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Saturday, 30 August 2014

Great Close Scar and Cowside Beck (Littondale/Malham Moor)

Many years ago when men were men and summers were long and hot (I’m specifically referring to 1975 and 1976 here here, folks) we used to have a walking club at Airedale General Hospital that walked walks which had a pub and somewhere to swim. The water was always warm and most of the pubs allowed women (they all allowed dogs and smoking at that time, but one or two wouldn’t have ladies inside). It was during the first of these long, hot summers that we wandered over Fountains Fell, where we discovered that the tarn was too shallow for a swim, and then down by Darnbrook and into the deep, beautiful and secretive gorge of Cowside Beck. here, we discovered a naked man and a really deep and lovely pool of tea-coloured water.
This became the venue for various post-walk, post-work, post-climbing and post anything picnics and swims. Its a wonderful place, in fact. It seems that the villagers of Arncliffe also enjoyed it and often there’d already be a small party of swimmers there when we arrived.
I decided it would be a good idea to revisit.
lucky spots great close hill
And to make a walk out of it, there was Great Close Hill to bag – a 465 metre TuMP overlooking Malham Tarn and the Pennine Way – a hill I’d walked past on countless occasions but I’d never been to the top.
clouds and rain arrive at malham tarn
So, after cajoling the pup into the back seat of the knipemobile, we took the two-hour drive over to Arncliffe and embarked on the Monk’s Road – a popular and , probably ancient  route linking Arncliffe with Malham moor. Fountains Abbey had sheep and cattle ranches in the area before Henry VIII privatised it and it seems likely that this path linked abbey granges in Littondale with those on Malham Moor.  The Monk’s Road winds its way up through the green and lovely karst scenery and heads directly for Great Close Hill which we bagged in short order – just, in fact, as it started raining.
sheltering middle ho ho ho
So, after abandoning our lunch at the cairn/shelter, we  repaired to the porch of Middle House, an abandoned farmstead, once named in TGO magazine as “Middle Ho” (arf  - Ho is the OS abbreviation for “house”. I nearly wrote in. Then I decided that if I did I’d be labelled as a twat and wouldn’t get on the TGO challenge any more. So I didn’t)
lucky spots darnbrook ho(use)
But we couldn’t stay too long and, despite the driving drizzle, we took the path which links Middle Ho Ho Ho with Darnbrook Ho Ho Ho (arf arf). This comes down the hill to Cowside Beck, the second target for today. Cowside Beck has grown a new barbed wire fence since 1976 and so, some delicate manoeuvres were required to get me and the Pup into the bit beside the beck without losing any bits of bodywork.
cowside beck

The path which went alongside the beck has also disappeared and so forward motion became a bit of an adventure through deep vegetation and slippery rocks. But as progress is made into the narrower parts of the gorge, the place becomes a special, beautiful, green, drippy and , best of all, a deep and secret place hidden from the world where it seems best to speak only in whispers despite the noise of the gushing stream.
the pool
And then, after scrambling over a fallen ash tree, I came to The Pool. It’s banks seemed lower than in the 1970’s and the waterfall at it’s head seemed smaller. But the deep, brown water was the same– a good ten feet deep, with a cave in the back which has been dived by cave divers for some considerable length.
DSCN1967 DSCN1968 DSCN1969
Lucky spent some time digging a bed in the grass as the sun came out and the sky cleared to blue. As he snoozed away, I finished my coffee and had a little dip, for old times sake. It was bloody perishing and I got bitten by an ant. Ah yes, the memories of the freezing water (a scientific report says that the water was recorded as 13C one August at Yew Cogar Cave) and the blood-lust of some of the local insects. And I seem to remember a couple of quite big brown trout in that pool….
I crossed the fence at a gate with a “No Access” sign on it and did a rising traverse up the steep hill to the road and back to the car.
The walk was just a bit under ten miles and about 2000 feet of upness. Lucky did well again. He behaves really well on these walks. He has to be lifted over some stiles and we were lucky that the few cattle we met weren’t at all interested in us.
Here’s a map.

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