Sunday, February 10, 2008

Postcard from the Yorkshire Dales (10)

Saturday, 9th February 2008

A delightful meal and good bottle of Barolo last evening at the award winning Italian restaurant, La Locanda, in Gisburn, Lancashire, were in need of being removed from the waistline. With a cloudless sky and temperatures approaching a remarkable 14°C, the stage was set for another walk.

Staying within Malhamdale, our route began in the village of Airton, wandered across pastureland to Kirkby Malham and then on to Hanlith, before joining the River Ayre for the journey back to Airton.

Although only 4¼ miles, the walk was full of interest, not least because of the magnificent views afforded by the clear skies. Rye Loaf Hill, Pikedaw, Fountains Fell, Malham Cove, Malham Moor, Gordale Scar, Weets Top and Hanlith Moor provided the scenery in front of us, whilst behind stood the imposing Pendle Hill. Contrary to the surrounding areas, a light mist circled around the base of Pendle Hill, giving it an air of mystery quite in keeping with the folklore of witches thereabouts.

The route from Airton soon intersected the historic Kirk Gait: an ancient path, trodden by the inhabitants of Otterburn each Sunday as their quickest way of covering the three miles to church. The pastureland was boggy in places and I marvelled at the thought of those devout people tackling this walk in all weathers; the women no doubt in long skirts and everyone without the benefit of the modern waterproof walking boots we take for granted.

Although spring was tentatively making its presence known, with snowdrops in abundance, daffodils making their first appearance, and buds starting to form on the surrounding trees, the scene was still a reflection of the starkness of winter. The bare branches of the trees and bushes, broken only by an occasional splash of vivid red from small clumps of surviving hawthorn berries, provided a skeletal foreground to the wonderful variety of greens and yellows of the pastures of the lowlands and hillsides. The novice artist in me started to imagine mixing the various paints from my palette as, in my mind’s eye, I painted a watercolour of the scene before me.

The age of these small hamlets is advertised by the dates on the lintels of several properties, giving a sense of timelessness to the environs. In Kirkby Malham, a cottage with mullioned windows had a date stone from 1637, whilst in Hanlith, Hanlith Hall dates from 1668, a cottage in Airton bears the date 1696, and the Friends’ Meeting House in Airton was built in 1700. The path re-entering Airton runs between the River Ayre and an old mill-race, once belonging to an old cotton mill (now converted into flats).

As one passes through all these places, a real sense of the past is a constant companion. With the surrounding countryside, there is a continuous reminder that we are mere visitors to this wonderful landscape, which has witnessed centuries of change imposed onto the backdrop of its timeless presence. It is a salutary reminder of our own impermanence and relative insignificance.

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