Pennine Way Stage 6: Earby to Gargrave

Published 27 May 2015

Walking through farmland on the Pennine Way

The more you walk of the Pennine Way, the greater the sense of familiarity there is about it. It is a walk through the Pennines after all. It doesn’t matter which section you’re doing because you’ll see similar things. You can pretty much guarantee that your day will include some heather-topped moorland up on a hill, some dry stone walls, a reservoir and some sheep staring at you in bafflement. As you head north, then forests and woodland get thrown into the mix, whilst the number of busy roads you pass by decreases. But still, there’s the familiar themes of hills, heather, dry stone walls, reservoirs and sheep. Especially the sheep.

And when you get a day that doesn’t conform to those rules, then you suddenly find yourself rather confused. Earby to Gargrave was of those days.

With just six or so miles to walk, our journey to Gargrave was hardly going to be particularly taxing. Although we had a time limit on how long we could dawdle. Gargrave had a railway station, and home – and, by implication, work – beckoned. The trains were infrequent and we’d need to be there for lunchtime in order to catch the local service to Leeds, before connecting with a service to London.

Six miles before lunchtime? Doable if we got out early. And as the hostel was self-catering only, there’d be no delay caused by breakfast; our early morning subsistence consisting of a cereal bar each purchased from the only shop in Earby which was open at 8am.

Leaving Thornton-in-Craven by the Pennine Way

We double backed up the old railway line to Thornton-in-Craven, once again managing not to break an arm, fracture our skull or complete any other activity which might lead us to vaguely consider legal action against Lancashire County Council. Back on the Pennine Way, we set off on our day of walking which would defy the Pennine Way’s conventions.

Yes there were sheep. Yes there were dry stone walls. But there was no heather to be found. And not a single reservoir either.

Now I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking “Andrew, you’re only walking for a half a day. Surely if you did a full day of walking, you’d see all those things?!” To which the answer is no, you wouldn’t. A full day of walking would take you to Malham. And there’s no heather, no major hills and no reservoirs up there either.

It was like the Pennines had just stopped. Which, of course, they hadn’t. They were just a bit thin on the ground at this point. And those hills that there were, weren’t where the Pennine Way wanted to go. And so it was that we’d spend a day in luscious green fields, filled with frolicking lambs. And not far on from Thornton-in-Craven, there was a stretch that was so un-Pennine Way like that it was unbelievable.

It joined a canal tow path.

The Leeds and Liverpool Canal on the Pennine Way

Of course the Leeds and Liverpool canal wasn’t the first the Pennine Way had met – we’d crossed over one at Hebden Bridge – but this was the first that the route actually followed.

It felt weird. Distinctly wrong. And it was a mercy when the canal curved off, and the Pennine Way instead took a more direct path to Gargrave. But not before it passed under a double arch bridge at East Marton.

The bridge – a bit of a local landmark amongst the fields and farms – was basically one arch plonked on top of another. The lower arch had been built first, but at a lower level to the road. Eventually the decision was taken to raise the bridge up to a higher level. But why build a whole new bridge when you could re-use part of what you already had? Hence a second arch was built on top of the first. Sorted.

The Double Arch bridge at East Marton, on the Pennine Way

The last few miles passed in a blur of fields as the village of Gargrave came into view. Sitting on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales National Park, it’s a popular spot for people heading outdoors, as witnessed by the crowds lining the Dalesman Cafe Tearooms. Before we knew it, we were inside scoffing a cream tea. So what if it was only 11am? There’s never a bad time to munch a jam and cream laden scone.

With quite some time to fill before our train departed, we eeked out every last bit of tea from the pot, and dutifully admired the owner’s assortment of the shelves and shelves of sweets at the front of the shop; all stored and served from old fashioned looking glass jars. Even the statuatory chocolate bars were given a star treatment, being arranged in a wooden rack emblazoned with “Cadbury’s Milk Chocolate” in elaborate writing.

Racks of sweets at the Dalesman Cafe at Gargrave

I could have bought everything in the shop – except the liquorice as I can’t stand the stuff – but I feared for my teeth. Instead we headed off to the station, to potter around there for half an hour until our train arrived.

There’s only so much amusement you can get from railway stations – I read all of the posters once, even the one informing me I must have a valid ticket – and once done there was little to do that sit on a bench and wait and look back on the journey we’d done. Edale to Gargrave completed. A quarter of the Pennine Way walked. Not bad for six days.

Eventually the train arrived and we began our journey home.

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