An easy circuit from Upper Wharfedale over to my favourite of the southern dales, Littondale, and back. Well, I say easy – it’s neither long nor navigationally challenging, but the start is really pretty steep.
From the western bank of the Wharfe, just above the Kettlewell bridge, Susan, Harvey and I follow the footpath due west, uphill across some rough pasture. There’s perhaps an inch of powdery snow on the ground and the turf thereunder is pretty convincingly frozen. The path cuts through a narrow band of rock – an outlier of Great Cote Scar. You’ll need your hands for a few metres, but it is not a scramble.
Above the scar, the slope slackens and steepens and slackens and steepens in a series of infuriating terraces. Harvey makes intrepid progress through the snow, which has drifted in places, and drags Susan up in his furry wake. Under the crest of the ridge, we pause to look back over Wharfedale. Immediately opposite, Great Whernside squats over Kettlewell like a brooding gritstone god. It’s quite a boggy brooding god but this would probably be the best weather in which to tackle it, its mires frozen solid.
Turning back to heights draws us up onto the broad hump of the ridge. We use Harvey’s harness to airlift him over the first stile of the day, and it’s still funny. It will never not be. I balance on top of the stile for a view down into Littondale. It really is beautiful and it’s lack of tourist facilities make it much less crowded than Wharfedale or Ribblesdale.
Continuing due west, we head downslope. This side of the ridge is much gentler and there’s a deal more heather. Red grouse whirr hither and yon. To the north and a fair stretch above us, a kestrel hovers above the snow. Fun kestrel fact: the kestrel’s preferred prey is the field vole; field voles use habitual runs through the undergrowth; they urinate as they’re running; their urine has a signature in the ultraviolet spectrum; kestrels can see into the ultraviolet spectrum. Voles – dying for a pee. I said it was a fun fact.
The path drops down into Byre Bank Wood. We’re out of the wind here, so we pause for lunch. Harvey has some black pudding we saved from breakfast. He really likes it. I have a pork pie and Susan has a sausage roll. We really like them. We take in the view across to Arncliffe and Yew Coggar Scar until the cold pushes us back into motion. It’s slow going through the wood. There are gnarly tree roots underfoot, the rock is polished really smooth and there is ice in places. Eventually, we drop through the wood into pasture and then onto the road.
If you were minded, you could cross the River Skirfare and take a path southeast along the river bank. We’re getting a move on, so we simply turn left onto the road and follow it down to Hawkswick. The slope above us is steep and thickly planted with new trees – it looks like a new deciduous plantation. A pair of buzzards circle over the saplings as we stride into Hawkswick. At the far end of the village, we turn uphill again through a walled lane before cutting east across the steep flank of ridge. Somewhat incongruously, there is a field of donkeys. I like donkeys. They have a mysterious smile that says they know something you don’t. And they probably do – I know I have no idea what it’s like to eat grass for 15 hours a day. As with my previous blog post, please note that livestock are not a navigational feature.
We once more find ourselves on the broad back of the ridge, albeit further down and
looking down now to the confluence of the Skirfare and the Wharfe. Our route turns due north from here, dropping gradually toward the southern end of Great Cote Scar. At Knipe Wood, you could handrail the top of the Scar and then return to Kettlewell via the not-scramble whence you started. We choose to wind down through Knipe Wood, a mixed not-entirely natural woodland, cloaking the slope above the Kettlwell road. In the summer, I’ve seen goldcrest in here, flitting amongst the pines. We come out onto the road and hoof down into the village (there is a track running around the road, but this is quicker and the footing more sure).
In my pack (a Macpac Amp 25): Paramo Torres belay jacket, Montane flux belay jacket, OL Sheet 30, Silva mirror-sighting compass, Benchmade Presidio lock-knife, Highgear AltiTech 2 altimeter, iPhone, Veho Pebble phone-charger, Petzl Tikka Plus 2 head torch, coffee, a pork pie, a sausage roll, Lowe Alpine mountain cap, Marmot XT gloves, some old pair of Lowe Alpine shell gloves (you can never have too many gloves and I’m carrying spare kit for two). I wore Scarpa Rebel Lite GTX boots, Rab Latok gloves, Paramo Velez Adventure Light smock, Paramo Velez Adventure trousers, SmartWool leggings, some old Berghaus long sleeve base layer, a Nike vest.