Extreme Ferret Walking

by Bill Beck

In the light of the current popularity of extreme sports, I thought I'd introduce to you the concept of extreme ferret walking. No stroll in the park this, but something for real rufty-tufty ferrets.

It all started a few months ago back in May when we went for a short holiday in Yorkshire. We stayed at the Cairn Hotel in Harrogate, and took our furries out walkies every day. One of the places we visited was How Stean Gorge in Nidderdale. This is, to put it mildly, quite a long way from anywhere else and is reached by some fairly hairy roads. As we drove over a steel bridge into the car park, there were already people abseiling 60 feet off the edge of the bridge amid the usual paraphernalia of multicoloured ropes and hard hats, so you could see what to expect of the place.

Having parked up and got our four hobs and one jill kitted up with harnesses and leads and ourselves with boots and water-proofs, we entered the cafe-come-ticket office. The proprietors looked a bit surprised so see two humans and five ferrets, but recovered quickly and sold us our tickets (the ferrets got in free). Ann and I got the loan of hard hats but we had to buy suitable ones for the ferrets. Fortunately they had some the right size, complete with the How Stean Gorge logo, and you can see Bertina wearing hers below...

Bertina prepares to boldly go
What's down there then?

We then firmly attached the other ends of the ferret leads to our belts with spring-loaded hooks, crossed over the road, went through the gate and started down the path into the gorge. Perfect ferret-walking country: lots of wet vegetation to get tangled up in, slippery rocks to scramble over and slide off, streams and water-falls to splash about in and tree roots to excavate. Sheer heaven.

a bit tricky, this bit...

As we descended deeper into the ravine we reached How Stean Tunnel where a stream runs from a tall, narrow crack in a limestone cliff. Here we descended to the river bank where it was necessary to creep along under an overhang of rock before swinging left across the river on a bridge consisting of one iron 'I'- shaped girder laid on its side: not suitable for those of a nervous disposition!

On the other side we came to Tom Taylor's Cave. This was a typical limestone cavern: cold, wet, dark, slippery underfoot and drippy-on-the-bonce above. The ferrets, to my great surprise, didn't fancy this a bit and would only go a few yards inside.

Coming out of the cave we crossed back over the river by another bridge (think Indiana Jones sort of thing).


The 'path' (a little imagination required here) was great for the furries as they could go right up to the edge of the river and paddle about in the cool, clear water. After this a short, steep climb up some dry stone steps with plenty of nooks and crannies to be sniffed, prodded and poked, led us back to the café, where all parties collapsed and gratefully partook of refreshment.

Shouldn't that be Via Ferreta?

For those of a really adventurous frame of mind there is also the Iron Way, or Via Ferrata as it's called in Foreign. We reckon they should re-name it the Via Ferreta in honour of our furballs: perhaps they will have changed the name by the time we go back again? As this involved rope work and wobbly steel ladders we didn't think it was suitable for the ferrets so we gave it a miss.

A great time was had by all, and much snoring was heard from back of the car on the way back to the hotel: we didn't see much of the little monsters for the rest of the day. If you fancy a grand day out, with or without your ferrets, How Stean Gorge is 25 miles from Harrogate and 7 miles from Pately Bridge. The address is:
How Stean Gorge, Pately Bridge, North Yorkshire, HG3 5SF.
Telephone 01423 755666.
Email: Info@howstean.co.uk
Website: www.howstean.co.uk

(First published in NFWS News - #94 Sept/Oct 2012)