Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Wensleydale Weekend

Askrigg Common
Arrival view

Wensleydale is etched into the family psyche. It was a stop on our first family holiday with our 7 months' old daughter in a wet January. Three years later we spent a week during a cold February visiting cheese factories, local pubs, watching racehorses gallop whilst enjoying the innocent devotion of two inquisitive young girls with a third child imminent. We returned a few years later for a long weekend with family friends and walked the children 'up hill and down dale' in November rains. So when another February long weekend was suggested it seemed an appropriate season to rekindle our memories. We could wallow in the cold winds and rain and visit friendly pubs that make Wensleydale such a wild yet lightsome place.

The hills were plastered with snow as we headed down the sinuous B6259 from Kirby Stephen to Hawes alongside the Settle to Carlisle railway line. The Ure valley was swept by a raw northwesterly wind as the fading afternoon sun skipped out from behind the clouds like a searchlight picking out the snow-capped limestone scarps. The fields were filled with sheep and the roads were calmed by wide milk tankers heading for the Wensleydale Creamery in Hawes. The Yorkshire Dales National Park retains a strong agricultural identity without being dominated by the tourism embellishments that are intrusive in the Lakes and other more visited national parks. We stayed in Hilltop, a much-extended farmhouse that bore the personality of the Halifax building magnate and football aficionado who owned and had modernised the property with a builder's love of salvage and blind eye to the resulting ambiguity.

The Saturday morning run after a raucous night was more of a trial than a trail with numerous stiles to negotiate alongside the river Ure, then bogs and steep grassy hills that brought back memories of school cross country races except I was now slogging through the muddy ground rather than skipping over it. Punishment over, we spent a few hours in the Wensleydale Creamery in Hawes. The community-run enterprise had reopened the creamery after Dairycrest had closed it in an act of gross corporate negligence to the local economy. It now employs 200 people when including the delivery vehicles and visitor attractions. After sampling 20 or so cheeses, I turned down the lunch menu where every dish was laced with cheese.

A walk around the town with the rain-sodden streets still bustling with the weekenders who seem to own a lot of property in the dale. This is reflected in the antique shops, outdoor shops and pubs serving Yorkshire sized lunches. The Gayle beck gushed through the town with a force that would scare lesser mortals than the hardy folk of Hawes. We decided to visit the nearby Hardraw Force below Buttertubs pass to complete outdoor activities for the day. It was time to return to the house of fun to light the wood burning stove, watch rugby and football, play pool, table games and attack the plentiful supplies of alcoholic beverages that had been brought along.

Sunday brought another day of heavy weather but suitably attired the highlight was a Sunday walk to the nearby village of Bainbridge. A traditional Yorkshire pub provided a good range of beers, a warm room and fortified us for the hike back into the wind and a sleet storm. Wensleydale had once again provided weather that made Scotland seem almost tropical. Some of the families with children had to return home late in the day but half of the party remained for a final night. It was easier to get on the pool table and there was enough cheese and wine left for a Tupperware party, whatever that is. We returned home the following day still overawed by the solitude of the raw Wensleydale landscapes, they were sublime.

Askrigg Common
With Wallace and Gromit at Wensleydale Creamery
Remember when recycling was just done without fuss or fake sustainability
Gayle Beck in the centre of Hawes 
Hardraw Force
Passing weather
West towards Hawes and Widdale Fell
River Ure and Addlebrough
Looking towards Dodd Fell

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