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W. R. Mitchell 15 January 1928 – 7 October 2015

It is with great sadness that we have learned of the death of Bill Mitchell whose contribution to public awareness about the delights of, primarily, the Yorkshire Dales but also Cumbria through his own writings and his many years as editor of Dalesman is immeasurable. He was a true gentleman in every sense of that word. He was a personal friend of AW and needed no persuasion to make a contribution to the first thought by the Wainwright Society in 2005 of how to promote the idea of a re-creation of ‘A Pennine Journey’.

The following article would have been his contribution and reflects his love and knowledge of the Journey’s last two stages from Sedbergh to Settle.

Contribution of W R Mitchell 1,541 words

DAY 17 – Sedbergh to Ingleton
AW by-passed Sedbergh on the penultimate day of his major hike. He walked eastwards to Dent Town on an evening when the wind had a keen edge and he was pelted by showers of hail. I walked on a spring morning, crossing the river at Rash Bridge, one of three narrow bridges at the approaches to the town. AW noted that on either side of Dentdale were “high-topped, monotonous fells”. For me, they were sunlit and tonally varied. After some road walk, I was on a riverside section of the Dales Way. For AW, ere Dent Town was reached, the valley was whitened by hail. I walked in a lush green world.

From above a craggy fellside near Gawthrop came the bass-baritone voice of a raven, reminding me that Barbondale lay to the south. The Middletons of the upper Lune kept their lands by rendering a cast of falcons to my lord at Kendal. It is more than likely they acquired the fledgling birds from Barbondale, where the nest is now guarded by conservationists. The still air shivered with the trill of a curlew. A dipper, perched on a waterside boulder, flexed its legs as it slowly turned, as though acknowledging the applause of an unseen audience. 

At Dent, AW had “sought the shelter of a strange roof”, dining on fish that had their last swim in a pool of HP sauce. The little town enchanted him. Loaned a book about Dentdale, he read about the old hand-knitting tradition. It was at Dent that Bob Swallow and I arrived at the car park to meet AW and his wife Betty. She fancied a good walk. AW remained in the car, anxious in our absence not to be recognised and pestered by strangers. We traversed Flintergill and turned left to stride along the accommodation road, passing near to Great Coum. Here a boulder set in a meeting of drystone walls marked the (pre-1974) boundary between the West Riding, Lancashire and Westmorland. 

On the last leg of his 1938 sortie, AW did not climb Whernside, which he considered somewhat dull, “no more than a long high moor”. In his Walks in Limestone Country, he found the traverse of the south-west ridge exhilarating, a tonic for jaded minds. From Dent, I did not walk directly towards Whernside, starting this section from the river bridge, then following a path through riverside fields. A moderate number of gates at the squeeze-stiles were once classifiable as “welly gates”, the hinges formed of the soles of redundant wellingtons. On our jaunt with Betty Wainwright, Bob and I met a farmer wearing one black, one green welly. We thought this was  unusual. “Nay,” the farmer replied, “my lad has a pair just like ’em.”

For the ascent of Whernside, I sought a path behind Whernside Manor, a gaunt building cradled by the slopes of Whernside and the lofty ridges linking Great Coum to Gragareth. Formerly known as West House, this property was in disrepair in 1940 – not long after AW’s hike – when Sir Albert Braithwaite restored and renamed it. For a time served as a caving centre, being handy to several limestone systems. As their entrances lie close to water-level, exploration was restricted by weather conditions.

Initially, in my climb to the airy summit of Whernside, at 2,419 ft the highest point in the Yorkshire Dales National Park, I was on the the Craven Way, a packhorse route of great age. The Way climbs to Great Wold, traverses a limestone terrace, then drops to the head of Force Gill.  On the upward climb, I was in an area scored by V-shaped valleys gills – a world of peat-hags and rush-bobs. Skylarks rose like feathered helicopters. The fell sheep glanced at me with eyes that seemed as ancient as the rocks.

Several tarns lapped and fretted on impervious gritstone beds. When I first viewed them, on a spring day half a century ago, the area was vibrant with nesting black-headed gulls, the eggs of which had been collected as food for humans in the Second World War. Whernside is not an easy fell to get lost on because a fine drystone wall runs the whole length of the ridge. I looked down, down, down to where a diesel-hauled coal train was crossing Ribblehead Viaduct, the most conspicuous feature on the Settle-Carlisle railway. 

