29th December 2014 to 3rd January 2015: London New Year trip to Low Row Bunkhouse, Swaledale

This year’s London New Year trip to the Yorkshire Dales had Red Ropers from Devon, Wiltshire, London, Essex, Herts, Nottingham, Sheffield and Newcastle, thirteen in all, coming by car, train and bus.

Low Row Bunkhouse

Low Row Bunkhouse

On arrival the bunk house was below freezing and we had to attend our first supper in full outdoor gear – thermals, hats, scarves and gloves. But as usual our resilience and generally good humour (and numerous £1 coins) won through. (Luckily Grace had thought to ask about the heating and discovered that we’d need £1 coins to feed the meter and the radiators – no wonderful wood-burning stove this year.) Very new member Mary coped well and hasn’t been put off. At this point Trudi discovered that she had left her rucksack of mountain gear at home. Luckily she had spare gardening gear in her car boot and managed without complaint. She also found a pink hyacinth in her car which took centre stage on the dining table and provided an alternative focus to a roaring fire. Vibrations from our early shivers had enough force to move its petals.

Swaledale near Low Row

Swaledale near Low Row (Gordon Hatton / CC BY-SA 2.0)

Having survived the first night we set out all together to walk over to Arkengarthdale. The sky was clear blue and the paths were icy, with snow on the tops. The sharp winter sunshine emphasized the beauty of the stone walls. The squeeze styles, tiny wooden gates and stone field barns, so typical of the Dales, enhanced the walk. Vertically challenged Pam got stuck in them though, because her bum and rucksack are in the wrong place, whereas tall Andrea sailed through with ease. Still waiting for the National Park to address this issue.

Olya arrived on the second day and joined us on the walk to Gunnerside Gill. Again we enjoyed spectacular weather. The ruined remains of the old lead mining buildings and smelting works, with extensive spoil heaps, were a reminder of the hard lives of the Swaledale lead miners and smelters. This gave rise to much thought and reflection.
The route home was muddy and first Pam, then Damien slipped over; then Pam did it again, closely followed by Damien again – is this some form of heroine worship?
After an invigorating day we had another fun evening of games, quizzes, charades – and Dave reading us ‘The Shooting of Dan McGrew’ and ‘The Cremation of Sam McGee’ – two famous sagas by Robert Service. All this took us up to 11pm so we decided to celebrate the arrival of the new year on French time – and by sharing Olya’s Cava.

Gunnerside Beck

Gunnerside Beck (Bob Danylec / CC BY-SA 2.0)

It rained heavily on New Year’s day but this did not deter the group from walking along the swelling Swale. We discovered afterwards that it was Britain’s fastest rising river, and could rise 3 metres in 20 minutes! A noticeboard had frightening photographs of an older bridge destroyed by the rising river. There was a firework display in Reeth village that night but none of us felt like stirring outdoors again. The fireworks were viewed through the mist and rain at a distance-we could not have got there as we were cut off by flood-water at that point, so our neighbours told us.

On our final day most of the group walked up to Surrender Bridge and along Old Gang Beck following the route the lead miners would have taken. At the smelting works of Old Gang Smelting Mills we saw amongst the rusty remains a large machine labelled ‘simple vibrator’ which caused some merriment and made us wonder whether the lead miners had had some compensation for their hard lives after all. We then took a path across the Moors where the bright sunny weather was interrupted by a sudden blizzard leaving us no choice but to relax and thaw out in the local pub.

Pat had made a massive food list but had to use Sainsbury to deliver as the Coop would not take advance orders or deliver and the local shop never answered its phone. Her efforts meant we didn’t have to do much other shopping. We ate well, ending with Trudi cooking up some leftovers in peanut sauce. The kitchen must have had the worlds worst, most ineffective, tin opener though, so just as well we didn’t use many tins. Thanks too to Don for spending much time poring over the accounts.

Swaledale Bus Campaigners

Swaledale Bus Campaigners

On this trip we made good use of the local community bus service which was run by a mix of paid drivers and volunteers and links the villages from Reeth through Gunnerside and Muker to Keld. It’s a crucial service for the valley and for us helpful in increasing the range of available walks and enabling the train travellers to reach the hut. The drivers and locals on the bus were very chatty and friendly. This could easily have been a car free trip. One downside is a possible large loss because we were 13 in a hut with space for 24 – comfortable for us but unnecessarily expensive.

We all had a really good time thanks to excellent walks in great locations, good conversation (no TV nor any phone coverage) and a lot of fun games (we even had a try at writing poetry).

A great advertisement for Red Rope trips.

Hope you all had a good time and Happy New Year everyone.


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