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.

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