This is a bit of a late post. It was at the end of Febuary and I was back in Swaledale with my friend Gareth and my dad for another walk, this time to the summit of the mighty Great Shunner Fell! Not only was it my first proper fell walk of the year it was also my first attempt to climb this impressive mountain, which dominates the heads of Swaledale and Wensleydale and at 716 meters above sea level and just so happens to be the third biggest fell in the Yorkshire Dales.
It was a bright sharp day when we set off from the small village of Thwaite which nestles in a fold of hills near the head of the dale. We followed the path of the Pennine Way up the long slopping ridge along the edge of Stock Dale towards Shunner Fell Rake. As we slowly climbed up the slope stopping here and there to take pictures the more the summit loomed above us. Beneath its domed top, snow cornices still clung to the ridges and gullies on the fell sides.
The higher we ascended up the fell’s broad shoulder towards Shunner Fell Rake the more this mountain started to live up to the name it was given by the Norse settlers who came to this part of the world in the 10th century “Sjon’s lookout hill” from the Old Norse, Sjon + haugr meaning hill. All round us the views started to open up. To the north Teesdale and Mickle Fell could be seen with Stainmore and the A66 lying in between, to the south the high tops of Pen-y-Ghent and Ingleborough. We stopped for a quick break beside the large cairn which marked the beginning of the steep rake to the summit.
The cairn is a fantastic example of the wall builders art and must have stood over 6ft tall, it had slump to one side slightly giving it the impression of stoop old man. We had a quick cuppa as we soaked in the wild grandeur of the landscape that was stretching out before us before continuing on our journey along the rake which is an old Cumbrian term for a steep path or track up a hill. The closer we got to our goal we were treated with more glorious panoramas and mountain vistas, now Wild Boar Fell and Mallerstang could be seen and behind them the Howgill Fells could just be made out.
At the top we found a very comfortable shelter cairn so we hunkered down for a while out of the cold wind, mixed with occasional snow flurry, soaking up the atmosphere of the summit before starting our long descent down to the Buttertubs Pass and then back to Thwaite. This was by no means an easy route as it meant crossing the enticingly named Grainy Gill Moss and Grimy Gutter Hags. When people started to name these places they didn’t just pick names on a whim they were often descriptive and created to form a kind of oral map of the landscape so “Grain or Grainy” means a meeting of gills or sikes and “Moss” is the old term for a marsh or peat bog with that in mind we where pretty thankful the ground (if you could call it that) was still part frozen as I have no doubt that we would have been up to our ears in peat if we tried it on a wet summers day!!
I took a few more pictures before we dropped down onto the road that would lead us back to the car just as more dark clouds swept across the fell.
Once we dropped down to the massive limestone sink holes of Buttertubs the rest of the walk was on tarmac which always makes the journey a bit longer than it should, even more so this time because I knew I had a 6 hour shift behind the bar at work to look forward to. So sadly this time we didn’t have the pleasure of celebrating what was a fantastic day out in the hills, we will just have to save it for later!!