22 February 2011

Great Whernside : Take 2

A circular route over Great Whernside, returning to Kettlewell along Top Mere Road
Distance: 7.54 Miles | Time: 3h 31m | Difficulty: Easy

Last time I was in this part of the world it rained hard enough to go straight through my waterproofs and lead to some serious investment in better kit, so a beautifully crisp winters morning brought me back to the picturesque little village of Kettlewell for a rematch. I wasn't going to let its puny little 704m summit get the better of me this time (Okay, so I summited it before, but it was in downright crap conditions).

Kettlewell and Great Whernside

Cold, sunny and crisp underfoot; ideal conditions for getting out of the house and into the Dales on a January winter's morn. At least today there'd be minimal chance of a rain storm interrupting my fun, and severely reduced chances of me finishing the descent on my arse ('cause Top Mere Road doesn't give you that opportunity, go head-over-tit whilst you're dropping back down into Kettlewell and it's a compound fracture you'll be looking at).

Quick links: the map | photos on flickr | gpx file for your gps device

No real changes to report from the last time this route was attempted, being on my own this time it made for a slightly quicker pace and frost underfoot made for firmer footing. Going by the lack of footprints in the frost on the stiles, I was obviously first up the path today, quite possibly the only person, but I'll never know.

There's a wonderful feeling to be had from being the first one out on a route, not one of solitude, but almost as if you're forging a path into the great unknown - standing shoulder to shoulder with the likes of Jeremiah Dixon and Charles Mason.

Towards the Clouds

Without the TelFaller to slow progress with his fervourous photography (tho his hipflask with its mystery malt were notable in their absence) it was no time at all before I reached the end of the path just below the old lead mine at Providence Pot.

This year I'm going to have to take the Petzl lamp, along with a decent torch, and start to explore some of these old mines (the joys of being reckless and commitment-free) there's a huge, and largely unknown, industrial heritage to this part of the Dales that just can't be ignored - and Buckden Gavel Mine is first on the list.


From a mandatory malt loaf stop at Providence pot the free-walk up to the summit begins alongside Dowber Gill Wham (which has to be one of the most fantastic names for a waterway), before veering north-easterly over Mirk Slack and on towards Sweet Hill.

It was as boggy as ever coming up the side of the gill, maybe if I had the agility of a mountain goat I'd scramble up the steep sides and find a drier route up, as it I was up to my shins in the waterlogged ground to the side, the water doing it's darnedest to seep into my boots between the leather and the sole.

Reaching the line of Slatepit Rigg the cloud that'd been lurking on the horizon on my drive in was well and truly upon me, showing every sign of developing into that kind of soupy-ness that means you can't see your feet, let along where you're heading. On the up-side, at least it wasn't cloud of the rain-bearing variety and it could hardly be considered a threat to navigation (as long as you're alright with a map and compass).

Icy up Top

I suppose there's a few things that the advancing cloud could threaten, privacy for one. Reaching the head of the gill I certainly wasn't expecting to, quite literally, bump into (in fact damn near fell over) some fellow walkers in a state of undress in the gloom.

I assume they were changing layers to preempt the cold winds that were starting to pick up, or maybe that's me trying to paint people in the best light. Either way, we exchanged awkward "Mornin"s, as only Brits can do when confronted with such a situation and left them to their merriment wholly sensible change of layers.

Great Whernside Cairn

Leaving the amorous walkers behind I headed over Mirk Slack to pick up the path just the other side of Sweet Hill. Mirk Slack (and Whernside Pasture) hold some saddening historical significance in that between 1943 and 1948 three aircraft crashed into western face of Great Whernside.

A Halifax (DT578), a Mosquito (RL197) and a B-17 (Dear Mom), all collided with the hill within 500 metres of each other, all souls lost in each case. It was on my traverse of the slack that I came across one of these piles of debris, a sorry tribute to the few who gave their lives for the many. It was only right to stop for a minutes reflection and doff my beanie.

Just to the north of Sweet Hill is the path from Riggs Moor and the route that'd lead me onto the top of Great Whernside, a welcome point to reach as the previously gentle winds increased to a chilling, howling, crescendo - testing the windproofing of outer garments to the limit, along with my ability to stand upright. As the line of upthrust rock that marks the summit appeared out of the gloom it was nice to hunker down by the cairns and work my way through some iron rations as the wind whistled merrily around me.

Typically Yorkshire

From the summit it's a brief yomp northwards over Blackfell Top to pick up the path down to Tor Dike and the road to Braidley. As luck would have it I dropped out of the clouds at the stile on Black Dike End, furnishing me with a beautiful vista out over Wharfedale. The sort of view that makes you proud to be a Yorkshireman and belt out Jerusalem (yes, I know it's very WI but, dammit, it pretty much sums up the glory of Yorkshire). N.B. If you're not from Yorkshire you do have my sympathies, but this really is God's Own Country.

Dropping down to Little Hunters Sleets and the makeshift car-park the fact everything had so far gone swimmingly caught up with me as my feet choose to take widely differing paths and I skated down towards the stream, making good use of the native vegetation to slow my descent before a watery finish loomed.

God's Own Country

Crossing the road there's a multitude of paths branching out in all directions, but to get back to Kettlewell and the Fellmobile I took the bridle-path to Starbotton, following the edge of the escarpment running below Top Mere. The path itself is actually the end of Starbotton Cam Road, like Top Mere Road one of the many corpse roads that snake their way through the Dales.

The corpse roads provided a way of transporting the bodies of the dead from outlying villages to the churches which held the burial rights for the area. In the case of Kettlewell this was held by what is now St Mary's church and, whilst consecrated in 1885, it has been a religious site since the early 1100's.

Top Mere Road

From Cam Head, Top Mere Road begins its descent down into Kettlewell, passing though a series of fields and paddocks before turning into a walled lane at Cam Pasture, where it provides an ever-expanding view down the Wharfe valley. Cam Pasture should also be noted for having what is quite likely the narrowest gate in all of the UK, with barely 5" of clearance post-to-post there was no way I was going to get my foot through it, let alone my lanky frame. Fortunately there's a regular 7 bar gate next to it for those of us that don't hail from Lilliput.

As a final note, as the corpse road begins its final few hundred metres of descent into Kettlewell it steepens considerably, and with very large and very loose stone underfoot it's an idea to keep your eyes on where you're going - rather than the charming Dales village below.


All in the route was a hair over 7.5 miles and 3.5hrs to complete. For some reason I was expecting this route to be closer to the 10 mile mark, either way it made for some extra time in the pub at the end - of which Kettlewell is blessed with a fine selection.

The Map

OS Maps: Landranger 98 | Explorer OL30

View the trip at | See all the pictures on Flickr | Or go get the GPX file
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