So, as mentioned, I was away camping this weekend with my good friend Phil, who’s featured in the picture above. Yes, it really was that far.
We actually had a really great time, despite various mishaps, including the path that wasn’t a path and the now-infamous grouchy farmer who had issues with his crab apples. More on that later…
We got a lift up to a place called Hawes on Friday morning (and as such arrived during the afternoon, which was bad planning). It was raining, which is always fun when you didn’t pack your waterproofs close to the top of your pretty gigantic rucksack. We did though, because we know what English weather is like. At least it only rained for 3 hours or so – despite it seeming like a long time when walking, it wasn’t so bad in the end, the rain drove the nasty humidity from the air, and we hung out in a bus stop in Bainbridge for half an hour for lunch. The shelter was worth the funny looks. At this time I would like to admit that it’s pointless to give place names because people reading in the UK probably don’t have any idea where they are, let alone anyone outside the country. I’m going to anyway though.
That day we walked around 10 miles, and had the first encounter with what Phil (a legend in his own right, by the way) nicely termed ‘the country bumpkins’. We were stood on the outskirts of some God-forsaken village with our maps discussing which footpath we needed to get to Newbiggin, where the campsite was located for that evening, when rumbling from an upstairs window of the nearest house came a very deep “Do you need help?” Looking up, we were surprised to see a rather large, heavyset woman eyeing us with a frown – the conversation went something like this:
Woman: Do you need help?
Phil: We’re looking for Manor Farm, for the footpath.
Woman: Which one? There are three. If you go to that farm there, you’ll end up in Carperby.
We’d just been to that Manor Farm, and knew full well Carperby was in the opposite direction to the one we wanted, as did she having probably seen us wandering about over there.
Phil: Well, we need the footpath to Newbiggin.
Woman (sarcastically): Well, there are two Newbiggins.
Phil: We’re looking for Street Head Caravan Site.
Woman: Oh, yes, go right up there then.
Me (aside to Phil): She could have just said that.
Our next hurdle came when we had to cross some rather lethal stepping stones – and before you laugh, imagine this. It’s been pouring with rain, and the banks of the river are muddy and dangerous. The river is slightly flooded, and faster and deeper than usual, with a pretty strong current. The stones, jagged, uneven and dangerous at the best of times, are now covered in algae and slippery moss, and a misplaced foot could send you falling into the river to get a thorough soaking and potentially a nasty injury – it wasn’t so deep we’d have been seriously in danger from the water, but think hypothermia and sharp underwater rocks. In addition, we had huge, heavy rucksacks which could easily overbalance us, and hiking boots on with a lack of grip. Anyway, it’s all summed up by the picture I took, shown below:
I think to anyone watching, the sight of us crossing those stones was probably laugh-out-loud hilarious. To us, we were pretty scared, especially when I stepped onto the next one as Phil stepped back and I walked into his backpack and we almost both fell off! I think he ended up going forwards onto his hands and knees and I did a brilliant cartwheeling motion with my arms before just getting my balance. We did suffer the loss of a compass however, and I almost had to sacrifice my walking pole but managed to grab hold of it at the last moment.
I tell you, this countryside lark is tricky business. All in all though, we made it to the campsite two hours after the reception closed and had to go and locate the warden chap, who, amusingly enough, warned us to camp at the top of the field as there were a load of Duke of Edinburgh students camped at the bottom, implying it was bad to be situated near them – we’ve both done DofE and had no idea of the reputation it brings!
We spent the rest of the evening cooking pasta and trying not to fall asleep, and in fact we were helped in our efforts (to stay awake, not to cook pasta) by a stupidly loud woman in the caravan opposite our tent, who at 11:30pm was on the phone announcing (to what must have been the entire campsite) her life story. We almost went up to her the next morning and asked whether she was still not on speaking terms with her brother, whether her dad’s surgery (which he’d had at 6pm that evening) had gone well and why she had fallen out with her mum. I think she may have accidentally swapped her mobile phone for her megaphone, actually.
