Thursday, November 15, 2012

Just past Tennant Gill Farm to Horton-in-Ribblesdale

We awoke to fog and mist.  As this was more common than not, we simply nodded and grumbled at each other and got ready for another day of low visibility and wet clothes.  
A misty start to the day
Today was the day I had been dreading since I first started preparing for this trip.  I knew what lay ahead: Pen-y-ghent. Pen-y-ghent is a mountain and not just a hill, and the name means "hill of the winds."  The guidebook's description of today's trail had me worried: "A daunting climb with a series of steep rocky steps.." Great... just what I needed. 

I was worried about my knee (which had been "okay" yesterday); I worried about my legs; I worried about my lungs; I worried about whether I could even make it to the top; I worried that my lack of progress would make Chuck too cold.  The guidebook did show an alternate trail that would allow me to completely avoid the climb, and I was seriously considering it.  But, there was still walking to be done before I'd have to make that decision. So, with uncertainty in my mind, we set off; if we waited much longer, we'd have run back into the farmer's son from last night, and that would have been a little awkward!

The hill we were on, Fountains Fell, was full of little holes, tiny caverns, and nooks and crannies in general.  One of them looked so much like a Hobbit hole to me that I had to wonder again whether Tolkein had walked this area.
The inspiration for Bilbo's home?
As we walked over Fountains Fell, the fog seemed to show no intentions of lifting. In fact, it was getting heavier as we entered an area that was full of abandoned mine shafts. Signs warned us to remain on the path or risk falling into one.

Beware the mines!!!!
Nessie? No, it's a grouse.
As we trudged through the mist and the mud, we passed several large stacks of rocks/cairns. I was a little afraid to get too close to them in case there was some hidden mine shaft, although they were very intriguing.  Who spent the time to stack them so high and why would someone spend his/her time doing such a thing?    Was there a purpose to them beyond simply because the rocks were there?  The answer: Nobody knows.... (or at least that's all the answer I have)
Because they were there?
Fortunately, the only mine shaft that was really close to the trail was fenced off.  It did make me wonder, though, whether any of the wildlife in the area had accidentally fallen into some of these abandoned mine shafts.  I hoped that animals were smarter than humans and didn't need signs and fences to warn them about deep holes in the earth.

Finally, after we crossed over a stile, we emerged unscathed from our brush with mine-shaft-peril and left it behind us. Almost as soon as we did, the fog began to lift. We descended from Fountains Fell to blue skies with fluffy white clouds and walked along a narrow country road.  Chuck likes the image of a long and lonely road, and I have to say that I agreed with him today.  
We could see Pen-y-ghent off in the distance, and every step closer to it my anxiety level increased.  I didn't want Chuck to think I was afraid or even nervous, so I concentrated on the blue sky and tried to look completely calm (I'm sure he wasn't fooled for a moment because I spent quite a bit of last night telling him how nervous I was).  We stopped for a break right outside a car park (with an honesty box for payment).  I wondered whether many people actually put money in the honesty box.  I'd have to imagine that they did, otherwise, the honesty box would have long since been replaced with some type of payment monitoring system.  I suspect that if there was something like that in the US, most people would "conveniently forget" to pay.

We had a little contest while we sat - who can find the most interesting rock within arms' reach.  I won (of course), and it was really no contest.  Soon though, there was no more stalling. It was time to head for Pen-y-ghent. We'd made really good time in the morning on Fountains Fell, and so it wasn't even noon.  Lots of time to climb.  We could see tiny red and blue specks off in the distance, moving up and down Pen-y-ghent. As we got closer, it looked as though someone was running up and down the bottom two-thirds of the mountain.  I wondered who would voluntarily go up and down over and over - whoever it was was probably crazy.
As we got closer and closer to the base of the steep climb, I found myself lagging farther and farther behind Chuck.  I told myself I was just trying to take good pictures, but I knew I was afraid.  Chuck, as always, was supportive and encouraging, telling me it didn't matter how long it took. But, I was worried I wouldn't make it no matter how long I had!

The alternate route was fast approaching, but in the end, I chose to attempt the climb.  I was more afraid of trying to traverse the alternate path without a guide book.  (We had sent our second book back to Harrow when we were in Gargrave.)   So, despite the trepidation I felt, I prepped myself in the best ways that I could: I drank a lot of water, I unzipped my jacket and took off my hat, and I took several deep breaths.

