The directions sounded straight forward until we turned the wrong way going out the front door of the hotel.
Happy memories of the television show “All Creatures Great and Small” flooded back last September. Our group of four friends embarked on a 5-night, Bed and Breakfast, self-guided walking tour through Wensleydale and Swaledale.
With the village of Hawes as home base, our walks of about 13 miles per day followed in the footsteps of James Herriot through some of his favourite areas in the Yorkshire Dales. This circular route took in the villages of Asygarth, Reeth, Askrigg and Keld.
Our cost of 350 pounds each included breakfasts, picnic lunches, accommodation and daily transfers.
Our cheerful hosts Glen and Liz, regaled us with stories of lost hikers, who did not following instructions, and of the hiker who suffered a heart attack up on the Moors. All thankfully rescued.
Don’t worry Glen said – “I have confidence in you Canadian women.” We perused the ten pages of instructions that we were to follow the next morning for our first day of hiking.
We woke early to the rattling of the cobbles on the road outside our hotel. Early morning deliveries to the merchants had begun.
Sunrise over the hills was promising. After a huge English breakfast, boots laced, hiking poles in hand, lunch loaded into our day packs, we were off.
Our instructions said follow the lane through the village, find the statue of the shepherd and follow the signpost for Hardraw. Sounded straightforward.
We walked and kept going for awhile but no sign of statues or signposts. We retraced our steps back to the edge of town, where a helpful farmer pointed out to us we were on the wrong end of town! We had turned the wrong way going out the front door of the hotel.
Chagrined, we snuck past the hotel, hoping our host Glen wouldn’t see us.
We hiked through meadows, photographed sheep, climbed over stone walls, eased through “kissing gates” admired the Swaledale stone barns, forded small streams and arrived at The Green Lantern Pub in Hardraw to view the 100 foot waterfall Hardraw Force located behind the pub.
By now we were only on page three of the instructions.
Another misread and we headed off again in the wrong direction. Easy to do we thought as we were to pass through 13 farm gates – we lost count.
So more retracing of steps before being back on track but woefully behind. Arriving mid afternoon in the village of Askrigg we decided to call it a day.
We retreated to The Kings Arm pub which turned out to be the location (aka Drovers Arm) where scenes for All Creatures Great and Small were filmed.
The locals greeted us warmly and we pulled up chairs around the fire. The very accommodating family run Peacocks Taxi Service ferried us back to our hotel
Glen was waiting for us: “What went wrong – you only did half the days hike?”
Day two was another 13 miles but this time a very hilly hike up and over the Bolton Moors. Halfway through, we had an option to take a shortcut cutting off miles of moor walking. But, we were determined to show Glen that we Canadians had spunk.
Our instructions indicated to look for Grouse Butt #13 and then follow the line of “butts” to the base of the moors. A “grouse butt” as we found out is a hunters blind and we discovered after slogging through ankle deep soggy peat that these moors, owned by Lord Bolton were well stocked with grouse.
This in time for “the glorious 12th” otherwise known as the first day of hunting in August. Thankfully that day was long past and we didn’t encounter the “tweed clad hunters” until we ended our second day at the local pub.
By the start of day three our knees were aching, and our day included a more leisurely 12 mile stroll along the pathways of the Swale River.
We stopped at a small hamlet for afternoon tea before tackling the last of the instructions taking us through many stone-walled farm yards, sheep and cow pastures. We were in search of the elusive foot bridge over the Swale River to the Bridge Inn Pub, our end point for the day.
Somehow, along the way one of our group lost her very expensive camera. Retracing the last mile of our route was to no avail. Word of the lost camera was left with another group of passing hikers and at the Bridge Inn. Despair turned to delight when we arrived back at our hotel to hear that the camera had been found and turned in at the pub.
With the help of Peacock Taxi drivers, the camera was relayed back to us despite a very foggy night of driving over the moors.
Day four was our last hiking day and was to include an ascent of several miles to the peaks of the Great Shunner Fell. Two of us decided to forego this and spent the day exploring the village of Hawes which included a tasting tour at the Wensleydale Cheese Factory.
Highlight of that day was the sheepdog trial demonstration in a nearby meadow. Champion herder and Rolling Stone fan Richard Fawcett led his dogs Lola, Mick and Keith through their paces. With just a slight variation of tweets from Richards whistle the dogs quickly rounded up the sheep to the wonderment of the crowd of onlookers.
Meanwhile, back on the hike the intrepid two of our group had summited Shunner Fell and were “blown over “by the wind and views and elated that they had finished this most amazing journey.
Despite a few setbacks we thoroughly enjoyed being immersed in the Dales. The scenery, culture and definitely the warmth and caring of the locals will always be in our memories.
Would I go back? In a “Heartbeat”!