Fountains Fell is a substantial hill situated to the south-west of Pen-y-ghent across Dale Head.
|Classification:||Nuttall, Hewitt, Marilyn|
|OS Map||OL2, OL30|
|No. of Visits||4|
The name Fountains Fell derives from the fact that the hill was once owned by the Cistercian monks of Fountains Abbey. The monks used the land both here and to the south around Malham as a vast sheep pasture, indeed the trade in wool contributed greatly to the abbey’s wealth. Today much of Fountains Fell is owned by the National Trust as part of their Malham Tarn Estate. Many years ago I came across a website that listed an older name that pre-dated Fountains Abbey. Frustratingly I can’t remember what it was and I’ve never seen it listed again. However, as I recall it was of Brythonic origin similar to its near neighbour Pen-y-Ghent.
Whilst Fountains Fell lacks the instantly recognisable outline of Pen-y-Ghent it has much of interest for those willing to explore it. The summit of the fell for example was once the site of a coal mine, surely one of the highest in the country. The colliery was active from about 1790 to about 1860. The coal won from these pits was used domestically as well as for lead smelting on Malham Moor.
Mining remains include bell-pits, some very deep shafts and a small square building. Paul Hannon says this building is known as the ‘Igloo’. It is in fact a coke oven. The oven was built around 1807 at the request of Lord Ribblesdale and was used to provide fuel for the Malham calamine industry. More information about the coke oven can be found on the Out of Oblivion website.
The Pennine Way runs across the top of Fountains Fell, though it doesn’t visit the actual summit. The route of the Pennine Way in fact utilises the old miners routes up on to Fountains Fell colliery. Most walkers who visit Fountains Fell will do using the Pennine Way. From the south it is a steady climb from the farm at Tennant Gill. From the north it is a shorter though steeper approach from Dale Head.
Away from the Pennine Way there are some alternative approaches. Also starting from Dale Head is an option that heads south on a track across Rainscar Pasture. Upon reaching a shooting hut it is then a pathless climb up on to a wall below the subsidiary summit of Fountains Fell South. The main attraction of this route is to explore the area above Fornah Gill that contains the entrances to numerous potholes, such as Gingling Hole, Coronation Pot and the huge shake hole called Coates’ Cavern.
From the Henside to Tennant Gill bridleway to the south it is possible to walk up on to Knowe Fell. Knowe Fell is the southern end of Fountains Fell and from the trig point on Knowe Fell a thin path follows a broken wall up on to Fountains Fell South and thence on to the summit. Yet another option, though rough in places, is a walk across the broad and boggy col from Darnbrook Fell to the east.
In a shallow depression between the main summit and Fountains Fell South is Fountains Fell Tarn. Bypassed by the Pennine Way it is one of the highest tarns in the Yorkshire Dales. It features a good view east towards Great Whernside and Little Whernside and is well worth the short detour to visit it.
The summit is marked by a large cairn on a slight rise. When I first visited Fountains Fell in 2004 it was a solidly constructed tub shaped cairn, almost like a miniature version of the coke oven. In the intervening years it has fallen apart somewhat and the map description of ‘Pile of Stones’ is rather apt. The Database of British Hills claims a spot 15m north as being the true highest point. For the sake of just 40cm in height I think most people will settle for the cairn!
The panorama from the summit is excellent and features many of the highest fells in the Dales. Interestingly though the summit of Whernside is hidden from the view by Pen-y-Ghent. To the south-west there is also a good prospect of the Bowland fells of Lancashire.