I suppose you could almost call Rear Clouts a hill. It’s not, it’s clump of crags on top of a rise. Trollers Gill is a limestone ravine and occasional torrent; for most of the year, the water table is well below the surface. According to local legend, unwary travellers were waylaid by trolls (of the mythological variety) who would throw rocks down on their heads. Also, there are tales of a huge spectral hound – the barguest – haunting the gorge. All I saw were climbers. And none of them tried to kill me.
The route I’d planned is problematic as I am late into the saddle and by the time I get to Appletreewick there are no parking spaces. Quick as a reasonably slow flash, I recalibrate and park up in a layby southeast of Farncarl Crag (taking great care to leave a car-length between the gate there and Grunty).
I lope down through pasture, giving 20 head of cattle a courteously wide berth and am regarded with bovine solemnity. Two walkers pass me in the other direction and head straight towards the cows, which instantly consolidate into several tons of defensive beef.
At the top of Trollers Gill I turn northeast up a track toward Black Hill Road. There’s no breeze and the heat is a physical presence – it has actual mass. I head due north for around 500m before turning east along a landrover track over the CRoW Access land. Once I’m level with Stump Cross Caverns I handrail a dry stone wall south southeast up to the gritsone bluff of Rear Clouts. The ground is wet and thick with soft rushes.
The Clouts stand around 4m high, a tumble of huge boulders propping up a mass of peat with their backs. I enjoy a brief scramble to get some photographs of Simon’s Seat lording it over the southern end of Upper Wharfedale before heading over the top in search of drier ground. As I crest the rocks, a young kestrel – female by the size – lifts into the sky behind me and banks away as she sees me. My search for drier footing is unsuccessful and I squelch across moss and bilberry toward the mysterious Victorian hut above Eller Edge Nook. I’ve no idea why it was built or who owns it, but it’s no field barn – actual stonemasons have had their hands on this.
I drop down Forest Road, a dirt track (possibly metalled a long time ago), toward Skyreholme. A red admiral butterfly lifts from the edge of a puddle in tottering flight. A jingling behind me alerts me to a cyclist. He clatters past on a road-bike juddering on skinny tyres; the bike sounds like it wants to die. In the foliage either side of the track, grasshoppers rattle in the oppressive afternoon-heat.
The gravel gives way to Tarmac and I descend through High and then Middle Skyrehome. I turn off the road at Parceval Hall to follow Skyrehome Beck north(ish). I pass through a smattering of trees on an easy path and skirt the edge of an old manmade structure built across the beck – possibly a dam for a watermill? Whatever the structure was, it’s been breached in one corner and is completely overgrown. Goldfinches flicker from thistle to thistle ahead of me.
I pause in the mouth of Trollers Gill – it’s an impressive sight. Perhaps 6m wide and 12m tall, it looks like it runs back through time itself. Around the entrance, the dappled shade is scattered with what I think are wood crane’s bills and, here and there, harebells. Of the gill itself, there is no sign. To escape the weight of sun’s glare, I slip into the canyon.
The streambed winds between the cliffs for perhaps 300m and I am drawn gratefully into deep clots of shadow. Underfoot, the rocks are moss-clad, water-smoothed by centuries of spate. The walls rear up on either side, deeply undercut by the action of the stream. On one sunlit face, climbers search for the silence in gravity’s song. Most of the bolted routes here are graded above 6b+, so they’re a bit sporting for my meagre talent.
I emerge again into sunlight as the water table rises to the surface. Ahead of me, the beck chatters and burbles; behind, it vanishes underground. Before heading back up to Grunty, I relax in the sunshine for a few minutes and eat my apple.
A seasonal note: Not to labour the point, but in full spate the Gill is a slippery and dangerous environment. The water isn’t that deep, but if you fall and clip your head that might be all for you. If you’re here in winter or spring and don’t fancy your chances then back up about 50m round the spur of Middle Hill – there’s a track that will take you round the Gill in safety.
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, Petzl Tikka 2 headtorch, iPhone, coffee, water, plum and custard cake, an apple (a Granny Smith). I wore Mammut Mt. Cascade boots, Mountain Hardwear Ventigaiters, Montane Terra pants, Mountain Hardwear Canyon LS shirt and a Trespass zipped T. Yes, I got it from TK Maxx.