Flask projectile, mice and the dead sheep up-stream

Post 12: 9 April 1990: Day 2 – Kettlewell Youth Hostel to Dent Youth Hostel – 21 miles

In the morning Gary tried to lift his rucksack onto his back and, as the dormitory was too small even to swing a cat, succeeded only in propelling his flask in my direction. It dropped short, landing on the wooden boarded floor with a tinkling crash, shattering into tiny particles.

‘Where were the carpets?’ Gary said. This was a basic category hostel in 1990 and carpets were not part of the package.

I spent a good half hour patching up the blisters on my heels with ‘second skin’, something akin to a jelly-fish squeezed between plastic sheets. Gary was as impatient as ever to get away and, despite reminding him that there was an outdoor shop nearby where he could get a replacement drinks container, he couldn’t wait the five minutes for it to open. This decision was to change his life for the next six months in a way he could never have imagined.

The next section of the walk along the River Wharfe was relatively flat and we started in good spirits. Ladder stiles were in such abundance I thought I was doing the Grand National and each one gave rise to moans and groans as we climbed up, did a 360 degree turn at the top, then descended backwards. We sped past the lovely village of Buckden, nestled below the imposing mountain of Buckden Pike, and arrived at Hubberholme with its fine church and inn.

Hubberholme Bridge and the George Inn

Hubberholme’s claim to fame is that author and dramatist J. B. Priestley (1894-1984) loved the Dales and found Hubberholme to be one of the smallest and pleasantest places in the world; there is a plaque dedicated to him, his ashes being buried nearby. Denis Healey, Chancellor of the Exchequer between 1974-9 and Deputy Leader of the Labour party between 1980-3 also spoke very highly of this area of the Dales. While politicians cannot always be believed, on this occasion he was correct; from Hubberholme along the Wharfe there is some lovely riverside walking. Another notable feature of Hubberholme is that almost all the woodwork in the church is modern oak, made by Robert Thompson of Kilburn in 1934 and his signature, a tiny mouse, can be discreetly identified on many of the pieces. Why someone should put mice everywhere is beyond me as most people in the country hate the site of mice and try to kill the vermin; however, the ‘mouse man’ has done rather well with his ‘logo’.

Having walked 6 miles, the lovely hamlet of Yockenthwaite was reached where it was time for our morning refreshment; I took out my flask and made a brew of tea. Now it is important to realise that on a long-distance walk it is everyman for himself and you only pack enough food and drink for yourself to see you through to the end of the day’s walk. At this point, Gary wandered down to the stream and, not having brought his fishing rod, I could only imagine he was going for a wash. He bent down on all fours with his head in the stream.

‘What are you doing?’ I shouted.

No response. Had he decided to end it all there and then by drowning himself?

‘Hey, what are you doing?’ I screamed.

He dragged his head out of the freezing water and spat out, ‘Just having a drink.’

‘What, out of there?’ I said horrified, pointing at the stream.

‘Yeh, what’s wrong?’

‘Haven’t you noticed this is sheep country, there’s bound to be a dead one up-stream.’

As usual, taking no notice of my advice, he said, ‘Don’t be daft, this water is alright’ and plunged his head down to the stream to have another gulp. With no container to carry drinks and no sign of a Yorkshire Dales oasis or pub, I suppose this was the next best alternative. I thought to myself he should have waited until the outdoor shop opened in Kettlewell and bought a drinks container. Alf Wight the real James Herriot, the world’s most famous vet, used to drink from streams in the 1940’s when on his rounds. He ate Wensleydale cheese and digestive biscuits, which I think must have sterilised the water. Gary did not have any water steriliser and the incident was soon forgotten as we began the ascent towards Cam Houses at 1450 feet.

Peach, a pie, the Dales Way Technique (not included in the Kama Sutra) and ‘hot feet’

Post 11. A further mile on we reached Grassington with its many pubs, tea shops, cafés and craft shops, a good excuse to have another rest and sample the peach ice-cream on sale. You don’t have to go to America these days to try a variety of ice creams. Sitting on some benches around a tree in bright sunshine, we chatted contentedly to a couple who were convinced that eight miles walking was their limit and that to walk twenty-four miles in a day was madness. Putting on a brave face, I said it was just practice that was required, not telling them that it was Gary’s stupid idea to walk this far in one day. They were suitably impressed.

As we climbed out of Grassington towards Conistone Pie, the weather was kind to us and the views magnificent. Conistone Pie incidentally is not a variety of Yorkshire Dales steak and kidney pie, but is in fact a natural limestone hummock topped with a cairn.

