Yorkshire Dales Walks
Horse Head & Birks Fell
Date: 15th Apr 2012
Distance: 9.8 miles
Ascent: 1461 feet
Time: 5 hours 20 mins
With: On my own
Start Grid Ref: SD907741
Route Summary: Litton - Nether Heselden - Halton Gill - Horse Head - Sugar Loaf - Birks Fell - Birks Tarn - Firth Fell - Litton
Walk Summary: Between October 2004 and August 2005 I climbed the path from Halton Gill in Littondale up to the trig point on Horse Head no less than three times. In those early years of hill walking it was undoutedbly one of my favourite climbs as it featured great retrospective views whilst the panorama from the trig point was also top class.
The first time I climbed Horse Head, in October 04, I also visited Birks Fell. At the time the latter was officially lower than Horse Head but in the intervening period has been re-surveyed and is now officially recognised as being a 2,000fter. I don't recall seeing a summit cairn on my first visit and this has started to bother me as I close in on completing all the 2000ft tops in England. The aim of this walk then, was to retread one of my earliest walks, revisit Horse Head and to make sure I have definitely visited the top of Birks Fell.
I couldn't have asked for a better morning as I walked along the valley floor of Littondale from Litton to Halton Gill. As much as I enjoyed this section it was merely a prelude to the enjoyable climb up on to the ridge from Halton Gill. Especially in the early stages the views of Littondale are magnificent whilst higher up there are some increasingly impressive views of Fountains Fell, Pen-y-Ghent, Plover Hill and, more distantly, Ingleborough.
The trig point on Horse Head is one of my favourite places in the Dales. It is quiet and blessed with great long distance views including most of the main Dales hills. On this occassion the view was even more impressive as, over the shoulder of Whernside, I could clearly see Great Gable and the Scafells. The clarity was so good I could even make out snow on the latter.
After soaking up the views I set off south along the ridge visiting first the 609m summit of Horse Head. I remember standing by the wall near the spot height all those years ago but cannot recall the large cairn which now stands there and which looks like it has been fashioned from the nearby wall. Another, smaller cairn, has also appeared on the Wharfedale side of the wall.
In the broad saddle between Horse Head and Birks Fell there is quite a rough area of peat hags which was quite awkward to cross on my first visit. Fortunately this time the ground was semi-frozen and so I didn't have too many problems on what is the only real rough section of the walk.
On arriving at Birks Fell I made my way to the cairn marking the top. It was so obvious that I had to wonder how I could have missed it the first time, though for all I know it might not even have been there. By this point the skies had begun to darken as some quite tasty showers were beginning to form. I donned my waterproofs just in case and sat down by Birks Tarn to eat my lunch. Luckily the nearest rain shower moved over Buckden Pike before engulfing Great Whernside so I managed to get away with it.
From the tarn I walked along the broken wall overlooking Wharfedale enjoying the views down towards Buckden, Starbotton and Kettlewell before turning up the bridleway and back to the ridge wall and then a quick detour to the trig point on Firth Fell. From there I enjoyed the, in places, steep descent to Litton with some more fantastic views of Littondale.
In itself this was a great walk which also served up a nice slice of nostalgia of my early walking adventures. Hopefully I won't leave it so long before going up there again.
2. The River Skirfare and Littondale
3. Darnbrook Fell from Littondale
4. Halton Gill and Littondale
5. Plover Hill
6. The trig point on Horse Head
7. Fountains Fell
8. The large cairn on the top of Horse Head
9. Peat hags between Horse Head and Birks Fell
10. Cracked peat
11. On the top of Birks Fell
12. Birks Tarn
13. Buckden nestled below the slopes of Buckden Pike
14. Rain shower over Wharfedale
15. By the trig point on Firth Fell
16. The path back down into Littondale