A Cautionary Tale From Tail End Charlie

A beautiful June day.  The sort of day which makes you wonder why you ever booked that holiday to Mallorca.  There can be no better place to be than the Yorkshire Dales when the sun is beating down, the summer flowers in their infancy adorning the roadsides and the cottage gardens beginning to explode into a riot of shape, size, and colour.

A bike ride was proposed; one that would encompass three of our glorious Dales and of course, involve four of our steepest, less glorious from the seat of a bike, hills.

Our little party of two began in the tiny hamlet of Hawkswick, which lies in a hidden away in a corner of Wharfedale snuggled into the side of Hawkswick moor and flanked by the River Skirfare.

Rarely do I leave on a cycling expedition without several layers and the obligatory raincoat.  Today was an exception; the summer gear made a rare appearance and the most essential item of body cover was high factor sun cream.  Our route took us through Kettlewell and along the valley to Starbotton and Buckden.  We took a left in Buckden and pootled along the deserted side road through the tiny village of Yockenthwaite with the River Wharfe on our right, host to some of the most amazing (mostly undiscovered) picnic spots in Wharfedale.  Of course, the easy pedaling did not last long.  Ahead lay one of Yorkshire’s infamous climbs – Fleet Moss.  My legs began to question a training regime which hadn’t involved a bike for three weeks and as the first section rose steeply in an upwards direction I began to wonder if I’d bitten off more than I could chew. Cycling in the heat has it’s benefits – the downhill whizz creates a wonderful breeze but the uphill slogs seem to generate inordinate amounts of sweating and Tale End Charlie was once again proving to be worthy of the aforementioned title. From the summit of Fleet Moss we could see, once the sweat had been wiped away, Ingleborough to our left and Semer Water to our right. Ahead lay the land of Wallis, Grommit and the most delicious cheese in Yorkshire.  It was decided that sustenance was required so without further ado we unleashed our wheeled steeds and let them go down the lovely descent into the village of Gayle and over a tiny but beautiful bridge and on towards Hawes.

Cafes are a plenty in Hawes but we headed to the Creamery for our first coffee and cake stop of the day in preparation for the next challenge – Buttertubs, one of the climbs of the recent ‘Tour’.  Watching the footage of the pros on any of the climbs makes cycling look so easy and these incredibly fit, dedicated athletes earn huge respect as I tackle their ‘molehills’ that are most definitely mountains to my legs.  As I slogged onwards and upwards, in last place as always, I was passed by a young fit chap who appeared to be emulating these athletes. Clad in orange lycra with and orange bike to match he had a definite air of superiority as he powered past a huffing and puffing yours truly and quickly disappeared over the horizon.

Again the summit rewarded us with spectacular views, this time over Swaledale. I love the charm of Swaledale with its tiny, characterful villages and fields dotted with traditional barns and divided by our iconic stonewalls. However, and here comes the cautionary bit of the tale (in case you were wondering), I am not sure that Mr Posh Orange bike felt quite the same about this well loved Dale on our second meeting. We descended into Swaledale in a rather gingerly fashion and were greeted at the bottom of Buttertubs by an ashen-faced man in orange lycra with a posh orange bike dumped unceremoniously in the verge.  At the bottom of the descent the rim on his rear wheel had exploded. Fortunately he had slowed down by the time the incident occurred.  Had it happened mid-descent when speeds of up to 50 miles per hour are not uncommon, I dread to think of the result. He announced that he had come from Blackburn and was hoping for ‘a good day out’. His bike was rendered useless; he was 65 miles from home. Imagine receiving that phone call as you were sitting down with a nice glass of Pims and the Sunday paper on the hottest day of the year yet.  65 miles through winding backs roads battling with a procession of vintage motorbikes and cars to rescue Mr Posh Orange lycra man and his now not so posh bike.  Breaking on a bike in hot weather can be a dangerous thing. If the rims get too hot the fate of Mr Orange can befall us all.

Undeterred, but slightly more mindful of the inherent dangers of speedy cycling, we headed onwards through Muker to Gunnerside where we were flagged to a stop by a couple of enterprising school children earning a Saturday bob or two selling a welcome glass of homemade lemonade to thirsty cyclists and walkers.  It certainly hit the spot and helped us on our way through Low Row and Reeth to Grinton where we enjoyed lunch at the Dales Cycle cafe before hill number three – the lesser known climb onto Grinton Moor. I was glad that I had resisted the array of amazing looking cakes as the climb was one of those endless slogs. Still, we could see for miles – over into Teeside on our left and into Richmondshire on our right.  Taking care with our brakes we enjoyed the descent and towards the bottom took a sharp left which took us into Castle Bolton, overshadowed by the huge crumbling castle walls that reek of history and battles of ages past.

