The walk up to and over Pen Y Ghent on Saturday March 19th, 2016.
I had felt a certain un-right, for some time. I should explain, when Colin, Darren and I attempted our Yorkshire Three Peaks in Reverse late last summer, we missed out our old friend Pen y Ghent owing to bad navigation. This was something that I had regretted since then. So, when Christine (my partner) handed me my “Walks in Ribblesdale” book back with the suggestion of us doing ‘Walk number six’ – I was delighted, this was the walk from Horton to Pen y Ghent and back via Plover Hill.
We left home at 08:04, our first stop was the Lancaster Service Station near junction 34 for breakfast. Back on the road and our Tom Tom sat nav then proceeded to guide us through most of the back roads of the Craven area. Suffice to say, we didn’t arrive at Horton in Ribblesdale until something like ten to eleven…the train wouldn’t have been much slower! All the same, as the masses have thus far forgotten about the Yorkshire Dales – until the first “Three Peaks” sponsored walk, around about mid-April, thus parking was easy at the long stay car park and the overflow one wasn’t even in use. It’s not cheap to park here any more, as for over two hours now costs £4.50, on a par with Keswick Prices.
By 11:04 we were all booted and readied and on route to the hill. Bracken Bottom was the first named area that we traversed, with fond memories I flashed back to the last time that I was here and displaying a ‘tally-ho’ attitude towards the steep trek up this field akin to the farm. On my Y3P day I held nothing in reserve, today I was more than happy to take in the scenery and chat with Chris. We did see a number of people on route but the only ones whom passed us, we then passed at later stages in the walk. We both enjoyed the little scramble stages as we headed east towards the first major wall stile. The route then gets a bit more gentle as more limestone to be surmounted; juts out of the ground. I especially like this way of tackling the mountain as it is such a varied route. Yes, although the overall trajectory is unmistakeably up, there are both flat and downhill sections.
The last downhill section before the joining of paths soon came and went and as we neared the Pennine Way path I did wonder what had happened to the two gigantic ladder stiles which used to reside at this wall. This section seemed to serve as a natural stopping point, the couple and their dog, with whom we had been swapping places for the last half mile, decided to take a respite here and we took the opportunity to carry on up the fearsome southern face of Pen Y Ghent. Here the path gets a lot steeper (and this is coming from someone who did Ullock-Skiddaw on his previous walk!). I knew that it was less than half a mile to the summit, but even previous experience of having walked this route does not prepare one for the sight of the steep rocky staircase that we now had to ascend. We now had a lot of knee work to do…and both enjoyed it!
Between scrambling sections there are opportunities to take photos of the two adjacent fells: Fountains and Darnbrook, but on the day I was at a loss as to which was which! It was a joy to see other walkers on route – this was still not ‘crowd-pulling’ weather so it was nice to not be harassed up the stony track, which can happen when the mountain is festooned with people attempting to walk the Yorkshire Three Peaks. It was around six and a half years since I last did this mountain purely for pleasure instead of a training walk, thus I took the chance to have a look around and fall back in love with the Dales’ scenery. On average I only tend to frequent these parts once per year and that has to change.
Ultimately, the summit path beckoned. It was a pleasant surprise that the mill-stone slabbed paths are now in such superabundance. After the final scramble you are immediately greeted by a new slab-path which facilitates progress all the way to the ordnance survey column pillar at the highest point of the mountain. We’d brought our lunch with us to eat at the small wind shelter near the o/s column. Thankfully, this was occupied by three smoking ‘chavs’ a lovely looking Golden Labrador and a ‘barks-at-anything’ bull terrier sort of dog. They were not for moving nor did they speak to anyone, both of which made me arrive at the earlier noun of ‘chavs’. All the same, I was glad to not have to eat my food here amongst the remnants of dried up bananas and the cold temperatures. And the evidence of the cold? Well that was the snow on the dip in-between Pen y Ghent and Plover Hill.
Talking of Plover Hill, on Jack Keighley’s excellent walk, which we were following, the next section should have featured a down and up trek over to Plover Hill and then down to Hull Pot. On a warm summer day I’d happily do this minor detour…Chris and I agreed, that would be one for another day! We began the drop down the north-western face of the mountain.
As if by magic, once over the tall stile, more walkers appeared seemingly out of the ether. A couple, the man of which had congratulated his lady on completing the trek up, began to drop down on the same stony path as us. Pen y Ghent’s north-west descent/ascent is fiercely steep, I may have played this down in previous reports, but at some points I’m sure the gradient must border on forty-five degrees. I had to watch my feet. We passed by some blocks on pallets which appeared to have been randomly left. I did wonder what future purpose they would serve. After roughly a quarter of a mile, the old nemesis from last Sunday showed its face once more…snow. A patch of roughly fifty feet, on one of the afore-mentioned forty-five degree sections seemed intent on slowing us all down – our group of two (Chris and me) had morphed into a group of about eight as we each struggled to come to grips with this white demon. I decided that as last week, I would lead with my heels. Alas, this proved to be ineffective for apparently Yorkshire snow and Cumbrian snow are simply two different creatures and I went up to my knees on a couple of occasions. Chris fared better by simply shouting and me “I can’t stop” and then of course coming to a natural and calm stop!
We passed by Plover Hill and I did feel some remorse over our decision to not take this summit in today. That being said, it was more snow-covered than our mountain which would have added substantially to our route’s time to get across. At times we stopped and looked back at the snow patch in order to laugh at the spectacle of other walkers struggling to get over it. It was hilarious when happening to other people. The drop down from the top is a seriously long one, I must measure this one day, for some time Whitber Hill appeared to be on our route and although we could have made it over this 420 metre lump, neither one of us actually wanted to do so. Fortunately, Horton Scar Lane eventually came into view and we duly turned left here to head back to Horton in Ribblesdale once more.
We were passed by a number of younger walkers, early to mid-twenty year-olds at best but they never really shrank into the foreground. I think these had been the ones making most noise when confronted with the snow patch and they seemed in good spirits.
Horton Scar Lane can be described as the longest ever walk back, if nobody else agrees with me then I still hold fast to that belief. I don’t know for how many miles we ambled along its length, but it seemed like three! But finally we arrived at the B6479 (bing maps does not give it a real name!) and we made our way to the car in order to change out of our boots and for me to get rid of the backpack which had been giving my shoulders a real ache. the Penyghent Café now beckoned and having bypassed lunchtime (thanks to the chavs and their dogs) I had suggested to Chris that we have a sausage butty! It was absolutely lovely, especially when I added English mustard. The two mugs of coffee that I consumed were also lovely and it was nice to sit in the café during one of its more obviously quiet phases. We listened to other excited walkers regale tales of their walks, nobody mentioned the snow, I wondered how many had fallen at that particular hurdle. Chris was in her element to have completed the walk, her fitness is coming along in leaps and bounds…Helvellyn next? We’ll see!
In all the walk took just a little over four hours, which given that neither one of us was in any particular rush and the snow patch certainly had an impact, I thought was brilliant. Our various apps report a distance of seven miles and an altitude of two thousand and three hundred feet, fantastic. I can hardly wait to get over to this neck of the woods again, in May, in order to successfully lead Darren over the Yorkshire Three Peaks. However, it did cross my mind, has anyone ever thought of making an alternative route: Pen y Ghent, Fountains Fell and Plover Hill?
There was no song of the walk…apologies, we were too busy gabbing on!
Farewell for now, you beautiful mountain, you ‘hill of the winds!’