with Paul Heppleston
We're fortunate in the northern hemisphere to have so many signs of new growth and new life enhancing our Easter experience. So it was in Malhamdale the week after Easter, where we counted lambs in hundreds. They were everywhere, a real delight to us, though no doubt their husbandry made great demands on the sheep farmers thereabouts.
Our base was in a self-catering cottage in Airton, which was a Quaker village in the 17th century. Indeed our home was called Ellis Barn and was just that - the barn of the property built over 300 years ago by William Ellis, a follower of George Fox. Opposite our dwelling is the Quaker Meeting House, still used today.The Quaker influence was around us for much of our time; on our first walk, a circular route centred on Otterburn nr Gargrave, we could see Pendle Hill away to the west, made famous by George Fox in the mid 17th century for that was where he preached in the open air and drew so many to his cause, expressed in
those well-known words used by Friends - 'there is God in everyone'. That first walk took us over moorland and pasture, by tumbling streams, through woods and onto open farmland with wide expansive views.
The second day drew us to the 'classic' area around Malham, a wall-filled, bare landscape characterised by one of the most distinctive rock formations in our islands known as limestone pavement. There are other examples of it in Britain, including a stretch by
Grange-over-Sands in Cumbria where Journeying took a group in 2009. Limestone pavement also forms a core feature in the Burren (Co Clare), another future Journeying destination. At Malham Cove we found ourselves in company, for the area around the Cove draws climbers from all over the UK and beyond. It is a dramatic rock formation on which rock climbers find they have numerous onlookers. On our pleasant and warm afternoon the RSPB were also there to offer telescopic vantage points from which we could see nesting Peregrines. Earlier that day we had struggled against a cold and drizzle-laden North wind as we walked towards the hills which carry the Monks' Trod (path) over to Arncliffe. This was all part of the huge estate of Fountains Abbey in the 14th century. Our walk also included the desolate Malham Tarn, a unique habitat on the shores of which sits one of the Field Studies Council centres for environmental education.
A complete change of scene - and weather - took us the following day by train to Ribblehead where we spent a couple of hours exploring a wild and remote area of N Yorkshire in which is the famous Ribblehead Viaduct, an astonishing feat of civil engineering completed in 18XX. Around us there were the Three Peaks - Ingleborough, Whernside and Pen-y-Ghent, classic climbs for many. From the 'gents' in a local hotel you can see the viaduct clearly, surely a unique view when one needs some relief. We were fortunate to visit this lonely railway station and receive the gracious attention of the gentleman who looks after it very lovingly; only recently has the future of the Settle-Carlisle railway been assured.
Littondale was our destination on day four - a gentler walk along a glaciated valley with the delightful River Skirfare flowing over flat bedrock. From here we could see Pen-y-Ghent once more, but from the other (eastern) side; we knew that "just over there beyond that hill is yesterday's Ribblehead viaduct....". In this valley field barns, so distinctive if the Yorkshire Dales, abounded; stone walls, squeeze stiles and gates helped to add charm and character to the landscape of this delightful dale. We had reached it via a hair-raising drive along a narrow, climbing road over the moorlands along the side of a deep valley leading to Arncliffe. We would come this way again tomorrow.
The geography of our part of the Dales was such that we lived half-way up Malhamdale, with Kirkby Malham to our north and Malham village north of that.To the south was Gargrave, a meeting point for the Leeds-Carlisle rail line and the Leeds-Liverpool canal. To the east of Gargrave is Skipton, the main town of the area and from here we drove north on the following day towards Grassington; we were in Wharfedale. North of Grassington was Kettlewell and then Buckden, right in the centre of the dale. From here we began our walk on the final day, starting with a steady climb, but flattening on the contours for almost the whole of the rest of the way.
The scenery was delightful and varied, from rushing streams to farmland to moorland - daffoldils. We lunched overlooking 'the' classic view of Wharfedale and then continued along the valley into Langstrothdale, descending down to the Wharfe and walking back along the Dales Way to the ever-charming little church of Hubberholme. Daffodils adorned the well-kept graveyard and inside the church was a memorial to J B Priestley, who is buried nearby. Also in the church is one of the finest examples of the work of Robert Thompson, the 'mouse-man' of Kilburn. He was a wood craftsman of the highest standard using a small carved mouse as his signature. In this church every pew was hand-carved by his firm and there are well over a dozen small mice to be found climbing up pews, sitting on choir stalls and hiding in nooks and crannies. The danger is that people go there to search for mice, rather than search for God. Best to do both. Thompson's company still continues the work today.
The day ended with a pearl of great price, as we spent two hours at Scargill House, a retreat centre which is going through a resurrection-time. It closed in 2008 after almost 50 years of inspiring people, offering them a chance to share life in communityand find God in each oither. It has now been re-launched as the Scargill Movement (http://www.scargillmovement.org/) with links to Lee Abbey in Devon. We were welcomed by Margaret who had come to Islay with Pilgrim Adventure in 2008; she was kindness itself. A long-time resident of Grassington and an original member of the [non-resident] community at Scargill, she enthused about the new growth that was emerging through Scargill's re-launch; Adrian Plass is also associated with the house for two years, helping it to reach a new maturity under a new Warden. Our time of worship in the iconic Swiss-style chapel was the highlight for many of us and created a deep desire to return and be part of the place in some way; surely it was a God-dwelling if ever there was one.
A final meal at the local hotel in Kirkby Malham and a leisurely start the following morning brought us, in stages, to our points of farewell. And, as we experienced in our final worship the night before, we were grateful beyond measure for the creation of this ephemeral community of friends, sustaining eavh other in a unique way. Just as with other journeys we realised that we would not create this mixture of people again; that fact alone was cause for thankfulness - that it had happened at all in our lives and would continue to bless us in the days and months to come, having shared such a special time together.
Airton daffodilsMalham CoveLimestone pavement, Malham TOP
nr Malham Cove
Chapel at Scargill House, Kettlewell