Monday, 27 August 2018

Great Whernside 26/08/18

10.1 miles, from Kettlewell, via Hag Dike, Great Whernside, Stone Top Head, Blackfell Top, 
 Black Dike, Hunters Sleets, Top Mere Top, Buckden Pike, Buckden Rake, Buckden, 
  Tor Dike, Starbotton Cam Road, and Starbotton.

As it's August Bank Holiday at the end of one of the hottest summers in the last few decades, it's entirely natural that the weather projection isn't looking good, and it looks like a complete circuit of the two 700+m fells around Kettlewell is unlikely to be completed before foul weather takes the day over, so after a decent night's kip I rise at 8am, the only early starter in the B'n'B so Zarina can host me with a three and a half course breakfast, which will hopefully be enough to fortify me for the whole day, and against whatever it might throw at me. I'm not quite prepared for winter weather but waterproof and gloves ought to protect me against the coming rain and wind, which are already underway when I depart at 9.10am, hopeful that I might get well on over the high grounds before the weather worsens around midday, wandering off up Middle Lane to the corner by the Village Store and crossing over Kettlewell Beck by the King's Head Inn and pressing east up Scabbate Gate, among the many cottages that grew up here thanks to the boom in the Lead mining industry in the 19th century, surpassing the textiles and farming industries that preceded it, and it's the sort of Yorkshire village that I love most, until you realise just how far from the wider world you really are up here. Which makes it ideal for the adventurous type, which we are being this weekend, following the road as it turns to a rough track leading up to the campsite at the bottom of Dowber Gill, where we pick the bridleway as our ascent route up to Great Whernside, which still sits away hidden from view above the village, and as we rise aside the neighbouring valley of Cam Gill Beck, we gain a fresh perspective over the side valleys that cannot be seen from the main body of Wharfedale. The road up to Coverdale can be traced as we rise above the tree cover and press on up well built track until we hit the 350m contour and split from our north-western trajectory to hairpin back and trace a broadly twisting path across the high pasture that leads back towards Dawber Gill, giving us evolving views back down Wharfedale and across to Firth Fell, to Buskden Pike and its companion Top Mere Top to the north, and finally up to the top 200m of Great Whernside, a summit strip that is over a mile long, and thus I'm not entirely certain that we can see the actual summit cairn from here.

Kettlewell Bridge, St Mary's Church, and the King's Head Inn.

Top Bridge, Kettlewell Beck.

Ascending above Cam Gill.

Great Whernside Revealed.

There's a few stone-walled plots of rough pasture to cross as we elevate ourselves another 110m up, passing a rather abandoned 4x4 along the way before we meet the most surprising thing on the trail, and that's the hostel at Hag Dike, owned by the Scouting Association and situated in an old farm at 460m elevation, it's a lot more than the bothy or bunkhouse that I'd have expected, being a fully appointed hostel with its own independent power sources and chapel, albeit one that isn't open to just any passing walker. It would've been a crazy altitude for farmstead up here, a whole 60m higher up than Top Withens for example, proving old time folks were far hardier than we could probably manage, and it's here that we'll have to batten down to keep the weather off as we approach the rough limestone crags that sit around the 500m contour, approaching the rough and stepped path with care as the wind and rain lash us from behind, feeling like the day ought to be terminated early if clouds reside on the summit of Great Whernside. Once we hit the high ledge with the guide cairns on it, at the edge of the wide apron around the summit plateau, we see the actual summit of the mountain, which is cloud free and thus we press on over the extremely wet moorland turf that sits up here, where we start to lose contextual views back over Wharfedale and really need to follow the yellow-topped guide posts as we approach the last steep ascent of the day, the steep final climb starting at about 570m up. There are boulders around the summit that will be our guide as we ascend, though we lose sight of them up the first half of the steep turf path, which is thankfully at the pitch that is most comfortable for ascending, even usefully stepped in places before we reach the turf drag up through the scattered gritstone boulders that litter this portion of the summit cap, a drag that predictably takes longer than anticipated before cresting rather suddenly. The summit cairn and 704m trig pillar appear rather suddenly and a path though the scattered cubes of gritstone has to be made to top it, my first proper summit achievement in years, and done in foul weather which deserves its own little celebration, and we aren't going to get the views we hoped for up her though, as cloud hangs heavy all around, dropping a deep grey haze over Wharfedale to the south, though Buckden Pike isn't obscured for this moment and a keen eye is needed to look towards Fountains Fell and the distant shapes of the Ribblesdale Three Peaks beyond.

