Another one of these looming Wensleydale summits, though somewhat loftier than yesterday’s jaunt up Addlebrough. The massif itself appears on the OS map as Wether Fell but the summit (614m) has its own name: Drumaldrace. The meaning of Drumaldrace, as with Pen-y-ghent, is lost to antiquity and subject to conjecture. I will let you explore those theories yourself.
My accommodation is in Askrigg so that’s where I’m starting, but if you were coming to the Dales specifically for this then it would make sense to start from Bainbridge. As it is, I follow A684 from Askrigg to Bainbridge and then follow it across the bridge over the River Bain (see what they did there). Glancing to the right, I see a huge Archimedes screw leaning down across a short waterfall, presumably to generate electricity. Where the A684 bears around to the left, there is a smaller road running uphill and to the right, signposted Semer Water. I take a footpath here that handrails the road for about 300m. Where the road bends sharply uphill toward a mast of some kind, the footpath continues across rough pasture, following the course of the River Bain. This is gentle going over springy turf, oystercatchers calling to either signal their territory or warn of the terrible threat of me.
At some point (I think just after a little tributary joins it) the River Bain stops being the River Bain and is instead named Low Wheel. Just beyond is Semer Water Bridge and beyond that is, unsurprisingly, Semer Water. According to Yorkshire Wildlife Trust: “Semer Water is the largest of only three natural waterbodies in Yorkshire; a glacial lake which was formed at the end of the last Ice Age when huge amounts of glacial till blocked the outflow.” As its also the second largest natural lake in Yorkshire after Hornsea Mere, I suspect the web text needs updating. Maybe the largest in the Dales? To be honest, in this flat light and the buffeting wind, I am struggling to get excited about it (sorry, YWT – I’ll come back another day when I’m not on the clock).
To the right of the bridge, the road runs northwest and steeply uphill. It is strewn with light debris from the recent storms (but still entirely passable). I follow it to the tiny settlement of Countersett. There’s an odd, stretched out crossroads at which I keep heading uphill. At the first right-hand bend, there’s a path heading out left across pasture and I could then head uphill after about 400m. Instead, I stick with the steeper ascent of Crag Side Road until a very distinct right angle bend to the right. I’m moving much better than yesterday, pushing uphill smoothly and with fewer pauses. Also, I’m timing my pauses to coincide with letting cars past so nobody can tell I’m stopping to catch my breath. Except you, gentle reader. Here, I leave the road to follow a bridleway across the flank of the Wether Fell massif. As I’m about to pass through a second gate, I see a low hut with a corrugated metal roof, a flash of russet feathers and coxcomb. I’m thinking it’s a very strange place to keep chickens (I’m on the 410m contour) when I see a long tail vanishing and realise it is a male pheasant.
The bridleway climbs due west, gradually pulling up the flank of the hill. When I stop for water, I take the map from the kangaroo pouch of my smock (it is beaded with condensation from my sweat) thinking that I just have to follow this to the very obvious Roman road. I stick my gloves on (the wind is really cold) and set off, pausing only to admire the rather splendid view down to Semer Water and Raydale. I reach a fork and take the lefthand path, remembering that the bridleway contours under the summit for quite some distance. In 5 minutes, I realise I have gone wrong, dig out the map, get my bearings and put myself back on track. It costs me maybe 10 minutes. That’s not much of an issue but only because the visibility is very good. I should know better. You’ll make mistakes carrying and following the map too, but there’ll be fewer, easier to correct and not down to memory. the There’s an easy, family-friendly way to get things right: active navigation is accurate navigation, passive navigation is piss-poor.
The bridleway passes through a gate and onto a walled lane. To the left, it wiggles uphill round a contour. To the right it runs arrow straight almost all the way back to Bainbridge. I’m pretty confident this is a Roman road but the map confirms it. It’s a fairly hard surface covered in loose stones and, apart from its navigational ease, not an ideal descent. I have a cunning plan, though…
Turning uphill, I find a ewe and (presumably) last year’s lamb. They retreat before me, bleating at each other and the cosmos. This is a walled lane and there is nowhere for them to go. They carry on retreating before me for about 750m. Eventually we all hit a gate; I sidle round them, they bolt downhill and I pass through the gate with a sense of relief. Until I remember that they will still be in the walled lane when I come back and there is about 3km of it behind me.
