The other day we walked out from Kirkby Stephen to have a look at Dukerdale, the dramatic valley which doesn’t quite scrape into the Yorkshire Dales National Park, though – even though it’s in Cumbria – it ought to. (There are precedents – the Westmorland Dales between Appleby and Orton are now part of the YDNP.)
A walk of two halves this, the first all pastoral through woods of ash and blackthorn, where the primroses grow and the spring lambs gambol: the second a long and hard moorland tramp where the only signs of life are the calls of the hill birds and the occasional disturbed grouse.
Starting by the sparkling waters of the River Eden at Frank’s Bridge, familiar to walkers of the Coast to Coast path, we crossed the disused railway line, and walked up to the mighty and dramatic Ewbank Scar, a great chunk of limestone, worn down over the ages by the tiny but very pretty Ladthwaite Beck. We saw deer not far away, red squirrels and a passing fitch. A good area for wildlife.
Beyond Ladthwaite Farm, the whole tone of the walk changes. What is a relatively pastoral landscape walk is transformed into a wet and occasional boggy moorland tramp – first across stone-walled intakes and then across open fellside, as we followed a long wall to the slopes of Tailbridge Hill.
The first part was a trudge through lank moor-grass and heather. Heavy going, the initial brightness of the day vanishing into light rain and hail. These fells, though, have an interest of their own – particularly for the walker who likes moorland birds and the lover of wild open spaces.
Hard going though, until a track opened up nearer to the summit. There was a time in my long ago Dartmoor days, when I could do thirty miles across such country and not think twice about it. Older age has calmed me down a trifle.
But when you come to the edges of Dukerdale you do get a gasp of excitement – it’s like a miniature version of the famous High Cup Nick, though limestone and not Whin Sill. Well worth going to have a look at.
We circled Dukerdale, crossing at the beck which pours down into this once-glaciated valley – a good place to halt for a tea-break. Then up across wilder moorland towards Rollinson Hags.
Superb views here, right across the great valley of the Eden to the North Pennines in one direction, with the Lakeland and Howgill Fells in the other.
We cut across to the track leading up from Kirkby Stephen to the Nine Standards, though we didn’t go up to those dramatic cairns on this occasion. Instead we followed the path and then the lane down the three miles back to Hartley and then Kirkby Stephen itself – a lovely gentle descent with equally terrific views, so familiar to walkers on the Coast to Coast.
A walk of two halves across countryside where, apart from at the end on the long-distance path, we hardly saw a soul.