Stroll With Stu: Wintry plod around Danby Rigg - snowier than the Cairngorms

Snowy Fryupdale.
Snowy Fryupdale.

As my train chugged out of Castleton, a sudden squall of hail and snow alerted to me to the prospects of a wintry plod around Danby Rigg and my planned walk around Glaisdale was postponed.

I’ve recently returned from a week in the Cairngorms where, according to a man who trades in ski-hire, they are having their most snowless winter in living memory (he’s been spending his days staring alternately at the weather forecast and his bank statement).

Snowdrops.

Snowdrops.

So, the opportunity to walk in a little fresh snow was too much to ignore and I leapt off at Danby and headed for the hills.

This is a fairly easy high-level circular tour of Danby Rigg. It’s about six miles, gets a tad tricky near the end and while it requires a bit of a slog to gain height in the first place, the rewards are prolonged and stunning views of the wintry dales.

Turn right from Danby Station, and keep walking until you climb up through Ainthorpe village.

Turn left along Brook Lane – signposted for Fryup and the Fox &Hounds Inn – and continue climbing along the road passing the aforementioned pub, and bisecting two tennis courts.

Fox and Hounds pub at Ainthorpe.

Fox and Hounds pub at Ainthorpe.

All in all, this road section takes about 20 minutes, depending on how fit you are. (okay, 25).

As the road curves left after the tennis courts, take the first of two signed paths straight on into the heather.

This clear and eroded path climbs steadily – note the innovative heather bundles designed to prevent further erosion by slowing the water flow and collecting debris. You soon pass through a gate, then it’s onwards past several standing stones for a good mile or so.

Suddenly, you are rewarded with the dramatic panorama that is Little Fryupdale – with its big sister in the far distance. What a view, and although I’ve taken you here before, the snowy scene was a world away from the same prospect I’d described a couple of summers ago.

After seven years of these walks I thought I was running out of paths, but it really is a different experience dependent on the time of year, so expect a few seasonal repeats. Just before the path drops steeply down to the valley, take a thinner path on your right, skirting the edge of the dale. No need for directions for two miles now, just follow the trail admiring the scenery until you eventually converge with the little road that climbs up the hillside to meet you.

Snow was falling again as I walked onwards along the road with only two tyre-tracks and the occasional pheasant footprint for company. I love the crumping sound your footsteps make in fresh snow, and although it wasn’t deep, the Cairngorms would have paid good money for this stuff.

After half a mile on the road (that’s what the map says, but it seemed more than that to me), take a signed footpath on your right in a long, shallow dip in the terrain. Soon, the main path curls away left, but you need the thinner track going right, affording more fabulous views over Danbydale and the sprawling Botton village.

Having turned back into the wind, the chill factor suddenly increased and I was tempted to drop down into the valley for respite.

However, that would have meant some unwelcome mud and gloop, so I retained the views and followed the path – initially downhill – along the edge of the ridge.

It disappeared occasionally, especially when overtopping a second stand of pines way below in the valley, but could always be re-found wriggling ahead through the heather.

Pass a couple of wide cross paths, the prominent hanging stone of Baker’s Nab and a line of grouse butts, then after a couple of miles you will see a line of boundary stones running right to left. They are accompanied by a deep ditch (the whole lot was built by Donald Trump and Castleton paid for it), but at this point your path finally gives up the ghost.

Well it did for me, but the path we climbed up in the first place is just a few hundred yards away to the right.

Accordingly, a quick excursion diagonally right through the heather completes the circle and you can head back down to the excellent Fox & Hounds for lunch and liquid. As I did so, countless pheasants announced their annoyance with a startled burst of indignant clucking and two other birds flew up and away from me.

They were the size of a blackbird, brownish, but revealing yellow stripes along the body as they scarpered towards Lealholm. I’ve tried the RSPB bird identifier on t-internet, but I can’t work out what they were. If nobody can help, I’m claiming a new species of giant moorland budgerigar.