Plover Hill and Pen-y-Ghent on Saturday, August 26th, 2017.
For most of the highly successful (from a walking perspective) 2016, Darren and I had been discussing and planning another assault on Yorkshire’s beloved three peaks. This has spilled over into this year but with this year being such a scant one in terms of the number of walks I have been on, I thought it best to start preparing for this gruelling walk in a timely manner. We planned to do just Pen-y-Ghent…until I decided to throw neighbouring Plover Hill into the mix.
The plan was originally for Darren and I simply to tackle Pen-y-Ghent, but I later thought this would make a great opportunity for Darren’s son Connor, to bag his first Yorkshire mountain…and he did enjoy Pendle Hill which we would see for a good portion of the first part of the walk. A few days before, Darren had informed me that an acquaintance of his, Mike, would also be joining us on the day…I had to empty the boot of the car in order to get all of our walking gear aboard! All the same, after picking up the Peakes and Mike at 9:10 we were at Horton(-in Ribblesdale) by 10:55 and on route within ten minutes of that! Except that I had to wait a while as the others called in at the toilets…I know, I know!
The weather was wonderful for mountain walking, warm – but not too warm, and dry. Experience had already ingrained in me the knowledge that the hardest part of the ascent of Pen-y-Ghent is the short, sharp, shock of Brackenbottom…I had remember the difficulty well but had forgotten the anguish, I’ve done tougher climbs…and won’t do them again! This was hard going especially given Darren and Mike’s apparent fitness. Did I forget to mention that Mike is one of Darren’s running mates? So did he…up until we were three quarters up the slope towards the junction with the Pennine Way’s path! I struggled to keep up. In fact that’s an understatement, I declared “I’m the driver, so you’ll have to wait for me me!” funnily enough that idle threat worked a treat, for a spell! I had read a number of times Mike Brocklehurst’s recantation of his Three Peaks walk and of how he could easily make out the shape of Pendle Hill from the slopes of Pen-y-Ghent, personally I had never been able to do that…until today.
On a hazy horizon I managed to spot good old Pendle Hill, this was the first time that I had managed to clap eyes on my favourite hill from this locale and it raised my spirits accordingly. I just haven’t been out and about anywhere near enough times this year and seeing Pendle in the distance instilled in me a will to put this to rights. By twelve o’clock we were nearing the frightening front face of Pen-y-Ghent. It’s still a firm favourite of mine, I imagine most walkers who have made this journey more than once will agree, that this is a lovely mountain. But, the sight of the Pennine Way scrambling up the nose of this relative giant is still enough to stop most people in their tracks and we were all no exception. I won’t undersell this mountain, up to the first rocky section from the gate is no walk in the park, but there is progress to be made, and swiftly. The first rocky outcrop is fantastic. Yes, I know people who suffer from vertigo might disagree – I know this because I was gently coaching one of them up the thing! I thoroughly enjoy this scramble and today was no exception. I flashed back to the time when I received a text message from Christine during my successful Yorkshire Three Peaks bagging in 2015 and must have smiled like a Cheshire cat.
For me, the best part of most walks is the opportunity to chat with other people engaged in the same activity, it’s even more enjoyable if they’re being as frank and open about their fitness levels ( or lack thereof) as I tend to be. Today we met a small group of women who were acquainting themselves with the individual peaks ahead of an imminent challenge…in aid of Hedgehogs! One woman even joked, ‘I didn’t even like Hedgehogs beforehand…’ I can’t reproduce what she said next; as the language was colourful! The first scramble over, I rested, chatted, then continued at a slower, more deliberate pace. I was determined to make it up the mountain, but not puffing and panting in so doing! The second scramble always demands more attention, there’s further to fall! Armed with this realisation, I took my own sweet time but within a few minutes of three-points-of-contact work, I was on Pen-y-Ghent’s promenade path to the summit, in last place of our group of four.
We stopped for lunch having tapped the trig point, I always do this three times these days. The views all round were unobstructed but not as stellar as I have scene before, maybe it was because my legs had turned to jelly. My lunch consisted of a berry-flavoured caffeine gel, another banana and a chicken caesar wrap from the Spar near home. All told this would probably equate to around 900 calories at the very most, I think I’d burned that off in the last 1.75 miles ascending this mountain.
We identified on my map, the rest of our route – nothing more complicated than ‘follow that wall’, and eventually we set off northwards to the next target: Plover Hill.
