Monday, March 06, 2006

Postcard from the Yorkshire Dales (4)

Saturday, 4th March 2006

The village of Clapham nestles in the foothills of Ingleborough, one of the three great peaks of the Yorkshire Dales. It is a popular tourist destination, offering ample parking within a National Park car park, a picturesque, leafy village scene, one pub and a scattering of tourist shops and clothing outlets for the walker.

A small river divides the village lengthwise. Today our path took us up the eastern side, past rows of stone cottages and the parish church of St James. Largely rebuilt in 1814, the tower of the church is thought to date back to the late Middle Ages.

Ingleborough Hall is nearby. Once the home of the famous botanist, Reginald Farrer, but now an outward-bound education centre, it was through part of the Ingleborough Estate that our walk commenced. There is a 50p charge to use the first part, known as the Ingleborough Estate Nature Trail. This is a small fee to pay for what is a well-maintained path, suitable for all ages and abilities.

Initially, the trail passes through deciduous woodland, soon running alongside an attractive lake. Yesterday had seen a heavy snowfall. Although the thaw had now commenced, many of the trees still carried lines of snow along their horizontal branches as well as having it piled up against the lower trunks where it had been driven by the wind. Indeed, there was the scenic comparison of trees on the trailside of the path having almost lost their covering of snow whilst, across the frozen lake, the woodland was a whiteout of snow and frost. Set against a clear blue sky and midday sunshine, the whole landscape was most pleasing to the eye.

After leaving the lake behind, a narrow wooded valley is joined. The one other attraction en route being a man made folly known as the Grotto: a small limestone cavern with a doorway and two windows, set into the hillside. Today it offers shelter, but little else.

Approximately one mile from the start, the nature trail ends and one passes into a narrow grassy valley, complete with stream. Four hundred yards further on, the entrance to the Ingleborough Cave system is reached. Here, sheltered by the limestone rock and fed by the melt water tricking down from the hills, icicles had formed, some reaching two feet or more in length.

On this occasion, our walk was to go no further and we retraced our steps back to Clapham. However, the path does continue onto the fells and up to the large hole known as Gaping Gill, an enormous pothole, which connects with the cave system at Ingleborough. So vast is the cavern that it is claimed to be able to accommodate York Minster. Beyond Gaping Gill, one can ascend Ingleborough itself, the summit being a distance of four miles from the start of the walk in Clapham.

* * *

One of the gems of the ancient market town of Skipton is the cinema. The Plaza Cinema, next door to Freemasons Hall, has defied all modernisation attempts. Complete with balcony and two-manual organ, it offers a step back into yesteryear; a cinema experience with a difference in this otherwise high-tech world.

Tonight we were there to see the film Casanova, a lively, amusing romp set as a period piece within the backdrop of Venice. With five people behind us on the balcony and another couple below in the stalls, the cinema could almost be called ‘crowded’, as it is not unknown for us to be the only patrons present. Fortunately, the lad who doubles as box office attendant, sweet vendor and, quite possibly, projectionist, no longer appears on the balcony with a tray of ice cream during the interval. When he did so in the past, one felt obliged to make a purchase if only in recognition of his attempt at hospitality. Otherwise, he would patiently stand there, unwanted and ignored, until the end of the interval. Such are the quaint charms of the Dales.

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