The Pennine Way

Walked in August - September 2007

Day 6 – Thursday 30th August

Malham - Hawes
Pennine Way Distance: 28 miles. Cumulative: 104 miles


Above the cove is an extensive area of limestone pavement, fissured and contorted like a brain. Walk very carefully here, or avoid it around the fringe: It has unique propensities for breaking legs…
- Alfred Wainwright

Morning at Malham campsite
Morning at Malham campsite

We woke horribly early. No exaggeration. After the previous day’s long slog, a lie-in felt like a necessity more than a luxury, but due to our being seriously behind in miles, we had no choice but to get up at the ungodly hour of four fifty in the morning and that was twenty minutes later than we’d planned. After we’d breakfasted, washed and packed everything up, we left the campsite at about six fifteen and headed up the twisting road toward Malham Cove.

Heading towards Malham Cove
Heading towards Malham Cove

We spent a short while wandering around the base of the amazing geological feature, completely missing the fact that we were very close to the remains of an iron age settlement, taking pictures and appreciating the fact that we were alone, and everything was peaceful and quiet. We had to jump across a few slippery rocks to get to the cove, a daring act considering we had very heavy packs on which jeopardised our balance. But it was a pleasant moment at the beginning of what we knew would be a very long day.

Malham Cove
Malham Cove

Leaving the bottom of the cove, we walked up the steep, stone staircase, hewn into the limestone on the left side of the cove, through what is known as a ‘kissing gate,’ and squeezing through it was indeed quite an intimate affair, and then up onto the deeply eroded limestone pavement. Crossing this was an unusual experience. Although it’s referred to as a pavement, the limestone feature is more like a series of huge grey, wobbly, limestone teeth jutting out of the top of the vast cove, and we had to make some pretty precarious jumps in order to avoid being stranded forever. It was an attractive location however, with a wonderful view and it wasn’t difficult to see why Malham was such a popular place, considering it had the quirky limestone ‘pavement,’ the cove and Malham Tarn which we came to sometime later, though weren’t really able to enjoy as such.

The limestone pavement above the cove
The limestone pavement above the cove

The morning was a misty one, and as we wandered up Watlowes Valley seeing numerous sheep that seemed surprised to see people wandering about so early in the morning, we somehow allowed ourselves to make a wrong turn and get lost among the grassy hills and sinkholes. As I chewed numerous sugary, fruit-flavoured sweets to keep my energy levels up, Darryl kept switching his attention from the guidebook, to the mist-enshrouded scenery around us and back again, trying to work out where we’d gone wrong. Luckily we weren’t lost for long, and using a combination of compass and sheer bloody-mindedness, we found ourselves wandering between small lakes that heralded the arrival of their bigger brother Malham Tarn. At one point we crossed what appeared to be a visitor’s car park, thought at that moment it was deserted, with the only movement being the strange shapes the mist made as it moved about in clouds. Malham Tarn itself is vast, wonderful and beautiful, when it is visible. I know this because I’ve seen it in books and on the Pennine Way DVD I bought, but on the day we walked around it, it was completely invisible, swallowed up in the thick fog, and for all we know it could have been completely dry if we hadn’t passed a small shore where foamy water washed up, and gulls flapped about making a racket.

Chomping on yoghurt-coated pineapple chunks and more fruit-flavoured sweets, we made our way around the side of the tarn and towards a wood where we passed the Monk’s Road and came to the Malham Tarn Field Centre. We were surprised, yet cheered to see several people milling about the centre, no doubt intending to spend the day by the lake, provided they were able to find it. We continued on through the wood until we came to a gate on the right, which we went through and up a grassy path which led to a mini valley between two low hills. As we passed what appeared to be an empty, yet mud-filled cattle-shed on the left, I decided I really, really needed to stop for a toilet break. I fished out the toilet roll I’d prudently packed days before at home, and decided to venture into the darkness of the building while Darryl kept watch on the path outside. There’s no need to go into any further detail, except to say that after a quite tricky and uncomfortable exercise in balance and posture, I returned to the path to find that Darryl was now in a similarly desperate need of becoming one with nature, so we swapped places and it was my turn to stand around looking innocent and innocuous while my brother tackled the problem of using the lavatory without there actually being a lavatory.