Hag Dike Hostel.

The 500+m moorland, Great Whernside.

Ascending to the Summit Cap, Great Whernside.

The 704m trig and Summit Cairn, Great Whernside.

An eastwards view from the summit isn't so easy to come by as the shallower side of the summit cap falls towards Nidderdale, and so a pace across the access land has to be made to get that view, taking note of the location of the gate in the high fence before we set off over the head waters of Stone Head beck, which feels like a beach at altitude, following the declining moorland groove down to Stone Head Top to get our proper reveal over Nidderdale, and it's as grand a view as I could have hoped for while the rain briefly holds off. Straight down we can look over Lodge Moor to Angram and Scar House Reservoir, and to the south east we can look over the forbidding mass of Riggs Moor to the distant highpoints of Cold Stones, and even Norwood Edge, while the passage of the valley can be covered swinging around to its terminating headlands at Carle Fell and Little Whernside, and our elevation even offers us a view over to the next valley to the north, Coverdale the largest branch of Wensleydale, with its own sentinel hill, Brown Haw rising beyond. I'd picnic here to enjoy the view if it wasn't so foul out, and thus steps have to be retraced back up to the top of Great Whernside, a challengingly damp ten minutes, where I can encounter the only other pair of walkers on the hillside, and where the path north on the circuit can be made along the top of Long Crags and towards the shelter at Blackfell Top, with attention back on Buckden Pike as we pace the turf among the gritstone, wondering how long it might be until the cloud drops to make high walking impossible. Grab ten minutes rest at the shelter, and feel the relief of getting the wind and rain off my body before we seek the route that takes us off the summit cap, met at Blackfell Crags where the summit plateau narrow and we can descend to below 670m and look down to the catchments of the Wharfe and the Nidd from a single location, getting a second, but slightly less expansive view of Upper Nidderdale as we go before we meet the wall that indicates our route down to the west, across the high pasture of Black Dike. We've another 170m of altitude to lose from here, and where the path splits from the wall we get the sole precipitous view of the trip, down to Tor Dike and to the headwaters of the becks behind Kettlewell, but as we descend the rough and frequently broken path we sadly lack a view over the watershed into Coverdale and though the way to Buckden Pike is still clear of cloud, the rain definitely feels like it's starting to come on harder, and another three hour of trekking in these conditions starts to feel beyond me.

Upper Nidderdale from Stone Head Top.

Buckden Pike from Great Whernside.

Wind Shelter and Crags, Blackfell Top.

Upper Nidderdale, with Little Whernside, from Nidd Head.

Tor Dike, from Black Dike.

