A friend cancelled a meeting in Huddersfield, a fair way to the east.
The demands of work.
A shame to miss him, but I was pleased not to have to drive a hundred miles or so in the wrong direction.
Unfortunately it was already afternoon and I needed a plan for where to sleep.
Heading down the A65 I pulled over to study the map – just over the M6 I’d come to Kirkby Lonsdale, a town often recommended by friends in the north.
I decided on a quick look. Then I’d head into the Dales on the Hawes road, the B6255, in the hope of finding a suitable stop.
Kirby Lonsdale definitely merits a stop over in future, but I must head out into the wild. And wild it proves to be.
It’s already bleak and the temperature is falling.
I park in a layby in sight of the spectacular Ribblehead Viaduct from where we stank across the moors for an hour or so.
I see smoke ahead near Blea Moor signal box. I hope that there’s a steam train in the sidings, but on getting there it turns out to be some blokes clearing the long abandoned station house and burning all that would take flame.
Darkness had fallen by then and we trudge back on the well defined path in fleeting moonlight as clouds sped across the night sky. The wind was already whipping itself into a frenzy and driving hail at us, but there was worse to come.
Back in the van I saw that outside it was down to 2 degrees and I wished I’d topped up the LPG for the heating. But not to fear – The Station Inn was just up the road.
After a simple dinner of soup thickened with a packet of mixed grains I stuck out again, this time for the pub, the wind stronger and at times howling.
Wow! I can imagine that The Station is heaving on a sunny day when walkers flock to the area by road and rail. Tonight though the big space is empty save for its staff of three and the scarred old Labrador. The fellow propped up the bar the whole time, save to nip out into the maelstrom for a quick puff on a ciggy. The other two moved Christmas decorations around the reportedly refurbished space while the dog pushed his dinner across the floor in the massive margarine tub that served as his bowl.
I only stayed for one pint.
And I suspect you would too.
I was eager to leave them to get on with chopping up the bodies of those two hikers who disappeared a week or so ago. They’ll add new flavour to the “Walkers’ Broth” the menu praised so highly.
The van was only 200 metres down the road, but getting there was a battle through gusting wind and stinging hail.
Safe in ArchieVan I battened down the hatches (well, pulled all the blinds) and got the heating going while Polly paced nervously and the wind rocked Archie as if he were a plastic pig.
Neither man nor dog slept well.
A gust would hit the van hard and everything would shake.
The cattle grid a few hundred metres up the road was still close enough to send a shudder through us with every passing car.
The lashing of rain and hail only exaggerated the feeling that we’d landed in some Middle Earth challenge between wizards of old. But still we were cosy wrapped in blankets and my new sleeping bag.
By dawn the worse had blown over and we were out early for a cracking stank towards Whernside. We didn’t do the whole walk, but nonetheless the utter emptiness of the Dales in winter impressed me deeply, as did the engineering of a river channel above the rail lines built at the time of the viaduct, 1895.
Too many miles.
But determination, and battling the winds, got me to Mortenhampstead, a small town on Dartmoor by 8pm.
I knew where to park (the free in winter town car park).
And I knew where to go for dinner.
The wonderful Horse pub restaurant that we’ve been going to for a while now.
I ate a fantastic marinara pizza.
I drank Otter.
I drank Jail Ale
I drank Legend.
I slept like a log and woke with the van covered in snow.
Breakfast alongside the Warren Inn, an unromantic name for a most romantic pub in the middle of the moor with far reaching and special views.
The last stank of the trip – an hour and a half on a circular route that threatened to disappear under fast falling snow.
Dartmoor may be just up the road but holds the dangers of any moorland. I’m well aware of these and I even carried a compass but thankfully didn’t need it.
The roads off the moor were slippery and frightening – sliding in a car is scary enough, sliding in ArchieVan had my heart in my mouth. When it wasn’t frightening the scenery was breathtaking, and while Dartmoor is small compared to the Lakes and the Yorkshire Dales its wild tors and emptiness appeals to me, especially with the sea sparkling in the distance as it was on Friday morning.
My old and now abandoned iTunes selection on the phone seems to be the default when you start the van. It also appears to default to random classical selections. That’s not always a bad thing and I let the minimal strains of Michael Nyman, Philip Glass and Nils Frahm glide over us as we wound through the hills and valleys of Britain.
Like an old car’s fuel gauge, the LPG tank has much less fuel in its gauge’s second half. If it’s showing two bars go and buy more!
Stop over references.
Ribblehead, Blea Moor Road 54.208828, -2.360670
Public car park at Mortenhampstead (not an official stop over point) 50.660550, -3.768071