This joyous ascent of Penyghent (2,273ft), the lowest, but probably the shapeliest, of Yorkshire’s famed Three Peaks, involves a short section up a series of tiny rock steps on the approach to the summit.
The going is not difficult – indeed, it is a man-made path for the most part – but the less confident among you may need to put a steadying hand on the rock for reassurance (as my wife did). Really, it amounts to no more than climbing the steps to bed.
Also, please bear in mind that at this time of year – the tail end of winter - conditions can change quickly and dramatically on high ground, so choose a fine day.
On our ascent, snow adorned the summit – it added immensely to the pleasures of the day – but it meant that care was needed in the early stages of the descent until below the snow line.
Horton-in-Ribblesdale, our starting point, is a rough-hewn, no-nonsense village lacking the picturesque delights of honeypot destinations such as Grassington, Malham, Kettlewell and the like. This is still a hard-working community where stone and its subsidiary commodities continue to be wrestled from huge, unsightly quarries. Yes, Horton can look grim when the clag is down!
But the village holds a place dear to the hearts of the walking fraternity as the focal point of the ever-popular circuit of the Three Peaks of Ingleborough, Whernside and Penyghent. This is the chosen starting point for most of those hardy hikers taking on the 24-mile challenge and seeking to accomplish the feat within the statutory 10 hours for the coveted certificate of achievement.
However, there is more to Horton than the Three Peaks. The village is surrounded by vast areas of limestone which offer superb opportunities for the walker and - where the water has forced its way through the porous bedrock - the potholer. Nearby Alum Pot and Long Churn Pot are among the most famous underground challenges in the country.
Horton was founded by the Saxon settlers of the Dark Ages and styled Hortune in the Domesday Book of 1086, its name meaning the muddy farm from the Old English horu (dirty or muddy) and the Old English tun (a farm or settlement).
The estate became part of the holdings of Jervaulx Abbey in far-flung Wensleydale in the 12th century. It was here that the monks bred fine horses which were sold to the aristocracy throughout the north. The village church of St Oswald, built in 1120, has, in its west window, one of the few surviving pieces of Dales stained glass to survive from the Middle Ages. It is thought the window was brought from Jervaulx Abbey to escape destruction at the Dissolution in 1538.
PENYGHENT AND WHITBER HILL
7 miles: Allow 3 – 4 hours. Map: O/S OL 2 Yorkshire Dales Southern and Western areas.
Use the pay-and-display car park in the B6479 in the centre of Horton-in-Ribblesdale (£4.50 for over 2 hours) – or park by the side of the B6479 just beyond the car park after turning left over the road bridge at The Crown pub.
From the car park, enter the road and turn right through the village, past the Penyghent Cafe, to a fingerpost on your left just before the church. Turn left here and follow the tarred path over the field, through a gate into a road, turn left (fingerpost: Penyghent) and then, after 50 yards, turn right over footbridge and then turn left along road, past school.
After a short half mile, at the tiny settlement of Brackenbottom, turn left at fingerpost for Penyghent, past a barn (on your right), through a walkers’ gate to left of a field gate, and turn left up the wall.
Follow the wall on steady plod to arrive at a walkers’ gate and keep going by the wall to the next crossing wall and spot the stone-step stile in the wall corner. Continue by the wall through the limestone outcrops of Brackenbottom Scar to the next crossing wall and then keep going up steps.
1: Plough on to the next wall, pass through and turn left for the climb up the nose of Penyghent. Follow the mainly-man-made path quite steeply up the nose, using your hands for reassurance on some of the natural rock steps.
The path is obvious throughout and leads all the way to the summit cairn on Penyghent where you can enjoy your sandwiches on the eastern side of the wall looking across to Fountains Fell or on the western side of the wall looking across to Ingleborough and Whernside (to right of Ingleborough).
Cross the wall and take the path signposted Pennine Way and Horton-in-Ribblesdale with Ingleborough to your front left and the long ridge of Whernside to its right.
The deeply-scarred track soon turns right to contour the western flank of Penyghent on a gradual descent before making a sharp left turn to follow the man-made path towards the valley (fingerpost: Pennine Way, Horton and Yorkshire Three Peaks).
Follow this stout track to its end to arrive at a 4-sided fingerpost with a walled track to your left. Note: If limbs are flagging, turn left here for a short-cut finish into Horton.
2: For the main route, go straight on (fingerpost: Yorkshire Three Peaks and High Birkwith) up a recently-made path – what a bonus! - for the plod over Whitber Hill. Stay with this tremendous path all the way – no description needed – with Ingleborough and Whernside dominating the skyline throughout. Bliss! After a short mile, on arriving in the Pennine Way at a 3-sided fingerpost, turn left for Pennine Way and Horton. After about 600 yards, go through a gate across the track and sweep right, noticing the cleft down to your right containing a famous pothole, Sell Gill Holes.
There are two entrances to the pothole – above and below the Pennine Way – and both are dangerous to approach, particularly in the wet when both limestone and grass can be treacherous, so best leave them alone. The entrance below the track begins with an abseil from chains into a deep shaft. Sell Gill Holes involves a descent of some 250ft to a cavern second only in size to the great chamber of Gaping Gill.
Now stride out for a great finale of a mile along the unmade Harber Scar Lane, a medieval packhorse trail and carters’ route linking Ribblesdale with Langstrothdale and Upper Wharfedale. It was used by the monks of Fountains Abbey to reach their holdings at Birkwith and High Greenfield.
The track enters the road in Horton at the side of The Crown, which has been offering ale and hospitality since 1692. Turn left to the car park and the finish - or go straight ahead over the road bridge if parked in the B6479.