Malham to Dale Head Back to Pennine Way index Horton to Hawes

The Walk

Most "through hikers" tackling the Pennine Way in one journey will add this five mile section to the previous one starting from Malham, thus walking from Malham to Horton in a single day. It does, however, make the walk a considerable undertaking and, for those walkers like me who collect these walks in bits, a logistical nightmare too. While I expect that most of you will tackle Malham to Horton in one day, I broke the journey at Dale Head and made this five-mile section a separate walk, so that's the way I shall describe it.

This section is, by common consent, quite special. Its highlight is the mountain of Pen-y-Ghent, elevation 2273 ft, and thus the highest ground reached so far along the route. Pen-y-Ghent is a splendidly isolated lump of a hill, with its distinct whaleback shape that breaks on its southern slopes into two fearsome-looking terraces. The terraces are sills of rock; the lower one is of limestone, the upper one of gritstone. Apart from the gritstone cap of the hill, most of the scenery hereabouts owes its beauty and its quirkiness to the limestone bedrock. The route passes three potholes, two of them nationally famous; it also adopts, on its way down into Horton, one of Britain's most delightful "green lanes". Horton Scar lane is archetypal Yorkshire Dales scenery of drystone walls, green pastures, stone barns, limestone pavements and big skies. No-one would be surprised to bump into James Herriot around the next corner.

Horton is the obvious base for the walk; indeed, since the village is on the rail network this expedition can form an afternoon walk in reach of most of Britain's northern cities. The one bugbear is that one has to walk from Horton to Dale Head for the start of the walk, and that around half a mile of the outward walk to the start is along the very route you'll have to come back along. No cheating, now; Dale Head to Churn Milk Hole mustn't be missed out!

Walk Statistics:
Length: 4.86 miles / 7.81 km
Total ascent: 904 ft / 275 m
Total descent: 1528 ft / 466 m
Estimated time: 1 hrs 51 mins

Map:  OS 1:25000 Outdoor Leisure 2 (Yorkshire Dales, south and west)

Click on any thumbnail image in this gallery to display the corresponding full size image. The images are access protected through a cgi script to prevent hotlinking. If you encounter problems while trying to view the full size images, please read the access advice page.

Dale Head

If you've walked here from Malham and are continuing to Horton in a single expedition, it's time to ignore the ache in your legs and begin the ascent once more. Turn right for the farm track. If you've come over from Horton in the morning the prospect is even more annoying -  you must, having reached the previous end-point of Dale Head, turn round and retrace your steps. The track passes Dale Head Farm and rises towards the south ridge of Pen-y-Ghent which it reaches at Churn Milk Hole, half a kilometre to the west and eighty feet higher.

The start of the walk at Dale Head;  Dale Head farm track;  Pen-y-Ghent

Dale Head Farm, and the track rising to Churn Milk Hole

Churn Milk Hole

Churn Milk Hole;  the southern profile of Pen-y-Ghent;  looking back down the track

There's nothing terribly interesting about Churn Milk Hole; it looks just like an abandoned quarry and it's only the lack of a supermarket trolley, an old mattress and a burn-out engine casing lying inside that persuades you otherwise. Turn right and head for Pen-y-Ghent. It's a 900 ft climb to the summit from here and the fell looks daunting from this angle. For about 800 yards there is little in the way of ascent; the path merely meanders across the grass. The course of the path looks artificial and is so; major repairs were being carried out in 1988, when I first walked this section.


The south ridge of Pen-y-Ghent

So we come to Pen-y-Ghent, the first decent mountain on the route. The origin of the name is a mystery; it sounds Welsh, but what is a mountain in Yorkshire doing with a Welsh name?


As the ascent steepens the lower of the two cliffs that break the south ridge looms above you, but you will see now that the path ascends diagonally up to the right, avoiding all difficulties and bypassing the limestone wall to the east.

Looking back at Churn Milk Hole;  above the limestone sill;  looking northeast towards Littondale

Directly you reach the shelf above the limestone sill there is another slope leading up to the base of the second (gritstone) cliff. Once again, you will see that the path ascends diagonally to the right. A fan of gritstone scree has washed down to the top of the limestone cliff and the rock changes quite abruptly; the point at which the accompanying drystone wall changes from light, fine-grained limestone to dark, coarse-grained gritstone is unmistakable.

