Three Peaks: Day 2 – Ingleborough, limestone pavements and powdery primulas

9.28 miles 6h 22min ascent 470m

Ribblehead-Gauber quarry-Park Fell-Souther Scales Fell-Swine Tail-Ingleborough-Sulber Nick-Horton

Ingleborough is the second highest of the Yorkshire Three Peaks and the second of our Three Peaks’ walks. After a very wet outing the day before, we were expecting a better day, but the weather was actually better than had been forecast.. We decided to park in Horton-in-Ribblesdale, take the train to Ribblehead and walk back to Horton via Ingleborough. The long ridge walk had looked quite daunting from the road but wasn’t too bad.

Horton Station
At Ribblehead Station
Ribblehead Viaduct with Whernside in the background

Most of the descriptions of this route followed the road for three quarters of a mile, but we came across one that suggested walking through the quarry to the west of the train station. That sounded more interesting than the B6479, so that’s the way we went. There are green posts marking a route through the quarry and several information boards. You can see from the photographs that the sky was grey, but the clouds were showing signs of rising with just the summits of Ingleborough and Whernside in cloud.

Park Fell, Simon Fell and Ingleborough from the Gauber Quarry

We needed to leave the waymarked quarry walk and find a way to the buildings at Colt Park. I followed the quarry way a little too far, onto the Gauber High Pasture and found the terrain hard going. There was certainly no path taking us where we needed to go and as far as I could see no gate through the wall in our way. In actual fact there was a gate, I just didn’t see it. So we backtracked and used a ladder stile to cross the wall which we then followed to the buildings at Colt Park

Park Fell

From Colt Park we followed the wall up Park Fell, a long slog up, walking at times on stones, slabs, gravel and sometimes muddy steps. There are four obvious shoulders on the way up which were good places to admire the view (take a breather). We continued beside the wall until it kinked away to our left and we followed the path climbing along the edge of the hill until it contoured around Simon Fell at about 600m.

Ingleborough from the shoulder of Simon Fell

The thing that caught my attention while walking here was the extensive limestone pavement between us and Whernside. I recalled taking quite a few photos but when I glanced at my photos I didn’t see them at first. My perception outshone the photographs. The pictures were there but just didn’t capture how impressive the limestone had seemed to me. There was no direct sunlight at the time – we would see what limestone pavements were like in sunshine a couple of hours later.

Approaching Ingleborough

We joined reached the col below Ingleborough just as the rain started so we had our lunch in waterproofs, but at least the cloud had risen enough to clear the summit.

The final pull up Ingleborough is mostly rock steps, with one steep(ish) semi-scramble along the way and then the rather intimidating climb up Swine Tail. This looked as though it was going to be another Pen y Ghent type scramble but there are in fact engineered rock steps, narrow but easy enough but for a very short scramble. The fact I didn’t take any photographs is a sure sign that I was finding things a bit tricky. I had thought we had lost the path while coming up Swine Tail, but when we came to go back down we went much the same way.

From the Col below Ingleborough

Inglebourough has a broad rocky plateau. Several cairns marked where we had climbed onto the plateau and would be our guide when finding the way down. When I first reached the summit plateau and looked up at the cairns I saw a man standing there looking down at us. He was still by the cairns as we passed them. Something about him seemed strange, I thought perhaps he was ‘drinking in’ the view, but I put it out of my mind.

Ingleborough Trig

Scattered rocks and small cairns cover most of Ingleborough’s summit and the top sports a trig pillar, a large cairn (which is obviously higher than the trig) and a cross-shaped shelter. We had lunch in the wind shelter’s NW quadrant looking out towards Gragareth and Whernside.

‘Ing’ in Old English meant peak/hill so ‘Ing-hyll’ may have meant peak-hill, or been ‘Ingel’ with much the same meaning as ‘Ing’. Burh’ is a more recognisable word, again from Old English, meaning a fortified place. It has long been believed that an Iron Age Fort had covered most of Ingleborough’s summit. The rampart enclosed an area of about 16 acres (9 football pitches) and the foundations of several round houses can be seen on aerial photographs. It does seem a strangely desolate place to live though and an information board on the summit gives an alternative interpretation, which I find more convincing, that the area was a prehistoric ritual area, and the presumed roundhouses were actually ring cairns. I Think I prefer to think of Ingleborough as the Stonehenge of the Dales.

Descending Ingleborough

After lunch we made our way back down Swine Tail then but took the right fork at the junction marked by a wee standing stone. We had come up the path on the left of the stone. Our new path lost height quite quickly but wasn’t particularly steep. At the lip of one slightly steeper section I saw the chap we had seen gazing down at the top of Swine tail. He was standing looking out just as he had been before, and I began to worry that he was about to jump, so I mosied across to ask if he was OK.

It seems he had been spooked by the scramble on Swine Tail and was finding the mild slope in front of him intimidating. We talked for a short while and I suggested he could follow me on an exaggerated zig-zag off the path, but he preferred to press on and was soon powering on ahead of us (him being half our age).

The Dales High Way

This route we were walking is part of the Dales High Way and runs eastwards across the southern slopes of Simon Fell. It was well trodden and had been ‘improved’ to limit erosion, so there was little in the way of bogginess to contend with. I noticed that a great many of the walkers we saw were wearing trainer-type footwear. I also felt a little overdressed since shorts seemed to be the male attire of choice.

On the Dales High way, Pavement in the background

As we came around Simon Fell, the extensive limestone pavement across Sulber Nick came into view. The sun began to shine and the limestone shone, looking like a gigantic herd of sheep. We shed our waterproofs. At Nick Pot the path forks, the Dales High Way continues on to Clapham, while we turned left for Horton and a walk through the limestone.

The Sulber Path
Limestone pavement, Pen y ghent in the background

We had plenty of the usual moorland flowers, including a great many orchids but then saw some pink flowers that neither of us recognised, though Audrey thought it a primula (she was right). And there was lots of it. Back at home we identified it as Bird’s Eye Primrose (Primula farinosa). Farinosa means floury or powdery and refers to the appearance of its stalks. It only grows on wet lime rich soils and is particularly abundant about Ingleborough. Another flower that flummoxed us at first was the mossy saxifrage. I looked at them and my brain said “stonegrit” which I knew to be wrong but felt was somehow right. I’d obviously stored the name by meaning.

Bird’s eye primrose
Orchids on the moor
Sulber Nick

The walk through the limestone pavement was well worth the effort, though the path was less ‘improved’ and strewn with loose rocks. The pink of bird’s eye primula, red-purple orchids, white wood anemone, yellow dandelions and blue-purple violets dotted the moor.

We passed the footpath to Moughton and reached a small descent which brought us down into the Ribblesdale Valley proper. More green, and less grey-white, with Pen y Ghent directly ahead, skylarks overhead.


Horton itself was hidden in a wee dip until we were almost upon it, but we recognised trees we had seen the day before which we knew to be on its far side. Then, soon enough, we could see the church and knew we were almost there.

The path brought us down to the train station where we crossed the tracks then headed down to the car. This had been a great day out, helped I think by the sun making an appearance in the afternoon.

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