Pennine Way 2007

Author: George Tod

This walk is illustrated with photographs. Click on small photo to enlarge in situ, or click caption to enlarge into new window.
Part 5 - Cowling to Horton-in-Ribblesdale

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Day 7 - Sunday 9th June - 13.5 miles - 1,350 ft ascent

Horton-in-Ribblesdale to Hawes GPS 14.9 miles

After a sound nightís sleep in the seclusion of my caravan away from everyone else, I woke up to another fine day. I went over for breakfast at 8.00 and met four BT men waiting outside. Breakfast didnít start until 8.30, but nobody had told me, which was hardly surprising with the bedlam that prevailed yesterday. The other four had stayed there the night before and went in, so I followed and, although we were somewhat early, we were eventually served with tea and toast and then a cooked breakfast. Amongst those who came down for breakfast, which included a team of girls from an associate company, very few seemed to have qualified. To be successful, the whole team of four had to complete on time, as well as passing a checkpoint before the ascent of Ingleborough by 16.00. The girls had one member who was holding them back and was two minutes late for the 16.00 deadline. The others werenít too unhappy about not finishing and were relieved to have the excuse to take the minibus back, but the girl who had missed the deadline decided to carry on and actually completed before the final deadline of 20.00, even though she was disqualified. The men didnít seem to have done any better, with one of their team dropping out due to the heat. All competitors had to carry a minimum emergency kit including waterproofs, jumper, survival bag, rations and various other pieces of safety equipment, though there were various water stations set up along the way, which saved them carrying a lot of weight in drinks.

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Horton-in-Ribblesdale Church with Penyghent behind
Horton Church
Track towards Birkwith Moor from Horton-in-Ribblesdale
Track to Birkwith Moor
Ingleborough and Simon Fell
Ingleborough and Simon Fell

The Golden Lion were not geared up to early starts, and my packed lunch was not ready, so I went back to get myself ready and picked it up as I was leaving. Today was a short day, so it didnít matter about getting off early. The weather was warm and sunny, with some cloud around, so the steady climb up from Horton was very hot, especially as the walls of the lane blocked off any breeze. The sunshine brought out the best of the glorious limestone scenery, with views across the Ribble Valley towards Ingleborough, Simon Fell and Whernside. After a while the Ribblehead Viaduct came into view, carrying the Settle to Carlisle Railway across the head of the valley.

I met up first with John, with whom I walked at his more leisurely pace for a mile or two, and then with the woman from Rhyl, who was walking at an even more leisurely pace, so we passed her by. The views became more limited for a while around Birkwith Moor and Ling Gill Bridge, which is a picturesque spot and perfect for a break. John had stopped about half a mile before Ling Gill Bridge, but then passed me as I rested there, knowing I would catch him up later. A little further on at Cam End, where the Pennine Way joins and then crosses the Dales Way, there was a fine view over Ribblehead, with Ingleborough to the left and Whernside to the right, and the viaduct in the middle. The two National Trails follow the same route for about a mile up Cam High Road, an old Roman Road. For quite a way, the track had been rather rough and stony, but it had generally been possible to find an easier path, either on the verges, or by picking out the best line along the track.

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Ling Gill Bridge
Ling Gill Bridge
Ribblehead from Cam End with Railway Viaduct to left and Whernside to right
Ribblehead from Cam End
Meeting Point of Pennine Way and Dales Way, with Ingleborough in distance
Junction of Pennine Way & Dales Way

At the point where the Pennine Way and Dales Way parted company, I came across a walker who was taking a break. Just then another walker came towards us along the Dales Way and stopped, so I decided to take a break there myself and eat some of my lunch. The first walker was a Dutchman who was not on any official walk, but just following his own route and heading for Hawes tonight, then over to Reeth. The Dales Way man was heading for Sedburgh, making it a 26-mile day, of which he still had 16 miles left to go at about 13.00. Although the going would be quite easy, I didnít envy him, as he would need to press on quite hard, and he was having problems with his Achilles tendon into the bargain. John passed by as we were sitting there, but then I caught up with him a little while later where he had been cooling down his feet in a spring, something he likes to do when he gets the opportunity.

Being a Roman Road, Cam High Road is very straight, so tends to be a bit tedious, though there were fine views all along the way of the wild, open moors and valleys at the head of Wharfedale, which make quite a contrast to the typical Dales landscape further down the valleys. The track was badly rutted in places from the passage of wheeled vehicles, but then became a metalled road past the access road to Cam Houses, a most remote farmhouse providing B&B accommodation. A mile further on, the Pennine Way takes a route along the hillside west of Dodd Fell, where there are some very good views down into Snaizholme. It was about 14.00 and I had only four and a half miles left to go, so a long stop was called for if I didnít want to get into Hawes too early. I climbed a little way down the valley side to where I had a fine view of the valley and over to Great Shunner Fell, and settled down there.