Rock staircase ascending the gritstone cliff

The gritstone rubble has been usefully employed here to make a flight of stone steps up which the path ascends. It's hard work but straightforward; there is a very mild scramble right near the top. Suddenly you've made it, and a shallow slope leads away northwards towards the fell's summit.

The ascent path from the top of the gritstone cliff;  the summit dome;  view towards Ingleborough

With the change in rock type comes the accompanying change in vegetation; the grass is rougher and drabber, and poorly drained. Muddy pools and areas of peat bog appear to either side, reminding you that you're approaching Britain's main watershed once more. Over to the northeast the valley of Penyghent Gill drains into Littondale, towards the Wharfe and the North Sea; to the west is the Ribble, heading into the Irish Sea on the Lancashire coast.

Peat groughs on the summit dome;  the path ascending from the south

Summit ridge to Plover Hill;  Stiles at the summit;  the summit cairn

The summit of Pen-y-Ghent is a curious place; virtually flat, with the drystone wall running along the ridge ever northward in the direction of Plover Hill. A pair of stiles - testament to the amount of pedestrian traffic up here - crosses the stone wall to the western side of the watershed and the drainage system of the Ribble. A small cairn marks the nominal summit of the hill.

View westwards to Ingleborough;  view northwestwards to Whernside

The view is glorious, of course. A good proportion of Northern England can be seen from this summit. To the east is Fountains Fell; to the west and northwest are the other principal summits of the Yorkshire Dales National Park, Ingleborough and Whernside. There is a recognised challenge walk, the Three Peaks, which involves climbing all three in a single day, starting from and finishing at the Pen-y-Ghent Cafe in Horton. The distance is about 35 miles

The Pennine Way descending to the northwest

It would be difficult to get lost on Pen-y-Ghent's summit even in mist. A broad, stony path leads away from the summit cairn to the north-northwest, dropping gradually but inexorably. The path makes clever use of a discontinuity in both the gritstone and limestone sills. About half a mile from the summit, more or less at the 1900ft contour, the path turns sharp left to descend the moorland slope towards Horton.

Descent path from Pen-y-Ghent

Turning point;  looking back at the fell;  PW to Horton

Ingleborough in the distance;  Pen-y-Ghent

Descending the moorland slope towards Hunt Pot

The moorland descent path is straightforward; firm, well-drained and possessed of glorious views apart from the limestone quarry on the other side of Horton. This path, like the ascent route up from Churn Milk Hole, is artificial; it was being laid when I first walked this section in 1988 and is a vast improvement on the churned-up, muddy scar that existed before. It's a sad fact that the combined pedestrian traffic of the Pennine Way and the Three Peaks walk was more than the terrain could bear; the fellside simply eroded away. The eroded patch has regenerated and the new path, a layer of limestone gravel on a mat of industrial-grade nylon sheeting, is resisting the relentless tread of boots far more successfully.

The Pennine Way above Hunt Pot

Almost a mile from the turning below Pen-y-Ghent's summit, the path reaches the swallow-hole of Hunt Pot.

Hunt Pot

Ingleborough from the path near Hunt Pot

If you're not tired of limestone scenery by now - and if you are, you're probably tired of scenery anyway - you should certainly visit Hunt Pot, a short way off the path to the left.

Three views of Hunt Pot

Hunt Pot is an evil slit in the Earth's crust. There's no other way to describe it. It's not a feature you can be indifferent to: its appearance will either delight you or terrify you. It is entirely unfenced and can be safely approached only from the north (i.e. directly from the path). In any other direction there's a nice, steep grassy slope waiting to plunge the unwary and foolish into the pot's 200ft depths. If you fall down here, it won't be worth anyone looking for the bits. So, don't muck about; don't let dogs or children anywhere near it; don't panic any sheep that happen to be in the vicinity. And, if you fancy standing on that nice limestone shelf just to the left of the abyss to get a good look in, remember that wet limestone is more slippery than ice.