From Castle Bolton we headed to Aysgarth Falls, thronged with happy visitors splashing and cooling off in the falls of the River Ure.  Rather than going all the way to Aysgarth we took a side road to Thoralby, a blissfully peaceful route bordered by dog roses, fox gloves, and geraniums.  An ancient tractor chugged round one of the fields making ‘proper’ oblong hay bales and chattering Oyster Catchers broke the peaceful silence as they frantically caught up on the latest news.  Ahead lay our last climb – the hill up Bishopdale. Despite the seemingly calm weather a sneaky head-wind made the climb just that bit tougher and I vowed to train slightly harder before my next trip out. At the top of Bishopdale we looked down over Kidstones and back into Wharfedale where a welcome ice cream awaited in Kettlewell before the last few miles brought us back to our starting point of Hawkswick. 64 miles, four big hills, one sad bloke in orange lycra, four tired legs, and two very happy people, having seen the Dales at their very best and most glad that they hadn’t jetted off to Mallorca for the weekend.


A Tale From an Off-Cum’dun

I consider myself to be a local in these parts but not quite.  I was born here, went to school here, left for the obligatory time at uni and gave the world away from the Dale a reasonable chance and then, happily, returned able to say that I had ‘seen the world’. I’m now back where I started and have no intentions of straying far. Local through and through. Not quite as local as a certain breed and never will be.  The farmers hold a separate status.  It’s hard to explain but however long your family has been here, however deep your connections you can never, ever, achieve the ‘local’ status of a farmer. I even had a brief foray into ‘pretend farming’ – purchased a few motley ewes and experienced lambing time first hand for a number of years.  That doesn’t count. It didn’t help my attempts to be a part of the ‘farming club’ when one year, having watched all my ewes swell and look more and more matronly as the weeks passed and lambing time loomed …and passed…with no additions to my flock, it became clear that our tup was a dud and my ewes were overfed and more intent on joining the ever growing obese section of society than producing offspring. The shame.  I realise that there is nothing I can do to achieve the heady heights of the Dales farmer.  As a child at the local school the children from farming families were quietly revered. Days off for lambing and hay time were standard.  My dad worked in textiles. A day off to help out at the mill would be scorned but no one dare argue with a farmer.  I remember, years later, being on the management committee of the local playgroup.  One of the members of staff was a farmer’s wife.  She would only take the position if she could have time off for lambing. No one thought that was strange.

file1Farmers round here have many idiosycrancies unique to them.  There is the ‘Malhamdale wave’ – so dubbed by our late resident celebrity, Bill Bryson. It is the slow, cursory rise of the index finger directed at you (usually with no accompanying eye contact or change in facial expression) as you pull in for a farmer to pass as they make their way, often hell for leather, down the narrow roads with a confidence that causes tourists, cyclists, walkers and the walls and hedge side vegetation to tremble in their wake.  But pull in you do.  It is clear that they have a job to do and god forbid that anyone impinges their progress in any way. Farming has always seemed to be the pinnacle in terms of careers, the only job that can really earn you true respect but it is something you are born into not a career path you can really chose.  They are a proud breed and would do no other job. Although it is an unspoken, well acknowledged fact that they work harder than anyone else on the planet, 24hrs a day 7 days/week. That’s probably true.  I live opposite a dairy farm. It’s 24/7 365 days a year. A day away with this wife and 4 young children is a novelty. The family had a day at the seaside last week and it is the first time I’ve seen them leave the farm as a family for the day that I can remember.

file5There is no doubt that it is a hard life. Foot and mouth left scars that will be a long time healing. The dairy herd across the road from me is relatively new. I will never forget the day the 20 year old farmer sat in my kitchen, head bowed, eyes filled with tears, numb with shock as the slaughter men employed by DEFRA systematically destroyed his family’s life work. They appear to be a hard bunch but they care deeply.  The field next to my house is often used a ‘sick bay’ for cows that are struggling for one reason or another.  It is currently resident to a 12-month-old heifer who managed to find herself at the bottom of a stony crag somewhat worse for wear.  It’s been touch and go. She’s struggled to get to her feet unaided and each day has been patiently and quietly helped to a wobbly upright position, often to crumple straight back into a seated heap. I happened to be in my garden the day she made it upright unaided.  Four little boys sat on the wall and watched, delighted as she heaved and lurched her way from the floor. Their faces said it all. These animals are more than milking machines, a way to put bread on the table (and hardly that with the price they get paid for their milk), they matter – each and everyone of them. They are part of their family and have a name, a role and a place within that family. It’s a given that the boys help on the farm. I’m glad that my children didn’t have to suffer the indignities of spending their days kicking a football round the garden, idling the long summer holidays away with friends and games only to watch the boys across the road bring the cows in on their quad – driven solo from the age of 7. They have a status and a role from the moment they can walk and are proud of the part they play in the family business.

