Saturday, 8 March 2014

Yorkshire 2000s - Great Shunner Fell & Lovely Seat

GPS Track
Date: 08/03/2014
From: Hardraw

Parking: Roadside parking just outside Hardraw
Start Point: Hardraw village
Region: Yorkshire Dales

Route length: 11.8miles (19km)
Time taken: 04:18
Average speed: 2.7mph
Ascent: 800m
Descent: 805m

2000s on this walk:
Great Shunner Fell (716m), Lovely Seat (675m)

Additional summits: Little Shunner Fell (653m)

Other points of interest: The Buttertubs, Shaw Gill Wood

Route: Hollin Hill, Little Fell, Hearne Top, Black Hill Moss, Crag End Beacon, Hearne Edge, Hearne Head, Great Shunner Fell, Little Shunner Fell, Grainy Gill Moss, Hood Rigg, The Buttertubs, Bull Bogs, Lovely Seat, High Millstones, Shivery Gill, Pike Hill, Hungry Well, High Shaw, Hardraw

Great Shunner Fell and Lovely Seat separate the valleys of Wensleydale and Swaledale in the northern Yorkshire Dales. In their entirety, both fells cut an enormous swathe across the landscape, bridging the boundaries of the National Park between Castle Bolton in the east and Mallerstang in the west. Such is their enormity that a number of their descending ridges go on to form additional summits; most notably the Mallerstang ridge that includes a number of prominent peaks.

After a mid-week walk around Beamsley, I was getting itchy feet for a good day out in the Dales and the first weekend of spring seemed perfect. I had gazed upon the moorland of Great Shunner Fell and Lovely Seat from the lofty vantage point of Drumaldrace, across the valley, and decided a few months ago that they would be the next two fells on the list of Yorkshire 2,000ft-ers that I'd be tackling.

After getting a very early start (and I mean very), I arrived at Hardraw at 0730. I had originally intended to do this walk from Hawes but a last minute Google assisted search had identified a substantial area to leave the car right at the foot of the Pennine Way. Not only would this cut a couple of miles off the route (which was handy as I was a bit pushed for time), it would also mean that I would be starting right at the southern toe of Great Shunner Fell.
This way to begin
The walk starts along a wide track through Hardraw
As I started up along the main track, the weather was as predicted, cool and cloudy with a light breeze; perfect conditions for a hump up the Pennine Way. The climb to the summit of Great Shunner Fell is along a very long ridge that climbs from 250m to the final height of 716m over around 6.5 kilometres, an almost continuous gradient of just 10%. In addition, as I've just mentioned, the route to the summit consists entirely of a very popular stretch of the Pennine Way that links Hawes to Thwaite. That means that the path is easy to follow, well maintained and well signposted, a stark contrast to the neighbouring Lovely Seat.
The track leads towards the distant Great Shunner fell
High Clint, part of Lovely Seat. You'll see the two cairns on the skyline later
Wensleydale with Ten End and Drumaldrace in the distance
The distant Addlebrough over the Pennine Way
The first few miles passed effortlessly and without drama, crossing the initial heights of Little Fell and Hearne Top before climbing up to a noticeable cairn at the start of Black Hill Moss, a large peat bog that has now benefited from the placement of a series of large stone slabs to elevate the path out of the mire. I dread to think what a walk along here would have entailed before they started the restoration work in 1996. Visions of Kinder Scout maybe....
Keep following the signs
Hearne Top from Little Fell
The path continues over Hearne Top
The first of several section of flagstoned path
A handy boulder-cum-cairn
Climbing still, I was rapidly starting to approach a lingering murk shrouding the summit that had been visible from the very beginning of the walk. In addition, the wind had started to bite and the odd frozen puddle was a reminder that winter hasn't quite relinquished its grip just yet. In fact, an icy surface on intermittent flagstones did make for some interesting high level dancing on ice type movements. Still, it was pleasant it not being too windy and ultimately it was dry which has been a rarity so far in 2014.
The path crossing Black Hill Moss
Crag Hill Beacon looking back to Black Hill Moss
After crossing Black Hill Moss and reaching Crag End Beacon (more a cairn than a true beacon), the path flattens considerably for a kilometre before the final 60m climb up to the summit. By now, the height gain had put me into the clouds and the walk took a bit of an eerie turn with many odd shapes and features looming out of the gloom. One of those, thankfully, was the summit cross shelter which provided a welcome break from the wind and a moment for a brief sit down.
Peat hags at Hearne Edge
Into the cloud as I reached Hearne Head
Hearne Head, the beginnings of Hearne Beck
The summit shelter appears out of the murk
The shelter is an impressive beast, not perhaps as grand as Ingleborough's but substantial all the same. One interesting oddity is the trig pillar which can be found built into one of the cross shelter's arms. It took me a moment to realise it was there and I was close to simply ignoring it. I've seen some past photos of the summit before the shelter was constructed and seems the pillar was slowly merging into a developing cairn.
The summit cross shelter
Self timer inspired photo
The hidden trig pillar
Now for the more interesting part of the walk, a straight (almost) shot across the moor to The Buttertubs before a climb up to Lovely Seat. The descent down to the Buttertubs Pass is actually much more straight forward than I anticipated. A fairly sturdy fence leads directly to Hood Rigg, some 2 kilometres away and easy to follow. It wasn't as boggy as I had thought it might be either, only a couple of areas required a detour to avoid the inevitable. In fact, even the clouds were playing fair and stayed at a height that allowed me to actually see where I was going which always makes a huge difference when travelling off-piste.
The handy fence leads the way
Little Shunner Fell in the distance
The summit of Little Shunner Fell is marked by a cairn
Hood Rigg
The slopes of Lovely Seat
It's possible to follow the fence all the way across the valley and back up to Lovely Seat but where it turns abruptly south, that would, however, miss out on one of the real highlights of the walk; The Buttertubs. With that in mind, I dove directly down the side of Hood Rigg to meet the road before making my way across to the aforementioned Buttertubs.

