This is the view across Wensleydale – and yes, the sun is trying to shine, even though the rain clouds are hovering. From the tiny hamlet of Sedbusk, across the Stonehouse Hotel where we were staying for a couple of days, to the very pretty village of Hawes. And this is one of the amazingly floriferous front gardens in Sedbusk.
The webmaster and I had gone for a brief gluten and dairy-free break in the Yorkshire dales – in the full knowledge that we would have to pass on the Wensleydale cheese! We had booked into the Stonehouse Hotel having warned them about the df/gf diet and been reassured that although they could not offer us the full menu, they could certainly offer us a good choice of dishes. The hotel, by the way, was delightful and very comfortable – this is the lovely front garden in which, if you were up early enough, you could watch baby bunnies running riot! And the staff could not have been more charming – chatty, friendly, helpful, nothing too much trouble.
And they were right – apart from the cheese course (six different varieties of Wensleydale!!) we did have a good choice of dishes both for breakfast and dinner. And where the dish was not suitable, chef was happy to alter it to make it so – cooking in olive oil rather than butter, substituting a gf/df sauce for the offered one etc. And we were asked if we had any nut issues.
Vegetables always came with olive oil, not butter; we had a selection of gluten-free breads and rolls (with oil not butter) for both breakfast and dinner and although on the first night the only gf/df desserts on offer were….. fruit salad and sorbet….. by night two chef had come up with a df/gf panna cotta based on coconut milk.
In fact, I was agreeably surprised by how allergy-aware Wensleydale seemed to be. Admittedly, it is in the heart of the Yorkshire Dales National Park so it quite touristy area but every café had some sort of gluten-free offering – even if it was prepacked rather than home made. And… when asked about dairy/milk free. Yes, they they did have something we could eat (thanks to an increase in vegan visitors, I suspect) and were aware when questioned that, for example, not all margarines would be dairy/milk free. Encouraging….
However, we did not spend out whole time in pursuit of food. We were there to walk….
Day one saw us heading off from Bolton Castle for the Aysgarth Falls – across the fields following the walking map through the tiny, narrow stiles – designed that small, I am assuming, so that the sheep are not tempted to try to get through – but you certainly would not want to be carrying too much weight as a walker….
The map was good but for some reason (he really should know better by now) the Webmaster agreed to my suggestion that we needed to head down to the river to get to the falls rather than following the path across the top of the fields…. Errrr…. no…..
By this time the sun was beating down and it was getting quite steamy. We did get pretty close to the river but found ourselves in a maze of sheep filled, sun-drenched fields, all with very classy five barred wooden gates. Each gate led into another field, with another classy five-barred wooden gate, leading into another field… No sign of a friendly little stile or a nice wooden footpath sign. Just a lot of slightly bemused sheep who obviously did not get visited that often by errant walkers….
Eventually, around ten fields and as many five-barred gates (not to mention a few walls and nettle-filled ditches) later, the gentle roar of the Aysgarth Falls led us to the corner of a far field and escape. By that time, I suspect that I would have greeted even Niagara with a slightly jaundiced eye – but the Aysgarth Falls were very pretty…..
Chastened by my map reading failings (and by the fact that it was chucking it down in Wensleydale) on day two we headed south so that we could head up a bit of the Pennine Way (the walkers equivalent of a motorway….) towards all 693 metres of Pen-y-Ghent.
We did not actually make it up all 693 meters because at around 650 metres we encountered a positively Siberian gale and decided that maybe honour had been satisfied and that retreat would be in order. We also were keen to get back to Hawes as we had seen seen a notice that at 6.30 there would be a sheep dog demonstration.
This happened down down in the valley just below the hotel and there must have been a good 40 people there. We arrived rather late so never actually found out who our ‘shepherd’ was. But it was pretty clear that he and his dogs were no mean operators and spent a good deal of their time on the sheep dog trial circuit, not just coralling sheep in Wensleydale.
I had never watched sheep dogs at work before – it is fascinating – although you do feel bit sorry for the poor sheep, driven this way and that and never seeming to know what they are meant to be doing!!
I did know that the dogs basically worked to whistles but I had not realised that each dog had, effectively, its own whistle. So while the length and staccato nature of each whistled command is the same (right, left, stop, start and many more) each dog has its own ‘key’ – higher, lower etc. Which means that from this very simple little whistle, the shepherd may need to produce hundreds of different ‘whistles’ if he works with, as many do, five or six different dogs. The following little video (courtesy of the trusty iPhone) gives some idea of the range of whistles. Our shepherd was working two of his dogs here and their job was to separate off six of the lambs from the rest of the flock.
If anyone wished to follow in our footsteps, it took a relatively painless 4+ hours too pottle up the M1/A1M as far Bedale and thence on to Hawes. We could thoroughly recommend the Stonehouse Hotel to stay and the various walking maps that they have to offer – provided you stick to them! The countryside is stunning, the walking energetic but not too challenging, and there are a number of ‘places of interest’ to visit although, our limited time slot meant that we really only checked out the splendid Outhwaite Ropemakers in Hawes who have been making ropes since 1725 – and still do it in the traditional way.