Conistone Pie
Conistone Pie

We had now walked twenty-one miles and the blisters on my heels were rubbing like sandpaper on nails. The only way I could ease the pain was by cursing Gary under my breath, especially when he kept increasing the pace. At twenty-three miles we passed Scargill House, a Christian retreat and I was sorely tempted to seek refuge there. However, remembering that there was at least one pub in Kettlewell we hastened, or rather, hobbled on. The last mile was agony as the rubbing of flesh accompanied every step. At last we arrived at the youth hostel to see a stuffed model of a climber attached to ropes trying to scale the front wall of the hostel. Was this some kind of sick joke indicating that to gain entrance we would have to do the same? Fortunately not and, as it was 5.00pm, we were let in.

I spent most of the evening with my ‘hot feet’ propped high up in the air on pillows and blankets to ease the ‘foot pounding’, blisters and other aches and pains. This has now become known as ‘The Dales Way Technique’. So beneficial was the treatment that I managed to hobble in trainers without socks to one of the three pubs. Blisters need air and I needed the pub.

The three backpackers Gary had assaulted earlier had already drunk half a bottle of whisky and fortunately, contrary to our earlier thoughts, they were not former paras or SAS. One of them, a bus driver from Nottingham, was off sick from work with back trouble, although he failed to give a satisfactory explanation of how he could walk with a huge backpack. Another was a Canadian mountain biker and basketball player and the third one was a depressed teacher, no doubt glad to get away from his pupils. Returning to the youth hostel, we discovered our dormitory was rather small and the sound insulation to the next dormitory was poor. A group of youngsters were having lively discussions next door until 1.00am and sleeping was difficult; however, as youth hostels are essentially for youngsters I prefer not to complain. I was young once, although it is difficult to remember.

A death on the walk, birds galore and an encounter with the SAS

Post 10: After dragging Gary from his newspaper, we continued along the delightful River Wharfe reaching the ‘Strid’, where the river narrows through the gritstone rock. Legend has it that the Boy of Egremont was killed here in the 12th century trying to jump across the river. Having had one unsuccessful attempt at ending his walk, Gary immediately thought about another try but, when I pointed out the path continued along the river, for once he followed my directions.

Gary is a retired ‘twitcher’ (a keen bird watcher) and his suicidal tendencies evaporated when he saw a dipper. To be a twitcher you normally have to have endless patience, something Gary definitely doesn’t have; hence his early retirement from the activity. Like walkers, cyclists, anglers and runners, twitchers are the only people you see out and about at 7.30am on a Sunday morning. All other sane people are still tucked up in bed waiting for their paper to come through the door; they then amble downstairs to pick it up before returning to the warmth and comfort of their bed. Twitchers are so keen they will leave the house in fog, cold, rain, dark, frost and even snow to pursue their obsession of seeing a Siberian yellow-billed tit or such like.


I haven’t the patience to sit for hours with binoculars waiting for a bird that, when it comes along, I can never recognise. However, on the Dales Way we did encounter a lot of birds including: wren, dunnock, tree sparrow, house sparrow, coal tit, blue tit, great tit, long-tailed tit, robin, chaffinch, greenfinch, bullfinch, stonechat, wheatear, skylark, meadow pipit, tree pipit, grey wagtail, yellow wagtail, pied wagtail, song thrush, mistle thrush, blackbird, starling, collared dove, wood pigeon, stock dove, great-spotted woodpecker, magpie, carrion crow (waiting for fallen Dales Way walkers?), partridge, pheasant, kestrel, peregrine falcon, buzzard, little owl, dunlin, lapwing, oyster catcher, curlew, grey heron, moorhen, mallard, swan, herring gull, and black-headed gull. To name but a few!


After about fourteen miles we adopted a fast pace, such that we became a risk to other walkers; had there been a speed limit we would have broken it. I can only think that Gary decided that, in order to opt out of the walk, he might be able to feign injury by ‘crashing’ into other walkers. He succeeded in wacking three walkers with his rucksack as he sped past. He bounced off them as they were carrying huge packs and appeared to be former paras or SAS; they gave Gary a mean look. We eventually came to a grinding halt for lunch at Linton Falls, some 16 miles into the walk. It was full of tourists and day-trippers, out for a quiet day in the country but herding together as though walking down Oxford Street in London. We left Linton Falls, glad to get away from the crowds, then, after a couple of hundred yards along the River Wharfe, re-captured the quiet and beauty of Wharfedale. It is a blessing that most visitors to the countryside will walk no more than a couple of hundred yards from their car and so leave hundreds of acres for the rest of us to wander about in peace and relative solitude.

