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26 May, 2007

Walk/Cycle ride: Bentham-Kingsdale-Lancaster

My last 'big' cycle ride of 2006 took me through Kingsdale, a secluded glacial valley above Ingleton, at the edge of the Yorkshire Dales National Park.  It seemed quite pleasant, and looks interesting on the map, but I passed at dusk (with ~30 km still to go) and was too tired to appreciate it.  Considering a motivation for that ride had been to visit one of the few dales I'd yet to see, today I returned for a better look and to take photos.

I used the opportunity of the train ride to Bentham to plan my route. Like most hills in the area, the western side of Kingsdale has a distinctive profile, determined by interbedded Carboniferous gritstone and limestone. A short slope rises steeply ~100 m to a level area dotted with sink holes, then rises more gradually (~200 m over ~750 m) to the foot of a second very steep slope, which rises ~50 m to the top of the ridge; an ascent of ~300 m overall. I planned to leave my bike somewhere on the valley floor, walk along the lower 'terrace' all the way along Kingsdale, exploring the main potholes named on the OS 1:25,000 map, then climb to the the ridge and walk back via the summits of Gragareth, Great Coum and Crag Hill.
In hindsight, that was too much, and is two separate walks, but based on that initial idea I decided to park by Yordas Cave, about halfway along the valley, and walk back to the mouth of Kingsdale before climbing the gentler slope at the end of the ridge (rather than go straight up the steep side). I'd follow that past Gragareth's trig. pillar to the head of the dale, look down over Deepdale and Dent, then follow a rough track and surfaced road back to my bike.

The optimum route from the station to Kingsdale (yes, I had consciously considered that) passes through Ingleton and Thornton in Lonsdale, so I made a slight diversion almost before I'd really started: I went into Ingleton to use the public toilets, check for photo opportunities, successfully avoid being rude to a christian evangelist, and buy a little more food for the trip. Another brief stop in Thornton was planned, as I knew I wanted to photograph the church where Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was married.

The climb to the mouth of Kingsdale was the only strenuous part of today's ride, and not too bad (160 m in 2 km) though the road up the valley from there was steeper and much longer than I remembered.

There were quite a few cars and vans parked near Yordas Cave; I was briefly concerned that I'd stumbled across a popular picnic site or coincided with a rambling club's excursion, but I think most visitors were cavers, and I encountered very few people on the surface all day.

Yordas Cave (incidentally, it is 'Yordas Cave', from Old Norse 'jord-ass' ('earth stream'), not 'Yorda's Cave' – no apostrophe) is only a couple of minutes walk from the road. A cursory web search about Kingsdale had informed me that one can go in, so I'd made a point of bringing my bike's headlight. However, I hadn't checked the state of the batteries, so even after waiting about five minutes for my eyes to adjust to the small amount of daylight from the entrance, I ended up exploring the huge main chamber by touch and hearing – luckily the stream bisecting the cavern was audible.
Abandoning that part of the walk, I followed the gorge up through Yordas Wood to the other end of the cave, where Yordas Gill vanishes underground. It's quite an attractive area, and if anyone plans to visit the cave, I'd recommend making the extra effort to continue uphill a little.

Leaving the wood, I readily found a path seeming to head straight up to the top of the ridge, but not the one I wanted, across the slope. There had to be one somewhere; it was marked on the map and must be used regularly by cavers. I'm afraid it defeated me, and I wandered straight across the moor, navigating by dry stone walls until I jumped one and suddenly found myself on the proper path. I still don't know how that happened, but I suspect the problem was the similarity between the OS's depiction of a 'path' (a dotted fine black line) and a 'line of shake holes' (a dotted fine black line).

Somehow I missed the first named pothole on my route, Jingling Pot, but the next was impressive. Rowten Pot is a relatively large feature containing a small tree-covered shelf beside a deep open shaft. I walked around the perimeter, then found a way to descend at least as far as the shelf. That was good in itself, but I managed to find my way into a horizontal cave. For once I regretted walking alone, as despite my enthusiasm, it would have been too foolhardy to explore further. I took a couple of photos and sat for a few minutes to absorb the sounds, smell and appearence of the softly-lit rock, but then returned to the surface.

Despite there being several named potholes within the remaining two kilometres to the end of the upper ridge, and hence the start of the second part of my walk, the only notable surface feature I found was Kail Pot, a large, er, hole in the ground. Unfortunately, the sides were vertical (it was fenced-off to protect sheep) so I couldn't explore. I think I'll have to go back, with the specific intention of lingering to find other holes off the line of the main path – today I was a little too aware that the walk was taking much longer than I'd expected, and I still had a long way to go (not to mention the ~40km bike ride afterwards).

Crossing to the dry stone wall on the ridgeline and county boundary (the second phase of the trip couldn't have been more straightforward: follow a wall for 7 km), I diverted to follow a line of large sinkholes, one containing a cave mouth, to a small copse (itself unexpected on open moorland) containing another well-known pothole, Marble Steps Pot. This was attractive, especially surrounded by vegetation, but again the sides were too steep for me to (safely) investigate.

The ridge walk was, well, a chore, despite the excellent views. As I said above, this trip was taking far longer than I'd anticipated. It may be that I'm too used to judging distances as a cyclist – 7 km might take 20 minutes by bike but an hour at a strenuous walking pace, and that's on flat tarmac, not undulating moorland. After visiting the trig. pillar at the nominal summit of Gragareth, ~100 m off the path, then returning to the wall, I had to reconsider. Even without measuring on the map, I could see that most of the intended route was ahead of me (I measured it later; I'd covered 8½ km with 14¼ km still to do, the final ~5 km on a road) and it was time to mention the cycle ride home. It was too much, so I cut the walk short by scrambling directly down the valley side to the lower 'terrace', straight across the moor back to Yordas Wood and my bike. I'd walked almost exactly 10 km overall. Next time, I'll probably pick-up the route at the same point on the ridge.

The ride home wasn't too bad, taking 1 hour 52 mins. I didn't think to check the distance from Clapham to Yordas Wood, thereby providing the distance from Yordas Wood to Lancaster, but I rode 53.8km (33½ miles) in total, at an average speed of 21 km/h (13 mph) and reaching 46½ km/h (29 mph) at least once.

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