The Pennine Way. Fountains Fell to Hawes
Day 6. 21 miles
I woke up this morning at 3:30; five days since I’d had any kind of wash that didn’t involve a wet-wipe. But this was to be rectified today with a break from the camping and an overnight stop in lovely Hawes, home of the Wensleydale Creamery, cafes, a Spar that sold crisps and numerous pastries, and a room above a very nice and homely pub in the middle of town. Admittedly, it’s the polar opposite of the peace and quiet of the hills I had been enjoying the last five days, but Hawes had enough appealing amenities that warranted a stopover and besides, I needed a shower. It was no wonder then that after a quick cuppa to start the day beneath a gentle sunrise, I broke my record for the earliest start of the walk, being as it was only 4:45 when I took my first steps back on The Way. Even at this early time, it was t-shirt and shorts weather as the path trundled on up Fountains Fell in the warm early morning light, and I was at the summit in seemingly double quick time. Last time up here it was blowing like the proverbial clappers and a video I made at the time ended up with my voice being shrouded out by a gale - some people would say this was no bad thing. Today, the only notable occurrences at the top were the usual skittish sheep who ran a mile when they saw me plodding over, and I only hope this didn’t cause any of them to disappear down one of the many mine shafts and sink holes dotted around, a remnant of the industrial work once carried out up here and on many other hills in the area. The views from the top, at 2161 feet, were a delight, yet also a reminder that another climb was in the offing with Pen Y Ghent looming in the near distance, and the near vertical looking shoulder on its eastern side that I’d be having to navigate in an hour or so.
Wanting to get up to, and down from, Pen Y Ghent as quick as possible, I made quick work of the descent down Fountains Fell, stopping only to filter some water from an underground stream I spotted on the way down. Once at ground level and on a country lane that passed a farmhouse – incidentally the only habitation seen on this section outside of Horton In Ribblesdale - the track to Pen Y Ghent was longer than I recalled, before turning off the narrow and deserted road and onto a rocky path that eventually led to the imposing shoulder of the mountain, which looks nigh on impossible from afar but from the bottom, it's only a twelve minute or so ascent to the summit and a darn sight easier on this gentle morning than it was when climbing it in a strong wind like we did two years ago. It was 7:15 when I reached the top and thinking I had the entire mountain to myself, it was with some disappointment when I heard voices below and saw a dozen or so guys all climbing behind me at quite a pace. Once they’d caught up with me at the summit shelter, only one bothered to offer any kind of acknowledgement, a friendly twenty-something who told me they were having a Monday works outing walking the Three Peaks. It was at this point that an idea formed in my head about a slight short cut. Knowing the lovely Pen Y Ghent Cafe in Horton in Ribblesdale was closed down, news that made me very sad when I learnt this; the cafe served us a lovely lunch first time around and I wanted to again sign the Pennine Way book that years worth of Pennine Wayers have added their thoughts and recollections to since the trail began. In any case, the shortcut meant I could bypass Horton by taking the Three Peaks path which eventually rejoins the Pennine Way on its way out of the village. This appealing idea was compounded by the fact that the path in to Horton I recalled being a horrible pain in the arse, or indeed, on the feet, due to it being covered in slippy and uneven little stones and rocks. With these factors in mind, I left the summit from Pen Y Ghent down the newly laid steps - two years ago these were sitting in bags when we slid down from the top - and fifteen minutes later with the Three Peakers on my heels, bypassed the PW sign and diverted myself on to Jackdaw Hill much earlier and more easily than I had anticipated.
