Pennine Way Stage 9: Horton-in-Ribblesdale to Hawes

Published 14 October 2015

Catherine standing next to a sign post on Middle Bank Hill, on the Cam High Road part of the Pennine Way
It’s a Pennine Way signpost!

We’d barely been back in London a few hours before the maps were being scoured over, railway timetables studied, guide books consulted and the old heads scratched as we attempted to plan our return to the Pennine Way.

Even so, it would be another six months before we arrived back in Horton-in-Ribblesdale again. We still hadn’t quite committed ourselves to doing the whole thing; just to another four days on the trail which would take us up to Dufton. Still, it looked a promising route, which would allow us to visit a remote pub, and head out of Yorkshire, through Teesdale and into Cumbria where we’d see one of the finest sights on the whole of the Pennine Way.

After reacquainting ourselves with Horton’s many sights – a process that took the whole of ten minutes – we set off again on a cool but distinctly sunny October morning. There were blue skies and those light wispy clouds that flutter and fluff along so neatly in the sky as we headed out of the village along a walled track; the three peaks of Pen-y-ghent, Ingleborough and Whernside dominating the skyline. There was even the odd glimpse of a train on the Settle to Carlisle line down across the valley, although hopes that billowing smoke from a steam engine would be visible on the horizon were dashed by the realisation that the line was mostly occupied by diesel engines pulling long freight trains.

Sell Gill Holes, seen from the Pennine Way
Sell Gill Holes.

The ground around the path seemed to be full of holes. We were in caving country, with plenty of gaps between rocks, spots where potholers could disappear off into gloom for their subterranean exploration. Sell Gill Holes is a particularly popular spot, where there is apparently a relatively accessible set of caves. Down there somewhere was a cavern 64m high, and at the entrance a stream flowed in. We stood there listening to the sound of the water crashing down to the cave floor, and at that point I knew it would take a hell of a lot to persuade me to crawl down through the narrow gap and into the depths of the earth. No, those cavers could keep it for themselves as far as I was concerned.

More limestone caves followed; more subtle entrances for those who get their kicks heading underground. Dry Laithe Cave even had a stream flowing into it, making its name perhaps a tad ironic. And then there was Ling Gill which wasn’t a cave at all, but actually a limestone gorge, all lined with trees whose leaves were busily changing themselves to offer a display of Autumn’s finest colours.

The author sitting besides Ling Gill Bridge on the Pennine Way.
Ling Gill Bridge – a spot for contemplation

Nearby too sat Ling Gill Bridge, a small, slightly dumpy yet attractive 16th century stone construction which allowed people to cross the stream without getting their feet wet. And according to one guide book writer extraordinaire Alfred Wainwright, it also marks a boundary between limestone and peat based moorlands. Well, if he says so. I was more interested in the fact that it was a lovely spot to rest awhile, which is exactly what we did, sitting on a rock and dangling our legs near the stream.

What it didn’t offer though was a view of the mighty Ribblehead Viaduct. The figurehead of the Settle to Carlisle railway line, the twenty-four arch viaduct took a thousand navvies four years to build before being completed in 1894. Work was tough, with the navvies living with their families in shanty towns under the shadow of the viaduct. It’s an amazing sight – more so when you consider it was built without all the modern building equipment we now take for granted – and consists of an estimated 1.5 million bricks, yet by the 1980s Ribblehead Viaduct was at the centre of a campaign to close the railway line completely.

British Rail had been running down the line for years, in a classic example of “closure by stealth”, where the service was deliberately run down in order to make the line uneconomical. All but two stations on the line were closed in 1970, with just two passenger trains a day remaining. Repair work was cut back leaving viaducts and tunnels in poor condition, and freight services were diverted to use the West Coast mainline instead.

The Ribblehead Viaduct just about visible through the haze, from the Pennine Way
Ribblehead Viaduct in the distance.

After years of being run-down, the closure notices finally went up in 1984; British Rail citing the huge cost of repairing the line and bringing it up to spec. At the heart of that were the quotes of astronomical proportions to complete the repair work on the Ribblehead Viaduct – a whopping £6m in itself.

But the line wasn’t going to go down without a fight. Campaigners, including local authorities and rail enthusiasts, fought a bitter battle, citing the fact that the potential for tourism had been completely ignored, and that the line provided a useful diversionary route for the West Coast mainline. They were also helped on their way by the discovery that repair costs had been deliberately exaggerated.

It took five years, but the campaigners won. The final decision rested on the shoulders of a certain Minister for Transport and now TV presenter named Michael Portillo who rejected the application, later describing it as his greatest achievement in politics.

With the line saved, many of the old stations were re-opened and the vital repair work was completed at a far lower cost than originally estimated. Tourist traffic increased dramatically, however it is freight which is at the heart of the modern Settle to Carlisle line, carrying coal to power stations in Yorkshire.

Ribblehead Viaduct is without doubt a fine structure, although one that sadly the Pennine Way prefers to view only afar. Still, on a fine day a good view can be had of it, as it sits nestling in the hills. Unfortunately the weather wasn’t working in our favour. After starting clearly, a dull haze was beginning to envelop our view leaving a magnificent viaduct, to be rendered a series of fuzzy blobs looming over the horizon.

A footpath goes along Dismal Hill.  Other hills are visible in the distance.
Dismal Hill.

The Pennine Way’s most obvious connections with the Romans can be found at Hadrian’s Wall, further up the trail. However, there are other Roman links, such as the several miles along the straight Cam High Road.