I steeled myself and started counting my steps.  You may remember that this is my little "trick" to keep myself moving up, but before I knew it, I was about 1/3 of the way up and looking down at tiny people and the path I had just been on.
The view down

I found I was stopping because I was amazed that I didn't desperately need to rest. The path up was definitely steep, but my stops weren't really much longer than Chuck's, and he wasn't gaining too much ground ahead of me.

As you approach the middle third of the hill, it is literally strewn with limestone rocks and boulders. I was very glad that the path through the field of rocks had been cleared for us, and we simply had to deal with normal Pennine Way stone slabs/steps.

The final third of the climb would be the most challenging and the most terrifying for me.  Poles were no longer helpful.  We literally scrambled and clambered over the rocks.  I've never done any rock climbing,  and, as previously mentioned, I am not the most graceful of individuals.  So, there were a few spots, when looking behind me (and down) was not the best idea.  Fortunately, I finally emerged at the top without having developed acrophobia.  The exhilaration I felt was like nothing else.

Pen-y-ghent was the biggest challenge for me on the trail (as I would be leaving before any of the other high peaks).  I had been scared all day leading up to the climb, but in the end, the day climbing Laddow Rocks had been so much worse physically.  I know I have written previously about the sense of wonder I had been experiencing as I was able to do more and as I felt better each day on this trail.  Likely, you, the reader, are thinking, "I've already read this. She's amazed she can do this.  Hasn't she figured out yet that she has been getting fitter as she goes?"  I guess that it's hard to overcome the doubt of my physical abilities that has accompanied me most of my life. The changes in me had been so subtle (at least to me), so gradual that I remain astonished at each new feat.  Perhaps though, this was the day for it. I have never been prouder of a physical accomplishment (or at least of one of my physical accomplishments).  To me, this was like reaching the top of Everest  (granted, it was a very, very small Everest).

I took a moment to savor my triumph, but there was no time to rest.  Dozens of other walkers and hikers were approaching from all sides, which wasn't as much of an issue as the amount of wind on the top of Pen-y-ghent.  Time to start down towards Horton-in-Ribblesdale.  Now the momentary high was replaced with anxiety about my knee.  It was well-warranted, as the descent was brutal - steep, unforgiving, hard.  We saw a young man below us pelting down the path; he looked like someone running down a hill without full control of his pace or his limbs. Yikes!

Because of my knee the walk down took considerably longer than the climb up.  I had to rely on my poles before each step to take some of the pain away from my knee.  Finally, Chuck took my pack and carried it in front of him as he sped away down the path. I think his plan was to go ahead, find a spot to leave my pack, and then come back to either provide encouragement or, if needed, a shoulder to lean upon. I was grateful for the encouragement and thankfully didn't need the shoulder.
A look back...
The remainder of our walk to Horton was essentially over small rolling hills. I'd be so thankful for the ever-so-brief uphill sections and then curse the downhills. But, I couldn't curse the views. The countryside was gorgeous.  Again, I couldn't really believe we were half way through November. There was still plenty of green grass to be seen.
Limestone outcrop

Horton-in-Ribblesdale was not a fascinating town/village despite the impressive sounding name. We had been looking forward to stopping by the Pen-y-ghent Cafe, which was touted in the guidebook as being very walker friendly, but it was closed for the season. We couldn't even sign the guest book.  There was a sign on the door saying we could send them a letter to let them know we'd been through, and they could then note us in the guest book. We passed on that.  

We were now tired, what a surprise, and ready to be able to put our feet up. Although I'd tried to get a mobile signal throughout the day to make a reservation at a B&B, I'd had no luck. So, we sat in the parking lot of the Golden Lion pub and called to reserve a spot.  The lady asked when we thought we'd arrive, and I said "well, we're right outside now..."  Fortunately she was kind and let us check in right away... to the tiniest room ever!

There was barely walking space on either side of the bed and the TV was minuscule. But, we weren't going to complain. There was a bed and a shower and a pub downstairs where we could eat.  As I lay on the bed with my knees propped up, I had a big grin on my face. What a day!  


  1. Wow. That's great Ruth. I'm glad you chose the more difficult route over, rather than around. Sounds like a very successful day.


    P.S. I would have liked to have seen a picture of the "most interesting rock" ...although in retrospect it was probably Pen-y-ghent.

  2. Just for you Craig! I've gone back and added a picture of the intriguing cairns...