We walked on through the misty landscape, at one point climbing a very steep field alongside several farm buildings which may have been Tennant Gill Farm and a farmer whose legs must be solid muscle if he had to work those hills on a daily basis. At the top of the hill we continued on across sandstone moorland and then an odd, occasional boggy landscape where we at one point stopped to cook noodles and have a coffee. It was another very quiet, peaceful moment. If we hadn’t been together it would have been a very lonely moment too, yet perhaps somehow calming and serene at the same time.

The mist descends on the approach to Fountains Fell
The mist descends on the approach to Fountains Fell

Several times during that morning I wondered if my painful knees or Achilles tendon would give in ruining the whole walk for me. Somehow they held out, though on subsequent days pain would be a constant companion for the both of us.

We passed over a number of crests before reaching the top of Fountains Fell, and beginning a very rocky, precarious descent to the valley below. If it had been a clear day we would have been able to see Pen-y-ghent from the perilous path, but as one of Darryl’s photographs attests, we could see very little at all. The mist wasn’t leaving us alone, and the light rain joining it now was not only annoying but making the rocks we had to clamber over more and more slippery. We continued down to fields and once over a stile we reached a road and turned left, still unable to see Pen-y-ghent which was very close now.

The edge of Fountains Fell in mist
The edge of Fountains Fell in mist

With our hoods up against the rain, the sky dark, and the mist all-encompassing, the morning was shaping up to be a bit of a disappointment, but we marched on, hoping for a bit of excitement when we reached one of the three fabled peaks of the area which should be looming menacingly before us at any moment. We saw a few cars parked in a lay-by, indicating other people were about, presumably enjoying Pen-y-ghent, though ‘experiencing’ might be a better word. We turned down a path which led toward the mountain, meeting three men on the way who were on their way to Malham, and were walking the three peaks. They seemed pretty pleased with themselves, which we thought was fair, though we were probably even more pleased with ourselves considering the task we had at hand. We wished each other luck, and they assured us that getting over Pen-y-ghent wouldn’t be too tough, though it was wet at the moment and a little care needed to be taken. They weren’t wrong. Nearly a quarter of an hour later we were walking up the long, steep path toward the summit of the mountain, sighing when the first stone ridge came into view.

Hazy ascent to the summit of Pen y ghent
Hazy ascent to the summit of Pen y ghent

This ridge looks like the summit. I’d read before that there was a big ridge to negotiate before getting to the top, but I didn’t expect it to be this challenging. And indeed it wouldn’t be that much of a challenge if the weather had been dry and we hadn’t been carrying heavy packs on our backs. We scrambled up the rocks, slowly it should be said, praying inwardly that we wouldn’t slip and fall backward into the mist, never to be seen again. Once we were up over the ridge, and feeling rather chuffed, we saw the second, tougher ridge that led to the genuine summit. We gritted our teeth and tackled the rocks again, emerging onto the summit, puffing, panting and suggesting to each other that it might be a nice time to take a little break.

People emerged into view from a gap in the wall as we sat to have a drink of water and get our breath back. They had clearly climbed Pen-y-ghent from the other side, and looked tired, yet happy to have made it. This suggested there was more work for us ahead, though at least we would be going downhill now. An old chap sat near us rolling a cigarette, a young couple laughed and joked with each other as they wandered toward the ridge we’d just negotiated, and a family dropped their bags on the grass and took out sandwiches and flasks. It was a bizarre moment given the mist, which on a clear, sunny day would seem quite normal and would no doubt be a regular and popular occurrence. We left the small group and stepped through the wall to find the path leading down the other side of the mountain toward Horton-in-Ribblesdale. Later in the day we would be able to turn and get a proper view of Pen-y-ghent, and finally appreciate its size and beauty, both of which are considerable.

