Pen-y-ghent, Yorkshire Dales (694m) with HF Holidays
HF Holidays has been around for a while - since 1913 in fact. It developed from the first HF-style holiday organised in 1891 in Ambleside. It provides walking holidays at around 19 properties situated across Britain in prime areas for walking, often quiet rural locations. It also offers an extensive range of overseas holidays, many involving guided walks, as well as special interest holidays.
I had been on many family holidays with HF as a child and teenager, and even became a walks leader in the 1970s as a student. After trying many different kinds of holidays with my own children since then, now I felt it was time to try HF again. Just a weekend break first, to see how I liked it. I chose the centre at Malhamdale, famous for its impressive limestone scenery. And it was great, with a house full of like-minded people providing lots of good company on the walks and in the evenings, when social activities are organised.
The walks format: There are usually 3 walks on offer each day: hard, medium and easy, each with an experienced leader. On this occasion a hard/medium walk was added, to keep the size of each group down. Bus transport is provided to reach the start of each walk.
Nevertheless we were a group of 16 for the Medium walk on the first day, which was a very wet one. We walked from Linton in Wharfedale and across Malham Moor in bleak conditions, via Conistone and back to Grassington. The drying room was much in demand that evening. However, the walk up the dry valley of Conistone Dib was something of a highlight, with a couple of little scrambles through the narrow "dry waterfall" sections.
Fortunately Sunday was a marked improvement, with some sunshine and only occasional showers forecast. I had chosen the Hard group this time, to get up onto the high fells and spend more time there. The objective was Pen-y-ghent, one of the three famous peaks in this area of Yorkshire, along with Ingleborough and Whernside. The terrain is dominated by limestone, which generally provides easy walking on the slopes, although with some rocky outcrops, leading up to the moorland plateau with plenty of boggy areas to trot across.
It was a gradual climb out of the village of Stainforth, across grassy pastures and climbing through numerous gated stiles set in well-maintained drystone walls. Views opened up behind us over Ribblesdale. The path was mostly firm and clear, and our route followed sections of various recognised long-distance paths: the Ribble Way; the Pennine Way; and A Pennine Journey.
I hadn't heard of A Pennine Journey and asked others in the group, but no-one knew about it. Now I've had the chance to check, it's a 247-mile route from Settle northwards along the eastern side of the Pennines, turning west along a section of Hadrian's Wall, then returning south along the western side of the Pennines to Settle. There's a detailed website explaining the route and how it emerged from an expedition which Alfred Wainwright undertook in 1938. It looks like an enjoyable way to spend 18 days sometime. Inclusion of Pen-y-ghent in the route required an amendment to the map, as shown on this page of the website.
Our leader, Martin, gave us interesting information on the Pennine Way and distant landmarks, as well as the botanical features of the landscape. Once we reached higher levels we were looking out for crowberries, cowberries, cloudberries and cranberries, and of course the most common, bilberries (there's a useful pictorial summary of all these here). In between plant spotting there was lots of sociable conversation, which makes these HF walks so enjoyable.
Lunch was enjoyed just before the steepest section of the route, at the point where the direct path from Horton in Ribblesdale joined our path. Three walls coming together provided options for shelter whichever way the wind was blowing, but we were fortunate to have a fairly calm day and were able to look back down the route we had followed, towards Stainforth. Several groups of walkers came up from Horton as we were enjoying our break, continuing up the path which had been built from here upwards.
We took our time to climb the rest of the way to the top, on this path. It took us across bands of gritstone and sandstone which stood out from the limestone, creating Pen-y-ghent's distinctive profile. Martin corrected my assumptions about which rock was which. Just below the summit, an outcrop of harder rock meant we had to use our hands for a bit of scrambling, but I wasn't aware of any serious exposure. We were even passed by a young couple coming down, with the woman carrying a young child on her back in a carrier. Then a gentle paved path led up to the summit.
We had time to relax and enjoy the scenery, take photos and chat to other walkers. Then we used another stile to cross the wall which spans the summit, and followed this wall northwards down the broad shoulder of Pen-y-ghent. We stopped to enjoy the view of Ingleborough Hill, although scarred by the quarry face in front of it. Round to the right the Ribblehead Viaduct could be seen. After the initial easy downward slope, the route became more difficult to follow without getting our feet wet in the boggy ground. At a corner in the wall, the route turned to the right and climbed for another kilometre to the top of Plover Hill - a broad flat hill, featureless except for a coalescence of stone walls across the indeterminate summit.
The path down to Foxup Moor wasn't obvious from this plateau, but we went in a roughly northerly direction and found the trail leading down around the end of a line of crags. It had been paved recently, with the help of the HF Pathways Fund, helping walkers to descend this short, steep slope more easily along a diagonal line. Another group of walkers stood at the bottom of the slope watching us, maybe to see how we coped before they attempted climbing it. Or maybe just out of courtesy.
Then it was a matter of heading straight down the path and turning left on the next section of the Pennine Journey long distance footpath. This was a pleasant but uneventful section passing below the western slopes of Pen-y-ghent, on a relatively dry path. After about 3 km we had to veer to the right, away from the main path, passing a stream on the left which disappeared down a pothole. This hardly prepared us for the site of Hull Pot just beyond.
Hull Pot is a vast collapsed cavern, caused by the continual erosion of the limestone strata by underground streams and water permeating through from the surface. Gordale Scar is similar in a way, but forms a gorge, whereas Hull Pot is basically a big hole in the ground, into which two streams once flowed. According to some websites, it's the biggest natural hole in Britain. During very wet weather the Hull Pot Beck can still flow on the surface, creating an impressive waterfall, as described on the Yorkshire Dales website.
I walked round the edge of the hole (not too close) to see it from all sides, crossing the two dried stream beds along the way. It's 300 feet or 91m long, 60 feet (18m) wide and the same deep. Just wow.
We rejoined the path, which picked up the Pennine Way leading down from Pen-y-ghent and went through a gate onto a wide unsurfaced but stony roadway leading down another 2.5km through the valley to Horton. Towards the end of a long walk, the uneven surface was rather tedious, but the views continued to provide interest. There were more limestone/water features down to the left, below Pen-y-ghent; later a traditional stone barn; and a hillside belt of trees set against a dark sky.
Finally we reached the little village of Horton in Ribblesdale, with the Pen-y-ghent cafe conveniently waiting for us. This is the starting point for the annual Three Peaks Race. Inside we enjoyed tea and cake and were impressed by a photo of the Hull Pot in flood, on 26 January 1992. Some of the medium group had found their way to one of the local pubs, and the medium/hard group also returned to Horton, for the coach back to Newfield Hall.
I was beginning to feel part of the big, friendly HF community once again, and it felt very good!
Contributed by Andrew Llanwarne - 16 September 2016< Back to England page for links to other stories
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