Monday, 29 December 2014

White Wonders of Penyghent

The Lion Dons her Winter Coat

Penyghent never fails to impress in the snow, and yesterday was no exception.  Like Ingleborough, she is made up of a massive 'cone' of Yoredale rocks - alternating layers of limestones, sandstones and shales forming a rocky sandwich, which were determined by changes in sea levels millions of years ago.  Also, like her more famous neighbour, she sits on a plinth of Great Scar Limestone - only, here on Penyghent this isn't so obvious as the main benches have been covered by a layer of glacial drift (seen behind the trees in the picture).  Not to be outdone by her cousin, little Penny packs a punch, and yesterday's conditons were perfect to see just how much!

There wasn't much snow in the lower reaches of Ribblesdale.  This youthful section of the River Ribble is an important salmon spawning ground.

Any visit to Stainforth Foss, late in the year, will see the determined fish leaping up the fall on their way to the upper reaches.  It is one of the highlights of the Three Peaks!  I took this shot in late November.

Another wonderful sight, as we drive along Ribblesdale, is the majestic tilted limestone outcrop making up Smearsett Scar - or Smearside.  Its environs are literally peppered with ancient settlements, burial chambers - and, of course, the famous 'Celtic Wall.'  The view from the top is astonishing - as, usually, is the wind!  The 'echo' around Smearsett is also amazing.

The snowline on Penyghent often covers just the upper Yoredale Series slopes, leaving a contrasting panorama of blue, green and white.  

The lane up to Brackenbottom draws the eye onwards towards this magnificent peak.  The famous 'nose' of Penyghent is well seen in this image.  Like Ingleborough, the mountain is topped by a thin layer of millstone grit - formed when rivers washed coarse grits and sand into a very shallow, swampy sea.  Hard to imagine any of that being under water, when you look up there - but it was indeed!

Not often do the works of man fit in well with the great features of limestone country, but this is an exception.  Here, the beautiful simplicity of the church at Horton-in-Ribblesdale fits perfectly with the crouched feline presence of Penyghent.  

There are three very famous potholes on the west flank of the mountain, essentially formed where water rushes off the impermeable Yoredale slopes (seen with a dusting of snow) and meets the Great Scar Limestone.  This is the gigantic opening of Hull Pot - not a quarry - but totally natural.  Water only enters in times of flood, over on the left as you view the image.  It has been formed on a fault, and massive wedges of rock have peeled off the sides at intervals to make the hole bigger over long periods of time.  Hull Pot is one of the truly breathtaking sights of the Yorkshire limestone.  The layer of glacial drift, smothering the benches, is well seen in this picture above the wall.

The second, and completely different in character, is the nasty looking slit of Hunt Pot - most people's standard idea of what a pothole should look like.  Here the stream cascades down a fault guided joint into the depths of the earth ... or so it seems.  Notice how meltwater has managed to carve out a huge basin in which the main sink actually sits.  Hunt Pot is potentially lethal - so keep youngsters and dogs well clear.

Last but by no means least is Penyghent Pot itself.  The Hunt Pot water eventually meets the main drain down in the depths of this monster.  No big drop this time, but a slot into a series of energy sapping long crawls in freezing cold water, eventually reaching great depths and with no way out at the bottom. What goes in ... must come out the same way.  Penyghent Pot tests even the hardest cavers.  

And where does all this water emerge?  Well, in normal conditions - and as far as is known, most of water emerges here, at Brants Gill Head.  The clump of trees hides the secret - but the noise of running water can be picked up easily when walking on the path behind the Crown Hotel in Horton.  

This is the approach to the cave of Brants Gill Head, where the water resurges. The hawthorn berries add beauty to the wild and impressive scene.  

The mouth of the cave sees the water emerging on the left side.  The right hand side quickly closes down to a narrow fissure.  In flood conditions it's impossible to get anywhere near.

I love this view from the mouth of Brants Gill Head, looking downstream at the emerging water - which must have one heck of a tale to tell.

The same view in monochrome is equally impressive.

There are many mysteries involving the water beneath Penyghent.  In high flood, for example, Brants Gill Head cannot cope with all the water and the water suddenly begins to surge out of Douk Gill Cave, seen here - and half a mile away to the south.  Douk Gill is a stunning little spot, described by 19th century writers as 'Malham Cove in miniature' and particularly enchanting.  This view is from the lane behind Horton Primary School as the Gill is on private land.  Winter allows us a glimpse as in summer it is smothered by foliage. In extreme weather, not even Douk Gill can cope, and so another exit, Dub Cote Cave, lying further south still, is used by the water.  

