For no particular reason the Yorkshire Dales has been an area that has been frequently passed through but seldom visited over the last few years. A warm weekend just before solstice gave a perfect opportunity to make up for lost time by spending some long summer hot days wandering North Yorkshire and spending the shortest nights of the year on the summits under the stars.
On one of the hottest days of the year the small village of Horton in Ribblesdale was predictably swarming with tourists, some kind of marshalled event put a stop to parking anywhere near the village, so I risked leaving the car dubiously perched on a muddy roadside a few miles further away than planned. My car smells like walking boots and is full of the kids toys so I’m always confident that it’s far less likely to get stolen.
A perfect hour or so was spent far away from any crowds, gaining height and walking over sunbleached limestone paths and meadows, the familiar profile of Pen Y Ghent lay to the east through a hazy golden light.
The crowds were soon found as I joined the main path leading up to Ingleborough, scores of walkers were heading back to their cars after a day as the the sun began to dip. A few comments of ‘you’re heading the wrong way’ left me smiling, a love of sleeping out has killed the idea of a day walk, to head down off the tops before sunset and miss the experience of the night coming and going doesn’t seem like ‘the right way’.
As the last of the crowds disappeared I more or less had the place to myself and made for the trig point as a mist rolled into the valley below creating a beautiful still inversion that lasted till dawn.
It was one of those nights where it never became truly dark, after 11pm the horizon was painted with a pale blue light. I walked back down to the edge of Simon Fell to fill up on water before finding a place to sleep, streams seem to be fairly scarce in this neck of the woods. A trailstar had been packed for the trip but it would have been a shame to sleep under a shelter on such a fine night with the clouds below and the stars above. It was a perfect night to spend in a bivi bag, the appeal being that you feel more connected to your surroundings and notice more, feel soft breezes on your face, subtle changes in temperature and the sky changing throughout the night.
A shift at work, a few hours driving and a good stint of walking up hills with a pack made for a peaceful night…… I say night, it started to get light again at about 4am. The inversion remained with a thick mist resting in the valley below, the skies above clear fresh and blue.
It was still early when I was treated to the speactacle of watching Ingleborough going from completely clear to being swallowed entirely by a white rolling mist, within a few minutes the entire hillside where I was camped became engulfed making for an atmospheric breakfast in the clouds.
The morning was spent walking in warm sunshine along the ridge before heading down and across the valley towards Whernside. By steering well clear of the main paths and climbing the steep grassy slopes by following the streams it was easy enough to maintain that sense of peace and fulfilment of being alone in a wide open space, albeit in one of the most popular areas of a national park on a sunny weekend.
Inevitably things got a little busy up on Whernside so I ducked down to a small lake, a minute stony beach surrounded by marsh grass serving as a great spot to boil a little water for a long lunch. It felt good to walk through the marsh and feel the cool water flood into my boots on such a hot day.
The afternoon was spent wandering waterfalls and strange formations of limestone which had been eaten away by streams. The afternoon sun was intense and with water sources few and far between it was pretty hard going climbing over the yellow grassy top of Blea Moor. Through a thick summer haze the broad rounded summits of the Howgills stood a few a miles to the north.
I was surprised to see a lone doe suddenly appear and dash away whilst up on the moors, it was unbearably hot but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t a mirage….
A quick descent to the road passed by some derelict farm buildings sat in a field of golden wildflowers edged by crooked dry stone walls, it was like seeing the Yorkshire Dales at its best. The only thing that could’ve have made it more ‘Yorkshirey’ was if the three old men from Last of The Summer Wine had rolled by in a bath.
Having been up since before 5am and walking since 7am a fatigue was setting in by the time I reached Cam Fell, over the two days I’d covered about 30 miles with a big pack in hot weather and not much sleep. A cool fast flowing stream allowed for a proper rest and a decent meal of veggie stew with lots of rice followed by tea and biscuits. It would have made a good camping spot, secluded and next to a stream but there were hours of daylight so I pressed on.
The last hours of the day involved a stomp over a faint track towards Pen Y Ghent, I hadn’t planned on doing the three peaks, but seeing as there was time it felt right to get all three in. The sky clouded over but it remained very warm and still, curlews and skylarks filled the air with birdsong, the curlews obviously decided I was a threat to the nest as they circled over head shrieking away for a good mile.
The ground below Pen Y Ghent was really wet and boggy, so the day ended with a slow reluctant climb to about a hundred feet shy of the summit. After pitching and ditching the pack I made a quick dash to the summit which was covered in mist. Back at the tent I had the greatest meal of my entire life, instant custard with muesli and a hot cup of tea, before promptly passing out.
Heavy rain fell and strong winds blew throughout the night and Monday began by waking with first light for another early start. The day was due to be wet and a dampness could be felt in the air, the walk out was along an easy track with a bright golden sunlight broke through the clouds for the entire walk out along an easy track back to the car.