2nd May 2015
Wensleydale (and particularly Upper Wensleydale) is a part of the Dales much neglected by me. OK I went there last year when driving some of the route taken by Le Tour. But before then I cannot really recall when I was last there.
That also means, of course, that the hills either side of the Dale have not seen the tread of my feet. In fact, these two hills lie over the Pennine watershed and are strictly hills overlooking Garsdale whose waters end up in the Irish Sea via the river Lune. But the drive off the A1M through Bedale, Leyburn, Hawes etc was a delight. I was up there before the traffic on this May Day bank holiday weekend. So the traffic was light, though the rather iffy forecast might also have helped.
In Leyburn preparations were being made for the Dales Festival of Food and Drink, Castle Bolton stood proud on the north side of the Dale and Aysgarth was as pretty as ever. The Dale narrows beyond Hawes. Some of the higher tops had cloud brushing them and the landscape became a bit harsher. The road rose to Garsdale Head with its remote railway station and then dropped back to a more pastoral landscape in Garsdale itself.
The immediate target was the car park at the western end of Aye Gill Pike, a few miles short of Sedburgh. Here there is a viewpoint looking out to the Howgills with an interesting information board explaining how the Howgills with their older rocks had been thrust up through the younger limestone that lay above them. This created the Dent fault. Coincidentally, the nearby village of Dent was the birthplace of one of the early heroes of geology, Adam Sedgewick. It was he who first observed and recorded the geological significance of the fault.
The car park was empty apart from the numerous puddles. The weather did not look that promising and a stiff breeze ruffled the puddles. Aye Gill Pike, being a Marilyn should have good views. I wondered whether this would indeed be the case today given the clouds. The forecast had said that the rain should hold off until late afternoon.
Aye Gill Pike is a classic whaleback of a hill. It is wedged between Garsdale and Dentdale. Perhaps unusually it runs along an east-west axis, unlike most other whalebacks in the Dales. Maybe Mr Sedgewick would have an explanation for that. I had wondered about the derivation of Aye Gill Pike. It could not be linked to Aysgarth and its falls because they were on the other side of the watershed. There was no Aye Gill marked on my map. But then again there were a lot of watercourses that were not named. So that will remain a mystery for the moment at least.
I sorted myself out and then released Jet from the back of the car. We scuttled across the road and on to the grassy hillside opposite. The way is straightforward. We picked up an ATV trail leading in the direction I wanted which was the south west point of a block of trees. Here a wall was picked up, with an accompanying fence. In essence this wall would be followed all the way to the top.
The way was boggy at times. Jet had fun racing around the hillside, his lower half becoming progressively blacker with the peat and mud sticking to his hair! The ground rose steadily beside the woodland, comprising unattractive and out of place conifers. At the south east point of the woodland, the trail became a path rather than an ATV track and it became a bit drier. There were a couple of nicely made stiles to clamber over and after one short sharper pull the white triangulation pillar came into view.
The hill is not that high at 556m (1,824ft) but the wind was a bit frisky. Although the top was well clear of the cloud, the atmosphere was not clear so the views were not great. Most of the higher hills around loomed through the gloom, though the view to the Howgills was OK.
I dipped down behind a low wall by the trig point, gave Jet some treats and had a muesli bar to eat. The ascent had taken only a little over an hour – a good leg warmer on only my third trip out since South America.
The return, now with the wind largely behind us was by the same route. Spots of rain started up 10 minutes before we reached the car.
Next on the cards was Great Knoutberry Hill. A short drive back up Garsdale and a right turn up the narrow winding road past Garsdale Station took me just over the pass to Dentdale. By now the rain was steadily falling. The prospect of getting out again was not attractive. But the starting elevation meant that this excursion would not be as long as that for Aye Gill Pike.
So this time I had my Gore-tex on and Jet and I set off along the bridleway that skirts the hill. This bridleway follows the route of a road used by a colliery. I was thinking to myself “what is a knoutberry?” I now know that it is an alternative name for a cloudberry, a type of berry that grows only at higher latitudes in the northern hemisphere but will also be found in the British uplands and a few other places.
I didn’t see any. This was partly because the rain was now turning into snow, stinging the eyes. After 600m on the bridleway a fence went up the hill to the left. Strictly Jet and I should have been on the far side of this because of access restrictions on dogs. But the chances of being found out on this most dismal of days was unlikely.
Despite the rain and snow, the going underfoot was not too bad. The only natural features comprised a couple of large tarns – Widdale Great Tarn and Widdale Little Tarn – off to the left. The occasional boggy section could be by-passed and after half an hour the summit trig point came into view. Here there were also a couple of useful stiles so that we could, as it were, get to the correct side of the fence. The trig point was surrounded by a small moat but a couple of submerged rocks enabled me to tap the top dry shod. By the trig point was a wall (which starts here and runs off to the south east) and next to that a stone shelter that brought a welcome respite from the elements. I was able to sit there and have some lunch and feed Jet some more biscuits.
The wall forms the county boundary between Yorkshire and Cumbria, the trig point is on the Cumbrian side of the fence; the shelter on the Yorkshire side.
There was no real view from the top. It is supposed to be a good viewpoint for the Yorkshire 3 Peaks and the Lakeland fells. Not today.
For the return, again we reversed our route up, this time on the correct side of the fence. Almost back at the bridleway, there is a line of cairns. They do not seem to represent any particular feature, though sited at the top of a short rise. Back on the bridleway it did not take long until we were back at the car.
That was enough for today.
I decided to return home via upper Dentdale and Ribblehead. I must say, this was a very pretty route. The river Dee runs over a series of cascades and rocky sills but the road was too narrow to stop. The Settle-Carlisle railway is famous for the Ribblehead viaduct, but along this valley there are a couple of (smaller) impressive viaducts as well. Well worth a visit.