Alex Roddie takes a fresh approach to Great Whernside
Start/finish: The Thwaite Arms, Horsehouse, Coverdale. Limited parking available. GR: SE 048813
- Walk south along the road until a left turn. Cross the bridge, then follow the track uphill towards Arkleside Moor. Take the right-hand fork to the saddle at 482m.
- Turn right and follow the fence along the broad ridge to Little Whernside (604m).
- Continue through peat hags to another saddle and then up a steeper ridge to the plateau of Great Whernside.
- From the bouldery summit (704m) retrace steps for about 800m then take a boggy path descending left towards Tor Dike.
- Turn right at Tor Dike and follow the road back to Horsehouse.
This Wild Walk was first published in the May 2016 issue of The Great Outdoors
Great Whernside is a windswept whaleback of a hill, usually climbed from Kettlewell. But when Hannah and I found ourselves in the eastern Yorkshire Dales on a sunny morning, a glance at the map revealed an alternative route – longer, gentler, and maybe a little wilder too.
Like most of the UK’s mountain areas, the Dales can feel a bit schizophrenic. Spend time near the honeypots of Malham, Settle or Ingleton and you might think the whole area is like that, but only a few miles away, maybe on the other side of an unremarkable rise or the end of a neglected track, you’ll find silence, wide open spaces, and hardly another walker to be seen.
Coverdale is like that. Climbing above the hamlet of Horsehouse, we turned and looked back down into the broad valley where trees and a few houses broke up the pattern of green fields. No walkers ahead, none behind, and skylarks warbling above – what could be more perfect?
A good track led us to the saddle, and that’s when the views really started to open up. The Dales aren’t exactly renowned for ridge walks, but on the long, meandering crest up and over Little Whernside there were moments of excitement looking ahead to the surprisingly graceful form of Great Whernside on the horizon. I’d forgotten how much I loved the Dales for their open skies, their long, sweeping lines. Flowers dashed the moorland with colour.
But a maze of peat hags slowed progress as we came over the first top, and ugly distractions caught my eye: coils of barbed wire, rat traps, Land Rover tire marks. The solitude and the calm had made us forget, for a little while, that this is a working landscape.
A flat field of crags marked the summit of Great Whernside, and we scampered amongst the rocks like delighted children until a few walkers coming up from the other side stopped to say hello. I was glad we’d come up the quiet way, but seeing others enjoy a day on the hill is part of the pleasure too.
Then the descent. We stomped through bogs for a while, and the weather broke long before we got back to the road. But the ancient fortifications of Tor Dike captured our imaginations as we sloshed past, dreaming of dry socks and cups of tea.
By the time we got back to our car at Horsehouse we were wet through. ‘Did you enjoy yourself?’ I asked Hannah. ‘I’m soaked,’ she replied. ‘But did you _enjoy_ yourself?’ Then her frown turned into a smile even as she stood there dripping. ‘Yes.’
- Distance: 22km / 13.7 miles
- Highest point: Great Whernside summit, 704m / 2,309ft
- Total ascent: 610m / 2,002ft
- Maps: Ordnance Survey 1:25,000 Explorer sheet OL30 (Yorkshire dales – North and Central)
- Transport: Kettlewell (starting point for popular route onto Great Whernside) is on the 872/874 bus route
- Further information: Skipton TIC, 01756 729809