Up Hill and Down Dale – Seniors Tackle the Dales Way

Written by Chris Grogan
(A Runner-up entry in the Travel for Seniors Writing Competition.)

Langstrothdale along the Dales Way
Langstrothdale halfway along the Dales Way

I gave my sister-in-law a book for her 65th birthday and she promptly burst into tears. Not damp-eyed sniffles of gratitude but proper waterworks. Tears of fear, because the book was the guide to the Dales Way, an 80 mile walk across the Yorkshire Dales, and this meant she had to do it.

I’ve always enjoyed walking and Carol has long envied my trips; crossing the country on Wainwright’s Coast to Coast Walk or exploring Devon and Cornwall on the South West Coast Path.

“I’d love to do something like that,” she often said. “Experience the freedom of setting off with a bag on my back and nothing to worry about except putting one foot in front of the other.”

Our trusty guide book So last year I called her bluff, and with Colin Speakman’s Dales Way – The Complete Guide to help us, we made our plans.

The Dales Way long distance path runs from Ilkley in West Yorkshire to the shores of Lake Windermere. It follows the banks of the rivers Wharfe, Dee and Lune on a glorious trail through fields and woods, over hills and into hidden valleys.

Most sections of the walk are less than 12 miles long and a reasonably fit person can walk them in a day, whatever their age. Every few miles there’s a pretty Dales village so reviving cups of tea and a comfortable bed for the night aren’t hard to find. We live close by however and as this was to be Carol’s first long distance walk we arranged to be picked up at the end of each day or use public transport where possible.

Bolton Priory
Bolton Priory

We set off from the pretty little town of Ilkley in high spirits, pausing only to take photos at Ilkley Bridge, the start of the trail. Our first stop was Addingham, three miles on, and we felt we’d burned up enough calories to warrant coffee and scones. Carol was enjoying this walking lark. The path continued through fields full of sheep, hugging the riverbank until the ruins of Bolton Priory came into view marking the end of our first day.

The next few days continued alongside the River Wharfe as it changed from a broad, calm waterway into an angry rushing stream as we got nearer its source. We visited the villages of Burnsall, Grassington, Kettlewell and Buckden, calling at cafes and pubs as we went. The trick to enjoying a long distance walk is to break the day up into manageable chunks with lots of short stops. Three miles then a coffee, another couple and surely it’s time to sample the flapjack from the packed lunch. Then talking of lunch …..

Cam Fell - The highest point of our walk
Cam Fell – The highest point of our walk

After Buckden the countryside changed dramatically and we left behind the relative lushness of lower Wharfedale to climb up through Langstrothdale onto the exposed Cam Fell. This is the highest point on the Dales Way and the bit Carol had been dreading, leaving the riverside path behind and heading for the open moorland. We were well prepared with good strong boots and waterproof clothes and before long the magnificent sight of Ribblehead viaduct came into view. We headed for the station and were soon speeding our way home on the Settle-Carlisle railway line.

The author and Carol
The author and Carol

Another day’s walking and we found ourselves in Dentdale. It’s one of the most remote and beautiful of the Dales – but I would say that wouldn’t I? Dent is where I grew up.

On we went, leaving the Yorkshire Dales National Park behind us at Sedbergh and heading towards the Lake District.

The last two days of our trek saw us walking through the Lune valley to the villages of Burneside and Staveley. Finally, at the end of our 8th day of walking, heavy of legs but light of heart, we glimpsed Lake Windermere through the trees, dotted with the white sails of yachts and flanked by the great mountains of Lakeland. The end was in sight.

The end is in sight - Lake Windermere
The end is in sight – Lake Windermere

We left the peace and quiet of the fells and joined the crowds in the small town of Bowness. In the tradition of all Dales Way walkers we dipped our boots in the waters of the lake before heading to the nearest pub to raise a glass to each other and our great adventure. 80 miles in just 8 days. Not bad for a couple of bus pass babes.

And as for Carol, was her birthday present still making her cry? I’ll let her have the last word. “Brilliant Chris. Pennine Way next?”

POSTED 2nd DECEMBER 2017 by STEVE HANSON on behalf of CHRIS GROGAN. The photographs were supplied by the author after the competition had been judged.