After plundering other great blogs for inspiration for walks, I thought it was time to come up with an original idea – less easy when you only have a short walking day and have walked all the obvious local routes, as we have by now. If more time had been available we could have been in the Lake District or Peak District, but it would have to be Yorkshire this week – but where?
The Yorkshire Dales make great walking country. The limestone scenery has an extra advantage over the other upland areas in the north of England – limestone drains well, so the chances of a dry walk underfoot are much better. Not always the case in the east of the National Park, where the Yorkshire Dales hills are much more Pennine in character – in other words, expect mud! For this reason we don’t often go near Buckden Pike.
The most unseasonably warm March for some years prompted an idea that the bogs of Buckden Pike might be less threatening than usual, so with extra water carried and a good dollop of ‘Factor 15’ we set out hopefully. We nearly didn’t get beyond Skipton! The early mist should have been burned off by the hot sun, so why couldn’t we see the hills? Howefer, it seems that fortune really does favour the brave, and by the time we reached Grassington we had clear blue skies.
For those who don’t know the area, Wharfedale is one of the classic valleys of the Yorkshire Dales, and it is dominated by two hills – Buckden Pike at 702 metres and Great Whernside at 704 metres. Neither of these is particularly spectacular from a distance, but close up there is plenty of interest.
Being creatures of habit, we set off by Buckden Rake, the route we have followed before – this leads to either the Buckden Pike option or for a shorter day you can drop down to the ‘White Lion’ at Cray followed by a walk along Cray Terrace to Yockenthwaite. For us, there was no contest – the height gain to ‘The Pike’ is reasonably easy, and for once it was dry.
The section of the route leading to the summit usually degenerates into a boggy mire, and on one previous occasion we crossed a section of bog that was moving under the ‘crust’ of vegetation growing over it! Today everything was baked dry, giving easy progress, in fact the only time we have had it this easy before was one winter when the ground was frozen solid. In no time at all we were on the summit.
The word ‘summit’ in this case is a bit misleading – although the highest point (702 metres) is marked by a cairn and triangulation column, Buckden Pike is in fact a ridge running north-south for almost 1 kilometre, at just below 700 metres altitude. The southern high point is marked by a poignant memorial to the crew of a Wellington bomber that crashed there on 30th January 1942.
The aircraft with six Polish crew members was on a training exercise when they ran into a blizzard. Lost and off route, the aircraft clipped the stone wall on the summit ridge, and crashed – a couple of metres higher and it would have passed by safely, with no more higher ground ahead. Five of the crew died, but Josef Fusniak, the survivor, found his way to safety at Cray by following the tracks of a fox. In 1973 a memorial to the dead aircrew was erected near to the impact point – at the base is a bronze fox’s head together with debris from the crash.
We didn’t have much time to linger – although we had traversed the summit ridge, we were heading on to the outlying top of Tor Mere, before dropping down to the ancient track of Starbotton Cam Road at 520 metres. A steady descent then took us down to Starbotton village; on the way we could see the south top of Buckden Pike, where the aircraft had crashed in 1942.
The Fox and Hounds pub was shut, so with nothing else to delay us we returned to Buckden by The Dales Way – the height of the bridge over the nearby River Wharfe is an indicator of how much water the river carries in bad weather, but for us the day stayed dry. A steady hour’s walk near to the river brought us back to our start point at Buckden – for once I didn’t need to use the boot cleaning brush thoughtfully provided at the car park.
Text and images © Paul Shorrock
p.s. you can read more about the remarkable story of Josef Fusniak by following this link – http://www.buckdenpike.co.uk/