16th March 2019

Ben and I set off from Sheffield after eating a massive plate of noodles in a West Street Chinese Restaurant. Earlier in the evening, walking around the supermarket with Ben, it occurred to me that I have never seen food through the eyes of someone with a dietary condition before; even a self-inflicted one. We needed to forage food for Ben for the weekend. It is easy to imagine that vegetarians are taking over the country but it was remarkably difficult to find anything non-meaty during a hunt through the local Tesco. At least a weekend’s worth of calories had been imbibed by us both in the restaurant, prior to setting off on our journey to North Yorkshire.

I had been looking at an ever-worsening long range forecast for several days. The weekend looked a little wet – biblical, I believe was the phrase coined several times during the evening. I had purchased a shiny new Northern England climbing guide too. I like to think I am entirely superstition free but a bit of me thought that also purchasing some new waterproof clothes would ward off the rain and allow me to enjoy value from my new guidebook. Plan B was to descend some cave or other, which Rob made sound fairly tame. Our car journey proceeded without event until we sailed past the unmarked hut and confidently swung into a farmer’s driveway and courtyard. We remained in front of his house, full-beam headlights trained on his sitting room and blinding him such that he couldn’t enjoy his daily ration of Emmerdale Farm. Engine running, it was also not possible for him to listen to the evening’s addition of The Archers. Why is it that people don’t like BMW drivers? We sat in the car looking confusedly at our telephone navigation systems when a flat cap and waxy jacket, containing a farmer, came out of the farmhouse and gazed through my car window. I sunk down into my seat, embarrassed to have invaded his privacy and then ran down the window. A very nice chap, he turned out to be, whom responded to apologies with a cheerful “you’re looking for that caving club place aren’t you?” Armed with his instructions, we tentatively drove up to some foreboding wooden gates at the end of a dark and gloomy wood. Surprisingly, rather than finding, at the end of the track, a castle with a beast, witch, ghost, etc., we found a golf clubhouse somehow marooned nowhere near a golf course. We were penultimate to arrive and the clubhouse was, therefore, full of familiar faces.

Cans of John Smith (or was it Caffrey’s?) were sunk one after another, as conversation flowed. The first night at a DPC meet is always splendid but then one must spare a thought to the odyssey of the next day – imagine Odysseus’ fortunes with a raging hangover. Off to our bunks we went in anticipation of soggy outdoor fun the next day.

In the morning the adage came to me “cave in rain live ‘till tomorrow in vain”. Concomitantly, I had a desperate desire to test the new waterproof clothes I had bought the previous week. One of the bunkers in the non-existent golf course begun to develop into a water feature that grew before our eyes into a sizable lake. I took an interest in the ‘meaningful walk’ discussions. I thought that the caving SRT trip sounded like fun but it turned out the cave would be flooded and plan-C was an hour long slog up hill; with a likely freezing wet wait before and after entering the hole. My mind was, therefore, made up to abandon my guest Ben with the caving party and set out, myself, for a nice walk cocooned in toasty new waterproofs.

We set off in the pouring rain, though, surprisingly, chatting ensued quite comfortably. The lack of gale-force winds meant we could easily hear each other above the driving rain. We went east from Clapham above Ingleborough Hall on the Thwaite Lane track. We then followed the minor road past Silloth House, just to the south of the hamlet of Wharfe. From here we went east on field paths punctuated with high-stone-walls and step-ladder like styles; one, after another, after another, after another. Dry (stone) walls they certainly were not that day. We were funnelled over the brow of the hill, before bearing SE by Wharfe Wood. We walked, or, rather, were blown through a gap in the limestone scar and dropped down into Feizor. An unexpected oasis awaited; albeit a duplicitous sanctuary from the biblical rain. One of the houses in the village had a sign ‘Café’ on the door that was found at the end of a little square, paved front garden. The door opened, and a flood of beautiful warm air flowed out and over my freezing cold face. The swing of the door attracted my attention to the sign and I read the words ‘dogs and muddy boots welcome’. Almost simultaneously, I registered the hospitality for less than well-turned-out walkers and the horrified look on the face of the proprietor as its eyes set upon our dripping attire in unabridged disgust. “You can’t come in here” she said. I could see the cogs whirring in her head and the thought that we were quite a sizable party and on that cold and wet day in February it might not be the best business decision to turn us away. Alternative seating was offered in the form of a lugubrious, ramshackle, ignoble car port that proceeded the lavatories, along with some cold, metal garden furniture to rest our posteriors upon. The iniquity seemed noticed only by me and we seated ourselves out in the cold, after I applied further layers of insulation to myself. There was a ray of hope that the deleterious effects of the cold might be stayed off by a patio heater. Alas, it was a false dawn, with repeated attempts to light the instrument failing. Rob would have got it going, I mused with melancholy. We waited in relative comfort: chatting, ordering, waiting and, finally, receiving our libations. Drip, drip, drip as the rain came through a screw hole in the corrugated roof. I have had a lot of scones in my life and there was something quite ethereal about sitting fully togged in the antithesis of luxury, whilst eating a quite lovely scone and sipping a high-quality Latte, contained within a poncy glass that had a little handle half way up its stem, guaranteed to cause burning of the knuckles. With the ‘kids’ off caving, tentatively, I thought I would make a little joke that: “it’s like being Pyke in Dad’s Army being here”. I do not think anyone understood my attempt at humour. The slight problem with the joke, alas, is that I am twice the age of Pyke; though Geoff does keep reminding me that I am half his age. He’s looking good for 84. Jonathan kindly paid for our respite whilst I gingerly eased my ceased limbs out of the chair. I felt on the cold side of comfortable and looked with apprehension at the, still, driving rain outside. Setting off, I thought it was interesting that all the driveways in this village had quite substantial cattle grids at their foot; the sort one drives over on major roads. This certainly was rural.

