Dales and Lakeland Walk 2008

Author: George Tod

This walk is illustrated with photographs. Click on small photo to enlarge in situ, or click caption to enlarge into new window.
Part 1 - Devising, Planning, Preparation and Training

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Devising and Planning the Walk

Having exhausted most of the high level walks around mainland Britain, some of which I have walked twice, or even three times, as is the case with the Pennine Way, I decided it was time for something different. There are obviously many other countries with good walks available, but the additional cost and time of travelling and the greater problems of organising a walk abroad tend to put me off. The only way of finding something a little different was to devise a walk of my own, possibly taking in sections of other walks if they happened to suit my purposes.

One possibility was to start off with a walk of the Dales Way and finish off with a week or so walking in the Lake District. The problem with the Dales Way, however, which had put me off in the past, is that it is a walk that sticks mainly to the valley bottoms, following riverside paths for much of its length. Although I am quite happy to do riverside walks for a few miles, I would find it very boring to do so for several days at a stretch, as the views tend to be much more restricted than those at a higher level. This led me to think of a modified version that might give me more variety of scenery.

The Yorkshire Dales consists largely of flat-topped moorland that is often covered in peat bogs interspersed with picturesque valleys with their characteristic dry-stone walls, attractive villages, and limestone outcrops. To me, the best vantage point is from half way up a hillside, looking down on the scenery of the valleys, but with wider views over the rest of the landscape. With this in mind, I set out to devise a few modifications to the Dales Way to follow paths higher up the valley sides. However, on studying maps of the area, there were very few places where there were any such footpaths. In general, the paths either run along the valley bottoms or head for the top of an often flat-topped and boggy hill, neither of which suited my purpose.

One way around this was to keep taking paths over ridges from one dale to another, thus getting better views of both of the dales without necessarily spending too much time either on the flat moor tops or down in the valley bottoms. This seemed to have more possibilities, though, by its very nature, would deviate considerably from the route of the Dales Way.

I already had a set of three Yorkshire Dales and four Lake District Outdoor Leisure 1:25,000 scale maps, so most of my walk would be covered by these, helping considerably with the planning. For any sections that were not covered I made use of the Ordnance Survey's free Get-a-Map service online, thus avoiding the need to buy other maps just for a few miles of the route. By saving several of the small map sections, I was able to piece them together using a desktop publishing package and then print out these larger sections for use on the walk, laminating them to protect them if they got wet. All of my maps were rather old, so didn't have the Dales Way or Cumbria Way very clearly marked as the later maps have, but where I was in any doubt, the route could be confirmed from Get-a-Map.

Another problem that I encountered was the difficulty of finding reasonably priced accommodation in many places. The Yorkshire Dales, like the Lake District, is a very popular tourist destination and there has been a tendency for B&Bs in the more popular places to capitalise on the situation by charging high prices. This is bad enough for couples, but for a lone walker, it presents even more difficulties. Few places have any single rooms and most places are reluctant to let a double or twin room for single occupancy without asking for a considerable supplement, or else they want to charge the full double room price. In the Lake District, there is, at least a good network of youth hostels, but this is not the case with the Yorkshire Dales, except along the route of the Pennine Way.

A search of the Internet revealed that there are a significant number of bunk houses, which seemed to offer a few more possibilities, but on closer inspection, it turned out that a lot of these took only group bookings and were mainly designed to cover the outdoor activity market aimed at schools and colleges. There were, however, a few places that would take individual bookings, one of which I had already stayed at in Horton-in-Ribblesdale, and one or two others near the route of the Dales Way. Gradually some framework of a walk was coming into place, though I was still having problems with the first stretch of the walk from Ilkley to the youth hostel at Kettlewell, as it was rather a long way to walk in one day, especially with some of the route diversions I was planning.

It then occurred to me that there was no reason for me to start at Ilkley anyway, as I had already abandoned much of the Dales Way route, so I could start anywhere that I could easily reach by public transport. Skipton offered better possibilities, as it meant that Kettlewell would then be within one day's walking distance. The Dales route was now coming more clearly into focus provided I could find a few reasonably priced B&Bs or bunkhouses in suitable places. Once I reached the Lake District, it would be just a matter of booking a number of youth hostels within reasonable walking distance of each other, terminating somewhere along the coast, where I could catch a train back home. There is such a network of footpaths at both high and low levels throughout the Lake District that there would be no problem in finding suitable routes between hostels, and I would be able to have alternative route options to suit varying weather conditions and my own level of fitness each day.

