(click button to download file) GPX
Commentary

I once read that Eskimos classify the severity of their winters by the number of dogs that have to be put on top of their beds in order to keep them warm during the night. A “normal” winter might require one, whereas a tough winter might require three (hence the name of the band “Three dog night” I think, if you’re old enough to remember).

Well I have come up with a similar classification for the walking conditions along the Pennine Way. Generally, I try and wear as little as possible while walking – just enough to avoid getting severely chilled. I find that if I wear more, I get sweaty and once you’ve got sweaty, there is nothing you can do to dry off again. You just get colder and colder and have to put more and more layers on to combat the damp induced cold of the sweaty clothing.

So, on a typical day I just wear a merino T-Shirt and a thin merino fleece over it. If it starts to get windy, particularly on hill tops, I put a Gore-Tex cagoule over the top to keep warm. This combination has worked fine all the way so far from Edale. But today, on Great Shunner Fell, things were a bit different. It was a slightly colder day than most, anyway, and the Fell is, at about 2,345 ft, just a bit higher than the previous highest summit along the way, Penyghent (2,277 ft). As a result, the top felt very cold, made worse by the biting south easterly wind that was blowing up there.

So, for the first time since I set off, I had to don a second merino fleece, in order to keep warm. I still have a third, spare, fleece which I haven’t had to use yet, but I am becoming uncomfortably aware that in five days’ time I have to climb Cross Fell, which is some six hundred feet higher still and not renowned for its benign climate. I’m beginning to wonder if next Saturday might become the first three-fleece hill. Only time will tell.

I enjoyed today’s walk because although, a bit like yesterday, it had a very long gradual ascent built into it, the climb was rewarded by a “proper” summit – Great Shunner Fell. Although cold, it was magnificent in its icy desolation, with huge uninterrupted views in all directions from the top. The top is, incidentally, adorned with a cross-shaped cairn, which means that no matter which way the wind is blowing, you can always find a bit to shelter behind.

The climb was geologically interesting, too. Since leaving the south Pennines at Thornton, the PW has passed through much drier limestone terrain – drier because of all the shake holes and fissures which allow the rain to drain away. It makes for more pleasant hiking, as usually there is a lot less peat to contend with (and also, interestingly, hardly any heather). There are thin seams of millstone grit interleaved between the limestone layers, and in one of these layers today I noticed some strange dotted impressions. At first I thought they were frozen mountain bike tracks but on closer inspection, I realised they were fossils. Most likely, they are of Lepidodendron, a primitive tree which lived in the Carboniferous era. Though I am sure there are plenty of geologists out there who will correct me if I am wrong.

The only real disappointment of the day was Hardraw Force. It’s one of the highest waterfalls in England, and is unique in that you access it through a pub conveniently situated at the front. This is no hardship and the landlord is very accommodating to hikers tramping through the lounge bar. But what is a bit irritating is that the waterfall is privately owned, so you have to pay £2.50 for the privilege of seeing it. You do get a gift shop thrown in for that, though. But more annoying than having to pay to see a natural spectacle, on this occasion, the owner hadn’t bothered to turn up so the facility was shut. So I couldn’t have paid £2.50 to see it even if I’d wanted to.

Now I need to start planning for tomorrow. It’s a relatively short hop over to Bowes, via Tan Hill, but I have a nasty feeling that the weather is on the turn. I need to choose my clothing carefully.

Today’s photos (click to enlarge)
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Dental relief at last! Now bacon is back on the menu Yep, that’s me
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Green Dragon inn at Hardraw. You have to enter through here to get to the waterfall. Except that you can’t get to the waterfall because it’s shut today. Lepidodendron? Or two hundred million year old mountain bike tracks?
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To all intents and purposes, the Pennine Way seemed to disappear into this wall in Thwaite (actually there is a near-invisible gap in the wall to the left) Remains of old lead mine workings on hillside approaching lonely Keld
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Approaching the sub arctic summit of Great Shunner Fell
The previous day’s blog follows below the blue line
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PW day 07: Sun 28 Feb 2016; Horton to Hawes

PW day 07: Sun 28 Feb 2016; Horton to Hawes
Walk descriptor Pennine Way Day 07
Date Sun 28 Feb 2016 Start to end time 06h 47m
Start point Horton End point Hawes
Miles today 14.26 Cu miles 118.58
Ft today 1,992 Cu ft 20,441
Route miles left 165.57 Route ft left 24,077
Today’s weather Bright with long sunny intervals .  Occasional cloud in the afternoon.   Moderate north easterly wind.   About 1C
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Today’s location
(the red cross in a circle shows where I am at the moment)
GPX based track of today’s walk
(click button to download file) GPX
Commentary

If you are walking along a path and just to one side of it you notice a huge gaping hole, so deep you can’t see the bottom and with an icy waterfall plunging into it, you will have one of two reactions.

