Ingleborough dominates the area around Settle, North Yorkshire. It rises suddenly from relatively flat land, with dramatic chiselled cliffs and a distinctive flat top. Its near neighbours, Pen y Ghent and Whernside sit at a respectful distance, and rarely seem to hide it from view.
Ingleborough is visible form many parts of Lancaster and on a clear day from the tops of many of the Lakeland Fells. For me, it has always defined the character of this area and it is one of those hills that you just have to climb.
Ingleborough gives you lots of options. You can do it as part of the Three Peaks Walk, not something I’ve ever had any particular desire to do, I’m all for quality, not quantity. A popular route starts from near Ingleton, attacks the hill head on, and ends in a dramatic and strenuous clamber up the south-facing cliffs. The shortest route is from Chapel-le-Dale, from here you approach side on,climb fairly steadily across a bog, fortunately with a wooden walkway to preserve your boots, and then climb steeply for a short stretch to reach the summit.
The other popular route, although quite a bit longer (9 miles), sets off from Clapham via Trow Gill. The walk starts in the National Park Car Park in Clapham – there are plenty of places to park on the streets in Clapham, but personally I think it’s a bit unfair on the residents to clog up their beautiful village when proper parking is available. At £4 for a day it’s not an unreasonable charge either. The path heads off through the grounds of Inglborough Hall. This is private land, and there is a charge of 60p each, which I guess the vast majority of people don’t pay. We did though.
The first section takes you alongside a dammed lake (not a damned lake!) through mature woodland. There is a leaflet explaining the history of the estate, not that exciting to be honest, apart from the bit about one of the former landowners who wanted to see lots of wild flowers growing on cliffs on the far side of the lake. So, he got loads of wild flower seeds, loaded them into a shotgun cartridge, and fired them at the cliff. Obvious thing to do really! Strangely enough it seems to have worked, now that’s my kind of gardening.
Out of the wood, you come into a wide gorge in the limestone which leads round to Trow Gill. This is a deep gash is the rock, sheer cliffs on either side, trees somehow clinging to the rock. On our trip there were icicles and some weird ice formations on the cliff side, the morning sun had just begun to catch the upper levels in a soft orange glow.
If anyone can come up with an explanation as to how icicles form at an angle, and then start going downwards I’d love to hear it. I can’t see that it would be a wind, as it was only these ones that seemed to be like this. Odd.
A quick scramble up the loose rocks takes you out of the gorge and onto the plateau which surrounds Ingleborough. A few more yards and Little Ingleborough comes into view for the first time. We then saw a couple of guys walking with at least twelve dogs, greyhounds, lurchers and terriers. Fortunately we hadn’t brought our dog Tess with us that day. Nine miles would be far too much for her now, and I think seeing 12 dogs would have been too much, she’s not great at getting on with other dogs.
The walk from this point is clearly laid out before you, a track weaves its way across the apparently gently sloping limestone to Little Ingleborough. It appears gentle, but the last bit is pretty steep, just that angle that makes your calves ache.
One more sight that’s worth a detour is Gaping Gil. This lies just to the North of the main path. As you approach you can hear the roar from water plunging deep into the chasm of Gaping Gill. It really is deep, apparently you could fit St Paul’s Cathedral down there. As you get closer to the fence, you can look down and see the water cascading into a hole probably around twenty feet wide. No Health and Safety here, you can walk round the fence, down to the river, and stand right on the edge. The rocks are inevitable slippery – so if you do head up here, be careful, if you slipped it would take a while before you hit the bottom. A local caving group used to set up a winch here at Bank Holidays, but I’m not sure if this still happens.
The plod up Little Ingleborough is fairly relentless, with views behind you back to Pendle Hill, and if it is clear, out towards the coast. By the time you get to the top, you’ll be cursing the guy who called this “Little”. There are three good things about the top of Little Ingleborough, you get your first view of Ingleborough, it’s not far away, and there is no great descent to reach it, so all that climbing wasn’t wasted. The view of Ingleborough is in profile, and you can see people climbing up the main face from the Ingleton path.
Our path heads up the East profile, a gentle slope this time, and in no time you reach the summit plateau. On our trip the wind was waiting to greet us at the top. It had been fairly still conditions until then, but the summit had a fearsome wind-chill. I wish I’d had some way of measuring it, it was the kind of cold that makes your eyeballs hurt. No one was hanging around on the top!
One safety point to note, the summit of Ingleborough is fairly flat, featureless, and has steep cliffs on a few sides. It’s a dangerous place to get lost, and in the mist it can all look the same. The mist can appear very suddenly. The other issue, is that if you head off down the wrong path, you can find yourself heading in the wrong direction, and potentially find that your walk has just got a lot longer. Not dangerous maybe, but seriously inconvenient. So, if you’ve got a GPS, mark the point where the path reaches the summit, and if you can, take a compass bearing to the summit trig point.
Thera are excellent views in all directions, especially south, and it is well worth having a wander round to look at the view from all angles. Unless of course you are losing all feeling in your extremities, and are not wishing to lose all contact with them. Don’t bother doing this in the mist though, it could be dangerous, and in my experience the view is pretty similar in all directions when it’s misty.
If you’ve managed to find the right path on the way down, like we did, the route down is exactly the same. If not, you’d have more to write about.
So I would recommend a walk up Ingleborough, it is not difficult at all, if you can keep going for nine miles, and can climb stairs then that is as hard as it gets. It is a good one to find out about your walking ability, you can turn back at Trow Gill, Gaping Gill, or at Little Ingleborough, and in either case, you will have had some good exercise and an interesting walk.