Pennine Way Day 6: Gargrave to Horton-in-Ribblesdale

The walk between Malham and Horton-in-Ribblesdale was one of the grimmest hikes I’ve done in my life, enough that I questioned my whole approach to hiking. Was a day of being wet and cold really that much fun? I also reconsidered my somewhat-cavalier attitude. In more difficult or unlucky circumstances, my walk from Gargrave to Horton-in-Ribblesdale could have led to disaster.

I started the day in Gargrave, where I’d stayed in an Airbnb. The weather app on my phone told me that there would be rain, but I didn’t want to go home without hiking, and it was hard to tell exactly what the rain symbols meant. Did a single raindrop mean just a little rain, maybe not enough to need full waterproofs? Did three raindrops mean heavy rain for a full hour, or that was the worst it would be during that hour?

I set out at 6:30am from my Airbnb and had a good hike to Malham. The route was well signposted and flat, so I made good time. The path beside the River Aire was charming and had some pleasant hills. The dew soon soaked into my boots, meaning I had many hours of damp feet ahead of me.

Malham Cove was almost empty when I arrived, and even though I’ve been a few times, it still felt impressive. It was a tough walk up to the top, but the reward was some good views.

The Limestone Pavement at the top of Malham Cove

From the top of Malham Cove the route heads through a small rocky valley. It was starting to rain here and I lost the path for the first time, guided back onto the route by Google Maps.

The weather grew worse by the time I reached Malham Tarn, forcing me into full waterproofs. There is a rare Pennine Way public toilet near the lake and I hid there for a time until I felt ready to face the rain. My choice was to either turn back to Malham and try to get a taxi or to press on with the journey. I chose to continue.

Due to the rain I was not checking the route as I went through some farmland, and I overshot the turning at Tenant’s Gill Farm, ending up on the road to Arncliffe. I followed the road for a time then sheltered in a barn while I tried to work out where I was. I’d failed to pack a map, the guidebook was proving no help, and my phone had no signal. I knew I was was in trouble as I walked back for a time, then turned again and tried the other way. I was probably five miles from anywhere I could shelter properly.

I was lucky enough to have a farmer come by, who told me I’d overshot Tenant’s Gill Farm by about a mile. He was feeding his sheep but told me to meet him at the top of the hill and he’d point me towards Fountains Fell. The route he showed me went through a gate, then I should continue to a flock of sheep where I could turn right and follow a wall until I reached a major path.

Ominous cows following as I head back onto the Pennine Way

The safest thing to do would have been to return to Tenant’s Gill Farm and find my bearings from there, but I was reluctant to add more distance to my day: I wanted to reach Horton-in-Ribblesdale and warm up. As it was, the walk back to the Pennine Way was an easy one, but I was aware that the combination of bad weather, being lost and my own stupidity could become dangerous. Nobody knew when I was expected back, and it could be a long time before anyone noticed I was missing. An accident so far off the path would not have been good.

Once back on the path things were straightforward, although I probably lost about an hour in total. I reached the Twin Cairns and began the long descent towards a road. Coming down the grassy sections I slipped over a few times, which was harmless but annoying. I hid from the rain in a barn with another hiker, then continued on my way to Pen-y-ghent.

I should have had views of Pen-y-ghent for the previous few hours, but visibility was very slight. Given how tired I was, and how the day had been going, I felt that climbing Pen-y-ghent would be pushing my luck, and turned left to head towards the village.

This was the route up Pen-y-ghent.

I actually regret not climbing Pen-y-ghent as my route to the village was long and slippy, and I think the Pennine Way path might have been less trouble. I ended up in Horton-in-Ribblesdale with 90 minutes until my train, and made the mistake of going into the Crown Pub.

This should have been a view of Pen-y-ghent

As I entered the Crown, two people coming out warned me against it. I wish I’d listened to them. The pub was chilly, both literally and figuratively. There were no food or hot drinks available, which seems like poor hospitality for a pub that makes its profits from the hiking trail. It could certainly be more welcoming to those who, like me, had had a cold, wet day. I was relieved when it was time to head to the station.

