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Farnhill Follies

On Good Friday I went to meet a friend who had recently moved to Farnhill in North Yorkshire. Both of us enjoy being outdoors and so would have walked anyway but with COVID guidelines leaving us no other choice for the moment it was never in doubt. She’d plotted a route up to two lookouts on the hills around the area, known locally as the salt and pepper pot. Lund’s tower and Wainman’s pinnacle, both dating back to the 1800’s.

The day was due to be fresh and overcast so I layered up and set off in the morning to head over to Farnhill. I’d asked that we keep the hike under 16 km as I have a niggling unidentified pain around my hip area at the moment. I think it comes from heavy hikes (during holidays) followed by periods of relative inactivity (term-time) and felt it just needed to walked through to loosen it up. She was unsure of how long the route was using so we switched to my OS map app, which for £2.99 per month gives me access to all the footpaths and byways in the British Isles and the ability to plot, measure, download and follow routes – highly recommended if you enjoy walking.

Looking at the hill from the bottom daunted me a bit but as I said to her: I’ve done worse so I know I’ll be able to manage it. I reflected as we set off, how much of life is like this. So many things seem daunting at the start but if you have prior experience to fall back on it can give you a sense of confidence that you’ll get through it. I recently developed a bit of a mind model for life that fits with this.

It came from seeing a board that said something like “we aren’t all in the same boat, we’re all in the same storm, but some of us are in yachts and some of us are in dingies”. The undeniable truth of this and the impact it has on our individual perspective struck me at the time and led me to play with the idea and expand it. Using the analogy of a boat in a sea, I used to think that life was about trying to control how often the storms came and the size of the waves in the sea. I still slip back into this way of thinking under periods of sustained high stress. It only makes things worse because, of course, the challenges that life throws at you aren’t under your control. Trying to control them funnels your energy away from more worthwhile things and only depletes you further. The next step in my development was to think that life was about ‘fixing’ my boat up. Trying to address the bits of me I saw as broken or not helpful. Again, not particularly fruitful as you can’t really change who you are. More recently, I came to what I think of as stage three: acknowledgement that it’s not about changing the waves or building a better boat, instead it’s about learning to skilfully navigate the boat you do have through whatever the sea throws at you. The more experience you have at tackling certain ‘waves’, the more you learn about how to repeat this and the more confident you become that you’ll do it again.

Obviously, this thought process isn’t all that deep when tackling a hill! But generally I’m interested in unifying models that can give insight to both big and small challenges in life.

So, back to the walk. In a rare flurry of useful pre-planning I’d packed some leftovers and fruit for a midway refuel and we stopped at the cake hut on the canal and the local coop for A to pick up a few things. Then off we went towards the hill through CrossHills. I quickly neglected the map and, as I so often do when walking with friends, got lost in chatting and took a wrong turn. Happily, this worked out well as, whilst it lengthened our route, it took us through Lumb Clough Woods, attached to Sutton Hall Estate. An old and established woodland with mossy green rocks and fallen trees left to dissolve back into the landscape, the woods have a small beck that courses over a bed of substantial rocks, cutting through boulder strewn, steep sides which we scrambled up to rejoin our intended path. Not always sure we were still on a path as we climbed over boulders and stepped on ledges only a handful of centimetres wide, the next few steps remained clear enough from each corner we rounded and each vantage point we crested to encourage us on. Although there were many dog walkers down on the main paths, as soon as we turned to go up the hill we lost everyone and had the woods to ourselves. I’m always struck in places like this by the age and magic of woodlands. This one felt particularly ancient and it feels easy to understand why people once believed in forest sprites and other woodland fairytales. Something about woodland like this speaks to me and nourishes on a level that’s hard to achieve anywhere else.

We abruptly reach the top of the hill to find a gate out of the wood (retrospective confirmation that we were on a path, despite questioning this at times) and a path crossing a field onto a road winding up the hill. We struggled to find the path onward at this point, walking up and down the same 200 m stretch a few times. The map had an electricity substation marked and the path skimming the corner of this into a field. Whilst we found the substation, it was understandably locked up and signed as no access. The only other route was to walk along its front fence and attempt to scramble up the steep hill which boundaried its side and hop over the drystone wall that topped the hill. Looking more like a small fortification than a well-used walking route, I declined the challenge and walked back onto the road to access the field through a gate. Although it took us off the OS footpath by a little way, something I’m not normally comfortable with, I reasoned it was the lesser of two evils when compared to climbing activities next to a high voltage substation. My only apprehension in this approach came from the fact that field dropped away sharply, hiding any potentially raging bulls that might explain why the footpath didn’t just go from the gate through the field. Much to my profound gratitude though the field was empty (NOT a cow fan) and we quickly veered back onto the path and found our way easily from there through open gates and livestock-free fields. We stopped for lunch next to one of the drystone walls overlooking Cranberry Hole Farm and a glorious view over Sutton from around 100 m above it.

After sitting long enough to feel the freshness of the wind we set off again on the footpath which twisted a dog leg through the farm buildings to the right and then back out through fields. We passed straight through another farm, this one undergoing building work and then glimpsed Lund’s Tower for the first time. Our route had taken us up the cragg the tower stood on, back down again to go back up again – a lesson in considering the contour lines when mapping the route! So we had a final hike up the steepest part of the hill on a path carved into the hillside, the route reminded of that up the final part of Pen-y-Ghent and I was once again struck by the familiarity of the Yorkshire countryside. There is a quality to the hills here that I can’t quite put my finger on but which is consistent throughout much of Yorkshire that I’ve seen, I guess the French might refer to it as a Terroir. The type of short, tufty, hardy grass, that sits close to the land, the way the packed soil of the path abruptly peels away in hard angles down the steep slopes and the craggy limestone boulders that pock the landscape, the ever-present bluster of the wind which clears the head and the lungs – all of it adds up to let me know I’m here.

We reach the Tower and decide to climb it. It’s a tiny clockwise winding stair well and not much else with the occasional arrow-slit window which serves more to blind than illuminate as we carefully climb the stairs. The floor at the top of the tower is about 4 foot square, but most of it has been sacrificed to the opening we emerge out of. The small battlements come up to chest level and serve as useful hand-holds to stop myself from accidentally stepped back down the hole. The views are amazing. I don’t know if it was ever used defensively but it won’t have been a comfortable place to be if it was. We take it all in before climbing back down (this time with a torch on which makes things substantially easier). Along the top of the hill we find the salt pot or the Wainman’s pinnacle. There’s no climbing this one but we get up onto the massive rock it is planted on to look out from a different perspective. We’re feeling quite the sense of achievement as we descend and I joke along with my favourite Sean Bean quote

The loop back to our starting point takes us through High Malsis farm before hooking up with Lyndhurst Wood, a younger and more well-trodden woodland with the river running through it next to us. We can’t avoid the route through Crosshills at rush hour which seems a bit of a slog in the late stages of the walk after the peace of the countryside but arriving back in Farnhill makes up for it, with it’s terraced stone cottages decorated with hanging baskets and stepped path shortcuts away from the road and up onto the canal it’s the perfect chocolate box village end to the walk. My legs will complain at the me the following day but I can feel the sense of calm the countryside always gifts on my drive back home.

I get back home to email confirmations that our planned Dalesway walk in the summer have been confirmed, more slow moving adventures on the horizon. Happy Days.

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