Sunday, 5 January 2014

Pen-Y-Ghent Gill

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Route: Litton, Spittle Croft, New Bridge, Dawson Close, Giant's Grave, Pen-Y-Ghent House, Beneath Swan Dike, Nether Hesleden, New Ings Barn, New Bridge, Litton

Date: 05/01/2014
From: Litton

Parking: Roadside parking in Litton
Start Point: Litton
Region: Yorkshire Dales

Route length: 7.4 miles (11.9 km)
Time taken: 03:13
Average speed: 2.3 mph
Ascent: 361m
Descent: 368m

Summits: None

Points of interest: New Bridge, Pen-y-Ghent, Giant's Grave, Pen-y-Ghent Gill

Concealed at the end of Littondale hides a remarkable feature, a deeply incised valley that flows out from underneath the shadows of both the iconic Pen-y-Ghent and the imposing Fountains Fell. The steep-sided valley is the result of the irresistible force of water combining with the classic limestone geology of the south-west Dales. The culprit? Pen-Y-Ghent Gill. Named after the mountain that provides its plentiful supply of water, Pen-Y-Ghent Gill feeds the River Skirfare before flowing into the mighty River Wharfe and out to sea by the Humber Estuary. Our first proper walk for 2014 would take us around the valley, to see if the scene was really as exciting as our small guide book suggested.

The first port of call was the small hamlet of Litton, the source of this particular dales name. Despite consisting of a handful of houses, clustered around an idyllic village green, Litton does boast its own brewery, Litton Ale being brewed at the Queens Arms since 2003. After leaving the car and passing through Litton, we passed through a field and joined the track that would eventually carry us all the way to the head of Pen-Y-Ghent Gill, some three or so miles away.
The hamlet of Litton. The phone box marks the point where the path can be found to the left of the road
The River Skirfare, carrying water to the River Wharfe
The walled track close to New Bridge
A view of Litton underneath the slopes of Old Cote Moor. The path we took can be clearly seen
The branch in the path that leads up the lower slopes of Darnbrook Fell is located at the optimistically titled New Bridge. It may have been new once but it's most definitely an old bridge now. The single arch bridge is thought to date from the early 18th Century and is now a Grade II listed building. More photos of that later on. A steep climb up a very waterlogged path is required as the rather questionable track heads west towards Dawson Close. Reaching the crest of the climb you're greeted with a sight of one of the most recognisable features of the Yorkshire Dales, the graceful sweeping profile of Pen-y-Ghent.
The track almost resembles a river itself
Pen-y-Ghent emerges at the head of the valley
Pen-y-Ghent looking almost wintry
The track continues for a couple of miles varying from easily stroll-able to intolerably muddy, interspersed with some sort of middle ground. In addition to the growing presence of Pen-y-Ghent, we crossed an impressive un-named stream tumbling down the sides of  Darnbrook Fell and into Pen-y-Ghent Gill. I must point out here that you are unable to see into the valley of Pen-y-Ghent Gill thanks to the steep sides that are found in the depths of the valley. We would have to wait to see its spectacle.
One of the streams that feed Pen-Y-Ghent Gill
Sara crosses one of the many obstacles en route
The track continues on towards Pen-y-Ghent
The area identified as Giant's Grave - it'll take a more eager eye than mine to spot the ancient burial mound. Maybe I was looking in the wrong place
After an event free wander along the track from Litton, we reached the point where the track meets Silverdale Road and the head of Pen-y-Ghent Gill. Located here is something called Giant's Grave, a round barrow that was excavated in 1936. The archaeologists discovered two stone flag-built burial boxes within the large round mound along with fragments of human bone and teeth. Because I didn't know what I was looking for, I'm pretty sure I didn't get a picture of it but it should look a bit like this. My sights were, however, set upon the limestone pavement that had now accompanied the scene and the exciting sight of the beginnings of Pen-y-Ghent Gill.
Some black and white limestone pavement
The source of Pen-y-Ghent Gill
A secondary stream also flows into Pen-y-Ghent Gill
Immediately after finding its way off the slopes of Pen-y-Ghent, much of the stream is swallowed up by a large sinkhole
We paused for a quick food break that allowed me a quick exploration of the limestone terraces before we continued on, following the increasingly muddy path as it travels just under the lip of the valley. For those who are feeling a bit adventurous, a trip down the slope to the gill reveals a stunning, if not slightly stunted, limestone ravine with the large stream flowing unopposed along its floor. This does, however, require a steep climb back up to reach the path, but it was definitely worth it. After a challenging two-mile stretch of path, which threatened to pitch either one of us down the hillside at any moment, we reached Silverdale Road, a single track road that links Littondale to Settle some 10 miles away. It was time, as foretold by the weather predicting men and women at the Met Office, to dig out the waterproofs as a spell of prolonged rain began to set in.
The jumbled stones mark this stream's confluence with Pen-Y-Ghent Gill
A close up of the road bridge crossing the stream
Pen-y-Ghent Gill and an impromptu water fountain
The valley of Pen-y-Ghent Gill
Mud made for difficult going
A view down the valley towards Nether Hesleden
As we dropped down into the valley towards Nether Hesleden, we passed an impressive limestone scar, unnamed on the maps. We had kept the option of increasing the length of the walk by heading towards Foxup but with the rain falling and the car calling, we decided to press on down to the valley floor in an attempt to get home before we got too wet. As we reached the farm at Nether Hesleden, we found something I hadn't seen for a long time. Something that Sara enjoyed very much. A tiny little horse.
Passing the limestone scar
As we continued, it became all the more impressive
The footbridge over the now surprisingly dry Pen-y-Ghent Gill
A meeting of minds
After the brief encounter with the Shetland, the path passes between a few walled lanes before rejoining our outward route at New Bridge. A short time later with the rain falling at its hardest, we reached the car and were glad for the refuge it provided. All that was left was an addition to our route home by taking the wonderful Silvderdale Road out of Littondale to Settle.
The recent stormy weather left an obstacle in our path
Many of the paths start to resembles by now
The C.18 New Bridge, as promised earlier
Littondale is a very prominent feature on the maps, carving a great gouge out of the heart of the Yorkshire Dales and separating Pen-y-Ghent, Fountains Fell and Old Cote Moor, some of the highest ground in the area. It's surprising actually that we haven't been to visit earlier but I'm glad we did. All in all, this is a very pleasant walk, easily broken up into three very different parts; the bleak, rolling moors as we climbed to the head of the gill, the contrast of the limestone ravine in the middle and the final pleasant stroll back into Littondale. It was also, as expected, very quiet at the far end of Littondale, we only passed a couple of mountain bikers the entire day we were out. For this reason, alone, I would recommend this walk but add fines views of Pen-y-Ghent with a dramatic limestone valley and the area becomes even more appealing.