I’ve been able to keep my hill-day quotient fairly high over the years, but my regular walking companion Dave Travers hasn’t. We put together this Dales weekend in May 2009 to get him back into the swing of things.
The route owed at least something to my memories of Pateley Bridge to Grassington five years before, in particular the sweep of Great Whernside above Sandy Gate and the interesting dale of Mossdale below. If Great Whernside was to be an objective, then to couple Buckden Pike with it makes for an interesting day. And given the getting-there logistics – for Dave, not leaving Suffolk till the afternoon – the start point had to be possible by rail by evening. An opportunity to use the Settle and Carlisle line. The fellwalking mecca of Horton-in-Ribblesdale was the obvious station, and although we could only get accommodation at the stop before – the Talbot in Settle itself – the Saturday morning train makes that no inconvenience. To link Horton to Buckden involves crossing two hill-groups, so a good way of keeping the height gain high. Finally, there would be enough time on day 3 for a mad scramble along the Dales Way to Grassington, a near-repeat of the earlier walk.
Day by day
9 May 2009: Horton to Buckden, 14 miles
Pen-y-Ghent must be one of England’s most-climbed hills. It towers like a lion above Horton-in-Ribblesdale, a distinctive sight from all over the dale, and the profile of its south ridge beckons all who pass this way. To take the path out of Horton and then turn up the south ridge on a spring day in May is to follow the crowds. But something very strange happens if you continue northwards, beyond the depression where the Pennine Way heads west: nobody follows you. It’s likely you will have the subsidiary summit of Plover Hill all to yourself; we did.
Below to the north lies Foxup Beck, with a bridleway contouring above it. This leads to the tiny hamlet of Halton Gill, a good spot for lunch. A track heads above the gill itself to Horse Head Gate, a shallow depression on the broad ridge separating Littondale and Langstrothdale. A hail shower came in as we ascended, and although we bagged the trig point at Horse Head summit, we decided against the traverse eastwards towards Birks Tarn. Another one for another day. The rain stopped on cue at Yockenthwaite, and we headed along the Dales Way to Hubberholme. There were remnants of a wedding in the church, the final resting-place of the great Yorkshire writer and socialist JB Priestley. In Buckden, our overnight was at the much-improved Buck Inn; there is also a village shop/cafe, where we fell foul of the grouchy owner.
10 May 2009: Buckden to Kettlewell, 15 miles
The ascent of Buckden Pike from Buckden, starting off on a Roman road, is almost as popular as the climb to Pen-y-Ghent. On an atmospheric day like this, there are superb all-round views. Just below the summit, there is a memorial to the Polish crew of a wartime bomber which crashed here, killing all bar one; the remarkable story of that man’s survival is well told on the memorial website. There are deep peat hags as you drop down from here towards the Kettlewell – Coverdale road, which make for slow going. At the road, Tor Dike is clearly visible; it was a sort of anti-Hadrian’s Wall, built by Iron Age British tribes to keep out the Romans. Didn’t work.
Great Whernside is very different in character to Buckden Pike. Its top is more Dartmoor than Dales, capped by a succession of gritstone outcrops well worth an afternoon’s exploration. There is a quick way down to Kettlewell but that would make for a short day, and with high cloud and barely a breath of wind, we continued down the rarely-trodden watershed to Sandy Gate. A boundary fence keeps route-finding simple; rather a shame really. We went this way so that I could show Dave the extensive lead mine workings at Mossdale (moz-d’l, said a local). Mining had largely ceased by the end of the 19th century but there is much to see still, with spoil tips and levels continuing up the hill as we turned westwards. Over Benfoot Brow, limestone country is regained, and the route to Kettlewell becomes a pleasant stroll on grass, Birks Fell ahead, marred for me only by the dive-bombing and incessant squawkings of a pair of lapwings incapable of telling large mammals that are a threat from those that are not.
11 May 2009: Kettlewell to Grassington, 6 miles
Dales Way all the way, so straightforward stuff. After taking fields out of the village, the Way joins the minor road on the eastern side of Wharfedale, before climbing up to run below the limestone escarpment nearly all the way to Grassington. There’s a definite sense of walking away from the big hills, but Burnsall & Thorpe Fell beyond Grassington looms ever larger and is probably a nice small excursion. This was a very pleasant couple of hours on a lovely sunny day with a light breeze behind us. In Grassington, we even had time for an open-air cup of coffee and a bit of souvenir shopping before the bus home. I reprised this half-day, in reverse, on my way north on my cross-England walk.
Use + and – keys to zoom to toggle between large-scale and 1:50,000 mapping