No hilltops today, but a loop out and up the south west flank of the prettiest of the southern Dales. Littondale is a spur running north west off Wharfedale from the confluence of the Wharfe and the Skirfare rivers. Its flat, glacial floor sweeps up into steep sides clad in ash, holly and birch.
From the lovely village of Arncliffe, my companions (J and G) and I turn left up the lane beside the Falcon Hotel and climb quickly up through the improved pasture onto the haunch of Yew Cogar Scar. Below us, Cowside Beck has cut a deep trench into the limestone.
As the ground levels out into unimproved pasture, we can pick out wildflowers amongst the grasses: eyebright, heath bedstraw, salad burnet and some single, purple bell that I think is a kind of gentian.
Our path, Monk’s Road, climbs gently, angling south west across terraced limestone meadow. A red kite glides above us on narrow wings, fork-tail splaying as it banks. To the west, Fountains Fell’s imposing bulk looms above us in the sunshine.
We pause for lunch at the dry stone wall that separates Great Clowder and Dew Bottoms. We definitely don’t snigger at Dew Bottoms. Nettles crowd up against the wall’s foot for its whole length. I assume (but don’t know) that sheep shelter against the wall in bad weather and their droppings provide the nutrients that enable nettles to grow in such poor soil. Something catches my eye and I look up expecting to see the kite again; it is the heavier, clumsier shape of a buzzard.
Our gradual climb draws us past craggy escarpment before it levels out above Middle House Farm. It’s a beautiful, if austere, farmhouse that perfectly matches its surroundings. You’d have to be absolutely committed to the premise to live up here in the winter. Beyond, the cone of Great Close Hill hides Malham Tarn from view. South of the farm, we cut eastwards across Great Close pasture. J’s sheep ID skills are far better than mine and she can pick out rough fells and mule crosses.
We start to climb once more, heading north east under Clapham High Mark. Plenty of cattle grazing around this side of our route; if this isn’t a beef herd there are a lot of bull calves. Again, you’ll have to forgive me – my cattle ID skills are no better than my sheep ID skills. We give the cattle the respect they deserve and take care not to come between mother and calf.
At Lee Gate High Mark, the apex of our walk, we halt for refreshment. J has made some very good flapjack. This is very much a route of two views. Looking north, the long ridge of Old Cote Moor and beyond, Great Whernside marking the Wharfedale-Nidderdale watershed. To the south, the land spreads out into the pasture of Malhamdale and Cravendale. Pendle Hill crests up out of the trough of Bowland.
Our long, steady descent takes us down springy turf above Cote Gill, between Hawkswick Clowder and High Cote Moor. Away to our left I can make out some big, chalky mounds that I know from past experience to be English white cattle. Before us, Hawkswick Wood crowds up the far side of the dale. Just above Arncliffe Cote, we drop into a lane flanked with hawthorn and rowan, the sun suddenly a physical weight in the absence of the wind.
A swift clip along the road takes us back to Arncliffe. Sadly, the roadside barn at the mid-point is missing the massive-pig-of-Littondale. Seriously, she’s absolutely huge. We surmise that she is at Kilnsey show.
In my pack (a Macpac Amp 25): Rab Demand pullover, Haglöfs Lizard windproof, Rab Bergen pants, Montane Flux jacket, Marmot XT gloves, OS OL Sheet 2, Silva mirror-sighting compass, Julbo sunglasses, Benchmade Presidio lock-knife, iPhone, coffee, water, flask of stew (butterbean, garlic, sage and chipotle, since you’ve asked). I wore Garmont Vetta Mnt boots, Montane Vortex Stretch gaiters, Montane Terra pants, Mountain Hardwear Canyon LS shirt and some CK microfibre t-shirt I got from TK Maxx.