Yorkshire Dales Walks
Date: 24th Jan 2015
Distance: 9.5 miles
Ascent: 1537 feet
Time: 5 hours 5 mins
With: On my own
Start Grid Ref: SE070911
A walk contrasting the gentle pastures of Littondale with a tough return in the snow across the length of Darnbrook Fell.
Route Summary: Arncliffe - Guildersbank - East Garth - New Bridge - Litton Green Lane - Darnbrook Fell - Brootes Lane - Arncliffe
Photos: Click on the photos below to enlarge.
Walk Detail: Prior to this walk my only previous encounter with Darnbrook Fell was way back in 2004. On that occasion my friend and I visited Darnbrook Fell on a there and back detour from Fountains Fell on a claggy day with little in the way of views. As a result the only two things I really remember about the fell was the barbed wire fence we had to cross to reach the trig point, and the trig point itself, standing on a stone plinth surrounded by eroded peat.
This walk then was a long overdue chance to see if there was more to Darnbrook Fell than barbed wire and a concrete column. To prolong the 'Darnbrook Fell Experience' I made the decision to start the walk in Littondale and, after following the base of the fell between Arncliffe and Litton, then make use of an old monk's road to access the summit from the north. I would then walk in a south-east direction across almost the entire length of Darnbrook Fell to reach Brootes Lane and thence back to Arncliffe.
The first few miles were as lovely and tranquil as only a walk in Littondale can be. A few sections of track were flooded by recent snow melt but that was a minor inconvenience and ample compensation was to be had by the beauty of the surroundings. A highlight of this section of the walk was a short detour to visit some nice little waterfalls on Bown Scar Beck. Another highlight was the fine view back down the valley from New Bridge above Litton.
Just after New Bridge I took a track climbing up out of the valley. This is apparently an old way once used by the monks of Fountains Abbey and Sawley Abbey both of which owned sheep pastures in Littondale. Today it is a magnificent track, the early stages providing some great views back down in to Littondale. After about a mile and a half, with views now dominated by Plover Hill across Pen-y-ghent Gill, I made a short detour to visit an old limekiln and to get a better view down in to the steep-sided gill.
Shortly after regaining the track I left it again at the head of a deep unnamed gill to commence a pathless climb up on to Darnbrook Fell. Thus far the walk had been relatively easy underfoot but now the combination of tussocky moorland and snow made it harder. Frustratingly, as my pace slowed, the low cloud covering the neighbouring tops blew over on to Darnbrook Fell just before I reached the summit.
Despite the cold I hung about a bit by the trig point hoping the cloud would blow off again. There were a few tantalisingly brief patches of blue sky directly overhead but the cloud wasn't really budging. Leaving the trig point I carefully crossed the nearby barbed wire fence so that I could try and locate the 'Pile of Stones' to the south-east - one of the few features marked on the map on my route of descent. I did indeed find a small pile of stones sat atop a snow covered peat hag. Again occasional patches in the cloud hinted at big views south towards Parson's Pulpit and west towards Fountains Fell.
From the pile of stones I decided to head north-east towards the wall that I intended to use as a handrail to guide me off the fell. Almost immediately I encountered a large area of peat hags and groughs. Normally this kind of a terrain is a challenge that I enjoy tackling head on but on this occasion matters were complicated by the snow which had drifted in the groughs. In places I was going in up to my knees and once my left leg went in up to the top of my thigh.
It was at this point that I became acutely aware of my foolish lack of foresight in not wearing my gaiters. With snow piling in to the top of my boots my feet were getting wet and the top of my ankles were getting very cold. The next couple of miles are amongst the toughest that I've walked, the combination of difficult terrain and increasingly cold feet really slowed me down, as did some awkward wall crossings. Eventually though, and to my great relief, I came upon a quad track which led me down easier slopes to finally reach Brootes Lane. From there it was an easy descent in to Arncliffe, hastened by my need to get my feet warm and dry.
The first half of the walk is one that I'd recommend to anyone. The second half of the walk, even in good conditions, would not be everyone's cup of tea though it is the type of pathless wander that I rather relish. Having said that I wouldn't attempt it again in winter conditions. It hasn't put me off Darnbrook Fell though - I'm already planning more exploratory routes!