(August 2016 – To catch up with other recent developments see our picture blog here – it’ll open in another tab)
I’ve long been curious whether the changes effected by long term travel will stick with me long enough to make me a happier person back home or whether home needs to be in another place for that to happen. Rediscovering Yorkshire during our prolonged stint back home to sort out Mickey’s driving licence seemed like the perfect, low budget opportunity to answer this question. It was a useful time for building up a picture of how I’d like life ‘post-travel’ to look and investigate whether we really need the open road to keep the mind set of travel alive within us.
As a Northerner living down South in the UK, I spend a lot of time imploring visitors to the UK to explore beyond London’s city limits. Sure, London is an amazing city. But it’s hardly representative of the UK as a whole and you better have a healthy budget to sight-see there.
I was born and raised on the southern border of West Yorkshire but moved away at 18, so have never really explored the county through adult eyes. A brief bike trip to the Yorkshire Dales a couple of years ago reawakened my desire to spend time with my home county again.
One of our first day trips out was to Malham Cove. A favourite of childhood school trips which have long since vanished from memory, this inland limestone rock formation in the middle of the Yorkshire Dales is impressive. We arrive under angry skies, questioning the wisdom of not wrapping up but we decide to risk it, after all, it’s summer and we’ve seen worse during our travels. We pay £4 for parking in Malham village and this is all we’re required to spend all day, although later full of nostalgic love for my home county I’ll splash out on a miniature wool sheep to strap to my bike when back in Bulgaria – a little reminder of home while we travel to make me smile.
There’s a helpful little shop, toilets and an information point which we avail ourselves of before heading off, equipped with directions by the helpful, chatty man in the shop. The paths are all clearly marked though so once we’re started we stay on course easily. They’re well maintained too meaning our lack of proper gear isn’t a barrier to completing a circuit around the cove.
We pass through a gate and the cove is immediately visible, a stark white angular wound on the green-brown landscape rising up as if thrust upwards from below by some vast, ancient force to break the green crust of the earth. Its angled geometry is a blunt contrast to the soft, flowing hills it sits in. We descend down one of these hills, to meet a babbling brook and trace it up to the vast limestone wall. We ogle the climbers for a short while – tiny, brightly coloured specks that give perspective to the colossal stone feature – before backtracking a few metres to climb the steps up to the top of the cove and onto the limestone pavement. Made up of massive limestone boulders with deep crevices between and within them it looks a little like an alien lunar-scape from another world. The climb up the stairway to the top is taxing on the lungs but not too much and it’s well worth the effort. Our new vantage point affords us views over what seemed to be the whole of the Dales.
The grey and threatening sky which suggests rain may be blowing in makes it even more impressive and adds a sense of urgency. These rocks are slippery when wet and dressed as we are getting caught unawares up here in bad weather would be a less than enjoyable experience. That said, I’m not too worried, I often think this landscape was made to be appreciated in wild, wet and windy weather. It’s what it knows and a part of me relishes the chance to experience it. Whether for better or worse, the rain never breaks and we get the best of both worlds as the sun splits the angry sky to highlight parts of the weather-darkened scene. The areas of brilliant contrast create a beautiful discordance with the surrounding shade, the two summing to breath-taking effect.
We continue on over the pavement, the boulders giving way to fields covering the plateau, made green by the characteristic, short-cropped grass that grows up here. We descend at a gentler rate than we’d ascended over rolling and lush green fields, grazed by sheep and their recently born lambs. Even here though the beautiful harshness of the landscape is ever present, bursting through in the form of a limestone boulder here and there. It’s as if the land wants to remind us it is not soft. Over styles and single track roads we walked almost completely alone, passing only an occasional walker. Enough to reassure us we were still on track while still allowing us to believe this countryside belonged solely to us.
