The morning after our short but sweet ascent of Pen-y-ghent, we were all fuelled up on Morrison’s golden syrup porridge and hot chocolate and ready to attempt Yorkshire’s second-highest peak: Ingleborough. At 723m high this is hardly the Himalayas, but it did feel like a bit of a slog compared to the previous day’s hike.
Leaving Horton-in-Ribblesdale behind, we crossed the train tracks (a perfectly legitimate thing to do in sleepy Yorkshire villages which see but a handful of trains a day passing through) and joined the footpath leading to Ingleborough National Nature Reserve. Behind us, Pen-y-ghent’s summit was shrouded in cloud.
Our route afforded us a relatively close view of Horton Quarry, where we could see various diggers or otherwise unidentified machines either extracting the limestone or transporting it across the site. After a hundred metres’ ascent or so (which in reality felt much less, due to the sloping nature of the Yorkshire Dales’ rolling pastures) we joined the Sulber Nick path, which later joins the Dales High Way to reach Ingleborough’s summit.
The ascent plateaued at this point, and the after effects of the previous night’s rainfall were clear: scattered patches of bog, full-flowing streams and muddy footpaths! As we neared Simon Fell, the clouds began to look rather dark and grey and we could see thick cloud descending on the respective summits of Simon Fell and Ingleborough. Walking along the stone-slabbed Dales High Way, we came face-to-face with a herd of sheep who were pretty keen on showing us who was boss!
Since neither of us wanted to end up falling into the neighbouring stream (which could easily have been deeper than it looked, as one of Britain’s largest cave systems lies underneath Ingleborough) or feel the wrath of twenty-odd sheep/ rams with spectacular horns, we decided to just wait it out. So we waited, and waited, but those sheep just stayed right where they were, blocking the entire path and staring us down! Eventually, we decided to just edge forward, hoping for the best – and they were off, sprinting down the hill as fast as their little legs could carry them!
Sheep dispersed, we continued along the path in a race against the clouds to reach the summit before they obscured the view (spoiler: we lost). Nearing the summit, the well-paved path was replaced with a muddy track, which then gave way to a stony scramble to Ingleborough’s plateau and trig point.
By this point, the cloud had descended and visibility was somewhat limited. Undeterred, we found a spot on the western edge of the summit overlooking Ingleborough Common and the small village of Ingleton.
As we feasted on our picnic, clouds rolled in – and with them came an acutely unbearable wind chill. Sausage rolls, crisps and satsumas consumed, it was time for a prompt departure from the summit in the hope of escaping the wind.
At this point, we were planning on detouring via a few points of interest before looping back to Horton-in-Ribblesdale, so opted for a descent via Little Ingleborough – imagination was clearly running at an all-time low when it came to naming this ridge!
An inordinate number of stone-slab steps and a left turn later, we found ourselves at Gaping Gill, Britain’s highest unbroken waterfall and one of nineteen entrances into the Gaping Gill cave system.
Gaping Gill’s 100m shaft descends into one of the largest underground chambers in Britain; two local speleological clubs – Bradford Pothole Club and Craven Pothole Club – winch members of the public down a few of times a year. It’s free to go down, but you have to pay to get out! Unless you fancy getting lost in a huge underground cave system trying to find your way out for free, that is. The entrance to Gaping Gill is unfenced and the edges slippery, so take care and don’t get too close – employ the zoom feature on your camera instead!
In 1845, John Birkbeck became the first person to attempt the descent of Gaping Gill; he reached a ledge 55m down, which is now known as Birkbeck’s Ledge. Some fifty years later, Edouard Alfred Martel, a Frenchman, became the first person to fully descend Gaping Gill using a rope ladder and a candle for light. Over the next hundred years, the main cavern and various other passages and chambers were discovered, culminating in the discovery of a passage linking Gaping Gill and Ingleborough Cave in 1983.
Leaving Gaping Gill behind, we continued on to Trow Gill: a canopy of woodland concealed a narrow fissure in the rock, with a stream running through it. Clambering through the gap, the rocks were damp and mossy, almost slimy, and emerging at the other end we spotted a host of schoolchildren sketching the landscape.
Further along, we passed Ingleborough Cave – pitched as “The Best Show Cave in Britain” and crammed with sprogs, we decided to give it a miss on this occasion.
With ominous clouds closing in, we abandoned plans of returning on foot to Horton-in-Ribblesdale, and carried on south through Clapdale Wood into Clapham. Once we were under the shelter of the trees, the heavens opened – and they didn’t close for many hours! Getting soaked through with no means of drying anything out in a tent was not something which appealed to either of us, so we ended up taking a bus from Clapham to Settle, then holing up in a pub before catching a train back to Horton-in-Ribblesdale! Stay tuned for the last of the Yorkshire Three Peaks: Whernside!