I’m taking some lessons from this hike. First, I am going to follow the suggested rules for hiking, making sure that people know where I am headed in case things go wrong. I will always pack a map and a thermal blanket. If I’d injured myself while off the trail it would be unlikely I’d be found without a search party – and who knows how long it would have been before anyone asked for that? I will not risk putting other people to such inconvenience in future.

During the two hour train journey home, I could not imagine wanting to go hiking again – certainly not if there was any risk of rain. But the more time passes from the discomfort of the hike, the more I remember the good parts of the day – the wildness of the rainy landscape, chatting to the other hiker in the barn, the confidence of knowing I could make the journey despite the weather. It would be a poor thing to only hike in the sunshine.

I’m not sure Mr Bull wanted me in his barn

Podcast: How to Protect yourself from a Coronation

The Coronation weekend has been a strange one. I’ve been doing my best to ignore the whole affair and, while the press insist that this is a major historic event, it’s been easier to ignore than I expected. There seem to be few street parties and little sign of bunting. The biggest impact it’s made on my life is Nick Cave’s Red Hand Files sending out a defence of his attendance at the coronation.

But there is something sinister about this. We have a ceremony to crown an unelected head of state, against a background of an increasingly racist and authoritarian government, in a country where austerity and the cost of living crisis means lots of people can’t afford to live.

The spectacle of the coronation is intended to reaffirm a particular vision of our country. The ridiculous pomp is meant to seem anachronistic; the contradiction of this archaic ceremony is supposed to contrast with modern life, to persuade us that there’s no point arguing against the idea of a country whose rulers are defined by right of birth. You could even claim this illusion is an act of magic.

My friends Cat Vincent, Rob Rider Hill and the Indelicates have teamed up to produce a quick-turnaround podcast for this coronation weekend. It discusses the coronation ceremonies as an act of magic, and talks about how to protect yourself against them, with a quick introduction to defending yourself from the dark arts. It’s a good discussion, which takes time out to discuss the subject for those who have ‘no affinity for woo’.

Despite Nick Cave’s defence of his attendance, I’m disappointed at seeing him recuperated by a state which banned protests against the ceremony. It’s never good to see artists flirting with the establishment

The coronation seems to be less popular than expected, but the important thing is how it settles in the mind. We need to choose to remember the things this is supposed to distract us from. As Cat Vincent says on the podcast, the important thing is ”the act of choosing no”

(One interesting thread that Simon picks up on is the linking the popularity of folk horror and traditional customs/rituals to the current political climate. Which is something I could (and should) write a lot more about).

Pennine Way Day 5: Ponden to Gargrave

Ponden Reservoir

Getting back to Ponden reservoir was easy enough. The bus to Howarth leaves from near my house, and a taxi took me to where I previously left the trail. I’d booked a room in an Airbnb in Gargrave and it was a simple sixteen miles or to to my destination. I was leaving a little later than usual, but planned to arrive around six.

The day’s walk began with a stroll around Ponden reservoir before climbing out of the valley, with some good views on the way up. The route was wiggly but well-signposted, delivering me to a lovely stretch of moorland. I even passed a peacock on the way up.

A good stride across an empty moor took me to some grouse-hunter’s huts. From here, the landscape was mostly tamed and felt less interesting. I passed through Ickornshaw village and hopped between fields. When I reached the Hare and Hounds at Lowthersdale I stopped for lunch and had a couple of non-alcoholic beers. It took a little time to rebuild my momentum after that.

Passing through Lowthersdale

The day’s highest point was Pinhaw Beacon, which features a new ‘toposcope’ in memory of those who died in the Covid-19 pandemic. I love seeing little guides to the landscape like this, although it was marred by a ghastly poem, based on Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18 (“Shall I compare you to a summer’s cold? / You are more virulent and fatal”).

There were a few wild stretches in the second half of the day, but the route was mostly farmland. It rained for a while, forcing me into waterproofs. For a section it followed a canal (although the double-decker bridge was curious).

Gargrave is one of the main towns on the Pennine Way, with the famous Dalesman cafe sitting directly on the route. There was a choice of a few places to eat, but I didn’t fancy two pub meals in a day. The gastropub revolution has raised the standard of British pub food, but a lot of it is overpriced. Every pub likes to pretend its meals are worthy of gastropub prices, but that’s not always the case.

