The Pennine Way

Walked in August - September 2007

Day 4 – Tuesday 28th August

Blake Dean – Cowlings
Pennine Way Distance: 12 miles. Cumulative: 57 miles

On a signpost near Walshaw Dean Middle Reservoir

On an average weekday my radio alarm clock rouses me from sleep at around six fifteen, after which I moan, doze and eventually drag myself out of bed at about ten to seven. Never an easy task, but compared to waking at five thirty in a cold, wet tent, hungry, thirsty, dirty, tired and aching with the prospect of another hard day’s walk ahead, it’s a doddle. The alarm on my watch chirped away, and if I’d been able to find it in the dark I may well have pulverized it. I lay there, wondering what the hell we thought we were doing, until, inevitably the sound of active zips could be heard from a few yards away.

A miserable morning at Blake Dean
A miserable morning at Blake Dean

We packed our tents away with haste, since it was spotting with a light drizzle, and the midges were buzzing madly around us as though furious with us for not stripping off our clothes and lying down on the ground so they could feed on us properly. By the time I had my tent, sleeping bag, mat, first aid kit and everything else stuffed into my pack, my arms and legs (I was wearing shorts again) were literally, and I mean literally, crawling with midges. I shouted in disgust and set about shaking the little critters off and wiping them away to little avail. Before we left the small camp, I filled a couple of my bottles with water from the stream and dropped in some water purification tablets. I followed the instructions and packed the bottles away so the tablets could dissolve. We had just about enough water between us in our other bottles to swallow more vitamin tablets with, and once we were ready, we trudged off, the sky gradually brightening, back toward the road.

We climbed a zig-zagging road, past a couple of house, until we reached a high ridge which we followed, opposite a large stretch of moorland that we would have crossed if we’d stuck to the Pennine Way rigidly. We rejoined the route a short while later, after it had crossed Graining Water and ascended our side of the clough, dodging sheep and sheep dung and trying not to slip and fall down the side of the hill. We came off the ridge path and found a road that took us toward Walshaw Dean Lower Reservoir, meeting several rabbit corpses on the way, along with a series of ambiguous signs warning: ‘beware members of the public.’ Luckily no members of the public were hiding among the nearby trees waiting to pounce on us as we made our way to the reservoir, and despite our thirst and hunger we made good time, deciding to have a quick break on the other side of the reservoir for some much needed coffee. In what appeared to be a gated off section between the reservoir and the dam on the other side was what I guessed was a Canada Goose, though my knowledge of birds is limited to say the least, and all I can really say is that it certainly wasn’t a duck or a grouse, and there are meant to be Canada Geese in the area, so it’s a pretty good guess.

On the other side we walked past a series of rhododendrons hoping to stop for our break, but as soon as we stopped, a swarm of midges would appear and attack us, and the only way of getting away from them was to keep on walking, meaning that having a break without them bothering us was next to impossible in the local area. We continued on, miserable and disappointed that we couldn’t just sit and have a warm drink, and after crossing a walled bridge and passing through a gate, we turned off the path to climb uphill on another stone path amongst thick heather. We tried a couple more times to take a rest, but both times the midges reappeared to thwart us. There’s nothing more irritating when you’re trying to rest than having tiny creatures crawling around your face, arms and legs, making your skin itch, crawl and sting at regular intervals, driving you almost to madness. We still had the water I’d purified, but the neutralisation tablets I’d added to take away the unpleasant taste left by the purification tablets, had taken a very long time to dissolve, and by the time they had, the water still tasted quite unpleasant and only just drinkable. It was quite a strong chemical taste, and if we hadn’t been so desperate for water, we’d have poured the lot away after the first sip.

We continued to climb up the heath toward Top Withins, which eventually came into view, standing alone and decrepit by two trees and looking as worn and tired as we felt. As we followed the flagstone path toward the ruins which many think inspired Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights (a plaque on the ruins indicates otherwise), a few sheep bleated their disapproval of our presence and ran off to hide in the grass until we’d moved on. Darryl was a lot more interested in the building than I was, and took out his camera to get a few shots. I knew a little about Top Withins and its popularity, but at that point I couldn’t dredge the slightest interest in it as my energy levels were appallingly low, and it wasn’t long before we left the landmark to its loneliness and continued on along the path in the early morning cold. The midges were still in evidence around Top Withins, but they seemed to have dwindled in number, indicating perhaps that we were slowly moving out of a heavy infestation area.

Top Withins

Top Withins
Top Withins

We walked for another half a mile with fantastic views opening up around us that we couldn’t be bothered to appreciate properly (sorry), until we came to first Upper Heights, then Lower Heights Farm, after which we stopped again by the side of the road to attempt another coffee break. Thankfully there were only a few of the hateful, tiny creatures flying around, so we were able to light the small stove and get some coffee on the go, which was getting surprisingly low now. I’d made up two bags of MSK before we’d left, but had left one behind because of weight issues. Darryl suggested buying some drinking chocolate at some point which sounded like a good idea, and would make a pleasant alternative to the coffee mixture. The break perked us up a bit, but being without any food, our energy was still low as we walked on, deciding to avoid following the Bronte Way which would take us on to Ponden Reservoir, and choosing instead to walk two miles off the route to Haworth, the home of the Bronte sisters (and Branwell of course, let’s not forget him) to buy much needed supplies. We didn’t want to walk any further than we needed to, but continuing along the route with no discernible stop for supplies for some hours to come felt like a dangerous as well as a very unpleasant prospect.

