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Saunterings:  Walking in North-West England

Saunterings is a set of reflections based upon walks around the counties of Cumbria, Lancashire and North Yorkshire in North-West England (as defined in the Preamble). Here is a list of all Saunterings so far.
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189.  The Standard Pen-y-ghent Walk

Pyg from Horton The walk from Horton-in-Ribblesdale up Pen-y-ghent is one of the most popular Yorkshire Dales walks, and we saw no need to seek any variation. It is a walk that any reasonably fit person can tackle for a satisfying day's outing. From Horton the objective soars high on the eastern horizon (shown right). It is rare for a hill-walk to have the target so immediately visible.

We walked south through Horton, noticing that the Pen-y-ghent café was not yet open. As we peered in the windows to see if it would be open for a cuppa on our return a man drove from its car-park and told us that it has been closed for four years – from which we deduced that it wouldn’t be open for our cuppa. It was sad to see its demise. For years it had served as a self-appointed base for Three Peaks walkers. If the four years is accurate then we can’t even blame covid for its closure. I’d have thought a café here would thrive.

We walked past the church, along the lane to Brackenbottom, and on to the open fell. Actually, it wasn’t really the open fell: it was an artificial pathway of large flat slabs. Prodigious efforts have been, and are being, made to protect (or replace) this path. Clearly, the work is necessary because of the numbers of walkers, on the Pennine Way, the Three Peaks walk, or just, like us, walking up Pen-y-ghent.

The new paths are obviously a help to walkers but I wondered what fell-runners make of them. When I used to run on the fells I wore special shoes with hard-wearing, studded soles to provide a grip. They were uselessly slippery on flat slabs. Now the differently sized steps must make it difficult to get into a natural stride, especially downhill. Still, I expect that fell-runners cause more wear-and-tear than walkers so it’s best we keep them away.

Pen-y-ghent from the path up from Brackenbottom

On the way up, the nose of Pen-y-ghent rears high to the left, with parts exhibiting an alarming verticality. Of course, for walkers there’s a way around, scrambling up natural steps in the limestone strata. This being a bright Saturday – perhaps the last for a while, who knows? – there was quite a bottleneck of scramblers, but it was all quite relaxed and sociable.

After the scramble it’s a stroll of a few hundred yards to the top (694 metres). The view is, of course, extensive, with Ingleborough and Whernside to the west, Fountains Fell to the east, Pendle more distantly to the south, and also distantly some Lake District hills.
Fountains Fell

Fountains Fell from the top of Pen-y-ghent

This being such an obviously enjoyable walk, quite convenient from our home, I wondered why, in six years of Sauntering, I hadn’t already walked up Pen-y-ghent. Then I thought of that walk up High Street (Sauntering 12) in May 2018 when I commented on the great Lakeland peaks, listing nine of them, visible from High Street, saying that “I can hardly wait to visit them again during the course of these Saunterings”. As it happens, I have visited only one (Blencathra) of the nine peaks I mentioned.

Perhaps I have lacked energy or enthusiasm. Perhaps the objective expressed half-heartedly in the Preamble to visit all 400 5km x 5km squares in North-West England, in order to give a balanced impression of the region, has led me elsewhere. But I never really addressed that objective and it necessarily faded away during the pandemic.

I’ll try to walk up more hills. Saunterings and I need fresh impetus. Walking up a hill adds focus and provides a sense of achievement. But which hills should I walk up?  In Sauntering 124 I listed the most prominent hills (given again below) in North-West England, extracted from the Database of British and Irish Hills. The 'prominence' of a hill is equal to its 'drop', that is, the minimum vertical height you have to lose when walking from its top to any higher hill. I think of the most prominent hills as the 'top drops'. I remarked in Sauntering 124 that “if you wanted a list of the best 100 hills to walk up in North-West England then you could do worse than adopt the most prominent 100”. Whereas the highest hills are almost all in the Lake District, the top drops are an interesting mix of generally isolated hills distributed around the region and some of them are not particularly high.

So I will aim to walk up those of the 100 top drops that I haven’t already Sauntered up. In six years I have walked up only 26 of them (now including Pen-y-ghent). Although, in general, I will aim to walk up to the summit sometimes the slopes of a hill are more interesting and enjoyable. I want to retain the spirit of Saunterings as an eclectic mix of walks, high and low, with discussions of miscellaneous associated issues. I won’t make an obsession of the top drops. It can serve as a second half-hearted aim to help me stride forward whole-heartedly.
Ingleborough and Whernside

Ingleborough and Whernside from our lunch spot

From the trig point our path drops down diagonally across the flank of Pen-y-ghent. We paused by the limestone pinnacles for a lunch snack while walkers streamed up and down the path (mainly down, as the anti-clockwise circuit is to be preferred). Continuing west, the old wooden boards, always wet and slippery, have long gone. We left the path briefly to look at the enormous chasms of Hunt Pot and Hull Pot, the second of which is seen as the dark mark in the middle of the above photo. Unlike many pot-holes, the 'charms' of Hunt Pot and Hull Pot are better appreciated by walkers at the surface than by cavers underground (I understand that cavers cannot get anywhere worth going underground). The evil-looking slit of Hunt Pot captures becks flowing west from Pen-y-ghent. On our visit the water into Hull Pot was entering from a waterfall at the base of the cliff – only after heavy rain does it enter at the lip. The waters from both then flow underground to emerge near Horton. We proceeded overground.

A look back at Pen-y-ghent

hunt pot                       hull pot

Left: Hunt Pot;  Right: Hull Pot.

