Sunday, 4 April 2010

The High Places I: Hard Road

Maps can be misleading. The modern world pays too much heed to representations, simulacrums, of things rather than to the thing itself and this is a dangerous trend because the real world is not flat or found within the confines of a GPS screen. Barningham Moor has taught me this lesson more than once. Having poured over the OS map and zoomed in with Google Earth I paid a visit to the moor in January, when the heavy snows of mid winter had all but vanished from the low country along the river valleys. The moor looms high on the sky line as you approach from the north, its vastness stretching along the horizon like the flanks of a fallen titan. I approached in high spirits, looking forward to the challenge of the landscape but as I got nearer to the moors foot and crossed the streams that mark its beginning it became clear that Lord Winter had not yet loosed his grip from heights. The road up through the Stang Forest to the summit is steep and precipitous and needs careful approach even in clement weather – with a hard frost casting a film of ice on the road it became a difficult and treacherous ascent in a car that was not made for such a purpose.
My first attempt failed part way up the steep climb, the car losing power and grip on the slippery, iced road. A dodgy three-point turn and a rattling ride back down to relative safety brought the chance to take stock of my options, which appeared to be to park below the snow line and commit to a long walk in or have another go at making the summit and reduce the walk to a minimum. Deciding that what I lacked in engineering I would make up in balls I had another run at the road, this time keeping in a low gear and flogging my Ford Fiesta for all it was worth. I roared past the point where I had earlier been forced to concede, up towards the top but just before the summit, as the road reaches its steepest incline, there is a sharp hair-pin bend and it was here – mid way between the first and second corners - that my attempt foundered. Try as I might the car would go no further, the road, the cold and the landscape had defeated me. Mindful that any minute a ruddy-faced yokel from Arkengarthdale could come down and broadside me I did my second three-point turn of the morning and made my way back down the Stang road. However my altitude had been hard won and I was loathe to give it away. Looking for a track leading into the eastern side of the forest I parked up, booted up and set off into the woods with the aim of getting as close to Hope Scar and Hud Scar crags as possible.
Snow-shoes are great things and have served people in the north for thousands of years. Had I a pair myself on that freezing cold morning in January I would have been spared the labour of sinking up to my knees at every step. As it was I thrashed and lumbered through the deep snow, every step making the same monotonous crack-crump as my boots broke through the crust and sank into the soft layer below. I was following a logging road deep into the Stang, a large plantation of Sitka Spruce that covers the north facing slopes between Scargill and Barningham Moors at the extreme southern edge of County Durham. A couple of hundred meters south of me the Yorkshire Dales National Park began and sleeping villagers dreamed of summer coach trips and the profit they would bring but down here, on the wrong side of the watershed, was a place no day-tripper would gladly come; mile upon mile of wind blown moors broken only by sharp, black rocky outcrops and the martial regiments of the Forestry Commission’s spruce.