Sticks and Stones, Oh… and Some Sheep!

sheep overlooking ilkley, ilkley moor Sounding like something out of a good Indiana Jones movie (when Harrison Ford was the young one)... A hunt for the 'Swastika Stone' on Ilkley moor seemed like the perfect Sunday adventure for a couple of  lazy morning ramblers. The Swastika stone is thought to be either Bronze age (like many other stones found in the area) or Iron Age and there's some ambiguity over the stone's meaning too, although in a number of ancient civilizations similar designs are thought to relate to the sun. The stone is located a relatively short walk west of White Wells Spa Cottage, which has had accessible baths since 1703, was instrumental in giving Ilkley its Spa town status and has reported visits from the likes of Charles Darwin. The stones are such a short walk from here (a couple of miles I'd guess),  we decided to extend our walk. I say 'stones' because there are in fact two Swastika stones. One is a Victorian replica which actually helps pick out the pattern of the considerably fainter original sat just behind. Our walk continued past the stones, past Panorama Reservoir and onto Hardwick House farm, where I got momentarily obsessed with some very photogenic sheep! From the farm we walked down until we reached the River Wharfe where we followed the Dales Way back into Ilkley town centre. Nature on the walk included numerous encounters with curlews and red grouse, which seem to occur on many of our Yorkshire walks, and we also caught sight of a tree creeper. We finished the day at the Cow and Calf Hotel with an enjoyable pint of Leeds Pale Ale but  before making our ascent to the watering hole we stopped off to refuel. The Vintage Tea Room on Wells Road is an original, friendly and very well done tea room with irresistible homemade cakes and a list of speciality teas longer than my photography equipment wish list (which is larger than a News International legal bill!). A cream tea for two was just what was needed to make the final steps on our Ilkley walk!  

Winter Walk and Fine Ales in the Dales

Walkers at trollers gill, Yorkshire dales, wharfedale Having double checked the handbrake, twice and debated leaving the car in first, I tentatively made my way to the back of the 45 degree angled parked car to put on my boots. It wasn’t until later we realised there was actually a car park  in Appletreewick which we could of used.  This oversight was probably due to the excitement of  embarking on our first Dales walk: The walk we had originally planned to do in “Perils of Coffee” (A lovely walk round Burey in Whafedale). Appletreewick is a village in the Yorkshire Dales and is pronounced “Aptrick” by locals. The locals also boast of Sir William Craven, described as the village’s own Dick Whittington, having left the village for London to make his success and ended up becoming Lord Mayor and sheriff of London before returning to Appletreewick. The walk begins along the bank of the river Wharfe and the sun starts to thaw my rather chilled face, I realise what an awesome picnic destination these banks would make in the summer months.  As the walk develops a diverse range of  landscape and terrain is experienced. One minute a rocky valley the next a small picturesque village with a population no more than 30. Highlights of the walk include a derelict resevoir called Skyreholme dam, which used to supply water to a paper mill and Trollers Gill  which involves clambering over a rocky stream for a mile or so before an obligatory investigation of a rather large cave entrance; could this be the hide out for the spectre hound of Craven. Dare you to go in! (umm… please note: I take no responsibility for anyone who does themselves a mischief from taking up something I say in jest and that may not actually be the opinions of the writer: insert any other appropriate legal jargon here). This is walk that is steeped in history and intertwined with folklore. Having the Ramblers Yorkshire Dales guide by David Leather really helped add context to the conveyor belt of lansdcapes and really bought the walk to life. On completion of the walk we stopped in the Craven Arms for a pint of Black Witch,  Moorehouse brewery.  The pub was so inviting and charming we stayed for a pint of Cruck Barn (Brewed by the Craven Arms) and in case you’re adding up the points, CB stuck to the tea before driving us back on a scenic journey made all the more beautiful by warm glow of two fine ales in the system!  

