Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Yorkshire 2000s - Pen-y-Ghent & Plover Hill

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Route: Horton in Ribblesdale, Brackenbottom, Brackenbottom Scar, Pennine Way, Pen-Y-Ghent, Plover Hill, Swarth Gill Gate, Foxup Road, Horton Moor, Hull Pot, Horton Scar

Date: 12/05/2013
From: Horton in Ribblesdale

Parking: National Park Car Park
Start Point: Horton in Ribblesdale
Region: Yorkshire Dales

Route length: 9 miles (14.5km)
Time taken: 03:51
Average speed: 2.3mph
Ascent: 591m
Descent: 595m

2000s on this walk:
Pen-Y-Ghent (695m), Plover Hill (680m)

Additional summits: None

Other points of interest: Hull Put and Horton Scar

When starting a challenge, why not start with one of the best? Pen-Y-Ghent certainly falls into that category, it's iconic shape is recognisable to nearly everyone who visits the great outdoors, particularly those familiar with the Yorkshire Dales. At 695m, it's certainly not the highest peak on the list but what it lacks in height, it makes up for in interest and excitement. Add a high-level walk to a second peak, endless bog, a collapsed cave and persistent rain and you have a typical day out in limestone country. Here's what happened.....

Sara and I started this one relatively early. I'm starting to get into the habit of trying to arrive in the Dales by 10.00, allowing plenty of time to wander through its wonderful scenery. This means a 08.30 start from Wakefield which, if you told anyone it was a Sunday, would think you were probably mad. Arriving at Horton, we aimed for the car park but, being honorary Yorkshire folk, we found a free spot on the road, making sure we weren't inconveniencing any locals. The forecast was for clouds to descent during the day as a weather front moved in. As we booted up, we decided to yomp up Pen-Y-Ghent post-haste in order to make sure we were on the summit before the weather closed in. This turned out to be a wise move, as you'll read later.

The walk starts with a brief wander along the road to Brackenbottom, past the Pen-Y-Ghent Cafe, the traditional starting point of the Yorkshire Three Peaks challenge.
Sara on the road towards Brackenbottom
The route leaves the road and begins the steady climb up past Brackenbottom scar. You can see from the photo below that the path here is starting to suffer from the popularity of Pen-Y-Ghent and the impact of the Three Peaks challenge. I read somewhere that people should consider undertaking the challenge and donating their money to the Yorkshire Dales National Park to help repair the paths and I couldn't agree more.
The multiple eroded paths climbing the hill towards Pen-Y-Ghent
I enjoyed this part of the walk as it allows you warm up, cover a fair distance and gain some height without a great deal of exertion. Before long (despite seeing it several times already), Pen-Y-Ghent looms into view. And what a sight it is. Some say it resembles a crouching lion, I don't really see it myself but I'll let you decide on that one. In either case, it looks impressive, more so the closer you get.
Pen-Y-Ghent from the path up Brackenbottom Scar
Before long, the path reaches the Pennine Way, which crosses directly over the summit. In fact, the peak forms part of the watershed of the Pennine Fells - water from the western flanks drains towards the Irish Sea while water from the eastern flanks eventually finds its way into the Humber Estuary.
The Pennine way climbs to the summit
Joining the Pennine Way begins the most interesting part of the walk as the path steepens, eventually ending up become a mini-scramble to reach the summit plateau. We passed a father taking his two young children up, offering them words of encouragement all the way. Fair play to him and them, I'm sure you wouldn't have got me up a mountain when I was 6.