Eventually the three peakers left only dust behind them as they darted off to Whernside, their next mountain, and again I had this section of the Pennine Way to myself, not seeing anyone until the descent into Hawes a few hours later. With no lingering regret that I’d chopped Horton In Ribblesdale out of my own Pennine Way, I headed along an old packhorse trail, nice and flat, occasionally uncomfortable to walk on but with lovely surrounding views to keep myself occupied with and I tried to quickly tick the miles off whilst the going was easy such was my eagerness to reach Hawes and indulge myself in the creamery. Not that I let that spoil the present, though, and at 9:30 I stopped off for a breather at Calf Holes, the other side of probably the biggest stile on the Pennine Way, a tall, laddered effort to clamber over to reach a gateway to underground tunnels - a fascinating documentary from the 1970’s is on YouTube about the underground world in this area. Overland, there is a freshwater steam that leads into the pothole where I decamped next to for half an hour, to both filter some drinking water and also have a belated breakfast of some more noodles that had become quite a dietary habit since the beginning of the trail, and to say how many miles I was ticking off each day in addition to the exertions to complete them, and not forgetting the heat I was passing through, it was surprising how little I’d actually eaten since leaving Edale. The twenty minutes or so I stopped for recharged the batteries and gave me a boost for the next effort of the day, which after passing over the lovely little bridge and stream at Ling Gill, meant a gradual ascent up the Cam High Road, a hard and dry track that pounded the leg muscles and the increasingly hot sun made the going even more uncomfortable.
The elation of an early start coupled with the navigation over Pen Y Ghent had now worn off, and the change in scenery summed up the deterioration in my mood. The valley down from the high roads now reflected mass felling and acres of land were now scarred and all that remained were the stumps of hundreds of thousands of trees. There didn’t appear to be any workers around yet some stationary JCB’s were lying in situ. It has been said to keep your wits about you at this point due to all the heavy machinery whizzing up and down the road but, thankfully, there wasn’t a bit of it today and so I simply got my head down and plodded on, dreaming of cheesy products to enjoy later in Hawes whilst simply wanting to get to the top of the road and hopefully not miss the important change of direction on to the path above Slaizeholme Moor, a lovely forested valley. To be fair, you’d do very well to miss the junction with clear and obvious signposts now in place and I indulged myself in a spot of reminisce; I recalled lunching up here two years ago on this stage of the Pennine. Alex, Adina and myself had sat in the warm sun, very similar conditions as today as it happened, though on that particular summers day, there was a big, black raincloud that had been steadily on our coat tails that eventually caught up with us and the walk through the fields thereafter was a wet, but a pleasant one. I was hoping for a similar outcome here to cool myself down, as I was a sweaty mess at this point, but the sun continued to shine. Wanting to push on, I decided to forgo a break and as uncomfortable as I was at this point and as never ending as the dry and rocky track seemed to be, I pushed on knowing that a soft and grassy surface wouldn’t be far away, and sure enough when I began the descent a stream of dog walkers came by way and I knew that civilisation, and Wensleydale cheese, was fast approaching.
The path down through the grassy and rocky banks isn’t entirely evident (well, it wasn’t to me anyway) but the odd cairn is handy if you’re really lost and on a clear day like today, Gayle and then Hawes are evident below. The path then joins onto farmland and the early afternoon sun lit up the fields above Gayle in beautiful lime green as I trudged through them, and after winding myself through the narrow lanes in Gayle itself, I was suddenly popped out onto the main road that leads down to Hawes. The Pennine Way itself instead of heading past the houses and the school heads through more fields before reaching Hawes by passing the adjacent church and emerging on to the high street. The views on the other side of Hawes of Great Shunner Fell and other hills are picturesque, and it was somewhat of a pity I couldn’t make the most of them, and their own views, today considering what a clear day it was, and how murky and non existent the tops of those hills were when I did re-join the trail following my stopover. However, that regret was merely tangible as by now I was ravenous and so avoiding the scenic route into town (an evening stroll ensured I did walk this little section later on) I took the shorter route down the road and headed straight into the busy Creamery that was full of coach parties and pensioners enjoying a day out and though the restaurant was busy, thankfully a table was spare and the kind waitresses, despite the absolute state of me, showed me to my table and I sat, or rather fell, into a chair looking like something numerous cats had brought in and no doubt smelling as such as well. Whilst Adina and I were busting a gut on a section of Coast to Coast back over Easter, Alex had decided to head over this way and raved about the macaroni cheese and the cheesecake, thus I ordered both and I got stuck into the both of them with unreserved glee. The elation had returned. I somehow found some energy to don my boots again and walk down the main road through Hawes and basked in the shops and goods on offer - it's amazing what a few days in the wilderness does for you. The pub I called home, The White Hart, is cosy, warm and welcoming and well worth a stopover when in town. I enjoyed a lovely hot bath to relax tired muscles, and then a tasty meal in the bar that evening capped a pleasant afternoon off.