Up to Dukerdale – A Walk of Two Halves

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.)

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High Dukerdale (c) John Bainbridge 2018

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.

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Frank’s Bridge (c) John Bainbridge 2018

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.

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Ewbank Scar (c) John Bainbridge 2018

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.

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Walking into the wild (c) John Bainbridge 2018

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.

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Walking the Local Paths

If you are a British rambler, you tend to take individual footpaths and bridleways for granted, linking them together to design a longer walk for the day.

I know walkers, determined as they are to arrive at their destination, who scarcely see or examine the path they are on.

We all do it from time to time. Yet look more carefully and you can find out much about the history of the landscape you are walking through.

The great dramatic tracks – the old Roman roads, the prehistoric ridgeways and so on – tend to get noticed. But the simple paths linking village to village, farmhouse to church, are just as important and worthy of note.

Our footpaths and bridleways are an absolutely vital resource for every country walker. During my campaigning days, landowning organisations were continually pressing for the “rationalisation” of the path network, seeking to get rid of many of our precious rights of way and pushing walkers on to unimaginatively routed and compromised core paths.

Thankfully, walking campaign groups resisted much of this, though some rambling footpath officers too readily agreed diversions which were not in the best interests of ramblers.

Core paths are still promoted by some local authorities. With austerity budget cuts, some highway authorities are not spending enough on the entire network, singling out just some of the more popular walks.

Yet walkers bring billions of pound into the British countryside, so this is a false economy. And the best way to keep ALL paths opened and maintained is to get as many walkers as possible out on to them.TDWAYFront Cover

One idea is to look at designing shorter long-distance walks on little used rights of way. My old group of the Ramblers Association in Teignmouth and Dawlish in Devon http://www.teignramblers.org.uk/ did this with the creation of the Teignmouth and Dawlish Way – 18 miles around some little visited wilder countryside. Many other rambling groups have done something similar.

You don’t have to be in a group to design such a route. You can do it yourself and produce your own booklet to sell online or in local bookshops.

Or why not just walk all the local paths in your locality, reporting any problems to the local highway authority and the Ramblers – who have a useful path problems app on their website http://www.ramblers.org.uk/