Monday, 8 June 2020

A Short Walk on Grinton Moor

The other evening I went for a walk on Grinton Moor in Swaledale. I chose one of my favourite routes. I'm not sure “route” is quite the right word for it as, the more I walk the less concerned I am about getting from A to B. When you set your mind on an objective it's easy to pass over places of interest you pass on the way, telling yourself you'll come back another day to investigate them. Invariably, you forget, or at least I do. These days, it's often the case that I'll set out not to walk a line on the map but to simply wander at will for as long as I've time to wander. Day-to-day life is so full of journeys that have to be made at certain times to specific places. Since we're creatures of habit it's easy to fall into the trap of thinking that a walk made for no other reason than for the pleasure of walking needs to have similar conditions attached to it. It doesn't.

Yesterday was a wet day. I'd considered getting out for an hour all afternoon and kept checking the weather forecast. I don't know why I kept going back to it as I didn't need the Met Office to tell me that it showed no signs of changing. Then it struck me, did it really matter? I quite like walking on wet days, within reason. I'd go anyway. It was quite late by the time I set off. If I got a move on, I realised, I'd be able to get in half an hour's wandering before sunset. Driving over the hills, I found myself driving through patches of fog which got ever thicker the further I got. As I crossed the watershed into Swaledale, I could see there were masses of low cloud partially obscuring the fells. As I parked up, it crossed my mind that I hadn't brought my compass with me. So much for wandering. I'd have to stick to the Land Rover tracks or, at least, be very careful how I navigated my way through what little I could see of the landscape. At least, if the worst came to the worst and I got lost, I knew that if I headed downhill I would come to a track or road that would lead me back to the car. 

The presence of the Wellington Lead Vein is marked hereabouts on the map. A short walk up a Land Rover track across the moor from where I parked is a ruined stone building. I suspect it was once part of the lead mine there. I could see it looming through the mist from the road and made for it. It strikes me now that what was an adventure for me must have been the daily trudge to work for the lead miners over a century ago. From the ruin, I could see through the mist to a line of low spoil-heaps. I decided to head towards them. They were quite close together. So long as one was always visible, it should be an easy job, I decided, to retrace my steps. I found myself walking through an area of short grass and sphagnum moss, peppered with rabbit holes. A rabbit sat in its doorway darted underground as I approached. I soon reached the furthest of the spoil-heaps. I climbed to the top. Needless to say, there was no view to speak of. Featureless moor fell away from me on all sides, dissolving away into the whiteness. In the absence of the usual features to compare it to, the landscape seemed more spectacular, in a way, than it probably would on a clear day. I descended the heap and began to retrace my steps to the ruin. A minute or two later I realised I could see its outline through the mist, off to my left, reminding me how easy it is to get disorientated in poor visibility. I adjusted my course and soon found myself back at the ruin. I decided I'd stick to the Land Rover track for the rest of the walk.

A change in the light told me that above the mist the sun was probably setting. I checked the time. I still had a few minutes before it got dark, I decided, so I headed off along the track towards Snowden Man, a boundary stone on the watershed between Swaledale and Wensleydale. I passed another spoil-heap and took a moment to wander up it. Again, the view from the top looked deceptively dramatic. I returned to the track and carried on for a few minutes more but the further I went the fainter the track got, sometimes disappearing into beds of reeds. It was gradually becoming noticeably darker, too. It was time to turn back.

Walking around that part of Grinton Moor always takes me back to my very first experiences of fell walking. Years ago, a friend suggested we went to stay at the Youth Hostel in Edale, with a view to exploring Kinder Scout. I can still vividly remember arriving at the edge of the Kinder plateau after a stiff climb up a steep, grassy slope. I'd never been anywhere quite like it or at least, if I had, I hadn't been paying attention the way I was then. It was like stepping into a different, surreal universe: the bleak expanse, the deep channels cut through the peat by the action of the water, the strange rock-shapes. I've never been anywhere quite so uncanny. People must have always felt this way about the place judging by the names they've given to the features on the hill: Ringing Rodger, Kinder Gates, Mermaid's Pool, Madwoman's Stones. Simply reading them out loud from the Ordnance Survey Map conjures up something of the magic of the place.

Grinton Moor boasts nothing quite so fey but what's left of the abandoned lead mines does lend the area an aura of its own, especially on foggy days. And there is a Youth Hostel a little way down the hill. The elements are all there to rekindle something of that sense of awe I felt years ago on Kinder Scout.

 © Solitary Cyclist, 2020     


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  2. Thank you for your kind comment about curlews. What a mix of names for the hill features in your post!