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The Ascent of Pen-y-ghent

To the summit of one of the Three Peaks, and back by the River Ribble.

Distance 6.4 miles (10.4km)

Minimum time 3hrs

Ascent/gradient 1,555ft (474m)

Level of difficulty Medium

Paths Easy-to-follow paths and tracks on Pen-y-ghent. Steep descent from summit, farmland paths, 16 stiles

Landscape One of the Dales' most famous mountains, with spectacular views

Suggested map aqua3 OS Outdoor Leisure 2 Yorkshire Dales - Southern & Western

Start/finish SD 808725

Dog friendliness Dogs should be on leads in farmland

Parking Car park at north end of Horton-in-Ribblesdale

Public toilets At car park

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1 From the car park, turn right along the road, passing the Pen-y-ghent Café. This is the walkers' centre for the area, selling a vast range of books and maps, and running a booking-in and -out service for those walking or climbing in the area. 100yds (91m) beyond, turn left, on to a track, following the Pennine Way sign. Go straight on through a hand gate at a junction of paths. The path eventually curves right, towards Pen-y-ghent.

2 Go through a gate and turn right, following the Pen-y-ghent sign. Just beyond, off the path to the right, is Hunt Pot, a gash in the moorland grass that leads into a deep drop beneath. First explored at the end of the 19th century, Hunt Pot has a total descent of 160ft (49m). A little way to the north is Hull Pot, a much larger hole. In wet weather a stream tumbles down its limestone crags into the depths.

3 Continue over two ladder stiles, climbing steadily and bearing right by a signpost. Keep to the right where the path splits, to reach a stile over a stone wall at the summit of the mountain. Turn right along the stony path, going downhill. Stay near the wall as the path descends very steeply down the hillside. After the descent you will reach two ladder stiles over a wall on your right. Cross one, following a sign to Brackenbottom. As you descend, the limestone quarries that surround Horton in Ribblesdale are clearly in view. Although National Park policies are weighted against quarry development, many workings often precede the designation of the Dales as a National Park.

4 Go over another ladder stile, then two gated stone stiles. At the foot of the hill go over a wooden stile beside a gate by the farm, then through a handgate on to a road. Turn left and follow the road, going straight ahead as another road joins from the left. Take the next turn right to pass a stone barn and reach the main road. Cross and walk down the lane opposite. Before the farm buildings, turn right up a green lane, go over the stepping stones and straight on. Where the wall on the left ends, go left through a gate and down the track. Where the track bends, turn left to go over a bridge and continue straight ahead down the field. Cross the stream on a gated footbridge then go half left across the field. Go through a gate then cross the river on a wooden bridge.

5 You are now joining the Ribble Way, which runs beside the River Ribble for 70 miles (113km) from the Dales to the sea. For part of its length, north of Horton in Ribblesdale, it follows the same route as the Dales Way, another long distance footpath that goes the 80 miles (129km) from Ilkley in West Yorkshire to Bowness-on-Windermere in Cumbria.

6 Turn right along the riverbank, over a ladder stile, passing over a boardwalk and through woodland.
Go over a stile to your right, and over a stream by a footbridge, then over another stile at its end. Continue alongside the river, going over four stiles and following the river as it bends right to a stile in a wall. Turn right over the footbridge to return to the car park.

One of the famous Three Peaks of the Dales (the others, Ingleborough and Whernside are visible on the walk), Pen-y-ghent's distinctive profile dominates the landscape. Its name, which is Celtic, means either 'the hill on the plain' or 'the windy hill'. Both are appropriate. The ridges that stripe its sides are the result of different rock strata - millstone grit on top, softer shales beneath and, half way up, a band of limestone.

Where to eat and drink

The Pen-y-Ghent Café, as well as providing all its other services, does good, energy-giving food, specially geared to the needs of walkers. The village's two pubs, the Crown and the Golden Lion both offer meals and serve good Yorkshire ales.

While you're there

Visit the lively market town of Settle, to the south of Horton in Ribblesdale. If you're there on a Tuesday you'll find its market in full swing, in front of the impressive arched Shambles building, with two storeys of shops and homes above them. Up the High Street is a large and ornate 17th-century house called The Folly, and scattered through the town are old houses with carved lintels showing when they were built and their builders' initials.

What to look for

As you ascend Pen-y-ghent in the spring you will notice patches of the attractive purple saxifrage growing along the hill's distinctive ridges. Saxifrage means 'stone-breaker', and nearly all the members of the species live in rocky places, their roots penetrating into cracks between the stones to use the moisture trapped there. Purple saxifrage flowers the earliest of all the saxifrages, and has five slightly-pointed petals of a delicate purple colour. The tiny flowers form dense clusters among the rocks. As its Latin name (saxifraga oppositifolia) suggests, its leaves sit opposite each other along its rather flat stem, which has a creeping habit. A characteristic plant of many high latitudes, the purple saxifrage is the official flower of Nunavut Territory in the very north of Canada.

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