50 Walks in the Yorkshire Dales

Climbing Pen-y-ghent

Try this sample walk from the latest edition of 50 Walks in the Yorkshire Dales.

About 50 Walks in the Yorkshire Dales

Walking is one of Britain's favourite leisure activities, and this guide to the Yorkshire Dales features 50 mapped walks from 2 to 10 miles, to suit all abilities.

The book features all the practical detail you need, including:

  • fascinating background reading on the history and wildlife of the area,
  • clear OS-based mapping for ease of use,
  • every route has been colour coded according to difficulty,
  • annotations for local points of interest and places to stop for refreshments,
  • summary of distance, time, gradient, level of difficulty, type of surface and access, landscape, dog friendliness, parking and public toilets.

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50 Walks in the Yorkshire Dales

Sample walk: Climbing Pen-y-ghent

  • Distance: 6.5 miles (10.4km)
  • Minimum Time: 3hrs
  • Ascent: 1,555 feet (474m)
  • Gradient: 3
  • Difficulty: 3
  • Paths: Easy-to-follow paths and tracks on Pen-y-ghent, steep rocky descent from summit, farmland paths, 8 stiles
  • Landscape: One of the Dales' most famous mountains, with spectacular views
  • Suggested Map: OS Explorer OL2 Yorkshire Dales: Southern & Western
  • Start Grid Reference: SD808725
  • Dog Friendliness: Dogs should be on lead on farmland
  • Parking: Car park at north end of Horton in Ribblesdale
  • Public Toilet: At car park
Background reading

One of the famous 'Three Peaks' of the Dales (the others, Ingleborough and Whernside, are visible from 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, halfway up, a band of limestone.

Limestone dominates most of the walk. The characteristic drystone walls line the track at the start of the walk, and  form the boundaries to the fields in the second half. The landscape is susceptible to dissolving by water, forming ‘pots’ – large holes into underground cave systems. From Point 2 on the walk you could detour about 300yds (274m) north to see one of them, the huge hole of Hull Pot. In wet weather a stream tumbles down its limestone crags into the pot’s depths. Take care great as you approach the hole. It is also easily seen from the upper slopes of Pen-y-ghent.

This first part of the walk (up to Point 4) follows the Pennine Way. The Pen-y-ghent Café 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. From the summit of Pen-y-ghent, and as you descend, you will notice the limestone quarries around Horton in Ribblesdale – and maybe hear the sound of blasting. You may consider them an intrusion into a National Park, but although National Park policies are weighted against quarry development, many workings often precede the designation of the Yorkshire Dales National Park in 1954.

The final part of the route follows the Ribble Way, which runs beside the river 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.

  1. From the car park turn right along the road, passing the Pen-y-ghent Cafe.  About 100yds (91m) beyond, turn left onto a track, following the Pennine Way sign. Go through a gate to a junction of paths and fork left. Follow the walled track through two gates for about a mile (1.6km) to its end. 
  2. At the gate at the end of the walled track turn right, following the Pen-y-ghent sign to another gate and stiles. Follow an obvious path across level moorland. After another gate the path climbs again. At a signpost and cairn below limestone crags the path swings right to slant up the slope. Continue in the same direction on the easier upper slopes until the path swings left, more steeply, to the summit at 2,277ft (694m).
  3. Cross the summit wall and turn right along the stony path, which soon descends very steeply, moving away from the wall at the steepest parts, which need care as you go down, with some easy rock scrambling. After the descent you will reach a gate through a wall on your right.
  4. Go through the gate, following a sign to Brackenbottom. Descend steadily, with a continuous wall just to your right, crossing several intermediate walls via gates and stiles, and passing over rocky outcrops, to reach a farm.
  5. Just before the farm buildings, bear right through a gate and out through another gate to a road. Turn left and follow the road, bearing slightly right as another road joins from the left. Take the next turn right and descend to the main road (B6479). Cross and walk down the track opposite. Just before farm buildings turn right on a short track. Cross stepping stones and keep straight on until the wall on the left ends.
  6. Go left over a cattle grid and down a track. Where the track bends left, keep straight ahead beside the stream to reach a gated footbridge. Cross the bridge, then bear right across the field, keeping right of an isolated tree, to go through a gate to reach a larger footbridge across the River Ribble.
  7. Cross the bridge and turn right along the river bank. The path follows the river pretty closely, with a slight deviation to cross a stream by a footbridge. Return to the river bank and keep following it; it eventually bends right below houses. Cross the field and climb steps to a footbridge; cross the bridge to return to the car park.
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, which has a museum of local life, and scattered through the town are old houses with carved lintels showing when they were built and their builders' initials.

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.

What to look out 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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