Tiny snow devil vortices dance across the scene outside Newby Head Farm, 1,400ft high in Yorkshire’s Three Peaks region. But the snow that tinsels the windbreak of Douglas firs does not stir. Neither does the mound of pink rock salt by the roadside; it is already half-frozen. Sheep farmer Rodney Beresford has to dig hard as he fills the hopper behind his 150hp Deutz tractor.
Job done, he clambers up into the driving seat; we both slam our doors. The snowplough blade fitted to the front of the tractor will make light work of drifted snow. For now, however, it is raised clear of the ground – high enough for a robin to hop out of the way as the tractor’s huge wheels begin to roll out of the farmyard.
Rodney started work three hours before dawn, salting and snowploughing roads and farm tracks around Ingleton – our destination today – and Horton-in-Ribblesdale. He is one of 120 or so farmers contracted by the North Yorkshire county council to clear the roads in heavy snow. He shares the work with his son, Thomas, a bus driver, who is allowed time off to go out snow-ploughing in his own tractor, to make sure children from outlying areas can reach school in Settle. The photographs on his North Yorkshire snow updates page on Facebook give some idea of what they are up against.
Ribblehead Viaduct comes into view. Still no need to lower the blade but the Station Inn gradient needs salt. A solitary Swaledale sheep hoists itself wearily up from the asphalt to let us pass. Had it been licking salt off the road, I wonder aloud. Rodney nods, concentrating as he reverses to re-salt the steep incline above the Hill Inn, near Chapel-le-Dale. One winter, he found six quarry wagons stuck here, but his tractor had the oomph to rescue them.
We pass signs for the White Scar show caves. “Another black spot,” he says. “Snow blows off Ingleborough and dumps it outside the entrance to the visitor attraction.” But not today, I say. “Not today so far!” he corrects me. “Three Peaks weather is contrary.”