They have a status in the local pub too. You can always tell when they are there – especially the younger generation. I teach teenagers and they sometimes show me pictures of them ready for a night out. Transformed from the spotty scruffs who adorn the desks at my college into glamour models, suited, booted and ready for the kill. Not so with our local farming youth. You can tell they are in the pub because the smell hits you when you open the pub door. A pleasant (ish) smell of sheep and cow that is ingrained in their skin and clothes.  It can be removed with a good scrub and for a proper night out – but for a pint in the pub after a hard day it’s ok to be accompanied by that special odour. I often wonder if they ever think about what they have really taken on. Despite the fact that they make little money, that the days are long, hard and relentless – the same year in, year out, they would do nothing else. It is the family way and has been so for generations. It’s a closed shop. Grandad, dad and son. Occasionally and more so now, a daughter will be brave enough to take up the mantle.  A hard choice but one I respect. There is no doubt that they will have to perform to achieve – and perform somewhat better than yours truly with her fat, barren ewes.

It’s a tough life choice but they are a breed apart and I suspect that’s the case countrywide. A kind, hardy, determined set of folk who would quietly help you if the need arose and expect no thanks in return. The land is theirs for generation to generation.  I walk, run and cycle across it and feel I know it better than most but they know it in a different way.  Each field has a name, a function; it’s own personality in terms of production, drainage, ability to keep stock in, places to shelter new born lambs and walls for the cattle to huddle behind as winter takes hold.

I started my life here and God willing, will end it here. I love the dale and would love to call it mine but I don’t.  Whilst the visitors who spend time in my b and b think I am a true local, I know that there will be some small part of me that is always ‘off cumdon’, and it will be the same for my children.

Cycling the Pennine Bridleway

Day 1. Middleton Top to Hayfield

A new venture for us all, having been avid road bikers for many years we decided to swop the slick wheels and tiny frames of our super speedy road bikes for beasty counterparts with Harley Davidson width handle bars and huge tarmac sucking tyres. The first lesson was that road miles are ridiculously faster and easier than those off tarmac, the second that this benign looking sport requires a lion’s portion of courage along with a far amount of stupidity.

Big tyres are order of the day on the Pennine Bridleway

So – with both those things in mind it was with some trepidation that I embarked on a journey on my shiny new mountain bike along the Southern section of the Pennine Bridleway in the hope of incorporating the Mary Towneley loop in recognition of the amazing lady and family friend who fought hard for this section of the bridleway.

The route begins with an easy 15 mile section along the old railway lulling cyclists into believing that this mountain bike lark is actually easy peasy. The route is well signed and refreshments, loos and spare cycling bits and bobs available at Parsley Hay. North of this stop the railway line continues for a few more gentle miles and then the real fun begins. Having averaged ten miles an hour for almost two hours our speed plummeted to a measly 4/5 mph as we battled across country, up and down stoney and boulder ridden lanes … requiring quite a bit of dismounting and pushing from scardey cat herself. Peak Forest was billed to be our lunch stop but transpired to be a ghost town so we re-routed to Sparrowpit which was equally deserted so luncheon was an energy bar by the side of the road. The last 8 miles took us to the buzzing town of Hayfield (where Monday seems to be pub day and an alarming amount of people we met seemed to have been thoroughly enjoying the local hostelries). This section of the ride presented us with some challenging ups and downs, a couple of river crossings (my bike managed the bridge quite nicely thank you), and some huge slabs of rock which I wobbled tentatively over … having been scared out of my wits by a mountain bike aficionado who shot down one of the steep, stoney lanes at great speed and seemed to spend more time in the air than bumping over the rocks. Granny here decided to push.

Some slopes require old fashioned methods, like walking

Sunshine all the way today which certainly helped the miles …. tomorrow, a chap at the bar told me with great glee, is going to be a different story. He was delighted to impart the grim weather forecast. Don’t you just hate those smug doom mongerers?

Day 2 – Hayfield to Hollingworth Lake

A surprisingly easy and sunny start today …for the first mile ……and then a wake up call of a vertiginous climb up to Lantern Pike rewarding us with great views of Kinder Scout, a long with the realisation that today’s miles were going to be even harder to earn. From Lantern Pike we headed cross country towards Charlesworth. Up until now the route had been meticulously signed but once we hit the road the sign poster seemed to have given up. As a result we went slightly off route and worried that we may end up in central Manchester. However, after a short section of lorry filled roads to remind us why we had taken to the more scenic routes, we found ourselves skirting Arnfield Reservoir where we treated ourselves to coffee and ice cream. Two hours of hard cycling and only 11 miles done – unheard of in our previous road biking world. Proper mountain bikers would love the next section with steep descents and ascents amidst boulders, gravel and muddy puddles.

Even cyclists need to be re-fuelled!

