Sunday 16 August: Malham to Horton in Ribblesdale

Miles walked: today 15.3 cumulative 706

I think I am about halfway to John O’Groats. Most walkers do 1100-1400 miles and I started at Lizard which added 50 miles.

Today was overcast again and I knew I would be walking in mist for much of the day. I walked through the village, really quiet at this time in the morning. Malham Cove lies a short distance north of the village and is amazing.

Malham Cove

The cove is an 260 feet high limestone cliff over which, millennia ago there was a huge waterfall nearly 1000 feet wide. Now the water has sunk into the limestone plateau above the cliff and only a small stream emerges from its base. There is a plaque at the base quoting Thomas West from 1779 “the stone is very white and from ledges hang various shrubs….” Today, the stone is discoloured, perhaps a casualty of air pollution over the last 300 years. Trivia corner: Harry and Hermione come here in the penultimate Harry Potter film.

The PW climbs steeply to the left of the cove. At the top you walk across an impressive limestone pavement where water has cut deep clefts, called clynts, in the rock in which vegetation manages to grow. I met an osteopathy student called Rose and, rarely on this walk, had company for a mile or so up a dry valley to Watersinks. Here a stream disappears into the ground. It used to be thought that this emerged at the base of the Cove, but dye tests have shown it passes underground beneath Malham to emerge as the river Aire at Aire Head.

Limestone pavement
Water sinks

We continued to Malham tarn. This is a glacial tarn that lies on an outcrop of slate and so does not drain away through the limestone. It was enlarged by the Duke of Ribblesdale who built an embankment and sluice gate. He also built Malham Tarn House, a rather grand hunting lodge that is now a field study centre.

Malham tarn and House
Sculpture Malham House Wood

At this point Rose continued on her day walk back to Malham. I walked through the wood around the House, where there were some wood sculptures and up on to Fountains Fell. Here I was joined by my second companion of the day, a man from Shropshire. I reverted to my usual name dysnomia (hey, I’ve discovered a name to describe my failure to remember people’s names). He had planned to come to Manchester with his wife to see the cricket, instead they had a couple of days in Manchester and then came up to the Dales and he is now walking the Pennine Way. We walked for a while before I slowed down and he went on ahead.

Wainwright enthuses about walking in the Dales and I agree with him. The ground feels springy underfoot (his description but it’s true). I love the dry stone walls, small fields, some with barns, the sheep, the views. Even today in the mist I liked Fountains Fell. The path dropped to a road. I walked past a barn where sheep were undergoing their annual haircut and then started the climb up Pen-y-ghent. I thought back to the late 1970s when I did this walk with a friend, Leslie. We thought we would do part of the Pennine Way using B&B. We managed to find somewhere to stay in Malham but there was nowhere in Horton. We made a desperate phonecall to a couple of friends who were coming up to the Dales and they managed to find a tent and two sleeping bags for us.

On that occasion, there were clear views from the top but today there was only mist. I remember steep scree near the top but the route has been sanitised (for which I was grateful) and there were steps.

View from Pen-y-Ghent

On the way down I passed a family in shirtsleeves and street shoes who had walked up from Horton. They asked me if there was a circular route. I did not think they were equipped for the (easy) scramble down the way I has come up and imagined them lost on the moor if they missed the turn. I advised them to descend by the same route. Good advice as it rained heavily on the way down. Walking programmes abound on TV now, but I think the producers have a responsibility to advise the public to equip themselves properly when on the hills in upland Britain. I saw two women with children under 10 on Bleaklow looking for the crashed aircraft site without a map not knowing where they were.

The descent to Horton is easy. Of interest, you pass a few potholes, some small and also the impressive Hunt pot. Don’t go in them readers, there may be a sudden drop. And don’t drop a stone to see how deep they are. It might land on someone’s head. If you do want to go in a pothole, Wainwright’s original book on walking in the Dales list a few that are safe to go in with just a torch, Yordas Cave, near Ingleton, being impressive.

Small pothole
Hunt pot

I entered Horton opposite what used to be the Three Peaks cafe but is now tourist information. The owner of the cafe has retired. I remember doing the three peaks walk. We registered there in the morning and at the end we were welcomed back with a pint mug of strong tea. Our names were duly recorded in a book. There is an annual race, the record for the 23 mile course being under 3 hours. It took us about 10. In the Crown there is an honours board. Interestingly, the times by the winners have increased over the last few years. A few walkers and I reminisced about school cross country runs and how we used to cheat by climbing fences and taking short cuts.

Horton in Ribblesdale