The weather was a little mixed and I had a few spots of rain from a passing cloud but then patches of sunshine. A huge flock of crows or, to use the correct collective noun, a murder of crows came flying overhead. I thought I had heard a lot of them as I turned off the Roman Road, but now they were here in force. After an hour, I decided to move on and, just for interest, I thought I would climb to the top of Dodd Fell Hill, which appeared to be only a short distance off-route, not that I expected there to be any particularly good views from there, as it is rather flat-topped. However, it took longer than I thought to reach the summit, as there was a lot of peaty ground to traverse with very little in the way of footpaths. From the trig point there was a complete panorama of distant hills from the Three Peaks to Great Shunner Fell and numerous others I couldnít identify.

The way off to the north was a lot easier, as there was a reasonable path that took me down to meet the Pennine Way, which I reached just as the woman from Rhyl came along. I walked with her for a while and she told me that she hadnít liked todayís walk very much. Her husband had come to stay with her in Horton last night and they went down to the pub to try to get a meal, but people were six deep at the bar so that gave up and drove into Settle, where her husband had spotted a nice looking place on the way. They had some beer, which was pretty bad, but they couldnít leave, as they had already ordered a meal. They fancied some wine, but were not prepared to pay the price of £5 a glass for it. Some people may wonder why, if the beer was bad, that they didnít complain about it, but to people in the older age group, this comes from bitter experience (if you pardon the pun). In my earlier years, anyone who complained about a bad pint of beer usually got a very poor reaction from the landlord, who would take it as a personal insult and would be more likely to throw you out of the pub for being a troublemaker than to offer either a refund or a drink of something else. The usual response would be ďeverybody else is drinking it, and they arenít complaining.Ē Never mind the fact that half of them couldnít tell a good pint from a bad one, so long as it contained alcohol, and the rest were probably afraid of complaining anyway. Times have changed quite a bit now, so the reaction is likely to be somewhat less hostile, but old habits die hard.

John hadnít fared any better either in trying to get a meal. He was intending to eat in Horton before having his landlady pick him up, as his B&B was some way out of the village. He found it impossible to get served, so rang up the landlady to pick him up straight away, and didnít get an evening meal at all. In contrast, I had fared very well having both a good meal and good beer, even though there were a few minor problems in doing so.

The woman from Rhyl asked me to go on ahead, as she was struggling to keep up with me even though I had slowed down quite a bit. She was saying that she might not walk over Great Shunner Fell tomorrow, as her guide book said it was not very interesting, so she was thinking of walking along the road over the Buttertubs Pass, which was both shorter and possibly had more to see. I went on ahead and started to drop down towards Hawes. The track got worse and worse, with lots of loose stones and hardly anywhere to walk that wasnít either stony or badly eroded and, as I progressed to the point where I could see Hawes, I couldnít quite work out where I was. A check with my guidebook and with my GPS showed that I had missed a right fork to Gaudy Lane, and had continued down Cam Road instead, so I was approaching Hawes from a different direction. There was little point in trying to correct things now, as it was far easier just to carry on and meet up with the road, which would bring me into the right side of the town for the Youth Hostel.

I checked in, ordered my evening meal, phoned home, had a shower, washed out quite a few clothes, hoping that the drying room would do a good job, and then went to the dining room for my meal. When ordering a meal there is the option to choose what time to have it, so I had chosen 18.30 to give me more time for wandering into town on this very pleasant evening. I had soup, cod chips and vegetables and ice cream, which was all very nice, especially the vegetables that were all very freshly cooked, which is where so many places, even expensive restaurants, often fall down.

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Gayle Beck, Hawes
Gayle Beck, Hawes

Being a market town, Hawes has so many pubs that it is difficult to know which one to choose, so I walked past all of them to the bottom end of town to have a browse around before calling at the Crown for a pint of Old Peculier at £3.30, which I thought was a bit steep, even though it is normally dearer than ordinary beers. It was a warm evening, so I sat outside to drink my pint. With the big meal inside me, I felt a bit too full for another pint, so made my way back to the Youth Hostel and had an early night. There was one other chap sharing my dormitory, but he didnít return until after 23.00 when I was already in bed. Fortunately, though, the bunk beds were solid without any creaking springs, so it was a peaceful night.