We teetered down the hills and pushed up quite a few so, once again, the miles did not whizz by… in fact we were overtaken by two runners and I thought my companions might mug them and swop their running shoes for mountain bikes and leave me stranded. Not to be beaten (yet) we pottered on enjoying views over Rochdale (I think) until we arrived at Uppermill. By now the sky was an ominous black and the forecasted thunder seemed imminent. We decided to cut our losses and scoot down the road to Denshaw missing a rather technical looking section across Broadhead Noddle (top name!). From Denshaw we joined the PBW once again after an endless climb and finished the day with a 5 mile off road section of varying terrain – from lovely grassy sections to unridable gullies filled with gravel, boulders and water. The promised thunder started with two miles to go but thankfully we weren’t stuck or a bleak mood top. Safely ensconced in our bnb we are now contemplating the Mary Towneley loop and wondering whether the rain is going to be quite as ferocious as promised and how brave we will all feel in the morning.

Day 3. Hollingworth Lake to Todmorden

After a night in Hollingworth Lake we were ready to head, once more, for the hills. Rain threatened but we had two hours riding in the sunshine to Summit and then onto the Mary Towneley loop. This section was well marked and easier than expected with lots of cobbled sections in between grassy and sometimes boulder strewn paths. Some pushing from less than competent rider (me) was still required but it felt like more time was spent aboard than on foot. The route took us over Rossendale moor – a bleak area with coal slag heaps and wind turbines, but still possessing a beauty and solitude worth seeing. We dropped into the village of Whitworth and found a very glamorous road side sandwich spot – Porky’s Pitstop – with an amazing array of spam sandwiches, and some cheese and tuna for the less sophisticated amongst us.

Multiple breakfasts are mandatory when cycling!

The route (once we’d managed to find it again having circumnavigated Porkys twice) headed upwards, as ever, and over some quite challenging sections in the bouncing rain dodging rocks and cow poo before descending into Waterfoot for a well earned hot chocolate and toasted tea cake. Home for the night was almost in sight and the next hours ride is an easy, gentle climb to Deer and down to Holme Chapel with Burnley in the valley below. From Holme Chapel we headed to Todmorden for our night’s accommodation. The route isn’t great in terms of both easy to find food stops or places to stay at night. However, it doesn’t seem to be a well known route. In three days we’ve seen as many cyclists – and today had the entire route to ourselves.

Day 4 Todmorden to Summit

Completing the rest of the Mary Towneley Loop. After an unexpectedly excellent stay at The Staff of Life in Todmorden (sorry but the exterior really doesn’t do it justice), and powered by a superb breakfast, we retraced our route back to Holme Chapel where we rejoined the M T loop. Once again we were amazed by the complete lack of traffic on the route and saw a total of 2 horses plus riders and one mountain biker (who almost collided with me as he hurtled down the route and was duly subjected to many shrieks and a few expletives – but we both lived to tell the tale).

The route took us on a well made trail past four reservoirs and across remote, but beautiful, moorland. With Burnley to our left and Hebden Bridge to our right it was clear that we were in the once industrial heartland of the North and yet encountered virtually no other humans. The ride down to Widdop Reservoir tested both our brakes and nerves but it was well worth it, not only for the views but also for our reception committee – four children having the time of their lives splashing in one of the many deep puddles having run the 3 miles round the reservoir. That’s the way to spend your summer holidays!

Another day, another reservoir

From Widdop we dropped into Heptonstall via the road having been warned about the treacherous nature of the official route. Lunch in Heptonstall followed by more descent into Hebden Bridge and then a huge, huge climb out of the quirky little town which almost finished me off. The last section was a tad tricky and I opted for pushing but it could easily be avoided by following quiet roads adjacent to the route. We went down the canal into Summit to finish the ride – a relaxing, well earned way to finish a thoroughly enjoyable and interesting ride that I highly recommend.

Top tips – carry enough food and water for the day, use a bag carrier for your luggage and if you’re a beginner like me – remember the miles are hard earned but worth the effort!

In Praise of All Things Wooly

I am not the most creative of people.  I do the odd hooking ‘thing’ – a kind of wooly version of painting by numbers, difficult to go wrong and produces pretty pictures that I can pretend my children did when they were at primary school.  My daughter is rather more skillful with bits of wool and knitting needles and gets very excited when ‘The Sewing Bee” hits the TV, briefly harbouring dreams of decking herself out in wonderful home made apparel.  She, therefore, was especially thrilled when we were offered a couple of tickets for the local event for purveyors of all things remotely related to anything that can be sewn, knitted, woven, crocheted and lots of other means of producing things out of yarn that remain a mystery to those of us lesser mortals who are new to the world of wooly things.