My path dipped to the Ingleton glens. AW had stood in a world of “dazzling splendour” when, from a perch on a rocky bluff, near Thornton Force, he beheld this miniature Niagara in a burst of sunlight. Later, a glimpse of the steepled tower of Thornton-in-Lonsdale church reminded me of the local associations of Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of super-sleuth Sherlock Holmes. Doyle’s mother lived for some years at nearby Masongill. Doyle, a believer in fairies, considered that some of the local potholes and caves might be among their haunts. The author of many “whodunnits” married Louisa Hawkins at Thornton church in 1885.

DAY 18 – Ingleton to Settle
AW wrote little about the final leg of his great hike, which was directly from Ingleton to Settle. He battled across Newby Moor against squalls and rain. The newly-devised walk including an ascent of Ingleborough from Ingleton, via Crina Bottom, which he included in his set of limestone country walks, I plodded up the most famous of the Pennine flat-tops. AW called it “the undisputed overlord of the limestone country.” The steepest bit is a collar of limestone surrounding the gritstone summit, where a windbreak and view indicator – commemorating the accession of the present Queen - stands near an ordnance column. The first feature to be seen is a heap of stone, which is what remains of a castellated tower or hospice erected at the expense of Hornby Roughsedge when he became lord of the manor of Bentham. The hospice was opened and partly wrecked by drunken workmen on the same day.

I quit the summit for Little Ingleborough. As I descended a long flight of stone steps towards Gaping Gill, I pondered on what AW would have thought of such an innovation. Coarse grasses – what a local squire calls “sheep-resistant grasses” - covered most of the hillsides. Not so long ago, when sheep-grazing was less intense, they had a generous coverlet of heather. Ingleborough had a purple huge when the bonnie heather bloomed.  Gaping Gill gave the impression the hill was yawning. I gazed into the head of a shaft that, 340 ft deep, is a rent in the roof of the main chamber, which is of cathedral size.

So through Trow Gill, a limestone gorge carved by melt-water in glacial times, and across the head of Clapdale to green lanes, flanked by limestone walls. Thwaite Lane offered a view of Norber – the north hill – and the celebrated huge pieces of rock wrenched from their beds by glacial ice and deposited on limestone. The erosion of limestone, except immediately under the great rocks, left some of them perched.

Austwick, a linear village, has three peaks of its own – Norber, Moughton and Oxenber. Another green way between walls, beginning at the bridge over Austwick beck, led round the edge of well-wooded Oxenber to the tucked-away hamlet of Feizor (pronounced Faizer). I heard the exhuberant oo-ip calls of cock lapwings that were putting on a display of aerobatics above their nesting area. Green fields and bone-white walls offered a striking contrast.  

I was in Edward Elgar Country. The composer, when young and uncertain of the form his musical career might take, walked hereabouts with his good friend Charles William Buck, a medical practitioner. They had met at a soire following a medical conference at Worcester. They remained friends – mostly pen-friends – for the rest of their lives. In the 1880s, Buck introduced Elgar to the limestone country, to the waterfalls roaring out like prophets in the wilderness and to Giggleswick Scars, from which he first beheld Ingleborough and the Lakeland fells, blue-grey in the distance. Elgar treasured a photograph of Stainforth bridge, which spans the Ribble like a rainbow set in stone.

I crossed some prime limestone country between Feizor and Stackhouse. In this free-draining terrain, dewponds of puddled clay were made to keep water on the surface for the benefit of farm stock. The rocky areas were spangled with diminutive flowers. Wheatears bobbed and chacked, then played hide and seek along the walls. A view of North Ribblesdale took in the leonine form of Penyghent, which has a Welsh name in an area where Norse names predominate. 

A footpath from near Stackhouse to Settle Bridge provided a fitting final stretch. It was yet another bright spring day, punctuated by the trilling of curlew. Green woodpeckers gave their yaffling call from a parklike countryside beside the scars. The birds were clearly heard – but not seen. Eleven days after leaving Settle, on his 1938 hike, AW had breasted a hill to view the town. He must have looked like an old tramp. Ill-prepared for a walk of such length, he now had unkempt clothes and low shoes with flapping soles. He described himself as “a spectre from a midden” but, though slurring, to keep his shoes intact, he moved in triumph.

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