Dent: Whernside and the tarns

11 miles (18 kilometres) there and back. June. Sun and cloud. Solo. Peak bagging: Marilyn, Hewitt, Nuttall, & Trig (the firm of solicitors)

TL;DR I bagged the big one, paddled in the tarn. It was my birthday.

Today is my birthday. What better way to spend it than on my own up a mountain with a piece of cake, and as it turned out, a pensioner hiking group, several dogs and an assortment of walkers of various kinds, displaying various grades of contentment.

Here’s one thing I noticed early doors: the ones accompanied by dogs seemed the happiest, except for the large amount of bitching about having to carry them over stiles. The ones who appeared the least happy (and I appreciate this is a value judgement, who can quantify inner joy except oneself?) were the ones who, with grim determination, were on their way to the next peak, for Whernside is one of the Yorkshire Three Peaks. They seemed to not enjoy reaching the top at all and barely stopped to admire the view, let alone get a cake out. I don’t stand in judgement, I may one day hike the Three Peaks (I absolutely won’t) but I think there should be time to stand and stare, stare like sheep and cows. Someone should write a poem about that.

I decided to do a there-and-back walk, leaving Dent across the footpaths and picking up the Dales High Way, turning right at the Boot of the Wold up to the top. I seem to have ended up on the Dales High Way ‘accidentally’ a few times this year. The bits I’ve seen have been enticing, but I’m not much of a through hiker, I like to put my feet down for a week and radiate outwards like an earthen spider.

Most of the guidebooks walk you up Whernside from Ribblehead, and that must be where everyone at the top came from, but I really wanted to see the tarns. In fact I was far more interested in the tarns than the top. I think I just love the old norse word most of all. It shares no etymological root with ‘tarnish’: dull or dark, nor is it linked to the old germanic: to conceal, but a dark, peaty tarn looks like it could conceal the sun in it.

As is my usual way, I take my time going up the frighteningly close contour lines and actually, it’s not that bad, and it’s worth stopping frequently for the panoramic views. Everywhere I’ve seen this hike listed as ‘difficult’ but it isn’t. It’s a well defined track, of course it’s steep, it’s up a bloody mountain but it’s not as hard as some people make it out to be.

The road’s pretty decent, but obviously not for long. It wouldn’t be Dentdale without the piles of rocks pretending to be a path. The curlews are swooping above me (no matter how hard I try I can never photograph birds), I pass through some sheepfolds and before I know it I’m at Boot of the Wold, game shooting land by the look of it, and I climb up to the tarns. Slowly, obviously.

It crosses my mind I could stay here, no one ever said I had to reach the top, it’s a voluntary endeavour, but as I think it I can see the path snaking upward so I carry on up, and I’m very glad I did.

The first thing I notice as I get higher is another hiker who doesn’t acknowledge me, then a smiling couple, then a man marching grimly to the top, where did all the people come from? Then there’s a boisterous dog, and its owner and I swap knowing chat about the joys of having an idiot for a dog. We both know, and I miss Shovell for a moment. He’d love it here, he’d be an absolute nightmare rolling in the sheep shit, jumping in the water and barking at suspicious looking clouds. Then he would steal my picnic and growl.

Some of us go up, some come down, despite the cloud the view is excellent and I follow a tiny train as it heads over the tiny viaduct. We’re on top of the world. I wait my turn to bag the trig, take some photos of a honeymoon couple (at their request, I might point out) and settle down on a rock to eat my lunch. When I look up from my slice of birthday cake to gloat at everyone, to rub their noses in my cake, I find no one is there to care, they’ve all gone. Just as well as I only brought one piece.

It’s now time to get back down to the water and put my feet in it. I find it hard these days not to dunk my feet into rivers and tarns, like sweaty biscuits. Once again I have the tarns to myself, it’s as though no one knows they are there.

On my way back down, as I’m wondering whether I need a pee, I happen to pass a group of walkers, average age looks to be about 70, coming up that hill perhaps three times faster than I did with a spring in their step I lost years ago. I can only assume they do this sort of thing every week and have spent their lives like mountain goats running about Dentdale actually working for a living. I stop to chat with the two stragglers at the back, probably the smokers at the back of the bus who threw paper darts at girls. They tell me the road up here used to be a lot worse, which I find incredible, but he tells me it was awful before the toll roads and turnpikes were introduced. I have to say he doesn’t look 300 years old but I suppose all the fresh air and shinning up Whernside every Wednesday afternoon takes years off you.

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Walk info

This walk is easily followed on OS map OL2 or any of the walking apps, or you can follow my GPX route here. I graded the walk as moderate rather than difficult as the route is on clearly defined paths, but obviously there is some height gained. In winter it may well be difficult.

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