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Some miserable weather on Fountains Fell and Darnbrook Fell.
by trailmasher » Mon Jul 24, 2017 6:51 pm
Hewitts included on this walk: Darnbrook Fell, Fountains Fell
Date walked: 05/07/2017
Time taken: 3.56
Distance: 15.1 km
Ascent: 387m2 people think this report is great. Register or Login free to be able to rate and comment on reports (as well as access 1:25000 mapping).
It had been about a month ago that Jim and I walked Whernside and although we had been up Cat Bells a week or so ago he hadn't really stretched his legs since then so it was a bit of a surprise when I got the phone call asking when we were going to get up Fountains Fell and Darnbrook Fell, he's nearly 80 years young and you just can't keep a good man down.
So the walk was arranged for the Wednesday, weather permitting, and I duly worked out a route that would take in a couple or three places of interest that would give us a break and alleviate the trudge up the grassy slopes of Fountains Fell.
I collected Jim at 8:30am on a cloudy but dry and mild day of 13°c and drove over to the start of the walk via Kirkby Stephen, Hawes, Ribblehead, Horton in Ribblesdale and then on to Stainforth from where we took the Silverdale Road. Driving along and upwards for around 3 miles - 5 kilometres - we finally arrived at Dale Head Farm that sits more or less right on the highest point of the road, a spot where the Pennine Way also makes a turn to the northwest as it leaves the Silverdale Road on its way to Pen-y-ghent.
There is plenty of parking on either side of the road and a little more further on to the northeast but there are a couple of gates that should be left access free. There was no other car there as we arrived to park up at SD842714 but soon after I had put my £2 in the very prominent red honesty box that is set into the wall a car stopped and discharged 3 persons who promptly set off along the Pennine Way to start the climb up the south ridge of Pen-y-ghent.
That was no concern of ours as we booted and bagged up but the very low cloud and a smattering of rain did - more the rain than the cloud - so I asked Jim if he wanted to call off and we could return on a better day. Jim was quite put out and indignant of this suggestion and when the air had cleared from the blue haze of the copious amounts of Gaelic that he had hurled in my direction I uncurled myself, apologised and we set off for the roadside gate that is just by the parking area.
The gate which was held closed by a chain and a lock leads directly onto a good and grassy track but on closer inspection it was found to be a dummy security measure as the chain has a hook on it that slips into a staple on the backside of the gate post. I wasn't sure if this was access land or not but there were no prohibition signs so we quietly made our way along the track and we were soon out of sight on the other side of a hump in the track.
Despite the low cloud and damp atmosphere it was quite warm as we walked along the track passing across Rainscar Pasture and we soon arrived at the first of the two gates that we would come across. This 1st gate opened easily enough and we continued along the grassy track to come across the 2nd gate that was secured by a chain and lock.
Whilst we have been walking along the cloud has been dropping ever lower with nothing now to be seen of Fountains Fell to the east of us…
but at least the rain had more or less stopped. We climbed over the gate and found ourselves at a stone built shooting lodge sat by the side of Fornah Gill. The doors were locked for obvious reasons and looking through the windows there was nothing to see only bare walls and floor. On our way to here we had passed Echo Pot, one of the 'places of interest' that I had chosen to inspect on our journey along to, and up the fellside. There was little, if anything to see, a trend that would continue as we found the various 'hot spots' of my chosen route.
We left the shooting lodge by passing over the small footbridge that spans Fornah Gill and we followed a narrow path as we made our way east and uphill towards Gingling Hole. Either side of the path the grass is a lot rougher with evidence of heather and bilberry that was to get much thicker the higher we climbed, hence the 'places of interest' that would break up the high stepping goose walk and so give us a breather as we inspected same.
Next on our list of natural wonders was Gingling Hole and the path that was running quite thin on the ground by now led us straight to it and apart from there being a deepish, grass and moss sided hole there was an old red, metal foot and mouth warning sign covering the hole. I went part way down into the hole but without getting too close could see that the entrance hole to the system that ran beneath our feet wasn't very large. Without the tin sheet and thick growth of moss and grass it could have been just another shake hole but it's as well it was protected by the old sign primitive as it was.
With nothing much to see we moved on, continuing east with the ground getting a little rougher now that there was no path. The heather was thickening up and we kept to the tussocky grass and moss where we could, where the going at least was a little easier on the legs. Two minutes after leaving GH we arrived at an unnamed waterway that simply disappeared into a hole in the ground that is just behind Gingling Hole and must obviously use the same underground cave system.
The waterway has a very rocky bed to it with its head way up the fellside at around 620 metres and after another short spell of investigation we set off south to try and find Coronation Pot. We not only found it but also found another disappointment as once again it is just a plant filled shake hole type depression, and with no covering to what lay beneath the undergrowth could be a very dangerous place to slip into or look for shelter.
