Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Le Tour De Ingleborough: Part Two
Wandering Among the Ancients

Ingleborough deserves to be viewed full size - please click each image for large versions!!

I was so disappointed at not being able to show you the fascinating summit of this great mountain last week - that I decided to have another 'bash' today.  Luckily, persistence paid off.  Those who love ancient history and exciting viewpoints will savour this adventure.

My route this time still took in the great scramble up the landslip of Falls Foot, but I began just outside Ingleton, leaving my car in a layby on the old Clapham Road.  I then climbed onto Storrs Common at bottom left, and instead of the standard trudge up to the summit, diverted at Crina Bottom onto the magnificent limestone pavements of White Scar, visiting Quaking Pot before the climb up hte landslip.  The highlight, however, was a full circuit of the summit plateau.  It is the most interesting mountain summit in the UK, without any doubt - and difficult to leave ...

 The first part of the route took me up the steep path past FellEnd Farm.  

At the top of the lane is Storrs Common. Many people begin their one and only ascent of Ingleborough here, but they miss a couple of interesting caves well worth an inspection and not immediately obvious from the path.

Storrs Cave can be explored by everyone.  You can't meet Ingleborough without meeting a cave, and newcomers to the Three Peaks can claim their first one here.  Take in a torch and just watch out for the slippery floor.  It is short and sweet - and children will love it.  As far as I know, it hasn't revealed any archaeological remains .... yet!

The second entrance is a massive natural arch.

There are small passages leading off inside both caves but they are not as exciting as the entrance chambers.  Storrs Cave is an attractive and overlooked feature.  Wainwright mentions these being old mine workings with the original cave having been 'covered over.'

The exit to the arch is quite spectacular.

Heading up the track towards Crina Bottom, this view of Whernside resting on the limestone plinth of Twisleton Scars is spectacular.  Many comment that, from here, she does in fact look exciting and manages to resemble the other two.  There are two famous caves in this area, of course.  Everybody knows White Scar Cave, discovered by Cambridge Undergraduate Christopher Long in 1923, and the former showcave of Skirwith lies nearby (see my post from May for a full exploration).  White Scar is one of the only caves on Ingleborough that actually leads to an accessible resurgence: that is, it can be entered where the water gushes out of the hillside.  The other famous caves all lead to flooded 'sumps' at valley level and have to be entered from the plateau above.  We'll have a trip to White Scar later in the year when we're rained off the high ground ...

Wainwright says 'Good Yorkshiremen do this climb as a duty of their inheritance.'  The initial walk up between walls is a little tedious ... but you always have the feeling something truly awesome is just around the corner, and this pulls you like a magnet.

And here it is: looking like a Yorkshire Kilimanjaro.  The first view of Ingleborough, from any angle, arrests the attention.  You always know who is in charge of the limestone country. These two rocks have an arctic look about them: a giant lemming on the right, with a basking seal on the left.

The textbook view is from the lovely little farmstead of Crina Bottom, sheltered in a hollow below the scars.  Geologists are still debating why the landscape looks like it does here.  The massive plinth of Great Scar Limestone on the left has been effectively 'trimmed' off by the ice, yet the grey/green moorland on the right of the mountain shows that same limestone covered by a layer of glacial till so that there is little or no sign of the white rock beneath.  It must be something to do with variation in ice depth and flow.  It is believed only the very summit of Ingleborough itself was free from ice cover ... and the rest was smothered.  Maybe the glacier changed direction here and moved towards the camera, cutting off the end of the limestone plateau.  It's certainly intriguing stuff!

Climbing the scars, and moving away from all civilisation.  This is when the adventure becomes thrilling.  There is nothing but drama from this point on.  

It's not called White Scar for nothing!

The Great Scar Limestone for which Ingleborough is so famous: formed some 340 million years ago from the compressed remains of tiny marine creatures, when what is now Ingleton lay underwater in a warm, tropical sea.  Geology is one of those subjects that is beyond comprehension at times.