The local curry house was booked up, but they allowed me to take one of the tables on their patio. Eating al fresco on an April evening was chilly, but the food was good.

Overall the day’s landscapes were pretty, but this section is not as exciting as some. It’s also, perhaps, churlish to complain about sections not being wild, given that much of the moorland on the Pennine Way is now paved with flagstones. In the days before these were laid out the route was extremely challenging, and I’d probably not walk it without the man-made paths. The accounts of people being swallowed up by the bogs do not sound much fun.

I went to bed straight after the curry, tired and needing rest ready for the 21 mile hike I’d planned for the following day.

A thin, faint section of the Pennine Way

Why ARGs never worked

Back in November 2022 I gave a talk to students at Leeds Trinity University about transmedia storytelling, specifically around alternate reality games and electronic folklore. Researching the talk allowed me to explore my long-held fascination with ARGs.

The first ARG I heard about was The Beast, which was beautifully dissected by 50 Years of Text Adventures. The ARG initially looked like a new art form, an Internet-native way to tell stories: “the team began to see their scheme as a Gesamtkunstwerk, an all-encompassing art form for the new century, just as opera and cinema had been for earlier eras“. The form generated fanatical audiences – one puzzle from Perplex City was solved recently after 15 years of effort.

The most exciting thing for me was how ARGs told stories in the world. They merged reality and fiction, promising to make normal life a little more magical. I loved the idea of hosting stories within the world, of walking through them; how technology allowed ARGs to reach out to people through email or even phone calls.

But ARGs never took off, and I personally never got excited enough to chase them. One issue was the actual mechanics. I liked the idea of seeing symbols in the real world that led to an ongoing story, but the actual ARGs did not have the magic I longed for. I’m not a huge fan of puzzles so that is perhaps a part of it – I like the joy of solving something, but pitching the difficulty is tricky – too easy and it’s trivial, too hard and it’s frustrating.

This led to one of the problems with ARGs, that some of them had puzzles so hard that they could only be solved once. In a 2008 talk about ARGs, Everything you know about ARGs is WRONG, Dan Hon talked about the need for ‘casual’ ARGs with “short, snappy, fun gameplay”. The sort of thing that did not require people pooling obscure knowledge. As Hon said, “What the fuck kind of “normal person”… wants to de-steg a jpeg, or write a distributed brute force attack against military grade encryption? Jesus. Whatever happened to the kind of people who like playing Singstar? Or, you know, Snake”. Puzzles based on lute tablature are great, but they are not going to bring in many people. Without active communities, these games are basically unplayable.

The other problem with the games was scaling up to massive audiences. Some of the ARGs made use of personalised e-mails to players. The Dark Knight promotion famously baked cakes containing clues. Quoting Hon again, “It’s fine sending a cake to twenty people. You just try sending a cake to twenty thousand people though. Or twenty million”. This is “by intention an experience that can never scale to become a mass-market event“. Admittedly, the cake stunt brought a lot of vicarious delight, but then we’re back to the games relying on active community.

The games also quickly developed cliches, which were being clued out as past their sell-by date in 2008. Hon was harsh on codebreaking, secret societies, intrusive puzzles and treasure hunts (“I’ll smack the next person who proposes a treasure hunt and thinks it will make people play”). Another problem was hopping between platforms just for the sake of it.

A major point of contention was the boundary between the games and real life. I was fascinated by the idea of blurring these boundaries, but many ARG designers became obsessed with the idea of pretending the games were entirely real, and hiding all the seams – a technique known as TINAG, ‘this is not a game’. Dan Hon pointed out in a talk that ‘Alternate Reality’ is just a roundabout way of saying ‘fictional’. “No more “alternate reality” bullshit. We can use the word “fiction” or “story” instead, so normal people can understand us.” Later in the same talk, he said that ”ARGs are just things that you can play and that tell stories. ARG doesn’t mean anything.” Expending so much energy into pretending these things are entirely real is a waste of time.

I think there are many lessons that can be learned from ARGs. As Andrea Phillips said in an article on Atlas Obscura, “A lot of [the ARG] energy has gone into lightly interactive web series, room escape games, narratives-in-a-box. Things that use a few of the ARG tools (tangible artifacts, in-story websites, email) but don’t use the full-fledged ARG formula.

