I set off this morning on an emotional roller-coaster. Having my girlfriend visit me as I chip away the miles is wonderful and it recharges the batteries in top fashion, but it comes at a price: I hate goodbyes.
In fact today my emotions were on a double roller-coaster, because Horton-in-Ribblesdale is where I set off on my abortive Pennine Way walk back in 2000. I wondered how much I would remember from the last time I tackled the Way – after all, it's nearly three years ago – and the answer surprised me. I remembered almost everything, from the long ascent out of Horton and the Roman road across Cam Fell, to the path along the western edge of the Snaizeholme Valley and the descent into Wensleydale. It was uncanny.
And on top of the loneliness of waving goodbye and the wistful longings of nostalgia for three years ago, I had a hangover. Don't I ever learn?
Blowin' in the Wind
The walk from Horton to Hawes is another lovely day in the Yorkshire Dales. At least that's the story my photos will tell, because the sun came out and the landscape dutifully sat up and glowed. I'm still celebrating the end of the moors and the limestone scenery of the dales is a huge improvement, but what the pictures won't show is the incredible wind that slammed itself into my face for the entire day.
It's amazing what difference the wind can make. For the first couple of hours it was a mere inconvenience that made my rest stops less pleasant than they should have been, but when the route turned north to skirt Snaizeholme Valley, it started getting silly. Here the Way follows the east flank of a deep, broad valley, and when the wind blows from the west it shoots into this valley and gets funnelled up the side, right into the Pennine Way. With the valley sloping down to my left and Dodd Fell Hill rising up to my right, I tried to walk along the Way and failed. Instead I clawed my way along, inch by hard-fought inch.
It was amazing, and after a while I realised it was impossible to fight a wind this strong, so I might as well roll with it. The wind howled from my left, so I tried leaning into it... and I tried leaning a bit further... and further... until I managed to lean my entire body weight into the wind without even denting the air flow. I pulled on my woolly hat and hugged my jacket round me, bouncing from left to right as the wind blew me around like an unlucky lottery ball. I tried to take some photos but the camera shook so much in the icy blasts that it couldn't focus. This wind meant business.
Thankfully the Horton-Hawes track is easy to follow and pleasantly devoid of any serious climbs or descents, so apart from the wind slamming me against the side of the track, this was an unremarkable day with good views into Ribblesdale and Wensleydale. From my last visit to this area I remembered places like Ling Gill, a snatch of forest in a steep-sided cleft that's fenced off because it's one of a handful of places where the original vegetation of the area has survived; I recognised Ling Gill Bridge, just up from Ling Gill, where I bathed my feet back in 2000 because the blisters were already starting to form; and the long, straight Roman road across Cam Fell was as long and straight as ever.
But this time I found the walk to be much easier. I left later than normal because I had to take the train from Settle to Horton and retrace my steps to the turning where I'd walked in on Saturday, but I still made excellent time. Back in 2000 I'd been pretty tired by the end of this, my first day on the Way, and I already had embryonic blisters that would expand over the coming days to cover both of my heels; after today I'm still raring to go, because for a few days at least the Pennine Way is going to be rather good. Perhaps I'll be able to play out some memories as I trace my old route. I hope so; I like nostalgia.
The Capital of Wensleydale
I also like Hawes, and who can blame me? It's a classic Yorkshire Dales village, with a peaty brown river running through the middle of the old town and winding stone cobbled streets packed with little shops and countless picture postcard moments. As if that wasn't enough, Hawes is the main production centre for Wensleydale cheese – the favourite cheese of Wallace and Gromit, of course – and the entire package sits in the middle of the cheese's namesake, a gorgeous Yorkshire dale that pops into view as the Pennine Way winds round the edge of Dodd Fell.
Unfortunately I didn't have time to visit the Wensleydale Experience, which is a pity because the name alone is worth travelling to Hawes for; however my B&B rather excitingly overlooked the Experience from across the road, so from the moment I dropped my pack and sighed with relief at finally getting out of the wind, I felt the happy Wensleydale vibe of Hawes wash over me.
Despite the continuing gale, Hawes was a perfect place to buy fish and chips and sit in the high street, eating with my fingers and watching the world amble by. Its moniker as the capital of Wensleydale is well earned, and compared to places like Standedge and Crowden it's a metropolis; indeed, there are three pubs on the high street, all right next to each other, which practically makes it a city. Unfortunately three pints is a bit much after a walk, especially on top of a hangover from the weekend, but I bravely convinced myself that I should try two out of the three, as I was here. So I picked the first two I came across, the Board and the Crown Hotel, and eagerly bought a pint in each.
The beer was good: Black Sheep ale is a stalwart round these parts and the pint in the Board was lovely, and similarly the Theakstons XB in the Crown really hit the spot. But each pub was a criminal waste of potential and neither was good enough to grace the high street of such an attractive village as Hawes; one of them even had Formica tables – which I couldn't believe – and fruit machines and dark, unloved interior decorations were the order of the day.
First prize for awfulness must go to the Crown, though. I'm pretty forgiving of pubs as long as they serve a good pint, but one thing I can't forgive is appalling music and the Crown really pulled all the stops out. At first I thought they were playing ABBA's Greatest Hits, which I could have lived with even though I've heard 'Dancing Queen' far too many times to enjoy it any more; but after a minute or two I realised that this wasn't ABBA playing 'Super Trouper' and 'Take a Chance on Me', but a cover band. A cover band! Worse, they weren't trying to interpret the music, they were trying to sound like ABBA... and failing miserably.
Perhaps I'm just a musical snob, because it seemed that nobody else in the pub was remotely bothered. One couple, who turned out to be Dutch, were even subconsciously bopping along when the chorus to 'Chiquitita' kicked in, but my ears felt like they were bleeding. I knew I should have gone into the third pub...
Maybe next time, which I'm sure won't be far off.