Ingleton to Settle
Updated: Jan 20
Pennine Journey – Day 17 – 14.25 miles
I'm up early, five o'clock, eager to be on my way.
I don’t share AW’s sense of impending doom as he reaches the end of the road. "The day held nothing in store for me," he notes as he rises in Dent (his last day really is a whopper) "nothing, that is, expect regret and a vain looking back. The prospect of empty, purposeless days ahead chilled me. Days of noise and bustle they would be, but nevertheless empty and purposeless."
Poor AW. At least I had the comfort of filling the empty and purposeless days ahead with Netflix box sets: I had plenty of catching up to do.
Breakfast is a fine affair.
I’m staying in Seed Hill Guest House, a charming old cottage on Ingleton’s main street, the owner making a great job not just of his B&B, but also a thriving plant nursery out front. The room's cosy, the hospitality warm and breakfast is a cereal-fan’s smorgasbord: dozens of tupperware boxes containing what looks like the entirety of an out-of-town supermarket's cereal aisle. I have to think long and hard before choosing Crunchy Nut Cornflakes over Frosties, Coco Pops, Ricycles or a dozen styles of muesli.
Unlike AW, who, in the dying days of the Victorian era, could simply rock up at a village and knock on a farmhouse door to find a bed for the night, I’ve done all of my Pennine Journey booking ahead. And, generally the accommodation has been good. Interestingly, the only places that have disappointed (wi-fi not working, crappy in-room facilities) were the two hotels I’d splashed out on as wayfaring treats.
The affordable farmhouse B&Bs, an AirBnB in Hexham and Seed Hill Guest House have all taken much more care, with fresh milk in the rooms, thoughtful snacks and home-cooked breakfasts that would put most 4-star hotels to shame. At my accommodation south of Brough I was even invited down to share the family evening meal. No chance you’d get that kind of hospitality – or indeed working wi-fi – at the creaking, best-years-behind-it Dufton Inn in Appleby.
The day opens with the 2,372ft ascent of Ingleborough, Ingleton’s mountain, whose screed slopes I eyed eagerly over Twisleton yesterday.
The first time I heard Ingleborough's name was at the far end of a Brighton station platform.
When waiting for trains I tend to gravitate to platform ends; to where they slope down into overgrown waste and there’s a notice put up by the Samaritans. You meet some fascinating folk in these station hinterlands.
One such meeting was with a long-haired Brighton gent who told me Ingleborough was his spiritual home. The walk from the Ingleton Waterfalls, he told me, was his chosen ascent and on the top – amid the scattered boulders that may or may not have once been the ramparts of a hill fort – he felt a certain energy. The rest of the conversation is blurrier; ley lines figured, as did UFOs. But I have forever remembered that encounter, and his clear passion for those few miles of faraway felltop.
Of the many routes to Ingleborough, the ascent from Ingleton is the shortest, a steady climb of Fell Lane before breaching the open fell at a cleft in Ingleborough Common that leads to the final bouldered defence of the summit plateau.
Here sheep graze and assorted parties explore the unlikely stoney plain with its trinity of summit furniture: a concrete trig point, a sprawling cairn and a fine shelter. Of all Three Peaks Ingleborough surely has the noblest of summits. What the walker, enjoying the 360 degree panorama of Yorkshire, Lancashire and distant Lakeland, cannot see are the fabulously-named gullied ramparts below: Black Shiver, The Arks, Limestone Load.
I wander over the stones for an amiable quarter hour, picking out distant paths that the Pennine Journey has made use of over my past fortnight's walking, then head due south down the tussocked ridge that takes in Little Ingleborough before striking an eastward curve to that grandest sinkhole of all: Gaping Gill.
Usually from this height the mile-distant Gill is nothing but a moorland furrow below Clapham Bents. But today's there's no mistaking its location: a tent city has sprung from the prairie alongside it – a mini upland Glastonbury incongruous in the wilds.
A half-hour later I'm strolling among the mostly-empty settlement. This, it turns out, is the annual spring get-together of the Bradford Potholing Club, for which they have set up a winch above Gaping Gill to give members and lucky bystanders a trip down into the labyrinthine darkness.
The operation is military in precision: Fell Beck's outflow rerouted so the descending explorer is not showered on their way below; temporary fencing ensuring the idle wayfarer does not take an unwanted plunge; and toilets, kitchen – even a makeshift bar – erected around the hole, kit ferried up by a squadron of local farmers. The winch-top team are carefully officious: harness carabiners of winchees are checked once, twice, three times over; and after pleading respectful sanity I'm allowed down to the waiting platform – but certainly no further.
