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A strange encounter in the Troll's gorge

The dramatic limestone gorge of Trollers Gill in Upper Wharfedale holds a rather eerie charm. Situated in one of the wildest parts of the dale, where wind-blown expanses of desolate moorland stretch to the distant horizon, the gorge is an oasis of stillness and solitude. Making your way up from the imposing site of Parceval Hall, it is difficult to forget those who have walked this route before you, up through the narrow chasm and onward to the pack-horse routes that still criss-cross the moorland beyond. Local folklore tells of trolls who roll rocks down on unwelcome visitors, unseen in shady caves, and the spectre hound of Craven is rumoured to have a lair in the steep limestone cliffs. Trollers Gill is not a place to enjoy alone.

Mr Mole

It was with these thoughts, and my wife, as companion that I strode out to the gorge as late afternoon turned into evening, unaware we were to have our own unexplained encounter. As we approached the entrance to the gill jackdaws scolded our intrusion from above, wheeling around in tight flocks and reminding us of the gorge's other name, Jackdaw Nick. As we scrambled over the boulders in the dry stream bed, aware of the danger of falling objects from the cave entrances above, my wife froze and pointed to the rocks a few feet further on. Movement could clearly be detected. Had we disturbed a troll? Was this the spectre hound on the prowl for its evening meal? My mind raced for a few moments, trying to rationalise the situation.

Soon apprehension was replaced with relief and then intrigue as a huge pair of pink hands and a blunt pig-like snout announced the presence of a mole, which emerged from the ground and waddled towards us over the mossy boulders, unaware of our presence. Moles are rarely seen above ground, especially in daylight hours, so we relished the opportunity to study this subterranean mammal at close quarters. As it made its way clumsily along the rocks, the nails on its shovel-like hands made a strange scratching noise on the limestone. These were tools made for digging not rock climbing!

We bent down to get a closer look. The mole's cylindrical body was covered in a velvety coat of charcoal-grey fur. The creature's tiny eyes and ears were completely hidden inside its silky jacket, giving its head a strange, bare appearance. Spiky white whiskers protruded either side of a long pink muzzle, adapted for seizing invertebrate prey. Every so often the mole would disappear into a crevice, only to appear again unexpectedly and continue its awkward journey out of the gorge. We pondered why it was above ground, exposed and vulnerable on the rocks.

Suddenly, the noisy jackdaws were on the wing again, this time mobbing a larger bird. It accelerated away from them and settled on a crag. Through binoculars we picked out the characteristic profile of a peregrine falcon. The brown plumage of this individual marked it out as a young bird, only recently on the wing. In contrast to the feeble eyesight of the mole, the peregrine is renowned for its own binocular vision, and it only had to glance down below our feet to notice an easy meal. Suddenly we faced a terrible dilemma. Should we rescue the mole and place it in safe keeping till the danger had passed, or let nature take its course?

We withdrew, as if to continue our way up the gorge, but our glances were drawn back to the peregrine and the mole, one moving effortlessly through the air, the other stumbling across the ground in search of a refuge. Then as quickly as the mole had appeared, it was lost from sight as it found some soft earth to burrow in. A few minutes later as we were ascending the darkening gorge the peregrine came into view again, careening spectacularly through the air as if in play. Perhaps it wasn't hungry.

As the sky become ever more sombre and the wind picked up we finally emerged from the gill, and had one more decision to make. Carry on to the area known as the 'hell hole' or take the safe route back to the road. This time our decision was much easier.

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