The beautiful emerald green and stark white landscape is what makes Ingleborough, in my humble opinion, the best looking of all English mountains ... and I've climbed many of them. I'd put Great Gable in close second, with Blencathra third. How many times have I heard people say, 'There is just something about Ingleborough.' ? Anyone who sees this view will echo that.

Old ruins are never far away in limestone country.  This is an ancient sheep shelter on White Scar, backed by a huge step of tumbling scree.

The same shelter, looking south east over the massive tongue of land that is Newby Moss, where the limestone has been plastered over by a layer of glacial till - or boulder clay.  Note the contrasting colour of grass on limestone as opposed to on the more acidic soil cover of the till slopes beyond.

Dolines, popularly called shakeholes on the maps of the area, are caused by a variety of factors: mostly by water action on joints and bedding planes beneath, causing soil and debris to collapse into enlarged fissures.  Remember White Scar Cave is below here somewhere. Wouldn't it be great if you could shout 'Hello guys!'down one of these - and get an answer back?  You'd certainly put the wind up a few folk!!

Just below the scar is this fantastic rectangular 'house' with very thick walls filled in with rubble, similar to those found around Malham.  It is well sheltered by the scars and has a brilliant view to the south.  I'm not sure it this one has been fully investigated, but it may well date back to the Iron Age - about the time of the Roman occupation, and could be contemporary with the 'hut circles' on the summit of the mountain.  

Some idea of the thickness of the walls.  At least five feet thick in parts.

Looking back down at this superb feature from the slopes of White Scar.  A lovely find.

Those who climb up onto White Scar do so for this: the world famous view of Britain's greatest limestone area, all encompassed in one frame with perhaps the most photographed hawthorn in Yorkshire.  The clouds change the shadows on Ingleborough every few seconds, and getting the correct light is always difficult.  The summit cap of millstone grit can be seen above the steep slopes of the Yoredale Series, with the beautiful white plinth of Great Scar Limestone, containing more caves and potholes than anywhere else in the country.  On this flank alone are White Scar Cave, Tatham Wife Hole, Great Douk Cave, Black Shiver Pot, Meregill Hole, Quaking Pot, Skirwith Cave ... and scores of others.  Each and every flank of Ingleborough abounds with natural wonders.  

The lovely pavements of White Scar - with classic clints and grykes caused by water action. The Great Scar Limestone is much more pure than the Yoredale limestones of the upper slopes, hence it is much paler in colour: the classic limestone we all imagine.  The purity means little if any soil has developed since the glaciers, some 12, 000 years ago, swept these benches clean by removing the upper layers of the Yoredale Series.

360 degrees of white limestone.

Looking north west along White Scar to the long ridge of Whernside.

The view west from a sea of limestone towards the Irish Sea at Morecambe Bay.

At times, when the sun catches the bare rock, a pair of snow goggles would be useful.  The whiteness is so stark and over-powering.  When you get the stormy looking skies beyond, it is dramatic indeed.

Careful examination of the clints and grykes reveals much evidence of the glacier's work. The small triangular rock at the centre is  gritstone and should lie above the Yoredale layers. The glacier has dropped it here and throughout human history ... it hasn't budged an inch. It is evidence of the height reached by the moving ice.

The sun was, by this time, casting cloud shadows onto the great mountain.  You can never escape its dominating presence.

Whernside, largest of the Three Peaks - though I love it - seems miniscule in comparison.

The famous lonely hawthorn on White Scar is always outdone by the mountain behind, so let's give her a taste of the limelight.  She makes an attractive picture in herself in this view west.

Heading off the main pavement towards the inviting 'notch' of the Falls Foot landslip.

Two erratics appear to be having an eternal conversation, as though fed up at being dumped here.  I mean, there's no shelter for the poor guys - and it's been like that for 12,000 years!

This was my favourite picture of the day.  Enlarge it, and just look at the grumpy face of that one on the left!!  It's a bit late to say, 'I hope the wind doesn't change.'

