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A Gordale Scar Adventure by Debbie North

So, this was my first wheelchair accessible adventure was to Gordale Scar in the Yorkshire Dales back in 2011.

It must have been ten years previous that I last went to Gordale Scar. I had taken a party of school children to see the gorge. It was during the winter months and it was blooming freezing! There were twenty-five youngsters and three staff huddled together underneath the towering sides of the scar, all trying to keep warm. We burnt copies of the Ofsted inspection schedule to keep us warm and basked in the warm glow of knowing we were doing something productive… and right.

Whilst we were there and without any warning, there was a deafening crack and a huge icicle plummeted down from the overhang. It shattered on the ground with a resounding boom. It was one of those moments when you feel privileged to be witnessing something so dramatic but then you get the thoughts that go along of the lines, ‘Glad I wasn’t under that!’ and 'Was that in the risk assessment?' We managed about fifteen minutes before the bitter chill that was biting our fingertips beat us into an icy retreat.

Very little sun (if any) reaches into the gorge and even on a sunny day it always seems cold. There is an eerie feeling, cold, still, harsh and yet so beautiful. It must be something to do with it being 15 million years old; or being on the Craven Fault; or not wearing your balaclava.

And 10 years on, I visited Gordales once more. But this time as a wheelchair user.

Once we’d parked up, we met up with JONATHAN (a thoroughly decent chap, who is living the dream… and good on him!!!) Jonathan and I made contact with each other via twitter. Jonathan is a very keen hill walker and has been walking in the Yorkshire Dales for most of his life. He has the most wonderful website Where2walk, which provides a wealth of information about walks in the Dales and Lake District. He was keen to know what I was getting up to and I was keen to tap into his knowledge of the Dales, so we agreed to meet at Gordale Scar. The pink carnations, which we all agreed to wear for the purpose of identification (it was akin to a blind date!) were not required. I recognised Jonathan from his website; he recognised me from my wheelchair.

From our parking spot, it was only a short amble to the campsite and the path leading up to Gordale Scar. It is so clearly marked even we couldn’t lose the route that follows alongside Gordale Beck, which I am told is home to freshwater cress.

The sheep grazed freely between the campervans and tents that were pitched in the camp site. Suddenly there was the sound of a large splash. One of the sheep had taken a step onto what it thought was hard ground but landed with a splash in the beck. We stood and watched it splashing around in nervous panic. We wanted to help it. Plan A, B and then C was hatched to rescue the sheep; Whichever the plan, Andy and Jonathan getting wet!

I was made official photographer, just in case there were any comic moments during the rescue involving either Andy, Jonathan or both of them. Just as rucksacks had been thrown to the ground, boots were off, socks removed, and trousers rolled up the sheep stepped out, gave us a nod of appreciation for our kind thoughts and then plodded off to do its grazing further away from the beck!

And so, reunited with socks and boots, we continued along our walk.

A lot of work has been to the path that leads up to the gorge has been undertaken to prevent further erosion and to make accessibility into the scar easier for visitors. It is wide enough for a wheelchair, and my motorised chair had no problems moving over the bumpy ground, although Andy and Jonathan did lead the way, kicking out a lot of the larger stones out of the way.

There had been a small landslide of scree which covered the path which did cause a little difficulty in a couple of spots. Thanks to my walking partners and a couple of other hikers, the bigger stones were moved to the side so that I could pass.

It is a pretty impressive sight to walk through Gordale Scar, but the magical bit of the whole walk is turning the corner at the end of the scar. The wonderful rock formation is then exposed in full view. Though there were our people there, the end of the scar seems to command the respect of a visitor to a library or art gallery. All that can be heard is muted, softly spoken voices and the sounds of water crashing down onto the rocks and the birds. Beautiful peace… save for the screams and yells of those who’ve gone and got themselves stuck trying to climb the waterfall.

That is where the path stopped for me, but I was quite happy to sit and watch my friends climb across the rocks to the waterfall, and wander through the great limestone boulders that had slid down the scar at some time during the ice age.

I could have sat for hours just watching the changing shapes of the clouds, looking for faces in the limestone, and wishing I’d brought my sketch pad and pencils with me. However, even in June, the chill was setting in and it was time to leave and find warmth, and beer in the pub in Malham.

Entry to Gordale Scar is free. I guess that such wonderful sights like the one at Gordale Scar are priceless.

I don’t think that it this walk be suitable for a manual chair because of the stony, uneven ground. I was feeling the bumps in my spine.

Unfortunately, to experience such magnificent views I had to be topped up on painkillers!

I suppose some might argue it’s a price worth paying.

Details of the route can be found on the website.


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