…in which we marvel at the karst, cook couscous among the cairns and are momentarily miserable mountaineers.
Malham to Horton, 15 miles.
Breakfast and lunch need to be carried on this long day as the only external resource you’ll encounter is the toilet kindly provided by the National Trust behind the Malham Tarn field study centre. Observe the donation box.
In Horton it’s compulsory to visit the Penyghent Café and sign the Pennine Way logbook. Having left Malham at five we made it in time for buns and their famous pints of tea, also to procure excellent takeaway sandwiches for the following day which, although shorter, is even less resourced, not even a loo. Horton has several accommodations including a campsite at its south end. The Golden Lion Hotel offers fine ales, meals, BnB and a charming old-school bunkhouse of which we were the only occupants. All the same, they do like you to book your bunk by phone and pay in advance. If they have BnB occupancy too they will get a breakfast cook in, this is worth an enquiry on arrival. This option wasn’t available on our visit and anyway you may need an early departure from Horton to make it to The Creamery at Hawes in time for a Wensleydale sarnie.
The Golden Lion also has a new 40-bed bunkhouse for groups, which on this occasion was full of noisy, beery, bright and funny engineering students from Hull. Enquire also about this on arrival. If it’s in use, you’ll need to get in first with your order for evening meals, which are also old-school but decent and fair value. You can amusingly hear every word from the bar in the showers but otherwise the bunkhouse is quiet, either that or we were shattered from Penyghent.
Arduous but straightforward. After crossing the limestone pavement above Malham Cove The Way turns ninety degrees left up the dry valley, don’t follow the path straight on over the wall. On reaching the road at 893 658 you’re supposed to turn right then go through the car park before heading towards the southeast corner of the tarn. The corner of the car park can only be cut off if the ditch is dry. Don’t miss the turn-off northwards along the line of stately trees immediately before the houses at 888 673 (NTG p. 81, E), there’s a fingerpost.
In fog your compass will get you to Tennant Gill Farm, then the route up Fountains Fell is not obscure, just follow the main track, which is intermittently flagstoned. You may encounter intimidating-looking longhorn cattle. After the steepish and boggy descent, it’s a surprisingly long way along the road to Dale Head, where just before The Way heads off to Penyghent you’ll spot the parking honesty box in the northwest roadside wall. Navigation over Penyghent and down to Horton is easy but the climb up needs a modicum of loin-girding and the long hike down the drove road is a toe-crusher in rigid boots.
An idyllic dawn stroll took us up the misty beck to where some insouciant climbers were camped at the foot of the cove. In April 1999 on this steep path I’d marvelled for the first time at Wheatears singing among the rocks; the Blackcap of the fells, atmospheric and beautiful. This time they were already nesting and I had to be content with marvelling at the Belted Galloways clinging among the rocks, my favourite cows. Everyone should have a favourite cow. The slippery clints and grykes were interstitially floriferous but, coming from rockless Norfolk, we were more concerned with avoiding broken limbs and keeping away from the edge. The karst scenery was awesome in the strict sense, this is an exceptional place.
A veteran of FSC field courses, I was heartened to see the centre in full swing, although there was no sign of any layabed modern ecologists as we passed by at 6.30. Not like in my day. A bonus was the Lady’s Slipper Orchid in full flower, sad but at least intact in its high security cage. If you want one please don’t come sneaking around here, just buy one online for £29.95. They grow best in cat litter apparently. We spotted the road below Tennant Gill with its cattle grid by the Tesco van beetling along it. The farm has had recent investment and its young operator gave us a cheery wave from his quad bike; both a heartening change. It got windier and foggier; in the middle of nowhere near the top a work party was hearteningly refurbishing the path to loud music from a radio. ‘Can’t work without it’ explained a lad built like the proverbial heavyweight restroom, heaving huge stones around us as we squeezed past. Fountains Fell was dotted with beautiful wild pansies, pretty yellow drifts of heartening little smiley faces amid the sedge. You’re strongly advised to stick to the path up here, but the wind was so cold we risked hunkering into one of the old pits on the summit (which isn’t actually the summit) to heat up some deeply weird couscous. The pack bore Ainsley Harriot’s heartening little smiley face. Penyghent was approaching; we needed all the heartening we could get.
The meadow at Dale Head was yellow with what we assumed were buttercups but then realised were Marsh Marigolds, millions of them, a sight I never thought I’d see. The path off the road was lined with lovely orchids and Water Avens. The strange layercake geology of Penyghent rose ahead, limestone, sandstone, gritstone, steepstone.
I’ve permission to tell you that the ascent of Penyghent was traumatic for a woman born and brought up in Norfolk. There were recriminations, along the lines of ‘whose idea was this Pennine Way?’ but more strongly worded. Yorkshire five-year olds toddled up and down past us as Norfolk people gripped the rocks, white-knuckled. Ostentatiously prominent and often crowded, Penyghent is more like a fairground frisson than a properly contemplative Pennine ascent. For my companion I suspect it was a prize she didn’t want or like, attained reluctantly, the mountain equivalent of a goldfish in a plastic bag.
Resting amid drifts of Saxifrage below the rare plant crags, I couldn’t interest anyone in a spot of vertical botanising. We stomped instead down the long drove road to Horton, one of us refusing to look back. The Pen-Y-Ghent Cafe was a haven of fellowship and refreshment as always, what would The Way be without that wonderful place? I indulged my Lancashire roots with a buttered Chorley cake and showed off my entry in the logbook from 1999. ‘What are all these lumpy bits? – Andrew from Norfolk’. I must try to decide where I’m from, let alone where I’m going to.