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Day 8 - Monday 11th June - 16.2 miles - 2,950 ft ascent

Hawes to Tan Hill - GPS 17.2 miles

Breakfast was served from 7.45 to 8.30, and I got down for 8.00. There was another very good cold buffet plus sausage, bacon and hash browns in the hot trays. Not many were having breakfast, just my roommate, who had been there for the weekend taking part in a cycling and running event, and two girls who were walking the Pennine Way. They had done the first section to Horton last September, and were now taking two weeks for the remainder of the walk, making for Keld today. For the Cheviot part of the walk, because they couldnít stay at Uswayford Farm, they had brought a tent, which they were carrying for a whole two weeks just to use for one night. It would have made a lot more sense to post it ahead to Byrness, which would have saved them a lot of wasted effort.

My washing had not dried fully, but most of it was reasonably dry, so I would try to dry out the rest when I took breaks along the way. It was rather misty to start with, but clearing gradually with temperatures of 24 degrees forecast. I set off just after 9.00, calling at the bank cash machine to top up my cash, though I could probably have managed until Middleton. The sun started to break through and the mist started to clear, though it was still very hazy but already quite warm. The first couple of miles are up to Hardraw, following the river for a while to start with. At Hardraw, it is possible to visit Hardraw Force with a drop of 98 ft by going through the Green Dragon Inn and paying an admission charge. When there is a good flow of water, this is very impressive, but today the stream was just a trickle, so I didnít bother with the detour, especially as I was walking four miles beyond Keld to the Tan Hill Inn today.

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River Ure near Hawes
River Ure
Squeeze Stile near Hardraw - No fatties this way!
Squeeze Stile

Some of the stiles in this area leave a lot to be desired as far as walkers are concerned, especially those carrying large rucksacks. There are squeeze stiles that are very narrow, which is not too bad if this were just where legs have to go through, but sometimes the tight part is high enough to obstruct rucksacks as well. I can understand this with old stiles that were built originally for farm workers getting to work unencumbered with rucksacks, but there were a couple of newly rebuilt ones that were just the same, and these could have been rebuilt with long distance walkers in mind. There are other places with kissing gates that also have insufficient room for rucksacks, as well as stiles going over high walls having small gates with strong return springs at the top, which can also present difficulties. The ladder stiles that were specifically put in place for the Pennine Way are generally the most suitable, but it is the odd collection of old stiles and badly maintained gates that cause most of the problems.

From Hardraw, the long traverse of Great Shunner Fell commenced with a sign saying ďThwaite 8 milesĒ, all of which is on a relatively straight track running the length of the fell, with only very distant views and a lot of wild moorland. The ascent was very steady, but quite hot work with very little movement of air, but a bit further up the ridge, I started to catch a cool breeze, which made it more pleasant. I stopped for a rest about two miles from Hardraw, where the slope started to level out to a gentle incline. The back of my shirt and shorts were already soaked with sweat, which is par for the course in these conditions. There is a large shelter at the summit in the form of a cross, and this can be seen for most of the ascent, although it seems a very long time before it is finally reached. I continued the walk without my shirt, which helped to keep me cooler, though with the gentler slope I wasnít generating as much heat now.

Some guidebooks describe this part of the walk as being very dreary, but on a fine day it is quite a reasonable walk, though not what I would describe as one of the highlights of the Pennine Way. The going was easy and there were views of distant hills and moors plus a number of birds for company. Another noisy murder of crows came over, intermingled with black-headed gulls; there were grouse with their chicks and I could hear the cry of a golden plover in the grass. I hadnít seen any Pennine Way walkers so far and would not be likely to see any now, as they would mostly only be going as far as Keld, so would not be in a hurry.

There were one or two short climbs up onto ridges towards the summit and there were a few stretches on flagstones, though these were not done to overkill and there were often parallel tracks that could be taken to avoid them if desired. I stopped for another rest and part of my lunch by the summit, laying some of my damp clothes out to dry in the sunshine. I hadnít bought a packed lunch today, so was just using up various leftovers from previous days. The Pennine Way does offer a wide contrast in scenery with sections like this showing the wild side of the Pennines, and other parts like Malham and Upper Swaledale showing the picturesque valleys.

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Cross Shaped Shelter at Summit of Great Shunner Fell
Summit of Great Shunner Fell
Looking back at Great Shunner Fell
Great Shunner Fell
The Villages of Thwaite and Muker in Swaledale
Thwaite and Muker

Just as I was about to leave the summit, a walker came along, but he was only out for the day, despite having a large rucksack. I chatted with him for a while before starting the long descent. It had clouded over quite a bit by now, so was not too hot as I made my way down. The track on this side of the fell had been paved with flagstones for quite a bit of the way, but in this case it was through necessity, as there is a lot of boggy ground on the northern facing slopes. The views started to improve as Swaledale came into sight, with rich, green valley scenery gradually replacing the wild moorland views. I could see vehicles driving up and down Buttertubs Pass over to the right, and I wondered if the woman from Rhyl had decided to go that way as she had talked about doing. Beyond the flagstones, the track was rather stony on the way down to meet the road into Thwaite, but it wasnít too bad.