“Yarndale’ is in it’s sixth year and was voted the best knitting, sewing and wooly things show in the UK for 2016. That might not be exactly what it says on their first prize ticket but rest assured, it has earned praise from all and sundry who know their stuff in this wooly world. The build up to the event seems to involve an awful lot of knitting, stitching, sewing and general creativity. The local park is treated to amazing adornments on the lampposts marking the half-mile path through its centre.  Each post has it’s own individual ‘sock’ which is carefully stitched on and may depict a scene (my favourite last year was a series of fish leaping up the lamppost) or a lovingly designed pattern. I travel this route several times a week on my teaching journeys around the local town and am always cheered by this ‘yarn-bombing’ – one of the many new terms I have learnt during my foray into this new world. The day before the actual event the surrounding area becomes festooned in wooly bunting alongside the signposts to the event – each with amusing quirky sheep related additions. The yarn bombing is not confined to the park. The bollards at the auction mart where the event is held are each decked out in complex individual scenes from a well endowed lady sunning herself to an abseiling husband and wife (or possibly the wife pushing a husband over a cliff….a subtle message to a soon to be ex-partner perhaps?). Children from the local schools decorated bikes one year and displayed them in the local woods. Wooly bikes! They looked incredible.  Last year the children made endless pompoms, which lined the path to the entrance to the mart.

Yarn Bombing

Clearly, a lot of thought has gone into engaging with the local community but the event accesses a much larger audience. I am told that enquiries and ticket applications come from far and wide.  We had guests staying in our B and B from London and Birmingham but they are relatively local.  People trekked from all over the world to come to this event in our tiny Northern town. As well as including the local primary school in the event, knitters were invited to produce a small sheep, which were sold at the show in aid of the local children’s hospice. The sheep arrived in abundance from a staggering 33 countries.

Scary Swaledale

My daughter and I rocked up at the event not knowing quite what to expect. I have to say that I spent most of my time inside the auction mart open mouthed and feeling like I had entered a whole new world where, if you were not wearing at least one thing that you had made yourself you were not really part of the in-crowd. The scenes were impressive.  Four ladies, who I am sure had exceptionally ordinary day jobs, were festooned in knitted, patch worked, crocheted creations.  From the pom pom headband to the cloak of many materials and many colours to the spray-painted and decorated Dock Martin boots they were a sight to behold. I wonder if their bank teller colleagues (I imagined them serious faced in twin set and pearls behind a desk but possibly do them a disservice) have any idea of their weekend antics.  However, the most impressive creation for me, amongst the gentlemen with homemade waistcoats, tie-dyed ties and bizarre hats, was the matching crocheted cardigan and bell-bottom trousers. Crocheted trousers! There’s something you don’t see everyday but I suspect you do see every Yarndale.


When I could stop myself from gawping at the spectacle that was the 5000+ ticket holders I then took to gawping at row upon row of stalls displaying all manner of yarn related paraphernalia as well as the yarn itself. From yak to sheep to goat to rabbit – every wooly thing on earth had donated the stuff that keeps it warm in order for this event to take place.  Skein after skein, every colour under the sun with examples of what this creative crowd could produce with a little time, a lot of skill and a great deal of imagination (and, if the lady in the bell bottoms was anything to go by, considerable nerve to then actually wear the objects that they created).  My daughter was a touch over excited by the wares on offer. Her bags were soon laden with various colourful balls of wool and her head overloaded with visions of perfectly knitted hats and cardigans.  Her first project however, is an over-sized knitted fox head, which she plans to fix above our fireplace in lieu of a stag’s head or pair of antlers. I am not quite so enthusiastic about this project and hope that my own vision of a wobbly, misshapen orange ‘thing’ underestimates her creative talents.

Even if you are not the most creative of people and are content with buying your winter woolies on the High Street, I urge you to expand you horizons and for a few hours immerse yourself in this sea of yarn.  You will not be disappointed and your world, if only briefly, will be a little brighter. You will certainly feel that your wardrobe is a tad ordinary and maybe, just maybe, you will be persuaded that what it really lacks is those crocheted flares and matching waistcoat.

It’s Show Time

If you are travelling through the Dales during August and September you may become aware that it is ‘Show Time’ and not in the theatrical sense. It is the time of year for Dales’ folk to show their finest – be it their jam making skills, their sporting prowess or their nurtured progeny. From beetroot to sheep, to children, this is the chance to display the things they are proud of and to be judged in front of one and all.

Livestock form a large part of the Show
Livestock form a large part of the Show

The shows themselves may seem to the visitor to be relaxed affairs. Locals are dressed in Sunday best and a convivial cheer is apparent amongst the smiling crowds. Children escort proud grandparents around the exhibits placed carefully on wobbly trestle tables in rather soggy marquees that always seem to smell of cow dung. They show off their decorated welly, the animal carefully constructed from vegetables, their gingerbread men, the piece of perfect handwriting and many more depending upon the patience of their long suffering parents. Children and their escorts swell with pride at the prize cards that, hopefully, adorn at least one of their exhibits. Visitors can be spotted as the ones who look somewhat bemused at some of the items on display from the ‘decorated hard boiled egg’ to the ‘two decorated weetabix’ and perhaps wonder how the locals spend their summer.

