I started with the vague idea of holing up in a country inn somewhere, hiking, writing and drinking beer. My requirements were pretty simple:
- Had to be outside of a major city. Preferably a small town. Preferably with 2000 people or less.
- But easily accessible by train and/or bus.
- With hiking trails in the area.
- Maybe in a National Park?
- In a pub. Or at the very least a place I didn't have to go outside to get a drink if all else failed.
So I booked the room and train tickets and had a couple of weeks to look forward to it.
I took Friday and Monday off work because the bus didn't run on Sundays and I wanted to take advantage of my time there - two full days of hiking plus travel days. I arrived in Kettlewell early in the afternoon on Friday, checked in and immediately headed out.
Now, National Parks in the UK are a little different than they are in the US at least as far as trails go. The parkland was formed in the 50s, but obviously people have been living there far longer - for thousands of years. So it's a full, working rural area where people make a living from their farms. It's not like hiking through Yellowstone or the parks in Washington - it's more like hiking through rural Ohio, through people's fields and pastures and sometimes their backyards.
The trails vary greatly as well, from paved one-lane roads to unpaved country roads to bridleways for horses to tracks through fields - sometimes just a bit of trampled grass. And they aren't always well-marked; more than once I got lost trying to figure out where I was supposed to go next, because signs tend to hide or have been knocked down. Other times, they're just blank or very hard to read, or so general that you can't quite tell where you're supposed to be.
Kettlewell is in a valley (as most towns are) and most of the trails head up into the hills so you can get out on the moors. The first day I started winding up a trail and made it as far as a farm before I turned around - I didn't realize that I was actually on the right trail, I thought I'd ended up on private property. Turning around was damn lucky though because soon after I did a storm rolled in and started dumping a sleet and rain combination on me. By the time I got back, I was soaked.
The next day I picked up a poncho from the helpful village store along with a guidebook to walks in the area - which combined with the ordinance survey maps I had with me was perfect for getting around, because the OS maps helpfully do not label any trails, and the book used fairly recognizable landmarks.
The rain was heavy. Really heavy. Heavy like sleet, then hail, then heavy English snow.
Day 3 I decided to do a southern route, which would take me not up a mountain but across the high moors, through some forests and back along some ruins. The weather was much more cooperative - even though I had the poncho there was no rain, and the walk was incredible. The high moors were absolutely deserted, although I did meet a couple of other hikers later in the trip. The climb was gradual; it took about an hour and a half to get to the top but I stayed up for another hour and a half, including the time I got lost and ended up way the hell off course but in the middle of an amazing moor, with more rabbits than I've ever seen before in the wild. I also saw hawks, although they were smaller than their American counterparts, and the corpses of rabbits - so there were probably foxes around as well, even if I didn't see them.
In all, I clocked about 20 miles between all 3 hikes, wrote around 10,000 words, took about 10 pages of notes for a couple of projects, and came back completely relaxed and refreshed. It was exactly what I needed, and today was one of the easiest and hardest days at work: hard to go back, but easy because I was so recharged and chill.
One or two of these a year and I'll be a much happier camper. Hiker. Whatever.
Complete Yorkshire Dales National Park Picture Set on Flickr.