Malhamdale Local History Group
This article appeared in the Dalesman of November 1945 and the journey – according to the boy’s ages – must have been undertaken in the summer of 1944.
Over the Hills
This is an epic of youth; the true story of a hike, long and tiring, yet memorable.
One summer day my friend and I decided to hike from Settle to Malham, six miles away across the hills. Our main purpose was to see Gordale Scar. Therefore the following day, the barometer and our hopes being high, two boys, aged thirteen, and a small dog, aged one, might have been seen heading eastward. We were lightly clad and carried rucksacks, containing a few sandwiches for lunch, but no maps, no compass nor even a watch. Thus badly equipped we expected to be home about six o’clock. Our time of start was 9am in plan and 11am in fact.
Thus it happened that before we had gone two miles we felt hungry and, the call of our stomachs being stronger than that of wisdom, we ate our lunch.
By now a blazing sun was beating down upon us and soon off came our jackets, quickly followed by our shirts. The speed of our advance slackened and constant mopping up operations were necessary.
We reached the highest point of the trail to find a beautiful panorama spread before us where lazy clouds of blue smoke marked the hidden towns or villages.
The fells would be very lonely were it not for the birds. We could hear the delicious dribbling call of the curlews, the shriek of the lapwing and the zip of their wings as they dived and twisted, the ‘Stuka’ note of a plunging snipe and the perpetual trilling of twittering larks. We came across a small mountain stream, gurgling and gulping over smooth round stones, at times making quite large clear pools. These tempted us. Taking off what clothes remained on us, we bathed in the delicious coolness.
It was then that we had a rather nasty experience. We heard an explosion somewhere on our right. Now that is nothing out of the ordinary in our district where quarry-blasting is frequent, but we were very startled to hear a shrill whine over our heads. Then there was a second explosion on our left. Apparently it was a practice shoot from a nearby artillery depot, firing right over our heads. This was my first and I hope my last time under fire. It was evident that half a dozen guns were shelling very near us, and so we ‘skedaddled’. It is a most eerie sensation, to hear the gun fire and not know where the shell will land.
Soon we were approaching a heather covered ridge and hastened to it hoping to look into Malhamdale. As we neared the top a covey of grouse arose with a great clamour ahead so I ran up to see where they had come from, and in doing so I topped the rise. The sight ‘struck me all of a heap’. Spread before us like a blue map lay Malham Tarn, three and a half miles from our destination.
My friend and I always had the knack of being lost and reappearing miles from where we should be. However, we knew where we were, and striking a road we followed it. Soon we saw a steep rocky valley on our left.
“That’s Gordale valley”. Said I. My friend was doubtful. I was certain. My friend wasn't. So we went. It wasn't. It was the dry valley above Malham Cove.
We dragged ourselves wearily down the side of the Cove, which perhaps was the scene of Tom’s descent in Charles Kingsley’s “The Water Babies”. In Malham we enquired the time; it was six o’clock.
It had taken us seven hours to reach a place only six miles from our start. As a matter of fact, looking at a map later we realised that we must have travelled fourteen miles there and seven miles back.
Luckily we were able to obtain a cup of tea each in the village before we began our return journey, by the route known as Stockdales. Our legs were weary but we staggered on homewards. The sun was now fairly low. Every tree, shrub, fence and all was marked out clearly by its lengthening shadow.
We arrived home at half past eight, nine and a half hours after our start, after covering twenty one miles. No matter what the hardships of that day were, it was a day to be remembered – as an epic journey.
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