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Part 3: Ingleborough via Gaping Gill - Wot no Stu!

PostPosted: Thu Sep 30, 2010 11:02 am
by houdi
Solo this time as Stu was on his merry way back to Devon.

I was also supposed to be driving back to Devon on the Saturday after my Wasdale break and, given the weather forecast (heavy rain expected), it would have been the sensible option. But when did I ever do sensible? Anyway, I had a hankering to see the top of Gaping Gill; a sort of legacy from a previous visit to Ingleborough. Several years ago, me and the missus spent a week in the Dales. We visited Ingleborough Cave, enticed inside by impressive pictures of the mighty Gaping Gill, a 344ft cavern which is so big that York Minster is reputed to fit inside. Yeah, I’d like to see them try!
Our visit turned out to be a major disappointment. Contrary to all the misleading announcements, Gaping Gill can only be accessed by qualified cavers, but this isn’t made clear until you have actually paid your money to enter Ingleborough Cave and have reached the end of the public tour. The guide explains that Gaping Gill is ‘reached through an underwater connecting passageway’, followed by the sledgehammer blow that ‘the public are not allowed any further.’ Rip off or what?

Of course, there’s always the option of being lowered in to the hole up top on a cradle, providing you are a member of some obscure potholing club and just happen to be in the area on the two occasions each year when the jolly potholers strut their stuff (okay, I’m being purposefully obtuse here and this rant may not be entirely accurate). Sod that, I’ll have a look for myself.

Ingleborough summit was never part of my planned itinerary. There wasn’t even a plan, merely a whim, and I set off from the village of Clapham armed with a compass and very little else. I had no map and only the vaguest idea of the route to Gaping Gill top entrance.
The route begins along the woodland path of the Reginald Farrer Nature Trail at the top of the village adjacent to the old sawmill. The entrance has changed since my previous visit in the sense that the trail is now a ‘toll path’ and a ticket machine guards the entranceway. I must confess I missed this money-grabbing contraption on the way in (not expecting and never having encountered a toll path before) and only noticed it on the way out. I would been in for a major shock if someone had approached me on the path to check my ticket, but I’m sure they would have received an impromptu lecture in return. Apparently, the toll fee is deducted from the admission price to Ingleborough Cave which would indicate the cave has paid for the upkeep of the trail. In that case, is seems a blatant cheek to expect non-cave visitors (the minority on this trail) to contribute. How else are we expected to access the path to the hillside, which is clearly not part of the toll trail? Some people have no scruples.
The trail initially heads through thick wood and shrubbery (most of it planted by botanist Reginald Farrer) by the side of an artificial lake which powers the sawmill, and further on follows the path of Clapdale Beck out in the open through Clapdale Valley all the way to Ingleborough Cave entrance. I passed straight by the cave entrance without blinking. ‘No, you won’t be ripping this Yorkshireman off again. And I didn’t pay the toll for your poxy path either.’ Hang on, I’m getting ahead of myself here. I didn’t even know about the toll at this stage.
A small stone bridge at Beck Head heralds the end of the toll trail and the start of the public highway to Ingleborough. A quick backwards thumb of the nose at the cave owners and it’s off we go. Free and legal.

Thwaite Scars look down on the route from the right and a stile has to be negotiated to continue on to Trow Gill. Isn’t the ‘OS Get A Map’ site wonderful? I am now able to add all the features into this Walk Route of which I had no idea at the time.
Trow Gill is a wooded limestone gorge at the head of Clapdale (yes, looked this up online as well) which narrows at the far end and is exited through this narrow channel via a short flight of boulders. I met an elderly couple inside the gorge. ‘Isn’t it spectacular?’ they enthused. Now, having just witnessed Piers Gill and Deep Gill Buttress, not to mention Pillar Rock, I was inclined to disagree with their prognosis. It looked singularly ordinary to me. In fact, I passed a dead crow moments before which had apparently hurled itself at the cliffs in a fit of boredom. I heard Stu’s voice then, marvelling at this spectacle of nature carved out in the Ice Age as a glacial meltwater channel, and I immediately felt a wave of cynicism welling up inside me.
‘Look Stu, I’ve seen more impressive cliffs on the South-West coast path. And those boulders….. they look like they’ve been fly-tipped there from someone’s garden.’
S**t! I’m hallucinating now. Stu wasn’t even there. He’d be halfway down the M6 by this time. Any more of it and I’d start to believe I actually enjoy walking with him, perish the thought.
In the end, I did the noble thing, agreeing with the couple who clearly did not get out much, before bounding up the boulder staircase and out into the daylight beyond.

