The West

Hiking in green and pleasant lands
Morning cloud at Wharfedale / Pictures: Bob Tomlins

From Heathrow I took the Piccadilly Line to Kings Cross Station and then the train to Leeds in the north of England, before proceeding to Skipton.

It was fast, comfortable, and cheap, courtesy of an off-peak ticket, purchased in advance online. I was now in Yorkshire, on my way to the Dales.

A chilly, damp evening was drawing in when a mum and her chatty 11-year-old daughter collected me from the side of the road, and went out of their way to deliver me to the youth hostel in the village of Kettlewell.

The English YHA hostels are a far cry from their spartan, military inspired forebears, which I first encountered in the late 1960s.

Then, my youthful idealism, long hair and scruffy countenance were a vivid red rag to wardens who didn't appreciate this challenge to their traditional values and authority. I spent long hours digging foundations for the extensions to many a hostel.

All these years later I shared a small comfortable dormitory with two other men of a similar age.

Being English they refrained from entering my personal space. I wasn't even game to say "hello mate", suppressing my naturally gregarious Australian inclinations. In the morning, after a hot shower, a full English breakfast and with my packed lunch stowed in my backpack, I set off to explore the Dales.

It's hard to describe the euphoria I felt for most of that day. I was on a real high. I had never previously been to the Dales and was aware of enjoying the privilege of hiking through some of England's Green and Pleasant Land.

The villages and countryside were simply beautiful . . . but of course, nothing quite lives up to the day I got married . . . and when my children were born.

I started with an early morning stroll through Kettlewell, admiring the stone cottages adorned with late summer flowers.

Everything was quiet, with local people in no hurry to start their day.

A few children gathered to catch the school bus when it passed through on its morning run. The water in the small stream that bubbled through the village was crystal clear.

The stone bridge that crossed it must have stood for centuries.

I followed a well-marked path up one side of the valley in which Kettlewell sits.

I was hiking through green meadows with only a few skittish sheep for company.

Kettlewell grew smaller and smaller below as the valley opened up in front of me.

A patchwork of fields separated by limestone walls, and the odd farmhouse, filled the vista. Low lying clouds added fluffy white lines to complete the romantic impact and keep my endorphins pumping.

As I approached the highest point of the side of the valley, the weather grew cooler and a fine drizzle filled the air.

I was glad to climb over the last stile and start the descent to Arncliffe.

The green meadows were temporarily replaced with low lying heath, comprising masses of small, hardy, orange and pink flowers. It felt rugged and adventurous.

In truth, however, as long as the visibility remains good, it is difficult to come to grief when using one of Britain's wonderfully detailed and accurate Ordnance Survey maps.

The local map served me well during the five hours or more it took me to reach my destination, the village of Malham.

Much of the route was along the Monk's Path. Its very name conjured up a vision of tubby men in cassocks and sandals, maybe braving all weathers to move from one place to another to avoid the troops enforcing Henry VIII's persecution of the Catholic Church. It all added to the romance.

In Malham I met an old friend, Paul, at the Lister Arms Hotel, where I enjoyed a pint of pale ale served by a young woman with a thick eastern European accent. She was a long way from her home in the Czech Republic, there to save some money and improve her English. Paul decided I needed some more exercise, so we set off to explore the village in the remaining light.

That night we shared a twin room with ensuite at Malham YHA, all recently refurbished. How wonderful is the progress of time? We spent much of the following day exploring more picturesque villages, medieval churches and lush countryside.

Up the road from Malham Village / Pictures: Bob Tomlin
We walked the few kilometres to Malham Cove where the sheer limestone cliff is breathtaking.

Negotiating the limestone pavement in and around the cove was tricky with old knees but worth it to experience the craggy, grey, dissected rocks, which seem to snuggle contentedly next to the lushness of the meadows.

Mid-afternoon we found a small, old fashioned, English tea room, where the tables and chairs were pushed uncomfortably close together. You could hear a pin drop.

I resisted the temptation to be a loud Aussie in Bali and contented myself with consuming a Devonshire tea with the tastiest and biggest dollop of cream I have enjoyed in years.

The lamb roast at the pub in the evening wasn't bad either.

The West Australian

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