Swaledale has lot to answer for. It was many years ago, that hubby and I holidayed up here for two years running and fell in love with Yorkshire so much, that we moved up to this beautiful county and never looked back. To me, it’s the prettiest dale of them all, though all the Dales are special in their own right. It seems remote and sheltered from the hectic life beyond. I can’t put my finger on it, but it has so many wonderful memories for us. We couldn’t live there – it would spoil the magic – but to visit it from time to time, is such a delight and I enjoy every single minute of it.
This time, we were meeting some friends and agreed to meet at Muker car park. The weather was in a belligerent mood as we drove over the tops – heavy brooding clouds and threatening rain hovered low as we fretted whether we would get a walk in. As we dropped in Swaledale from Hawes, it seemed to brighten and hoped it just wasn’t our imaginations.
We stopped at the junction and looked at the hamlet of Thwaite. We couldn’t resist a quick drive through and to pull up briefly at our old holiday cottage, letting the memories flow. Getting it out of our system, we meandered to Muker and waited for our friends. We were early and hung around, as the sky started to darken again. Oh dear. Checking our weather apps, it claimed it would improve and we would have a window of sunshine before the weather closed in again. And as our friends pulled up in their car and we donned our walking boots, the sun pushed its rays through the lifting cloud and cracks of blue appeared.
We had the choice of two walks – the first walking up Kisdon Fell, overlooking Thwaite and Muker which would afford us some spectacular views on top or to keep low level and follow the River Swale towards Keld. The low level walk got the vote, so we headed off over the bridge, strolled a few yards towards the village centre before turning right between the cottages and towards our first stile and into the meadows.
In the summer, these meadows are a riot of colour as wild flowers bloom in May and June. It is a truly beautiful spectacle with Lady’s Mantle, Cranesbill and Yellow Rattle being a few of the wildflowers that can be seen. In mid July the meadows are cut, then sheep are allowed to graze on them for the winter. We squeezed through the stone stiles, remarking how narrow they were and how on earth larger people got through. Sometimes we had to shuffle through on tiptoe to clear our rucksacks.
We followed the stone paving slabs across the fields, in a single file to prevent damage to the meadows, circumventing sagging barns that have stood for centuries. We came up to the river Swale and bore left, contouring along the edge, following a grassy path.
By this time, the sun had won its battle with the clouds and lit the dale up with a beautiful golden light. The fells shone with greens and browns of dying bracken, the trees with a mixture of greens, yellows and gold – though they were still pretty much in full green leaf for this time of year. The path steadily rose, giving us fantastic views up and down. High up on the fell and in the side valleys, the crumbling buildings of Crackpot, the iron mining industry of the 18th and 19th centuries, stood resolutely by the slag heaps and scarring of that era. It added to the atmosphere of an isolated and untouched dale, where time has stood still.
http://www.outofoblivion.org.uk/swaledale.asp (lead mining reference).
We headed into a more wooded area and looked down onto the gurgling river below, the sun warm on our backs. We stopped to shed layers, take photos and nibble emergency biscuit rations. As we started to drop down as the path made its way down towards the little hamlet of Keld, the clouds had started to gather behind us again. Before we got to Keld, we took a side path that dropped down to the river to allow us to walk back down the other side to Muker. Here we came across the volunteers of the Yorkshire Dales National Park, putting up new fencing. Most of them were sat down eating their packed lunches while a determined colleague hammered nails into posts. We stopped to chat, remembering our time as YDNP volunteers when we first arrived in Yorkshire – mending paths, putting up finger posts, doing guided walks – before the onset of family and other distractions put paid to our volunteering weekends. We continued and came across a couple more working parties, having a quick chat as we passed.
The path went up, affording us a great view back towards Muker, but also a view of bristling clouds poking over Kisdon Fell. It was remarkably warm despite the disappearance of the sun. The clouds hung over us and started to empty their bulging underbellies, making us stop to dig out waterproofs. But they only played with us and the heavy raindrops soon stopped.
We walked the wide gravel path back into Muker and headed to the pub, The Farmers Arms. We have a soft spot for this place too. Many a night, while we holidayed here, we spent drinking Old Peculiar bitter, often one too many and staggering back up the unlit road towards Thwaite, following the white lines in the middle of the road, well past midnight. Sometimes, feeling daring, we would take the footpath across the fields – there was always seemed to be an ethereal glow even late at night, that lit our way. One memorable evening, we fell into conversation with a couple of old guys who drank like fish and at closing time, readily accepted their kind offer of a lift back up the dale in an ageing Fiat Panda. They were very drunk, but somehow guided that ancient vehicle along the winding road, across a vicious left hand bend and over a pack horse bridge, delivering us without incident to our abode. How they did it amazes us to this day and what possess us to join them also amazes us. But we were young, carefree and stupid and who would be horrified if our own kids did it!
I don’t think the Farmers Arms has changed in 30 years. Untouched by the need for gaming machines, background muzak and themed decor, it retains that old homely rustic feel pubs used to have. The old stone flags on the floor, the low ceilings and the timeless atmosphere, it just goes on about its business which it’s done for years. As usual the food was great – nothing fancy, but good wholesome pub grub. We opted for the giant Yorkshire pud, filled with gravy, vegetables and beef (and sausage) downed with a pint of the local brew. Just perfect way to end a walk in Swaledale.
We headed back to the cars and followed the road back over Buttertubs, down in Hawes. As we crossed the high fell towards Ribblehead Viaduct, it started to rain heavy and that’s how it stayed for the rest of the day. We had got the best of the day. Happy with that, we headed home to put on a blazing fire and hunkered down.
I took too many photos today. As I couldn’t fit them all in the blog, here are the rest of them from our walk from Muker.