One Minute Mountain: Pen-y-ghent

© Chris Clayton

Alex Roddie heads to the Pennines to explore a more mountainous Yorkshire Dales favourite.

Pen Y Ghent  © Chris Clayton
Pen Y Ghent
© Chris Clayton, Jun 2009

Height: 694m (2277ft)

Personality: Surprisingly gnarly for the Yorkshire Dales. In a landscape of sweeping lines, gentle slopes and vast plateaus, Pen-y-ghent's profile – from certain angles at least – is sharper and more mountainous. It's a challenging peak by Dales standards.

Pen y Ghent, snow-clad at sunset  © Catherine Speakman
Pen y Ghent, snow-clad at sunset
© Catherine Speakman, Jan 2010

What's in a name? The name 'Pen-y-ghent' doesn't sound like it belongs in Yorkshire, and that's because the name's origin is Cumbric (distinct from the predominant Old Norse influence in the area, and testament to the long and chequered history of these isles). 'Pen' means 'top', while it's thought that 'ghent' could mean 'edge' or 'border'. 'Top of the edge' is a fair description of Pen-y-ghent's profile from most angles.

Best route: The classic route is a circuit of the hill from Horton in Ribblesdale, ascending the impressive south ridge from Churn Milk Hole. The final climb follows a stone wall towards a forbidding line of crags and some rough ground, while the descent takes the western flank towards Hunt Pot and Hull Pot, steeply at first. This route mainly follows the Pennine Way, so you won't be alone, but it shows the mountain from all the best angles. A superb extended outing can be made by traversing Fountains Fell and Pen-y-ghent from Malham to Horton.

Autumn light  © Dave Barker
Autumn light
© Dave Barker, Oct 2015

Most unfrequented route: Plover Hill is the name given to Pen-y-ghent's sprawling northern mass – a hill with a far more typical Dales character, and much quieter too. The line of long distance trail A Pennine Journey cuts across its flank between Foxup and Hunt Pot. Possible ascents begin from this track before crossing the plateau and approaching Pen-y-ghent's summit from the north.

Watch out for shake holes: 'Area of Shake Holes' is a warning you'll commonly see on OS maps of the Dales. Most shake holes are conical pits formed by the action of water on the local limestone. Others are collapsed cave entrances or passageways. They can be dangerous – in some cases they have an unstable floor that could subside if you go exploring.

Pot holes galore: Some of the larger holes in the ground around Pen-y-ghent are worthwhile places to visit in their own right. Churn Milk Hole, south of the mountain, is one of the larger shake holes in the area, while Hull Pot, near the descent to the west, is an impressive rocky chasm into which a waterfall thunders. Hull Pot is reputedly the largest natural hole in England at roughly 18m deep and 100m in length. In particularly wet weather it's been known to flood right to the brim.

Sunset view of Pen-y-Ghent in the Yorkshire Dales from Whitber Hill.  © Felltop
Sunset view of Pen-y-Ghent in the Yorkshire Dales from Whitber Hill.
© Felltop, Jan 2017

Summit landmarks: There's a well-constructed trig point at the summit, slightly raised above the surrounding ground due to erosion from countless pairs of boots, and an even more sturdily built wind shelter. It's a great place for a spot of lunch after the steep climb.

View from here: Ingleborough, Pen-y-ghent's most famous neighbour, features prominently in views to the west. Fountains Fell, close at hand to the south-east, is less distinguished.

Three Peaks Challenge: The Yorkshire Three Peaks is a route taking in Pen-y-ghent, Whernside and Ingleborough. This walk is around 24 miles (39km) in length with 1585m (5,200ft) of ascent, making it an appreciable challenge, especially when tackled with a target time of 12 hours, and it's become very popular over the summer months. Pen-y-ghent is a much quieter hill in autumn and winter.

Where to stay? The 3 Peaks Bunkroom, Horton in Ribblesdale, makes a good base. There is also a hiker-friendly campsite in the town.

Local pub: The Helwith Bridge Inn, and Crown Hotel, Horton in Ribblesdale, offer real ales and bar meals.

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26 May, 2020

Good article IMHO, pretty comprehensive for One Minute. One small item to add would have been getting to Horton (as the nominated base for exploring PyG) where the very handy Settle Carlisle line (direct service to Leeds and Carlisle: will drop you in Horton. And some nice station webcams at: . (and hopefully trains services will be back again the full schedule post covid19).

6 Jun, 2020

Nice article BUT whatever you do DON'T think of using the camp site in Horton in Ribblesdale at a weekend if you want any sleep. A weekend in August (not bank holiday), cars arriving until after midnight, noise, doors slamming. Then woken at 4 am, more noise etc as the crowds depart for the Three Peaks walk (most of them that weekend were from a gym club in London). At least Saturday night was a little quieter.

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