Great Whernside (704m) and Buckden Pike (702m) define the eastern boundary of upper Wharfedale; great, lumpen hummocks of gritstone, clad in millennia of peat. Great Whernside squats over Kettlewell with Nidderdale at its back. As its name suggests, Buckden Pike stands guard above Buckden, and also Starbotton. Though its name doesn’t suggest that. They couldn’t call it Buckden and Starbotton Pike. That would be clumsy.
The well drained limestone pasture around Great Whernside’s ankles is deceptive. Skirting round the southern bank of Dowber Gill Beck, we are soon up onto the boggy, boggy slopes cloaking the gritstone. The ground is soft, green with sedge and moss and rushes, cut by streams beer-dark and gurgling. If Ellenberg indicator values are your thing, you’ll find lots of wet habitat vegetation to tick off here. Grab a quadrat, knock yourself out; we’re scarpering for the summit as fast as we can squelch.
An escarpment runs along the summit plateau, up to 3m high in some places – even in the worst weather it’s a handy navigational feature. Luckily, no navigational aids needed today: high cloud and clear air gives us views down Nidderdale and across to the North York Moors; looking west and north we have the Three Peaks and, off up in the far distance, the Howgill Fells petition the horizon. We pause at the summit shelter (but don’t actually sit in it) for lunch.
The descent down Black Dike is even boggier than the ascent; you can almost see running surface water in some spots. We drop into the pass that joins Wharfedale and Coverdale and brace ourselves for yet more bog-trotting. We clip across the CRoW access land at Great Hunters Sleets, pausing to check the signs on access-restrictions. They are for May and June, so we need not worry. What I should have done, of course, is check before setting off. Note to self, eh?
As we trudge north west to Top Mere Hole, we have glorious views of Bishopdale. A violet ground beetle – at its scale, the tiger of the heather – scuttles across our path. We pause in silence at the memorial cross for the Polish aircrew who crashed here in 1942.
Buckden Pike summit is a flatter and boggier affair than Great Whernside, though more easily attained since we did most of the uphill earlier in the day. The trig point is aging elegantly, and a head-high, conical cairn and sharpened post serve no function I can fathom.
We retrace our route back to the cross and then drop south west toward Cam Gill Beck. Skirting around the head of its steep-sided valley, we follow a contour south. Away to our left, maybe less than 10m, a short-eared owl rises from the grass with its distinctive, rowing wing-beats. Back burnished bronze by the sun, sculling skywards on silent wings, it banks to the east and vanishes over the horizon. Ahead of us, two kestrels mob a carrion crow. The track here sits on a change in gradient and is the driest thing we’ve trod for several hours.
A dogleg on the path curls us round to the upper end of Top Mere Road and we start our long descent into Kettlewell. You may well recognise this green lane from the opening credits of Emmerdale. That’s assuming they still use it in the opening credits – I haven’t seen an episode since before they dropped ‘Farm’ from the name. Sheep graze along the track, apparently so conditioned to walkers that they don’t panic and scatter. Or even stare at us with their strange, horizontal pupils. My feet are aching ever-so gently by this point – I’m breaking my feet back in for stiff winter boots with some B1s and the bottom of this track is pretty unforgiving – so I have a pint (of shandy) in the Bluebell, my favourite of Kettlewell’s three pubs.
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 30, Silva mirror-sighting compass, Julbo sunglasses, Benchmade Presidio lock-knife, iPhone, coffee, water, flask of stew (butterbean, garlic, sage and chipotle. Yes, like the last walk). I wore Mammut Mt. Cascade boots, Mountain Hardwear Ventigaiters, Montane Terra pants, Mountain Hardwear Canyon LS shirt and some Nike compression vest I got from TK Maxx. Yes, I do get quite a lot of base layers from TK Maxx.