Backpacking: Early Scouting Adventures in the Dales

As soon as a Scout had been invested into the Troop he began working for his Second Class badge. This entailed tying specified knots and other useful skills, the detail of which I can no longer recall. Then he tried to earn his First Class badge, for which he had to complete a twenty-four hour expedition with another Scout, carrying camping equipment and food around a fifteen-mile route. Gunner specified the route and read the individual log books to decide whether the requirements had been met.

Guzzy and I were the first to try this, when we were about thirteen. We borrowed rucksacks from the Wardmans, and with maternal help we worked out how we would proceed. Thus it was that we found ourselves getting off the train at Arthington, webbing straps cutting into our bony shoulders, neckerchiefs soaking up the sweat that our berets weren’t able to absorb. Struggling with navigation and heavy loads, we plodded along the lanes round Eccup and camped at a farm near Lofthouse. We made a fire and cooked some sort of dinner, and, although I can’t really remember, I suspect we slept like logs. Next day, following Gunner’s instructions to the letter, we forded the River Wharfe at Kearby Sands – would this be considered appropriate even for a moment in 2007? - and I think we then made our way to Huby where we caught a bus home. We had succeeded, despite the undoubted risks to which Gunner had exposed us, and we were duly awarded our badges. Cappo having left the Scouts, I and Guzzy became Leader and Second of Stag Patrol. Roger Graville and Robert Ledger made a similar foray up Wharfedale a couple of weeks later and became Leader and Second of Panther Patrol.

I’d thought that my First Class hike would be the end of my backpacking obligations, but I soon got a shock. My schoolmate David Veall, known as Roxy, became a member of my patrol, and he had nobody to accompany him on his hike. David Wardman turned to me and said that, as his Patrol Leader, I should go with him. I made a mock protest about the tribulations of doing it all again, but we soon identified a weekend in the autumn.

‘Right,’ said David Wardman, an impish grin on his face. ‘Gunner’s given me two routes. One’s local and the other’s near Malham.’
‘Malham!’ I protested, thinking of the high ground in the Yorkshire Dales and the fact that many travellers didn’t take their cars across the Pennines between October and March. ‘We can’t go there this late in the year!’
‘Of course you can!’ David retorted dismissively. He grinned again and offered Roxy the choice of two envelopes.
‘Don’t choose Malham,’ I said.
Roxy picked an envelope, tore it open, and said, ‘It’s Malham.’

We started out with little advance planning. The 0830h bus took us to Skipton, where we found there was a three-hour wait for the Malham bus. We looked at each other and wondered what we’d do for three hours in the pouring rain.

We’d made one circuit of the nearby streets and returned to the bus station when a group of older Scouts spotted us. They had come from Bacup in Lancashire and were also on their way to Malham. It was mildly encouraging to find that they hadn’t checked the bus timetable either. When they found out where we came from they wanted to swap their county badges – the West Yorkshire badge was amongst the biggest in the land - and for good measure they also decided they’d have our Troop nametapes. We felt unable to refuse: they were bigger and more numerous than us, and one of them had already unsheathed his knife to cut our mothers’ careful stitches.

Once the swap was concluded we continued our perambulation of the town centre while the heavy downpour persisted. At 1230h we boarded the orange and brown juggernaut of the Pennine Motor Company for a rattling journey to Malham, where we bid farewell to the Bacup lads. They headed for a pale ale in the Lister’s Arms, and we set off up the lane towards Malham Cove.

As we tramped along, Roxy made notes and sketches for his logbook, a duty I was excused on this occasion. We climbed round the side of the Cove and negotiated the limestone pavement at the top, and we set off on a broad path up the dry valley. The rain eased and the walking seemed easy. Then the gradient steepened, and we found ourselves stepping across limestone blocks and stumbling over tussocks of brown grass as we emerged from the valley onto a windswept moor.

We were no longer on a path, which surprised us because we hadn’t noticed any branch off the well-trodden track above the Cove, so we decided to press on, squelching across the rough pasture, following our noses. Ahead to our left we saw a moving vehicle, and referring to the map we thought we must be approaching the east-west road that runs south of the Tarn. Something wasn’t right, however: the lie of the land allowed for no lake beyond the road. Foreboding seeped into my mind just as water began seeping into my boots.

We decided to continue to the road and then sort out where to go. As we did so, we saw a chimney where the Tarn should have been. Roxy studied the map and concluded it was the old smelt mill chimney: we now knew our location, and we set off along the road to rejoin the correct route. The rain stopped, and things seemed to be picking up.

Or were they? The road sloped into a shallow depression, and as we rounded a curve we met a man in trouble. He stood on the tarmac looking at a motorcycle and sidecar combination that was sitting forlornly in a water-filled ditch. When he saw us he must have realised we could solve his problem, and he took charge.

He explained that he’d hit floodwater and lost control, but he was sure we could push and pull the machine out. It was clear from the outset that Roxy and I would be going into the ditch. Not that it mattered: our boots and socks were already saturated, and if the rider had waded in, his heavy riding coat might have dragged him to an watery grave. Thinking bleak thoughts towards concepts such as doing a good turn every day and helping other people at all times, we shrugged our rucksacks off, rolled up our sleeves, lowered ourselves into the ditch. With surprisingly little effort we got the machine back on the road, and we left him trying to kick-start it. We plodded on to find a campsite.

‘Do you think Gunner set that up, with the motorbike and sidecar?’ I asked Roxy.
‘Dunno,’ he replied. ‘Couldn’t risk refusing to help him though, just in case.’

It was evening when we reached the northeast side of the Tarn where the path to Arncliffe strikes off across the limestone pastures. We dragged ourselves away from the water’s edge and the ‘No Camping’ notices and pitched our tent. We cooked soup and heated a tin of stew and slept until the dull grey evening became a blue-sky sunrise.

After bacon and eggs we headed east to discover the answer to the riddle that Gunner had set us: ‘The landlord’s name is Marmaduke. What is the name of the pub?’ After the trials of the previous day we had to make up time, but within an hour we had strayed off the route and found ourselves looking down into a deep valley. We could see no sign of a village or a pub. We scrutinised the map and deduced that we’d headed too far north, but we saw that if we followed the deep valley we would reach Arncliffe. Maybe then we’d solve the riddle, hopefully go over the hill to Kettlewell, and possibly get there in time to catch the bus home.

We were off track, but that didn’t matter: we were having a real adventure. After a steep descent we followed the beck as it plunged over waterfalls, rippled through deep pools, slid down mossy chutes and gurgled across gravel. Ash, rowan and silver birch trees clung to the rocks, and the cliffs of Yew Cogar Scar towered above and shaded us from the warm sun. We scrambled and scuffed along the trackless chasm until it opened into a valley, where Arncliffe’s farms and houses divided around the long village green. The creeper-clad walls of a pub came into view, and we wandered across to find that its name was The Falcon and the landlord was Marmaduke Miller. We sat outside and the landlord himself came out, brought us free glasses of lemonade, confirmed that we were on track, checked that we knew how to get to Kettlewell, and left us basking in the sun as we ate lunch.

Our final challenge was to climb the steep fellside and drop into Wharfedale. This was a hard grind, but as we gained height we seemed to grow more confident, stronger even, and we entered Kettlewell with something of a swagger, which we instantly switched into nonchalance when asked where we’d hiked from. We had our bus fare home, Roxy had his First Class hike in the bag, and Gunner said it was one of the best logs he’d ever read.

When asked later what we’d have done if we’d missed the bus, I replied that we had a tent and we’d have sorted something out. I guess we’d come a long way in our short time at the 2nd Otley.

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