Malham Show 6
No show would be complete without cakes!

There is a definite change in the atmosphere in the Dale as show day approaches. Kitchen tables are adorned with drying finger paintings, cows stand patiently whilst they are preened within an inch of their lives, mothers frantically try to construct a fancy dress costume and gardeners pay a little more attention to their produce hoping that this year they may find three matching potatoes that the worms haven’t found first and two courgettes that are almost the same length and size. Tension builds. I remember how each year, on a rainy day in the summer holidays I would be called to the kitchen table to ‘do your handwriting for Malham Show’. It would all begin well with hands washed, pencil sharpened, pristine paper looking up at me optimistically and without fail, each year, it ended in tears. My mother would find me surrounded by screwed up balls of paper, the floor strewn with pencil shavings, snot and tears on my face, the paper, and the table. The difficulties involved in transcribing two lines from text to that piece of paper cannot be underestimated and yet I subjected my own children to the same torture and suspect my grandchildren, if I have any, may be dealt the same fate.

Flower arrangements at Malham Show
Flower arrangements at Malham Show

The day itself begins early for exhibitors. Cars are laden with flower arrangements, enormous models ‘constructed from scrap’, carefully cleaned onions and leeks, a flower arrangement entitled ‘the famous five’ as per the show schedule’s instructions – woe betide anyone who endangers these exhibits as they make their way from home to car to the show field. My exhibits are now limited to rather sad produce from my haphazard vegetable plot. I scuttle into the tent early and push my undersized, misshapen entries to the back of the section hoping that no one will notice them amidst the giant onions the size of a child’s head and the enormous leeks that could double as a weapon of self defence. One year my cauliflower entry was particularly tiny, more of a floret than an actual cauliflower. It was the only local entry in its section that year but the judge was so unimpressed by its diminutive stature that he awarded it second prize. Again, it was the only entry.

The day progresses through show jumping, sheep judging, children’s sports, tractor parades, and then comes the fancy dress. Children are summoned, faces cleaned, fragile constructions fished from the back of cars and they become Mo Farah, the Eiffel Tower, Boris Johnson, the entire Tory party – you name it, a child has been dressed up as it. My mother must have attracted much jealousy amongst the fancy dressers the year she had the ingenious idea of ‘dressing’ me as Lady Godiva – the lady who paraded the streets naked on her horse. No hours of costume construction for Mum, an obliging pony, some skin coloured pants and a wig made from baler twine – pure genius. Luckily, I was too in love with Pancake the pony to be worried about my dignity.

If you are lucky enough to be able to incorporate a show into your visit to the Dales I urge you to do so; make sure you look beneath that convivial façade. Underneath is exhaustion from the weeks spent preparing, relief that a child agreed to wear the Olympic rings and dad’s cycling shorts, terror that the new puppy will disgrace itself in the ‘ best looking puppy’ section and most of all delight that the day is over – at least for another year.

Malhamdale’s ‘Winter Tour’

Picture, if you can, a dank day at the beginning of January.  The festive season consigned to boxes in the attic, the holiday period well and truly over and months of work ahead with the summer holidays a far too distant promise somewhere on the distant horizon. Malhamdale is shrouded in mist as befits the mood. Spring has not begun and winter is at it’s worse – no lovely crisp frosty day but a bone chilling missle, fields muddy and brown and cars constantly requiring headlights to combat the never ending, unforgiving, gloom.

The tourists, for a brief period, have elected to stay at home or are possibly braving the January sales. The hardy few who do decide to venture into the Dale will be met, on this particularly uninspiring Sunday at the beginning of January, with a rather unusual sight.  Descending into the village, with the cove a magnificent backdrop even on the dullest of dull days, the unsuspecting tourist may just cast their eyes to a field on the right and see the Dales’ finest sports men and women engaged in serious combat.

On one side of the field there is a group of men bedecked in an assortment of cricket ‘whites’. Some, it has to be said, are clad in their farming attire, others in excuses for sports wear – ancient tracksuit bottoms combined with rather grey sleeveless cricket jumpers in acknowledgment of the day’s event.  On very close inspection, probably intimate scrutiny, it may be just about possible to pick out a wicket, hastily mown out of the lack lustre winter grass amongst the sheep droppings and rabbit holes. On the other side of the filed a group of brightly coloured women crowd amongst a hastily erected, slightly wonky gazebo, setting out various beverages from tea to prosecco whilst discussing the ensuing rounders match.  A village stalwart has used his mower, not only on the cricket wicket but also to mark out a shape vaguely akin to that of a rounder where four posts, rescued at the last minute from someone’s coal shed, stand in anticipation of the ensuing sporting extravaganza.