The larger of the two, with the gritstone typical of the summit area contrasting against the white limestone.  That ice certainly made its mark.

As soon as the Yoredales meet the limestone beneath, sink holes such as this one become a feature of the landscape. 

The complex of holes making up the notorious 'Quaking Pot'.

This hole has two excavated entrances into the maze of passages beneath.

The main entrance hole to Quaking Pot is diamond shaped and innocent looking.  You can clamber down to a fissure entrance where the water sinks, but the actual entrance is a crawl-in passage half way down on the right.  It leads to a chamber with a rock bridge and then a series of pitches.  In just 570 metres this pothole contains some of the most difficult caving in Britain - not least the Crux, a long tight passage where the caver has to traverse at high level by wedging himself into a passage above the stream.  

Clambering down into the entrance hole.

Another view of the Quaking Pot entrance - which I assume signifies 'quaking' with fear, though the entrance itself is prone to 'quake' and collapse.  I know many who have done it and returned to tell of a great adventure in the depths of Ingleborough.  The guidebook pulls no punches: 'The crux is more difficult for tired cavers on the return journey and rescue from beyond it would be virtually impossible.'  Quite clearly, you make sure you don't break a leg if you go beyond it ... but what a place this is .. and how privileged are those who have 'bottomed' it?

Looking up to my favourite route once again - this time with a lot more light, and the thrill of knowing the summit will be clear.  Did I just say that???? Fingers crossed ....

Climbing above the plateau at last, with a distant view of Twisleton Scars.

The scree slopes below Falls Foot landslip - with a view across to Whernside.

The landslip, where a massive slice of the Yoredale Series, aligned on Green Edge Fault, has cascaded down the mountain.  It is not known exactly when this happened.  I was just hoping there were not too many overweight sheep up there.

Looking up the southern spur of the Falls Foot landslip. There's a sense here of being on a classic mountain scramble.

Not just the sandstones, shales and limestones moved with the landslip, but huge segments of the gritstone cap of Ingleborough have also tumbled down to add to the chaos of the scene.

How would you like to have been standing under that lot when it came down?

An exciting view over the landslip to the limestone plateaus on each side of Chapel-le-Dale, showing where the moving ice scoured out the valley before spreading out into the Craven lowlands, the step in the landscape having been formed by the Craven Faults.

Looking along the Falls Foot ravine.

The steep upper reaches of the Yoredale Series, looking across to Twisleton Scars and Gragareth.

A total contrast to the limestone: the sandstone cliffs of the Yoredale Series at nearly 2000 feet, looking as if they are about to join the landslip at any minute!  This sandstone was formed at the edge of a warm tropical sea when the sea levels fell and large rivers washed in sand and gravel, which, over an immense period of time, formed the rock.  

Looking back to a distant Crina Bottom - far below - the hue of the sandstone contrasting with the white rock of the plateau.

Climbing out at last: the upper lip of the Falls Foot landslip, as I emerge onto the terraces circling Ingleborough's summit.

Even at this height there have been attempts to shelter the fell's best known inhabitants.

My aim now was to head along the second terrace (please click to enlarge the picture) to the spectacular breach through the cliffs.  It is one of the most exposed situations in the Three Peaks area and, in winter, is a serious proposition.  The slopes appear near vertical from this position down on the plateau.

Heading along the terrace, with hundreds of feet separating you from the white limestone, is an unforgettable experience.  What a shame it is that so many don't see Ingleborough as this majestic mountain, but simply head to the cairn ... and off to the next one.  Slow down and savour.  There's enough up here for a week of exploration.

And here comes that breach in the cliffs, over 2000 feet up - an amazing layer of white limestone, laid down when sea levels rose just enough to allow living creatures to flourish. It's refreshing to see it ...

This is one amazing situation: and just look at the colour.  You feel as if you could fly off the edge.  Sitting here alone is a privilege.

