People have often told me that I have a 'journalistic bent'. I either reply to this politely, or with a few well-chosen epithets of my own. You can decide on my writing prowess after reading this article. Whatever your opinion, I am sure that Piers Morgan's job will be quite safe.
And so it came to pass that 26 hardy and eager guys and gals (including your faithful narrator) stumbled upon the charming North Yorkshire village of Malham late one Friday evening. Normally, on such weekend trips, the rendezvous point is a hostelry and this was no different at Malham. The journey up north was fairly short compared to previous trips, and myself and my elegant chauffeur passed through an array of delightful, welcoming places, and also, sunny Bradford. Most of the walking posse arrived around 9pm with the intention of fortifying themselves with a few noggins before venturing up the dark lane to the bunk barn at Hill Top Farm. For some bizarre reason, walking in a straight line proved more of a challenge than six hours earlier. I'll put it down to being tired.
On Saturday morning, we were able to explore Malham and see the charms it has to offer. The village, whose population probably quintupled by our sudden invasion, boasts two fine taverns, a post office, a coffee shop, a tourist information centre and a youth hostel. Punters seeking 24 hour Snooker Clubs and discos would be more likely to find these in Gargrave or Hellifield. One member of the group, visibly worried by our drunken revelling, opted to stop at the hostel instead. The bunk barn contained some comfortable sleeping quarters, a compact and fully equipped kitchen with all mod cons and a large, cosy common room. Not forgetting the basic, but adequate washrooms, probably frequented more by the females judging by the whiskery appearance of some of the males on Sunday morning.
Let us now proceed with the Saturday walks (theoretically, the principal reason for the trip). As usual, two sojourns were on offer. Dr. Roger 'The Dodger' Griffiths led a hard-core posse up Ingleborough. The easier walk (which I went on, despite having bragged the night before that I could whizz up Whernside and Pen-y-Ghent without breaking sweat) was more gentle, although still a challenge in parts. First of all, we ambulated our way to 'Janet's Foss', a gushing waterfall and waterpool a mile away from Malham village. In days of old when knights were bold, farmers used to wash their sheep in the Foss, the idea being that the spring water made the wool easier to lift from the skin. Sound a bit dodgy?? But not unpleasant, though. Being deprived and rustic (like many of my fellow Lancastrians), I wanted to recreate this ancient pastime, but there were no woolly ovines in the vicinity, and the female walkers were none too keen. So, we continued to Gordale Scar.
The Scar is a veritable sight for sore eyes and one section involves a tough, 30 feet scramble which is not recommended for those of a nervous disposition or punters over 85. Similarly, it should be negotiated with extreme caution in wintry conditions. As with most types of scrambling, it is best not to look down as this induces feelings of panic. And let's face it, descending a jagged piece of rock is palpably trickier than going up. Yet, numerous canine ramblers who negotiated the scramble easily did not dissipate our feelings of nervousness. With the assurance from the walk leaders that the first drinking establishment was located "just over the top of the Scar, a mere 300 metres away", the seven of us bounded our way to the top in 50 seconds flat.
After learning that the 'pub' was a mirage, the intrepid adventurers made their way to 'Malham Tarn' where eerie wisps of swirling mist shrouded the water like nebulous phantoms. Having partaken in a well-earned luncheon, cut short by inclement elements, we headed for the most picturesque part of the weekend away, namely 'Malham Cove'. The Cove resembles a giant cream cake (which could probably satisfy the whole of Yorkshire) with the limestone representing the calorie-charged cream. Perched atop the Cove is a magnificent limestone pavement, along which we honed our long jump skills. One or two chaps underestimated their dexterity and got their limbs caught in the 'grykes'. Take note: the 'clints' are the solid, pavement surfaces, and the grykes are the gaps. It may win you a pub quiz one day. It is not good practice to get trapped in a gryke as they are literally a breeding ground for adders. Although, to be fair, you are more likely to encounter litter than a viper these days.
And thence, the walking warriors continued homeward bound, well, pub bound obviously with our reputation. Clad in our muddy boots, Malham has a hikers' bar tailored specifically for people like us, and we took great delight in showing off our competence at 'piggy-back pool'. The locals seemed baffled by this bizarre, animalistic pursuit, but we carried on regardless. We were joined later on by Roger's Dodgers who had valuable drinking time to catch up on.
After all that physical exercise, comestibles were necessary. The pub served excellent grub and for those who could tear themselves away, Webmaster Andrew had prepared a delicious chickpea curry. This was washed down with several flagons of vintage Claret and Chardonnay. Later on, all 26 of us reconvened at the tavern to imbibe more sherbets, tell yarns and chat up the local talent. One of the discussions which arose was the best way to attract a potential partner. According to some of the females, the most important physical feature in a man is his shoes. Take note guys. It is a sobering thought (there weren't many of those that Saturday night) when you consider how much dosh we put into the pub's till during that weekend. And quite rightly, we had a lock-in before the unsteady shuffle back to the ranch for one or two supplementary night-caps.
The Sunday on a rambling weekend is generally more low-key than Saturday due to the following factors: the need to travel home, the magnitude of one's hangover and simply the fact that it's Sunday. Therefore, the two walks on offer were shortish jaunts. The longer walk, aimed at Roger's Dodgers, was a carbon copy of Saturday's Malham Cove walk. And the easier trek was around the Settle area, which took in the dark and scary Victoria Cave - ideal for a game of hide-and-seek in the pitch black. The weather was pretty sound, apart from one occasion when the heavens opened and we questioned whether Northern Britain should introduce a fifth season - 'The Monsoon'. Annoyingly, ten minutes later, the sun had his sombrero on, mocking us with an impression of how hot it is in Madrid in August. Does this happen to you too?
Following this relaxing and straightforward walk, it was time to head down the M1 and back to the future, to the world where mobile phones work and where Richard Hillman is on the loose. On the return voyage, we stopped off in sunny Bradders for a decent Lamb Rogan Josh and Mushroom Pakora, and I relived the 5 years I spent studying there.
And now for the back-slapping bit. I would like to take this opportunity to thank Zoe, Simon and Roger for the excellent walks they planned and led. Equally, I wish to thank Chris for agreeing to act as my chauffeur at such short notice. And finally, I'd like to extend a big thank you to the chivalrous, cheeky Cheltenham charmer, Simon Lewis, for stepping into the breach and doing a splendid, unflappable job as Acting President for the weekend.
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