Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Buckden Pike

Climbed Buckden Pike this afternoon. It's a hill in the upper part of Wharfedale and it rises up to its 702m summit from behind the village of -unsurprisingly- Buckden. It's almost as steep as the car parking charge in the village car park but, thankfully, the path to the summit takes a more leisurely, zigzag route. It's one of those hills which the English fondly call mountains, which anyone who lives in a country the boasts really whopping hills that really are mountains will probably find amusing.

It's been a drizzly, overcast day. The bigger hills (like the Pike) still have snow on their upper slopes and, what with the low cloud, the snowy slopes have merged into the clouds in an indistinct haze.

When I got out the car and shouldered my rucksack I realised how long it had been since I went for a walk like this. For the past year, getting close to nature has meant swimming in lakes and rivers. The year before that, the time I would have spent walking was spent road running.

I set off up the track, which is almost level at first. It runs through a small wood. It's a sparse affair: for the most part the trees are growing in scree. Quite a few of them are dead. It would be quite photogenic on the right day. I had a camera with me (as you've probably realised by now) but it would be good to come back when the conditions were right. Today, with its meagre, diffuse light was a classic, bad-for-taking-photographs day.

Above the wood, the track ascends across fields to an almost-level area of moorland, which I didn't remember noticing from below. (It's one of the things I like about climbing hills: what looks like a big lump from the bottom hides all sorts of detail which you only discover when you climb up).

On the moor I passed a line of "shake holes" and took a photo of one. For anyone who doesn't know, I'll try to explain what a shake hole is. Limestone dissolves easily and so the rock beneath limestone landscapes are full of holes (hence to preponderance of famous potholes and caves in the Dales). If the hole isn't very big, the earth on top of the rock trickles in and chokes it. The effect is rather like the dimple you get in the surface of the sand in a running egg-timer.

The path steepened again and I soon found myself on a second shelf of moorland. I was lost in thought by now. I was thinking of something I'd read recently, by Emerson:
OUR age is retrospective. It builds the sepulchres of the fathers. It writes biographies, histories, and criticism. The foregoing generations beheld God and nature face to face; we, through their eyes. Why should not we also enjoy an original relation to the universe? Why should not we have a poetry and philosophy of insight and not of tradition, and a religion by revelation to us, and not the history of theirs?
I decided that whoever said that was definitely a man for our times.

I soon found myself at the foot of an outcrop that ran around this part of the hill like a contour-line: the path steepened again. Once at the top of the outcrop I found myself in a different world: there was more snow on the ground and the cloud had closed in. If this was a sacred mountain, I felt, then I'd just entered an inner sanctum. The ground was steeper and after a few minutes I realised I was on a steep, continuous slope that disappeared into the cloud on all sides. I felt as if it could go on forever. The air felt lighter: it's a feeling I've often felt as I approached a summit and I've never worked out why it should be so.

I took a break at the summit: just long enough to eat a banana and take a few more photographs. As is usual for high, windy places in winter, the wind had blown the ice into curious shapes. I was particularly struck by an accumulation of ice on a pole that stands by the summit.

Banana eaten, I set off down. I took a different route: I'd ascended by the "tourist path", but descended by a path that leads to the head of Buckden Beck: a stream that runs down the hill, back to the village.

The descent was more of an adventure. The path was well-defined at first, but later it became more like the ghost of a path. I'd find it for a while, then it would disappear. I came across the spoil heaps of a disused mine, but could find no tunnels. Perhaps it was just as well. Old mines are dangerous. I had a torch and am always tempted to explore places. I carried on, and soon found myself standing on an edge overlooking the village. The hillside steepened considerably at this point and I found myself descending a scree-slope. I found myself in the wood I'd walked through at the start. Sadly, the tea shop in the village was shut. It had just gone 5 o'clock and it is February after all.


Rachel Fenton said...

You think the light ill for photographs, I think your pictures captured the day perfectly. Amazed byt he ice formations, especially in those last few pics - the grass looks wonderful.

Sounds like you had a great brain-freeing walk.

Dominic Rivron said...

I did thank you.

Believe me, the light was terrible for photography. If any of these shots are half OK, it's thanks to the wonders of Photoshop's "AUTO SMART FIX" facility!

Totalfeckineejit said...

Great adventure! Amen to the thoughts of Emerson and that penultimate photo is amazing!
Jealous am I.

Elisabeth said...

What a journey and thanks for that terrific quote from Emerson. I think the photos of the strange snow shapes are incredible, no wonder it felt like a sacred place.

The Solitary Walker said...

Lovely, Dominic. I agree with Rachel - I thought the pictures proved you can take good photos on duill, grey, misty days.

Gerry Snape said...

An amazing day and the pics are absolutely right and atmospheric.

The Weaver of Grass said...

I agree with Rachel - your photos have captured the light of the day and that is what we wanted to see.

Love the ice patterns. Also, as I climbed it myself twenty years ago it was nice to accompany you on your walk. I agree it is one of the best - we are so lucky to live in good walking country.

Hope you had several Mars bars in your rucksack as the tearoom was closed!

Alan Burnett said...

I've always wanted to start a blog-post with a sentence like "Climbed Buckden Pike this afternoon". Unfortunately mine tend to start with "went to the pub this lunchtime" and are therefore not a half as interesting as yours.

Dominic Rivron said...

Thanks for these comments everybody.

TFE: I've often fancied having a crack at McGillicuddy's Reeks (however you spell them) so, in a way, I'm jealous of anyone who lives on the same bit of land as them.

Elisabeth: The snow/ice shapes were incredible. There is a name for incredible shapes caused by wind on snow - "sastrugi". I'm not sure at what point little bits of ice/snow sculpture become "sastrugi". It's pprobably a bit like when does a hill become a mountain.

SW: Thanks, you are too kind. As I said: auto smart fix.

GS: It was amazing. I should do it more often. In fact I'm considering as a project this year climbing all the Marilyns in the Yorkshire Dales. Possibly... There aren't too many so it's not a lot to do.

Weaver: Just the one. At one point I decided to eat half of it and save the rest for later. Within a few minutes I'd eaten the lot. I'd I've fallen at the first hurdle in the marshmallow experiment.

Alan: I dispute that. Your blog posts take us on adventures of a different kind.