Friday, 23 October 2015

Book Review: A Three Peaks Up and Under, Stephen C. Oldfield, Scratching Shed Publishing (2015)

I first came across Stephen Oldfield via his superbly informative blog, also named ‘A Three Peaks Up and Under’ and so when I heard he had a book coming out I knew I would have to get it. Due to my tendency to stockpile books it has taken me longer to get round to reading it than I’d hoped and in fact the book was published back in May.

Sub-titled ‘A Guide to Yorkshire’s Limestone Wonderland’, the book is the result of the author’s lifelong passion for the limestone scenery of the Yorkshire Dales and in particular the Three Peaks area of the Dales. It is, in the author’s words, “a celebration of a landscape”, both above and below ground, hence the book’s title. The author’s recollection of the origin of the phrase ‘Up and Under’, involving a toy monkey taking a 260-ft plunge off Malham Cove, is just one of the many amusing anecdotes that are sprinkled throughout the book.

After a fascinating introduction, in which Oldfield recounts the geological history of the Dales, the book is split into two main sections, ‘Up’ and ‘Under’. Rather than these being described as ‘walks’ or ‘caving trips’ Oldfield calls these ‘adventures’. The phrase is telling and it perfectly encapsulates the author’s approach to heading off to visit all sorts of features that can be found off the beaten track. 

Throughout the book Oldfield recounts times when his children have accompanied him on his adventures. Considering the horrified reaction my own daughter has whenever I mention the dreaded word ‘walk’ I realise that I’ve been making a huge mistake,  I should have been marketing them to her as ‘adventures’ all this time. Certainly the fact that the author has been able to share so much of his love for the Dales with his own children did make me more than slightly envious.

In total there are thirteen adventures above ground and seven adventures below ground, with a chapter devoted to each. Each chapter contains information on where to start, how to get there, what to take with you, an overview of the adventure and then a fairly detailed description of the adventure itself and the sights that will be seen on it.

While adventures over each of the Three Peaks are described I can guarantee that few people will have walked these particular routes. I’ve always thought that I knew them very well but even I came across a few features that I’ve missed on the slopes of Penyghent and Ingleborough. For example, after reading the book I’ll certainly be making a trip to visit the Allotment on the slopes below Simon Fell and Ingleborough. An unremarkable area as viewed on the OS map it is seemingly full of remarkable potholes, including Juniper Gulf.

While Oldfield and I are in many ways kindred spirits in our approach to exploring the Dales above ground I have to say that going underground has never really appealed to me. I’ve stood outside or above plenty of caves and potholes but apart from once going about 40m into Attermire Cave my underground experience is very limited. I’ve always thought that the dangers far outweighed the benefits. Having read this book I’m now reassessing that view.

Not that Oldfield doesn’t make it clear that these can be dangerous places - they are, particularly after rain. However, he also shows that with the right equipment and common sense some of these caves can be enjoyed by people of all ages. It is to Oldfield’s credit that he makes it all sound like so much fun, even crawling through a narrow passage or getting very wet wading through underground pools.

Overall the book manages that rare feat of being both humorous and at the same time incredibly informative in an easy to understand way. The author’s background as head of a primary school standing him in good stead in this respect. What shines through the most though is Oldfield’s sheer passion for the subject. Despite over forty years of exploring the limestone wonders of the Yorkshire Dales the author’s enthusiasm remains undimmed and positively shines through on every page.

Highly recommended.

A Three Peaks Up and Under is available to purchase online from Scratching Shed Publishing.