It’s been a while since I last did Fountains Fell. My friend and I had earmarked this sunny, crisp November day during lockdown as an opportunity to catch up whilst enjoying some outdoor exercise. Starting from the cattle grid NE of Rainscar, SD 853 723, the plan was to wander up ESE towards the coal pits, rather than using the path marked on the map. With a quick glance at the map, we navigated roughly, using two stream gullies as boundaries to our left and right. As we climbed, we stopped from time to time to compare the contour lines on the map with the features in the landscape. Re-entrants, stream junctions, steepening gradients, flattish areas, mining pits, ancient, broken down walls… all telling clues as to our exact position. What a day it was for good views! From Rainscar, even from our cars, PenYGhent loomed impressively, showing off its steep, gullied flanks; it didn’t take long before Ingleborough’s sharp silhouette peeped into view.
Eventually, later on, top stile in the wall, we saw all three peaks, Whernside, a gentle, distant mound. We could make out walkers on the top of PYG, whilst we had Fountains all to ourselves.
Fountains Fell is a great peak to explore. Packed with interesting history and tucked away secrets it is begs to be visited. A member of our local running club just put it nicely: ‘Every journey up Fountains is an adventure.’ 668m high, coal was once mined around the summit, between 1790 and 1860. Some shafts are fenced off, but many are not, and a snow drift could easily cover (hide!) such a small opening from the unsuspecting explorer.
I found myself imagining the miners’ commute to the summit each day, on what is today the Pennine Way… in all weather conditions, extracting coal not only for domestic use, but also to fuel the lead smelting on Malham Moor. Fountains Fell took its name from the monks of Fountains Abbey, over 40km away, near Ripon. They used this area for sheep grazing, the wool trade a contributing factor to the abbey’s wealth.
Our route had taken us up and over the shoulder of the mountain where we wandered in as straight a line as was possible through the peat hags and bogs, all the time using a dry stone wall some distance away as a virtual handrail to keep us more or less on track. The limestone for this wall had clearly been hewn out of the fell, and mini, overgrown quarries followed the stone structure.
We were soon descending the eastern side towards the Pennine Way, and found a limestone outcrop – the perfect picnic spot with a panoramic view towards Littondale. We pointed out the various peaks…Buckden Pike, Great Whernside, Barden Moor, Rylstone Fell… all magnificently clear and still, with Malham Tarn a glinting jewell in the foreground. After a short, steep descent of 100m, we were on the Pennine Way, and could enjoy easier ground underfoot to the top.
As we reached the summit plateau, the first cold snap of the season finally bared its teeth and I pulled my Paramo hood closer round my face. This seemed worlds apart from the quiet moment we had spent basking in the warm sun with sandwiches and coffee flasks on the sheltered east side of the fell.
The Pennine Way leads you to the ‘top’ but not to the actual summit. In good visibility, though, the summit cairn is easily spotted and there is a small, boggy path that leads you there. You then have the perfect opportunity to pull out your compass and take a bearing to Fountains Fell Tarn which is hidden from sight, over the peat hags, if you fancy the practice.
We headed through the gate stile at the top of the Pennine Way, and followed the marked, rocky path down to our waiting vehicles, still in disbelief at how perfect a day it was for such an outing after so much rain recently. Our route was 8.27km long with 401m of climb in total. A modest outing, some might say, but definitely an adventure!