So we aim for the yellow truck that's been parked close to the summit of the Park Rash pass, or the Kettlewell to Leyburn road, if you prefer, meeting the sub-500m point between the Great Whernside and Buckden Pike massifs, and take a moment to admire the construction of Tor Dike, a 1.2 mile long ditch and embankment of Iron Age or Dark Age vintage, built to defend or separate the dales against the risk Roman or Viking incursions, stretched along the 500m contour at the top of the limestone crags. Once we meet the road, the decision is made to curtail the trail and not do another 200m of ascending over Hunters Sleets, Top Mere Top and Buckden Pike, as I'm already about as wet as I'm prepared to get, though as it's going to be more than an hour to get back to base, I figure that I might as well get in some more miles as I descend, and so join the path that leads above Tor Dike to the west, over the high pasture and across to the high wall that sits around the headwaters of Fear Gill Beck. There are so many becks running the 300m down here to feed into Kettlewell Beck, it might be possible to lose count of them all or your location relative to where you are as you look down (there's six, if that helps), and a look back show the summit of Great Whernside disappearing below cloud, which makes our decision to bale from the high path feel like a good one, tracing the route of the wall onwards as it runs around the high end of the Buckden Pike upland, running on over some rather undulating terrain as we seek the rather firmer surfaces that come as we meet the junction of Top Mere Road and Starbotton Cam Road. Take the latter of these, even though the former offered a shorter route back, feeling that it could easily be used for a bonus round of walking on Monday morning, passing another rather reluctant looking walking party as the path crests over 520m to finally get us out of the catchment of Kettlewell Beck and over into Upper Wharfedale proper once more, and as cloud has settled over the 600m top of Firth Fell on the western side, getting down is now clearly the correct path to follow. Thus we strike over the open pasture on a decently firm track, around to a sharp corner and the reveal of another Cam Gill Beck, this deep cleft running down off Buckden Pike down towards Starbotton, the sort of valley that hides in plain sight, which reveals more cloud over our projected route, which we turn our back on as we descend, by now wet to the skin and hopeful that the day's trip won't be more than an hour longer.

Tor Dike, up close.

Great Whernside, before it disappeared.

Fears Gill and the Kettlewell Beck catchment.

Starbotton Cam Road.

Cam Gill (the other one) and the obscured Buckden Pike.

The deep valley of the Upper Wharfe lies ahead as we descend over the slippery limestone on the bridleway, and even as the rain hoses down, another pair of walkers is met coming up, looking hopeful that the worst of the weather has passed, which it hasn't, and we find that losing 300m of altitude from the day's trip takes a lot longer than you expect, as the desire to hurry up is tempered by the knowledge that more accidents happen on the descent. We have more twists and corners to negotiate before we pass below the crag line at 350m, and the last stretch down to river altitude is steep enough to make me glad that I'm not going up it, snaring a view of Starbotton village below and getting some more great looks up the cleft of Cam Gill beck before passing the local waterworks and slithering down the final metres to get back to civilisation. I need to pick a route back to base from Starbotton, a couple of miles out from Kettlewell, and pulling out my OL30 shows that I may have irredeemably ruined it, as this map has endured two of my wettest walking days and it looks like one of my most seriously abused OS plates despite having been out on only a handful of occasions, and the decision is made to not walk the elevated path back down Wharfedale, as the day's weather just makes it undeserved. We'll stay low, passing through this smaller version of Kettlewell, now a country retreat with its days of sheep, textiles and lead largely behind it, pacing down to the B6160 Main Street and a detour to the Fox & Hounds inn is also discounted as I can get all the tea I want for nothing back at Belk's B'n'B, and so strike off down the road south, having barely gotten as far as Calf Hall farm before my camera gives up, drowned after 4 hours out in the rain. Just miss the chance to ride the Sunday #874 bus back for the final miles and feel need to linger on the last stretch as there is no way to photograph the views down or up the arrow-straight and U-shaped section of Wharfedale, which I'm yet to see in particularly good weather, and there's really not much to note along this last mile or so, as there aren't any farms to see, and all we do have is a few scattered barns before we meet the Kettlewell village primary school, quite a ways out of the village. At least we get footways of sorts back to the village itself, built to keep the local kids safe, and that leads us back to the Racehorses and Blue Bell corner, where the temptations of booze aren't appealing as I high tail it straight back to Belk's to conclude the day very damply at 1.45pm, with tea and drying off as my top priorities (Zarina's offer of drying togs and boots over the AGA is most appreciated) before resting the afternoon and evening away and wondering why I do this for fun.

Cam Gill, moving into Upper Wharfedale.

Descending into Starbotton.

Last shot of Starbotton before my Camera died.

5,000 Miles Cumulative Total: 3489.7 miles
2018 Total: 396.3 miles
Up Country Total: 3146 miles
Solo Total: ????.? miles

Next Up: A Bonus Round Attempt at Buckden Pike on Bank Holiday Monday.

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