The collaboration and investigation aspects of the games seemed to work better for explainers/investigations of TV shows like Lost where people would blog and discuss clues in the episodes – while most viewers ignored the actual ARGs that had been built around the game. People love looking for clues in serialised drama, and the ‘replayability’ of TV shows is much higher than for ARGs.

Pennine Way Stage 4: Hebden Bridge to Ponden

Stage 4 of the Pennine Way is a satisfying one. It rises from the Calder Valley to cross Heptonstall Moor, then passes a reservoir on the way to the ruins of Top Withens. The pathways are wild and empty, with some great scenery.

As much as I love the image of the Pennine Way as a thin path up the spine of the country, the way-finding sometimes feels wearing. The guidebook I follow describes the route closely (as Wainwright’s guides does), with little attention paid to the wider scenery. Wainwright himself compares this to following the path with blinkers on, having no idea of its context. It can also feel fussy to be looking ahead to the upcoming gates and the twists in the track.

Sometimes the path becomes very thin

One answer to this would be to switch to navigating from the OS map – which I keep in reserve in case I need to find a route away from the trail for some reason. But I’ve also been wondering about how the route could be divided up differently, and treated as a journey between waypoints. This would make navigation harder on some sections, but I like how this breaks things into sections. I think it’s also a better narrative, so I’ll try it with the description of this walk.

The day’s first stage was the climb out of the Calder valley from the canal. The climb starts with a lovely steep cobbled path. I considered buying a house next to this before I realised I did not have the energy to handle the renovations. The climb passes the ruins of a chapel with a tiny graveyard, and a sign that offers two paths, Wainwright’s preference and the ‘official path’. There is no one Pennine Way.

The second stage involved crossing a valley, down to the old bridge at Colden Water then following a rising path through Colden village. There’s a lovely little farmshop just off the path here, called May’s Aladdin’s Cave. It’s a good climb out, which continues to a cairn with a ‘good luck’ sign embedded in it. Here the path turns to the left and sets out on another stage across barren Heptonstall Moor.

The fourth stage follows a farm track then heads down through a tiny, pretty valley before rising towards a road. A short way off is the Pack Horse Inn, which is a good place to stop for lunch. The main route follows some quiet roads until turning off towards a reservoir.

The path around the reservoir is easy to follow, as long as you know where the turn-off is. There is a flagstone path out of the valley which descends near the ruins of Top Withens farmhouse. I love this ruin, which is famous for not actually being the sight of Wuthering Heights from the Emily Bronte novel. A sign says this building is not the one in the book here, but people still trek out here because the place is famous for not being the ruin, and people once confused the two. It’s a beautiful lonely place.

Top Withens from September 2021

From Top Withens its a relatively short downhill section towards Ponden Reservoir, which was my finishing point for today. From here, I had to trek back to Haworth, from where I could pick up the bus. The road took me past the Old Silent Inn, which is so named because Bonnie Prince Charlie stayed there on his retreat, and the locals did not betray him. The pub is, of course, rumoured to have a few ghosts.

Travelling from Ponden back home was a drag. I discovered that I had dropped my trusty coffee cup somewhere along the way. I’d missed the bus to Howarth by ten minutes, so walked. It was touch-and-go as to whether I could make the bus from Howarth to home, but I decided to wait for the next one and do some book-shopping. I’ve started collecting old guidebooks to the Pennine Way, and picked up an interesting one from the 90s, as well as a book on drystone walls with the portentous title Who were the Wall-Builders?


Monthnotes: April 2023

My aim in April was not to have the toad of work squatting on my life quite so hard. I tried to do more with the weekends, which included some good hiking as well as visits to Blackpool and York. I also made it to my writing group for the first time in ages.

St Anne’s Beach, Easter Saturday

Easter Weekend was spent in Blackpool for a family wedding. I stayed with Muffy and met her kitten, Sashimi. The wedding was fun, and a few of us sneaked away in our wedding outfits to play the 2p slots on the pier. The following week I went to York to go book shopping. Sadly very few good second hand bookshops remain, most being put out of business by the charity shops, which don’t have such interesting selections. I also had a visit from Jen and Dave, who suggested I help found an Arts Lab.

