The Route: Pen-y-ghent | Distance: 9.7km or 6 miles | Time: 3 hours
Ascent: 2,277ft (694m) | Start: SD810721 | Map: OL2 | Date: 10/11/2010
I had one window of opportunity to bag my first Yorkshire 3 peaker and I was determined not to let it slip, – not for anything! If such a thing as ‘summit fever‘ can happen at sea-level then I was being cruelly afflicted by it.
Almost a week had already been spent in the uplands of the Yorkshire Dales National Park and every single moment thus far had been a mixture of sheet rain, hail and even snow set among ever tumbling temperatures and gale force winds.
But today was ‘The Day of Days’, everything was in alignment and all bode well for a classic day in the hills, the sky was a deep winter blue, there was a dusting of snow on the high areas and the wind for once was non-existent. All I had to do was turn up! Well in theory at least!
The first rule of outdoor pursuits is – make sure you have the correct kit! Finding that you have left your jacket at the lodge 20 miles away on a winters morning is a classic amateurs mistake, and I had just made it! My hoped for early start, (required because of the short winter daylight hours), had just got a whole lot later and as a result a whole lot shorter.
Having driven the 40 odd miles both there and back again to the lodge to retrieve my aforementioned winter jacket, (with it must be said), almost Colin McRae like rallying skills, I was finally ready to tackle the majestic looking peak of Pen-y-ghent.
The famous peak can be seen from miles around across the high moorlands in this part of the dales. Its name, which is Celtic, means either ‘the hill on the plain’ or ‘the windy hill’. Both are appropriate. It cuts a magnificent aspect against the skyline standing tall and proud, and on this day dusted with the early snows of winter looked more beautiful than ever. I was literally watering at the mouth at the prospect of a real winter climb for once.
I had overlooked for too long the merits of the Yorkshire 3 Peaks and now hiking through the very heart of the area I was becoming increasingly invigorated by the thought of a return next summer to have a crack at the 3 Peaks Challenge for real!
The approach quickly became a good warm up for the main event ahead with several small scrambles up limestone outcrops littered all along the trail. Pen-y-ghent looms ever larger in your eyesight along almost the entirety of the route that I had chosen, giving fleeting and tantalising glimpses of what was to come.
3km east of Horton in Ribbledale the summit is gained by The Pennine Way which weaves its path up the south eastern flank of this mini mountain and is considered by many to be the classic route up, it is also used as part of the 3 Peaks Challenge. At 694m or (2,277ft) high Pen-y-ghent is by no means a giant but its impressive profile more than makes up for its diminutive statistics.
The mountain is formed by 3 clear and distinct layers of geology with limestone forming the base then a layer of sandstone finally capped by a layer of millstone grit. The path I was following now became very steep very quickly. From my position at the base of the great scar it became obvious that careful foot placement was now paramount given the icy conditions of the day. A couple of exhilarating, (but way too short), scrambles later and the stoney path to the summit dramatically appeared ahead. Following the frosty path the trig point was soon in view and a snowy wind swept topping out was quickly achieved.
With magnificent wintry views in every direction I knew I had made the correct decision in tackling Pen-y-ghent today. Knee deep in snow on the windward side of the dry-stone wall I surveyed the surrounding landscape. Whernside and Ingleborough were clearly in view both cloaked in snow and offering the mouth watering prospect of a link up had the daylight hours been long enough. The snow capped peaks of my favourite stomping ground the Lake District were clearly discernible, shimmering on the horizon far in the distance.
Unfortunately, mindful of the hours of daylight, and still harbouring my foot injury from earlier in the year I had to start the weary descent all too soon. Not wanting to spoil all the fun however I deviated from the normal path and instead bounded across the snowy moors picking up The Pennine way further down the western flanks. Slipping and sliding on the now gradually refreezing ice along the path I slowly edged my way back down to lower climes.
Much to my disappointment I completely missed Hull Pot the single biggest hole in England by some lethargic map reading on my part and instead ended up ambling along the bridleway from the vicinity of Hull Pot to Skell Gill Pasture and back to the village of Horton having missed a highlight of the route, – (next time maybe).
A quick pop into the Pen-y-ghent cafe for a much deserved drink and a tantalising look at the famous clocking in timepiece for those off to attempt the 3 peakers rounded the day off nicely.
Now is the time to hold my hands up and confess to having overlooked this wonderful part of England before, always dismissing the Yorkshire mountains as mere high points on some bleak moorland. But I am glad to have been proved wrong and have now found another exciting and beautiful natural playground for future trips within the UK. I cannot wait to come back and reacquaint myself with Pen-y-ghent and to meet Whernside and Ingleborough for the first time upon my return, but for now alas I have to wait patiently and longingly until next summer, next season and my next trip to the Yorkshire Dales!