Leaving this 3rd 'point of interest' we now turned to the northeast to make our way to our final place of excitement, Coates' Cavern. Well, you would think that the word 'cavern' means exactly what it says it is, a cavern, but it's nothing of the sort. The only hole that we found was where the unnamed watercourse went from its banks being very narrow to widening out to a fairly large grass lined basin before getting very narrow once again. From the 'cavern' we moved on further up the waterway until we found some rocks where we could sit, have a drink and moan about what we had not seen or expected to see.
I suppose that I probably expected too much and thought that most pot holes were akin to Hull Pot, maybe not on that scale but at least something to see apart from grass and moss lined sink holes with the hole buried in the long vegetation. But on the positive side it has made the climb up the fell to 530 metres a steady one.
As we had our break we could hear the water running way below our feet as it ran through the limestone fissures and caves. We set off once again to fight the heather and bilberry and upon looking back to the west we could see over the top of the shooting lodge with the low hills of Overdale being the greenest part of the country that we could see.
We followed the waterway towards its head, but before reaching it we turned off to the northeast where we started to find solitary plants of cloudberry with some of them already fruiting with their bright red berries sticking out in stark contrast to the green and brown that surrounds them. There were lots of plants but not many were fruiting just yet and the ones that were was in various states of ripeness.
It's the first time that I have seen them and a description and some information on them follow the photo.
A cloudberry (Rubus chamaemorus) is a herbaceous plant in alpine, tundra and boreal forest. The fruit is an amber-colored edible fruit similar to the raspberry or blackberry.
Despite great demand as a delicacy (particularly in Russia, Norway and Finland) the cloudberry is not widely cultivated. It is mainly a wild plant. Wholesale prices vary widely by the size of the yearly harvest, but cloudberries have gone for as much as €10/kg (in 2004).
The ripe fruits are golden-yellow, soft and juicy, and are rich in vitamin C. When eaten fresh, cloudberries have a distinctive tart taste. When over-ripe, they have a creamy texture somewhat like yogurt, and a sweetened flavour. They are often made into jams, juices, tarts, and liqueurs. They are very popular in Scandinavia.
The plant spreads by two means. Its seeds are spread by birds and mammals. Locally, its rhizomes develop into wide berry patches.
Back to the walk.
Once that we had left the rest spot the fell was still pathless and a little steeper than before but we picked out the easiest line through the heather walking on grass where we could and we soon arrived at less steep ground where the heather and bilberry were left behind. We soon had a spot of luck as we came across a quad bike track that was running roughly in our direction but no matter it made the walking easier for a while. The tracks were soon replaced by a narrow footpath that accompanied us right the way up to near the corner of a tumbledown dry stone wall when that also vanished as the ground now got wetter and boggy with large peat hags now looming up in the mist ahead.
We broke away from the wall corner to now move north and negotiated the hags as best we could until we arrived at the wall that would be with us for the remainder of the walk to Darnbrook Fell and then all of the way down Out Sleets to the Dawson Close track. We kept to the west side of the wall where there is a good quad bike track that we followed all the way to the summit of Fountains Fell South Top at 662 metres in height.
The summit is on the opposite side of the wall to where we were walking and was easily climbed over at a point where we could see the small pile of six flat stones that are marking the spot.
The spot is a slightly higher piece of grassy ground that is surrounded by a wet morass of sticky peat and water but I easily found a place where I could get myself over to the cairn without getting too blathered in peaty gunge.
Under normal circumstances the views from up here would be far reaching but today there is nothing to see that is not within a hundred yards of us just now and we could only hope that the cloud would lift before too long.
Fountains Fell Tarn was on the to do list so we now walked on the east side of the wall once again following a good path that would also stay with us for the duration of the walk and it wasn't many minutes before we could see the tarn and turned off the main path to follow a lesser one that would take us to it. There are two tarns, the main tarn and a much smaller one to the west of it and as we approached it we could also see the summit cairn of Fountains Fell away in the distance and mist.
A short walk from the main path soon had us by the tarn which reflected the mood of the grey cloud ridden sky and on a good day would be a nice place to linger awhile but today is not one of those days unfortunately.
Having seen enough we made our way back to the main path and strode out along the good, wide path to make the short and easy climb onto the true summit of Fountains Fell at 668 metres and bears a large cairn of small stones. And we still can't see a damn thing.
When we arrived at the summit there were three ladies just finishing their lunch and who were about to set off walking back to Malham Tarn from where they had started. It's a funny old world as when we got talking to them it was established that one of the ladies knew a lady that Jim knew very well as the ladies had worked together years ago in the veterinary world. They live so far apart from each other but both know the same person. I wonder what the odds are on that.
Now for a little history of Fountains Fell.
Its name comes from the fact it was once owned by the Cistercian Order of monks based at Fountains Abbey near Ripon and was a place where they had massive grazing lands for their sheep that was a major source of income for the abbey.
Fountains Fell's tiered terraces of limestone rise up from Pen-y-ghent Gill and, while it doesn't have a distinctive look or the features that you can see on Pen-y-ghent, it does provide great views of the Three Peaks in all their glory.