Saltholme… a Home for Cool Owls

Saltholme rspb wetland centre Hot Cappuccino, warm cheese scone and some chocolate fingers. If only every walk could start that way! The RSPB Saltholme cafe is something to behold; with its vast Robocop visor-esque windows that allow people to sit down in the warm, eat, drink, watch nature and photograph all at the same time... I'm pretty sure this is my Dad's idea of heaven! However as a photographer, the cafe feels a little like two big blokes standing either side of you at a urinal... Intimidating lenses every direction you turn! Having plucked up enough courage to get my camera out of my bag (not in the sense of the previous euphemistic metaphor) and remove myself from the cosy warmth of the cafe, I joined Caroline and her family who had somehow got ahead of me. I say somehow, getting distracted and falling behind isn't an uncommon trait. Saltholme is a great place to take a walk. Obviously there's visitors who take their sport seriously, but everyone is friendly and it seems very good for families. We went for a short stroll really, rather than a walk. The conflicting landscapes where the industrial North meet the resilience of nature is humbling to witness and stirs up a range of responses. There really is a super abundance of wildlife. We were lucky enough to see a short eared owl on several occasions as we walked around the wetlands, which for me at least was pretty exciting! I really loved my visit Saltholme Wetland Centre, I think it's a fantastic introduction to wildlife walking and would recommend it to anyone. I'm certainly going back, but maybe with a bigger lens!

Perils of Coffee

Country road, walk, burley in wharfedale, west yorkshire If you're anything like me, you'll know just how dangerous 'popping out' for a coffee is. My most recent coffee excursion led to a browse around Waterstone's (or Waterstones as I believe they are re-branding themselves). Anyway this 'browse' led to the purchase of £30 worth of OS maps and a rather cool book on Yorkshire Dales walks. No wonder I got an espresso maker for my birthday! The following morning I woke up like it was Christmas, all excited about doing a new walk in the Dales from our new book, using my new OS map. Caroline was more like the parent at Christmas, who would like just five more minutes in bed and wishes the kids would go and quietly entertain themselves with their new pressies. Anyway a quick wash, a round of toast that barely touches the sides and we were off! Or so we thought. It seemed the car didn't share our enthusiasm for the Yorkshire Dales, so 10 minutes into our journey we had to turn back and book the car in for a check up. Luckily due to my premature, or arguably immature, overexcitement it was still relatively early. Remembering that we had been given an AA Walks Around Leeds and West Yorkshire book for Christmas we started hunting through the walk cards looking for a walk that was relatively accessible on public transport. We found one that started and finished at Burley in Wharfedale train station. The walk begins on Hag Farm Lane leading up to and through the farm, over some fields that offer the residing sheep lush panoramas and on through a variety of gates that remind you that you still haven’t burnt off as many of those festive calories as you would have liked. The highlight of the walk is Burley Moor. This relatively busy heath provides some great views, even on a hazy winter’s day (is that a Simon and Garfunkel song?) with low thin cloud you could still take in the sights. We took a moment as we crossed the moor to take in the scenery. There were plenty of different paths that offered interesting diversions and investigations. Pretty soon the moor quietened down as people went off exploring their own routes. We came across a beautiful icy stream cutting its way through the hillside, which was particularly fascinating. The walk then took us back onto a B road and a country lane, and then over some pretty lowland fields that we’d previously been looking down on.  We eventually ended back amongst some pretty impressive houses that surround Burley in Wharfedale station. This was a very enjoyable walk, not too short and not too long with some lovely scenery and a good mix of terrain. Typically my keenness to photograph EVERYTHING meant we missed the hourly train by 5 or 10… But with every cloud… Rather with every missed train there is usually a good pub and Burley in Wharfedale is no exception, we headed into the village where we went to the friendly Red Lion Hotel for a pint of Midnight Bell from Leeds Brewery while resisting the mouth-watering specials on the board! A wonderful end to a day that began rather ominously.    