Caving is a sport whose golden days are done; the product of an era when the business of exploration still exerted a pioneering thrill. When the maps of Colonial days had all been filled where else was there to discover but the underground unknown?
Imagine the Gill's earliest dark descent in 1845, when Settle man John Birkbeck found the pot's first ledge. Or the exhilaration of Edouard Martel, who, with nothing more than rope-ladders and a candle, ventured even deeper to find the mighty hole's floor in 1895. Or the dizzying realisation of a dream that came in 1983 when Bradford Club members finally made the long-theorised underground connection and emerged in Ingleborough Cave.
But gone are the days when Ingleton was a caving mecca, pubs loud with excited chat about crevassed caverns and claustrophobic water-chutes. The rambling–caving archetype of the post-War years, meanwhile – the Boy's Own Adventurer whose domain was the great outdoors (both over and under it) – has become a curiosity of social history. Was it changing sporting fashions, health and safety concerns or a distancing from the Romance of exploration that finally did it for caving? The tents atop the Gill belong to the last adventurers, hardy disciples of a diminished religion, the expansion of their underground maps and the lengthening of sketched veins slowing to a near halt. There is resonance in the fact that a boulder collapse a decade back means the Ingleton Cave–Caping Gill traverse is now closed.
The drama of limestone country ensures the Pennine Journey a fine, and fitting, send-off. The majestic cliffs atop Trow Gill are an Indiana Jones set in miniature, while the terraced descent of Long Lane is lifted by views east of scars, and west over the wooded vale of Clapdale, giving up its leafy secrets as the Pennine Journey treads south; the folly Grotto and Clapdale Drive, loveliest of the Inglebough ascents.
From Austwick there are reminders of the opening Pennine Journey miles: limestone-walled backways, once stockmen's passages, now lined with bluebells, coppiced hazel and butterfly-grazed parsley. At Feizor there's another reluctant sendoff: last of the PJ's limestone heath, an airy ascent of the common with its sheep-cropped grass and white stone teeth. All around, familiar friends now, are the moors and craggy bluffs of Dales country. Then finally – too soon atop Giggleswick Scar – a vista of journey's end: the market town of Settle. From here it is downhill all the way.
I had chosen, deliberately, to extend my walk by travelling in and back to Settle on the Carlisle–Settle line. Not only because it’s what AW did, and not only because it's one of the country’s finest railways, most of all as a worthy bookend to the walk.
So it is that, skies greying for the first time in over a week, I lay back in my seat, feet tingling, muscles relaxing, eyes – and heart – growing heavier, as the countryside I have grown to know intimately over 17 days picks up pace outside, time reverting to the breakneck speed of the modern age.
I watch as we climb onto the upland plain above Horton in Ribblesdale between the supine lions of Ingleborough, left, and Penn-y-ghent, right. Then over Blea Moor, eyeing the emerging ridgeback of Whernside and the miles of limestone on Twisleton Scar that burned white as the clouds shifted just yesterday.
Past Dent Station with its all-too-brief view down Dentdale, that loveliest of vales, which I fell for utterly as I neared the end of my journey; then Garsdale Head, where I’d positioned myself trackside in the balmy evening sun to capture the 6.15 steam train as she chuffed south. Life had been as it good as it gets, a stillness filled with bees buzzing and lapwings calling.
Past Baugh Fell, on whose lower flanks I spent 90 anxious minutes in a cow-rimmed sinkhole, then the line breaks out into Mallerstang, airy stride-out along the High Way emerging below the eastern skyline, soaring Mallerstang Edge one last taste of Dales drama.
Then the line drops into Eden and Appleby-in-Westmorland, where a beer on a sunny bench ended a day of bluebells and mossy riverbanks under wide Cumbrian skies.
Finally, as the Pennines rise to their high point at Cross Fell, the Carlisle–Settle line veers west, the hills that have been mine for 250 miles fading into the heat haze and memory.
It's just 12 minutes to Carlisle now, to city life and a return to routine.
But I’ll be back.
I felt it on the Pennine Way two years ago, and, if anything, I've felt it more acutely this time around: there’s magic in the high places of northern England.
What, then, of the Pennine Journey as a walk?
First up, Wainwright’s original book is a fine read. As someone who has greedily devoured AW’s linescapes and prose for the best part of two decades it was remiss of me not to be aware of his A Pennine Journey. How much the book reflects the real AW we will, of course, never know. But the young fell wanderer is engaging, passionate, sometimes tetchy and often surprisingly amusing company – a far cry from his latter-day public persona – and reading the book as I walked gave extra interest to the miles.
