Walk 1926 - printer friendly version
Pen-y-ghent & Littondale Walk
Author - Stephen Starkey
Length - 16.0 miles / 26 km
Ascent - 2145 feet / 650 metres
Grade - hard
Start - OS grid reference SD906741
Lat 54.162618 + Long -2.1454569
Postcode BD23 5QJ (approx. location only)
A full day out on a long Yorkshire Dales circular walk from the tranquil and beautiful Littondale, crossing wild moorland including an ascent of Pen-y-ghent and a trip to Hull Pot. For the most part, you will have the hills to yourself. The next time you are stuck in a queue behind the stream of coaches and caravans fighting their way to the honeypots of Wharfedale, try taking a "wrong turn" just after Kilnsey. As if by magic, all the traffic will disappear and you will be on the lovely, but narrow, lanes of Littondale - Wharfedale's unknown sibling. The narrow lanes do a magnificent job of dissuading the tourists from venturing this way, leaving a tranquil, unspoilt and beautiful dale to explore. What is more, there are paths galore to help you and, with a bit of planning, you can even use Littondale as a base to explore the other more popular areas hereabouts from a different angle. So go on, try the wrong turn - you won't regret it and you may well find yourself taking the same wrong turn many more times.
This is not a walk for those socialites wanting to walk and meet people. We did the walk on a Sunday in glorious weather. If you ignore the section of the route shared with the circular walk from Horton-in-Ribblesdale to Pen-y-ghent and back that had the predictable masses out to "do Pen-y-ghent", we met 1 other walker and 2 farmers all day - and the other walker expressed his astonishment at meeting anybody else. The local sheep population were surprised, curious and wary (all at the same time) that these two legged things had come to see their pad. Get the idea that it is peaceful round here? Significant parts of the route along Foxup Moor are very wet underfoot and some crossing of deep peat bogs is involved so gaiters are strongly recommended. Virtually all the worst bits can be avoided by deviating from the "path" by 25m or so.
There is no car park in Litton (grid ref. SD 906741) but some roadside parking is available. However, the lanes are narrow so please be considerate. Assuming you park somewhere near the village pub, head West along the road until a fingerpost points down a lane for a path to the footbridge. In honesty, this lane looks more like a private drive. At the bottom of the lane, a five bar gate on the right leads to a private cottage. Next to this gate is a small pedestrian gate that looks as though it leads in to the secluded gardens of the cottage. In fact it leads in to a small field and the footbridge across the picturesque River Skirfare then becomes apparent.
Once across the bridge, bear left on a path that swings round past East Garth and then past the farmstead of Spittle Croft before emerging at a path junction adjacent to Skirfare Bridge. Continue West from the bridge on the obvious path. After about 100m will see a fingerpost pointing half right on a path to Nether Hesleden - this is the return route. For now though continue ahead on the main path that starts to climb the lower slopes of Cow Close Fell. Technically, this path is a RUPP, however the poor condition of a number of gates makes them very difficult to open for walkers to pass through, let alone vehicles. So, although the difficulty with the gates can become frustrating, at least it prevents the 4x4 crowds from coming this way.
This path continues Westwards for some distance, tracking above Pen-y-ghent Gill and below Dawsons Close and eventually the foothills of Fountains Fell. Views of Pen-y-ghent from "the other side" open up and reveal the full might of one of Yorkshire's Three Peaks. When the path emerges on to the minor Pen-y-ghent Road, continue in a South West direction for a further 2km until the fingerpost points you to the right on the Pennine Way.
This section of the Pennine Way has been extensively maintained over the years and so makes for easy going. After 1km the path known as Long Lane from Helwith Bridge joins from the left. Continue ahead here, still on the Pennine Way. This section is very wet underfoot but duckboards are provided across the worst sections. Shortly after crossing a stone step wall stile you will arrive at the point where the path from Horton and Brackenbottom comes in from the left and the start of the section of the route where you will likely meet other walkers.
Continue ahead on the Pennine Way as it climbs quite steeply now up the slopes of the distinctive and majestic Pen-y-ghent. The lower and upper stages of this climb have been pitched with stone steps. The middle section involves a short stretch of easy scrambling. About 400m after getting to the top of the upper pitched section, you will arrive at the summit of Pen-y-ghent - one of Yorkshire's big three. In case you hadn't already worked it out, you will now realise how apt the name of Pen-y-ghent is, being Norse for Hill Of The Wind.
From the summit, follow the Pennine Way signs to descend to the NW along the top of the crest. When the path swings back left at grid ref SD837742, there is an option to shorten the walk by about 1km by continuing ahead on a clear path used as path of the Yorkshire Three Peaks challenge walk. For the main route however, continue to descend by means of the Pennine Way to a path junction at grid ref SD823742. Here the Pennine Way swings left (and the majority will follow it) back to Horton-in-Ribblesdale.
At this junction, turn right along a clear path signed to Foxup. After a short distance you will arrive at the impressive Hull Pot. Under normal circumstances this is just "a big hole in the ground" where you can hear the water flowing in to the cave system below, but it is difficult to see the water. After a period of prolonged rain, when the streams hereabouts are in spate, Hull Pot is an altogether different sight.
To continue the walk, just beyond the Eastern end of Hull Pot you will see a ladder stile to cross the wall. This stile is currently (Feb 07) missing some rungs on the far side so the nearby gate may be a better option. Once across the wall, follow the fairly obvious grass track. When you get to the wall at grid ref SD828747, a track joins from the right. This is the Yorkshire Three Peaks path identified earlier as a possible short cut. Ignore the more obvious looking path that leads off half left and follow the path immediately to the left of the wall.
The next 4.5km need to be negotiated with due care as there are a lot of deep peat bogs along this section. The worst occur in the part between this path junction and the point where a path descending from Plover Hill joins from the right. The worst sections can be avoided by deviating from the 'path' by 20-25m or so but it really is a case of watching where you are going and picking the best route. Eventually you will start to descend towards Foxup and Foxup Beck. On getting to the beck, do not cross Foxup Bridge but instead take the waymarked path through the gate on the right to follow the Southern bank of the infant River Skirfare.
The gates / stiles at Halton Gill Bridge are on the narrow side of skinny. Once you've found a way to squeeze through them, the walking continues along the bottom of one of the most tranquil areas in the Yorkshire Dales. If at any point you are unsure of the path, basically aiming to the lower side of the series of barns will keep you on the right track. Eventually you will arrive at the farmsteads of Nether Hesleden. Here some fencing work in progress may mean having to deviate from the marked paths and follow the driveways instead for 100m or so. After following Pen-y-ghent Gill for a while the path veers away to the South East to lead back to the fingerpost seen on the outward route from where it is a case of simply reversing the outward route back to the car.