In Spring a young man’s fancy turns to thoughts of love, apparently, but in Autumn thoughts usually turn to taking the new postgraduate students for a walk in the lovely Yorkshire countryside. So we did, and it rained. In fact, that barely describes the persistent, fine, penetrating rainfall that characterised Sunday’s mass outing to the Dales.
The general idea had been to see the countryside around Grassington. If you don’t know Grassington, imagine a stereotypical Dales village populated by the cast of All Creatures Great and Small and Last of the Summer Wine. Set that small town in rolling countryside where a green quilt hand-stitched by stone walls gives way on higher ground to rough moorland where the wind shakes the cotton grass, curlews soar and flute, and sensitive souls think of Ted Hughes. Except that when it’s siling down fit to float the Ark, none of the above is visible, and Ted Hughes gives way to Peter Storm.
We followed the River Wharfe downstream to Hebden. Excellent river, the Wharfe. One day it’s gently scenic, glistening over pebbles as dippers come and go, the next it’s deep, brown and seething. Sunday was one of the seething days, with very large volumes of water shouldering their way along, and the level visibly rising. None the less, there were a surprising number of people walking the riverside, most of them accompanied by dogs. The tea-room at Hebden coped magnificently with a slithery influx of wet Gore-Tex containing soggy, grateful walkers, and the staff waited patiently while distracted academics with misted-up glasses dithered into their seats and squinted at the menu. One of the gang heroically got around a strawberry milk-shake: no small achievement in what was incontrovertibly hot-chocolate weather.
Reinforced, we set off back to Grassington, heading for High Lane along the stream, no it’s a footpath, no as you were that’s a stream. The remarkable thing about a wet day on the hills is that people generally remain cheerful. And it’s not a British thing, either, as Sunday’s crowd included Belgian, Spanish, German and Irish friends. In misty weather, walking parties should always keep together, so it was a bit disconcerting to discover that the rear end of our group were suddenly not there. Had they become disoriented, washed away or fallen down a shake-hole? No, they were simply held up at a crucial stile when the horse that had previously been standing patiently by decided to stand plumb in front of the stile, and forcefully resisted attempts to shift it. It were a Yorkshire ‘orse and didn’t hold wi’ ramblers.
And so back to our starting point, or at least to a nearby pub. The funny thing is how enjoyable it all was. We were tired, wet and muddy, had seen little of the local scenery, had cut short our intended route, and yet it had been worthwhile. One seldom sees wisdom printed on a T-shirt, but maybe it is true that a wet day in the hills is better than a sunny one in the office.
© Terry O’Connor