(Mixture of film and digital photos – the digital are the less sharp/greener shots and most of the cave ones)
One day, mid November, I wanted to go out for a walk in the Dales but decided to persuade my mother to do the driving – that meant finding something easy for her to walk and also somewhere nice for her to wait while I did my longer walk. We decided on the Settle/Langcliffe area as there is an easy little lane for her to stroll along and back between the two places and also a factory outlet with a good cafe for her to await my return
I was dropped off at The Square in Settle and set off out of town via Constitution Hill towards the lane to Langcliffe. At the start of the lane, a rough track rakes uphill traversing left and soon turning to a grassy way. I marched off up it, very soon seeing my object hills off to the left across a dry-stone wall. I continued upwards looking for a stile over the wall to enable us walkers to reach the hills – I was sure there must be one as the first little hill had a bold cairn on the top.
Shortly, I met a man coming down the other way and asked him whether the path crossed the wall soon? He said it did but unfortunately, what he meant was that a further wall cut across my path and there was a stile over that but still nothing off to the left. Being determined to start with the very first hill and not follow the main path any longer, I clambered over the wall at the corner – this was slightly awkward as it had a ‘sheep-deterrent’ stock fence along the top and the far side of the wall was very slippery with moss. I managed to balance my way up and over the wall and fence and shuttered quickly down the slippery moss at the other side – luckily it wasn’t far down and a soft landing.
I’m sure the farmer would be upset to hear I’d climbed his wall but he should really have a stile somewhere along it as, there being tempting hills the other side, means folks like me will clamber over his wall if not. Anyway, I was careful not to cause any damage and, as I can dry-stone wall myself, I would have rebuilt any section I damaged before continuing… It’s as well to know the ‘wall-climbing rule’ though – always press downwards and don’t pull sideways on anything!
The first hill was across boggy and lumpy ground which caused my still not very supple ankle to complain a bit until it got used to it. I was soon up at the first cairn and into an extremely gusty and freezing cold north wind. From here I could see Rye Loaf Hill which I did on my last visit and which I’d reached very boggily from Stockdale Lane (the route from Settle to Malham).
I then had a drop down steep ground to a dry grassy valley before Warrendale Knotts – an extensive area of craggy limestone cliffs with caves amongst the crags and very many crowned hillocks – a common feature in limestone areas.
I was a bit perturbed to see that the nearer flank of Warrendale Knotts looked very craggy and fairly impenetrable and that the right-hand flank was possibly out of the question (however, see my December addendum at the end of the post). I could take a long detour round to the left of the hill and ascend between the limestone bands where the crags thinned out if all else failed however.
From where I stood, I could see there was some kind of gully or re-entrant round the bottom of the start of the craggy bands on the right – it looked like it might be promising – I set off to investigate…
I rounded the first craggy corner and saw there was indeed a gully going up the hill – it was a pretty steep looking one though. Rashly, and without really studying the route, I decided to give it a go…
Now, it’s not like me to be over-confident but this time, I found I’d definitely bitten off more than I could chew. Unfortunately, I didn’t realise I had until I was probably about three-quarters of the way up the narrow, steep and slippery gully and all below me looked very unpleasant for a retreat.
Right from the start the gully had been nearly vertical and pretty narrow. The narrowness helped in that I could wedge myself into certain sections – very helpful for my feet and legs as nearly all the footholds were just a slimy smear of very sloping mud or very slippery grass. The handholds weren’t very positive either as they were all smooth, rounded and mostly sloping out and down (limestone is very rounded). Towards the top, I reached a section which was just too smooth and tall for me to get any further up the gully (with the limited skills I have). Being alone, I didn’t want to get into any more difficulties than I already had so I hung there for a while (my feet had no grip at all where I stopped) and looked down for an escape route.
Luckily, a few feet below me to my left was an apparent escape route off round onto a ledge which, after a rocky start, soon looked to become grassy – this would hopefully take me onto the more broken bands of crag – anything to the right was high and sheer. With much difficulty finding places for my feet where they would keep still, I managed to clamber back down to the start of the ledge and clawed my way round onto that. Luckily, it did indeed become a quite wide grassy shelf and easy ways up the crag bands then presented themselves – phew. I was pretty shaky by now though. I clambered round to the top of the gully and looked down it and decided I would definitely have been pretty stuck if I’d tried to continue upwards!
From there the hill became much more user-friendly and didn’t present any more difficulties. There were interesting ridges and crowned hillocks (small rounded knolls with limestone bands round them, especially near the summit) and cave entrances everywhere. I took quite a few photos as I thoroughly explored the area and went up every single lump and knoll I could find and peered into every single cave entrance.