If you are a speleologist, you will say:
Wow! A huge bottomless hole with an icy waterfall going into it!   I’ll drop a rope into it then dangle off the end and see if I can find the bottom.   If I can, I will let go of the rope and try and find the hole where the water disappears.   Then I’ll submerge myself in the water and will probably be able to follow it through the hole into the tunnel beyond.   If I haven’t eaten for a fortnight, it’s possible I won’t get stuck and provided it doesn’t rain at any point in the next 24 hours anywhere within a hundred miles, I probably won’t drown either.   Then I will crawl through the water in the pitch black for a couple of miles and hope that it emerges somewhere that isn’t in the middle of an inaccessible cliff.   Because if it doesn’t I won’t be able to find my way back as I will become completely disorientated whilst underground.   AWESOME!

If you are not a speleologist, you will say:
Holy cr**! A huge bottomless hole with an icy waterfall going into it!   I know I am a good twenty feet away but I must get as far from it as possible, as fast as I can, because there is a chance that I could accidentally trip and fall in.   RUN!

As it happens, on the walk today I came upon such a hole, Calf Hole, in fact, just above High Birkwith.   On chatting to the caver who was about to dangle off his rope into it, I quickly decided that I am in the “get as far away as possible” category.   Although the caver was clearly enthused about the subterranean delights of this particular hole, I realised that no amount of millionaire’s shortbread would ever tempt me into the inky chasm.

Shocking abyssal encounters aside, today’s walk continued in the same vein as the previous six, with lots of sun, a cold wind, and no rain.   I simply cannot believe that I have now been on the Pennine Way for exactly a week, and not had any rain at all.   I know this is tempting fate like mad, but even if it rains every day from now until the finish of the walk, the memory of these first seven days will sustain me all the way to the end.

Reflecting on the day’s walk, I remembered that the office muse Dilbert had once remarked to a colleague that “strategy is like work but without the satisfaction of actually ever achieving anything”.   In some ways, the walk from Horton today had similar characteristics.   I realised that on reaching Dodd Fell I had been walking uphill pretty much continuously for the last five hours, all the way from Horton.   Yet in those five hours, I had only risen a miserly 1,000 ft – barely enough to register on the map.   Even worse, there is no “summit” to the walk.   You never actually reach the top of anything.   Rather you just skirt the flanks of Dodd Fell and slowly drop away again into Hawes at the journey’s end.

I remember Wainwright, my somewhat cheerless literary guide in 1977, complaining about this section (though in reality he moaned about pretty much the whole of the walk) and I could see how, if the walk was completed in thick mist and rain, as it so often is, the grumbling would be justified.   But today the sparking sun, blue skies and spectacular crystal clear panoramas more than made up for any dissatisfactions with the terrain.   Actually, it was an easy walk, just what was needed after yesterday’s exertions.   And Hawes, where I’m staying tonight, is an attractive town – neat and tidy, with a good selection of pubs and restaurants (I’m going for an Indian, by the way, as welcome relief from steak and ale pie).

By way of icing on the cake, I’m also reasonably optimistic that there could be a chemist here, so I could be released at last from the daily tyranny of bacon-free breakfast.

Today’s photos (click to enlarge)
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Setting out from Horton this morning, with Penyghent in the background A group of crumbling ruins on Birkwith Moor
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Yes this is the heart of the “Three Peaks” country Calf Holes, on appropriately-named Cave Hill
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Meeting of the ways – Dales Way and Pennine Way at the top of Cam Fell Hawes basking in the evening sunlight tonight
The previous day’s blog follows below the blue line
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PW day 06: Sat 27 Feb 2016; Gargrave to Horton