The landscape all around is pocked with sink-holes, some of which can be quite deep and not the sort of geological features you want to stumble across in the fog. Luckily, as we descended along the bumpy, uncomfortable and seemingly unending path from Pen-y-ghent to Horton (which, like Stoodley Pike, seemed eerily and endlessly elusive) the mist lifted, or we dropped below it, and the Sun came out to cheer us a little, even though by this time we were starting to get quite tired and fed up. In fact a few miles later, still on the same path, as we were finally closing on Horton we really began to feel exhausted and demoralised. We were both making calculations in our head concerning how many days we had left and how many miles we had to cover. It was perhaps the first time that the remainder of our great adventure began to look genuinely daunting and oppressive. We talked about the possibility of maybe just completing half the walk and then taking a train home to relax for the rest of the holiday, or of just covering as much as we could in the two weeks, then heading home. But that meant leaving things unfinished, and neither of us wanted to do that, for fear that we may never get a chance to complete the walk. Luckily, as in Standedge, the real problem was a lack of energy, and soon after walking into Horton-in-Ribblesdale, we found somewhere to refuel.

The Pen-y-ghent café was impressive, and definitely geared toward tourism as they sold guidebooks, maps and the bizarrely popular (more on this later) Kendal Mint Cake inside. It was also the official start of the Three Peaks Walk which takes people on a twenty-five mile round trip across Pen-y-ghent, Whernside and Ingleborough. Darryl went in and ordered two plates of burgers and chips while I shed a couple of layers of clothing and went up the road to the post office to buy food for later. I think my shabby appearance must have scared the woman at the counter as she was rather quiet to begin with, but once she realised I was walking the Pennine Way she struck up a conversation while ringing up my purchases which, as in Cowling, were a little over-enthusiastic.

Returning to the café, I was delighted to see a fizzy, sugary, caffeine-laden drink waiting for me, and after leaving the bags of groceries in Darryl’s care, I took a few thirsty gulps and headed into the café/shop to see if there was anything else I could buy. I bought flapjacks, chocolate bars and energy sweets for Darryl and myself, determined not to run out of food and drink again on the trip, and to keep our energy levels at a higher and more sustainable level. When I returned outside our food had arrived, so once again Popeye and Bluto attacked the food with noisy, merciless gusto, not stopping until there really was no more room in their stomachs. Once we’d rested and eaten to our satisfaction, we divided up the food and water into our packs which groaned even louder under the weight they were now carrying, and set off down the road into the town, appreciating the afternoon sun and lovely landscape. Crossing the small stream and turning right by the Crown Inn, we headed up a walled, grassy path that passed more deep holes that are popular with pot-holers, but not the likes of us, and offering attractive views of the countryside.

We were surprised by just how many holes and caves we passed. The landscape around us was like Swiss cheese. Although there were still many clouds in the sky, the weather was still being kind to us, and I took a number of photographs as we walked along the road, including a couple of the gradually disappearing Pen-y-ghent, majestic now in the distance. It really was amazing to think that we’d begun the day with Pen-y-ghent a mere lump on the horizon (that is if we’d been able to see it), and would end the day with it being another lump on the horizon, this time seen from the opposite direction. Again, distance can be an odd thing to get your head around, and walks like this are a good way of getting to terms with it.

The path, despite being quite uneven in places, gave us consistently beautiful views of Ribblesdale below us, including a vast conifer plantation and countless meadows with little barns dotted about in quaint solitude. The foot-mangling stones in the road weren‘t helping our already painful legs and feet but as we passed the dourly named Dismal Hill, and followed a walled track past a farm and down a slope towards the limestone gorge of Ling Gill, we saw an attractive little bridge and decided to have a rest.

I took my shoes and socks off while we rested and was very tempted to dip my feet in the stream, but thought of the difficulty and anguish involved in taking them out again. The afternoon was progressing now and we still had several miles to cover before we could call it a day. As we rested and guzzled down water in the heat of the sunny afternoon, we discussed our accommodation for the night. In our guidebook there appeared to be a campsite a mile or so out of Hawes, which meant a further mile added on to our journey, or we could stay at the youth hostel in the town, which would cost a few pounds more but would be a more comfortable way to spend the night. It’s amazing how relatively small things can excite you under certain circumstances, but if you’ve been walking miles and miles for days, and camping each night, it isn’t long before a youth hostel seems like a five star hotel. A proper bed, a kitchen to use and cooked meals if you want them, a shop, alcohol… It all sounded like such a terrific idea. Darryl didn’t have a great signal on his phone at that point and though he tried calling a couple of times, he couldn’t get through, so we decided to walk on for a mile or so and try and phone down to Hawes when we took our next break.

