One of the great joys of living in Yorkshire is how close you are to some of the most spectacular and varied countryside in the world. Leeds is little more than an hour from the East and West coasts, but much closer to the dales and, if you are prepared to travel a little further, to The Peak District in Derbyshire. Some of the closest spots I have mentioned before, and these include Almscliffe Crag, Hetchell Woods, Otley Chevin and the Ilkley Moors with the Cow and Calf rocks. These places provided very short trips that could be made on buses as well as by car and we were regulars as a family as well as just with friends. Not only did they hold places of outstanding natural beauty, but they also held thousands of years of history with prehistoric standing stones, ancient ruins and evidence of past industries. Yorkshire has a long history of invasion and the language and place names reflect the influence of the invaders who stayed.
Plumpton Rocks (Top Left), Brimham Rocks (Below) and Hetchell Crags (Right)
Our early ventures on day trips were in our first cars, the Austin A7 Ruby and the Ford Prefect. In the 1950s cars were still uncommon and the Yorkshire countryside did not teem with the thousands who now venture on day trips making beauty spots almost impossible to see, due to lack of parking and heaving crowds. Places such as Brimham Rocks and Plumpton Rocks were well worth a visit and they offered quite different scenery, but probably the most spectacular was Malham Cove. We used to go for picnics and we had a tartan travel rug and a cane basket where the picnic was stored. Early on, my Dad used to get out a little paraffin primus stove that had to be pumped before lighting. A small kettle would be put on to boil and then Mum and Dad could have a cup of tea. It was quite a ritual and after a few years was replaced by the trusty Thermos Flask. I don’t think tea ever tastes quite right if stored in a Thermos Flask, but they didn’t seem to mind. The sandwiches tended to have either potted meat or crab paste, Shipman’s, I think. We did once meet up with Uncle Ernest and Aunty Joan and we went to North Yorkshire to Fylingdales, where the early warning system giant golfballs were and again had a picnic with the primus stove. I am pretty sure that we were using the Austin A7 Ruby, which we called the Fridge, as it had no form of heating, but to be honest the Prefect wasn’t much better, but it was bigger. The Fridge had a real problem on the hills of the North Yorkshire Moors and was overheating and so we had to stop half way up a steep hill and sat at the side on the tussocky grass to picnic while the car engine cooled down. I think we had to make two stops to prevent the engine overheating and I think that that was the reason that the car was soon replaced. It was rather an embarrassment as Uncle Ernest had a much more modern car and there was a bit of rivalry.
Breaking down was a frequent occurrence in the 1950s and 60s. The first two cars were so old fashioned that they had starting handles. As we got a little older we used to drive fairly regularly to visit my Scottish Aunty and Grandad who lived in Ilkley and I again remember breaking down on the way. RAC or AA membership was well worth the money and despite long waits someone would come and rescue us eventually.
We weren’t to be put off and we began to explore more far-flung places in the Dales. We visited both scenic and historic sites, and Bolton Abbey and the Strid were popular. I remember having a go at the stepping stones at Bolton Priory that cross the River Wharfe, but finding some of the middle ones being unsteady and giving up. I believe that they are now well fixed and safer to use. Fountains Abbey was another great place to visit and the Cistercian Monastery ruins were wonderful to visit. In many ways they were much nicer at this time as there wasn’t the large cafe and shop that there is nowadays and you could just wander. I was fascinated, as a child, to think about who had stood at the same places in the past and how their lives were so very different from mine. I used to think whether I would have preferred to live in their times or ours, and then I thought about dental treatment, medicine and hospitals and decided ours was probably the best.
As I became a teenager I stopped going with my parents on day trips, but they and my younger brother, Stuart, carried on. I guess I thought I was too grown up for that. It didn’t take long before I was back on the day trip scene with the family of my then girl friend. We were doing the same trips, to similar places and somehow it seemed much more pleasant. I did go on many visits with the scouts and as I got into rock climbing my friends and I would go by bus, carrying our climbing gear with us. I even went camping once or twice. The first time was with a friend from Roundhay School, Antony. We would have been about twelve and we arranged an overnight camp on Otley Chevin. We camped on a little site run by a farmer and my Dad drove us out there and helped pitch the tent and it all seemed very exciting. I am not sure what we thought we were going to do, but after setting up and my Dad leaving, we decided to walk into Otley. We wandered around a little aimlessly. I know we had just started showing an interest in girls and I hoped we might meet some. Alas, that was not to be the case and eventually we found a toy shop and I bought a game called Howzat! It had two metal hexagonal dice and you rolled one for your score and if it said ‘Howzat!’, then you rolled the other and it said if you were out, caught, LBW, bowled or whether it was a no ball or not out. We wandered back to our campsite and played for a while, cooked our dinner and then called it a night. My Dad collected us the next morning. I learnt one thing from that camp and that was camping witout a reason is boring. If you are climbing, hiking or some other reason then it is fine, but if just to do it, I found it a waste of time.
