Autumn half term and we are back in God's own country. The Yorkshire Dales pull us and we make an annual pilgrimage. Briefly, we exchange the wonderful flatlands of the Somerset Levels for the harsh and high ground of the Howgill Fells and Western Dales. It is a time to visit old haunts and dear friends, to climb familiar fells and try some new ones. We remind ourselves that we still feel comfortable in the hills and explore the tension between here and there; where shall we settle?
Autumn has outpaced us up here; her colours are already bright and fiery. Ophelia crashed through at the beginning of the week, and started the stripping and piling of loose leaves. The next day was bright and ragged and we climbed Arant Haw (605m), behind Sedbergh, heading for The Calf (676m). But Ophelia still ruled the high places, howling up the dale and threatening to toss us from the ridge. We retreated over Winder (473m) and back to safety. Raven cronked and shouted in spirals, mocked and mobbed by crow and jackdaw. A stoat, in bright chestnut, shot across the path and Bilbo hunted and pounced on voles in the hissing grasses.
Under a red hurricane sun, we topped Great Knoutberry (672m), high above Dentdale. We ate a brief picnic in swirling, sepia cloud and squelched down through thigh-deep, sucky mud. Golly, there has been a lot of rain up there!
On a gin-clear day we were above Barbondale on Calf Top (609m) - England's newest mountain. On top of the world, we could see the Lakeland fells and Morecombe Bay. Pipits accompanied us across the rocky top; buzzard and kestrel tipped and swung on the breeze.
In a suntrap in the garden of our stone cottage, a red squirrel watched us with large, bright eyes. We could see his flame-coloured fur, cream belly and sharp, tufted ears. People love their red squirrels. They are proud of them here; tin signs on tree trunks throughout the valleys alert us to their presence. Drive carefully - look out - let's protect them.
At the end of the week there was an endless walk (23km) out of Dent and up onto the mighty Whernside (736m) which left us feeling accomplished and wanting more, but we could see nothing from the top.I have never seen the view from the top of Whernside; I will just have to keep going back.