Welcome to the ‘Winter Tour’. An annual event, which takes place alternately in Malham or Appletreewick (in Wharfedale) and is a welcome reprieve from the gloom that threatens to descend on all but the most optimistic and positive of folk at this time of year. Traditionally, the event has only involved cricket teams and the male sporting contingency of the Dale.  However, this year the women decided that they too should be allowed a little of this January frivolity and set to organising a rounders counterpart to combat the song of leather on willow. Sadly, Appletreewick ladies had other priorities on this particular Sunday, but not to be thwarted, Malham managed to persuade a combination of ladies from teams across the Dale to join together as the local ‘Lions’ team.  Prior to ‘kick off’ one of the local hostelries provided an ideal meeting place for a few pre-match warm up drinks which may have been partly responsible for the tendency for the majority of the cricket team to spend at least some of their time fielding sliding elegantly across the field in the misguided belief that they could take a glorious catch to bring their team to victory.  The ladies, despite promises of a ‘friendly’ match were soon head-locked into a thrilling game where no prisoners were taken – not even the 9-year-old ‘runner’, there to sprint round once the slightly less mobile team member had attempted to launch the ball into the next parish.

The crowd was considerable, players and spectators numbering almost 100 – a somewhat higher number than the combined runs and rounders scored. They huddled round the roaring flames billowing out of a dustbin (the smoke occasionally drifting over the rounders pitch causing several visibility issues)  enjoying the sporting prowess of a rather motley crew of Dalesmen and women who were very quickly emitting a strong aroma of sheep as the respective sports balls inevitably landed in one of the many piles of poo scattered across each of the pitches.

The fading light stopped play just in time with a draw for the ladies and a narrow win for the Malhamdale men. Photos were snapped for the archives – ‘tits and teeth girls’ – the order given by the ladies captain to make sure we were all looking our best for our inaugural inclusion in the prestigious ‘Winter Tour’.  The games then adjourned to the pub where a fierce darts and doms competition ensured that the sporting theme continued throughout the evening.

All in all a successful event and one that most certainly added a much needed spark to the beginning of the year. What better way to combat the winter blues than a brief, but most entertaining ,‘Winter tour”?

The Yorkshire 3 Peaks, With a Difference

I met a chap in Slovenia this summer.  His wife is a spy but I’m not sure how good a spy she is. Not a top secret one for sure. He has retired from a very dull sounding IT type job and in between preparing Marks and Spencer ready meals for his spy he likes to escape for short periods when he has earned enough brownie points and take on various outdoor type challenges. I didn’t realise that the Slovenia trip involved one of these aforementioned challenges.  I just thought it was a trip to the mountains with the prospect of some amazing views. I think I was right, although we did climb quite a big hill, which offered even more spectacular views.

Anyway, my new acquaintance expressed an interest in heading North to re-visit the Three Peaks that he had conquered ‘as a lad’ and as I live close by provided a convenient base for his little romp into the fells. I persuaded him to bring his bike as well as his boots in the hope that a two wheeled viewing of the three glorious peaks from a variety of angles may sate his appetite for the hills and save him, and his reluctant hostess, 25 miles of bog, mist, board walks and possible half term crowds. I love all three of our infamous peaks but have tackled them on enough occasions to know that a wet October following a wet September is not the time to see them at their very best.

And so it was that our road trip round the hills began. The route was designed to offer 360-degree views of all three peaks and tire his Southern legs out to such an extent that he would find the thought of donning his walking boots the following day a most unpleasant prospect.

Malham Cove

I was lucky with the weather. The sun was shining enough for us to see all three hills, but there was just the right amount of cloud to make them look especially dark and imposing.   The ride began in Malham with the first climb straight off the pages of the ‘top 100 hills’ – someone’s opinion of the 100 best hills to climb on a road bike in the UK, someone with a lot of spare time. Needless to say this first hill, the Cove Road warrants it’s place as a legendary climb.  With the Cove on our right the road winds ever upwards towards the limestone topped fells and Ewe moor. My friend took the lead and determined to prove he was no Southern Jessie set off at great speed.  Yours truly, forever tale end Charlie, plodded slowly to the summit but I think arrived slightly less red faced and jelly legged than our new friend.

Looking over the wall at Penyghent

The route then crosses Malham Moor with the Tarn behind us, Wharfedale to our right and Ribblesdale ahead.  We made our way to Stainforth battling through a head wind and should have had our first real sighting of Penyghent.  However, the hill was completely swamped by thick cloud – a sign, I thought (and dearly hoped), that October is a month to leave the summit in peace to recover from the summer hoards. Stainforth is a lovely, tiny village very close to a famous salmon leaping viewing spot at the Foss on the River Ribble – a visit well worth making at this time of year.  No time for us to watch these amazing fish leap to incredible heights again and again until they leap high enough to scale the limestone outcrops and waterfalls to forge onwards upstream. Instead we headed into a now ferocious headwind to Horton for an early mug of coffee and toasted teacake.  Horton is the starting point for most walkers attempting the Three Peaks and is usually throng with boots, rucksacks and map wearing crowds eager to bag the three hills in an allotted time checking in and out of the buzzing little café to get their card stamped as proof of their accomplishment. Today there were a few hardy souls and although we now were privileged with the odd fleeting glimpse of Penyghent, most adventurers were occupied elsewhere.