The reason why I had elected to add this hill to our excursion was down to empathy. Coming from a town which was so often overlooked by its gigantic neighbours (Ainsworth / Radcliffe overshadowed by Bolton, Bury, Salford and Manchester) I felt the pain of a mountain which is, after all, just forty feet lower than its much more illustrious neighbour. It came as a surprise to me that we had to traverse the fairly sizable wall-stile, I had it in my head that we would stay this side of the boundary. The drop down was very close to immediate and a lot more severe than I had imagined, although not a dangerous fall would await the clumsy of foot! It has to be said that the views really did not sing out loud. Ingleborough, Whernside and Plover Hill were pretty much all that I could identify. After the path levelled out – in the vertical sense, Plover Hill decided to allure us with the promise of a wet kiss! Without any warning on the ground, the terrain suddenly got a whole lot wetter – and much muddier. If one were to refer to an ordnance survey map, the sight of lots of lovely dots and symbols indicating that this is a marshland would jump off the page practically dowsing the reader! We walkers have odd memories, oh yes, we can remember at which point on which hill of which day we had which sandwich, but as to looking at a map…we forget what we have just read, instantly! So wet was the terrain that I believe we must have added at least one more percent to the totally milage, just by veering off to the left, then coming back in again to the right after the dry patch had altered coarse!
Ultimately, we reached the wall that sat upon the highest part of Plover Hill. My trouser legs were covered in mud, my jegs were even more like jelly and I was more than a bit relieved to be able to sit down for a few minutes and recover. We all agreed that the path to the north, which we were about to discover simply had to be better than the quagmyre through which we had just sloshed. Upon traversing the wall-stile, we were proved right in our hoping. For the next few hundred yards we buoyed in delight at the sturdiness of the terrain beneath our feet. Yes, the path did brake up often, but it was never as wet as it had been ‘the other side of the wall’. In time, we came upon the escarpment. The fact that I have no photographic evidence of this path should serve as testament unseen of the steepness of this rocky staircase in the sky. Darren may or may not have been hyperbolising when he referred to the path down Plover as being even steeper than the path up Pen-y-Ghent, I’d be inclined to agree, or maybe it was because we were all feeling the effects of the previous moorland slog. By contrast the tightening of the knees and surging shockwaves of descent were if nothing else, noteworthy!
The descent over, we could now be poetically described as in a pasture or meadow, to the more pragmatic, I suppose it could be reasoned that we were actually on the outskirts of Horton Moor or Foxup – yes we too laughed at how that might be sardonically pronounced! At best we were two miles away from Horton in Ribblesdale’s main road…but these were Yorkshire miles. I had previous experience of the ‘ 1½ miles to Horton in Ribblesdale’ finger sign on the descent of Ingleborough across Sulber Nick…I was well aware! When our nice, obvious path vanished into the moorland we took a left hand turn onto a bridal-way of sorts which quickly facilitated our way across Horton Scar, passing Pen-y-Ghent once more. This time the mountain looked much different than the ‘crouching lion’ aspect to which most walkers become accustomed.
Now came the long, drawn out trek back to Horton along a grassy track which was sometimes a bit wet and other times a bit sticky. This was not the most exciting route as for the best side of three miles…the scenery stayed exactly the same! The one point of punctuation in the first few miles was when Darren, Mike and Connor stopped off to visit Hunt Pot (or was it Hull Pot?). I really couldn’t care less, sorry to say it bus missing parts of the earth just don’t do anything for me…now if it were to be High Cup. The slog down along Horton Scar Lane is always, always the worst part of the walk, the only thing that puts me off doing the Yorkshire three peaks in reverse…is knowing that I’ll eventually have to trapse down this boring piece of crunchy road(?). I’m just not a fan!
Before my soul had been completely destroyed we were back in Horton and at the Penyghent Café…milk and coffee being the order of the day…before the long drive home.
In summing, I had no idea what to expect with regards to Plover Hill. Jack Keighley had warned us that it’s a little wet, he was in no way understating. As for the drop off its southern face, that truly was exhilarating! It goes without saying that I loved the (ahem quite fast yomp) up Pen-y-Ghent, I always do although to be honest, I prefer it more when it’s me and Chris and I have more time to peruse the landscape. I might never do Plover Hill again, I definitely will do Pen-y-Ghent as many times as possible.
Stats time taken – around five hours (it’s been so long that I’ve forgotten).
Mileage – erm, same again but according to Happy Hiker, it was 8.45 miles and 1,821 feet of ascent.