The memorable and impressive aspect to the excursion was not the rain; cats, dog, stair-rods, though it was. The furrows by the side of the footpaths had turned to streams; the streams had turned to rivers; and the rivers had haemorrhaged all over surrounding fields. Streams emerged from the ground, gushing down inclines, coming to a crashing halt against stone walls, before eddying and flowing onward along the path of least resistance.  We then walked WNW along the inundated Hale Lane. In our path lay what I am told was a footbridge, though I thought it was a raging ford. Some of us had the good sense to trespass into an adjoining field and find a river-crossing point before doubling back to join the others. My new waterproof coat was holding up perfectly. My new waterproof trousers were mostly holding back the barrage of rain; however, I was developing a cold, wet sensation in the very immediate vicinity of my crotch, precisely as a person that had wet himself would feel if he were cold-blooded. My gloves were, by now, so wet that the ends had become sufficiently heavily with pooled water that if I were to gesticulate at a misfortunate time, I might well cause whipping wounds to someone’s face; much like carrying lead shot in the ends. What was making me fairly miserable was, however, my soaking wet feet. Along with the new torso attire, I so nearly purchased a new pair of walking boots to replace these that dated back to a visit to Dorset in 2002. I so wished I had made the investment. I had tried my best to step into water as little as possible, though insult was firmly added to injury when our footpath became a walled aqueduct. There was no choice but to trudge miserably along the ephemeral river. We then diverted via Wood Lane to avoid the fields flooded by the Austwick Beck, crossing the road bridge to enter Austwick village.

Exposed hillside fields now stood between us and our homecoming at Clapham. For mile after mile, we trudged. Silently, I followed in other’s footsteps. The cold rain lashed my left-hand cheek and eye. I placed my left hand in the rain’s path and held it there as a shield for as long as my arm muscles would bear, whilst my sodden hand froze. On and on we went with thousands of little wet daggers being driven continuously, again and again, into the same small area of my face. We descended a little and came across the curios sight of newly formed lakes with fully formed waves breaking onto little beaches; like some sort of model arctic ocean that now required adornment with little tiny seals and polar bears.

Then we were back! We reached Clapham by the car park. A round trip of about 8 miles in total. A few of us (Lionel and David) stayed on at the New Inn to watch part of Wales v Ireland. The Calcutta Cup match was an hour, or so, away and so I decided that it was worth the trip back to the club-house, to avail myself of dry clothing, before, hopefully, returning to see the rugby later.

There was a drying room at the hut that would have been excellent had the heater and dehumidifier been operational. As it was, hunting for the on-buttons simply extended the period I spent damp and cold. I was pleased to find that my wallet and phone had stayed dry and only my keys had got wet. I placed these on the windowsill by the front door to dry and then went upstairs to change my clothes. I then collapsed down on a sofa in the sitting room and relaxed. I had not noticed the horrible accident that had unfolded in the latter stages of the walk. Syd had apparently surmounted a style only to slip and fall headlong into a dry-stone wall; sending wet-stones hither and thither. Sitting opposite me, he looked pale and his head had the appearance of a bloody Mikhail Gorbachev. Club Health and Safety officers gathered round with antiseptic wipes, bandages, liability waivers and other surgical equipment; wearing very sombre faces. With Lancaster’s hospital an hour or more away by car, I thought a helicopter would be required. We should have known better and Syd being made of tough material laughed off the horrible accident as though it was a minor scratch. Geoff then heard that the caving party was heading to the pub and we set off back to the New Inn.

The England game had become a dead rubber because Wales had beaten Ireland and so I sat with the cavers and listened to their tales of the day whilst one of the most bizarre rugby matches unfolded on the TV in the next room. I could hear a vast range of cheering and sighs with England scoring many, many tries in the first half, only for the game to end in a draw after a late Scotland fightback. 
Following a nice meal in the evening – thanks to Axel, Graham, et. al., – we sat facing each other in the eclectic range of furniture lining the four walls of the hut sitting room. With tired, unresponsive limbs, dulled senses (due to alcohol) and my vision occupied by much grey hair and shiny heads, I reflected that this is precisely how I am going to find myself should I live long enough to require residential care. 

In the morning, I was just about to relax and enjoy a nice cup of coffee before heading off to Malham Cove when I decided not to be lazy and to pack my car first. I felt in my pocket for my car keys: not there. I went around all my pockets and could not find my keys in any of them. Remaining calm, I reminded myself that with so many pockets in modern coats, when apparently lost, my keys always turn out to be in one of them. Around and around again I went in turn, one after another, digging right into the pocket, expecting the familiar feeling of my keys. I then started searching through my bags in slightly desperate anticipation that they must be there somewhere. Getting ever more methodical, I took all clothing out and arranged every item in a nice neat pile and stared at them whilst repeatedly hunting at the bottom of the now empty bags. They must have fallen out of my pocket in the sitting room – that was the only explanation. I hunted under chairs and, tentatively, rummaged in the somewhat grubby sofa, to no avail. I was now at the point of giving into the doubting voice in my head that I had been quelling for several minutes: “You bloody idiot, you’ve lost your keys and now you will have to find some way of getting a spare out here; how, on earth, do you think you are going to do that?” I went into the drying room and looked around. In the back of my mind, I felt as though there was something special about the area just outside the room and I stood there and relived the moment when I first came in from the walk, put my hand in my pocket, found my wet keys a “yes! I put them on the windowsill”. What an idiot.