There are some Roman roads that you can follow and get a sense of their history; what it must have been like to be a centurion marching along in his sandals. And there are others where you could just be walking over any track, anywhere. Cam High Road fell firmly into the latter category, thanks to the fact that these days it mostly follows a dry stone wall. And if there’s one thing that does rather prevent you from regressing to the Roman era, its walking alongside a dry stone wall.

And that wasn’t all. Based on its condition, the track seemed to be well frequented by 4×4 drivers; perhaps more so than Pennine Way hikers. Like many old green lanes, Cam High Road was open to motor vehicles. Or at least, was on our visit. A year later 4×4 drivers were banned from using it after complaints that the old road had been wrecked by drivers. One thing is certain – whilst Cam High Road has survived many a thing, it was never designed up to cope with the onslaught of the off-road vehicle.

West Cam Road on the Pennine Way
West Cam Road on the Pennine Way.

Our own journey was without any vehicular blight. In fact we’d barely seen anyone all day; our main source of company being a handful of sheep who were spread thinly over this wild and lonely looking hill. The hazy weather helped to make it feel even more remote; blocking off the view of the surrounding valleys and fields as it hovered in the air.

As it hit late afternoon and we got our first glimpse of the market town of Hawes, the haze began to be accompanied by dark clouds, which were providing a foreboding gloom about the place. A warning sign about a bull being in the field made things feel distinctly worse as we left the moorland for tracks through fields. Still, at least it was dry. But not for long; the rain finally began as we entered into the neighbouring village of Gayle via a small housing estate.

With waterproofs on we strode purposely into Hawes’s bustling main street, lined with pubs, gift shops and vendors of antiques, cars, and coaches. The place was packed with visitors who had come from far and wide to check out the local attractions, which include the mighty Wensleydale dairy on the edge of the town. In sharp contrast to the rest of the day, we were close to fighting our way through the crowds in order to make it to Hawes’s YHA.

The exterior of YHA Hawes
Hawes Youth Hostel – a welcome sight for many a Pennine Way walking

The last time I’d stayed in a youth hostel was two nights spent in Ilam Hall hostel in Derbyshire when I was 12 years old, with other children from my primary school. An imposing old manor house with large dorms, the hostel had been ruled with an iron grip by the warden who barked out instructions to all and sundry, and diligently ensured that everyone did their chores. Be it collecting the laundry, cleaning the kitchen or chopping logs, there was work to be done in hostels in those days. In my parents’ photo album can be found a snapshot of twenty children all stood on stepping stones in the middle of some nearby river, but to this day the abiding memory of the trip was of having to vacuum the sitting room.

These days the YHA has changed. Chores are out, and you don’t even need to be a member any more; a simple £3 surcharge providing us with “overnight membership”. There were even – gasp – private rooms for two people, one of which we’d secured for the night. We opened it up to find it came fully equipped with ready made beds, fluffy (although rather psychedelically patterned) towels and a kettle with an assorted collection of herbal teas. Quite what that warden from Ilam would have made of it, I don’t know, although I’m not entirely sure she would ever have coped.

The Crown pub in Hawes, on the Pennine Way
Popping into the Crown for a beer.

After settling in, we headed out to see Hawes, making the most of the quiet streets now that the coach parties had moved on to somewhere else. It was a chance to see the sights. And by sights, I really mean “pubs”. There were four to choose from, and we wandered up and down the high street peering through the windows to see which tickled our fancy. After discounting two for being too “bog standard”, we finally settled on the Crown Inn which turned out to be cosy and friendly, as well as being a purveyor of fine Yorkshire ales, as well as a cracking Barnsley Chop.

More ale followed before, filled up and refreshed, we headed through the dark streets back to the YHA and prepared ourselves for the morning. We had a big day ahead of us, and one which would involve another pub too. And not just any pub, but the highest pub in Britain.

To say I was excited was perhaps an understatement. No, the next day really couldn’t come soon enough.


Penny Dickinson

19 August 2020 at 3:24 pm

What I expected to read in this was a description of the route.
No such luck
It’s a lot of words that say nothing at all.
For anyone looking at information about route, advice on shoes or boots etc need to look elsewhere.

Andrew Bowden (Rambling Man editor)

19 August 2020 at 3:33 pm

Thanks Penny for your comment. But I am not entirely sure why you thought it was necessary to make it.

You didn’t find what you wanted on this page. That’s fine. I have no problem with that. People land on web pages all the time and find they’re not getting what they expected to get. It happens. But they don’t bother complaining. Seriously I have no idea what you expected to achieve.

Perhaps you think I should delete my website and replace it with step by step advice on boots?


13 October 2020 at 7:11 pm

Well I enjoy your wry and informative musings.
By the way we are here in the covid era and have stumbled into walking by algorithm which has spellchecked our route to the ‘panini’ way.
I’ll have to stop buying barmcakes for my sandwiches.


21 September 2021 at 5:41 pm

I walked Horton in Ribblesdale upto Cam High Rd and on to Kidhow gate (Can’t manage 14 mile at once) with a friend at the weekend. Usually study the route on Google and take a map and a pennine book. On this part it seems Google is wrong. At one point it takes u off on the ” 3 peaks trail” which means you have to travel along a fram access rd to get back to pennine way. Really enjoy reading how you walked the ‘way ‘ and refer to it if we think we may be going wrong, as well as every other pennine map we carry.

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