The basis of the route from Skipton was to take the footpath along the western edge of Embsay Moor, then join the Dales Way at Grassington, where it takes one of its few higher level routes along the hillside to Kettlewell. Next day I would cross over into Littondale and make my way over Plover Hill and Pen-y-ghent to Horton-in-Ribblesdale. From there I would complete the other two of Yorkshire's Three Peaks: Ingleborough and Whernside, before dropping down to Dentdale and the Dales Way, where there was a convenient bunkhouse a couple of miles before reaching Dent. I would then head for Sedbergh, deviating from the Dales Way by going over Long Moor instead of along the valley and also taking a high level route over the Howgill Fells, before rejoining the Dales Way to find another bunkhouse not far from the M6 motorway. My next stop was planned for Staveley after taking a route over the edge of the fells by Potter Tarn, and then I could embark on the Lake District part of the walk.

All of this was fine in theory, but I left the booking of my accommodation a little late for one reason or another. By the time I got around to it in the latter part of April, it was apparent that there was a considerable number of youth hostels with no beds free when and where I wanted them. This meant that instead of planning a route around the Lake District and booking hostels along the way, I drew up a table of bed availability at all the hostels and planned a route to fit in with those. Availability seemed a bit better by starting my walk a week later than I intended, but that didn't clash with anything else, so was not a problem. My Lake District route was by no means ideal, missing out large areas that I would have liked to visit, and being more of a random zigzag between hostels rather than a properly planned walk. The last hostel would be in Coniston, where I would join the Cumbria Way down to Ulverston, staying in a B&B before catching the train home. All the Lake District sections were under 15 miles by the most direct route, but some of my high level options would include a lot of ascent and slower walking, so could leave me short of time if I were not careful, and I might risk getting too exhausted if I tried to take on an excessive amount of climbing day after day. I would, therefore leave the decision as to which route I should take to when I was there, when I would be able to tell how good the weather was, and how fit I felt at the time.

I had no particular preference as to what day of the week I should start. The only two considerations being that the rail service is very much reduced on a Sunday, so I didn't want to travel either way then, and, on many weekends in the summer, Horton-in-Ribblesdale is overrun by people attempting the Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge, so I wanted to avoid a weekend when staying there. By travelling to the start on a Monday, both of these problems would be avoided.

As far as the Dales part of the route was concerned, I managed to keep reasonably well to my plan, booking a B&B in Skipton, the youth hostel in Kettlewell, and a bunkroom in Horton-in-Ribblesdale. The bunkhouse at Whernside Manor in Dentdale was full but I booked B&B at the Sun Inn in Dent instead. The next bunkhouse at Lowgill no longer seemed to be operating, but I was able to book a B&B near Grayrigg, leaving only one more place to find accommodation before the youth hostel at Patterdale. The accommodation in Staveley all seemed to be expensive, and a B&B at Kentmere was full along with their bunkhouse. The only reasonable option seemed to be Windermere, where I managed to find a B&B which was not too expensive, and where they would accept a one-night stay. From there it was youth hostels at Patterdale, Derwentwater, Elterwater, Wastwater, Black Sail Hut for two nights, Grasmere, Coniston and finally a B&B at Ulverston.

With all the accommodation booked, it was just a matter of booking my train tickets and then waiting for the start date to arrive. The first set of prices that come up when putting in the start and finish of a train journey are not necessarily the best if any changes are involved. Cheap advance tickets may only be available on certain legs of the route and are often not offered as part of the overall journey, so it pays to check what options are available for each stage individually and then book them accordingly. I managed to book from Rhyl to Skipton via Manchester and Leeds for £14, and from Ulverston to Rhyl via Manchester for £22, a considerable saving on the standard fares of £36.50 and £38 respectively. The journey from Ulverston to Rhyl involved a fairly long wait in Manchester, but I could use that to get some lunch there.

