Dales Way Day 4 – Ribblehead to Sedbergh

Published 14 January 2011

Keep going!

In which the man in the bandana bids a fond farewell to Ribblehead’s viaduct, passes over empty and muddy moorland into Cumbria (whilst remaining in a bit of Yorkshire at the same time), sees a steam train, walks on some roads and bids farewell to Dentdale in style.

“I hear, for a price or otherwise, that it’s possible to arrange a lift back to the Dales Way.” The person asking looked almost conspiratorial as he asked at the bar, as if he was attempting to buy illegal narcotics or sell ivory. “It’s like three miles back there and I can’t be having that. Not at my time of life” he went on, making him sound like he was eighty when in reality he must have been a whopping 55.

I silently raised my eyebrows. For starters the walk was a mere mile and a half. Okay, so it was down the road on the B6255 however it was hardly busy and had a plethora of wide verges to walk on. I’ve had some bad walks to and from accommodation before now, and boy, this was not one of them.

So easy was it that I polished the walk off in a mere thirty minutes and that included the time it took to take several more photos of the viaduct.

There were six of them and a dog, meaning their lift would require two car trips, and as I walked back to Gearstones, I dreamt up a lovely fantasy where I’d arrive back at the Dales Way just in time to see the second car load of walkers arrive, at which point I’d doff my cap and pass them by with a cheery “Morning!”

Of course it remained just a dream. They’d long gone by the time I’d arrived. Even in my wildest dreams it’s not likely that two round trips totalling just six miles could take 30 minutes.

A gaggle of Sheep at High Gayle

Instead I rose up the hill to Winshaw Farm and on to Gayle Moor by myself and with no one to berate for their laziness. I mean, if you’ve travelled all this way to walk 78 miles across the North of England, then frankly an extra mile and a half is nothing. To quibble about such things… well anyway, it’s rather pointless.

So with all that said, let’s gets back to what we should be talking about. Moorland.

Yes moorland. Not wanting to do river walking down, after so much of it, it was rather nice to be up in the moors, even if it did come with the price of muddy and occasionally unclear paths which bumped up and down, and squelched and oozed under foot. And there were views – such views – of local fells. Amongst other things…

Fenced off memorial on High Gayle

For a few miles in I arrived at something curious. Nestling in the moorland was a small, fenced enclosure. Lined at the top with what looked like Christmas trees, they provided shelter for a bench and a mock grave dedicated to a local resident, with a second one housing the remains of a deceased dog.

To call it unexpected was a bit of an understatement and it took me a moment before I could walk on to the broken signpost where a drooping arm was proclaiming Gearstones to be a mile north east rather than south east. With the finger arm being half rotten, and because I’m a kindly soul, I corrected the error easily and went on my way.

My duties as mourner and associate sign fixed completed, I went on before stopping once more to listen… to listen to… errr…. well… not very much. In fact there was no sound. Nothing. Nothing at all. The sheep were silent, the nearby road empty, the wind not blowing. There were no birds, no noises.

For a mile or so there was absolutely nothing to hear bar the noises I made as I walked along the path. Suddenly the squeaking of my rucksack seemed incredibly loud. Occasionally the sound would be broken by the gurgling of a small stream, but other than that there were no sounds to hear.

It was unbelievably disorientating to hear nothing. And then, all of a sudden, the peace was shattered as one of the RAF’s finest flew over. I rounded a corner, the road got closer and I passed into Cumbria. It was all over.

I say Cumbria. As it was. However it was Cumbria with a twist as I was still in the Yorkshire Dales National Park. The whole section to Sedbergh was once part of the North Riding of Yorkshire until the land was handed over to the newly formed Cumbria in the county boundary reshuffle of 1974.

Entering Cumbria also saw me finally leave the moorland as the Dales Way started a rather long road section going downhill.

I hadn’t been particularly looking forward to this bit however the roads were deserted and as I descended, Dent Viaduct came in to view complete and by the road, a statutory train enthusiast with a camcorder on a tripod.

Dent Head Viaduct

I contemplated asking him if there was anything special due down the line, but it would be just my luck to find out he was waiting for an ultra rare double bogied class 454 diesel with a shipment of used plutonium (with the special lead lined wagons with the green stripes!) on its way to Carlisle and then Sellafield, so I left well alone and passed underneath the arches to find a little gate at the base of the viaduct meaning I could poke around and admire it from underneath.

Even better, just behind the looming viaduct was a tiny and insignificant bridge which once provided a crossing over Fell End Gill. It was such a lovely spot that I stopped and attempted to eat an apple until I was driven away by another set of persistent midge like creatures which sent me rushing to the road instead.

Meandering down the road, past a former youth hostel, I followed a series of gills and becks down to Stone House where carbon-rich black limestone known as Dent Marble was once processed, and as I crossed over a bridge I felt a slight stabbing pain on one of my toes. Spying a handy bench, I stopped to investigate.

