A Walk for a Wet and Windy Day?

I have sometimes wondered if I should write a guidebook of walks to do on days with poor weather. Walks without exposed summits and ridges that you might be blown off by high winds or on which you battle gusts that make it impossible to go in a straight line. Walks without paths that turn into quagmires in heavy rain. Walks that have points of interest within a few metres for when low level cloud means there is no chance of a stirring view across a valley. Although I have not put a single word on paper for this imagined guidebook, I have got a mental list of walks I can do on wet and windy days. Last week I tried out a new walk that I was thinking would be a good addition to this list.

Huts used by the University of Leeds in its Haverah Park experiment on the Scargill Reservoir access road. Menwith Hill and the Knabs Ridge wind farm are in the distance.

The weather forecast for the Yorkshire Dales described itself as having high uncertainty, but seemed to have quite a lot of certainty that the day on which I was going on my walk would involve cold, strong winds and heavy rain. I therefore looked for an interesting walk that was either low or sheltered, and perhaps far enough from the Dales to avoid the worst of the weather. I found a walk that fitted that description in the Harrogate and Ilkley guidebook from the Walking in Yorkshire series of books. The walk was a loop from the Forestry England car park at Stainburn Moor that took in reservoirs, the remains of a castle, woods, and a bouldering venue I’d not been to. It seemed like a good bet, but ended up not being as enjoyable as I had hoped.

The first stretch of the walk involved a slightly unpleasant walk along a road. There were few cars travelling along it that day, but the cars that were on the road took advantage of their small number to move fast. I did the same and quickly got to a long and straight access road down to Scargill Reservoir. This was a relaxing amble through open moor land, with wide views and curlews calling out every few minutes. There was a strange juxtaposition between this and the golf ball like radomes of Menwith Hill military base and Knabs Ridge windfarm in the distance. 

Scargill Reservoir.

The access road took me past rundown sheds of greyed wood from the Haverah Park experiment– a Leeds University cosmic ray air shower detection array that was switched off in 1987. Peering through the windows of the sheds I could make out bits of equipment and furniture covered in dust. Sitting on the window ledge by the main door was an unopened envelope on which was written a warning that the recipient was about to get their electricity cut off. The cold wind encouraged me to keep moving, and I left the wind behind as I walked past Scargill Reservoir.

The walk took the access road as it skirted the side of the reservoir and then descended a small, pretty, wooded valley by Scargill Beck. I then took a sharp turn out of the woods to go up a field to Long Liberty Farm. Ewes with young lambs stared hard at me. This was the first time that a sheep ever growled at me. I didn’t even know that was possible. A noise somewhere between a bahh and a grrr that was made by a ewe standing rigid and firm, while one lamb hid under it and the other lay sleeping a few metres away. I kept my distance and moved slowly past them.

Ewes and lambs at Long Liberty Farm.

The route left the farm behind to follow the edge of a plantation. This sat above what my map and the signs said was Beaver Bank Reservoir, but which seemed to be devoid of water while being full of grass and young trees. I stopped for a snack in a pretty location by a gatepost dated 1710. A herd of deer and a hare went by while I ate my cereal bar, and the sun came out. Those few minutes were a highlight of the walk.

A gate post, dated 1710, on the path to John o’Gaunt’s Reservoir.

The path rose gently up to John O’Gaunt’s Reservoir. This small lake curves around a bend in gentle valley surrounded by farmland. One of the sections of stone wall that makes up the ruins of John O’Gaunt’s Castle was just visible on the top of a spur overlooking the water. John O’Gaunt (AKA John of Gaunt) was born in 1340 and died in 1399. He was the son of King Edward III, the father of King Henry IV, and the Duke of Lancaster. John O’Gaunt was also Lord of the Manor of Knaresborough. The area I was walking through would once have been part of the Forest of Knaresborough – a giant, royal hunting forest. The Castle had been a hunting lodge during that time. 

John O’Gaunt’s Reservoir, with the remains of John O’Gaunt’s Castle just visible by the trees on the hillock on the right.

The setting was pleasant and pretty, as well as being sheltered enough for me to get a bit warm going around one side of the Reservoir. I walked up to get a better look at John O’Gaunt’s Castle. Unfortunately, the Castle sits on private land and the public are no longer allowed access. Which was a shame because what I could see invited exploration. There was some sort of arched tunnel or entrance, the remains of a doorway, and randomly spaced pieces of standing wall with what looked like would be a good view of the valley. Unfortunately, I had to leave that behind.

The remains of John O’Gaunt’s Castle.

What followed was a dull walk across farmland that was only made more interesting by getting lost. I rarely get lost on mountains, but regularly find navigating around fields, hedges, dry stone walls, and farm buildings challenging. A lot of building work was being done to Brown Bank farm (it looked like it was being turned from a working farm into several homes). I decided to try a detour instead of picking my way through rubble and over tied or locked gates and got thoroughly confused in a series of blank fields. I gave up in the end. I walked back to the farm to clamber over a tied-shut gate and past a pile of rubble to continue my walk.

Once the walk got to the village of Bland Hill, somewhat ironically, it got more interesting. There were views of the Washburn Valley (that would be better if I had come on a day with good weather) as well as trees and flowering gorse.

Swinsty Reservoir.

The walk then entered the woods of Norwood Edge Plantation. The woods were lovely and another highlight of the walk. There were broad paths through a mix of new and old growth trees, with a pine plantation, beech wood, oak and others changing as I walked along and into Stainburn Forest.

The path through Norwood Edge Plantation.

Eventually I reached Little Almscliff. This is a gritstone outcrop on a small rise that does look like a miniature version of its bigger brother a few miles to the South-East. It was exposed to a cold wind and the views were obscured by a grey haze when I was there. However, on a warm, sunny day Little Almscliff must be a good mini venue.  The rock is full of interesting cracks and other features, and my guidebook shows a surprisingly large number of easier bouldering problems on its short walls.

It was a short walk from Little Almscliff back to my car. The walk had done what I had wanted in keeping me away from the nastiest of the weather and in giving me interesting things to see. It will not make my top ten of Yorkshire walks as it was nice rather than great. That’s not a criticism because there are times when a nice walk is what you need. Those times include when the weather forecast puts you off going somewhere rugged, dramatic, and exposed to the elements. So this walk makes my mental list of wet and windy day walks.

8 thoughts on “A Walk for a Wet and Windy Day?

  1. Finding walks to do in wet and windy weather is becoming ever more essential. I find I’m on the same small hills most of the time here in Cumbria now as everything else is too wet and often way too windy – even the small stuff.

    Sheep do all sorts of things – have you heard them whistle to their friends when danger (you) approaches? They also stamp at you when they have their lambs. I even had a lamb stamp at me the other day – must’ve been a boy!

    1. It does feel that the wet and windy days are getting more frequent. Perhaps that means there might be a market for that guidebook (I ever do write it).

      I think I’ve heard sheep stamp, but I don’t think I’ve heard them whistle. It maybe that I just need to listen out more. I’ll keep an ear open (if that’s the right phrase) – it’s good to know another sign that I might be at risk of getting attacked by a ewe.

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