Litton Loop via Pen Y Ghent and Plover Hill

Posted: 5th January 2009 by admin in General, Travel

Note : I’ll be adding the photos to this article later on in the week or early next week.

I discovered Littondale a few years ago, when on a driving trip around the Yorkshire Dales, I saw a route over to Settle from Grassington and took what turned out one of the most overlooked and most beautiful valleys in the National Park. After a few journeys on various family days trips walking along the valley base, an alternative longer distance route to Pen Y Ghent came to mind, and after looking at the maps, a nice 14 miles route jumped out at me.

Parking in the centre of the village of Litton, I dropped down the track towards the River Skirfare, and crossed over the bridge after the cluster of houses to your right, and then via a gate, I crossed the fields and joined the walled track that would be my route for the next 3.5 to 4 miles and said goodbye to human life for a couple of hours until I reached the tourist spot that is Pen Y Ghent. Starting on a nice flat level, the route leading up the side of the hill on the south side of the valley soon appeared, and after 1/2 a mile I came to a junction, right leading to the main road, left leading up the hill. The hill rises just over 160m to the peak over 3km before flattening out for another 2km until you reach the road.

The walk up the the side of the hill is never strenuous and just right to get the heart going for the walk up the famous two tiered front face of the half way destination of this walk. The gain in height it rewarded by some stunning views up and down the Littondale valley and at higher level over to the eastern ridge of the Wharfe Valley. However the highlight of this section of the walk is the gradual appearance over the horizon of Pen Y Ghent as you reach the plateau of this track, and the constantly changing shape and angle of the two tiered face as you gradually move round the hill. The temperature difference between the valley floor and the 400m+ high pass part of the path is obvious with large ice pools and hard ground a constant companion until you reach the Halton Gill to Settle road.

Now comes the hardest bit of any walk, tarmac, 1.5 miles of it in this case, hard on the feet after being offroad, its also a bit monotonous to me, with little to think about, unlike when concentrating on foot placements when off road. However as you approach Dalehead and the start of the Pennine way track to the Summit, you get a wide variety of the views from the constantly changing angle of the tiers to your right, and the gloriously beautiful blue glow from the frost on Fountains Fell. Here I met people again, starting with the odd farmer, to the car park that is Dale Head. Stopping to grab lunch and change the batteries in my GPS, I started up the tourist path to the base of the hill. Following the well defined path, I saw ahead of my a queue of -30-40 people making their way slowly towards and up the tiers of the summit.

I soon gained the ridge towards the base, and thankfully by the time I got to the bottom of the final ascent, most of the traffic had cleared apart from the bottle neck at the top the hill. The cold was very noticable now, and the gloves came on for the first time, and was glad the new down gillet and fleece was working so well. In fact the tube for my platypus had frozen up, and didn’t defrost until I got to the valley below Plover Hill a few hours later. It had been a while since I had been up here, and forgot how steep the steps were at times, but also how civilised the route up is compared to other hills including Ingleborough, which I did a couple of months ago, and is the subject of a previous blog entry. I made pretty decent progress up the steps, with several photo stops to take in the view and let people clear some space ahead. The queue to get on the plateau was easily bypassed by skirting to the right to an alternative ascent.

The cloud level was quite low now (about 550m) so any views were pretty much wiped out, but soon the trig point was in view and the hill was bagged again. Stopping to make a nice warm brew I dicovered I had got a duff lighter, and by this point the summit was heaving, the cold was biting, so I decided to push on instead after a mug of cold water. Upon leaving the summit, the navigation was easy, following the west side of the wall over frozen turf and grass and large iced over pools of water, most of which were safe to walk over. The cloud lifted as I moved north towards Plover hill, and as I dropped off Pen Y Ghent and walked the 1.5 mile plateau and rise up to the junction of 2 walls which marks the summit of Plover, I left the maddening crowds behind and only met one person from that point until I reached the hamlet of Foxup. Up here each blade of grass was 1/2cm round with frost, it was quite a stunning sight of this winter wliderness for the next hour or so.

After getting to the second peak of the day, I headed due north until I reach a series of drops which started to move you down to the valley below, at first there were large plateaus between the slopes, then you reach the steep slope which takes you to the track which leads you from the far end of the Littondale valley. I decended about 100m too far west of the official path, but I can’t image it would be any easier on the knees and ankles, and the safest way was to just zig zag down. Once off the main face, I rejoined the main path, or rather the grass to the side of the path, as the ice had made the descent trecherous, and you needed the trction the grass gave you. Eventually I reached the east / west path, and looking each side of the valley it was hard to believe it was the same season, on each side of the valley, with the south being a barren winter landscape and the the north side looking like a glorious autumn day with a mix of oranges, browns and green. The contrast had been even more stark as you descended from the peak of Plover.

As in most walks of this distance there is a long boring section, and this was it on this walk, the bridleway east followed the side of the hill for 1.5 miles and then after passing through several gates, it dropped down to the houses and farms at Foxup via a field with some horses who looked a bit too keen to get to know me better, and after previously having some take rather too keen an interest in me, I made hastle to civilisation. At this point to followed the footpath to south of the river, until I reach the road that takes you back up to Dalehead and Settle, crossing over I continued on the footpath which for the next mile moved away from the river and past many barns at the top end of the fields.

Eventually I reached Nether Hesleden, and light was fading fast at this point, so after asking the farm owner if I could use their track to the main road, I hit the main road. But not before several hundred sheep decided to do their impresssion of the Alfred Hitchcock films “The Birds”, and started to encircle me each side of the road, it certainly hastened by trip off the farm. Now all that was left was the mile of tarmac to Litton and a pair of cold socks and trainers to sooth my feet. All in all a lovely winter walk, mostly totally isolated, which is the way I prefer to do it, and a gret way of walking off the xmas weight.