Friday, 20 October 2017

A camp on Great Shunner Fell

We're in Hawes, Wensleydale, in beautiful Yorkshire. In the van. Chilling. It's one of our favourite places for a relaxing break, doing nowt much. And with backpacking kit in the boot it's time for an October camp. The forecast's fine and with sac packed and Islay's panniers filled with doggy paraphernalia, we leave the caravan site.

Walking the quiet roads to Hardraw we pass a small crowd gathering for a demonstration of sheepdog handling. Islay draws "oh"s and "aw"s for her pannier carrying skills.

As we set off up the lane from the village, along the Pennine Way towards Great Shunner Fell, it begins to rain. That wasn't in the forecast. I grumble and curse as I don overtrousers and fit the raincover to my pack. Islay doesn't give a bugger.

Thankfully the rain doesn't last. It's windy though as we hit the open fell and a view of the summit is revealed...way off in the distance. Fingers feeling the cold, I dig out gloves.

It's a long, steady trudge up to the top with a couple of false summits, where you climb up a steep bit...only to find there's another mile of moor stretching out in front.

We pause for a break.

Islay's attached to me with her elasticated lead. It's primarily to avoid unnecessary sheep encounters. But it becomes apparent there's none up here in open country. So I let her off for a run. Within seconds she's easily a quarter of a mile away, on the scent of rabbits. She likes rabbits. There's lots of myxomatosis in these parts. Islay's found she can easily outrun a sick bunny. Only the other day, she came out of the undergrowth in the dog run, back at the site, with a live one in her chops. At home we rarely see any, but here...she's become completely fixated. After a couple of minutes of fruitless hunting she's back and on the lead again.

And, in the fullness of time, we reach the summit's cruciform shelter. Where Islay poses...and thinks of rabbits.

Then we set off in a sort-of south easterly direction, in search of a couple of big ponds and the hope of a tent pitch.

Locating a pond I find it surrounded by very wet, boggy ground. Further exploration reveals a raised platform which looks ok. I leave Choccy Paws secured to my sac while I return to said pond to filter water.

And in a couple of shakes, the Southern Cross 2 is up. It takes about 5 minutes to erect this tent, likewise its little brother, the Southern Cross 1. The 2 is our choice with a dog though and Islay recognises her bed, which is soon out of her panniers. And after a quick rub with her towel she's curled up, settled in her camping home.

I brew coffee and relax, but it's getting late and time for dinner. Me and pup dine in the comfort of our shelter and, as darkness falls, I pass the rest of the evening reading, whilst Islay snoozes.

The morning brings thinning mist and the promise of sun. We set out in search of a bridleway to return to Hardraw.

Along the way, at a fence, we find a memorial to Ian. A wooden cross. Closer inspection finds his whistle and compass, wedged twixt cross and fence. I've no idea who Ian was, but say a silent prayer for him, clearly a fellow hillwalker, before we carry on.

The bridleway down the valley is hard going, disappearing frequently into reeds and associated wet ground. Seeing more of this stretching ahead I give up and climb the side of the valley. We reach a stone beacon...

...and soon find ourselves back on the Pennine Way; our outbound route.

Looking back, I can see the summit, the shelf where we camped and the steeper end we'd descended an hour or so back, before we'd dropped into the valley.

And it's a delightful walk, in the warm, morning sun, back through Hardraw...back to the caravan site in Hawes...and the comfort of our van.

I love these short interludes on a motorhome trip. The simplicity of a tent camp in the quiet of the hills offers a pleasing contrast to the luxury of our home-on-wheels. Easy overnight trips like this mean I keep my backpacking skills, such that they are, fresh and familiar, making longer trips feel less daunting.

I feel very lucky.