Monday, 10 June 2013

Scales Moor:  A Silent White Landscape
Exploring Britain's greatest limestone pavement

Many visitors to Ingleton view the famous waterfalls unaware that, just to the north-east, on a raised plateau, lie a series of bare limestone pavements that surpass all others in the country for sheer size and interest.  These are the silent wonders of Scales Moor, on the west flank of the great glaciated valley of Chapel-le-Dale.  Today, I took an evening stroll on the moor, knowing the skies were threatening a storm, and that the sun was in the west ... creating perfect conditions in which to show up this fabulous karst landscape.

I began in Kingsdale, that splendid, glaciated valley.  Here, the flat alluvial floor can be seen to perfection: the hazy skies allowing the Kingsdale beck to have a sinister, if beautiful, appearance.  It is believed that this valley was once floored by a lake - the waters being trapped by a layer of terminal moraine - a huge barrier of debris left by the glacier.  Meltwater eventually cut through the barrier and drained the lake, leaving the flat valley floor.

Kingsdale Beck becomes the well known River Doe, cutting, as can be seen here, through the Raven Ray moraine barrier and forming Thornton Force waterfall.  The glen forming the fall can be seen in the centre of the picture.

A track winds up Twisleton Scar End and is known as the Kirkby Gate - the name originating from Viking settlers.  It is believed to have been an old road for transporting peat from the moor.

As the Kirkby Gate continues to climb upwards, wind-beaten thorn trees come into view.

From this viewpoint the massive Raven Ray terminal moraine barrier can be seen as a huge hump-like feature in the landscape.  It is clear from this position how the River Doe has cut a deep groove through the moraine barrier on its way to tumble down the Ingleton waterfalls.

The first of the limestone pavements of Scales Moor is reached as the Kirkby Gate levels out onto higher ground.  

The much photographed, weather beaten trees on Twisleton Scar End make any day seem like a hurricane is blowing.  They receive the full force of the westerly winds from the Irish Sea and yet still remain defiant, as they have for centuries.

This one's like a withered old man.

Not forgetting his wife and child, of course!

From another angle, looking west towards Gragareth, the impression is equally dramatic.  

From here we get the first view of Ingleborough, rising above Chapel-le-Dale like a dominant volcano.

The only two people I saw all evening - and they are heading down to Kingsdale, silhouetted on the southern skyline.

Looking across a fine stretch of weathered pavement to Gragareth and Kingsdale.

The Kirkby Gate continues its journey onto the moor.  Stone once used to be taken from here for garden rockeries.  The best rockeries are made by glaciers, not gardeners, and thank goodness that practice has come to an end.

The three cairns are useful in dull conditions for locating the path back down into Kingsdale.  They will remain with you for the entire adventure, eventually becoming mere dots on the horizon.

Sink holes and small pot holes then begin to appear, their sides worn into attractive decorative shapes by water action.  Scales Moor is undoubtedly hiding, somewhere beneath, a huge cave system that has yet to be discovered, and it is not through want of trying.  It is only 90 years since White Scar, on the opposite side of the valley, was uncovered by Christopher Long.  Hopefully determined cavers can unlock the secrets of this fascinating landscape in the not too distant future.

Another small pot caused by water seeping through a joint in the limestone - probably originally begun by glacial meltwater.  Only rainwater, rather than streams or rivers, can find its way in today - so enlargement is now clearly very slow indeed.

Another attractive fissure lies nearby, with a cap of limestone left by the retreating glacier.

Fantastic shapes, like a clutching hand (centre) and giant's foot with huge big toe (bottom left) have been carved out of the Great Scar limestone.  You can spend hours finding shapes and formations here, and children will love it.

Best of all is the Sleeping Hound - head on one side, drooping ear and outstretched front legs.  He's been snoring away for centuries, bless him.

Extensive Pavements dominate the proceedings from this point, to the right of the path.

The Fluted Pothole has to be seen to be believed and lies by the pathway as it continues onto the moor.  A combination of meltwater and surface run-off has formed these beautiful 'petals' of limestone, like the structure of a huge rocky sunflower.

It is all the more remarkable in close-up.

A film of the area shows the startling sudden appearance of this gem in the landscape.

