The Yorkshire village of Malham was basking in the mid-morning sunshine when we set off for a circular walk up over the hills via Gordale Scar. It was a pleasant temperature for walking and we started at a good pace, passing several other walkers out on this sunny bank holiday Saturday. Not far down the track, shaded by trees, was Janet’s Foss. The clear water pouring down from the rocks looked refreshing and incredibly clean and I felt healthy just gazing into the depths. Up and onwards, through increasingly rocky terrain, and we came to Gordale Scar, a steep cut through the rocks, through which it is possible to climb. I stood for a while, looking at the limestone around whilst keeping an eye on the walkers in front trying to scale the Scar in a dignified fashion. Nerves or sense overcame me and we opted not to risk the chance of a misplaced foot,  instead of doubling back to follow an alternative route over the hill. We wound up and up, looking back at Malham in the valley, where the annual Malham Show was now in full swing. A swallow flew across our path and we continued, past a bull sitting regally in the middle of a field for all the world like a king surveying his subjects.

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We followed a path across the moor and through slightly boggy terrain before dropping down just above Malham Cove. There were peaceful views across the country; green speckled with the white of sheep and crisscrossed with dry stone walls. The limestone pavement above the Cove is striking. The gaps, or grikes, breaking the limestone into separate stones is caused by water erosion and peering down we noticed ferns and small trees, perfectly at home in the cool depths. Around 400 man-made steps took us down into to the Cove, where again, the temptation to jump into the cool water, despite it not being a hot day, was strong. A beautiful scene and one which lots of people were enjoying, from little ones hitching a ride to more senior gentlemen resting on the bank.

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The following day, with driving rain and an autumnal chill in the air, I opted to go in search of nature indoors and took a train to Saltaire to visit the David Hockney exhibition, ‘The Arrival of Spring’. The exhibition is on the top floor of the old mill with views of the surrounding tree-covered hills. Bright greens in the paintings made quite a contrast with the dark grey of the ceiling and floor. The light in the gallery was enhanced by the effective lighting of the paintings and the bright shades within them. There was certainly not a great deal coming through the windows on this rain-soaked afternoon.

If you follow the paintings chronologically, as the artist intends, and not, as I did, halfway through and in a random fashion, you’ll see that Hockney captures the changing of the season, sometimes painting a scene two or three times in different shades and colours. There is more detail to be picked up than one might at first think. When I reached the exhibition’s start, I went round again and enjoyed the paintings much more now I had grasped the order. Go and see this, if you can.  A splash of well-placed colour on a rainy, dullish day made for cheery faces in Salts Mill. And if it helps us to wonder, to see more keenly the new growth that emerges as if by magic each year, that can only be a good thing.

Sunday promised a break in the rain and I set off early. I alighted from the bus at Bolton Abbey and passed through the gap in the wall that leads down to the water and the ruins of the priory. Grass and trees were bright with the wet of recent rain. I turned to walk across the bridge and up along the path that runs roughly parallel to the River Wharfe. Silver birch, oak and beech-lined the path on the steep hillside whilst mountain ash trees were also dotted around, recognisable by their red berries. There were views across the valley to the hills beyond, and the higher I climbed, the more I could see. At the highest point, I dropped down and followed the path away from the Abbey in the other direction. Here, I passed through a field where swallows ducked and dived. I stood still whilst they swooped in circles around me. A dog tried to chase one, in foolish pursuit. I followed the Dales Way along the river, through a field of munching sheep. The sun came out between the showers and cast a benign light on the calm scene. It’s possible to do a circular walk following the signposts and there are also walks marked in the other direction. Time dictated, however, that I return the way I had come so, on reaching the old road bridge, I retraced my steps back to the abbey. My time in Yorkshire was drawing to a close but I carried memories of the hills, the valleys and the swoop of the swallows all the way home.

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Written by James Common

Naturalist and nature writer from North-East England, forever learning. Common By Nature is maintained as an outlet for opinion and personal musings associated with the natural world, and as a journal detailing my exploits in the great outdoors. Enjoy!

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