Hike and Pint around Chapel-le-Dale
By Martin Sherlock
This walk has been selected for summer, not because it is an especially good walk to do in the summer but because there is a summer-only bus service connecting Lancaster and Ribblehead (in fact, from Preston to Richmond). This runs on Sundays, out in the morning, back in the evening, quite conveniently for this walk. The morning bus arrives half an hour before the Station Inn open but there is much to see and explore round Ribblehead and half an hour is easily filled. If you haven’t been before, I recommend the visitor centre in the railway station building. You can also reach Ribblehead by train. This isn’t so convenient from north Lancashire and, if you do this walk, you will still have to catch a bus back from Ingleton (or walk an extra three miles to Bentham station). Stagecoach have now almost given up on Ingleton but Kirkby Lonsdale Coach Hire have stepped into the breach so you will be able to get a bus back to Lancaster, Settle or Skipton.
The Station Inn dates from the same time as the railway, 1875. although there is little Victorian or even twentieth century on the inside. A recent refurbishment has kept the robust rustic look befitting a pub where boots and rucksacks are the norm. It would probably have survived the closure of the line, such are the numbers of hikers, cyclists, potholers etc who come in anyway (but when I’ve been in the evening, there have been a surprising number of locals from somewhere). The current layout makes better use of the space than before: somehow it looks bigger. The current management team came at the beginning of the year. They have put on two Black Sheep beers and a house beer from Tirril, supplemented by two other beers at weekends, mainly from Settle and Three Peaks.
There now remains the question of getting back to Ingleton. The obvious and speedy way is straight along the main road, but I wouldn’t recommend this. The traffic is fast and frequent and there is a lack of verges or pavement for pedestrians to cower on. If you’ve got plenty of energy, enough time and good weather then the best way from Ribblehead to the Hill Inn has to be over the top of Whernside. As this column is aimed at the gentler walker, I will propose instead a via media avoiding road traffic as far as possible but also minimising exertion, roughness and wetness. Turn left leaving the pub and in a short distance turn left again along a broad track signposted “Gunnerfleet Farm”. This will take you under the famous viaduct, through a gate (which close and fasten), over a cattle-grid and a bridge to a T-junction. If you are following this walk on an Ordnance map you will notice there appears to be a direct route to the Hill Inn by turning left, but a section of this path forces you to walk on a stream-bed, water, rocks and all, and so fails my criteria. Turn right instead, passing through a gate to another T-junction. Here turn left following the signpost to “Scar End 5½ miles”. You are now following a bridleway that takes a level line along the foot of Whernside. There will be some uncertainty at the first farmyard. Pass right through to the far end, leaving not by the gate to the left of the final buildings, nor by the one marked “private” (!), but just to the left of this. The path now becomes narrow and grassy, crossing a simple wooden bridge. If you look to the right here following rain, you will see a small waterfall. Bear right to a small gate – big enough for a horse but not a tractor. There now follows a succession of gates, mostly small. Pass through them all, ignoring turnings off, until at last there are signposts announcing “Hill Inn 1¼”, reinforced by an old “turn left” road sign. This is indeed the way to go. The track (Philpin Lane) soon acquires a good motoring surface taking you to the main road 100 yards below the Hill Inn.
The Hill Inn has a certain fame beyond its local area, mostly I think because of its superb location, but also in the past as a remote outpost of Theakstons. It had a rough-and-ready ethos in those days – if you’d had too much Old Peculier you could sleep it off in the barn. The current owners arrived 19 years ago, which is a long time these days for a publican. They carefully conserved the old décor – including scrubbed tables, bare stonework and a cartwheel – and kept up the music nights, but there is an unmistakeable air of gentility about the place nowadays. Lots of serious walkers frequent the bar – many attempts on the Three Peaks have foundered here – but I get the impression that most of the trade comes from people who have come out mainly for serious eating. They have come to the right place, especially if puddings and cakes are what they are after. They were early supporters of Dent Brewery here and have stuck with them ever since, usually joined at the moment by Settle Ribblehead Bitter.
If you’ve got the energy etc, you can follow the crowds from here and go up Ingleborough. If, however, you are looking for a quick and easy way back to Ingleton, then turn left out of the pub and head carefully for a quarter of a mile down the main road. Turn right onto a road signposted “Chapel-le-Dale Church”. Then just carry on – this narrow tarmac strip terminates in Ingleton. For those who object to walking miles on a road, you are welcome to seek alternatives, but the ones I have found are excessively rough, hard to navigate and have a strong tendency to bogginess. This lane (Oddie’s Lane) is supposed to be an old Roman road, although it’s not very straight, and much of it is unfenced, so you can walk on the verge if that’s what your feet prefer. It is almost traffic-free.
Eventually, you will cross the Waterfalls Walk, clearly signposted. You could go into Ingleton along the Walk, but then you would only have done half of it but had to pay for it all, so I think you should leave the waterfalls for another day. Instead, consider this detour. Turn right up the public footpath here, against the general flow of walkers. Keep the same direction passing the farmstead and along a green lane. Here you may find an ice-cream van, then pass the top of the west side of the Waterfalls Walk, reach a stream crossed by a ford and a footbridge, to reach another narrow road. Turn left here: a short stiff pull here is followed by a long downhill to Thornton-in-Lonsdale church. Although this is a through route (Ingleton-Dent), it gets very little traffic. The only object to detain you is the Millennium toposcope.
The Marton Arms is directly opposite the church. Although this juxtaposition is generally considered a classic, this pub was built as a coaching inn: the road here was the way from Skipton to Kendal before the turnpike was built. This is another pub with fame from the past, in this case the 1990s when it was “Lonsdale’s permanent beer festival”, as well as having over 100 malt whiskies. Then the owner retired and sold up unfortunately to Enterprise Inns. A succession of tenants followed in short order, none of whom could make a living. EI finally gave up and sold it back into private hands in 2017, since when there has been some welcome stability. The glory days are not coming back – the world has changed anyway – they have a sensible range of a minimum of four cask ales from different breweries, more at busy times. Although this pub depends on trippers and tourists, it is outside the main hiking/potholing zone and the décor reflects this.
Ingleton is now nearby. Leave the pub’s front entrance and continue in the same direction over the old railway bridge. It would be very nice to get to the village along the old track and over the viaduct, but this is prohibited, so take the road, bearing left at each junction and using such footways as may be found. Ingleton has four old inns, two working men’s clubs and two newish microbars in former shop premises. All have real ale. This would make a whole article in itself (any takers?), so I will not attempt to cover them all. If you’re not familiar with Ingleton, the current Good Beer Guide entry is the Masons on the A65. If you do end up there, note that you can catch the bus to Lancaster from the stop just down the road; there is no need to go back to the middle of the village. If you do know Ingleton, then I will just draw your attention to a new attraction: the Old Post Office has been open as a bar for four years but only got cask ale (from Lancaster, but not Amber or Blonde) this March and now opens at a time hikers are likely to be going past.