Next, a big thank you to David and Heather Pitt, not only for producing what is a concise and carefully compiled guidebook to the Journey, but – equally as importantly – for laying down the route across the landscape.
That task was surely easier said than done.
On paper the challenge seems easy enough: just map AW’s carefully described footsteps.
But AW almost exclusively walked along roads on his 'campaign'. And the roads of 1938 were not the roads of today. Instead for much of his Journey, he was alone, passing only the occasional car or coach. Attempt the same byways now and you’d have been hospitalised by Weardale.
Which means the challenge for David and Heather was to craft a route that explicitly didn’t follow AW’s original, but instead felt faithful to the spirit of AW’s walk by following paths he had either highlighted in later books (notably Walks in Limestone Country and Walks on the Howgill Fells) or other established trails that he wrote about (most notably in his Pennine Way Companion).
The route they chose feels about right.
I might argue that the Journey features a little too much Pennine Way (on the basis that many undertaking the PJ are likely to have walked either all or sections of the Pennine Way before and that AW notoriously disliked much of it), and it seems a shame to avoid the two AW overnight stops of Haltwhistle and Romaldkirk.
An easy means of including Romaldkirk would be to head east from Cotherstone Moor to join either the Tees Railway Path or the Teesdale Way then head north.
And there’s an intuitive – and delightful – way to visit Haltwhistle, which is to leave the Wall at Twice Brewed (you’ve seen the best of it by then), take rights of way to Haltwhistle, then follow the River South Tyne to Lambley before picking up the South Tyne Trail. Not only would this route amendment give an overnight stop in Haltwhistle, and a delightful few more miles of river walking, it would also remove the tiresome crossing of Blenkinsopp Common.
But these are suggestions only and would merely fine-tune what is a fine and varied walk.
Comparing the Pennine Journey to the Pennine Way is inevitable given the relative distances (PJ 247 miles; PW 268 miles), the similar terrain, and AW’s links to both.
My view? While the godfather of British long distance trails is the definitive Pennine ramble, the Pennine Journey is more varied. Cut out 50 miles of Pennine Way moorland and replace them with amiable valley rambles, gentle riverside walking and more villages and you’ve got a pretty good description of the PJ. And while there’s plenty of isolated moorland to be enjoyed by the W. H. Audens amongst us, the highlights for me were the wooded rivers, the bluebells in abundance, and the many Dales I'd not before visited.
The other major contrast between the Way and the Journey is in waymarking. The Way has the benefit of a maintenance budget, a full time warden and 50+ years of walkers’ footsteps.
That is not the case for the Journey. Waymarking is intermittent at best and navigation skills are essential. Some of the moorland crossings in particular (Langdon Common!) are exercises in high-level orienteering (though the Grisedale-Uldale crossing is, contrary to warnings in the guidebook, now well trod) and some sections confuse by virtue of complex topography and/or landowners making life deliberately difficult for the walker (Langdon Common!).
But these drawbacks have flip-side benefits: the PJ is, fittingly given its AW connection, a quiet affair. Much of the land crossed is bleak and many of the villages are located a long way from the madding crowd. This is a walk for those who enjoy solitude, and while there is company to be found, particularly on the shared stretches of Pennine and Dales Way, don’t expect to meet a whole load of fellow Pennine Journeyers. I met none.
David and Heather are explicit that – with some exceptions – the walk improves as it goes. Which is to say the western journey home has more obvious highlights than the journey north.
It’s hard to disagree. With the exceptions of Day 3's Buckden–Keld leg and the fabulous walk along Upper Teesdale (in my eyes one of the best walks in England), the Durham Dales are bleak and lonely places, many of the villages still suffering from the exodus of the lead mining industry. That made the journey north a fascinating, if sometimes dispiriting trek, though, strangely, many of my strongest memories of the PJ are of these desolate moors and tucked-away hamlets, where time stopped decades ago and which have not yet been blessed – or cursed – with the replacement tourist dollar. It was fitting that it rained pretty much solidly from Weardale to Hexham.
The journey south, on the other hand, which I walked day after day in perfect sunshine, is nearly all delight. And I’ll be back to visit many of those highlights again.
As an introduction to the North Pennines the Pennine Journey is magnificent. As a medium-distance walk through varied landscapes the PJ rarely fails. But, most of all, as a fitting tribute to AW’s original wander through the upland dales, the Journey that David and Heather Pitt have weaved together feels like the kind of walk Wainwright would himself have enjoyed very much.
Back to Pennine Journey.