A distant Pen y ghent from the Cam High Road
A distant Pen y ghent from the Cam High Road

A distant Pen y ghent from the Cam High Road

We left the pretty little spot continued along the path which twisted uphill and took us onto Cam Fell and the Cam High Road. We pressed on, moving gradually uphill until we turned left onto the West Cam Road, passing a sign which indicated that Hawes was only five miles away. We were still quite excited about getting a room at the hostel, so it wasn’t long before we stopped for a quick break, and so that Darryl could try phoning the hostel again. It was nearly seven o’ clock now, and we were a bit anxious when he was again unable to get through to them. Thankfully, when we took another break a mile or so down the road he got through to a lady at the hostel and booked us both beds at £18 each. It seemed a little expensive considering the campsites had only been charging us a couple of pounds, but we both needed the luxury after all the hard work we had put into the walk so far. The epic thirty three mile walk from Crowden to Blake Dean three days before and the twenty four miles we’d just done from Malham had nearly worn us down, and we needed an easy and comfortable night if we were to be in a good enough state to carry on.

Looking down to Wensleydale
Looking down to Wensleydale

With our spirits raised at the thought of being indoors that night, we packed up and walked on, gazing out over the Wensleydale valley to our left as we went, and wondering what the hostel would be like. For some bizarre reason I imagined it would be a sparsely furnished building, basic and functional with military-style bunk rooms and no decoration at all. Even this sounded good though, and any improvement on it would be a bonus. We descended suddenly on an old track which took us downhill toward Gayle and its neighbour Hawes, both of which could now be seen in the failing light. We passed through a squeeze style with some difficulty into first one hayfield then another, before turning downhill again into the small village of Gayle. This was a really beautiful place. Many of the houses were old but very well maintained with beautiful gardens, and the Rookhurst Country House Hotel in particular was a really smart and inviting building. It wasn’t long before we were in Hawes which comes across as a slightly less well-to do sibling, though has more facilities at its disposal including a high street with numerous shops.

We didn’t have too much trouble finding the hostel, and when we got there I waited outside while Darryl went in and confirmed our booking. I took a picture of the lovely pink sunset, and though I felt tired, beaten and in pain, I was greatly relieved and joyous to have finally stopped, if only until the next morning. Darryl returned several minutes later and we took our bags inside and up the stairs to our room which was all ours for the night, so that we could choose between six beds (three bunks). I was impressed by how clean and smart the place was, the comfort seeping into me and making me almost grin uncontrollably. I washed some clothes in the sink with a bar of soap (seems odd now, but it can be de rigueur on a long walk) and while Darryl went out to buy us some fish and chips, I went downstairs to hang up the clothes to dry and have a look around. There was a fairly large lounge/common room and a big kitchen for self-service. I didn’t see the dining area, but they had stopped serving meals so I didn’t bother investigating. I hung up the damp clothes in the drying room and left my boots in there too. Some of the clothes were still a little dirty and sweaty, but once dry they would be good enough to wear. I stopped at the reception desk which was also the hostel shop and bought a bottle of beer to drink while I wrote some notes upstairs and waited for Darryl to return. I also bought some more chocolate bars and fizzy drinks. It’s amazing, or maybe just amusing how quickly junk food can transform into medicine under certain circumstances.
When Darryl arrived back we attacked the food, used the showers and went straight to bed. It was a shame that we didn’t have a chance to make the most of the hostel, but getting there so late, we didn’t really have much option other than to do what we needed to and go to sleep. It would have been nice to have reached there early afternoon, had a quick look around the town, read a bit, had a cooked meal etc., but being miles behind, we were now on a mission rather than a holiday. As I feel asleep in my bunk bed I wondered if the next day would be any harder, and again, if we were doing the right thing in pushing ourselves to complete the walk in one go.

 

Next Day >>>