Dent to Ash-hining Farm (nr Lowgill)
Updated: Jan 17, 2020
Dales Way – Day 4 – 9.5 miles
A post-breakfast cup of tea in Stone Close B&B. The Sunday service at St Andrews has finished and three of the bellringers have convened on the table alongside mine. The talk is animated.
"Ambitious today, but I think it went well."
"Made a good go of it, at least."
"Can't do a quarter, though. Not yet. Might manage it in Ambleside, though... Fine set of bells that..."
...Bell chat at breakfast. Just another reason to love Dent.
The walk from Dent to Sedbergh taken by the Dales Way (and the Pennine Journey) is one of the finest walks in the country. I'd rank it up there with the magical Pennine Way leg from Middleton-in-Teesdale to Dufton and the South West Coast Path from Bude to Hartland Quay.
Sometimes memory cheats you; blue skies first time around can dim the magic of a murky second visit. Not on the gentle six miler to Sedbergh, though. It retains the magic even with groundwater in abundance; overnight drenching leaving a legacy of waterlogged fields, flooded lanes and mud, glorious mud. At one point a careless – or mischievous – piece of field drainage down a wall-enclosed holloway means the walker has no choice but stride up a stream. Shortly after that a submerged lane with no escape means paddling on regardless. Shortly after that I give up caring about wet feet.
It makes for slow, often slippy, progress. But in Dentdale all is forgiven.
Shortly after Barth Bridge I meet an old gent who's walking the levied riverbank with the aid of two sticks. He's in a mood to chat. Nineteen years he's lived here, he says, and he still takes a walk every day. I point at Combe Scar; it's not a fell I know.
"Let me find my seat," he says, strolling a few yards further then perching himself on a slab of limestone resting on a dry-stone wall. From his familiar perch, Dee bubbling behind him, he talks me through a panorama of the Barbon fells and their ascents, ridges and geology. Unlike the limestone valley bottom these fells are granite: an uprising of Lakeland in Dales country. It was partly this oddity that inspired local son and godfather of geology Adam Sedgwick's love – and knowledge – of rock.
Riverside meadows, hedge-lined lanes; pockets of oak woodland; these are the bread and butter of the next miles of the Dales Way. But the delight here is in the detail: a moment where the Way sinks to meet the river at a a cobbled path weaving through the sycamore roots (who laid the cobbles? why?); the hedges – on field boundaries, beside the roads, lining the levies – laid by long-departed masters of their craft; the sunken lanes shaded by spreading oaks; and the many farms and homes that it's hard not to covet.
All the while the Dee, restless and ever-so-slightly reckless, plays background music, autumn leaves spinning past in the blink of an eye.
At Gate Manor the Dales Way climbs steadily onto the shoulder of Frostrow. Past the farmhouse of Gap the views open, then round the corner the Howgills appear for the first time; the compact rise of many-shouldered fells that Wainwright likened to sleeping elephants.
On Winder's lower slopes stands the softly-spoken market town of Sedbergh, with its cobbled alleys and its narrow streets. Sandwiched midway between the Yorkshire Dales and the Lake District it has escaped the tourist onslaught of both.
Not that it minds, and it is all the better for that.
Many Dales Wayers choose to end their Dent day at Sedbergh. It's a short leg, and fair play to them: a half day in the book town is time well spent. Because Windermere – and the end of the road – is my aim tomorrow, I need to cover a few more miles. So on I squelch, heading west along the Rawthey into country that's new to me.
The few miles to my stopping point for the night – Ash-hining Farm in the shadow of Winder – are a mixed bag. There's a skirting of the public school for which Sedbergh is best known. There's yet more riverside loveliness – ancient oaks on rocky banks. There are hedge-hugged lanes with the furrow marks of history, meadows in varying degrees of saturation, an emerging roadside orchard. Best of all is the Lune Viaduct, known locally as Waterside, a gift of the Victorian Age and the lost Ingleton Branch, elegant cast-iron arch hanging 100ft above the Lune, the second great watercourse tracked in as many days.
And, of course, mud in abundance.
Onwards (squelch) to Low Branthwaite (squelch), where I leave the Way for Ash-hining Farm (squelch).
The 'hining' is Scandinavian for a clump of trees. I ask Jim, my host, where the trees are. His father, he says, did more to trash the landscape of this upland farm than anyone before or since. Jim has attempted to replace the lost ashes (dead within five years to dieback), and has gone on since to plant oaks, birches and rowan on his land. He's lived at Ash-hining for over 70 years and never once had to buy in wood. That doesn't happen unless you keep on planting.
Jim's a long distance walker. He makes next-to-nothing from hosting Dales Wayers. But he loves the craic. We talk about the nation's great paths; Pennine Way; West Highland Way; Offa's Dyke Path. And the lesser know – the Fife Coast Path is his favourite. He washes my boots, gives me paper to stuff into them overnight, and there's a cup of tea and cake served in his conservatory with a view.
I ask Jim if he's walked the Dales Way.
"No. Never gone round to it."
Crazy. He'd get at least one night's accommodation for free.