Tax Relief at Kirkstall

Kirkstal Abbey, leeds, yorkshire, abbey, ruin And so it happens every year, that familiar feeling of anxiety, so far removed from just a few weeks ago. With a sharp intake of breath I hit submit on the HMRC self assessment form and utter a quick prayer. A rush of doubt and worry floods in momentarily, followed by annoyance. I decide to go out for a quick walk before Caroline got home. Kirkstall is a 15 minute drive away, and I had only ever passed through, so I jumped in the car and set off. Parking in Kirkstall Abbey Walk, I went for a quick stroll around the ruins. The Abbey was founded around 1152 and occupied by self-sufficient monks and nuns (Cistercians), later to be disestablished by Henry VIII. It was also a popular subject for many painters including JMW Turner. The eclectic range of structures that play home to a large number of birds are pretty impressive. Although skeletal, the ruins retain enough form to make it easy to imagine the Abbey in all its glory some 800 years ago. Having wandered through the Abbey ruins I went for a very short stroll along the river Aire that runs alongside. I was struck by the stillness of this section of the river as it approaches a weir. The river bank stroll felt very similar to my amble round the abbey; while there were elements of unquestionable intrigue and beauty, they were slightly marred by the actions of visitors who possibly feel little attachment to the area, leaving obvious signs of disrespect. Not that this would put me off a revisit, it just made me wonder what could make people feel so disconnected from this environment. Not long after and it was time to go home, get dinner on and pour myself a glass of Hob Goblin (Wychwood brewery) and I realised that all thoughts of the evil self assessment had drifted away.  

Cow and Calf at Ilkley

Cow Calf Rocks Ilkley Moore An unplanned lazy lie in and poor visabillity meant we weren't able to do the walk we had planned to do last week. We headed up to Ilkley Moor anyway, just to stretch the legs and get some air. Parking as near to the Cow and Calf rocks as we could (this is evidently a popular weekend destination, as this was further than we would have liked), we changed shoes and set off. Neither 'climbed' nor 'walked' would be an accurate description of how we made our ascent, messily and laboriously may be more accurate.  The top of the rocks themselves are not more than a 5 minute walk from the completely full car parks below but there are several places further up the road where you can leave the car if, like us, you leave it all rather late! The rocks were fascinating. A variety of carefully carved etchings, both contemporary and old including many dated in the early 1800s, were scattered over the irregular surfaces of the Cow and Calf rocks. In fact, there are reportedly a number of engravings throughout Ilkley Moor thought to date from either the late Neolithic or the Bronze Age, and Rombald's Moor (of which Ilkley Moor is part) is considered to hold the second highest concentration of ancient carved stones in Europe. After spending a considerable amount of time walking around and examining the rocks we walked back down (disturbing a couple of red grouse on the way) towards the Cow and Calf Hotel where we stopped for a customary pint. I opted for a Black sheep (Black Sheep Brewery, Masham). The busy bar staff were friendly and the slightly crowded pub had a nice atmosphere, despite food clearly being the priority of this establishment. The Ilkley Moor area is an intriguing landscape which clearly holds many points of interest. I will certainly be revisiting, just a little earlier next time, with a dinner table reservation at the pub for our return!

High Force Hangover

High Force, waterfal. waterfall, A carbohydrate-heavy brunch and some strong coffee was just enough to get us into the car and onto the road on a less than inspiring New Year's Day. But the promise of a raging river Tees and some stunningly raw scenery, all followed by a pint in one of my favourite pubs ever, kept us motivated as we drove to our destination. As we got out of the car at Holwick, County Durham we were struck by the amount of water around. This was a continual theme of our New Year's Day Walk, as we encountered a significant number of impromptu streams and waterways carving their way down the slopes and over walkways. One was particularly problematic and caused much amusement (especially to those with wellies) when a couple of us (myself included) slipped on take off falling in knee and elbow deep! The Tees was magnificent and High Force (not quite the highest waterfall in England) was thundering! Totally worth dragging four hungover walkers out on a rather grey and wet day. The pace quickened with the thought of real ale and an open fire at the Strathmore Arms. As our return route drifted away from the torrential Tees, we made our way back on higher ground through rugged and ancient looking farmland. There are clearly a variety of ways to walk this stretch of the Tees with several opportunities to cross the river (including a rather fun "one at a time" hanging bridge). We stuck to the footpath that keeps to the left of the river and then takes you up a hill, and onto heathland which in turn leads to an elevated view point opposite High Force. A little futher up there is another viewpoint right next to the Waterfall which is equally dramatic. This is a relatively short walk of around two hours (at hangover pace) and could be longer if you are a photography enthusiast as there is plenty to point your camera at, even on a dull day! We made it back to a warm, welcoming Strathmore Arms in Holwick. With one wet leg from a misjudged leap over a stream making the chip butty and pint of Black Grouse (Allendale Brewery, Northumberland) all the more tasty!