Tuesday, 6 December 2011

The Hill Of The Winds: A Draughty Dales Diversion

Rather unexpectedly, and at short notice, we were once again able to spend a little time in the Yorkshire Dales. It’d been almost two months since our last trip to these parts, and after such a gap we were definitely up for another chance to walk the hills and dales of one of our favourite areas.

In fact we had been wondering when our next opportunity to head north might come about when this opportunity landed in our lap. So, not wishing to look a gift-horse in the mouth, we made a few quick phone calls, packed our gear into the car and chose to ignore the Elephant in the room - the horrendous weather forecast. After all, we were hardy souls who scoffed in the face of wind and rain, right?

It all started quite well. Our mid-morning arrival coincided with a bit of a weather window, so we opted for a quick walk round Barbon – just enough to blow the cobwebs away and work up a bit of a thirst – before by popping in to the Barbon Inn to support the local economy. So far, so determined.

Stepping outside again afterwards, the rain had returned and we proceeded to get wet on the outside, too. So we hatched a plan to drive up to Sedbergh while the skies cleared, then take an easy walk along the river. But by the time we got there the rain was falling in thick sheets, blown horizontally by the wind. The prospect of a severe drenching was unappealing, and our resolve crumbled. “Tomorrow”, we said, “We’ll do the tough stuff tomorrow”.

What remained of the day was spent ambling round the shops. Since most of these supplied outdoor gear, books or tea and cakes, it wasn’t all bad. As the last remaining light faded away, we drove out through Dentdale (taking care to avoid some large patches of standing water) and checked into our B&B. We were relieved to be inside at last, looking forward to a convivial evening with our hosts. Later still, sitting in front of an open fire with a large glass of red wine to hand, I could hear the rain lashing against the window, glad of a solid roof over our heads.

Next morning we woke to clearer skies. There was still some rain about, but of a more showery kind than before, with broken cloud instead of the dark grey sheet of yesterday. Today was to be a notable day. One of the statistics we have kept about our walking for a number of years is an annual total – how far we have walked together each year in a boots-and-rucksacks-on basis. Usually that would be around 650 miles, with our best year being 670 miles in 2009.

Today would be the day we surpassed that total, and we wanted to do something a bit special to mark the occasion. So a quick circuit over Pen-y-Ghent – out by the Three Peaks route and back by the Pennine Way – seemed to fit the bill perfectly, with a few summit photos to serve as a reminder of the occasion.

Of course, things didn’t quite go according to plan. Once more ignoring the omens – after all, one interpretation of the name Pen-y-Ghent is “Hill of the Winds” – we parked up in Horton-in-Ribblesdale, booted up, and set off along the lane towards Brackenbottom Farm, from where a direct route follows the line of a dry-stone wall all the way to the ridge.

As we began the climb, wind-driven rain slewed across the dale from behind us, and we hastily battened down the hatches. It soon cleared a little, though, and we could begin to appreciate the surrounding views.

By the time we reached the ridge and joined the Pennine Way route we were experiencing strong winds. Forecasts had indicated gusts of up to 50 mph, and it felt like every bit of that as we were buffeted to and fro. A few metres short of the summit we paused to consider our situation – the path was narrow with a steep drop to the side, and the strength of the wind was knocking us from side to side. Just as we did so, I was knocked off my feet by a strong gust and ended up in a heap on the ground, a couple of feet from the edge. Decision made – if the wind could knock my 14st plus over, Missyg was in some real danger of being blown away altogether! It was time to go back down.

We retraced our steps past other walkers doggedly making their way up, hoping they would be OK. We took our souvenir photos by the Pennine Way fingerpost – one each, there was no one else around – then retreated to a more sheltered spot for a drink and a snack.

Back in the village, the bright sunshine and clear skies appeared so benign it was hard to imagine the buffeting we had just taken, and we began to wonder whether we had backed off too soon. But no, we had felt uncomfortable – and in any case, the hill will be there next time.

Low level walking might seem to be a far more down-to-earth pastime – in more ways than one, perhaps – but discretion is the better part of valour. So we headed back over the watershed into Dentdale for an amble along the upper reaches of valley, a gentle stroll to round off an excellent weekend.

So, mission accomplished. We passed our milestone, beat our personal best and had our own little victory. And we had done so in a memorable way. We had our photos and we had our story to tell, and we had had a great time doing so.

Just not quite the way we had planned.


  1. Great report and photos Jules, good to see that we're not the only one's who took the decision to abort the Pen-Y-Ghent summit when facing very windy conditions. It always looks so inviting on the way up...

  2. If we'd have known you were there, we could have waved at you from Whernside. Even if you did have eagle eyes though, you probably had your head down against the weather and wouldn't have seen us.. Glad you beat your personal best. Looking forward to all the walking stories next year. :-)

  3. Ah so that is what Pen-y-ghent looked like that weekend, it was hiding under a grey sheet of cloud the day before. Sometimes it is best to turn back when the going gets rough and save the hill for another day.

  4. @Steve. Thanks for the comment and glad you liked it! Looking back from Horton afterwards, we felt a bit like we'd wussed-out. But, I can assure you, it was seriously windy! Retreating was definitely the best thing to do, and PYG will be there to summit another day (assuming it doesn't get blown away!).

  5. @Tracey. I'm sure we would have waved if we'd known at the time!

    Actually, we did - wave, that is. It's just the wind was so strong it bent the light. If you pop back up again you might just be able to see us now. ;-)

  6. @James. Yes, weather much clearer than Saturday's torrents. But the photos are deceptive - I didn't take many when it did rain, and of course they don't really show the wind! Mind you, if you look closely, I'm sure PYG is leaning to the right just a little bit more than usual. ;-)

  7. Sunday was a stormer of a day! I didn't venture out on the tops and stayed on the shelf below to make sure I would make the pub safely in Clapham... But even then, there were moments!