We soon reached the main road where we turned right and walked along the road, past signs for Keighley and old, charming buildings, most of which looked devoid of life, though it was still quite early in the morning. We came to a steep dip in the road, followed by a very steep climb, our feet complaining at the punishment they were taking, then came to the town of Haworth, a very attractive place with cobblestone streets and buildings that had survived admirably from a bygone era. We asked a local where the shops were, hoping not to unsettle him with the inevitable fire of hunger burning in our eyes, and then set off to find, not far away, a sweet shop and post office. Darryl went into the post office to draw some money out while I almost leaped into the sweet shop feeling like a child in a, well, sweet shop, but probably behaving more like a bull in a china shop with the huge, awkward pack on my back. I glanced at the shop owner behind his counter, who peered at me curiously over his glasses, no doubt wishing it was legal to have a shotgun under the counter, or at least some sort of large stick he could use to fend off odd looking strangers like me. I looked all around at the packets of biscuits, chocolate bars and large jars of weird and wonderful confectionery, first trying to decide how much I could afford and carry, then not caring at just going for whatever I fancied. It felt like I was obeying my body more than anything else. By that point I must have been suffering a pretty hefty sugar shortfall, and the inevitable reaction was to overreact and try to get as much sugary rubbish into my system as quickly as possible.

After selecting Mars bars, Kendal Mintcake, Coca Cola, various yoghurt coated fruits, chocolate digestives and some fancy shortbread biscuits, I paid the man (who after some minutes had calmed down and decided he wasn’t in any real danger) and left to pass Darryl who was going in, no doubt to give the man another reason to apply for a gun licence. Once we had both visited the post office and sweet shop we stuffed all our groceries into our bags and staggered under the increased weight, down the cobbles toward a café where we ordered two fried breakfasts which were, by this point medically essential. I’d already polished off one of the two bottles of cola I’d bought from the shop, but even so, the cup of tea placed before me at the table had a very short life.

Once we’d finished our breakfast, we left the café and walked down the street to the corner opposite some gardens and a bus stop, where I waited for Darryl to nip off and buy a paper. I said I’d ask someone about buses, in the hope that we could get a ride back to the Pennine Way instead of having to walk it. A lady came by and told me that there was one bus an hour in that direction, and that the next bus would be along soon, so I hoped Darryl got back before then. Unfortunately that bus came and went a few minutes before Darryl returned, so I had to give him the unpleasant news that we’d have to retrace those two painful miles. He did bring some mineral water though, so we filled all our bottles and had a good drink before setting off, thankful that at least we had plenty of food and water.

Walking on the hard tarmac was not good for our tired feet, and the pain soon set in so we both took paracetemol to ease things a little. As we walked I noticed a bus coming from the opposite direction which, instead of having a destination on the board above the windscreen, had the message: Buses stop on both sides of the road. I think I must be missing something, because this sounds like rather an obvious statement to me, unless it means the buses are allowed to park up on either side regardless of which direction they’re travelling in. Either way, I’d be far too confused to get on it in the first place, tired feet or not.

Eventually we came to a pub that I was hoping would be open as I could have murdered more cola, but found it was closed, so we pressed on through some rather uneven, boggy fields (rather than having to walk on more tarmac road which might have been quicker), coming across the body of a dead sheep in the process, which was rather worryingly lying in a stream, its contents gradually washing away. We stepped over it and negotiated more boggy ground until we thankfully emerged onto a lane which led down the side of the hill to Ponden reservoir.

Looking down to Ponden Reservoir
Looking down to Ponden Reservoir

For many Pennine Way walkers, Ponden is the end of a day’s walking (usually from Mankinholes or Hebden Bridge), but because we’d messed things up a bit, we had to carry on, which was a shame because Ponden was an attractive area, the reservoir itself almost unnatural still, as though it were frozen over, the boats that were moored up not bobbing in the slightest. We passed Ponden Hall and the campsite which was a tempting prospect, then walked on up another hill, stopping near the top in a small wooded area to have a quick lie down and a snack, and to also answer the call of nature which we would have to do several times more during the trip as one might expect. It should be pointed out that not only should one expect this, but one should be prepared for it too… if one catches my drift.