There are several routes to the top – from the Pennine Way, Silverdale or Tennant Gill north of Malham Tarn – and it can become part of an extended walk taking in the nearby summits of Knowe Fell and Darnbrook Fell.
The summit is littered with tall cairns and the shafts of disused coal mines and you can still see a well-made track going up the shoulder of Fountains Fell that was built to bring coal from the summits down to the valley.
Many of the shafts date from 1790 to 1860 and were dug as shallow shafts – vertical shafts that open out like a bell at the bottom and need no props or air vents. When the pit became too large, a new one was started nearby.
There is also an unusual beehive coke oven measuring about 4 metres square and 2 metres high in the coalmining field founded around 1807 by Lord Ribblesdale. It was built to provide fuel for the Malham calamine industry but, after 1815, the coke was also used for smelting lead on Malham Moor.
The walk continues.
The ladies left and so did we to continue on to our next objective of Darnbrook Fell that lay some distance away to the northeast.
The next piece of high ground is where the Pennine Way crosses over the fell as it rises up from Malham Tarn to then descend to the Silverdale Road from where it takes off to climb the heights of Pen-y-ghent.
Just more than halfway between the two summits there is the coke oven mentioned in the short article on the fell…
and can now be used as a shelter in bad weather.
Besides the Pennine Way passing over the summit there are a couple of tall cairns…
two exposed mine shafts, and the site of disused mine workings of which this area is peppered with.
The shafts are deep and the one in the photo looks as though the water at the bottom is full of stones from the thousands that have been thrown in by the same number of passers-by. The shafts that we saw of which there are a few had a less than adequate protection fence around them as they had rails missing and the posts were rotten.
Apart from the mining relics once again there was no view to speak of so we moved on once again to follow the Pennine Way for a short distance north to then pass through a gap stile in a wall…
to walk merrily alongside the wall as it ran northeast all the way to Darnbrook Fell summit.
The going is mostly good with wet ground in the low areas and despite the recent wet weather it was easily negotiated. The clouds had begun to lift a little by now and we got a view across Littondale towards the fells in the northeast.
Before too long we were getting a good view of Darnbrook Fell…
with the wall, our stout and stable guide, running out before us way into the distance as it climbed the easy slopes ahead of us. The summit looked a long way off but we soon covered the ground as we walked the good path and as we began to gain height more hills came into view. From afar the slopes of Darnbrook Fell looks really steep, but in reality they are not and the ascent is very easy along the good path.
Over to the northwest we could see Pen-y-ghent and Plover Hill but both were under cloud as were most of the hills around here today but the lower green fields of Silverdale gave a welcome break to the more austere grey of the clouds and the dark brownish/dark green grass of the higher slopes. Finally arriving at the junction of the walls that are shown on the map we found a handy gate that would get us into the next enclosure from where we strode over a slack wire fence so that we could continue our upward journey to the summit that is now very close.
We passed through some large peat hags that fortunately had grassy breaks between them making the walking so much easier than slipping and sliding up the face of them. From hopping over the fence and then on to the summit took all of 7 minutes so that gives a good indication of the ease of the final part of the walk to the trig column at the summit.
Once again due to the weather the views were very restricted but at least we had arrived there still dry and in good spirits despite the lack of views. The trig columns base has been exposed down to the rocks that it sits on and one wonders how long it will remain standing on the island of black peat that it resides on. The rest of the fell is covered in the rough moorland grass that is endemic to this sort of terrain and there isn't much more to see up here apart from cloud and silhouettes of the surrounding and distant hills.
It was time to move on as we have a fair bit of a walk back to the car so now it was just a case of retracing our steps back to the fence and gate that we had to pass through again to put us on the northwest side of the wall which would allow us to walk all the way down to the Dawson Close track on a good path without having to scale any of the cross walls had we stayed on the opposite side.
The final walk on grass descending Out Sleets was an easy journey and we soon arrived at the Dawson Close track that runs between Litton in the east and the Silverdale Road that runs between Stainforth and Halton Gill.
Upon reaching Dawson Close it took us a steady hour with a fuel up break at the junction of the metalled road before we arrived back at the car parking area where boots and bags were swiftly discarded and exchanged for wear more suitable to where we are going next, the hostelry at Horton in Ribbledale.
Despite the weather being a bit disappointing it has been a good walk and if we waited for perfect conditions we would hardly set foot on a hill, so we take what we are given. Jim has walked well and only struggled a little through the heavier heather infested parts of the fell but with a steady pace and rest stops it didn't take us all that long to reach the first summit.
The slopes are at an easy incline so there was no fighting for breath on this walk and apart from the three ladies at Fountain Fell summit we had seen no other walkers at all since leaving the car park. It was 13°c when the walk started and a warmer 18°c when we arrived back at the car and if it hadn't been for the clag making the atmosphere damp we could have walked all day in short sleeves.
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