However, while London was warm and sunny when I left (and returned) the weather in Yorkshire was a bit more temperamental, with heavy rain on the Friday night continuing into Saturday morning and spoiling our hopes of an early start.
We decided to wait for the rain to die down and to set off later in the day for a slightly shorter, more scenic route instead - after a visit to the Wensleydale Creamery to try some of the famous local cheese (fuel for later on!)
There was a fantastic array of different Wensleydale cheeses to try, with exotic combinations including mango, pineapple and blueberry, along with the classic cranberry and apricot varieties. Unfortunately we came at the wrong time for the dairy tour, but made up for it with tea and fantastic scones in the cafe, and left loaded with cheesy souvenirs to take home.
By 11am the lashing rain had shifted into a light drizzle, so we parked up near Pen-y-ghent and set off. In general the first three hours were great. The walk to the top of Pen-y-ghent wasn't too challenging and we were rewarded with beautiful views of the hills and dales. As time went on, the hike because more and more difficult. The elements that had been fun to start with (steep ascents and descents; clambering over rocks and down roughly hewn stone staircases) became exhausting as the hours went by, and we became increasingly glad we hadn't attempted the full challenge!
The route we followed was a lot further than originally estimated (by my dad counting the squares on the map) and we didn't make it back to our starting point to collect the car, giving up and staggering back to our hostel instead. The final stretch had some of the best scenery: we passed by Malham Tarn, a creepy, sinister lake (see the photo below!), and Malham Cove, an impressive rock formation (with some even more impressive rock climbers scaling the cliff face).
After our long day of walking, we rewarded ourselves with a well-deserved pub dinner at The Lister Arms, a lovely, very traditional English Inn on the village green. We stuffed ourselves with enormous plates of fish and chips and some much needed glasses of wine and local ale.
After dinner we hobbled round the corner to the Malham Youth Hostel (where we spent both nights). This was a friendly and comfortable spot, with a cosy living area, lots of board games, and a very hearty breakfast spread. There was a conspicuous absence of youths - instead the main clientele seemed to be incredibly fit hikers and fell runners in their 50s and 60s (our stay coincided with the Malham Trail Challenge which made our exertions look like a gentle stroll in comparison!)
You know you're a Londoner when you start getting excited by all the sheep!
My dad and I set the alarm for 5am to go and collect the car (we had to leave by 10am the next morning as I had a train booked and my brother had a rugby game - which he was somehow able to play in despite the blisters!). We had another three hours of walking, which doesn't sound too bad - but with the steep hills and rough terrain (not to mention our aching feet) it was a real challenge. Having said that, it was very pretty watching the sun rise and mists slowly clearing.
Limestone pavement at the top of Malham Cove
In conclusion - would I go back to the Yorkshire Dales? Definitely - the incredible scenery, picturesque villages, quaint cafes, and excellent pubs all provide a strong reason for another visit. Would I go back and do an eight hour walk, followed by three more hours early the next morning? Definitely not! I thought - having run half marathons, and generally being in pretty good shape - that the distance wouldn't pose a challenge, but it was one of the hardest things I've done - definitely more challenging than an 100-mile cycle or 13.1-mile run.
In the future, I'll be sticking to a maximum of two hours per day walking - a nice wander through the countryside to work up an appetite, a big pub lunch, and a little walk afterwards to help digest!