Off to my left (south) I see the back of Fleet Moss, Darnbrook Fell, Pen-y-ghent. Further round, there is the summit of Ingleborough and then Whernside. To the north, the hills are buried under a mantle of cloud. In any case, I do not know this Dale very well at all and even in sunshine might struggle to recognise them.
I follow the road, glimpsing some sort of structure on the summit of the moor, until a path beckons me onwards and upwards. I am traipsing across blanket bog now and, sadly, someone on either a mountain bike or a trials bike has torn the Sphagnum capillifolium from the ground to leave it drying in the wind. I try to tuck back in safely while hoping that the miscreant’s next shit is a hairbrush. I take in the view, take some pictures, eat a cheese and HP sauce roll and then head off again. It is less windy than yesterday but I am considerably higher and wary of letting my muscles cool.
I pull the trekking poles from my pack, making sure the rubber tips are secure, set them to length and retrace my steps. As I join the road once more, my knees are straight away grateful for the support they get from the poles. Navigationally, I really just do have to point myself downhill and go in a straight line until I am in Bainbridge. As with navigation, it pays to be actively using the poles, pushing away at the ground to cushion your knees. Inevitably on this kind of surface, I get pebbles under my heel and turn my ankle. It happens less frequently, though, than without poles and is less painful when it does. Also my lats and triceps are getting a workout.
In the lane, only one of the sheep is still there – the ewe. Last year’s lamb has climbed through a gap between a hole in the wall and the bottom of the wire above. It is bleating through the whole at its mother and she is bleating back. I try to give her space so that I can get around her or she can get through. But she bolts, obviously, and last year’s lamb jumps back through and runs after her. Obviously. I sigh all the way down into my pelvic girdle.
After what seems like 15 minutes of exasperated exhalation, my eye is caught by a flash of colour. A goldfinch has appeared on the fence. That’s weird. I scrabble for my iPhone but it is gone before I can catch it. It’s not like I’ve never seen a goldfinch before but I’ve never seen one up over 500m.
Turning back to the Roman road and the escaped sheep, I start walking downhill. I’m not actually walking very quickly but I’m somehow covering a lot of ground. The road, or rather the verges on either side widen out and I finally get enough room to get past the bleaters and leave them behind. Up ahead, there is the unexpected sight of two 4x4s. I don’t know if they’re allowed on this byway (it turns out they are) but I can’t see that a confrontation will end well for me.
As they approach, a brown thrush-like shape flits down into the drainage ditch on the right. We’re a long way up for blackbirds but then I’ve just seen a goldfinch so who knows?
I step off the track and the vehicles edge courteously past, giving me a wave of thanks. My pastime almost killed me so I’m in no position to judge, but two blokes in separate vehicles driving up a track? Imagine the banter they’ll have! As I say, they have impeccable manners and are doing me no harm so each to each.
The brown shape pops back up and scoots over the drystone wall – a female ring ouzel! I haven’t seen one in years and am thoroughly pleased. Turning back to my journey, I walk down a Roman road for a geological epoch, legs and arms tiring, all of my many ventilation options gaping but still slightly too warm. The wrist loops on my poles are just slightly too tight and the wrong way out so the Cordura is starting the eat the skin off the back of my left hand, which is really stinging in the sweat.
The Roman road meets a modern road and then continues on the other side. As do I, for a further geological epoch, pausing only to adjust the straps on my poles. Finally, after almost 5km of ploughing in a straight line, the Roman road opens out on to another modern road that wriggles around the back of the National Park centre before dropping into Bainbridge. I sit on a bench, drink water, eat another cheese roll and then follow the River Are back to Askrigg.
In my pack (a Macpac Amp 25): Buffalo Belay jacket, Silva type 4/54 compass, OS OL Sheet 30, Benchmade Presidio lock-knife, iPhone, Veho Pebble phone-charger, half a litre of water, 2 cheese and HP sauce rolls (other brown sauces are avaialable), Terra Nova 2 person emergency shelter, Lifesytsems Trek first aid kit, Black Diamond ReVolt head torch, Julbo sunglasses, Zajo carbon trekking poles, some Lowe Alpine winter mountaineering gloves – they’re over 20 years old now and I don’t know what model. I wore my Montane Extreme smock, Montane Terra XT salopettes, Millet Super Trident GTX boots and Paramo Mountain gaiters.