Pennine Way: Day Six

10th May 2010 – Malham to Horton in-R – 14.4 miles

“The way back to town is only 30 miles.
If you save your breath, I feel a man like you could manage it. Adios”.
Blondie to Tuco – The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

There are 430 steps up the side of Malham Cove – I counted them all – it helped. I think. If you converted that into steps up the stairwell at work – it would be equivalent to climbing 34.8 floors!

I set out late today as it was raining as I sat in the dining room of Beck Hall having my breasfast. I sat with Nigel, it’s his last day today, he’s catching a train from Horton back home to York. He seems to be a bit sad to be leaving the path, I get the impression he was testing himself and he passed with flying colours and now wished he’d allowed more time to walk further. He’s talking about coming back next year to finish it off. I hope he does, it seems such a shame to have to stop here, in possibly the most beautiful part of the whole walk.

Today has been splendid. The weather was great – for February – for May however, it was pretty bloody awful. The only thing I’ve not had today is rain. Delaying my start put paid to that at least. I had sunshine to start the walk, for the first 1/2 mile at least, then it clouded over and I had some cold, chilling wind, I had hail stones on the way up Pen-y-Ghent and snow on the top!! FFS snow in May! It was bitterly cold as well, the weather guessers got that right at least and I was wishing I had my long johns on after about an hour.

Malham Cove - seriously impressive limestone amphitheatre

Malham Cove – seriously impressive limestone amphitheatre

I passed a solo walker with a large pack and a pair of poles taking photographs on the way into Malham Cove (Ed: this was my first meeting with Tony the German) we said hello and I left him snapping away. As I reached the top of the climb up to the Cove I caught up to 5 Australian ladies. Before I could say hello though, they headed off along the wall to the left at the top of the steps. The PW path cuts sharp right, along the face of the Cove, across the splendid limestone pavement and then up one of the most impressive limestone valleys you could hope to experience, Watlowes, beside Ing Scar – all of which these ladies missed as they blundered off left.

Walking up the dry valley of Watlowes

Walking up the dry valley of Watlowes

Leaving Watlowes on another steep flight of steps

Leaving Watlowes on another steep flight of steps

I met them again at the head of Watlowes, as the path cuts back on itself around Comb Hill. I stopped here to put my coat on and the ladies all stopped for a little chat. They were rather disappointed to have taken a wrong turn I think, but weren’t going to admit it as an error.

I left them behind as they flustered over the map. Presumably they would be able to follow me for a while at least, and I saw them stringing out behind me as I progressed around Malham Tarn.

I stopped many time over the next few miles, trying to get the right combination of layers to enable me to keep warm and yet not sweat like a Scotsman in Spain. I was adjusting layers at the gate of Tennant Gill farm as the farmer drove out of his gate “what you putting your coat on for lad?” he said “it’s getting nice and warm”. It was close to zero with the wind chill, but I retorted with “aye, it’s grand, I’ve just had to take off a couple of layers”. He drove off in his brand new 4wd, up the PW path with me wishing he’d offered me a lift.

Approaching Tenant Gill Farm

Approaching Tenant Gill Farm

I’d walked this path a few weeks ago, when it was under about 3 feet of snow and I’d quickly lost the proper route as it was indestinguisable from the surrounding whiteness. At least now it was easy to follow, as it cut across the lower slopes of Fountain Fell before cutting steeply upwards to a pair of pencil-thin cairns a few dozens yards from the summit proper.

Cairn on the highpoint of the path over Fountains Fell

Cairn on the highpoint of the path over Fountains Fell

I took shelter from the light, but chilling wind, in a handy shake hole just beside the path and scoffed my flapjack lunch. After a few minutes I was off again, down the northern face of Fountains Fell, with fantastic views of PYG before me. I could just make out one or two tiny figures climbing the path up the steep face of the smallest of the 3 Peaks hills. I guess one of them was Nigel, but it was impossible to tell from this distance.

Looking across to Pen-y-ghent from the descent off Fountains Fell

Looking across to Pen-y-ghent from the descent off Fountains Fell

I walked along the road to Dale Head farm from where the PW uses a farm track to gain some of the lower contours of PYG, before it meets the harsh, stepped path at the junction of the footpath from Horton. It started to hail stone at this point and I very briefly considered scrapping the climb and just heading down the path to Horton and a nice warm pub and a drink. But for once my resolve held – I pushed on up the ridiculously steep climb to the top. PYG is one of those hills that never seems as bad as (a) you remembered it to be and (b) expected it to be. The climb was over in almost no time (it was savage, but short) and as I walked along the much more relaxed stony path to the trig point on the summit, it started to snow!

The ascent of Pen-y-ghent is steep, but short

The ascent of Pen-y-ghent is steep, but short

I had the summit to myself. So I rang Chris to see how everyone was. Not least because I hadn’t had a signal since early yesterday and I had no idea how long it would last once I started heading down onto the valley. She’d had to take our youngest into the local A&E last night, with a chest infection and because she was coughing up blood! She’s okay, but she was a bit scared. The consequence is that Chris got no sleep though and now she’s done back to back 14 hour days and she’s completely knackered. I hardly wanted to tell her how I’m feeling in the face of that.

It’s great to talk with my wife, it really lifts my spirits, especially when I’m cold and tired like I was today on PYG. I got frowns from a couple who arrived at the wind shelter on the summit to find me blethering into a mobile phone though! You can’t please all the people.

The long, tough descent from Pen-y-ghent to Horton-in-Ribblesdale

The long, tough descent from Pen-y-ghent to Horton-in-Ribblesdale

The PW path down from PYG to Horton is much longer than I was expecting, it’s rough and rocky and hard on the feet and after a mile or so all I wanted to do was sit down and rest my barking dogs. As it was I took the first wrong turn of the walk, mainly because I couldn’t be arsed to take the time to change the map pages in my waterproof map folder – and I followed a left hand fork in the lane instead of the right. This meant I took the long way through the village, rather than coming out beside the cafe. Silly arse.

The Crown in Horton

The Crown in Horton

I’m in the Crown tonight. Seems okay, at least if you believe the comments in the little book they have in the room for people to relate their experiences in. No dinner service until 18:00 and no breakfast until 08:30! I’m only going to Hawes tomorrow, so I can live with the latest start so far and still probably arrive in good time.

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