Pen-Y-Ghent – Loop Walk from Horton in Ribblesdale

We stop the cars at Horton-in-Ribblesdale, a tiny village in this beautiful dale. This lovely place is traditionally the start and end point for the full Yorkshire Three Peaks walk which is an endurance challenge of 26 miles and over 5000 feet of ascent and descent which needs to be completed in less than 12 hours. Once or twice a year there are fell races where the whole thing can be run or cycled (the cycle route is a little longer at 37 miles) and times of less than three hours recorded sometimes by the same person. We’re not here for the endurance stuff!

Our plan is to walk each of the peaks on separate days and enjoy a meal and some banter in an AirBnB house in Dent. This has been secured for us by Dave Rider on the basis that Dent is a nice place with an interesting and very large church, a reading room, two pubs, cafes and a methodist meeting hall. Actually, I think that the price was the major influencing factor in the decision but the rest of the facilities in Dent are certainly welcome.

Dent was in the West Riding of Yorkshire until Cumbria became its new home. The people here seem to have ignored the move and still have a clear allegiance for Yorkshire. It is said to have been founded by the Norse who made their way to us via plenty of rape, pillage and sometimes, when they were having a day off, they’d just do a bit of trading!  The name literally means ‘man of the north’ and whilst they emanated from Scandinavia their language was old germanic. 

Dent has a railway station, in fact it’s the highest mainland railway station in England and whilst it is called Dent it is located at Dalehead which is actually in Cowgill, about 4 miles above Dent village. It stands next to Dalehead Viaduct which is well worth a detour or even better, take a ride on the Settle Carlisle Railway and you get to go over several of these wonderful structures, it’s certainly now on my bucket list.

So, back to the walk and parking at Horton, the car park is £4.50 for the day; however, there are marked areas outside of the village where you can park on the side of the road for free. We decide that the facility of the car park is worth and it buy the tickets.

Pen-Y-Ghent is a name that is purported to be Cumbric which was a common Britonic language in the early middle ages and closely related to Old Welsh (so let’s call it Welshish). ‘Pen’ means ‘top’ or ‘head’;  ‘Y’ means ‘the’ and Ghent is a bit more obscure but can mean ‘edge’ or ‘border’ so if we put it together it could mean ‘Hill on the Edge’ or ‘Hill on the Border’. Ghent could also have been a corrupted version of ‘gwynt’ meaning ‘wind’ so it could also be ‘Head of the Winds’ and the experience that we have at the top will substantiate the latter.

We leave the car park and turn right on the road to find the track that will take us away from the traffic and begin the ascent adjacent to a field full of round pock-mark type holes of about four to six feet diameter that look like they’ve been created by the impact of a rock or boulder. This erroneous hypothesis is compounded by the presence of exposed rocks that appear randomly through the grass.

I look at the OS map on my ‘phone and it shows several areas identified as shakeholes. A quick ‘google’ later and I discover the indentations that I can see in some of the surrounding fields are indeed shakeholes and there are quite a few of them; apparently, the real cause is boulder-clay being washed into fissures in the underlying limestone or sometimes by collapsed roofs of near-surface cave systems. Now you know as much as me!

As we gain elevation we’re teased by a number of false horizons and become immune from expectations as new ones appear.  Eventually we arrive at the intersection of the track that we’re on with the Pennine Way where we take a break before turning left to complete the last part of the ascent to Pen-Y-Ghent peak but there is an element of scrambling on rocks before then.

The rocky stage is not much more than a couple of hundred metres but it is very steep and whilst techniques vary, I notice that our little group adopt a cautious approach that includes kicking and stamping as our feet look for rocks that are not going to slip and we (or more accurately I) take in the height that this process is being conducted at. About twenty feet from the top of the rocks the cloud clears and shows the valley floor 600 feet below.

By the time we reach the top the cloud has blown back in again and we make our way in the murk  along ‘the highway’ that is the Pennine Way to the trig point at which we are officially 2,277 feet or 694 metres above sea level.

There are a dozen or so people milling around or sitting propped against the dry stone wall sheltering from the cutting wind. Two of the team are already tucking into their well earned sandwiches whilst watching the cloud blowing over the summit. 

 We take our time talking to the other walkers and find ourselves amongst people from Hampshire, Derbyshire and the odd local who do this a couple of times a year for no other reason than ‘it’s nice’ and is there a better reason to do it?

A few photographs later and we’re on our way for the downwards stretch. The track is easily identified and often stepped. It’s questionable as to whether the steps make it easier but they certainly add to the sustainability of the track and we’ve had evidence aplenty of the popularity of the walk even on a chilly day like this.

The track follows a ridge but the low cloud impedes any great views; however, there are brief glimpses that tease us with what might be seen on a good day. There are sheep with lambs feeding as if they were on flat pasture rather than at two thousand feet and leaning into a dramatically inclined pasture with only the odd rock sticking out to give an element of reassurance.

Going down is almost as hard as the ascent and it test the muscles at the front of our legs and encourages the use of our sticks; for a change, we all have a stick this time and it’s certainly a recommendation if you’re tempted by this wonderful walk.

As the landscape starts to flatten we’re tempted with a small detour to Hull Pot and it’s well worth the extra couple of hundred metres. 

Hull Pot is a collapsed cavern with little to explore for the pot-hole enthusiast but for the walker, depending on the time of year, it can be a large hole, a huge waterfall filling the hole and even a waterfall into this huge hole with water overflowing the sides. I’d encourage you to make the visit.

We make our way back onto the track and now it becomes a lane with pasture land either side. There are still shakeholes and rocks to break up the undulating green fields. There are streams with hedges and trees following the moisture and stitching the fields together creating a beautiful patchwork and it’s then that I notice the sun has made an appearance and the cold grey has suddenly morphed into blue skies and fluffy white cumulus. It’s actually been like this for a few minutes but the transformation has been so slow as to go unnoticed until now. 

It’s as if Pen-Y-Ghent has just been switched on as we take great delight in photographing it framed with blue skies in the distance. Instant delight and time for the removal of a couple of layers!

We arrive back into Horton and congregate around the cars. It’s a good walk and it was probably even better for the cooler weather going up.

Enjoy the snaps…G..x

2 thoughts on “Pen-Y-Ghent – Loop Walk from Horton in Ribblesdale”

  1. Fantastic first day, once again you have captured the day in your writing and photos. ?

  2. Thank you so much George, I really do appreciate your comments not to mention your organisation and generosity with all of our outings. I just write the words, you, and this instance Dave Rider, made it happen. Thanks. G. x


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