Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Sulber, Moughton Scars and Moughton

People who know us - or people who've merely seen us plodding across a hillside in the distance - might be surprised to hear that we've done the Yorkshire Three Peaks. They might be less surprised to learn that we did each of the famous fells on a separate occasion, spread over a period of about five months. That was several years ago now, before I had the blog, but the memory of the breathtaking limestone pavements and escarpments we passed on our way down from Ingleborough was one that lingered in the mind.

We talked about returning to the area to explore several times but it wasn't until last December that we finally got our act together. The walk planned was a relatively short one so we made a leisurely journey up north, stopping off for a cooked breakfast at a picturesque cafe on the way - I won't mention where we ate but the portion-size was in inverse proportion to the eye-watering price. I suppose one consolation was that at least I wasn't left in a digestive stupor afterwards as I had been a week or so before when we walked Moel Eilio - but that only just occurred to me now and did nothing to smooth over my grumbling at the time.

Arriving at Horton-in-Ribblesdale, we stepped out of the car into a perfect December day. Cold and crisp, a strong enough breeze to stop you over-heating in  your winter layers, and a bright blue sky with clouds scudding across it. Still bearing the remnants of recent snowfall, Pen-y-Ghent stood in isolated majesty over the village, its profile surely as iconic up here in Yorkshire as Tryfan is in Snowdonia. I'm not sure you can look at it - in real life or in a photo - and not hear the words, "Climb me!" seductively wend their way through your mind.

Our view of Pen-y-Ghent on arrival.

Our route lay west however, away from Pen-y-Ghent, across the placid River Ribble and up to the railway line. This we crossed gingerly, not wanting to get flattened by a locomotive, not even a charming olde-worlde example of the steam variety. Safely over the tracks and up a short,sharp slope we then headed out across undulating farmland.

The River Ribble
The River Ribble.

At first, there were few signs of the limestone that lay beneath the green pasture but as we climbed higher small outcrops of light rock began to pepper the landscape much the same as the scattered sheep that kept the grass so neatly and closely cropped. Views began to open out all around us now too, even though our height gain was relatively modest.

Looking northwards as we leave the village behind.
Our route ahead - on the horizon (l to r): Simon Fell, Park Fell and Whernside ( I think!).
Limestone outcrops soon outnumber the sheep.

Eventually, the narrow, muddy trod through the grass was replaced by a stone-laid path, indicating that we had arrived at open access land and the eastern boundary of the Ingleborough National Nature Reserve. There was a wooden signpost here, brand-new looking and barely weathered, lying flat on the ground, so we did our best to prop it upright in a small cairn by the path. Our good deed done we soon after reaped the reward as the sun broke cover from behind a cloud and illuminated our first escarpment of the day in magical fashion.

Sunlight hits the first of the limestone scars we'd visit that day.

Heading to Sulber trig column.
We carried on upwards from here towards Sulber Nick, a natural passageway between the limestone pavements that make up Sulber's rather otherworldly landscape. The snows that had fallen quite heavily up here and in Cumbria just a few weeks previously had gone now save for a few patches that clung to the shadier folds and crannies of the fell tops but this well-walked path was muddy underfoot, tricky in itself to walk along but even more treacherous when it clung to your boots and you stepped on the smooth limestone rocks.

At the eastern end of the nick, there was a dry stone wall and a gate. A short pull up the hillside before this gate was the route to the Sulber trig point. I'm not really a trig-bagger per se but I will make the effort if there is one nearby. They do usually offer a fine vantage point on the countryside below them and this one would provide views to the north that our planned walk wouldn't otherwise provide. Rich, never one to willingly go off-piste, opted to remain at the gate while I explored and I scampered off across the karst. It was much drier up here and it was an easy walk across the exposed rock.

To the west, Ingleborough and Simon Fell dominated the horizon, while to the east, of course, Pen-y-Ghent stood watch over Ribblesdale; to the north the less-pronounced moorland looked deceptively benign by contrast.

Ingleborough and Simon Fell.
Pen-y-Ghent.
The "gently rolling" moorland north of the trig.

Once I returned from my jaunt, we carried on along the track until we reached the Pennine Bridleway, at which point we joined it briefly, heading south to Sulber Gate. When we'd walked Ingleborough some years ago, our journey back to Clapham had followed this route and it was from this section to Sulber Gate that we'd gazed in amazement at the vast limestone amphitheatre between Sulber and Moughton Scars. We hadn't had the time or the energy to explore at the end of that long day but today it stretched out equally invitingly in front of us and we were able to finally open that small wooden gate and venture into this geological marvel.

