I had intended to go away for a couple of days, but events conspired to make it necessary for a rethink. Even on the morning there were matters demanding attention that necessitated a late start, but better late than never, our planned trip over to the North York Moors was once more put on hold and a day in the Dales looked like being a more realistic option.
In recent weeks we’ve squeezed in a walk in Ribblesdale around the Settle/Stainforth area, in Nidderdale near Pateley Bridge, and visited perhaps the most beautiful dale, Wharfedale, walking along the river bank between Bolton Abbey and Grassington. All have their different charms, and Wharfedale really does take some beating, having scenic grandeur, pretty villages, lots of good place to eat and drink and it is but a short drive away.
I appreciate the gentler, lush meadows of lower Wharfedale and I realise that further up dale there is a grittier feel, and superb access across the old drove road of Mastiles Lane to Malham Moor. Kilnsey Crag always draws the eye and the little roads up Park Rash or over Fleet Moss are always uplifting.
Though the most beautiful, Wharfedale is not, however my favourite dale. Driving out of Hawes northwards, the road starts to steepen steadily into a sustained climb that quickly takes you out of Wensleydale’s green pastures into the austere high moors, a land of sheep and grouse, with the road marked by “snow pole” waymarkers, more characteristic of the north Pennines.
Crossing the plateau a new land beckons. As you pass the “Buttertubs” which give this pass it’s name, suddenly glorious remote Swaledale comes into view. This is much more a land that time forgot. There is a sense of isolation here where the troubles of the world and the hustle and bustle of life seem a million miles away.
The dale bottom is characterised by small hay meadows, rich in wild flowers in the early summer, neat gritty villages where often generations of the same family have lived since the beginning of time. Names such as Clarkson, Alderson and…Calvert jostle for space in the little churchyards. When I arrive in Muker I feel I am coming home.
The author James Herriot was based in Thirsk away in the flatlands to the east but it is the feel of Swaledale that inspired him and about which he wrote in his books. It is also where many of the scenes from the television ‘All Creatures Great and Small’ were filmed.
After a walk up dale to Keld to see the waterfalls, I dragged Wifey into the excellent Farmers Arms in Muker for a welcome pint and a bite to eat. In England it doesn’t get much more remote than this. The rest of the world seems far, far away. Pausing briefly at the front door I was greeted with “Aren’t you that bloke who writes in the paper?” Swaledale, a world away but really right on our doorstep.