This massive boulder of gritstone, from the summit cap, has rolled down to the head of the breach, and is a superb pedastal to stand on - for a view down the drop of nearly 300 metres to the plateau.  

It doesn't get much better than this.

The place you can never imagine being: a bird's eye view down the breach to the Black Shiver landslip which has slumped onto the plateau below.  Amazing, especially when you see the contrasting colours of the Yoredale rocks making up the 'Ingleborough sandwich.'

It's a view and a half.

Fantastic, weather-worn gritstone boulders dominate the edge of the terrace before that massive plunge over the edge.  Mountain scenery at its very best.

Just a few feet north of the breach, this gigantic gritstone boulder is hanging on to a smaller pedestal by the skin of its teeth.

Its position, on the edge of a drop of hundreds of feet, is sensational indeed.

In this view it seems to be smiling like a crocodile - and contrasts beautifully with the white limestone plateau, and the green floor of Chapel-le-Dale, well over 1000 feet below.  Yes, this is better than being up the Eiffel Tower.

Whatever you do .... don't give it a kick ...

Clouds swimming round the summit plateau of Ingleborough, viewed from the ridge above Black Shiver.

The cliffs end with a sensational view over the arks of Ingleborough, and a huge sweeping amphitheatre ovelooking Humphrey Bottom, far below.  This is the route most people take when ascending during the Three Peaks Walk

An eerie, empty stadium.

Doubling back now for the final climb up to the summit plateau.  The sun popped out just a touch and you can't resist views like this.

And how about this?

Clouds began scudding rapidly over the plateau below, hiding the Twisleton Scars.

Chaos near the summit.  Shattered blocks of gritstone are everywhere.  

This is what usually happens on the summit - and it can change within minutes. Ingleborough has a notorious reputation for Mountain Rescue call outs - as people get stuck on the summit, unable to find their way off.  In winter, this can be a very serious proposition. This time I was determined to sit it out and wait.  Only after scores of visits have I grown to know the summit well enough not to be too worried, but even so it should be treated with great respect.  This picture, and the one above, were taken within a minute of each other!

I prepared this plan of the summit so you can get a real feel for the place.  You can see, at the far left, mid-way up the image, where we emerged onto the lower terrace at Falls Foot.  We then scrambled up to the Upper Terrace and walked along that exhilirating ridge to the Black Shiver gully, with a view over the arks - steep rocky slopes impassable to walkers. The summit cap itself is a history lesson of the highest order: a fascinating place where, in fine weather, you can explore for hours just soaking up the past.  

The triangulation pillar at 2337 feet above sea level.  This is hard to believe.  It can feel ten times as much in the winter.  As befits the wild summit of millstone grit, the cairn is an untidy pile of boulders.  Please don't add to it if you can help it.  Removing stones from anywhere on this summit could be destroying history.  Ingleborough is alive with it.

The summit plateau is encircled by a massive, shattered wall, believed to date back to Iron Age times around 500 BC - though this is open to much debate.  Usually described as the Ingleborough Hill Fort, its role as a defensive structure has been seriously questioned.  This wall is a unique archaeological object, one of the highest ancient sites anywhere in Britain, so please treat it with the great respect it deserves.

Massive upright slabs of grit-stone have been used to form a solid rampart.  Whatever the wall was built for - the summit must have been a place of great significance.  The present theory is moving towards it having been, as a major peak, a place of ritual or symbolic significance, rather than a fort at all.  This was clearly not a defensive wall, as, at the gentlest part of the plateau, facing Little Ingleborough, the wall is at its least effective.  

The route southwards off the summit across the slopes of Little Ingleborough.  It leads down to the famous features of Gaping Gill, Trow Gill and Ingleborough Cave.  

The eastern perimeter, where the wall is not as effective but there is evidence of a ditch and banking.

Upright stones forming the 'fortification' at the very edge of the summit plateau.  Just beyond, in the grassy area at the background, lie Ingleborough's greatest enigmas ...