Some of the caves were actually just small hollows under a band of rock – one of which had rocks built up at the sides to make a lovely cosy shelter. Some went inwards for a few feet and then twisted off out of sight (I didn’t have any kind of torch unfortunately) – some looked to suddenly go straight down (and I’m sure many of them do). Next time I’ll definitely take my headtorch – and probably my Wainwright ‘Walks in Limestone Country’ guide book as he did a pretty thorough exploration of the area and found which caves were safe for mere walkers and which to avoid.
I took loads of photos as I explored but they started off with very bad light. As the angle I took photos from changed, the light situation improved so I just snapped away and will put the better shots out to illustrate this post. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a photo of ‘the gully’ before I had my mini-epic on it! (see December update).
I eventually descended to try to join the main path through the dry valley which passes below Victoria Cave but found I was again being blocked by a dry-stone wall. I went right towards a ‘hogg-hole’ (a small hole in the bottom of the wall to let sheep through) but found the farmer had blocked it up with boulders – they generally get blocked up while not in use. I couldn’t be bothered to haul out the boulders and re-block it again afterwards so set off back along the wall the other way – the direction I wanted to travel.
After following the wall for a while on a wet path, I got fed-up and again clambered over. Just as I dropped down the far side, I noticed a gatepost peeping up over a small hillock ahead – it was only a few yards away. Yep, there was an open gate which had just been out of sight and which had a path to take me to the main thoroughfare below the main caves.
I didn’t visit Victoria Cave on this visit as I saw it last time but I’ll include the photos I took with my compact digital camera on that visit. I noticed, however, that there were a long, low set of cave entrances up a steep scree path just past Victoria Cave and went up the path to investigate. These turned out to be Albert Cave but they were gated off with an iron gate and a notice saying access was restricted to preserve the mineral deposits therein.
There is a lot of new rockfall near the entrance so the next photo is looking out from as far as I dare enter the cave…
From Albert’s Cave, I slithered hesitantly down the scree again (I still hate descending scree) and rejoined the main track. Shortly after the caves, there is a cart track which descends to the road back to Langcliffe but I wanted to divert to Jubilee Caves which are slightly further along the track in the other direction.
I’d also visited these the last time I was in the area (when I had my broken wrist) but I hadn’t had a very good look around. This time I had a good explore and found that, with a torch (see Dec update), some of these caves would be very interesting indeed to look further into.
Wainwright doesn’t say anything about these so care would be very necessary in any exploration. There is also another interesting cave in the crag at the top of the very steep grassy banking just south of Jubilee Caves which I never noticed on my last visit but called at this time. I tried every ledge on the photo to get to this but eventually had to drop below them all and climb back up!
I then followed the lane down to the Langcliffe road and caught my mother up in the caff of Watershed Mills (the mill outlet) and had some great vegetable broth with her.
Stats: 4.5 miles, 3 hours (with a lot of exploration, getting stuck up gullies, etc.)
Wed 5 Dec 2012
Did a similar route today, coming in via the path which cuts across from Stockdale Lane and over Sugarloaf Hill and then I went to photograph ‘the gully’ I got stuck in last time. It probably looks okay from the photo but, basically, my downfall was the grassiness – at that angle, the very slippery and rounded moor grass is a real hindrance!
This route in gives great views of Warrendale Knotts and what lies ahead…
I also found a superb way up the frontal crags of Warrendale Knotts – round a further corner from my first gully, there is a breach with a grassy rake heading left up the hill in a deep groove. Going the other way, you can easily clamber onto the first grassy shelf between the lower and middle crags which was the route I chose.
These two photos show a detailed view of Warrendale Knotts crags. Looking at the photo above, my route started from the dark shadow on the far left of the hill – that is actually the grassy rake in shadow. It then goes right along the green strip above the lower crags until the start of the shadow on the lower and second crag bands – the higher shadow is the gully to take you above the second crag band. The left-hand edge of the photo below shows the side view of the route…
I was pretty careful along the shelf as the grass was a bit frosty and, unfortunately I didn’t find any more cave entrances – I did see some superb climbing opportunities though! The crags here are beautifully small and just right for beginners’ climbing practice so I’d love to bring a climbing friend and rope sometime.
Right at the far end of the grassy shelf, there’s a dramatic narrowing over a big drop which means further progress along the shelf is inadvisable for walkers. Just here there is a square pillar of rock and, looking round it I found, to my delight, a really easy clambery gully to take me to a further grassy shelf above the middle crag band.
I then back-tracked above the crags I’d just passed beneath and found I ended up at the top of the earlier-mentioned deep grassy rake and easy ground to the summit – the windchill was as bad as the last visit! I took a lot more photos with much better light than last time…
This time I’d brought a headtorch and later had an explore of the superb Jubilee Cave…
Then I took a couple more photos in the evening sun on the way back down the track to Langcliffe…
All in all, a pretty exciting and spectacular area to walk!