4.8 miles approx (7.7 kilometres) beginning at Dent station. April, sunny and warm. With lovely son.
For me this section of the Dales Way is a reprise, a replay, a rehash, but not for lovely son who has arrived at Dent station for the second time in his life, and is walking into Dent for the first. I was concerned it wouldn’t be as lovely as I remember, perhaps my memory holds a rosier than reality picture. It was a warm sunny afternoon with blue sky; I need not have worried. It was fabulous.
Dent station, the highest in England, at 1150 feet, really isn’t in Dent at all. I’m not complaining, it’s far better for us today that it isn’t, because it means we have an exceedingly nice 4 mile walk to the tea shop. Dent is down the dale, down the Dales Way which begins at Ilkley and runs 80 miles to Bowness-on-Windermere. As we alight at the station, I ask my son if he remembers, and he does. We spent a Christmas here staying in the station house, he was 2 and obsessed by trains as most 2 year old boys are. Each time the train came he would stand on the platform dressed as a station master and wave a flag. It was exhausting.
Today we trek down the steep Coal Road to Cowgill. The sun is beating down and my pack is propelling me forward alarmingly. It is just as I remember. On the adjacent hill I can see the old postman’s path, along which I hope we’ll be walking another day. The skylarks are singing in the grass, in the distance somewhere a radio is playing.
Slowly we come down to earth and find ourselves at last on the Dales Way by the River Dee and I breathe deeply. The water runs dark and peaty over rocks and birds are singing, all is right with the world. We are walking along a narrow riverside path, stepping over tree roots and rocks slowly making our way upstream.
Many years ago my parents walked the whole of the Dales Way. My mum is now gone but I hope they enjoyed this part. I imagine treading in their forgotten footsteps and wonder who walked ahead, whether they talked, which birds they spotted. Would I have made a good walking companion or do I stop too often? Lovely son is usually ahead of me, much more surefooted than I am, never thinking about stumbling or twisting an ankle. Plus I’m easily distracted, today it’s the celandines which are studding the grass, and butterflies which have me chasing them the wrong way down the path. There are stiles and tiny gates to delight in all along this stretch, for as you may know I am a huge fan of gates and stiles.
Soon we leave the river for farmland and higher ground. Everywhere there are newborn lambs, tiny little bleats filling the air. At one point we meet a very new one right on the path, still covered in fluid which the dazed mother is licking clean. We give them as wide a berth as we can and she goes back to licking and nuzzling.
The views down the valley are sublime and I’m very happy to be back. The hay meadows haven’t grown yet, this is one place you still see them in May and June. Over the last 100 years we have lost 97% of our hay meadows in the UK, and the ecosystems that go with them. No wonder so many bird species are in rapid decline.
Inevitably at one point we lose the way but eventually the path takes us back to the water, and over it and back. There’s a small standing stone which looks ancient and as we approach, a murder of crows is circling it, crawing. There are more fine and simple wildflowers, it’s primrose time as well as celandine. There are clumps of butterburs and wood anemones, something which looks like a wild strawberry but isn’t, a barren strawberry.
The beck has dried up but then meets the Dee and is black liquid metal with peat again. It’s an odd stream, it seems to flow with a fury, but turn your back and it’s gone leaving a rocky uncomfortable bed. Next it is still and dark, barely moving. I don’t know any more which is river and which is beck.
We’re getting very hungry now and we pick up the pace as Dent and the church tower come into view. All we can think about now is a seat in a café. As we come to the end of the way we barely even glance at the information board. There are plenty of ramblers on the road as we walk into the village, we briefly discuss whether we should club a couple about the head with our poles and eat their packed lunches but fortunately for everyone concerned the cafés are all still open and mindless violence is avoided. We’re back in Dent at last.
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More walks in this area
The Dales Way route is available from the Dales Way Association website. The Cicerone guidebook is available from all the usual outlets, please support independent booksellers if you can. LDWA have a full GPX to download, available to members only (It’s not expensive to join if you walk long distance trails and their database is phenomenal. I used their GPX which I won’t reproduce here for copyright reasons.
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