The Fluted Pothole from another angle.  This hole was a favourite of Alfred Wainwright.

And from here, it's a flock of birds at a drinking bath - only, they have no water in sight - poor things!

A thin layer of glacial drift just manages to cover the limestone pavements on this part of the moor, though their shape can be imagined in this picture.  It is as though the limestone has been covered by a thin green velvet blanket.  Some limestone, however, is there for all to see, and the glacier has dumped scores of boulders in this area.

This weathered and rounded limestone boulder is a conspicuous object on the dazzling green turf beneath it, the mossy coating giving it an attractive and rustic appearance.

Some of the boulders are just downright strange, like this old fella - again resting on a thin layer of glacial debris, covering the main limestone bench.  The ridges of High Pike and Whernside can be seen rising behind.

A view of the same boulder, looking east to the magnificent sight of Ingleborough, looming in shadow.  The clean white benches of limestone can be seen in the background.

A view west to Gragareth, with the fields in the foreground littered with limestone boulders and gritstone erratics, dropped by the glacier.  

Walking west onto the exposed pavements reveals the tremendous perched limestone boulder known as the Obelisk.  Its stark white features contrast superbly with the clouds over Ingleborough.

Note how the sheer size of the Obelisk has protected the plinth, on which it stands, from the worst effects of the weather.  Great civilisations have come and gone - and still he has remained.  The sheep, grazing to the right, hadn't seen me at this point and so didn't have a care in the world.

The Obelisk is one of the supreme features of the Three Peaks landscape - a textbook example of the power of the great glaciers - and thankfully only known by those who love the lonely places ...

In fact, he's so wonderful, that a different perspective of him opens up every two minutes.  Here Ingleborough is just catching the sun behind, and a cairn (soon to be visited) reveals itself on the horizon.

Take a view around the scene of this limestone wonder.

At last, Ingleborough has revealed its upper slopes - the thin bands of limestone of the Yoredale series just visible below the grit-stone summit cap, and the massive landslip of Falls Foot visible as a 'bite' out of the mountain on the right.

The Obelisk from the south, looking towards Whernside, shows a completely different character.

And from this angle, he's unrecognisable - deep grooves having been formed by rainwater running off the boulder.

The true 'erratics' are those rocks that have been plucked from upper or lower layers in relation to the limestone and ceremoniously 'dumped' on the pavements, such as this gritstone boulder - showing a fine colour contrast with the white surroundings.  Notice how mosses and lichens grow much more easily on this rock than on the limestone itself.

This is another beautiful example - with Southerscales Fell and Park Fell providing a background of shadow to show the rock off splendidly.

These ladies are posing - as if not to be outdone by a few old rocks.  Blue and yellow markings at least suggest she's a Leeds fan - like the author.  True Yorkshire colours, those.

This cairn is the only man-made feature on Scales Moor that can challenge the natural for beauty - as can be seen here.  It marks the edges of Twisleton Scars as they plunge down into Chapel-le-Dale below.

The overall picture is one of splendour.  To stand here is a privilege.

The 800 feet thick band of Great Scar Limestone was once continuous from here to the benches under Ingleborough, but the great 'u' shaped trench of Chapel-le-Dale, separating both sides of the valley, has been carved out by successive glaciations.  At its peak, the ice covered the whole of the land mass that can be seen here!  Across the valley can be seen the terraced limestone plinth of the Raven Scars - on which Ingleborough is effectively 'perched'.  

A lovely view northwards along Chapel-le-Dale, with Twisleton Scars showing their characteristic combination of small scar (or cliff) and scree apron, formed by freeze-thaw action during the ice age. Note the beautiful flat-floored valley bottom, and the emergence of the River Twiss, formerly Chapel Beck, where all the water passing through the caves of Ingleborough finally reaches basement rocks at God's Bridge.

This stunning view shows the full structure of Britain's most fascinating mountain.  The grit-stone cap followed by nearly a thousand feet of the Yoredale series making up the bulk of the mountain and consisting of alternate shales, sandstones and limestones; the 800 feet thick plinth of Great Scar limestone, containing the great cave systems, and finally the emerald turf covering basement rocks which date back 500 million years.  This basement marks the point at which the River Twiss emerges, on the left, carrying water that has passed through the caves and potholes on its journey towards Ingleton.