Back down at the road we have a choice of two directions, close the circuit or head up to Gordale Scar. For now, we choose the latter and go left, passing through a campsite and tracing a stream that seems somehow unbounded by banks, with the ground and water on a level and merging at some undefined point. As we progress further up the valley, greys become dominant and hard stony scree replaces grass on the sides of the hills, creating an arid, almost barren contrast to the lush, water filled valley floor. A few hardy trees manage to cling to the slopes nonetheless, their roots forming impressive, visible networks where the scree has slid away undercutting them.
We follow the stream unsuspecting. An outcrop defines a corner, the hills that bounded us more cliffs now suddenly, shielding what is ahead from view. We round the cliff to a spectacular natural display. We’re at the head of the scar abruptly and huge boulders, once part of the cliffs above, now lie strewn around on the floor, and pile steeply up to Malham Tarn beyond. Over the crest of the boulder pile a sliver of sky through the narrow gorge is visible. Just below this a small but powerful waterfall, billows over the rocks, simultaneously suspended in the air and pummelling the rocks below.
The white noise of the white water amplified by the little cliff bound amphitheatre we now find ourselves in. Something inside me swells, pride maybe, that this is home, awe definitely at the knowledge that this place took thousands of years to form. Thousands of years of almost no change day to day but this is the outcome. Van Gogh said that “Great things are not by impulse but by a series of small things brought together”. In this world where we all jostle to be great but are encouraged to shortcut the process, being in this place reminds me to do small things patiently and with care.
We retrace our steps back to the last choice point and by now I’m practically bouncing, regressed back into that child-like state of wonder and burning curiosity that nature sets alight in me. This time we take the right branch and head up the hill on the road for a short while. A small sign tells us to peel off to the left into dense woodland. Another sign warns us of Ash die-back, a fungus which is decimating UK woodland, and advises actions to limit its spread and help preservation of the landscape. We head deeper into the wood and come to a steep descent, cut into the mud path and crisscrossed with roots. I wish I had my little enduro bike – what fun this would be! Not that I’d be allowed to ride it here so I just dream about it instead. My surroundings soon reassert themselves though and pull me from my imaginings. The forest opens up into a small glade with another waterfall, no less impressive than the last but totally different – Janet’s foss. Named for an old Norse word for waterfall, this one is kinder and softer somehow, falling gracefully into the clear pool below. Infused with magic and mystery rather than with the awesome, steadfast force of nature.
Legend suggests that the cave behind the waterfall is home to the faerie queen Jennet. Stood in this magical glade that seems to contain every shade of green in existence and then a few more, it’s easy to believe in faeries. Moss softens all the stones and trees, camouflaging and blending foreground into background. Details appear as if by magic when you focus directly and things seem to move in my peripheral vision. We’re accompanied by many other visitors but the sense of peace here is intoxicating. Alone in another time I can well imagine how faerie stories arose. I could stay here for days and be content in the peace.
Further down the path are fallen tree trunks with a strange, porcupine-like effect. Closer inspection reveals they’ve had hundreds of coins pushed into them giving them an appearance which evokes childhood memories – chocolate buttons pushed into a hedgehog-shaped birthday cake. I wonder why, but the answer isn’t hard to figure. Offerings to the faeries. We push a coin in – whether for fun or in belief I’m no longer sure in this strange, enchanted place – and move on.
As quickly as we entered the glade, we’re out of it again into open farmland and bright sunshine. The feeling is one of passing through a portal from another world back into your own. The familiarity of old farm buildings and the practicalities of working life reassert the real world and act to fight off the remnants of the spell cast over us. We tramp happily through the countryside and back to the car park to complete the circuit. But the car in sight doesn’t mean the walk is over yet. There’s still time to cross the charming little foot bridge attached to the quaint, tiny tumble-down house. One day I think, when all my travels are done and I’m ready to settle, we’ll build a tiny house like this one, from the materials given by the land, in country like this and roam it, exploring every day.
We’re still unsure whether we can afford to live in the UK with the lifestyle we want but as time passes I develop confidence that time will tell. For now, it’s enough to have the seed of an idea planted.