…in which we marvel at the karst, cook couscous among the cairns and are momentarily miserable mountaineers.
Malham to Horton, 15 miles. Jump to Journal.
Breakfast and lunch need to be carried on this long day as the only external resource you’ll encounter is the toilet kindly provided by the National Trust behind the Malham Tarn field study centre. Observe the donation box.
In Horton it’s compulsory to visit the Pen-y-ghent Café and sign the Pennine Way logbook (Aaarrgghh! In September 2018 the PyG was CLOSED until further notice! Check online. There’s another tea room some way out of Horton to the north). Having left Malham at five we made it in time for buns and their famous pints of tea, also to procure excellent takeaway sandwiches for the following day which, although shorter, is even less resourced.
Horton has accommodation including a good value basic campsite at its south end. The Golden Lion Hotel offers fine ales, meals, BnB and a charming old-school bunkhouse of which we were the only occupants. All the same, they do like you to book your bunk by phone and pay in advance. If they have BnB guests as well they’ll get a breakfast cook in, which is worth an enquiry on arrival. This option wasn’t available on our visit and anyway you may need an early departure from Horton to make it to Hawes in time for your Wensleydale sarnie.
Next to The Golden Lion there’s a 40-bed bunkhouse for groups, on this occasion full of noisy, beery, bright and funny engineering students from Hull. If this is in use you’ll need to get in first with your order for evening meals, which were also old-school but decent and fair value. You can hear every word from the bar in the showers but otherwise the bunkhouse is quiet, either that or we were shattered from Penyghent.
Arduous but straightforward. After crossing the limestone pavement above Malham Cove, The Way turns ninety degrees left up the dry valley, don’t follow the path straight on over the wall. On reaching the road at 893 658 you’re supposed to turn right then go through the car park before heading towards the southeast corner of the tarn. The corner of the car park can only be cut off if the ditch is dry. Don’t miss the turn-off northwards along the line of stately trees immediately before the houses at 888 673 (NTG p. 81, E), there’s a fingerpost (photo below).
In fog your compass will get you to Tennant Gill Farm, then the route up Fountains Fell is not obscure, just follow the main track which is intermittently flagstoned. You may encounter intimidating-looking longhorn cattle. After the steepish and boggy descent, it’s a surprisingly long way along the road to Dale Head, where just before The Way heads off to Penyghent you’ll spot a car park honesty box in the northwest roadside wall. Navigation over Penyghent and down to Horton is easy but the ascent needs a modicum of loin-girding and the long hike down the drove road is a toe-crusher in rigid boots.
An idyllic dawn stroll took us up the misty beck to where some insouciant climbers were camped at the foot of the cove. In April 1999 on this steep path I’d marvelled at Wheatears singing among the rocks; the Blackcap of the fells, beautiful. This time they were already nesting quietly so I had to be content with marvelling at the Belted Galloways among the rocks, my favourite cows. Everyone should have a favourite cow. The slippery clints and grykes were interstitially floriferous but, coming from rockless Norfolk, we were more concerned with avoiding broken limbs and keeping away from the edge. The karst scenery was awesome in the true sense, this really is an exceptional place.
A veteran of the FSC’s field courses, I was heartened to see their centre in full swing although there was no sign of any layabed modern ecologists as we passed by at 6.30. Not like in my day. A bonus was the Lady’s Slipper Orchid in full flower, sad but at least intact in its high security cage. If you want one, please don’t come sneaking around here, just buy one online for £29.95. They grow best in cat litter apparently.
We spotted the road below Tennant Gill with its cattle grid by observing the Tesco van beetling along it. The farm has had recent investment and its young operator gave us a cheery wave from his quad bike; both a heartening change. It got quite windy and quite foggy, nonetheless in the middle of nowhere near the top a work party was hearteningly refurbishing the path to loud music from a radio. ‘Can’t work without it’ explained a lad built like the proverbial heavyweight restroom, heaving huge stones around us as we squeezed past. Fountains Fell was dotted with beautiful wild pansies, pretty yellow drifts of heartening little smiley faces amid the sedge. You’re strongly advised to stick to the path up here, but the wind was so cold we risked hunkering into one of the old pits on the summit (which isn’t actually the summit) to heat up some deeply weird couscous. The pack bore Ainsley Harriot’s heartening little smiley face. Penyghent was approaching; we needed all the heartening we could get.
The meadow at Dale Head was bright yellow with what we assumed from a distance were buttercups but then realised were Marsh Marigolds, millions of them, a sight I never thought I’d see. The path off the road was lined with lovely orchids and Water Avens. The strange layercake geology of Penyghent arose ahead, limestone, sandstone, gritstone, steepstone, scarestone.
I’ve permission to tell you that the ascent of Penyghent was traumatic for a woman born and brought up in Norfolk. There were recriminations, along the lines of ‘whose idea was this Pennine Way?’ but more strongly worded. Yorkshire five-year olds toddled up and down past us as Norfolk adults gripped the vertiginous rocks, white-knuckled. Ostentatiously prominent and often crowded, Penyghent is more of a fairground frisson than a properly contemplative Pennine ascent. For my flatland companion it was a prize she didn’t want or like, attained reluctantly, the hiking equivalent of a goldfish in a plastic bag.
Resting amid drifts of Saxifrage below the rare plant crags, I couldn’t interest anyone in a spot of vertical botanising. We stomped instead down the long drove road to Horton, one of us refusing to look backwards. The Pen-Y-ghent Cafe was a haven of fellowship and refreshment as always, what would The Way be without that wonderful place? I indulged my Lancashire roots with a buttered Chorley cake and showed off my entry in the logbook from 1999. ‘What are all these lumpy bits? – Andrew from Norfolk’. I must try to decide where I’m from, let alone where I’m going to.