Wednesday, May 24, 2006


The Gordale Scare

During my recent visit to the Yorkshire Dales I visited for the first time in my life The Gordale Scar, a spectacular split in the limestone hills caused by a fault line and believed by many geologists to be the remains of a huge underground cavern whose roof collapsed around the time of the last ice age.

Artist's depictions of The Gordale Scar can be found by a Google Image search and he results range from a Turner who must have seen it as a smudgy mess of swirling clouds and fog and looks as if he painted it in about five minutes with a mixy paint cotton wool dip and a pre-school kiddie style of finger and thumb circular motions, to the lesser known James Ward who did it far better justice, but who seemed to see it in terms of Hell on Earth.

It is as they say a pretty dramatic feature. Made no less so when you are confronted with it as you turn a corner and face it. There is no long walk up to the scar allowing you to catch sight of it miles away and then gradually approaching it as you prepare yourself for the up close and personal 'wow' moment. It happens all of a sudden. You walk benignly for ages looking at bland green hills and clusters of rock ribs and stones that go on forever and finding only the endless sheep's range of bleating registers interesting, you turn a corner that could almost have been stage managed by some by some great natural production manager, and there it is, in all its sock knocker off, flabbergasting wonder, the greatest show in the Dales!

Maybe its looming presence it what Ward wanted to capture. It is quite intimidating - partly because of its shock value, it almost causes a cheap horror film clip startle, partly by its lugubrious menace, the pathetic fallacy all too difficult to ignore. The idea though is not to balk, not to take a quick snap and leg it, but to get up to it, get to know it, conjoin with it and literally get your leg over it.

Tne Gordale Scar is there to be taken. A baggage there to be bagged. But I'm no climber and I wasn't going public with my basic skills and feeble bravery. I waited for the area to clear of other visitors and climbers. Stealthily taking note of the surface area, the holds favoured and those ignored, the slip risk areas and the breather stops. Once the last climber had scrambled to the top - and not all did some teetered down not wishing to commit to the whole experience, I set off.

Before starting the climb I had to negotiate a stream-rocky balancing act looking and feeling like an inelegant two legged frog leaping from rock to stone as if they were lilly pads and tottering my way to the climb start.

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