The path follows a stone wall for quite some distance across a rapidly widening landscape. Ignore the first wooden stile (it leads nowhere) and take the second one further on by which the path crosses over the stone wall. On the other side it rises gently past Bar Pot, another pothole entrance to Gaping Gill and one which I only found out about in retrospect. At the time it just looked like a meaningless jumble of rocks to me.
The entrance to Gaping Gill is stated as being on the slopes of Ingleborough Hill, but this is misleading as it is actually on the wide flat approach with the hill itself some way off. The path splits not long after the stile, the left fork being the main route to the hill and the right fork going the short distance to Gaping Gill entrance. It is easily visible as a deep depression guarded by a wire fence, although the fence is only on two sides to prevent anyone from sliding down the grass bank and plunging into the black crater along with the waters of Fell Beck.
There are steps to the bottom so that the curious can gaze down into the hole from the safety of a path just above it. This wasn’t good enough for old rent-a-brain here. Oh, no, I had to go scrambling right down on wet and greasy rocks to gaze into the void from the very edge of oblivion. Bad move. I slipped twice on the rocks, giving me palpitations, and when I stood on the edge and looked down into the shaft I had the biggest panic attack of my life. It was terrifying. I guess it was the thought of plunging over three hundred feet down that black hole to the floor of an even blacker cavern below. The Whitsun potholing expedition would be in for a shock and no mistake. I walked away from that crater shaking like a leaf. Give me the In Pinn any day. My advice……. don’t do it. The view from the path on the other side of the hole is equally as good and much safer.

It was still early afternoon and the weather was holding out (just!) so I thought I might as well add Ingleborough to my tally. I passed a party of kids with their probation officer, plus a steady stream of people descending from the hill. I was heading towards the initial climb to a dome shaped mound with a flattish plateau spreading out way beyond that. I had no idea which end was the summit and I decided to ask a couple of ladies who had just come down from the hill.
‘Which is the summit?’ I enquired of them ‘Is it at this end or is that it at the other end’
‘Oh, no’ one of them assured me ‘It’s just a little further over this first bit’
Guess what? This ‘first bit’ was actually Little Ingleborough and the real summit was, indeed, over at the far end. I must have one of those faces.

I guess there are many routes to the summit of Ingleborough and this one is probably the longest and least popular, but you would never believe it when you see the path up onto Little Ingleborough. It is an amazing paved staircase of huge, perfectly crafted, honey-coloured slabs more suited as a road to the Emerald City than a hill in Yorkshire. It must have cost a fortune and is easily the best hill path I’ve ever seen.
Most of the climbing is done in that first ascent. There are many half-built shelters on the final approach to LI summit and I can only assume these frantic stonemasons died of hypothermia before they managed to complete any of them (little bit of wild fantasy there just in case you were getting bored?). The true top was still clear as I approached it across the flat connecting ridge but storm clouds were gathering. By the time I arrived on the summit plateau the clag had beaten me to it. With this kind of luck I must have been Jack the Ripper in a former life.
There was little difficulty in finding the summit trig point and shelter as all I had to do was follow the chatter of voices. There were streams of people heading there from a totally different (Chapel-le-Dale, I think) direction, and many others heading back down that way. There are a couple of cairns at the summit and the one detached from everything else on the western side looked to be the highest point to me, but everyone seemed to be heading for the trig point. Don’t know if it’s the true high spot or not. Anyone who’s ever been to Great Links Tor on Dartmoor will be suspicious of trig points as an accurate summit marker. They built the thing at the bottom of the Tor because it was too damn difficult for them to build it on top. There are many more accessible Tors around there, so why didn’t they chose one of those instead? Sorry, went off on a wild tangent there. My tablets obviously aren't strong enough!

To be fair, the clag did clear once or twice, allowing me precious views west to the Irish sea and the intervening hills, but I didn’t get to see the famous limestone pavement on that side. The rain clouds were closing in thick and fast and I knew I would be lucky to make it back without a soaking.
I returned the same way in isolation. No one appeared to be going back to Clapham except me. The rain hit me at Ingleborough Cave and continued all the along the nature trail to the village; payback for not paying the toll, I guess?

I don’t really know what to make of Ingleborough. It’s only a hill when all’s said and done. I can understand how some people might appreciate its isolation and solitary setting, but it didn’t do it for me, I’m afraid. The views west were obscured by cloud for the most part, and those east were pretty nondescript (although you do get a distant glimpse of Pen-y-ghent). When you’ve stood on top of mountains in the Western Highlands, Snowdonia, and the Lakes, and have witnessed the awe-inspiring views they have to offer, it’s easy to get blasé. To sum it up……. enjoyed the gill, but not the hill. See I’m even doing poetry now.

Waterfall in Clapham village.

The artificial lake.

Clapham Valley Toll Path.

Entrance to Ingleborough Cave.

Does this look spectacular to you?

A pile of old rocks.

Now which end is the summit?

Crater entrance to Gaping Gill.

Safe view down the crater.

Don't even go there!

