Looming over the head of Wharfedale and the mouth of Langstrothdale, Yockenthwaite Moor (643m) is an imposing lump of Yorkshire. We’re out of the limestone Dales and here be gritstone and therefore bog. I’ve been taking a trekking pole on walks since my accident for confidence on descents. It was invaluable on this jaunt for balance and for gauging the firmness (and depth) of the terrain. And you’ll want to be wearing gaiters. Oh my word, yes…
I start from the YDNPA carpark in Buckden and head up Buckden Rake, a broad track curling around the west flank of Buckden Pike. The double buttress of Yockenthwaite Moor awaits on the far side of Cray Gill. I’m too busy thinking about my bad leg to really take in my surroundings, but judging by the photograph, there’s a lot of hawthorn about and also some birch. The Rake levels out out and takes me past Cray to join the B6160. I follow the road round a steep almost-hairpin and leave it again at Causeway Moss. Looking back, I am rewarded with a splendid view of Buckden Pike from an angle at which I’ve never seen it before.
The track over the Moss is a Byway Open to All Traffic (BOAT), so watch out for 4x4s and trial bikes – it’s steep but metalled and easy going. As I climb, the sun shreds the earlier clouds and I find myself squinting in the brightness. I simply can’t be bothered to stop to get my sunglasses from my pack so I plod onwards with narrowed eyes. I’d set off half an hour later than I’d anticipated, but the going has been so easy and swift that I’m making that time back up. My leg feels surprisingly strong – 10 months of physiotherapy have been worth all the graft.
As the track reaches a plateau, I check the map frequently in search of my turning off point. The terrain up here is pretty much of a muchness and my contour interpretation isn’t quite up to it – I certainly wouldn’t be doing this in low visibility. My altimeter is useful navigational aid – I know that I need to start handrailing the first fence on my left after the 550m contour. To be honest, that’s navigationally pretty lazy, but as I say, in poor visibility I would just have abandoned this – the Moor will be there another day and I feel I’ve troubled Mountain Rescue enough for one lifetime.
If following a fence sounds easy from a navigational point of view, it’s topographically challenging. The terrain is crisscrossed with bogs and peat hags and I am constantly watching my tread. Here and there, old fenceposts have been laid flat across the ground to provide a support on the wetter stretches. They are no guarantee of firm footing, though, and each must be tested before I commit any weight to it. Any and every deviation from normal stride becomes a decision about whether to lead with my bad leg or my good leg. I don’t think I can break my bad leg because it’s titanium, but pulling soft tissue could a) undo months of physiotherapy and b) leave me on my backside waiting for the cavalry again. I start to think about my last experience of waiting for Mountain Rescue and whether I’m about to go through that again. It’s not committing like the Hinterstoisser traverse, but it feels slightly beyond my comfort zone. I ponder retracing my steps but should I wade no more, returning were as tedious as go o’er (just to be clear, though, at no point have I murdered the king of Scotland). I can gauge roughly where I am along the fence by checking altitude. Where another fence joins from the north, I am able to simply step over it without putting any weight on it and I have my notion of my location confirmed by the appearance of South Grain Tarn. For some reason, it becomes an article of faith that I will not have food or drink or blow my nose until I get to the summit. I continue to climb and finally reach the 643m trig point, tired, hungry, thirsty and sniffing roughly every two seconds. To the west, the three peaks are stretched across the horizon. It’s been a tremendous slog, but what a fantastic vista. It’s eaten hours though; I’ve lost the time I made up and then some and, based on my original timings, have only half an hour to get back to my start point. I’m only half way.
Fed, watered and snot-free, I aim for the valley. Oddly, I find some ‘phone signal as I drop down toward Langstrothdale and I call my folks to tell them not to summon the cavalry for at least another 90 minutes. In the short time I’m stationary for the call, my right leg stiffens right up. It’s just as well I’m not going to have to go steeply downhill. Oh, wait. Damn. At least the precipitous descent is on lovely soft turf instead of bog and my progress down to Top Farm at Yockenthwaite is swift if uncomfortable and foul-mouthed. There’s a degree of internal argument about why I left the painkillers in the car and anyway, even if I’d brought them, I’d have nothing with which to swallow them as I didn’t bring enough fluid. Oh how I laughed. Horse Head Moor in autumn colours makes up for it though – it’s absolutely beautiful.
As I drop past a field barn, an English blue grey regards me with bovine solemnity. The Wharfe and easier going is just below me now, so I snatch a picture of her and get on my way. I turn southeast at the river and follow its gentle descent to Hubberholme. Here you can take the road on either side of the Wharfe back to Buckden. Back at the car, I find that my socks have slipped below my gaiters and the upper cuff of my right gaiter has worn a groove into my skin graft. So that was nice.
In my pack (a Macpac Amp 25): Rab Demand pullover, Rab Bergan pants, Montane Flux jacket, OS OL Sheet 30, Silva mirror-sighting compass, Julbo sunglasses, Benchmade Presidio lock-knife, Marmot XT gloves, Petzl Tikka Plus 2 headtorch, Highgear AltiTech 2 altimeter, iPhone, coffee, sandwiches, Leki Makalu trekking pole (an old one, mind, like from the 90s. It’s probably not even titanium. I am, though). I wore Garmont Vetta Mnt boots, Montane Super Terra pants, Klättermusen Vidblåin smock, Montane Vortex gaiters, Lowe Alpine mountain cap and some old Berghaus long-sleeved base-layer . I really struggle to get excited about base-layers if I’m honest.