PW day 06: Sat 27 Feb 2016; Gargrave to Horton
Walk descriptor Pennine Way Day 06
Date Sat 27 Feb 2016 Start to end time 09h 48m
Start point Gargrave End point Horton
Miles today 22.24 Cu miles 104.32
Ft today 3,978 Cu ft 18,449
Route miles left 179.66 Route ft left 25,847
Today’s weather High cloud, little sun except early afternoon, no rain, light easterly wind, strong on hilltops.  Appx 2 C
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Today’s location
(the red cross in a circle shows where I am at the moment)
GPX based track of today’s walk
(click button to download file) GPX
Commentary

Today’s walk, in terms of both miles to be walked and feet to be ascended, would be a bit of trial, as it is the second-hardest day on the Pennine Way.   I wasn’t absolutely certain whether my current fitness levels would be up to it.   So I was quite glad when another old schoolfriend, Mike, got in touch and asked to join today’s walk.   It would mean I would have some moral support, and also gave me welcome reassurance that I wouldn’t be alone on these moors which were not just windy and wiley, but remote.

So we made an early start this morning, and after a quick breakfast, were away from Gargrave by just after 8:30.   Weather-wise, it was almost a carbon copy of yesterday.   Cold and cloudy, but only light wind and no rain.

Like the weather, the first part of today’s walk mirrored the last part of yesterday’s.   Six miles of rolling pasture land and mud until we reached the village of Malham.   In fact I think of the stretch from Thornton in Craven to Malham as a bit of a rural “filler” between the hills of the Peak District to the south, and the Yorkshire Dales to the north.

So I was glad to reach Malham and to start to climb once more out of the farmland and into the hills.   And it was an amazing, spectacular climb up the side of Malham Cove, up onto the fabulous limestone (or Karst) pavement at the top, complete with clints (blocks of limestone) and grykes (crevasses between them).   It was a slightly hazardous crossing of the pavement, as the grykes afford numerous leg-breaking opportunities and only a few yards to the right, the Cove itself plunged vertically 300 feet to the valley below.

From the Cove, we followed the dry valley up to Malham Tarn.   The “dry” valley hit the headlines late last year, as on 6 December, in the wake of storm Desmond, water flowed down the valley and cascaded 260 ft over Malham Cove, making it for a few hours the highest waterfall in England.   Nobody knows when the last time this happened was, but it may well have been as long ago as the end of the last Ice Age, 15,000 years ago.   There is an amazing video here, if interested.

From Malham Tarn, also an absolutely fascinating glacial feature in its own right, the path took us higher and higher, eventually after some 15 miles reaching the summit of Fountains Fell.   En route, we paused to watch a helicopter busily ferrying hoppers of ballast up and down the mountain, where it was being used to effect repairs to the Pennine Way. We had to choose our timing carefully to cross the area under repair, to avoid being caught in the downdraft of the helicopter as it made one of its frequent return visits.   But it did mean we had an absolutely pristine new path to help speed our journey to the top.

The sting in the tail of this walk as that as you descend Fountains Fell and start thinking about the nice pint in the pub which you now feel definitely ready for, the looming monolith of Penyghent starts to appear on your right.   So after descending some thousand feet of painfully gained height, we crossed the valley and did it all again, to reach the top of Penyghent – at 2,277 ft the point of the PW so far – just as dusk was beginning to close in.

The final descent to Horton – a mecca for “Three peakers” (I think there will have to be a separate blog about that) was straightforward and quick, despite the gathering gloom.   We eventually made it back to the village at about 6:30, just as the last light faded and it became fully dark.

So tonight’s pint and steak felt particularly well earned, and having completed the walk with relative ease, though not without considerable exertion, I also feel as well prepared as I can be for the rest of the walk.   Perhaps most importantly, I now feel slightly more confident about my chances of being able to complete the notorious last day successfully.

Today’s photos (click to enlarge)
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With today’s travelling party, Mike.   Great to have company but a bit of a shame about the hat Checking out the clints and grykes of Malham Cove
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The upper valley of Malhamdale.   Dry for 15,000 years.  Until Desmond struck Jolly nice of them to drop in and get the path ready for us
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Gigantic(ish) frozen waterfall on Fountains Fell Looking a bit shell-shocked on summit of Penyghent
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Now you see it (on the left) and now you don’t (on the right).   The whole of the outflow river from Malham Tarn disappears into nothing at the top of the dry valley.   Except for one day in 2015, that is.
The previous day’s blog follows below the blue line
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PW day 05: Fri 26 Feb 2016; Ponden to Gargrave