Passing through Thwaite, I started off up the southern edge of Kisdon Hill, then round the hillside overlooking Muker and further up onto the high level route along Upper Swaledale. This to me is one of the highlights of the Pennine Way, with some magnificent views down into the valley below and, in particular, up Swinner Gill. As I made my way along, it was overcast so the magic of the view was somewhat lost, but I stopped for a rest and, after a while the sun came out Ė not completely covering the landscape, but enough to improve the scene considerably. The path down towards Keld deteriorates badly, with lots of jagged rocks; so all eyes were on the ground to avoid tripping. By the time the path improved, the view had been left behind with trees screening off the valley.

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Swinner Gill and Upper Swaledale
Swinner Gill
River Swale near Keld
River Swale near Keld
Keld from Pry Hill
Keld from Pry Hill

The Pennine Way crosses the river just before reaching Keld and then starts to climb the other side of the valley. It is obvious that to reach the highest inn in England from the river valley some climbing has to be done, so I stopped for a rest and drank the last of my drink before carrying on. There was a moderate climb up out of Swaledale, then the route levelled off, taking a line along the hillside with views of the river to the left with a minor road that followed alongside on its way to Tan Hill. Once again, the scenery changed from the picturesque scenery of the Dales valleys to wild, open moorland, though the walking was easy with a good, grassy path for much of the way. After a while, the path turned up the hillside. It was not particularly steep or difficult, but most daysí walks do the majority of the climbing early in the day, and the last few miles are either downhill or on the level, so it took a bit of effort to face any climbing at all at this stage in the day.

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Stonesdale Bridge on road to Tan Hill
Stonesdale Bridge
Tan Hill Inn, Highest Inn in Britain at 1,732 ft above sea level
Tan Hill Inn

Once at the top of the hill, it was not long before the welcome sight of Tan Hill Inn came into view. It was still about three quarters of a mile away, but growing larger in my view by the minute. I was already working up a thirst, and when I arrived I downed a pint of Black Sheep in double quick time before going up to my room for a shower. I had asked for a bunk in the bunkhouse when I booked, but was told that that wouldnít be ready, so I could have a room in the staff quarters instead. It seemed a bit strange going behind the scenes and passing by staff who were doing various jobs as I made my way to my room. I had the use of the staff bathroom, though this was attached to the laundry room, so anyone using the bathroom blocked access to the rest of it.

It quite surprised me that I could get reception on my mobile phone, but outside I had quite a good signal for making my call home. There were three Dutchmen who had been in the bar, but who then came out and started talking to me. They were doing the northern half of the Pennine Way starting from here, having done the first half last year. They were taking ten days to Kirk Yetholm as opposed to my eight days, and they were using the Sherpa van for their luggage, but then one of them was 80 years old.

Outside the inn stood a snow tractor covered with advertising for the inn and for Old Peculier. It can get pretty bleak up here in the winter, with snow drifting in the high winds, so this is no doubt a great asset at times like that.

Inside there was quite a mixed bag of people with one large group out to celebrate someoneís birthday. They looked like they were from some remote farming community from a different era Ė just as if time had stood still for fifty years or more where they came from. Another group came in and sat at the corner table where, from behind the bar, they can lower a tarantula spider from the ceiling to give everyone a fright. In compensation, the lady nearest to the spider was given a brandy to help her recover from the shock. There were two dogs in there, one of which kept settling down on a seat near the fire. Even on a hot day, it can still get very chilly in the evening at this altitude. A sheep kept trying to get in through the front door, but they told it to go away as it was baa-ed.

Food wasnít served until 19.00, at which time there was a great rush of everybody who was waiting to order, so I waited until that had all died down before ordering a giant Yorkshire pudding with a lamb hock along with some Timothy Taylorís best bitter. The landlady served me and just put my 10 pence change in the charity box without so much as a ďby your leaveĒ. A young chap who was on his mobile phone was told he had to put a pound into the charity box as well. I donít know whether there was a sign anywhere to that effect, and if there were it would have been very difficult to find, as they had a huge collection of signs about anything and everything, particularly of a humorous nature. I finished off with a pint of Old Peculier, a total of four pints in the evening, but very little of it came through my system, most of it having been absorbed to replace lost body fluids during the warm weather of todayís walk, and this is on top of the two litres I drank along the way.

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