Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Malham to Horton-in-Ribblesdale

Back in Malham to resume the walk. There were still plentiful daffodils in the verges just before the village. I was allocated the same room Susan and I had stayed in after my four-day snowbound April session, abandoned half way through the intended eight days after my cold blossomed (if that’s the right term) and the next few stages would have been all too demanding in the snow even if I’d been 100% fit.

Dinner in the Lister Arms – an excellent steak sandwich – and early to bed with the demanding Malham to Horton stretch to look forward to the following morning. I would be leaving the car here to pick up the following Saturday and take to Greenhead to await the end of the nine-day walking session.

Approaching Malham Cove
I was on my way precisely at 9:00 a.m. The weather was showery to start with, and cold. Spring 2013 refuses to arrive. The first part was towards Malham Cove from the village – easy going on the road, and then a well-paved path to the bottom of the Cove. Here the cliff is a curved face of limestone, and the water gushes from the wall of the Cove, a sturdy stream from its beginning. Later it became apparent that it disappears into a sinkhole the best part of a mile above the Cove.

Before finding the sinkhole it was necessary to climb up above the Cove – a 100m climb, mainly on steps, to reach the limestone pavement above. I was passed by the first of younger and fitter walkers – always a little shaming, but I have to acknowledge that I am 71 and about 15lbs overweight. Then it was a steady walk up the valley above, with spectacular limestone bluffs on either side until I reached the level ground surrounding Malham Tarn. The path then
Between Malham Cove and Malham Tarn
goes round the East and North sides of the Tarn before striking North. The Tarn itself was choppy in the stiff breeze, but not enough to deter a couple of fishermen in a dinghy. The country here is open but with a plantation on the East side and woods surrounding the big house on the North side, now a field study centre. A young roe deer skittered away from me just before I reached the house.

After dropping down a through the end of the wood, the Pennine Way sets off to the North. Initially it’s open farming country, but after crossing the road and reaching the last farm, Tennant Gill, it’s a long haul up across open moorland to the nameless height near Fountains Fell at 668m. Curiously there are old (Roman era) mine workings right at the top with warnings not to stray from the straight and narrow.

Then it’s a long descent down to the road that runs in the valley between Fountains Fell and Pen-y-Ghent to the West. Pen-y-Ghent is prominent throughout, with an obvious steep ascent to welcome one in an hour or so. The going here was muddy – unlike the ascent, where there had been frequent stretches of metalled path over the marshier bits. And where once again I had been overtaken by a (much) younger and fitter walker.

Pen-y-Ghent looms ahead
I took my lunch break at the low point of the track that connects the road to the footpath that climbs its way to the Southern approach to Pen-y-Ghent itself. It was a nice rocky corner with good seating: an appropriate refresher before the climb. I had thought of missing out the final bit of Pen-y-Ghent itself, and taking the footpath that skirts it to the South, but the weather was now good, and I was in good time, so I decided to follow the Pennine Way proper and take in the peak. From a distance it looks a daunting rock scramble, but actually most of it is stepped. Even where there aren’t built steps the natural rock formation is horizontal strata with convenient vertical distances between successive layers of rock. The total climb from the point at which I could have taken the easier option was about 175m – not as demanding as I had feared. I heard grouse a few times on the way up, calling in the valley below, but never saw any.

At the top there was a couple, and then a group of teenagers who had extended their walk to Plover Hill, at the far end of the peak. I thought they were associated in some way, but apparently not, and the couple set off independently and strode off down towards Horton ahead of me.

The view back to Pen-y-Ghent from near Horton-in-Ribblesdale
The descent was largely on a gravel path. This looks new, and has apparently been put in to make the Three Peaks walk (or run) easier - and faster. From above it seems quite level, but when you are actually on it you realise it’s actually quite steep. And it’s still under construction: there was a small digger parked towards the bottom.

The final stretch down to Horton was an easy stony track, gradually descending to the village. It was now fine and bright, and the village looked very welcoming. A quick phone call established that my B&B was on the far side of the river – and a good half kilometre off the trail, which I would have to repeat the following morning.

Almost there - crossing the River Ribble
A shower, tea and cakes, and then a pleasant meal in the Crown. I was half-tempted to ask for them to apply the deposit I had paid when I’d booked a night in April, which I’d had to cancel, but I forbore. The pub features the results of the Three Peaks race, which had been held three weeks earlier. Pen-y-Ghent, Whernside and Ingleborough, with perhaps 1,200 metres climbing, and 24 miles to cover as well – with the experts doing it in about 2 hours and 45 minutes: only about 30% more than the best times for a marathon! Mine host, Steve, who works on the Settle and Carlisle railway as a trolley attendant, does it in not much more than three hours.

A good day’s walk: I had been apprehensive about this beforehand, but was very pleased about how it actually turned out.

Showers initially, cold and with occasional hail. Brief interludes of sun, but it didn’t clear properly until late lunchtime. In the morning the tops of the surrounding hills were frequently shrouded in cloud. Mainly 4-8C, but perhaps 10C by late afternoon. 27.11km, 906m of ascents, 850 descents. Max altitude 694m on Pen-y-Ghent. About 30% on tracks or roads; 40% on hard rock or flagstones; 30% on VERY muddy open country.

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