Rocket launch at Bolton Abbey!

Post 9. It was a bright sunny morning when we arrived for our photo call at the start, Ilkley. Looking like ‘Little and Large’ we were very cheerful, somewhat oblivious to what we were about to embark on. Ilkley has an air of prosperity, being within commuting distance of the huge city of Leeds. We were a little nervous as we left this comfortable town. Progress was easy as we followed the River Wharfe for some six miles, breaking into the song ‘On Ilkla Moor Baht’at’ which, translated into English, means ‘On Ilkley Moor without a hat.’  Ilkley Moor is the high moor stretching to the south of the town and I was relieved we were not climbing it, with or without a hat.

We eventually reached the fine ruins of Bolton Abbey, an excellent stop for snacks and for Gary a read of the Sunday Times.

Bolton Abbey - rocket launch site
Bolton Abbey – rocket launch site

It is one of a number of tourists honey-pots en route where, particularly at bank holidays, you have to be careful not to trip over sun-bathers clad in beach-wear, grannies with walking sticks and excited toddlers. Gary started to unscrew the top off his drinks bottle and suddenly:


The top took off like a space shuttle being launched, then, after reaching mach 2, hit him on the nose. Suddenly, blood spurted from his nose.

‘ Have you got the first-aid kit?’ he said.

‘Don’t be daft, you were supposed to bring the first aid kit.’

Seeing that the injury was not fatal I burst out laughing. I then realised that he had been carrying a bottle of pop for six miles, which had been bobbing up and down in his rucksack, increasing in pressure all the time. Had we carried on for another couple of miles we could have been the first recorded long-distance walkers to die through a pop bottle explosion.

Bolton Priory had been in existence since 1154, but had never before had a ‘rocket launch’ in its grounds. Imagine the memorials that could have been erected to us. Gary cleaned up his nose with the Sunday Times, almost certainly inducing lead poisoning. I then managed to find a plaster from my emergency supplies to cover up the unpleasant sight of blood. Gary carried on reading as though nothing had happened. Clearly I was in for an interesting walk with my kamikaze walking companion.

Continuing after Bolton Abbey and the rocket launch
Continuing after Bolton Abbey and rocket launch

Blisters BEFORE the start of my first long-distance walk !!!!!

Post 8:   7 April 1990: Preparation

Help! The penultimate day before embarking on my first long-distance walk I was nursing a one-inch blister on my heel. I had obtained the blister on a practice walk, with full pack, the previous weekend. It still hadn’t heeled up and I now had grave doubts as to how I could walk over 80 miles with a blister. I was getting desperate and, in order to dry the blister, resorted to using the hair-drier on it and sitting outside with it exposed to the sun (in April)!

I went to the village to buy last minute provisions and met Gary’s wife.

‘Is Gary ready for the off tomorrow?’ I asked confidently.

‘He hasn’t packed yet,’ she replied. ‘What time are you going?’

‘Hasn’t he told you yet?’I said surprised.

‘No, where do you start the walk?’

‘You are picking me up at 7.30am and dropping us off at Ilkley in the Yorkshire Dales.’ I imagined that Gary had scuppered all my well-laid plans.

‘Oh,’ she replied, clearly horrified at having to get up on a Sunday so early.

8 April 1990: Day 1 – Ilkley to Kettlewell Youth Hostel – 24 miles

Left York at 8.00am, half-an-hour later than planned, due to Gary insisting on buying the Sunday Times to take on the walk. I looked at him aghast as it is well known that paper boys hate having to deliver the Sunday Times beyond two yards and here was Gary planning to carry it for 24 miles, possibly longer if he didn’t read it all on the first day. At an average of two pounds and nine ounces, the Sunday Times is just too heavy to carry on a long-distance walk, but not for Gary. It usually takes me a week to read it as I never have the time to read it in one go.

‘Did you bring the first-aid kit?’ I asked as we approached Ilkley.

‘Oh damn,’ Gary said. ‘I forgot it.’

‘Never mind, I have some blister kits and perhaps we won’t need it,’ I said, trying to be optimistic.

The Contents of my Rucksack.

Fortunately my rucksack was a bit more modern than this one.
Fortunately my rucksack was a bit more modern than this one.

