It had been a while since I’d been backpacking and I was champing at the bit to get a night’s wild camping. I hadn’t really fancied it during the summer drought and hot weather, but now had two days allocated and a route planned; Garsdale to Kirkby Stephen over Wild Boar Fell. Wild Boar Fell in the northern Pennines is in Cumbria and a prominent hill close to the Settle – Carlisle railway line at its summit at Ais Gill; it has only recently been incorporated into the Yorkshire Dales National Park when the latter was extended to include part of Cumbria. I planned to camp at Sand Tarn, just below the summit, which would offer great views across to the Howgill Fells and Lake District if it were fine. The weather forecast initially looked promising, but later the words weather front in the forecast were to indicate that I was in for a soggy walk and camp. I did have second thoughts whether to go or not l, but by now I’d bought my train tickets.
I caught the train from Derby, changed at Leeds and initially the weather was fine. However as we headed north towards the Yorkshire Dales, the weather gradually deteriorated and it started raining. I got off at the lonely Garsdale station, the one time Hawes Junction where you could change trains for Hawes and Wensleydale, and where the scene was set for one of the most serious railway disasters of the twentieth century on Christmas Eve 1910, in the signal box which is still there and in use. I did wonder if I was mad as the rain was steady now; the first thing I did was to don my waterproofs in the station’s waiting room. Garsdale is little more than the old railway workers’ cottages and a few farms; I tramped over the moor north and picked up the path leading towards Uldale House and the River Rawthey, stopping on the way to photograph an old packhorse bridge during a brief pause when the rain eased off a bit.
It didn’t take long for my feet to become sodden and be squelching in my boots. After a couple of hours, the rain did ease off sufficient to eat my sandwiches and I then continued over boggy ground past Uldale House to Needlehouse Gill. I followed the stream up, pausing to take photographs at a particularly photogenic waterfall.
I climbed steeply out of the gill and tramped over gently rising moorland in low cloud and increasing drizzle to Sand Tarn, 650m above sea level, and just below the summit of Wild Boar Fell, 708m high. In the drizzle, speed was of the essence to get my tent up as quickly as possible to avoid everything getting wet. Afterwards I was desperate for a warming brew, which I made in the tent porch while huddled inside watching the rain that was now falling steadily and increasingly heavily.
After about an hour, the rain stopped and feeling decidedly chilly I went to get some water, then climbed the 60 or so metres to the summit of Wild Boar Fell to warm up. Needless to say there was nothing to see but swirling mist, a few sheep and the summit cairn. I headed down and prepared dinner; this simply required boiling water to be added to the dehydrated food. Afterwards there was time to chill before turning in for the night and the hope the weather next day would be better.
After a reasonable night’s sleep, I looked out of my tent and found that the cloud was still down, although at least it wasn’t raining. In fact there were some tantalising glimpses of the Howgill Fells to the west as the cloud cleared all too briefly. The worst thing about getting up was putting my nice dry feet and clean socks into the soaking wet boots from the day before. I had breakfast, packed everything away, and was on my way at 08:30. I climbed up to the summit of Wild Boar Fell, where the conditions were very similar to the previous day.
From the summit, I followed the path north over the Nab, Little Fell and Greenlaw Rigg. By this time the weather was improving rapidly and the sun was starting to shine offering expansive views north and west. My spirits rose considerably.
I cut down to the river Eden, which rises a few miles south and flows into the sea at the Solway Firth. I followed the river across fields and along enclosed bridlepaths into Kirkby Stephen, a small market town in what used to be Westmorland and which is quite remote from other larger towns.
I found a cafe for a late lunch then walked the couple of miles to Kirkby Stephen station. On the way I chanced upon a very scenic stretch of the river Eden where the river cascaded over a series of limestone rocks; I just had to stop to take photographs and wished I had more time to do so. A little further on, I passed the old Kirkby Stephen East station on the erstwhile Stainmore line and now subject to restoration by a heritage group. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to investigate further.
Kirkby Stephen station has been beautifully restored and is a joy to behold. It was a pleasure waiting there to catch my train and to soak up the warm sunshine for a few minutes. The journey back to Derby with a change at Leeds was uneventful.
I’d enjoyed the walk, which was about 20 miles long, often over pathless, boggy and rough terrain, despite the weather. It was the first time I’d used my new Sawyer water filter; a huge improvement on using purifying tablets.