It did serve me well for when we went with the scouts and also when I started my Duke of Edinburgh’s Award at Roundhay. I think I would have been about fourteen and a message was read to the class that anyone interested in doing the award should meet at break time in one of the classrooms. Chris, Antony and I thought it sounded good and so we went along. I believe the deputy, Doug Morris, was in charge and he told us about the award and what was entailed. There was a series of community volunteering sessions, a camp and excursion and then you had to keep and write up a journal. There was probably more to it all, but I can’t say that I remember now. We had some options for the community part and a few of us decided on the Police. We had to attend a series of evening sessions at Milgarth Police Station in Leeds and we learnt about their work, forensics and I am not sure there was much more. The expedition suited me better and I believe it was a one night, two day camp. In preparation Mr Morris arranged for the group of three to do an overnight camp on the school grounds. We set up a tent near the Corps Huts near the bottom yard and Mr Morris visited to see we were there and organised and then left us overnight. Now there wasn’t much for us to do and at that age we weren’t the most sensible or reliable sorts and so we decided to explore. We managed to get into one of the huts and rummaged around and then decided we should visit the school pool. This was about ten at night and there was no one, apart from possibly the caretaker who lived on site, so we made our way over to the old building and again it was not very secure and we got in. It was quite an eerie sight as a low mist, of probably chlorine gas, drifted above the still water that appeared quite gluey in our torch lights. We discussed going in, but as it was always freezing, a hand in the water convinced us that it wasn’t worth it. We retreated back to the tent after trying to hide any evidence of our presence. This was probably a wise move as not much later we were disturbed in the tent by the caretaker with his torch, checking up on us. “All right lads?” he said. “Yes thanks,” and that was the whole conversation.
The next morning Mr Morris arrived to check we had survived and we suceeded in convincing him that we were fit candidates for the expedition. It was decided that we should walk from Malham Tarn, along the old river gorge and then down the side of the Cove and camp at the base on the camp site there. We had to stay one night and then continue on to a rendezvous point. Mr Morris drove us from school to Malham and checked that we had everything, maps, route marked, tent and then he left us and said he would be at the rendezvous point at the set time.
It must be remembered that there were no mobile phones or GPS in these days and so getting lost and being unable to contact anyone was a real possibility, but we had compasses and the Ordnance Survey maps were brilliant. We set off, carrying sizeable backpacks and headed towards a point from the Tarn where there was a footpath that eventually led to the Cove. For those interested in geography, Malham is a wonderful example of limestone features. At the end of the last Ice Age as the glaciers that covered the area melted, water flowed along the surface, cut a gorge and then fell off the top of Malham Cove. At this time it would have been a spectacular 260-foot drop to the valley below, but, with the melting of the permanently frozen ground, the water cut into the limestone, producing the famous clints and grikes, and the limestone pavement at the top of the cove. There are complex cave systems under the surface and in 2015 after a storm, water once again flowed over edge and fell from Malham Cove for a short time.
The hike was spectacular and the view from the top of the Cove is magnificent and the way we approached was the easiest way as we just had to climb down rhe sides along the footpath to reach the base and our camp site. We set up our tent and enjoyed a rest as the beck flowed past. It was quiet and there were very few people around. I don’t think that it was planned, but staying at Malham had one real advantage. Being fourteen and looking fairly old for our ages we thought we would try a local pub for a drink or two in the evening. We walked down into the village and found The Buck Inn. I seem to recall it had a bar for ramblers where the floor was stone flags, so boots couldn’t damage it and basic benches and tables. We walked in and there may have been one or two people in the bar, but it was very quiet. The barman never blinked an eye or asked for our ages or ID, but he did ask us what we wanted. Within moments we had three barrel glasses full of beer and we sat at a table, relaxed and feeling very content. We chatted, drank and chatted more, got a couple of refills and later in the night made our way back to the tents. It was a much more difficult walk back as it was uphill and we tended to wander a little, but we eventually managed it and, I must say, we had no difficulty sleeping.
We woke early, with the dawn, to the sound of the birds and the babbling beck. We were not as fresh as the previous day, but we had to pack up and set off in order to make the rendezvous point on time. After a while we set off and made the point with no mishaps and Mr Morris turned up. He asked how it had all gone and we told him how great it had been. We got back to Leeds and unfortunately I never got around to completing the journal and so never passed, but I think Chris did. At fourteen I had more interest in music and girls, but I have never lost my love for the Yorkshire landscape. You could spend your whole life walking it and still barely scratch the surface of its depth, its moods and its beauty.