The Buttertubs stand near the highest point of the pass between Hawes and Thwaite, a pass that also bares their name. It's a popular pass with cyclists, hence a vast amount of information on the web is actually more relevant to the lyrca-clad men and women of the cycling fraternity rather than the actually geology that lends its name to the location. It may be even harder to find information about the landscape once the King of the Mountain stage of the Tour de France passes over in the summer and everyone wants to re-create their own little moment of history, probably without the multi-million pound support crews though. And the drugs.

In short, the Buttertubs are a number of large limestone potholes, measuring some 20m deep in places. They are similar in formation to the classic clints and grykes found on areas of limestone pavements, however, in this instance the erosive force of the water has burrowed down the cracks to such an extent that it has created a series of vertical limestone stacks, surrounded by deep holes and excavations. Why the buttertubs though? The most popular theory is that local farmers from Swaledale, on their way to and from Hawes, used the potholes as a convenient fridge to save them the effort of numerous trips over the pass carrying their dairy produce, probably (as the name suggests) tubs of butter. The Buttertubs are part of the Cliff Force Cave SSSI.
The Buttertubs
The Buttertubs
The Buttertubs
A seemingly long way down
After a decent nose around and a quick sandwich, I was back on my feet again to make my own King of the Mountain climb back up the the high point of the pass. It here that our trusty fence from earlier crosses the road and climbs up to the summit of Lovely Seat. Once again, there are no paths marked so you could go any which way you pleased however, given the rather featureless moorland, following the fence is your safest bet. As such, that's excatly the route I took, cutting across Black Bogs before making the climb. There are a couple of steep-gradual combinations before the ground flattens considerably at the summit. I had to use the trusty GPS to guide me to very top with the cloud obscuring everything around.
The Buttertubs
The Buttertubs
Bull Bogs
The fence leading to the summit
Lovely Seat is quite a unique name but seems to make some sort of sense when you realise the summit feature is actually a rather elaborate stone chair. I suspect the cairn was built after the fells name was coined though I've found nothing to suggest that it isn't the other way around. Given the weather, there was little on the summit to entertain me other than a self-timed pose sitting in the chair and the second half of my sandwich. With that in the bag, it was time to face a rough and tumble route down across Abbotside Common, back into the valley below. It's worth pointing out that I had not seen a single person up until this point, except for a strange fellow at the Buttertubs who seemed happy enough climbing halfway up the hill and then watching me as I pottered around.
The summit of Lovely Seat
Lovely Seat's lovely seat
A suitable throne
Using a couple of bearings and following the compass on the GPS, I slowly made my way through the mist down the slopes of Abbotside Common, becoming the victim of a watery hole just the once. Luckily, the gaiters took the worst of dousing and kept the water out of my boots. After a pretty tiring 20 minutes, I reached High Millstones, a millstone outcrop that adorns the side of the moor. Another bearing would take me down to the track at Shivery Gill, one of the many streams that join to form Hardraw Beck that tumbles over England's highest unbroken waterfall; Hardraw Force.
There is no path off the summit of Lovely Seat
Still following a bearing
Low Millstones
Shivery Gill
Shivery Gill is usually dry in the summer months
Shivery Gill
As it was still before midday, I decided to follow the bridleway round to Pike Hill instead of dropping down to the road, and following a marked track to Hungry Well. A short road section was inevitable but luckily, there was little traffic travelling around. A gate stile leads into a series of fields before reaching the hamlet of High Shaw. It is here that I noticed a fairly new looking path that leads down alongside the river as it flows through Shaw Gill Wood. I had a suspicion that it may lead to a vantage point at the top of Hardraw Force, which it turned out not to, but it was a very pleasant stroll all the same.
A pair of cairns atop Pike Hill - mentioned earlier
Emerging from the cloud
Great Shunner Fell
Some classic Yorkshire Dales scenery
Shaw Gill Wood
Shaw Gill Wood
Shaw Gill
A pheasant guarding the walled lane back to the road
I was back on familiar ground now having walked around this area a couple of times in past few years. It wasn't long before I had crossed the fields leading back into Hardraw and was re-united with the car. I was even rewarded by a spot of sunshine which was starting to break through. Shame I couldn't have started this walk a little later and benefitted from the weathers change in heart.
The village of Hardraw
Hardraw Beck after its exciting journey over Hardraw Force
So there you have it, an enthralling walk that crosses two of the higher moors in the Yorkshire Dales. The majority of this walk is very straight forward with a bit of navigation required crossing Lovely Seat, but nothing that should put anyone off. Even the bits I thought would be horrible and boggy weren't nearly as bad as expected. Unless you're a bit odd like me and don't mind looking at grass and cloud for four hours, I'd suggest saving this for a clear day where you can admire the views of the high moorland all around. Hopefully they are not too far away....