Here is the list (squashed to the left so that it's readable on mobile phones) of the 100 top drops in North-West England (where a tick indicates a top visited pre-Saunterings):
                         Ht Drop  Grid ref
Arnside Knott           159  151  SD456774 134
Aye Gill Pike           556  167  SD720886   ✓
Baugh Fell              678  265  SD740916  13
Baystones [Wansfell]    487  148  NY403051  43   
Beacon Hill             286  143  NY521313
Binsey                  447  242  NY225355
Birks Fell              610  158  SD918763
Black Combe             600  362  SD135854   ✓
Blake Fell              573  164  NY110196
Blencathra              868  461  NY323277 178 
Boulsworth Hill         518  334  SD929356  11
Bowfell                 903  148  NY244064   ✓
Buckden Pike            702  207  SD960787   ✓
Bull Hill               418  144  SD766187
Calf Top                610  313  SD664856 127 
Claife Heights          270  177  SD382973
Cracoe Fell             508  310  SD993588
Cross Fell              893  651  NY687343  56 
Dale Head               753  397  NY222153
Dent                    352  175  NY041129
Dodd Fell               668  232  SD841845  58 
Dufton Pike             481  163  NY699266  35 
Easington Fell          396  194  SD730486
Fair Snape              521  226  SD597472 109
Fairfield               873  300  NY358117   ✓
Fountains Fell          668  243  SD864715 177 
Grasmoor                852  518  NY174203   ✓
Grayrigg Forest         494  187  SD598998   ✓
Great Calva             690  142  NY290311   ✓
Great Coum              687  221  SD700835   ✓
Great Gable             899  425  NY211103   ✓
Great Knoutberry Hill   672  254  SD788871   ✓
Great Mell Fell         537  198  NY396253   ✓
Great Shunner Fell      716  297  SD848972   ✓
Great Whernside         704  288  SE002739   ✓
Green Crag              489  144  SD200982
Grisedale Pike          791  189  NY198225   ✓
Gummer's How            321  217  SD390884   ✓
Hail Storm Hill         477  244  SD834193
Hallin Fell             388  163  NY433198   ✓
Hard Knott              549  154  NY231023
Harter Fell (Eskdale)   654  276  SD218997
Harter Fell (Mardale)   779  149  NY459093   ✓
Helvellyn               950  713  NY342151   ✓
High Raise              762  283  NY280095   ✓
High Rigg [Naddle Fell] 357  189  NY308219
High Spy                653  148  NY234162
High Stile [Grey Crag]  807  362  NY170148   ✓
High Street             828  373  NY440110  12 
Holme Fell              317  165  NY315006
Hoove                   555  180  NZ001069
Hutton Roof Crags       275  177  SD556775  98
Illgill Head            609  314  NY168049
Ingleborough            724  427  SD741745  24
Kirk Fell               802  181  NY194104   ✓
Kirkby Moor             334  230  SD259839
Kisdon                  499  184  SD899998
Knott                   710  242  NY286329  61 
Lambrigg Fell           340  159  SD586941
Lingmoor Fell           470  248  NY302046  49 
Little Mell Fell        505  226  NY423240  17 
Longridge Fell          350  242  SD657410   ✓
Lord's Seat             552  237  NY204265
Loughrigg Fell          335  172  NY346051 146 
Lovely Seat             675  149  SD879950
Low Fell                423  266  NY137226
Lowscales Hill          191  147  SD152820
Mellbreak [South Top]   512  260  NY148186
Muncaster Fell          232  195  SD115986
Nine Standards Rigg     662  157  NY825060
Pendle                  557  395  SD804414  20 
Pen-y-ghent             694  306  SD838733 189
Pike of Blisco          705  177  NY271042   ✓
Pillar                  892  348  NY171121   ✓
Place Fell              657  262  NY405169   ✓
Red Screes              776  260  NY396087  43 
Robinson                737  161  NY201168
Rogan's Seat            672  195  NY919030
Scafell Pike            978  912  NY215072   ✓
Seat Sandal             737  152  NY344115   ✓
Seatallan               692  193  NY140084
Sharp Haw               357  168  SD959552   6 
Skiddaw                 931  709  NY260290   ✓
St Sunday Crag          841  161  NY369133   ✓
Stony Cove Pike         763  171  NY417100   ✓
Swinside                244  152  NY243224
Tarn Crag (Sleddale)    664  160  NY488078   ✓
The Calf                676  383  SD667970  15
The Old Man of Coniston 802  415  SD272978   ✓
Top o' Selside          335  191  SD308919
Ward's Stone            563  395  SD591587  75
Watch Hill              255  158  NY159318
Wetherlam               763  145  NY288011   ✓
Whernside               736  408  SD738814   ✓
Whitbarrow              215  182  SD441870  55
White Hill              544  159  SD673587  96
Whitfell                573  221  SD158929
Wild Boar Fell          708  344  SD758987   ✓
Winter Hill             456  218  SD659149
Yarlside                639  208  SD685985   ✓

    Date: November 11th 2023
    Start: SD807726, Horton-in-Ribblesdale car park  (Map: OL2)
    Route: S – Horton Bridge – E – Brackenbottom – NE, E, N – Pen-y-ghent – N, W (detours to Hunt Pot and Hull Pot), SW – Horton
    Distance: 6 miles;   Ascent: 465 metres

The two following items:
     191.   Back in Barbondale
     190.   Sixty Lake District Tops in Sixty Days
The two preceding items:
     188.   All Along the Eastern Shores of Ullswater
     187.   From Glenridding to Pooley Bridge on the Ullswater Way
Two nearby items:
       16.   The Wildflowers of Sulber
     177.   Two of the 'Dales 30': Fountains Fell and Darnbrook Fell
A list of all items so far:

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    © John Self, Drakkar Press, 2018-


Top photo: The western Howgills from Dillicar; Bottom photo: Blencathra from Great Mell Fell