Suitably refreshed we headed gently upwards to Ribblehead.  Even the ever-present tea van, which seems to be permanently parked on the verge overlooking the impressive viaduct, was on annual leave.  Whernside ahead, Ingleborough to our right and Penyghent to our rear – on a clear day there is no better place to view all three peaks.  Today they occasionally emerged from the clouds and allowed us to see them in their full majesty.  I always think the hills look more impressive in bad weather and was happy to be on two wheels looking up at them rather than in boots and gaiters struggling through misty rain and wind to their summits.

Ribblehead viaduct with Whernside behind

Ribblehead viaduct with Whernside behind

Ribblehead is a well-known beauty spot and also a well-known rendezvous place for very loud motorbikes so I recommend cycling this route on a weekday and avoiding it on weekends, unless you enjoy the thrill of roaring machines skirting your legs at astonishing, terrifying speeds. At Ribblehead we take a left towards Ingleton and after about a mile turn right to Chapel-le-Dale.  The road takes us through the tiny hamlet and is virtually car free all the way to Ingleton.  It is a beautiful part of the route with limestone outcrops on one side and Ingleborough on the other.  Today there were waterfalls cascading off the fells adding to the already splendid views.

Once in Ingleton we resisted temptation for further refreshment and crossed the A65 and made our way out to Wennington and Wray.  This area is less well known amongst tourists and affords a quiet hidden gem off the beaten track. The hills are a little less severe but the views no less spectacular and on a good day the Langdales can be seen in the distance. Having recovered from the Malhamdale hills and the gentle but persistent climb to Ribblehead, my friend from the South found a second wind and powered ahead to our lunch stop in Wray. I’m not sure that he was accustomed to the narrow Yorkshire and Lancashire roads and on several occasions wobbled precariously in front of large tractors and I worried that I would be interrogated by the spy when he ended up in Lancaster Infirmary.  Happily he avoided that fate, survived beans on toast in Wray and was raring to go on the homeward straight.

The Pennine Way on the approach to Pen-y-ghent in the Yorkshire Dales

The final part of the journey is one of my favourite cycling routes.  The back road from Wray to Settle, skirting above Bentham, and going through Eldroth offers views of all three peaks from a completely different aspect.  It winds past farms,  through open country-side, through the pretty hamlet of Eldroth and past the massive gritstone Norber Erratics. At all times the three peaks can be seen and you get a proper perspective of the distance between each and the challenge the walk poses.  My friend did not seem especially interested as his three tour guides went to great lengths to explain which peak was which.  He was more intent on proving his cycling prowess and forging ahead, tackling each hill with huge gusto and determination.


We had warned him that there was one final challenge, another climb that was worthy of the ‘top 100 hills’ but I think the jelly-legged feel of the Cove Road was a distant memory and so he left Settle via the cobbled road and attacked ‘High Hill’ like a Tour-de-France pro. I can’t say that I love this hill.  I can tell you that there are 14 telegraph poles in total and could probably describe most of the tarmacked surface in great, very boring, detail.  It is a killer hill.  Our friend from the south soon found that it was not a hill to be messed with and a hill that needs tackling at a steady pace if a cardiac arrest or spontaneous dismount is to be avoided.  To give him credit he did make it to the top. However, he was most definitely what I believe can be termed as ‘broken’ and took an unprecedented long time over the following 5 miles that brought him back to the start of the ride.  He blamed the highland cattle that enjoy stopping traffic on Settle moor but from the look on his beetroot red face when he stumbled through the door, I think we can blame the vertiginous climb out of Settle.

I’m not sure how much my guest appreciated the alternative views of Penyghent, Ingleborough and Whernside but I can highly recommend the route if you wish to see them from two wheels or four and don’t fancy tackling them on foot. As for my friend, undeterred, he did set off the next day to complete the challenge that he set himself in Slovenia. I set him on his way up Penyghent and gave clear instructions as to where to go at the summit. He conformed my suspicions that he listed to little that I said and spent quite a long time battling through bogs having turned right to Plover Hill instead of following the motorway footpath back towards Horton.  The dog and I were happy with our short foray half way up Penyghent and even happier to return home to keep the kettle warm for the return of our guest, happy in the knowledge that the hills are going nowhere and are often best viewed from lesser known vistas.

Penyghent from afar