Feb 14 2010

Walk 1: Great Expectations

Sweet Hill as seen from just below Hag Dyke

route: great whernside from kettlewell
date: 14th february 2010
distance: 5.8 miles
ascent: 1,668 feet
time: 3 hrs 45 mins
walkers: becka, carol, charlie, darren, dave, graham, helen, leanne, mick, roger, sandra & simon

I was feeling excited and nervous when I woke. I don’t know if it was the fact it was Valentines Day and I may not have purchased the right kind of gifts for my beloved, or if it was the fact that for the first time ever I was about to go walking in the snow. I tended not to do much walking, with my only real involvement being a successful Yorkshire 3 peaks charity walk as well as three failed attempts. The success was in my younger more athletic days, and anyone who knows me will know that athletic isn’t really the word, unless sloths have their own Olympic games. Anyway back to the here and now. I had decided to attempt to walk all the Yorkshire Dales peaks over 2000ft in 2010 and had found there were 33 of them (I would later discover there were more). The plan was for myself and my better half to do them all, with friends coming along whenever they were free, or fancied struggling up a hillside with us. I had pencilled in the dates for all the walks in advance so we could keep our diary free and avoid easy excuses of having something planned. It had sounded like a great idea when we had been discussing it in late 2009, but now the day was upon us and things seemed a little more real.

We arrived in Kettlewell and parked in the pay and display car park behind The Racehorses pub. We weren’t the first ones there as Beaky and Sandra had been waiting 10 minutes reading the Sunday papers. Over the course of the next twenty minutes or so the rest of the team arrived and by 10 am we were ready to ramble.

We took a team shot which would become tradition and headed off through Kettlewell towards the bottom of Dowber Gill Beck. Being new to this rambling malarkey we weren’t really sure whether the sign that greeted us was a joke or to be taken seriously.

If it was a serious warning I was more bothered about the size of dog that could produce knee deep dog shit than the shit itself. Luckily, neither deep poo or big dogs were to be found and we continued up the beck on the distinguishable footpath. The climb was actually reasonably easy and I found it within my limits for the most part. We stopped from time to time for a drink or just to have a look round which helped to keep the panting under control and I was enjoying the whole experience. As we continued up we saw numerous dead rabbits followed by a sheep that had both eyes missing. Just a yard or so up the fence from this was a rabbit hanging by its neck from the wire. It was all a bit creepy really and until that point I hadn’t really considered the fact that the animals we see in the fields actually die on the hillsides. Not long after this we found the remains of another sheep laying across the path and we hoped to escape what seemed to be death valley with all our number intact.

As we neared the end of Dowber Gill Beck and approached Providence Pot we left the path and headed up out of the little valley and up towards the open hillside. We had a little breather and regrouped before heading towards Hag Dyke scout hostel and once there roughly half of our climb was done. Although we were roughly half way in both distance and height we had been fortunate to have footpaths to follow. The difference in temperature was noticeable once we had climbed out of Dowber Gill Beck but that wouldn’t be a patch on how cold it would be at the top. After 10 minutes at Hag Dyke to catch our breath we started to get cold so decided to press onwards and upwards.

After a hundred yards or so the frozen grass with patches of snow turned into deep snow.

This was a welcome change at first as we slipped and stumbled on snow of various depths but it soon became more of a hindrance. The danger was walking on compact frozen stuff and then suddenly standing on some deep loose stuff. I guess falling face first into the snow doesn’t hurt but if there are any hidden holes or rocks nearby it could be more serious. None of that seemed to matter at the time though as the yelps and giggles came from all angles as the girls struggled on.

Having never even dreamed of being somewhere like this in these conditions I found myself enjoying things more than I could ever imagine. I certainly wasn’t the only one enjoying myself but there were a few rumblings of discontent from some. It wasn’t serious dissent in the ranks, it was more a case of people realising that this was going to be a bit tougher than they initially thought. Our preparation wasn’t exactly the best and our gear left a lot to be desired. Half of us were in jeans which were soon soaked to the knee. Other items of clothing included a new pair of trainers (which didn’t provide much grip or support), a couple of hoodies (instead of any form of thick jacket) and some crazy yellow driving gloves! All in all we looked like a group of friends who just decided to go for a walk, which is exactly what we were. After another hour or so of slipping and sliding we finally reached the summit of Great Whernside.

I felt fantastic! I was puffing and panting a bit but everyone has to start somewhere, right? I had done it and that is much more than I would normally have done on a Sunday. We cracked out the sarnies and chatted as a few other hardy souls made it to the top before walking off in various directions. This was my first 2000ft Yorkshire peak other than the three contained in the three peaks walk. I liked the fact it was somewhere new and loved the fact it was thick of snow. We could almost have been anywhere as the large boulders at the top protruded out of the snow. It wasn’t just the look it was the feel. The sun was shining but the wind chill brought the temperature down and we decided that a long lunch wasn’t the best idea. We finished our snap and took some shots for the photo album before heading off and retracing our steps.

As we descended we encountered the same problems with soft snow disguising itself as compact stuff which led to one or two stumbles, but everyone was in high spirits knowing we were now on the way to the pub. As we approached a couple of the steeper sections we encountered one or two further problems. This time, rather than falling forward we were in danger of falling backwards.

The girls were quickly into action with Charlie sliding down a section on her bum. Ramblo followed suit from a bit higher before Wu Tang took things further. She set off with such a push that there was no stopping until she reached the bottom where she was surrounded by the laughing masses who had witnessed such an amazing feat of human tobogganing.

She got up and dusted herself down revealing a huge wet patch on her jeans (from the snow!) as we set off towards Hag Dyke for a second time. The weather seemed a degree or two warmer once we reached the scout hut and here we had three options to return to Kettlewell. We could follow the beck and retrace our steps, there was a footpath leading down the hillside, or finally a bridleway that did the same albeit a slightly wider route. We opted for the latter and continued on our way back to our start point.

As we followed the track I looked up to the Great Whernside ridge where I could see Sweet Hill totally covered in snow. It seems a little weird, almost as if I hadn’t actually just been up at the top as it looked so surreal. I was hooked on this walking lark and already counting the six days until we headed for Rogan’s Seat. The tree lined bridleway sheltered us from any wind as we reached the outskirts of Kettlewell. I felt like some intrepid explorer returning to a heroes welcome, apart from the fact that there was no welcome and I certainly wasn’t a hero. In fact my achievements weren’t that great at all but at least I had done it. I had made a start on my tick list and I had some great company for the day too. If this was to be the future then I liked it. Maybe it was the start of the new me? At that moment I was happy enough to be the old me as we entered The Blue Bell Inn for a drink. I set off home feeling tired due to the fresh air but thoroughly chuffed with myself. All I had to do now was keep it up…

Sir Edmund


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