A panorama of the great mountain scenery of Chapel-le-Dale.

A rare exposure:  from this position the basement 'slates' show up where they have been exploited for quarrying.  The terraces of Twisleton Scars lie directly below, plunging to the farmstead of Twisleton Dale House.  This lies on Oddie's Lane - an old Roman Road through the dale. In the background, Raven Scars are separated from White Scars on the right by an obvious fault, marked by a canyon-like valley, clearly visible on the photograph.

The beautiful combination of scar and scree apron - making up the impressive and little-visited Twisleton Scars.

Ingleborough from the head of Ullet Gill, an interesting dry valley above Twisleton Scars.

Ullet Gill's position is marked by an old sheep fold.

Orchids, cowslips and other lime-loving plants are very much in profusion on these unspoilt slopes.

Springcote Farm, in Chapel-le-Dale, is a very special place for me.  It was here, in 1976, that I camped with my dad, who still knows the farmer very well.  The 40 mile trip from Lancashire was like going abroad ... and my first view of Ingleborough captured my imagination like no other I have had since.  This was my 'Mount Everest' .... and this view of the farm ... the same as from the doorway of our little tent, takes me back to being seven years old in that boiling summer - before life offered any obstacles and upsets ....  I get a twinge of sadness when I see this view.  You'll know what I mean, won't you?

This is what Springcote was all about.  That's me on the left and my friend Richard (who still lives at the farm) on the right.  I'm a bionic man ... with open flies!!  Bring me some hair back - someone!!!!

Springcote Farm is one of my enchanted little places.  We used to play in a tree house in that little wood at the bottom left - and we walked four miles into Ingleton for groceries .... those were the days!

Twisleton Scars looking south, to where Chapel-le-Dale opens out into the Craven lowlands.

A view north along the scars towards the lower slopes of Park Fell.

Turning west back onto the moor at the level of Ullet Gill, the finest pavements in Britain gradually begin to reveal themselves.

Here, the great glacier has scoured the surface rocks and soils way to leave the bare limestone in all its glory.   These pavements deserve to be ranked amongst Britain's greatest natural wonders.    The clints are the large blocks of rock, with deep grykes in between - and they can reach 30 feet in depth.  Watch your footsteps!

Erratics of grit-stone are just about the only things punctuating the vast white 'sea' of pavements.

A fault can be seen here, running through the pavement and at right angles to the flow of ice, which was left to right across the picture.  This can only indicate the potential for great caverns below.

A tour round the pavement ...

Looking north across the pavements to Whernside, Bruntscar and Ribblehead - where the glacier is believed to have originated.

Great swathes of uninterrupted pavement contrast beautifully with the slopes of Whernside beyond.

Faulting, erratics, grykes and a wonderful mountain.  Textbook geology framed in one little picture.

Endless:  the great 'desert' of limestone pavement for which Scales Moor is justifiably famous.  

Erratics add variety to this view of Ingleborough.

They have stood here for over 12,000 years, and won't be going anywhere ... until the next ice age ...

Superb grykes cut deep into the limestone.  The massive earth movements of the Craven Faults shattered the limestone into vertical cracks called joints, which were exploited by water action.

A vast, sleeping crocodile.  Eyes shut tight - nothing matters in his world.

Fissures, grykes ... and a sea of white rock.

All white as far as Ingleborough.

And all white as far as Whernside.

Scales Moor's only building - and it would be for sheep, wouldn't it?  You don't expect a pub up here.

The sheep shelter and Whernside.

An eccentric cairn on the edge of Twisleton Scars, in fading light.

A last look at the lord of the limestone ... and goodbye till next time.

An aerial view shows Scales Moor and Twisleton Scars to look like a huge duck-billed platypus.  There is plenty of space to park on Thornton Lane (take the road through Thornton towards Dent after leaving the A65 just beyond Ingleton).  Kirkby Gate, the way up to the moor, ascends the 'bill' of the platypus - then the cliff tops of Twisleton Scars can be followed north east until the mssive pavements are reached (top right).  The boulders, cairns and erratics need no directions - you won't be able to miss them.  Lose yourself in exploration in this amazing place.  Choose a clear day and avoid mist at all costs.  It'll be worth it.

Stephen x

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