The Pennine Way snakes up the side of Pen-Y-Ghent
Sara negotiates the 'hands-on' part of the climb
A few footholds, loose rocks and a pair of dirty hands later, we reached the final steady ascent to the summit. Marked by a trig point and featuring a rather enticing stone shelter, the summit was reasonably busy when we arrived, with some people already settling down for lunch, despite it being before midday. We thought if you can't beat them, join them and stopped for a break using the drystone wall as a shelter. The weather, incidentally, was now starting to take a rather damp turn and the odd light showers were starting to roam by.
Yours truly atop Pen-Y-Ghent. Definitely happier than the exterior suggests and definitely eyes open (I checked) 
Something odd happened next when we saw a gentleman arrive with a rather bag on his back. Upon closer inspection, it looked very much like a case for a tuba, but we dismissed it as maybe an oversized pack or paraglider maybe. But then, one by one, others arrived, all carrier cases of various shapes and sizes. It was only when the original fellow opened his case to reveal an actual tuba we realised what was happening. A full sized brass band had turned up! It turned out they were doing a practice run for the Three Peaks Challenge they were doing in August in aid of the MS Society. As we prepared to leave for Plover Hill, they gave us a rendition of the Great Escape. Brilliant.
The brass band warms up on the summit of Pen-Y-Ghent
Leaving the band behind, still hearing their tunes drifting on the wind, we turned our attention to the mile or so of high ground towards Plover Hill. I'd read it was boggy, which was an understatement. At first, it didn't seem so bad but the further we travelled the wider and deeper the bogs got. Indeed, neither I nor Sara managed to keep to the dryer ground and were thankful we'd decided to wear gaiters.
The ridge between Pen-Y-Ghent and Plover Hill

The bog following the dry stone wall
After a mile or so of particularly difficult walking in which we both achieved wet and muddy boots, we reached the summit of Plover Hill. Understated might be a bit of an understatement but that pretty much sums up the summit of Plover Hill. No real discernible peak and only a small pile of rocks marking the summit, the entirety of Plover Hill's interest seems to have been stolen by its famous neighbour. It almost seemed not to be worth the effort but that would be unfair as Plover Hill did have one trick up its sleeve; the descent.
The summit of Plover Hill with Pen-Y-Ghent in the distance
Leaving the summit and heading north towards Foxup Moor, the grassy bank of the summit dropped away sharply revealing a very interesting, narrow, steep descent. It was this very point that the Mountain Weather Information Service's forecast became reality and the drizzle started, making the final few metres a bit more challenging. Time to don the waterproofs,  not for the first time this year.
The narrow path descending the north face of Plover Hill
Reaching the bottom of the hill we joined the well-defined bridleway, Foxup Lane. Not a lane in the traditional sense, maybe more of a 'walkers road'. Turning west and heading towards Swarth Gill Gate, the weather really deteriorated making the 3-mile trek back to Horton a bit unpleasant to say the least. The lowered cloud also robbed us of any views we'd have of Pen-Y-Ghent Side on the return. There would be a final moment of geographer's delight though as we eventually reached Hull Pot.
Low clouds shroud Pen-Y-Ghent Side

Sara on the rather bland Foxup Lane
Hull Pot is the largest natural hole in England and is the result of a cave collapse countless years ago. It really is a stunning sight and we were quite lucky that the weather was wet meaning that Hull Pot Beck was cascading into it from above. I'm determined to return to Hull Pot on a fine day and have a really good nose around, not something that would have been particularly safe today. Leaving Hull Pot, we pressed on.
Hull Pot, England's largest natural hole. 
Me stood where the photo above was taken from. It's fair to say Sara wasn't keen with the overhang
Hull Pot Beck spills into Hull Pot, falling 20 metres to the ground below
At this point, Foxup Lane becomes Foxup Road and is, in fact, a Road - albeit one suitable for 4x4s. The descent of Foxup Road, adjacent to Horton Scar encompasses the final quarter of the walk and is a pleasant enough stroll through some classic limestone scenery. It's a shame it was so wet and I hadn't considered an alternate path down Horton Scar. Think of it as a series of mini-Malham coves and you're halfway there. Looks like a trip for another day. Probably the same day I re-visit Hull Pot.
Foxup Road returns you towards Horton in Ribblesdale
Horton Scar looks like a very tempting place to visit
Reaching the bottom of the Foxup Road we were spat out onto the main road through Horton in Ribblesdale. It was a simple task of returning to the car to dispel of the wet weather gear and crank the heaters up to dry off. I'd highly recommend this walk to everybody, especially Pen-Y-Ghent as I felt that it gives you a real sense of what climbing mountains are all about without being too strenuous at any point. The sheer variety of people we saw on the summit really tells the whole story about the appeal of the mountains of Yorkshire to everyone as well as their accessibility. It seems that whole image of hill walkers and walking, in general, is changing and becoming a much more popular pastime, which is definitely a good thing.

One last note, if you intend to tackle Plover Hill as well, remember to take your harpoon.