The monitoring of weather forecasts has begun to take up a great deal of our time lately, with weather apps on phones and TV, plus of course the traditional Countryfile ‘week ahead’ forecast on a Sunday night where the presenters shun their formal attire for a pair of jeans and BBC approved pullover. On returning from work each day one of the first things we say to each other is “have you looked at the weather recently?”, which is usually responded to with “yeah, still rain, but there’s time for it to change.”
This is because since the walking obsession has taken over, our lives are dictated by which region is most likely to have the best weather, and on which day. We always have at least three routes planned – one in the Dales, one in the Moors and one in the Peaks – and whichever promises the best chances of waterlessness wins the day.
The forecasts are notoriously unreliable, and when on a Friday morning the weekend is promising us a monsoon but by the evening it tempts us with partial cloud, our best laid plans of using our two days off to actually get stuff done (haircuts, shopping, cleaning, being normal functioning human beings) are immediately cancelled, the OS maps come off the shelf, the backpack is packed, and an early night is had by all. This was the case for a trip to Settle, and our recompense was a day of sunshine and waterfalls in the Yorkshire Dales.
We began by parking near the station and taking the Dales High Way out of town and along the shallow River Ribble, which meanders through fields and meadows for a few miles until you reach the hamlet of Stackhouse. Our intended target was Stainforth Force, the first of three waterfalls to be encountered on our journey, and after tracing the water’s edge and dipping into and out of fields for a few miles we found ourselves cutting through a campsite to reach the falls. I can imagine that on a quieter day they are very beautiful, but with the clement weather and adjoining campsite, we were greeted with hordes of folk leaping from various natural platforms into the plunge pool below. With their enthusiastic onlookers applauding each spladoosh we hastened onwards up the steep road and bridge over the train tracks towards Stainforth itself, joining the Pennine Bridleway in the process and beginning the steep, rubbled ascent towards Carrigg Force, the second and hopefully less populated waterfall on the trip.
Whilst entertaining slightly fewer tourists, Carrigg Force had also drawn a reasonable enough gathering to be called a crowd, with most of the attendees accessing the remote falls by a decidedly easier route than ours, arriving in a car along the bridleway and parking in a field. On arrival there didn’t appear to be much to see, as only the extreme top of the drop is visible at the level of the path. An un-signposted dirt track does however lead down through a patch of woodland to the base of the falls, where a bit of sliding over slippery rocks and photobombing of tourists’ shots will allow access to the plunge pool, and reward you with a view of the falls in all their glory.
As we continued along the Pennine Bridleway the views were at first of expansive rolling moorland hills, which then became the farmland and nature reserve of Winksill Stones. The stones are an example of limestone pavement famous in these parts, and are protected from plundering for the decoration of garden rockeries by its nature reserve status. The limestone mingles with traditional dry-stone walls, enclosing fields given over to sheep grazing and buttercups, and the bridleway continues on to the join a road that descends towards Langcliffe.
On reaching Clay Pits plantation we took a sharp left and headed past a plain of long deep green grass scattered with isolated limestone fragments. Sunshine gave way to cloud, and stillness to wind, as we approached Victoria Cave, an important archaeological site that has over the years yielded finds such as mammoth bones, 11,000 year old harpoons, and Roman artefacts from as far afield as Africa. We however missed the turnoff and stomped straight past it, so rather than turn back and investigate we settled for a lunchbreak whilst watching a determined fell runner make chaotic patterns through the grass below.
We had reached the almighty Attermire Crags, a dauntingly striking series of limestone crags that loom over the path below, with tumbled boulders enticing scramblers and climbers to scale the 450m above sea level crown of Attermire Scar itself. As we descended alongside, I was beholden to the glacial scrapings that formed the imposing beauty of the landscape of this part of the world, but as we approached Sugar Loaf Hill, my attention was once again drawn to the antagonist of our recent story in Kilburn, the cow. Rather than risk confrontation, we took the somewhat cowardly decision to climb halfway to the summit of High Hill in order to avoid the direct path occupied by the herd below.
A quick dash along High Hill Road (which for its size had a great deal more cars speeding along it than anticipated), led us to the third and final waterfall of the day, Scaleber Force. We had these falls completely to ourselves, and scampered down the muddy bank to their base for some uninterrupted peace and calm next to the gently tumbling water of Scaleber Beck (Sammy has since returned to these falls to take some photos following a heavy downpour and I’m told the beck tumbles less gently under such circumstances).
With our walk coming towards its end, we re-joined the Pennine Bridleway and followed its easy course back to the town. The sun had replaced his hat and the afternoon was still with us, so Settle was busy with daytrippers supping beer and coffee at tables in the street, shoppers milling in and out of independent stores buying ethically sourced lamps and vintage vegetables, and our drained limbs trudging past them all, clattering walking poles into chair legs as we passed.