Pen-y-ghent (694m) is the runt of the three peaks litter, but probably my favourite. I must have hoofed up it over a dozen times. It’s got some cracking views, there are plenty of options if you want to extend your day out but doable in 2.5 hours if you don’t. Plover Hill (680m) is a boggy trot along the summit ridge unless you do it when the ground is frozen. Which it was. A top tip for you, right there. No gaiters today. Which is lucky because I couldn’t find them.
It’s £2 to park all day at the Golden Lion in Horton in Ribblesdale (other pubs are available but not with that deal on parking). From there we head back out of the village, with the churchyard on our left. We cross the Ribble and immediately turn up the lane toward the school. In the event that the tops are going to be capped in snow, I have a pair of B2 boots on and crampons in my pack. It’s been a while since I’ve worn boots this stiff but they’re actually pretty comfortable even on tarmac. Why I didn’t just leave the crampons in the car is anyone’s guess. I’m also trying a pair of pertex and pile salopettes for the first time.
At Brackenbottom, we leave the road and head uphill, Gandalfing a party of three who stop every 10m for selfies (what a time to be alive). Still, as a rather knackered, vain 40-something about to have some fairly serious surgery, it is pleasing not to be the slowest on the hill. I open the side zips on my salopettes to avoid overheating at this precarious velocity. The draft is welcome though I suspect others may find the sight of my thighs less so. It’s a long, steady pull roughly east northeast through two well grazed outcrops of limestone pavement, and we soon outdistance the threesome. Somebody has spent some time and money on the path surface we are climbing – slabs from (I think) a mill floor have been used above the limestone. We are soon sat enjoying a hot drink where the Brackenbottom path meets the Pennine Way. I crank all the zips back down while I’m stationary and stay toasty warm. The crisp winter air affords us lovely views across to Fountain’s Fell and whatever-the-knobbly-summit-above-Stainforth-is-called (it’s off the edge of the map and I haven’t got OS 297).
The selfie group overtakes us at rest and then immediately stops for more selfies. The route turns due north and heads around the eastern flank of the summit mound. We’re above the limestone here (I think) and onto gritstone. It is polished smooth by generations of walkers and, even when dry, you need to be paying attention to your feet. In the wet, it can be entirely too entertaining. A brief clamber see us onto a flat ledge below tumbled boulders and scree, staring up at a steep ascent to the summit plateau. We overtake the photographers and plough upwards. This, for me, is the only way up – a short, sharp haul and then a long, slow descent back to Horton. I cannot fathom those who go in the opposite direction (especially in icy conditions). Who am I to judge, though? There’s about 3m under the lip of the plateau where we need to use our hands and then we’re barreling along mill floors to the summit. From here you can see Ingleborough, Whernside, Buckden Pike and Great Whernside. Ingleborough is still capped with snow and looks (if you squint) like a table-topped Mount Fuji.
J and I consume further coffee. I eat a pork pie. The group that takes selfies arrives and takes more selfies. One of them takes a ‘phone call, just to mix things up a bit. I’m sure you can imagine my face. We elect to try out Plover Hill. The ridge’s gritstone cap means that, generally, once you drop into the trough between the two summits, you are in a world of peat bog. Although the distance between the two isn’t that great, the constant diversions around mire eat time and stamina. It’s 2°C and the turf hasn’t thawed out from its overnight freeze. This is the best time to make for Plover Hill (the only other good option is when everything is under half a metre of really hard snow).
Handrailing the drystone wall that cuts down the middle of the ridge, we head north, taking care as we depend the frozen turf. The wall is in very good order – it looks as though it’s been rebuilt comparatively recently. As we drop down between the two summits, there is a frequent thok-thok as we test the peat and mud for solidity with our trekking poles. The path curls around to the northeast as we rise toward Plover Hill, making far swifter progress than our last jaunt up here (I think it took us about a hour in really poor visibility. It was miserable). Soon we have crossed the strange, drystone compound that encompasses Plover Hill summit and we’re dropping down toward the head waters of Foxup Beck. In this weather it’s all easy going, but I’ve had to do this on compass bearings and pace-counting before now.
The descent is steep and curves round some awkward little drops and steps. It’s nowhere directly dangerous, but there are a couple of points where you wouldn’t want to lose your footing. As we drop down to the limestone, my left foot slides in mud sat on top of frozen earth. I have to catch my whole bodyweight on my bad leg and my right knee does a little, internal squeal. Oh, how I laughed. It’s an odd thing, scar tissue – that feeling the not-feeling in a part of your body. Odd. And not that pleasant. We pause for more coffee and I faff with my left sock to stop the seam rubbing my little toe. The path from hereon is easy going on gently rolling, well drained turf. But I’m tired, I’m in stiff boots, humping kit I don’t need, the temperature is rising and I’m dressed for Arctic. I am a sour-puss and grumpy-face.
As we trudge southwestward, a buzzard hangs over our route, turning in slow, lazy circles, flap-flap, glide, flap-flap, glide. It’s the first I’ve seen this year but it does little to sweeten my sour-puss. I know that once we return to the Pennine Way, there’s about 2.5km on metalled track to get to Horton and my feet (especially the left one) are already having a big sulk. We make swift progress though, and the crenellated flank of the ridge is spectacular company in the low winter sun. Slate grey clouds, heavy with snow, roil in the sky behind us. I can’t help wishing some of it would come our way and get the temperature back down. Finally, a chill creeps into the wind, as we hove past Hull Pot, and I am once more comfortable. Well, my core is; my feet are still sulking.
We join the the Pennine Way and I hobble and scowl the last stretch back down into Horton in Ribblesdale. There is much I have mismanaged today. I should have perhaps put some more flexible boots in the car in case I would not need crampons. Having seen that the fell tops were clear of snow, I should have left crampons in the car. I should have managed hydration better – a pint of black coffee is a fine thing but not thirst quenching. I should have eaten the second pork pie. SI should have brought painkillers. Still, I am glad to have done it. In the next couple of months or so, a surgeon will trim 5cm of bone out of my right tibia and then I’ll have to wear an Ilizarov cage for 10 months while I grow a new shin. The amount of energy I invest in fretting about this will make no difference to the outcome but it is difficult not to worry. At least I will be heading into surgery with a level of fitness that should help me out through the far side.
My pack (a Macpac Pitch 35) contained: Paramo Torres belay jacket, OS OL Sheet 2, Silva mirror-sighting compass, Julbo sunglasses, Black Diamond Enforcer gloves, Petzl Vasak crampons, Benchmade Presidio lock-knife, Petzl Tikka Plus 2 headtorch, Highgear AltiTech 2 altimeter, iPhone, coffee, two pork pies, Leki trekking pole, a Buff. I wore Scarpa Charmoz boots, Montane Extreme smock, Montane Extreme Salopettes, Rab Latok gloves.