The cause seemed to be a tiny sliver of dried grass stuck in my sock, which was clearly interesting enough to a local flock of chickens for them to pounce on my position and begin looking at me longingly.

Chickens at Stone House watch walkers carefully.

As if this wasn’t enough of a rural idyll for one person, the air was filled with the sound of a loud and mysterious clanking.

Expecting some odd road vehicle I looked around just as a maroon painted LMS branded steam train sped past hauling a long set of coaches. It was a magnificent sight, and one which the green diesel freight train which passed by in the other direction just couldn’t compete with. Although, lets face it, we all know which one that bloke with the camcorder was waiting for.

Leaving both trains to zoom off to their respective destinations, I wandered on and noted with a mild annoyance that if the bench I’d just been sitting on had been sited a mere 150m further down the road, I would have had the glorious treat of seeing a steam train crossing Dent Viaduct, smoke billowing from its engines as it did so. And I’d probably have escaped the clutches of those chickens too…

The Dales Way now took me on a plethora of winding paths through farms and, as ever, the occasional campsite. I had high hopes for a small change of scenery in the form of a spruce plantation, however arriving there I found the owners had had other ideas and chopped the whole thing down. No wood walking for me then.

A felled plantation wasn’t quite what I expected from a place called Birchen Trees

The farm paths kept their distance from the River Dee for most of the time, although at one point it made a furtive crossing, only for the path to have to go back on the other side shortly after.

For some time I’d been scouting my route for suitable picnic spots, however the Dales Way had either taken me along roads or narrow paths. When there were fields they were usually in full view of a farmhouse, which really puts you off munching your butty whilst sat there. In the end I resorted to sitting on a horse mounting block on one of the bridges and tucked hungrily into my beef sandwich from the Station Inn.

I’d expected some sort of wafer thin beef however this was the kind of fully loaded sandwich that a walker delights in. Crammed full of thick slices of proper roast beef, and all on the fanciness of ciabatta bread too.

The butty was clearly good enough to spark significant amounts of envy and appreciation from a group of teenage boys playing the rucksack game who crossed the bridge as I ate, and who were presumably on slightly more meagre rations.

My guide book suggested one could easily spend an hour or two in Dent. I managed a less sedate ten minutes, five of which were spent trying to find the public conveniences.

The George and Dragon at the heart of Dent

No doubt an hour could have been easily used sampling the beers at the Dentside Brewery Tap, fabled to be the most rural brewery in Britain. Mind you, if I’d gone in there I probably never would have left, and still having a few miles to do I pressed on further up Dentdale and along the River Dee.

Once more the Dales Way returned to the river, although large trees tended to block the Dee from view, so instead I spent more time admiring the amazingly named “Dent Network of Gates” where, in celebration of replacing several stiles with, yes you guessed it, gates, a series of gunmetal plaques had been installed.

A commemorative plaque to celebrate the ‘Dent Network of Gates’

Designed by school kids, they were supposed to represent sights and activities important to the local community although I couldn’t tell what most of them were and I spent much time staring at them quizzically before finding myself at a rather old, narrow metal kissing gate closely followed by a rickety stile. The Dent Network of Gates had disappeared without fanfare.

The stile led to some inevitable tarmac and although the road I now walked on was very quiet, there’s no denying it’s not as nice as grass. It led me to a very deep ford which I was thankful no longer required getting the boots wet as a new footbridge had been installed. Prior to it being built, most walkers ended up with a mile long detour – plenty of time to wonder why they didn’t bring any waders with them.

Leaving the Dee behind, the Way rose up to Gap wood and some more fine views of Dentdale before presenting a near perfect photo opportunity of the town of Sedbergh, a segment of Lakeland and the underrated might of the Howgills to boot. It was a brilliant view on which to end a days walking, however the delights weren’t over as I headed into the tiny village of Millthrop which was a hamlet clearly in bloom, with gardens whose floral displays the word “amazing” was totally inadequate for.

Millthrop offered some impressive floral displays

My B&B was on the other side, passing through the town itself and beyond its famous school. What do you mean you’ve never heard of it? An independent boarding school, it was founded in 1525 and sits in the heart of the town, its cricket pitch being next door to the shopping district.

Walking in to town later for some food I wandered round the shops and found an eclectic but instantly likeable town, whose shops included one dedicated purely to antique wooden chairs. Meanwhile the church organist was clearly practising for wedding days as the awful dirge of “Here comes the bride” wafted out of the door and around the local area.

The Red Lion pub where I refreshed myself added to the charm, with its batch of locals straight out of central casting. They included a 70 year old bloke who turned up on a mobility scooter who proceeded to start a clearly time honed routine about the barmaid being too busy on Facebook to have sex with him, whilst a Northern Bill Bailey look-alike turned up and ordered a pint. Whilst its centre may be dominated by a large independent school with its well equipped and expensive facilities, clearly Sedbergh’s residents were on quite a different level entirely.

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