Okay, so perhaps it is a bit silly to compare my hiking endeavours to Sir Edmund Hillary’s achievements. But his thoughts about conquering ourselves certainly do apply.
When I was a teenager, I was chronic-bronchitis-ridden, physically weak child who constantly felt he “couldn’t do much”. I lived in the shadow of this for many years. Starting three or so years ago, I returned to nature and through persistent regular walking, building in longer and longer distances, indeed conquering myself, pushing myself harder and harder. The sense of achievement is that this brings is almost as overwhelming as the nature surrounding me on these walks. It is unlike anything else I can describe.
“There is no victory without loss.” I remember this line from Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. For my context, I can simply say, there is no achievement without hardship, and that’s what stays in mind after that trip as much as the beautiful sights I saw on my way.
This first day on the Dales Way starts in Leeds. Actually, the first miles of this walk is the Leeds Dales Way link – Dales Ways itself starts in Ilkley. I started at the Leeds train station at about 7pm. After about 2 miles, the route takes the walker through a series of parks and nature areas right in the middle of Leeds. Really pleasant – the images below are from Meanwood Valley Trail, east of the Weetwood area of Leeds, about 4 miles in. Lovely area, beautifully maintained with lots of very picturesque bridges, ponds; exceptionally quiet and well shielded from the city traffic.
For the next two miles, the trail snakes its way northwards to eventually leave Leeds behind it. Just before going into more proper countryside, with Allwoodley to the east of the path), I came across this amazing pond in a wood.
Now towards Eccup Reservoir, just north of Leeds, the woods give way to fields and the wider space.
The trail takes one west of the reservoir, although unfortunately not close enough to see the water. Instead, past a variety of woods and field to moves towards Eccup Lane. A mile or so later, one is greeted by some wonderful open views of the countryside nearby and the hills to the north.
Shortly after the trail turns west with similar views to the one above to one’s right. For about 5 or so minute, however, myself and a pair of cyclists were held up at a farm as the farmers there were dealing with a huge amount of truly unruly sheep unwilling to following instructions!
Now, 10 miles in, the path climbs gently up towards the village of Bramhope. This is the view from the way there, looking in the north-easterly direction.
I took my first proper break in Bramhope on a bench there, to eat and drink before heading further west. The route goes past some fields before eventually reaching Chevin Forest Country Park, which is well-maintained young forest (planted, according to one sign, in 1960s). As I was passing through it, this was a rather striking view towards the north.
The early morning had been very sunny, so I did appreciate some cloudy, but not rainy, time. Once out of the forest, the route soon crosses a more major road and goes steeply up – continuing westwards – Miller Lane, providing one with lovely views eastwards.
A little bit further, the path continues upwards towards Beacon Hill, greeting the walker with fantastic views towards the north as you can see below.
Now 15 miles into the hike, I was beginning to feel like a proper lunch break, but I wanted to find a nice spot to take it, but felt that I had at least another hour in me before definitely needing to do so. Now I was descending towards the village of Menston (with Otley to the north of me). Just past one of the last houses in west Menston, I was rewarded with this view – that combination of pastures and miles of unblocked views so often “gets me”.
A lovely quiet path takes one away from Menston in north-westerly direction towards Moor Road where the first properly steep ascent follows and the truly spectacular area begins: Ilkley Moor. This – below – was where I took my lunch break (about 30 minutes or so, taking my hiking boots off, letting my feet breathe a bit). Can you blame me for picking the spot?
Once well nourished and re-energised, I put my boots back on and followed up, soon walking a ridge overlooking the area around. I’ll let photos speak for themselves.
After 2 miles between where I took my lunch and the last photo above – the path going gently up, one goes past a rocky area before the path taking a quick descent now with views of Ilkley down below. This spot had a postcard-style quality to it.
A very quick and steep descent (this I find more taxing on the legs than going up) took me to The Tarn, a very beautifully maintained pond, clearly designed for those lucky enough to be living in Ilkley to be able to come to and relax.
Soon after, the trail skirts Ilkley from the south (this is roughly where the Dales Way link from Leeds ends and the actual Dales Way trail begins) – going past the town very very close. What a town to live in with areas such as this immediately available to the inhabitants! The reservoir in the photo below is called Panorama Reservoir – you can see why it’s called that, I think!
Now the path leaving the Ilkley area, going westwards (and up) towards Windgate Nick, the walker can constantly enjoy the views of the area to the north, with the first hints of the Dales north west of here. As I was walking this bit, the clouds were moving away and it was becoming very sunny again.
The last photo above is at Windgate Nick where the trail turns sharply northwards (an amazingly steep descent towards the village of Addingham). The first photo below is from just a minute or so down from Windgate Nick; the other about 10 minutes later.
This was already 25 miles behind me, with the final 9 miles to go!
I should mention something else. Walking past Otley and Ilkley, meant lots of walkers from the two settlements, were on the trail – not overcrowded, but it was less peaceful than a peace-seeking creature such as myself craves. Now, past Ilkley, where the terrain was rougher, I was surrounded by peace, quiet and the stunning views all around. I would stop from time to time to take in the beauty of this area. My soul was definitely being nourished again.
The route goes past the small village of Small Banks before reaching (part of it an old Roman Road) Addingham. Crossing Addingham to its western side was quick and easy, but climbing Moor Road immediately after (2 miles of quite steep ascent), particularly now, 29 miles in!, was not so easy. Lots of pastures around in this area all around.
As is often the case, I did not see the extremely beautiful views to come just a mile or so later! – it seems that the best part of the walk was left for the last!
It started on High Edge, the area right where the ascent of Moor Lane essentially ends. Now, the Dales are visible in the distance – the setting sun helped make the view even more picturesque and enchanting. I felt like I was standing in front of a painting. And, of course, the growing sense of achievement – having been walking for 30 miles now – only added to the sensation. Things look better when you’re achieving things.
Shortly after this spot, the trail passes Height Lane and it follows a wide dirt road, with a set of woods to one’s right, limiting the views for a while. But eventually begins the descent to my destination – Skipton, on the very edge of the Yorkshire Dales – and from about the 31st mile, a set of jaw-drop, breathtaking views began. It was impossible not to stop and just take these creations in, in sheer amazement. Although Skipton was quite close by at this point, it felt remote. That sensation that Ancient Britons would have had – a human being a part of nature, as opposed to the modern civilisation’s pervading view that nature is there for us (in Paul Kingsnorth’s words, like some kind of “backdrop to our activities”) – was here with me and I stopped for a good few minutes to let it overwhelm me.
About 10 or 15 minutes walking later, Skipton came properly into view, with the superb views of the hills on the horizon above and beyond it.
5 minutes later I was in Skipton, invigorated, elated, fulfilled and accomplished. 34 miles walked from a city through enchanting and glorious countryside and amongst majestic hills.