Today we hiked over Shunner Fell, third highest fell in all the Yorkshire Dales. The hot sunshine that was the glory of our first few days of exercise had given way to drizzle which turned to cold rain and wind as we trudged up the Pennine Way. By the time we reached the gently rounded summit, walking through miles of peat hags, we were in the cloud and visibility was poor – but what a brilliant walk! There’s a stone windbreak at the highest point and there we paused for lunch – a very welcome ham roll and a Twix bar, an apple and a bottle of water. The rain diminished as we marched on towards Wensleydale. A skylark rode the wind above us, singing for all his worth, and there were curlews and plovers, grouse and lapwings all around. As the path began to descend, the moor became meadow and we returned to the world of rabbits and sheep and strutting cock pheasants. Two miles later we were safe in the Green Dragon, warming up in front of an open fire and enjoying the first pint of the day – a bitter local cask-conditioned ale called Castle Bolton.
This has been an excellent adventure, as all Gold Medal Plates trips tend to be. We’re a large group of 41, including Olympic skeleton gold medallist Jon Montgomery and comedian Ron James, who put on a show for us all last night at the CB Inn in Langthwaite. He worked some hilarious material about certain members of the group into his dazzlingly energetic set and finished to a standing ovation. A great many sturdy souls from Western Canada stayed up after that to catch the hockey game, strengthened by ale and still valiantly alert when the Canucks finished off Boston in overtime at around 5 a.m.. By then the sky was bright with morning and there were stirrings in the kitchen of the inn as the breakfast chefs began working.
We have seen wonders already. The ruins of Fountains abbey and the magnificent 18th century gardens of Studley Royal. Bluebell woods and shady hillsides where the ransom is in bloom, filling the air with its garlicky aroma. The renowned Black Sheep Brewery in Masham where they still use the now-very-rare Yorkshire Square fermenting vessels that add to the creamy texture and delectable flavour of Riggwelter and their other mighty brews. Busy little rivers and meadows of wildflowers – 115 species according to some though red clover and buttercups dominate this week. The Bridge Inn in Grinton, where Jon Montgomery opened his throat and drained a yard of ale (2½ pints) in 20 seconds – an astonishing time that broke the record of 33 seconds set last year by a huge margin. He kept it down for almost a minute then returned the beer to the world. Luckily he had taken off his shirt and was out of doors by the roadside when that occurred. Even the two old Yorkshire gaffers sitting inside at the bar were impressed. “’E did all right, your lad,” one remarked with a nod in Jon’s direction.
Other treats have included pigeon breast in Scotch broth at the CB Inn, a fine stew of lamb and apricots at the Bridge Inn, Raspberry Eton Mess and Sticky Toffee Pudding at the Punch Bowl near Low Row. Tonight we head for the Wensleydale Heifer, a gastropub specializing in the local seafood that comes in daily from Hartlepool or Redcar, always a highlight of a visit to the Dales. I am anticipating roast hake, pungent little brown shrimps and dressed crab.