Thieves Moss.
Moughton itself in the background.
Panoramic view before we descend.
The gate opened onto a narrow path down to an area called Thieves Moss on the map. The name suggested the ground would be boggy but where we walked, at least, was quite firm underfoot and soon we were heading south, following another natural channel through the limestone. The view from above was impressive enough but you got a whole new sense of scale walking through this landscape, with the limestone slabs lining the side of the path revealing their true bulk. In northern dialect these slabs are known as clints and the fissures between them are named grikes; contrary to the seemingly denuded aspect of these vast karst formations, these fissues often contain their own fascinating, sheltered eco-systems of plant and insect life.

Following the natural channel through the limestone.
Looking back towards Sulber Gate.
Looking back towards Sulber Gate.

The stile and Crummack Dale below.
We were heading towards the Beggar's Stile, where a path leads down into Crummack Dale from the edge of Moughton Scars, but from here our plan was to clamber upwards again and follow the cliffs around above the valley.

It was a brief but steep climb up from the stile to the edge of Moughton Scars but once we had followed the line of the wall to the top, there was the limestone pavement in all its magnificence. No-one can take away the grandeur of Malham Cove and the karst formations at the top of its famous cliff face but in my opinion Moughton Scars loses nothing in the comparison to its more famous neighbour. Certainly, the pavement itself is on a far bigger scale at Moughton and, glowing as it was in the low winter sunlight, it was just beautiful.

Moughton Scars.
The limestone pavement above the scars.
Natural art - "The Scream".
Ingleborough and Simon Fell.
Moughton at the end of the scars.

Like the limestone pavement by Sulber trig, it was dry up here, which made crossing the rock relatively easy; on the flip side, however, some of the rocks were quite weathered and narrow or awkwardly spaced, especially for someone with short legs like myself. Caution was still needed then as the deep fissures between the slabs would easily break an ankle or leg bone if you misjudged a step. Being deep in this field of rock, away from the main trails, you got a real sense of how isolated this spot was.

We made our way south east, sometimes across rock, sometimes following the narrow path along the edge of the scar. There were cairns dotted around but navigation was easy in the clear weather. Eventually we reached a meeting of paths, with one very clear one leading down from here into Crummack Dale. There are grouse butts noted on the OS map around this point so I assume it is the shooting fraternity that have maintained this access.

I had wanted to take in the top of Moughton while we were in the area but couldn't find an easy way to include it on a circular route. Although there was a path that carried on south to a point just below its summit, there was no trail on the map up to the top of the hill nor were there any tracks marked on the hill at all. I knew that Rich wouldn't entertain the idea of thrashing our way across a pathless wilderness back to Horton so I decided we would just do a quick there-and-back limb out along the marked trail, which I would extend to the summit alone. It proved to be quite a rollercoaster walk, due to several hollows in the landscape - natural or not, I don't know - but we did get good views back across Moughton Scars, including sight of an extraordinary dry stone wall built up the cliff face.

The track down into Crummack Dale.
Looking back across to Moughton Scars - note the wall in the centre.

Approaching the summit of Moughton.
At the end of this rough path, I struck out uphill alone, following a far rougher route through scrubby grass, heather and bushes to reach the summit. Occasionally, limestone blocks would provide an easier ascent but sometimes these were hidden in the undergrowth and proved more of a trip hazard than anything else. As the summit came into view, however, the vegetation thinned out and the final few yards were across short grass and pleasant enough underfoot.

The sun was low in the sky now but the views were superb in all directions, making my sweaty - and sometimes sweary - effort more than worthwhile.

Moughton Summit.
Looking south - Langclifffe and Attermire Scars (left) and Pendle Hill on the horizon (right of centre).
Ingleborough.
Looking west from the summit.

The short winter day was now clearly nearing its end so I beat a hasty retreat from the hilltop after recording a quick panorama with my phone (you can see the video here) and made my way back down to Rich. We retraced our steps to the crossroads above Crummack Dale and from here set out east and then north alongside a wall to get back to the farmland above Horton. It was an easily followed trail, even in the twilight we were now walking in, and we were spurred on by the thought of pub grub on the way home.

Making our way back to Horton-in-Ribblesdale.

The walk had only been a relatively short one, half a day and probably less for walkers more energetic than I am, but it was also pretty much perfect. I'd been meaning to return to this area to explore for a long time and Moughton Scars thoroughly lived up to and probably exceeded my expectations. And what better way to celebrate Yorkshire Day, 2017, than to celebrate them with a blog post?

Date: December 2016

Walk length: 7.6 miles 

Duration: 4 hours

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