Traditionally held to be 'hut circles' inhabited by Iron Age peoples hurling stones at Roman invaders from a huge mountain summit - these are often 'half circles' and there are over 20 of them on the summit plateau - easily missed by walkers.  The current theory is that they were never lived in at all and that they are, in fact, important burial chambers surrounded by a huge outer wall; an upland cemetery of great significance.  If so, they could date back to about 1500 to 2000 BC!!  

Further adjoining 'hut circles' at the south east corner of the summit plateau.  When you think about it - how could people have lived up here for anything other than a very short period, in harsh conditions and with no water supply?  The burial cairn theory - on this magnificent dominating mountain - seems very logical to me.  I hope it gets proved one day.

As I said - the place is simply alive with stories and secrets from the past: historically and geologically unique in Britain.  

Have a little windy wander around the circle complex ...

Close to the summit cairn there are other 'circles' and this one has, in the centre, a curious grooved stone.  Was this a hut after all then - and did it support a wooden post holding up a roof?  Or, alternatively - is this part of a central burial cist?  

Moving towards the south side of the plateau there is clear evience of a ditch and raised rim. Walking a full circuit of the summit perimeter is as interesting as climbing the mountian itself.  In the 19th century there were plans to build a tramway from Ingleton to this precious summit.  Perish the thought!

Looking back along the same stretch, showing the curve of the summit perimeter structure.

The great gritstone boulders on the southern flank are typical of the uplands of the Pennines. Note how cloud has now filled the Chapel-le-Dale valley below.

Some idea of the exposed, rugged height of Ingleborough can be gained from this photograph.

This is what many see of Ingleborough's summit.  The Ordnance Survey column.  They invariably arrive in an exhausted state, as this is the third of the three, asking 'which way to Horton?' I have nothing against the challenge, but what a pity that so many will never visit Ingleborough again.  She has just been 'bagged' - yet the circles, the awe inspiring situations, the landslips, the potholes ... all have been missed.  If you've done the Three Peaks walk and have no intention of repeating it ... just arrange a full day on this one.  Chances are you'll have a much better time.

The ruins of a 'hospice' lie close to the summit cairn.  This was a round tower, built with loving care in 1830 for sheltering grouse shooters and others who had made it to the summit. The opening ceremony saw scores of locals on the summit who, also with loving care, destroyed the tower in a state of alcoholic frenzy.  How they got barrels of beer up here is beyond me ... but there you go ... 

Reluctantly heading off the summit, looking back at the gritstone cap which tops the mountain.

Back with the limestone, on the path back to Crina Bottom.

Glancing back at the big attraction.

And the last photograph of the day typifies the Yorkshire Dales in every way.  I hope you enjoyed that tour of a unique mountain.  Ending a day on Ingleborough is always sad, but the memories linger on, and every visit is different, special and captivating.  

Ingleborough can be very challenging terrain.  Always take a map, compass and plenty of food and drink.  Warm clothes, even in summer, are best packed in the rucksack as the summit can be very cold even on otherwise perfect days.  If the mist does come down, remember that the way off the mountain by the route given here is, from the summit shelter, exactly between the ordnance survey column and the ruined hospice.  I would love to know how you get on, and maybe email me a picture or two ... it's an experience worth sharing.

Stephen x


  1. Great page Stephen, I will come back to it when I am heading back this way.
    I am sometimes guilty of putting my head down and missing out on these hidden gems.
    I think I have this pic on the front of a Wainwright book:

  2. Hi Tim

    Yes I think it is Wainwright in the Limestone Dales - the one with the lonesome tree? I am very guilty of largely ignoring Bowland at present ... we all miss out but you have much more variety than me. It's just great to see others so at home with the landscape. We are lucky to live up here in the north with all this on our doorstep. I look forward to following your walks.

  3. Have just spent an entire evening 'Exploring with Oldfield'... so much detail to take it - thank you for another wonderful tour!