PW day 05: Fri 26 Feb 2016; Ponden to Gargrave
Walk descriptor Pennine Way Day 05
Date Fri 26 Feb 2016 Start to end time 07h 53m
Start point Ponden End point Gargrave
Miles today 16.20 Cu miles 82.08
Ft today 2,774 Cu ft 14,471
Route miles left 201.18 Route ft left 29,520
Today’s weather Continuous cloud cover all day though some breaks and brighter around lunchtime.   No rain.   Light south easterly wind.  About 3C
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Today’s location
(the red cross in a circle shows where I am at the moment)
GPX based track of today’s walk
(click button to download file) GPX
Commentary

Every long distance walking trip has its particular annoyances.   When I did “LEJOG” in 2014, it was earworms – irritating bits of songs that get stuck in your head and which won’t go away no matter how hard you try not to think about them.   In fact I almost had an unpleasant earworm incident with Kate Bush last night, probably inspired by the Top Withens visit.   But luckily I was able to dispel it by downloading “Wuthering Heights” from iTunes and listening to it repeatedly.   Eventually I was so sick of the sound of Cathy wailing at the long suffering Heathcliff, that the worm retreated and I was able to go to sleep.

But on the Pennine Way I have been struck down by a far more serious affliction – bacon.

One of the side effects of knocking half your teeth out in a cycling accident is that you have to have them replaced with artificial things called implants.   These bionic teeth are carefully designed to have gaps between them which are just big enough to harbour frustrating fibres of bacon.   They take up residence and, like earworms, are impossible to shift.

Unfortunately this morning I chose bacon for breakfast.   A mistake.   A bit of bacon approximately the size of a thick rope stuck between my teeth and no matter how hard I poked and sucked it with my tongue, it was stuck fast.   To compound the problem, when packing for the trip, I had decided to leave my dental floss behind, in the interests of weight reduction.   This was a bit daft as my packed lunch alone weighs about eight hundred times as much as the floss and adding it to my pack would have made no difference at all.

I was only able to remove the rope when I got to the B&B and could investigate it with my toothbrush.   The relief was instantaneous. A bit like giving birth to a telegraph pole, actually.   So, naturally, I have never vowed never to eat bacon again – or not, at least, till I can find a shop which sells dental floss.

I was so busy with my tooth, that much of today’s walk went un-noticed.   Actually, it was a straightforward day’s hike over two lofty moors – Ickornshaw and Elslack – separated by the surprisingly industrial but rather charming hamlet of Lothersdale.   The weather was less dramatically bright than in previous days, but it was dry, clear and cold if not sunny.   Once again the views were far-reaching and it was nice to spot the familiar landmarks of Pendle Hill and Ingleborough appearing in the northern distance.

The last part of the walk, from Thornton in Craven to Gargrave, was actually probably the least enjoyable section of the PW so far.   It passed through lowland agricultural land, full of livestock, farms and mud, and was quite tricky to navigate.   This is my very least favourite form of hiking, and I’m looking forward to regaining the hills tomorrow.

Speaking of tomorrow, I realise that I have made a bit of tactical error by stopping today’s walk at Gargrave – at “only” 16 miles.   I could easily have pressed on a bit further up the valley towards Malham, which would have shortened the distance to be walked tomorrow.

This next walk, which runs from here to Horton, is over 22 miles and has around 4,000ft of climbing.   That makes it by some margin the second-hardest day of the whole PW (the actual hardest will be the last day – but more on that as the walk progresses).   It also takes in two significant climbs, over Fountains Fell and Penyghent. So I’m expecting it to be tough and I’m rather regretting making this strategic mistake.

Anyway I just need to man up, get a good night’s sleep and load up on carbs at breakfast.   And definitely avoid the bacon.

Today’s photos (click to enlarge)
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On the top of Ickornshaw Moor, with Pendle Hill beyond Amazing collection of snowdrops on path down to Lothersdale
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Just like people, they are appealing when they are small Shame they have to grow up to be grumpy adults…   (I now know that these are Blackface sheep, of the generic type, not Welsh)
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Burning off the heather to create new shoots which grouse feed from before we shoot them I was surprised to learn from the map that the place where this curious feature is located is called “Double Arched bridge”
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I love the trees in winter.  Like the earth’s lungs.
The previous day’s blog follows below the blue line