The Pennine Way II: High Gate to Malham

Trip Start Apr 01, 2010
Trip End Jul 31, 2010

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Flag of United Kingdom  , England,
Sunday, June 6, 2010

When we decided way back in Woolsery to cut our daily walking distance by hopping the occasional local bus, we were both happy to shortcut together. For the Pennine Way, though, Joel was eager to prove his oft-disparaged manhood by walking the whole thing, which included a few more 17-19 mile days than Fi thought she'd enjoy. So from time to time in the Pennines, Fi hitched a ride part way while Joel walked.

On 4 June, for example, we were joined at Highgate Farm by Fi's parents, who gave her a lift and kindly took our bags to Lothersdale, our next stop. Fi didn't miss much; the highlights of Joel's morning were a succession of reservoirs (all low, thanks to the glorious weather we've been enjoying since April) and a moor called Withens Height, which may have partly inspired the setting of Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights (she grew up in nearby Haworth). Fi and her parents rejoined Joel for lunch at Ponden Reservoir.

As we walked on after lunch, we were struck again by just how poor the waymarking for the Pennine Way is. The Cotswold Way and West Highland Way have diligent, eye-catching signposts wherever you might have the least doubt about the right way forward - you scarcely need a map to walk them. The Pennine Way is of course much longer than those other footpaths, and passes through many more counties, so the same level of clarity might have been hard to maintain. What's inexplicable is how unhelpful the existing waymarks are. The PW abounds in intersections where the Way south is clearly marked, but the Way north could be any of three other branches. Would it have been so hard to put another arrow on the post? One wave of waymarking consists of stones with "PW" carved on them; these have almost invariably been placed a few dozen yards AFTER an unmarked intersection, as if to say, "Congratulations, you guessed right! On-on!" Maddening.

Our June 5 hike was one of the gentler bits of the Pennine Way, where it has to cross a vale between hill ranges. At the canal village of East Marton, Fi's parents rejoined us along with H, Fi's adoptive auntie from Nepal. After lunch in Gargrave, we had an afternoon amble up the River Aire. It emerges from the rocks at the wonderfully named Aire Head, just below the village of Malham.

Above Malham, the Pennine Way gets rugged again, passing into a landscape of gritstone cliffs and crags. Before venturing there, though, we took a rest day at Gordale Scar campsite, whose craggy valley is probably the most dramatic campground backdrop we've seen so far. Fi's sister and family came to see us, including nephew James and brand-new nibling Hannah. We had a cosy picnic in our tent when the rain started up. Malham was full of inventive family games that weekend, including a trail of homemade animals and a rubber duck race down the stream that reduced most of the bystanding adults to childlike excitement. (I'm happy to note that our duck came third).
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