Buckden Pike From Kettlewell – 12.25 miles
Sunday 3rd March 2013
Map: OS Explorer OL30 Yorkshire Dales Northern & Central Areas
Kettlewell – Top Mere Road – Starbotton Road – Starbotton Peat Ground – Tor Mere Top – Memorial Cross – Buckden Pike – Cow Close – Buckden Rake – Buckden – Dales Way (S) – Kettlewell
A very different sort of day greeted us this morning: overcast and cooler, with yesterday’s sunshine a mere memory. And, as if to reinforce the asymmetry, we had a very different sort of walk planned, too.
For those not overly familiar with the area, Buckden Pike might be something of an unknown quantity. But at 702m it ranks as 7th highest in the Yorkshire Dales (higher, in fact, than Pen-y-Ghent, one of the classic Yorkshire 3 Peaks) although it is a rather more pudding-shaped summit than the designation “Pike” might infer.
We left Kettlewell by Top Mere Road, a clear, walled track that ascends steadily to the north. Though the rise is steady the gradient is substantial, and soon views have opened out over Wharfedale and the village. As we climbed, we saw two Stoats chasing each other across the path – but whether fighting or frolicking we were unable to determine. Away to our right sat the bulk of Great Whernside, fringed with a smattering of late, lingering snow.
Eventually the gradient eased, the path levelled out and we left the track for more open moorland. On reaching Starbotton Road, the track took a long swing to the northeast whilst our route turned sharp left. We lost the path amid a jumble of hillocks and tussocky grass, and ended up striking a line across the bog. That it was wet underfoot came as no surprise – after all, there was a clue in the name: Starbotton Peat Ground. But we could see the wall that we needed to handrail towards the summit and, after a short, wet plodge, we were back on track again.
We kept the wall to our left as we turned northwards once more. Remnants of recent drifts lay at the base, and we found that keeping to the edge provided the easiest going, neither too slippery nor too boggy.
Before long we passed a memorial cross, dedicated to the memory of five Polish airmen whose Wellington bomber crashed here in January 1942 with just one survivor.
Even less-well-known peaks like Buckden Pike can be busy, and today was no exception despite the conditions. The last stretch between the memorial and the summit had been (officially) diverted to the west side of the wall to prevent further erosion of the original path, and soon we were on the summit – a flattish expanse marked by a trig point and a cairn – hunkered down against the strengthening wind and tucking into our lunch. Even on a dull day the views are worthwhile, with many of the area’s highest peaks visible from here.
The route down to Buckden is far more direct. The initial steep descent was made trickier by further snowdrifts, but soon we were making way across the fell side towards Buckden Rake.
On a previous version of this walk we took a longer route from here – to Cray, along the fell side and down to Hubberholme before heading home – adding a couple more miles to the distance. But today we turned directly for Buckden where we took a short tea break before picking up the Dales Way southwards for the return to Kettlewell.
It’s a pleasant stroll in comparison to the more strenuous morning’s walking and an easy way to notch up a few miles. There was plenty of bird life to be seen along the riverbank (possibly an indication spring is on its way, and that the sap is rising) in particular a large group of Oystercatchers – birds we normally associate with groups of 2 or 3 individuals together.
It was around 5.00pm when we got back to the near-empty car park, almost everyone else having already left. As we loaded our mucky gear into the boot, we reflected on a good walk, a great day out and a thoroughly enjoyable weekend, and we certainly felt as if we had made the most of this unexpected opportunity to spend some much-needed quality time in the Dales.