Leaden Hills under Azure Skies – a four day wild walk in the Northern Dales

With limited options today , thanks to both COVID house-arrest and inclement weather, it seemed a good time to reminisce about a micro adventure from the some time ago…

A weather window had opened and I had already had a walk in mind to make good use of it. The plan was to walk from Reeth in Swaledale to Ingleton (46 miles) and to take in Great Shunner Fell (GSF) and Ingleborough en route. I have really happy memories of climbing GSF in the snow when I was in the University hill walking group. Mark & I were the first people on the summit that day and virgin slow lay all around. We got out bivvy bags and sledged most of the way back down to the valley. It was amazing, and whilst there would be no snow this time, it was a peak I wanted to climb again.

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My route started walking up onto and along Fremington Edge. It is a magnificent Scarp Edge affording uninterrupted views on the Beck below. I had started a little late to avoid the low cloud which was forecast first thing. This worked well and meant it was lunchtime as I reached the cairn which marks the point where the Edge path heads down to the beck. The bridge across the beck had been badly damaged by the flooding earlier in the year and meant a small detour in and out of Langthwaite, itself a neighbour with the enticingly named Booze.

My route took me though the lead mines and smelting mills on the tops – this land had been badly scarred by the mining activity and not at all photogenic.

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© Copyright Trevor Littlewood and licensed for reuse under a Creative Commons Licence.

My aim was to get to the much more picturesque Gunnerside Gill. This too had been a lead mining area, but being lower down and better irrigated the vegetation has grown back and it is now lush and lovely with the ruined mill buildings adding charm rather than mess to the scene. Shelter, beauty and a good stream – an ideal spot to camp for the night, so I did.

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The following morning was gloriously sunny, a great day to be having breakfast next to a babbling stream. My route then took me over the shoulder of Black Hill and down into Swinnergill and possibly the most beautiful valley in the whole of the Dales which links Muker to Tan Hill. Three LDP’s go up or across this section of valley and it is no surprise.

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In no time I was on the other side of Thwaite and on the gradual ascent of Great Shunner Fell, the inspiration around which this route was planned. GSF is not dramatic in itself, but the views from it are. It proves a great reward for you efforts. As I ate my lunch just before the summit I reflected on how fortunate we are to have access to the modern materials which make backpacking over peaks like this easily manageable. I’m not an ultra-light ‘weight weenie’ walker, but having to only carry 13 kg vs. the 22 kg I used to heft in my teens and twenties brings so much pleasure with, now, a total absence of pain.

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It was extremely windy on the top and I exchange hand gestures with someone coming back down. Now I had just three km to get to where I planned to wild camp. Again time to reflect what a great resource the shared knowledge of the internet can provide. A review of the map did not suggest any suitable wild camping spots in the area, but when I shook the internet a blog of someone’s wild camp aided walk along the Pennine Way suggested a good pitch. I found the wall corner they had used but noted that this side of the fell was well sheltered from the wind today, so looked further and found a lovely flat spot with open views over Wensleydale. I know from experience that my Hilleberg doesn’t need shelter, it handled very strong winds in the Cheviots with aplomb so I took the pitch with a view.

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By the following morning the cloud had descended and I woke to whiteness all around. This section of the my route co-insided with the Pennine Way, making navigation a breeze. I walked down out of the cloud and into Hawes. As I headed out of Hawes and uphill I experienced an odd phenomenon. The cloud was fairly low and I kept thinking to myself, another two minutes and I’ll be in that cloud. Then ten minutes later I would say the same thing to myself, the cloud kept ascending just ahead of me and in fact when I reached the top of the Cam Fell ridge at Ten End the cloud had gone completely. What came next was probably the most beautiful section of the whole walk. Made better still by being unexpected. The view down into Widdale was stunning. It’s a closed valley, the road into which stops early on just leaving fields, walls and trees for the upper two thirds of its extent.

The path is now call the Cam Highway and I felt highly blessed to have this view and to have it to myself. Something else this highlights is the options which become open to you if you are able to walk for more than just a single day. Linear walks allow you to daisy-chain highlight sections without having to find a route back through less inspiring scenery which is almost always necessary if you are only heading out for the day. There are good circular walks out there, but there are places like the Cam Highway which are so enhanced by not having to turn around and head back to the car.

I was then to be treated to the vista of Ribblesdale, now in glorious sunshine.

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The contours that I saw on the map whilst I planned this walk strongly suggested that Ling Gill would prove a good wild-camping spot. Here I’d like to make a plug for the Geograph project, whose aim is to gather at least one photograph from each OS grid square in the UK. This can be a great way to confirm the terrain and ground conditions for a proposed camping pitch. The sun was beating down on me by the time I got to the stream at Ling Gill and it was too early to pitch the tent, so instead I used it as a pillow and had refreshing nap in the sunshine. Then it was tent up, dinner on and heading to bed even ahead of the sun, so I could be fresh for an early start.

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This was to be my first ascent of Ingleborough from the East. I got great views of the Ribblehead Viaduct and Whernside, aided by my early start. It was a treat to climb this ‘peak’ using a path rather than the normal motorway. After a steep initial climb up Park Fell it was then a gentle ascent up a broad ridge to Ingleborough itself.

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It was odd to come to a crowded summit after ascending alone. I had made excellent time and it looked like I would be able to complete my 10 mile day by 2pm and reward myself with a beer to go with a late lunch from the Co-op which was my planned rendezvous point with Mrs W and Junior. Whilst I enjoy my time alone in the hills, I had started to miss them and thus the motivation for my early start and fast pace that morning. I was, however, regretting having left my hat in the car at the start of the walk as the heat from the sun was now actually hurting the top of my head. My solution was far from elegant, but at least it was effective.

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The track down into Ingleton was not as rough as I remembered it and was easier on my feet that I had feared. The range in Co-op shops might be limited but I love their emphasis on both Fairtrade and local goods. I was able to get a bottle of Ilkley Pale, from a brewery who have several excellent offerings in their range.

2 thoughts on “Leaden Hills under Azure Skies – a four day wild walk in the Northern Dales

  1. Pingback: COVID diaries – Month 5. | weston.front

  2. Pingback: Hilleberg Rogen – a review | weston.front

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