|The Pennine Way|
Pen-y-ghent (694m) from Fountains Fell
This is one of the more interesting starts to a day on the Pennine Way. From the Buck Inn, it is a quick trot uphill along a country road (Cove Road). This passes the village hall, some pretty cottages and then a group of buildings at Town head, including the old (17th century) calamine storehouse. The Pennine Way turns off onto a gravelled path which heads into the fields leading to Malham Cove - a 80 metre high limestone cliff. The Pennine Way branches off the path to climb up the hill to one side of the cliff.
|Beck Hall||B&B||01729 830332|
|Dale House||B&B||01729 830664|
|Buck Inn||Pub||01729 830317|
|Hill Top Farm||Bunkhouse||01729 830320|
|Malham||YH||0870 770 5946|
However I first followed the path right to the foot of the cliff to look up at its abrupt edge - well worth the diversion! This also gets you closer to some of the fine trees sheltering under the cliff. Malham Beck issues forth from a narrow slit at the base of the cliff and is the return to sunlight of a stream that vanishes 2 kilometres northeast on the moors above.
The path to the cliff-top is steep but short. I spent some time on the limestone pavement on top of the cove wandering around looking in the various crevices and taking in the view over Malham with other Pennine Way walkers. The corrugated surface of the pavement and its many crevices were formed by the action of the carbon dioxide dissolved in rainwater reacting with the limestone. The original limestone shelves were ground flat by the last Ice Age. The limestone ridges are locally known as 'clints' and the clefts are 'grikes'.
The limestone pavement above Malham Cove
The Pennine Way climbs over a stile and goes uphill to climb through Trougate (a miniature ravine) to the moorlands above. However I took an alternative route up Watlowes Valley to enjoy the stony karst landscape (a route recommended by A. Wainwright). This is also known as the Dry Valley and it is certainly arid looking with many limestone boulders dotting the ground. At the head of the valley, a rocky path zigzags around Dean Moor Hill and along a gully to the moor top. The path then follows a stone wall to a road just before the nature reserve of Malham Tarn - a fairly bleak setting for a lake. On the way I passed where the stream from the tarn sinks into the limestone rock (Water Sinks) to reappear at Aire Head Springs and form the River Aire. I left the road at a bridge over the stream to take a moorland path that quickly joined the Pennine Way proper.
This point is a good spot to appreciate the scenery to the north. Across the tarn the white curtain of Highfolds Scar gleams above the green woodland around Malham Tarn House, sometimes reflected in the still waters of the tarn. The Pennine Way passes closely beneath another limestone cliff (Great Close Scar). The estate has literary connections - Kingsley wrote his novel Water Babies while living here. At the woodland edge across the tarn, the ancient Monk's Road path heads steeply uphill across a saddle to the left of Great Close. This was used by the monks of Fountains Abbey when most of this area was grazed by their sheep. They supplemented their wealth of wool with trout from Malham Tarn.
A gravel path quickly took me around the tarn, through a nice woodland and past Malham House to a gate on the right where a grassy path leads northwards. One of the limestone boulders around here provided a good seat for my morning break. The path heads through various fields and over a road to Tennant Gill Farm where it climbs up onto the open fells (Fountains Fell) - and becomes muddy and wet. After a steep climb, the path levels off and bends to the right. Past Tennant Gill, I just followed the group in front of me and they decided to go straight up the hillside - the Pennine Way actually avoids the steepest ground by traversing across the slopes on an old mine track. We ended up on the plateau containing Fountains Fell Tarn (near the disused weather station) and had some fun winding through the bog to the summit of the fell. This gave excellent views of the tiered slopes of Pen-y-ghent. This area is slightly dangerous since there are many disused coal pits.
I had lunch at the summit and then proceeded steeply downhill over a ladder stile to rejoin the Pennine Way as it followed a wall down easier slopes to a road. The road is followed past the buildings at Rainscar and to a parking area and the track to Pen-y-ghent. This is actually an old road to Horton. Churn Milk Hole (a large sink hole) is a bit of a disappointment in just being a large green depression in the landscape. Just past Churn Milk Hole, the Pennine Way branches off as a gravelled path leading gently up along a ridge (Gravel Rigg) to the base of Pen-y-ghent. I was then at the base of the first step that you can see on the left of the photo above. Two rough scrambles up the steep sides of the limestone and gritstone steps brings you to the grassy path to the summit. The scrambles gave me a good excuse to down my pack and drink in the views - a bit gloomy (lots of cloud) but extensive. I could almost see all the way back to Thornton-in-Craven.
From the summit, the Pennine Way crosses the stone wall that bisects Pen-y-ghent and wanders downhill for a bit. A rocky and eroded path traverses across the slopes until the Pennine Way heads steeply down on a gravelled path - rather hard on the knees and feet at the end of the day. Once on more level ground, I passed Hunt Pot where a beck disappears into a slot 5 metres by 2 metres to fall 65 metres (well described by Wainwright as "an evil slit"). An interesting detour is to head north from the gate onto the green road for a few hundred metres. This brings you to the gaping chasm of Hull Pot (90 metres long, 20 metres wide and deep) with Hull Pot Beck sometimes vanishing into its depths after heavy rain.
However I immediately joined the green road that lead down to Horton between dry stone walls - the glimpses of the dry valley on the left make the walk especially interesting. Unseen on the right is Brants Gill Head where the waters that vanish into Hunt Pot emerge to form Brants Gill. A couple of woodland plantations signal the end of the lane with the Pen-y-Ghent Café and Crown Inn (my abode for the night) to the right. The café is the local information centre and holds the record book for the Three Peaks walk (24 hours to conquer Whernside, Ingleborough and Pen-y-ghent all about 700 metres in height) as well as a log book for the Pennine Way. There is plenty to occupy a summer evening including walking south for less than 500 metres to Horton Bridge with its interesting church (and another pub).