I took the path behind the Crown Hotel to see more of Penyghent's hidden wonders - pausing to admire the works of man, which fit in perfectly in Ribblesdale.

Wandering northwards, this barn forms a great picture backed by the dominating presence of the Ingleborough massif, with a coating of snow.

In the distance, Little Ingleborough can be seen leading up to the summit of Ingleborough itself, with the spur of Simon Fell on the right.  Beneath live the limestone benches, not covered by drift, but having been swept clean by the Ribblesdale glacier to leave smooth pavements of limestone.

I always like to photograph my shadow - just to prove a mortal like me actually had a place for a few seconds in this fantastic landscape.  It is a privilege to walk it!

At the head of the dale, Whernside's 2419 feet provide a massive wall, with a thin layer of swirling cloud.

The path soon reaches the sensational sight of Sell Gill Holes.  The water originally sank in the now dry entrance just right of the wall at the top of the picture.  It has since found its present 'wet' route into the massive Main Chamber below.  

The wet entrance at Sell Gill Holes leads down this slippery staircase into a passage, and then down a big pitch into the Main Chamber.  It is a tricky route and best tackled in dry weather.  Also, hidden inside this way, is the daunting 37 metre Goblin Shaft, an alternative way into the depths.

Most cavers sensibly stick to the dry route, the 'v' shaped notch indicating a former water channel.

The initial drop is only about 35 feet this way - before two more drops requiring ladders or abseiling.

Some idea of the situation at the dry entrance to Sell Gill Holes.

The Sell Gill Suspension Bridge.

Don't try these silly things.  I was just wishing I was still fit enough to descend.  Fortunately I decided to live another day so you can enjoy another post.  I stepped back ...

This was the view behind me when I was peering into the pothole - the obviously abandoned waterfall that formed the original entrance to the system.

This roofless barn beyond Sell Gill Holes always invites a camera.  The dusting of snow adds further beauty, as does the lowering sun.

An alternative view, with the clouds scudding gently over Park Fell in the background.

Jackdaw Hole lies just off the track and is surrounded by a fence.  It is rarely visited, though clearly labelled on the OS map.  The 5o foot deep shaft, plugged by a layer of glacial deposit, is like a setting from The Lord of the Rings.  It's well worth a nosey!

A view into Jackdaw Hole from the southern end, showing the walls of Great Scar Limestone.

A view of the northern end of Jackdaw Hole, with the usual array of ferns and ash saplings clinging to the limestone.

This is where you expect to see Gollum.  A view into the depths of Jackdaw Hole from the west side, showing the glacial debris plugging the shaft, which would originally have been much deeper.  It is clearly very ancient.

The ash tree at the west side provides a sensational view in, but it was too icy today for comfort.

I love this view down into the depths beneath the gnarled and twisted old branches of the ash.  Very wild!

Just beyond, and shyly hidden to the right, is the sinister entrance to Penyghent Long Churn.  This unfenced hole drops at least 70 feet into constricted, inky blackness.  It is possible to wiggle on your tummy to watch the water falling straight as a plumb line into the limestone.  The shaft is extremely flood prone and needs perfect weather to have a go!

This is usually where you do your tummy wiggling, but in ice you may wiggle an inch too far - so I didn't!!

As the sun was lowering and the temperatures dropping, I headed back, well satisfied, along the Pennine Way - past this ancient gatepost - which appears to be lost in another time.

The low angle of the setting sun gave the scene a real sense of being 'lost in time'.  

A quick detour to the east just gave me enough time to capture the last glimmers of light on Penyghent - the Lion of Ribblesdale.

Here she lies, magnificent, above the sweeping layer of glaical drift hiding her biggest secrets.

See you again, pal ... I'll be back soon.

Sell Gill, Jackdaw Hole and Penyghent Long Churn are great objectives for a leisurely stroll from Horton, taking the track behind the Crown Hotel.  Walking eastwards over the moor to Hunt and Hull Pots, the return track to Horton can be picked up for an enjoyable circular - full of suprises.  Enjoy your exploring!

Stephen x

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