22.3 miles – Searing blue sky, honey-of-the-gods sunshine
I awoke at five. the air was still as the moment, alive with silence. The distant hills were already golden-rimmed in the morning sunshine. The perfection was disturbed only by the downy song of the pigeon or the cries of the lapwing or curlew (I still think it’s a shepherd whistling to his collie every time).
I sat up. I was drenched with sweat. Nothing for it but to put all my warm clothes on and make haste with tea and breakfast. (Body heat is the best way to get clothing dry.) I set off just before seven.
Some old roads settle into forgetfulness, slumbering in the woods, unseen by human eye, dreaming of their past glory. Others, like the one I’m following this morning, linger on but never quite enter the modern age, like benign grandparents helping, occasionally, a stray hiker or a farm Landrover on its way. They are often referenced as ‘byways, open to all traffic’ on maps, although with many, nothing short of a tractor or an army tank would stand a chance. They are some of the most charming paths I have taken.
The four miles between Buckden and Kettlewell were some of the most sublime I have encountered on my walk. I followed the River Wharf south, where midges were caught in beams of sunlight above the placid water. I trod rich pastures, where shade-seeking sheep and cud-munching cattle shared a desire to move as little as possible in the heat.
The afternoon was hardly less beautiful, the lane now passing under the shade of trees. With hardly a cloud in the sky and the temperature around 25C, I made sure of taking tea or water at each of my four stops.
The Lister Arms at Malham offers the thirsty six handpumps to choose from; the two beers I tried were fabulous. Kirby Lonsdale ‘Momentum’ is the finest beer of the walk in England so far; it tantalised the back of my throat with its clever, cheeky hopping, somehow reminiscent of summer hay lofts.
An exceptional day!