We soon reached the top of the hill where we climbed over a stile to find a vast stretch of wet moorland ahead of us, dotted with bilberry and wild rushes. The vast expanse was called The Sea, according to the guidebook, and it was an apt description as it was practically featureless. Along the path we came to an area called the Wolfstones which looked quite spooky, but was thankfully free of wolves and no doubt has been for a very long time. We crossed Cat Stone Hill which was once prowled by real wildcats (there must have been something about this place that appealed to the wild beasts of yore), then Ickornshaw Moor where the only beasts in evidence were grouse, which were more adept at getting themselves killed than anything else. The flagstone path eventually gave way and became quite a rough, sandy track that led us down through a number of fields. In one was an old, stone wind shelter, and in another were several wooden ones, all still doing their job... for the sheep at least.

Ickornshaw Moor
Ickornshaw Moor

The route led through a couple of farms, one of which was home to a number of agitated chickens, who became even more agitated after spotting us approach. We gave the fowl a wide berth and continued on down the hill, over a brook and ever downward to the town of Cowling. When we came to the A6068, we turned left, then turned right over a stile, just before what looked like a pub, but which was actually a furniture warehouse. Whoever had bought the pub some time ago, had gone a long way from overboard in redecorating it, and I could imagine numerous tired and thirsty travellers crawling their way up the road to it only to be completely destroyed and befuddled at the sight of Chaise Longues, armoires and wicker dining chairs. Down a narrow and steep lane, we came to another road and a row of houses. We could see the symbol of a campsite on the map in the guidebook, but couldn’t quite work out exactly where it should be, so we asked a local man who told us he didn’t know of one, but had only moved to Cowling recently. We stopped for a while so Darryl could phone a number of tourist information centres to find out about campsites further along the route, as it was now becoming clear that the Cowling campsite didn’t quite exist anymore… at all. Luckily we found another local, who not only told us where we could buy more food, but also where we could camp. She said that a bed and breakfast down the road let people camp in their field. Darryl hadn’t had much luck getting information about the campsites along the next stretch of the way, so we decided, since we were so tired after the previous day’s marathon trek, to call it a day, go and find the bed and breakfast and get some rest with the intention of making up the miles we’d missed over the next few days. Our original target for this day was to get to Gargrave, which was quite a distance ahead, but due to our considerable detour to Howarth earlier in the day, this was going to be a bridge too far (there is a bridge in Gargrave, so this metaphor works). This then was the turning point for us, the moment where the walk changed from an adventure to a challenge, and it would be some days before we were able to get back to our original schedule.

We took the short, steep lane back up to the main road, turned left and walked until we came to the bed and breakfast. Darryl knocked on the door, and soon afterwards a woman answered us, delighting us with the news that we were more than welcome to stay in the field which was, at the moment, empty, except for a few chickens. She showed us the small toilet/shower room then opened the gate to the field and took three pounds each from us, which seemed a bargain. In a shed nearby was what looked like a small helicopter, looking just a little out of place, and also looking like it had been built from scratch. I’m no aviation expert but I had a feeling that the helicopter would fly about as gracefully as… well, a grouse.

Camping by the Bed and Breakfast in Cowling
Camping by the Bed and Breakfast in Cowling

We dropped our bags on the grass and Darryl agreed to pitch the tents while I walked into the town to buy some more food that we needed for the next few days. I was dirty, sweaty, tired, but nevertheless quite happy at finishing the day’s walk, and I soon found a newsagents where I bought bread, drinking chocolate, cheese, cola, orange juice, water, lager (for later) and a newspaper among other things. I spent a bit too much money to be honest, and imagine the overreaction was a result of how bad I had felt that morning, and how determined I was to not be that low on food and water again. I chatted with the shop owner while he totalled up my vast pile of groceries. He had moved to Cowling about a year before having fallen in love with the place while visiting relatives. I could understand his feelings, the town was in a beautiful spot and wasn’t overrun with tourists. It seemed like a perfect place to settle down and get far away from city life.

I lugged the heavy bags of shopping back up the road to the campsite. I took a shower and washed my clothes, realising after I’d done so that they probably wouldn’t dry by morning, while Darryl took his turn to walk down the road to buy some fish and chips. Looking back it seems like we had an awesome amount of food either on us, or in us that day, but considering how many calories our bodies must have been burning, it was probably just like shovelling coke into the raging furnace of a steam engine.

I’d already snacked on other things, so I didn’t finish my fish and chips. As we were finishing our meal, another walker arrived and pitched his tent near us. He too was walking the Pennine Way, and was intending to get to Gargrave the next day, while we were heading for Malham. We mentioned the Geordie couple we’d seen a few times, and he said he’d met them too and that they were camping at Ponden that night, and would be finishing by the weekend to go back home. He then went off to find a pub while we had a couple of cans of lager and slid, achingly into our tents, from which we failed to emerge until the next morning. We fell asleep, bemoaning the fact that we now had to make up the miles we’d lost that day, and wondering just how we were going to do what we already had scheduled, plus the extra walking, when we were pretty tired as it was. As my eyes closed I was aware of the sound of movement outside the tent, and the occasional pecking of the material of my tent. Either it was one of the chickens, or the other walker pretending to be one.


Next Day >>>