A load of boring fields and a hill in the distance - might be penn-y-ghent, but could be anything.

Follow the Yellow Brick Road.

Yes, it's that end over there.

It's coming!

And it's arrived - Real bad timing!

Don't think this is the true summit.

Now that's more like it!

Now where did Nev find a house brick up here?

Re: Part 3: Ingleborough via Gaping Gill - Wot no Stu!

PostPosted: Thu Sep 30, 2010 11:19 am
by colgregg
Ingleborough Has great all round views and like Penyghent is the closest thing to a real mountain that yorkshire has to offer. I've said in previous posts a lot of the Yorks dales summits are mundane and present little in the way of challenges but the approaches and the sights that can be seen are what provide the stunning memories. Malham Cove, Goredale Scar, Massive pot holes such as Gaping Gill, Alum Pot and Hull Pot, Innumerable spectacular waterfalls, fascinating limestone pavements, quaint villages all grace the dales with their presence. These are places which may not do things for the hardened mountaineer but when age starts to get the better of you and you begin to struggle in the likes of snowdonia the appreciation of such sights so readily available will become more obvious.

Re: Part 3: Ingleborough via Gaping Gill - Wot no Stu!

PostPosted: Thu Sep 30, 2010 11:34 am
by houdi
I accept the ticking off colgregg, but my report was all pretty tongue-in-cheek just to make it different from my other two. I love the Dales. Coming from Sheffield originally I have spent a lot of time there before I ever did any walking and I have visited most of the places you mention. I love Wensleydale in particular. I agree that the hills here cannot compete with Snowdonia, etc but then I didn't get to see the best of Ingleborough because of the weather. Incidentally, I am not so young myself. The day you mention is rapidly approaching. :(

Re: Part 3: Ingleborough via Gaping Gill - Wot no Stu!

PostPosted: Thu Sep 30, 2010 12:08 pm
by colgregg
Certainly not a ticking off as I feel the same way about most Yorks tops. I mysel have neglected my local hills (Live in Richmond) for years and have only recently started to discover their hidden nooks and crannies.

Re: Part 3: Ingleborough via Gaping Gill - Wot no Stu!

PostPosted: Thu Sep 30, 2010 12:26 pm
by houdi
Oddly enough, I have done the exact opposite with my local 'hills' on Dartmoor - walked them to death. Three or four years ago my walk reports for Dartmoor would have been full of enthusiasm. Now I have to force myself to go on there as I'm sick of the sight of the place. I have literally been everywhere dozens of times over. I now restrict myself to an annual trek to Fur Tor (Dartmoor's most remote Tor) but I try to vary my route every year. I know many people would die to have Dartmoor on their doorstep, but I'd rather hop in the car and nip up to the Brecon Beacons for the day.

Re: Part 3: Ingleborough via Gaping Gill - Wot no Stu!

PostPosted: Sat Oct 02, 2010 1:00 am
by mountain coward
You don't have to be a member of any club to be winched down Gaping Gill (except perhaps a club for the insane?) - my Aunt did it (she's also terrified of heights so she's gone better than me there) - it's any member of the public on a certain Bank Holiday (think it's the Aug Bank Hol Monday?). I'd love to pluck up the courage but don't think I ever will. You can certainly get a longer trip via Ingleborough Cave which is more exciting than the public one but you have to contact the local club. I keep meaning to do that too. Doesn't go as far as Gaping Gill though but has nasty things like squeezes.

The (very cheap) price to go through the nature reserve is for it's upkeep - I can't see a problem with that. There are a great many unusual and non-native plants in the reserve and I personally think it's a beautiful start to the route to the hill and have never minded paying it. If you really don't want to pay, there are 2 parallel tracks in - one on the opposite side of the valley under Norber and via the tunnels out of Clapham. There is another one above the nature reserve goes to the cave and beyond via a farm. You drop down from just before the farm and join the cave track just after the exit of the nature reserve.

Of course, arguably the best track up Ingleborough is the Chapel-le-Dale one...

Re: Part 3: Ingleborough via Gaping Gill - Wot no Stu!

PostPosted: Sat Oct 02, 2010 1:28 am
by houdi
Somehow, I think this report of mine is being taken way too seriously. It's mostly just nonsense really. I would have paid the fee if I'd noticed the machine on the way in but it made for a bit of tight-fisted Yorkshire stereotyping, strictly in a satirical sense, of course. The only deadly serious item is the part about going down and looking into the crater from the edge. That really did scare me to death and I won't be doing it again.

Never intended to do Ingleborough. I went primarily to look into Gaping Gill and sort of only went up the hill because it was there. Much prefer low-level walks in the Dales (love the Ingleton waterfall round) as this is where you see the best of the Dales.

Oh, and I think I know the tunnels. I'm sure I started to go through them originally and then changed my mind as I wasn't sure it was the right way.