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Preparation and Training

I generally manage to keep fairly fit throughout the year by getting out on day walks over the hills and mountains of North Wales, near to where I live, taking with me my ever willing companion Oscar, a Parson's Terrier (Jack Russell and Fox Terrier cross). Unfortunately for him, it is a bit too much of a problem with accommodation for me to take him with me on long distance walks, though I am sure he would love to go, given half a chance.

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Oscar on Glyder Fawr
Oscar on Glyder Fawr

The weather and other commitments determine how often I get out walking over the mountains - sometimes it is every week and sometimes only once every few weeks, but it usually enough to stop me from getting too much out of condition. In any case, I tend to walk Oscar every day for two or three miles, but this is generally along the flat and not as good as hill walking for exercising leg and heart muscles. It is great to see well tuned muscles and sinews pulling together like a well oiled machine making effortless progress up a steep mountainside, but that is just the dog, as I try to ignore his contemptuous backward glances as I struggle on behind. It is as if to say ‘Come on! What are you waiting for? Let's get to the top so we can open up the sandwich box.’ I sometimes wonder whether his greatest joy in walking is the walk itself or the food that he gets on the way. Although he is only about one sixth of my body weight, he generally eats more than I do, and about four times as quickly. Woe betide me if we reach a summit and I don't stop for food, even if it is blowing a gale up there, and I decide to go further on for some shelter.

My equipment list was much the same as on previous walks with a few minor alterations. I recently bought a wide-angle converter for my Finepix 7000S camera to give it a focal length equivalent to 28mm on a 35mm camera. This can be very useful in high mountain areas such as the Lake District, but is quite bulky, so I decided to leave behind my binoculars to offset the weight. On many walks, I hardly use the binoculars, so I have often wondered whether their weight was justified by the use I had from them.

To flavour my drinking water, making it more refreshing and palatable, particularly in warm weather, I got some more Kool-Aid sachets. This is an American product that has been on sale over there for many decades, but there has been no equivalent product on sale over here since Apeel ceased to be sold. A product called O2GO was launched about a year ago and, in theory, is available in some major supermarkets, such as Morrison's and Sainsbury's, but I have been unable to find any in stock to date. Kool-Aid comes in a number of flavours, each small sachet making about two litres of drink. It has no added sweetener - the instructions saying 'add a cupful of sugar, more or less according to taste!' However, to avoid the weight of sugar, not that I would dream of adding that much, I use artificial sweeteners, adding about five per litre. This still leaves the drink tasting rather bitter, but I prefer it that way rather than it being too sweet.

I have also used some other powdered drink products that were kindly sent to me by a lady who walked Offa's Dyke Path with her son, and stayed with us a couple of years ago both before and after the walk, but as Kool-Aid is now relatively easy to buy and inexpensive, I decided to stay with that. There are several websites where it can be ordered from America, but also one or two sellers in the UK who import it and sell it online at about 45p a sachet plus postage. Its light weight and that of the sweeteners, means that it is possible to take enough for a couple of weeks of walking without worrying about the extra burden.

The last few pairs of walking boots I have had have all suffered from the same problem. Soft padding around the heel starts to wear away after just a couple of hundred miles, and the rough edges thus exposed cause excessive wear to the heels of walking socks, as well as being prone to causing blisters. This never used to happen, as any interior lining of boots, and particularly of leather boots, was much more durable, often being made of soft leather. It seems that, either in the quest to make boots feel more instantly comfortable the longer term considerations have been ignored, or, more cynically, that it is built-in obsolescence to make people buy new boots well before they would normally need replacing. Many walkers I meet up with only do about a hundred miles of walking per year, so by the time the problem occurs, it is too late to take the boots back. I walk several hundred miles per year; so can suffer the problem after only a few months. In fact, I took one pair of boots back after only about five weeks because the heel lining had worn through in the space of the 200-miles of a long-distance walk. With my current boots, I have put up with the wear, as it wasn't hurting my feet, but it was costing me a lot of money in prematurely worn-out socks. Thinking I might do better with some higher quality socks, I invested in some Thousand Mile socks with an inner and outer layer, the outer one supposedly sticking to the boot and the inner one sticking to the foot so that any rubbing is done between the two layers. I hoped that this might reduce the amount of wear, even if they didn't last out the thousand miles. Also, to cover the rough edges inside the boots I stuck some gaffer tape over, though I had my doubts as to how long it might stay in place.

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