The path leads up from the Grassington Road first along a farm track and then across slightly muddy fields towards the shapely cone of Sharp Haw, rising out from the ground like a child’s drawing of the perfect peak. Ahead of us stands a pheasant on the path. There are lapwings and meadow pippets. The call of a curlew. And then, overhead, the roar of two vintage aircraft, jousting in the ever-changing skies above the Yorkshire Dales.
The name of the hill comes from an Old English word. Haw from hawian, meaning view. And from the top we have a truly incredible view, for miles in every direction. The heavy lump of Pendle Hill. The billowing steam from the heritage railway that shuffles along the tracks between Embsay and Bolton Abbey. The houses of Skipton and Gargrave, beyond the rocky crag just beneath the top. Wharfedale and Malhamdale. The Leeds and Liverpool Canal. Fields and forests. Factories and mills. All these places have their stories and – however wild and windswept it might feel up there looking down across the landscape – the stories of those places, from sheep-farming to industry, via the railway lines and the canal towpaths, have come together to shape the view.
There are stories that are inaccessible to us. On the way down, the path falling steeply towards a plantation of tall pines and bushy rhododendrons that – without the stone walls – threaten to swallow the hillside whole, we come across a bunch of flowers, tied to a tree. They are still in their plastic supermarket wrapping, as is the card (romance or condolence?) that is attached by a frayed ribbon. There is no message. What these flowers are for, who they are aimed at or remember, is not ours to know.
The path turns a corner now, with views to the north that are suddenly obscured as it enters the gloomy half-light of a rhododendron tunnel. The ground is slippery and it feels more like a path through some kind of secret garden than a walk on a Yorkshire hillside. The sun shines through in single shafts where it has breached the tunnel’s dense, green roof. A different place, that the windswept, sheep-shorn hilltop we left behind only a few minutes before.
On a forestry or farmer’s track, just before we come across the mobile sheep-dipper left waiting by the side of the field, we are walking beneath the rocky crags which we had seen earlier from above. There is a dead bird on the path, almost certainly a pheasant. A few steps later, a dead frog. Signs warn walkers that at lambing time, dogs need to be kept on a lead. The farmer’s patience is wearing thin. As we turn the corner the pointed peak of Sharp Haw comes into view once more. It is a very satisfying hill. To both approach and to look back on: there must be many drivers on the B6265, on their way from Skipton to Grassington, who must catch of glimpse of this little peak and wonder what it is like to be up there.
Words & Pictures: Paul Scraton