Saturday, 16 May 2015

Going back to a good place, decades later.

Years and years ago, with two of my school fellows and I, with our sports teacher as guide, set out to walk the first 82 miles of the Pennine Way.

It occurs to me that there may be a few people out there who are unaware that the Pennines are the range of noble hills that run up the middle of England. Note that I carefully used the word “hills” before anyone could leap forward with corrective mockery at my use of the word “mountains” for anywhere in England.

It was over the Easter break from school. Most years we’d start training for serious hiking in the summer term, after our return from that holiday. So we set out on this walk hopelessly under-trained. That became painfully clear when we tackled an area known as “Black Hill”, and believe me that was a terribly understated name. The mud was knee-deep, like a film of the First World War. The only way we got any purchase on the ground was once we’d sunk deep enough to reach the ice. By the evening we were all groaning masses of stiff joints and pulled muscles.

Limestone pavement at Malham.
Brilliant. Though a little more sun would be good.
But we struggled on through the pain and on the third or fourth day received our reward. We came out out onto a strange landscape of limestone that had been eroded into blocks separated by deep crevices. Despite our tiredness, we jumped from block to block to the edge – and stopped gasping, looking down a sheer cliff into a bowl through which flowed a stream, way below us.

Malham Cove, with Malham Beck flowing out of it.
Grat place. Though a little more sun would still be good.
“Where on Earth…?”

“Welcome to Malham Cove,” our well-informed guide told us.

A place of great beauty, that I appreciated to its full worth once I’d recovered from the vertigo.

The place that most impressed me, however, was a little further on. Nestling among a ring of hills, restful though never quite at rest, there’s a sheet of alternating blue or grey, the upland lake called Malham Tarn. Of all that five-day hike, it was Malham Tarn that I remembered the longest.

All this happened a long time ago. For years, decades even, I’d wanted to go back. And wanted to show the place to my wife. So when she suggested that rather than drive the whole way to Scotland last week, we should break our trip and spend the night somewhere, we quickly agreed that Malham would be a good place for it.

We got there just in time to watch the sun setting over the Tarn. If you’re going to take a wander up Nostalgia Lane, and don’t want to be disappointed, it makes a lot of sense to get there at that magical time.

Malham Tarn at sunset
At least the sun shone through at the last gasp of the day
We spent the evening in Malham village, where my wife insisted on our doing a pub crawl. Which in the end was fine, since there were only two pubs. So it was a pub crawl where the only excess was its moderation. It’s just as well, since to get back to the place where we were staying we had to cross a narrow bridge across the Beck, and fortunately we were in a reasonable state to face that task.

One of the pubs even had an open fire, welcome in an English May in the hills. And both welcomed dogs and even muddy boots – a cordial gesture.

The following day we wandered around the Cove, across a limestone pavement and, eventually, down to the waterfall at Janet’s Foss. 

Janet's Foss.
Janet, it seems was a Queen of the Fairies.
And as Fosses go, hers is a good one
Though a bit more sun would do no harm

As breaks on a longer journey go, it would be hard to recommend a better one. A little more sun would have been good, but we didn’t miss it that badly.

If you don’t know Malham, and the Yorkshire Dales to which it belongs – well, you could do a lot worse than take a look. Just as long as you don’t want absolutely guaranteed sunshine, anyway.

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