Her name is Sashimi

I walked 498,526 steps in April, an average of 16,617 a day. Wow. My highest total was on the last day of the month, walking from Malham to Horton-in-Ribblesdale along the Pennine Way. That was also one of the grimmest hikes I’ve done due to appalling weather. I did 6 days out on the Pennine Way during April and have written up three of them so far: Edale to Crowden, Crowden to Standedge, Standedge to Hebden Bridge. Fitbit also awarded me the ‘Pole to Pole badge’ for the somewhat arbitrary feat of walking 12,430 miles since I bought my first fitbit (in November 2016, I think).

Pen-y-ghent… I decided not to climb that day

I’ve been doing a little more writing recently, including a couple of very short stories that have appeared on the blog: Seeing Voices and the Fifth Beatle. I’ve also done audio recordings of these to see how well that works. There’s a separate site for my recordings, which is technically a podcast (which I should probably promote at some point). I also wrote a blog post about Writing and ChatGPT, something I’ve been thinking more about (and dreaming about) recently.

I finished a few books this month. Age of Vice was an excellent thriller set in India, although it ran out of energy at the end when the book decided to become a trilogy. Her Majesty’s Royal Coven was picked up as it was partly set in Hebden Bridge. The book functions as an anti-Harry Potter and was fun to read, but also suffered from expanding into a series at the end. Fern Brady’s autism memoir Strong Female Lead was an impulse daily Kindle sale purchase, and a quick interesting read.

Donna Tartt’s The Secret History was mine and Katharine’s April choice for our 90’s book club (I’ve written this up on a separate post). Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke had an effective sense of dread in its title story, but the ending was not as dark as I expected. Stuart Braithwaite’s Spaceships Over Glasgow suffered the problem of many rock biographies – the rise is fascinating, but the storyline peters out towards the end, replaced by a list of records and celebrity encounters. Finally, literally show me a healthy person by Darcie Wilder was a fascinating short novel told as tweets, an interesting companion to Patricia Lockwood’s No-one is Talking About This.

The only movie I saw this month was The Empty Man, which I rewatched with Muffy in Blackpool and was slightly less impressed with on a second viewing. Otherwise, I’ve been watching a few TV series. Succession continues to be excellent, whereas From is interesting without so far moving much beyond the Strangehaven meets Lost concept.

I’d dismissed The Last of Us as being an unnecessary adaptation of the video game. Since I have a NowTV subscription for Succession I’ve started watching it and have enjoyed it, despite the slavish faithfulness to the source material. The characters of Henry and Sam were particularly moving, and I had a moment of fannish joy when the horse from part 2, Shimmer, was briefly introduced. I also restarted watching Yellowjackets, although I needed to read some recaps to remember where we were. Considering how much I loved the first season of this show, I’m finding it very hard to get into again.

No new music this month, but I’ve been relistening to Yoshimi Vs the Pink Robots – which has had a massive anniversary edition released. I’m in love with the live versions, where Wayne Coyne’s voice can’t quite hit the notes he’s aiming for, and somehow makes the songs even more beautiful. The Pop Could Never Save Us podcast continues to be amazing, with an 80s episode which looked at things such as how technology affected the charts and why Morten Harket’s voice is so special.

For years, I’ve had dreams about episodes from when I was a teenager. I hated how thirty years later, I was still dreaming about bitter things, when there were so many good things I could be dreaming of. One advantage of the work stress is that I’ve not had these sort of dreams for months – instead I dream about my job. I’ve now requested transfer to a new project. I felt I was unable to change the situation, and so it was be complicit in the toxic environment. I’m looking forward to the change.

Re-reading the 90s: The Secret History

I’m re-reading some of the books I loved in the 90s to see what I make of them now.

What I remember

I remember very little detail of this book. I recall it was about a clique of college students formed around a charismatic classics teacher. I know that the book features a Bacchanalian rite where the least popular member of the group is killed. I remember enjoying this book but not much more than that, so it will be a good one to revisit.

What it was like

The Secret History is a long book. Tartt’s writing is good, but I prefer minimalist fiction. This story begins with what what Holden Caulfield referred to as “all that David Copperfield kind of crap,” telling us about the main character’s background. It all felt a little dreary – particularly when the prologue was heavy foreshadowing, promising the reader a murder if they were patient with the set-up.

