The route for today was a challenging one – up over Fountains Fell and Pen-y-Ghent, both substantial (just under 700m) hills – and I hadn’t wanted to tackle it in a late afternoon rush at the tail end of yesterday. However, when I started out this morning it was raining fairly steadily, and from Malham both hills were completely invisible in the clouds. I decided to head up to the top of Malham Cove and then make a decision about my route from there.
Malham Cove is a giant limestone cliff which appears out of nowhere and is very impressive. I had heard from other hikers that a body had been discovered at the foot of the cliff the previous day and the path had been closed, but there was no sign of any disturbance when I got there. After gazing at the climbers bravely gathering their equipment and preparing to scale the vertical (slippery) wall, I climbed up the steep stone stairs to reach the ‘pavement’ on top of the cove. It was very wet going, and by the time I got to the top rain was steadily running down my face and into my mouth.
Visibility from the top was not good, and there were no other walkers around – I was a bit apprehensive about negotiating my way across the top of the fells but decided to carry on a bit further to see what the track was like. The path heads back (not waymarked, natch) up the valley, climbing up a steep and scrambly rocky path which was incredibly slippery. After losing my footing several times I decided that discretion was the better part of valour, and that I would avoid a sprained ankle by taking an alternative lower route on a byway towards Langcliffe. After all, there didn’t seem much point in climbing a big hill if all I would be able to see was cloud – I am definitely not into ‘bagging’ summits for the sake of it.
I passed three groups of DofE students on the way – each wetter and more depressed than the last – and realised several things. One was that despite the weather I was feeling energetic and cheerful, and making good time on the track, which was firm and easy to walk. The second was that my waterproof jacket (now about 11 years old) was not up to the job, nor breathable – I couldn’t tell whether I was wetter from the rain or from sweat, but was soaked either way!
The lower-altitude route gave some lovely views of the fells shrouded in mist, which made me doubly glad I hadn’t bothered. It took a fairly long time to make it to Langcliffe, and I had to stop looking at my map; like a fool I hadn’t brought my plastic map carrier and it rapidly got so wet it was disintegrating, so I opted for the occasional glance and kept it in a dry bag inside my jacket.
I arrived in Langcliffe in an absolute downpour, and headed north along the Ribble valley. After a slightly random walk through a disused lime works I arrived on the main road and was tempted to visit the Craven Heifer pub in Stainforth for a cup of tea. The landlord didn’t turn a hair at my soaked and dishevelled state and very kindly allowed me to pay for a pot of tea and glass of orange juice with my debit card, having run out of cash entirely. The pot of tea was enormous and very hot, and I sat gratefully sipping it, steaming gently, and hoping that the rain would let up a bit.
After tea it was back on the road for a few miles, then off on the Ribble Way towards Horton in Ribblesdale. The Ribble Way is typical of what I am starting to call ‘concept trails’. Some bright spark in the council’s economic development department thinks ‘I know, we’ll have a themed path which people can follow, then we’ll be a destination and there’ll be loads of walkers spending money all over the place’. They get a few very arty carved wooden waymarks but can only afford six; the path is marked on the OS maps but is nearly invisible on the ground and clearly isn’t walked by anyone except desperate end-to-enders trying to avoid big hills. I’ve noticed several of these on the walk and they are a pain in the neck.
Anyway, it was quite a pleasant walk along the river, ending in a farm driveway and a short stroll up to the centre of Horton. When I got there I was surprised to find it teeming with walkers in various states of exhaustion, cars and St John’s Ambulance; it emerged that the British Red Cross had organised a Three Peaks charity event that day and I had hit the ‘rush hour’ of people finishing the walk. The pub was rammed, but I managed to have a quick pint of Pen-y-Ghent before Arran and the kids turned up.
Highlights: Malham Cove in the mist; a nice lonely day’s walking in the hills; pork pie in the drizzle for lunch; a slight feeling of envy at the Three Peaks walkers’ completion medals.