A Hunt Pot portfolio

Once you've got as close to Hunt Pot as you think is prudent (and for most people that's not terribly close), return to the path and follow it to the west. Within a couple of hundred yards you will notice the dry valley of Horton Scar, pocked with limestone outcrops, dipping away to your left. The Pennine Way follows this on the western side via Horton Scar Lane, but once you reach the path junction you should not miss the opportunity to have a look at the area's other great natural wonder - Hull Pot. Turn right, and walk north for 300 yards.

Horton Scar from above;  looking back at Pen-y-Ghent

Hull Pot

The path junction;  Hull Pot from the southeast corner

Hull Pot has a much more benign appearance than Hunt Pot, but is very much larger. In fact, at roughly 300ft long by 60ft wide by 60ft deep, it is the largest natural hole in Britain. The very effort of working out its volume in cubic metres makes you whimper.

A Hull Pot portfolio

Hull Pot has a nice, flat, gravel floor but there is no way down the sheer sides for mere mortals like us. You may, if you're lucky, spot a couple of rock climbers abseiling down or tackling the vertical walls, just like at Malham Cove. Be content to walk round, take a few snaps, and marvel at the watercourse that falls down the north wall and promptly vanishes into the gravel bed. Once you take leave of the pot, walk back to the path junction and continue straight on, along Horton Scar Lane.

Horton Scar Lane

Horton Scar

Horton Scar Lane runs in a south-southwesterly direction between twin walls for the last two miles of the walk, and is Yorkshire Dales scenery in a nutshell. To your left is a nameless dry valley whose scenic beauty ought to be sung loudly in the guidebooks; oddly, it never gets a mention despite rivalling Malham for visual interest. The only name on the map is Horton Scar, although the farm at the foot is called Brackenbottom and so Brackendale might also be appropriate. The stream that once flowed here would have made a series of spectacular leaps over three successive limestone sills. There is no right of way into the pasture though I confess to crossing a breach in the wall for a closer look.

Horton Scar Lane;  Horton Scar;  Horton Scar lane

Three views of Horton Scar lane

The Pennine Way, Horton Scar Lane

Horton Scar lane is an ancient drove road, along which cattle and sheep would have been taken to market. In the reverse direction it continues northeast of Hull Pot and crosses the watershed, linking eventually with Littondale. It drops through the limestone pastures above Horton, twisting and turning, rising and falling a little, then gradually veering southwest to come down to the village.

Approaching Horton-in-Ribblesdale

Pen-y-Ghent;  the path junction;  Brackenbottom Lane

Just before the village the Way comes to the junction with Brackenbottom Lane, another public footpath to Pen-y-Ghent's south ridge and the established route of the Three Peaks walk.


Pen-y-Ghent retrospective;  the last few yards into Horton;  the Pen-y-Ghent cafe

So you come to Horton-in-Ribblesdale, a charming little village and a major stopover on the Pennine Way. It has, by custom and practice, become a waypoint for rest, recuperation, restocking, information and gossip. The Pen-y-Ghent Cafe, midway between the two pubs, is an essential calling-in point; a magnet for walkers, climbers, cavers and cyclists, it fairly bustles with outdoor types and the atmosphere is usually lively and convivial. The menu is tailored to suit; the cafe is famous for its pints of tea and more than one guidebook writer praises its all-day breakfasts and Mars Bar 'n Chips specials.

Horton-in-Ribblesdale;  the Crown Hotel;  Brants Gill

Of course you'll be stopping in the village, either overnight or to catch the train. Horton's presence on the rail network makes it surprisingly handy; Leeds is just seventy-five minutes away and it's only four hours from London.

Footbridge over the Ribble;  cottages by the bridge;  river meadows

The Way turns northwards through Horton, passing the cafe and crossing the bridge over Brants Gill to reach the Crown Hotel. The road turns left here across the Ribble, for the railway halt and for Hawes, via Ribblehead; the Pennine Way turns right, to pass the pub before swinging left again into Harber Scar Lane. But that's for tomorrow.

The Ribble north of Horton;  Horton railway station

Horton and Pen-y-Ghent from the station

  Leeds - Settle - Horton - Carlisle rail timetable (Arriva Northern)


  Eagle Intermedia's Yorkshire Dales website

Malham to Dale Head Back to Pennine Way index Horton to Hawes

This page last updated 1st June 2005