The intermittent summer of 2016 and a series of family traumas did not allow for many opportunities to enjoy longer days out. However, the first Saturday in August promised to be a good, fine day for walking. We determined to forget recent troubles and make the most of it.
I got together a picnic and we set out for the bus stop. We almost gave up waiting for the community bus, as it was delayed by several minutes.
At last it arrived and we rode up to Blake Dean, alighting at the bridge over Graining Water.
I noticed for the first time the stonemason’s mark – ‘W. 1800’ – carved into an edge stone.
We crossed the road and descended via the rickety wooden gate into the dean. Predictably busy on a warm summer’s day, we escaped uphill via paths overgrown with bracken, away from the crowds. A lump of rocks edged an attractive grassy path, in front of a small stone cave. We enjoyed a picnic and views whilst discussing options for the walk down into the crags.
Opting to stay on the east side of the stream, we kept on the lower grassy path.
This took us above the remains of the trestle bridge i, over a rickety styal, past a disused quarry (likely again related to the temporary railway) and through what could have been an abandoned garden.
We then entered a cedar wood, awestruck by its sheer beauty. Tall trees emitted scents redolent of Christmas, interspersed with truncated and fallen trunks. We continued downstream, until things took a turn for the worse. Apparent landslips had rendered the path unnavigable in places. Springs had created bogs, very tricky to cross. Much trial and error ensued. Our feet became inevitably wet and muddy (thank goodness for waterproof sandals!)
Fed up of the constant sinking, we considered fording the stream but it did not look safe enough. Eventually we came to an old stone wall and paused to think. After some deliberation, we decided to try and ford yet another impromptu stream surrounded by bog. However, in spite of laying down a carpet of bracken, I was unable to make the leap. Meanwhile, a group of European hikers appeared, in the same predicament “on no! We will be here forever!” one of them said “yes, we are stuck” I agreed” do we have enough provisions?” This made them all laugh in that continental way.
I recognised a house further up whose garden we had traversed on our very first walk on this side of the water some years before. We headed upwards in search of a path to said house.
Alas, we searched in vain but we did eventually find a safe crossing point after which the path became easy going, eventually merging with an access road which again I remembered from our first foray in this specific part of the wood.
Back in familiar territory, we expected the last leg through the crags to be plain sailing. However, a flood-ravaged bridge necessitated another wet, muddy feet experience as we had to use the original Victorian path underneath the cliffs.
At Gibson Mill, we were so late even the toilets had been locked! Exacerbated, we commandeered one of the deserted picnic tables to partake of apple pie and pop. From there, we took the quick way back along the driveway to the main gate and along Midgehole Road and onto town.
I Later that month, Phil came across a pamphlet by the University of Leeds with some interesting facts and photos about the history of Hardcastle Crags. Amongst other things, there is a fantastic picture of a train crossing the trestle bridge just below Blake Dean: http://www.see.leeds.ac.uk/misc/scienceandtourism/Final%20copy%20leaflets/Industrial%20Heritage%20leaflet.pdf
On the first Sunday in October, we again rode the community bus up to Blake Dean. We spent a few minutes rambling in the dean. Rowan trees in full berry looked beautiful against the early autumn backdrop as water sparkled under a blue sky.
We then took our more usual route back down. Some very churned up muddy bits on undulating parts made the path rather tricky in places. I became quite anxious at one point and sat down in a mossy glade to recover. We spotted lots of mushrooms and a triangle-shaped rock we had not noticed before. Refreshed, we continued down and noted that the bridges and paths damaged in the floods had all been fixed. It seemed to take quite a while to reach Gibson Mill so as usual, it was shut.
A cloud of midges descended on us as we sat on the picnic bench finishing our flask of coffee. Again, we opted for the top track to reach the gate quickly and onto Midgehole road. I stubbed my toe 3 times on the riverside path (cursing the walking shoes I was wearing rather than sandals I had worn since April) and felt the need to stop once more on a bench near one of the ‘beaches’ for a short rest. Phil suggested I look for archaeology but all I found were pieces of a boring jug!