Post 7: The full list of items of equipment taken on the Dales Way were:


Waterproof jacket

Waterproof over-trousers


Boots with spare laces. They should allow the feet to increase by half a size on a two week walk, quarter of a size on a one week walk

Trainers, also with room for foot expansion

Walking Socks x four pairs. Preferably 1,000 mile blister free socks. When I did the walk they only seemed available through mail order, but they are now in most outdoor shops. Preferably start the walk wearing two pairs (one thicker and one thinner pair) and, as the feet expand and harden, reduce to one pair.

Evening socks x one pair

High-Tech windproof winter top or fleece

High-Tech windproof summer top

Shirt x two

Wickable T-shirt/vest x two

Underpants/boxer shorts x three

Walking outdoor trousers x two/three. One x Winter pair, two x lightweight summer. Do not wear breeches as your long-distance walk cred will reach zero

Body warmer


Waterproof breathable hat. Don’t worry if people say it is too small; in an 80 mph gale it will stay on. To keep the rain off your face a ‘Stormin Norman’ style with peak is useful

Balaclava – if walking in highly exposed areas, Spring, Autumn or Winter


Washing Kit

Razor – it is important to keep up appearances on a walk.

Small tube of shaving cream

Field towels x two

Concentrated liquid soap – much better than a soggy bar of soap

Small toothbrush and toothpaste – available from the Body Shop. Alternatively break the handle of an ordinary toothbrush in half.

Concentrated shampoo

Travel Wash for washing clothes

Camera – preferably one that fixes to your belt so as to be readily available. Spare battery and charger. Memory Cards.

Films (slides) x 2 for one week, x 4 for two weeks. (*authors update – I went digital in July 2006 and I am sure you will have done so by now!).

Pen/pencil for writing your diary or postcards.



Flask x 2 (one for tea and one for soup)

Water bottle x 1 (Platypus in order to drink whilst on the move)

Card with telephone number of next of kin – just in case!



Maps and waterproof map holder

Survival bag

Tea bags

Sugar in plastic container

Coffee mate in plastic container

Food bags for food and anything you want to keep dry

Rucksack liner to keep clothes dry

Boot waterproofing, a J-cloth and scraper for cleaning boots

Foam seat. This is the ultimate luxury, very light to carry but guaranteed to keep your buttocks warm and dry when you stop for the highlight of the day, your lunch

Sewing kit – just a small emergency one

Change for coin box telephone (pre-mobile phones) / now replaced by a mobile phone and charger.

Emergency Rations

Chocolate/ Mars bar

Muesli bars/Tracker bars

Dried apricots/nuts

Toilet paper

With the above equipment it should be possible to walk for up to 200 miles between the middle of March and the middle of November, keeping the weight down to an acceptable 30lbs and at the same time enjoying the walk in comfort. With modern clothing you can keep warm and dry without carrying too much weight. My philosophy on walking is to be as comfortable as possible so that the scenery can be fully enjoyed. In recent years outdoor clothing has led many fashions and now, when going around town, it is impossible to tell the outdoor types from the fashion followers. However, you do not need an expensive waterproof jacket to walk round town; save it for when you are on the hills when its qualities will be fully utilised. My teenage children would never accept that much modern fashionable clothing developed from high-tech outdoors clothing. Even ‘bobble’ hats, first worn by walkers, briefly came into fashion amongst their age group! Apart from a waterproof jacket and over-trousers, a hat is the most important clothing as some thirty per cent of heat is lost through the head. Although hats are not a very fashionable item in the High Street, they are essential on the fells. It is a little unfortunate that many outdoor hats are designed with a big air space in the top, which makes you look as though you are walking around with the Empire State building perched on your head.

Even the punk star, Sid Vicious, couldn’t compete with serious walkers in the number of zips he wore. On one occasion, to pass time in the pub, I counted thirty-three zips on my clothing. Most specialist walking clothing has zips in order not to lose all the essentials. Therefore, you can end up like a mobile zip factory. However, I have yet to meet a walker who has a safety pin or ring through his nose, lips or ear; they are better used for a temporary repair job on your trousers or for bandaging a wound.

As I would supply and carry the maps and guide-book for the walk, Gary was asked to supply the First Aid kit, to include blister kits, Radian B, and Witch Doctor. The last three items cover most of the common ailments encountered on a long-distance walk, in fact Witch Doctor seems to sooth and treat nearly everything, chaffing, skin irritation, itching, insect bites, sunburn, minor burns, bruises, grazes, blemishes, infection, swelling, spots, although not a hang-over.