This route doesn’t go over any tops – it squeezes around one of the upper branches of Littondale under the flanks of Fountains Fell and Pen-y-ghent. It’s pretty easy going although at this time of year, the heavy bracken on the latter half is a considerable trip hazard.
Susan and I park (considerately) in Litton and head due west through the village. We see a sign on the left saying that this track gives no public access to the footbridge. We don’t take this track, but the next one, which draws us down to a footbridge over the River Skirfare. After the recent rainfall, it is in full flow, beer-dark with peat. When we were here a couple of months ago, it was bone dry. On the far side, we follow the path west and then southwest across some pasture to a little set of steps up onto a walled track.
The track heads northwest to the confusingly named New (it isn’t) Bridge – it was probably new when it was…um…new? We do no recross the Skirfare here as that would have made everything up to this point a wast of time. Going through a gate, the track heads uphill. The verges on either side are rich with clover and some kind of bedstraw, buzzing with insects.
The track levels out at around 400 metres, the wall on our left pretty constant, and somewhat intermittent to our right. Beyond that wall, Pen-y-ghent Gill carves a deep ravine down through the limestone. Above us, loom the shoulders of Darnbrook Fell and Fountains Fell, notched and hagged by erosion; the bare peat on those summits stains the streams that cut across our path. Most of the streams can simply be stepped over, and the wider ones have stepping stones. A lesser black-backed gull floats over us with a desiccated rabbit carcass clutched in its feet. It’s weird because I’ve never seen a gull carry anything in its feet before.
The track passes through a gate; you could follow it until it meets the road and then turn sharp right. Instead, we turn right immediately and handrail the fence north north west until it meets the road at an old field barn. We turn northeast past some slightly knackered looking limestone pavement, through a little gate and then pause for lunch just under the road bridge. This is actually more lovely than it sounds – it’s a tiny road and the bridge is over the uppermost stretches of Pen-y-ghent Gill; below us, the water swirls and gurgles; the limestone is whorled and smoothed by water; wild thyme and tiny ferns cling to crevices in the rock.
Crossing the gill, the path continues north east, dipping under a farmhouse and past a limestone cave (or murder-hole, according to S) and skims along around the 360 metre contour. Sheep have been fenced out of this part of the fell and there’s consequently a bit more vegetation. Botany is not, as you may have gathered, my strong suit, but there’s more bedstraw, harebells, clover and (I think) eyebright. We cross what would be a stream and possibly a waterfall in the winter, willow trees and rowan trees (in berry but not yet ripe) either side.
Beyond, the slope is cloaked in bracken, shoulder-high in places. We cannot see the path through the foliage and must move slowly and carefully lest our feet find some pocket in the ground that sends us scudding down the valley-side. Eventually, we are free of the clinging green and making a mental note to check ourselves for ticks when we get home. The path tilts upwards and we are soon up on the road that runs between Littondale and Silverdale. Pen-y-ghent broods on the horizon behind us – even in bright sunshine, that’s a brooding fell – Littondale beckons ahead.
In just over 100 metres, we drop back off the road and handrail a fence due east, under some sheep-dotted limestone pavement. On the other side of the gorge, a flotilla of cows of cruises through steep pasture in search of forage. We are gradually descending to the valley floor, dropping through a neat little group of cottages at Nether Heselden, where we recross the gill on a little footbridge. We handrail Pen-y-ghent Gill for perhaps 400 metres here until the path veers off southeast to New Bridge. From here, we retrace our steps to Litton.
In my pack (a Macpac Amp 25): Rab Demand pullover, Rab Bergan pants, Klättermusen Vidblåin smock, Montane Flux belay jacket, Silva mirror-sighting compass, OS OL Sheet 4, Benchmade Presidio lock-knife, Highgear AltiTech 2 altimeter, iPhone, Veho Pebble phone-charger, two litres of water, a chicken and mushroom pasty, Terra Nova 2 person emergency shelter, Black Diamond ReVolt head torch. I wore Montane Terra trousers, some Clavin Klein microfibre base layer Mountain Hardwear Canyon shirt, Julbo sunglasses and Scarpa Rebel Lite GTX boots.