The book immerses you in the life of narrator Richard, a Californian who has come to a small college in Vermont. He joins a tiny classics tutor group on a whim, under a charismatic teacher called Julian. He gets to know the five other students, who have all been raised in privilege. Tartt does a lot of good work in establishing this world, where the 80s college experience interfaces with the more timeless world of Julian’s tutor group.

Richard is an unreliable narrator. We see him casually tell lies about himself and, almost as casually, dismissing being caught in those lies. There is a darkness in Richard – at one point he refers to ‘crushing an easter chick’ as a child. However, Richard’s lies never really become part of the plot.

I remembered the novel doing much more with the classics than it did. I also remember it as containing much more about the bacchanalia, when this took up very little of the text. I’d have liked the book to be less restrained than it was.

The Secret History is a good book, but a long one. It’s well-written, but wasn’t really what I was in the mood for. I longed for the death that was promised in the prologue to take place so that things could get moving. By about two-hundred pages in, I was ready to push that character off a cliff myself.

Story: The Fifth Beatle (2 mins)

The Fifth Beatle is a short sci-fi story about the Beatles in the style of Philip K Dick’s paranoid novels. It’s about two minutes long.

This came about from me messing around, writing pulp scenes about the Beatles, imagining a whole movement of Beatlepunk. There were stories about the band as mecha defending Liverpool from Kaiju; about Ringo becoming a werewolf; and about Paul McCartney buying a copy of the Necronomicon.

As the 1960s get further away, the Beatles come to seem more mythic than ever. They slip into these stories easily.

Pennine Way Stage 3: Standedge to Hebden Bridge

Reaching the point where I previously left the trail was a drag. It took 3½ hours, including a train, two buses, and my regular daily step count. Admittedly this did include stopping for a vegan breakfast at Huddersfield Wetherspoon’s, but it’s still a long time. (As much as I loathe Tim Martin’s politics, he is an excellent host. I know I can visit one of his pubs anywhere in the country and receive a vegan breakfast, which is no small thing).

The day’s route ran from Standedge to Hebden Bridge. There are no epic hills, some boring reservoirs and the M62 dominates one section. With the roads, planes coming into Manchester, and the proximity of Manchester and Rochdale themselves, this section rarely feels truly wild. It’s also busy – I found myself walking through an orienteering event after the M62; and the ridge towards Stoodley Pike is always full of walkers. But, while this route suffers in comparison with other parts of the Pennine Way, any day hiking beats being indoors.

The best section of the day was the rocky path above on Marston Moor, which also included some decent views. There were some isolated sections where the ground-nesting birds were incredibly loud – obviously unhappy about me passing close to their nests.

The route crossed the A672, where there was a friendly cafe, and shortly after crossed the M62. A brief section of moorland took the trail to the Halifax Road and the White House pub. From here, it followed a couple of reservoirs. While there were some nice backgrounds, the path itself was something of a trudge for a mile or so. Wainwright describes the scenery in this section as “nothing to write home about”.

After the reservoirs, there is a stretch of wilder moorland that rises towards Stoodley Pike. This monument, 37-meters high and at the top of a hill, is visible for miles around. It first appears on the Pennine Way five miles back at Blackstone Edge, where it directly ahead, with no real feeling of its distance.

This Landrover has been there so long that it appears as a landmark in some guidebooks

While the landscape wasn’t as epic as I’d have liked, this was a good walk. Being out in the countryside allowed me to leave behind the stress of the working week. My new coat kept the wind off. And the best thing about this section was that it ended a short distance from my house, so I could walk back along the canal. At the Callis community gardens, I passed a woman meditating, a sign inviting others to join her to promote world peace. If I’d not been so tired, I might have done so.

I previously walked this section in May 2017.

Story: Seeing Voices

This is a short story that I wrote for my writing group last week. It’s about 200 words, and the recording is just over a minute long. It’s about digital seances and the coronavirus pandemic.

I wrote this as a horror story, but when I read it aloud, the group found it funny and laughed. I think this is an interesting reaction – horror and comedy are closely linked. I find the grotesque images in the story horrifying, but I can see how they are also amusing.