Waking up the next morning, we were happy to find our boots had dried out from their previous soaking from the rain, which made the experience entirely more pleasant. We also then had our second encounter with the ‘bumpkins’ of the region – bearing in mind it was about half seven in the morning, this chap was outside in overalls washing his motor home, and we did strike up a fascinating conversation about nothing in particular. His wife also offered to make us a drink, which was nice, though I felt offended – did we look like we were suffering that much? Another chap did then come by, who was definitely more of a country person – only country folk walk around a campsite in a dressing gown dragging a shopping trolley-sized water container while saying ‘Hello, squire!’ in a real Yorkshire farmer accent.
In the end we did set off, after falling over a few times with cramp from curling up in the deceptively small tent. Saturday’s walk was longer, around 13-14 miles, which was certainly plenty – if it’s not rain, it’s blistering heat and sunshine! So we walked northwards to Aysgarth, and stopped to ‘ooh ah’ at the waterfalls like tourists, before continuing to the village of Castle Bolton, which was where it got fun. Along the way though, we did have a conversation after passing a building marked as ‘Hospital, old’ on the OS Map:
Me: Doesn’t look much like a hospital does it?
Phil: Well it says ‘old’, maybe it used to be.
Me: Yeah, it could be a kind of retreat now for people who need treatment, or something.
Phil: Yeah, like lunatics?
Me: And there I was trying to be tactful…
Being good, fairly experienced walkers, we followed the signposts to Bolton Castle (imaginatively named), and all of a sudden the path started closing in and getting more and more overgrown, until there really was no path at all. We would have turned back, but there wasn’t another way to go, so what could we do? Anyway we kept on, marching along with our arms held above our heads in the air, as if we just didn’t care, and after what must have been a good mile we emerged (with 27 nettle stings on my left arm – I counted) in sight of Castle Bolton. If any of the authorities are reading this, thank you for returning my watch – which I promptly left in the public toilets when washing my hands – but please, please, sort out that path!
After a lunch stop we walked to Redmire, which was when I realised my watch was gone, and much cursing ensued, and then after a delay to decide what to do, we continued to Wensley, which was really very small to have an entire dale named after it… En route, we had another close encounter of the country bumpkin kind, this time with a grouchy farmer walking his dog, as we climbed over a stile on his land:
Farmer: You know, most people use the gate.
Me (perched on top of stile): Yeah, but we thought we should use the stile to be safe.
I dismounted from the stile to join Phil in the next field, brushing past an overhanging tree with my bag.
Farmer: Now look what you’ve done to my crab apples!
If that wasn’t strange, I don’t know what was. Still, it caused many a laugh along the way to Leyburn, where we had a great time walking around a supermarket in our walking gear and rucksacks buying sausages and water (Phil left his sausages at home, what a fool). At long last we reached a place called Harmby, which wasn’t nearly as painful as it sounded, and found our tent pitch at the top of a huge hill. Yay.
We were also kept up that evening, this time by a party with loud music and fireworks. Now, it was the 4th of July and they may have been American, I don’t know, but the crazy thing is that the party was being held at an auction house – maybe the auctioneers sold something? I’m not sure, but they sure were loud about it.
It proceeded to tip it down that night, stopping just after we got sopping wet from cooking outside, and starting just as we got into the tent. Not a problem unless your tent leaks, which ours did. My towel has never seen so much use as when I spent endless hours kneeling in the middle of a canvas shelter catching drips of water and mopping up puddles from underneath our sleeping bags!
We woke up the next morning cramped and somewhat damp, but at least we only had to walk back to Leyburn – about 30 minutes of walking – to wait for our lift home. We sat there for about 2 hours over lunchtime, and counted hundreds – literally, hundreds – of motorcycles. Must be the in-thing to do in Leyburn? We also decided that next time we’re taking a camper van of our own, so we can be like Max and Paddy, which will be epic.
Coming up next time on der Hexenmeister, the long-awaited, level 10, super-duper Warlock Guide extraordinaire!