Great Shunner Fell

Great Shunner Fell

Great Shunner Fell is the third highest mountain in the Yorkshire Dales and the fifth highest mountain on the Pennine Way.

Height (m): 716
Height (ft): 2349
Prominence (m): 297
Classification: Nuttall, Hewitt, Marilyn
Hill No: 2716
Grid Ref: SD848972
OS Map OL19, OL30
No. of Visits 4

In height and girth Great Shunner Fell is one of the true giants of the Yorkshire Dales. It ranks as the third highest mountain in the Dales after Whernside and Ingleborough and is in fact only eight metres lower than the latter. It stands on the broad watershed between Wensleydale and Swaledale and has a firm footing in both valleys. From Hardraw in Wensleydale to Keld in Swaledale the fell is over eight miles long and is approximately three and a half miles wide from the Buttertubs Pass in the east to the col with the Mallerstang fells to the west.

Looking across Wensleydale towards Great Shunner Fell
Looking across Wensleydale towards Great Shunner Fell

The broad extent of the fell contributes to the fact that it lacks the dramatic and instantly recognisable outline of the likes of Ingleborough, Pen-y-Ghent or Wild Boar Fell. The summit is set so far back from any of the surrounding valleys that it can only really be seen either from one of the neighbouring fells or when one is almost on top of it.

Great Shunner Fell from Archy Styrigg
Great Shunner Fell from Archy Styrigg

What the fell may lack in grandeur the summit makes up for as an extensive viewpoint. Indeed Great Shunner Fell apparently translates as ‘Big Lookout Hill’. It is not a view of valleys but of hills receding into the distance in almost every direction. On a clear day the North Pennine heights of Mickle Fell and the Cross Fell group seem particularly close.

The trig point on Great Shunner Fell is built into the shelter
The trig point on Great Shunner Fell is built into the shelter

The summit is marked by a large cross shelter and a trig point. The cross shelter was constructed on the site of an old cairn and was built to incorporate the trig point, the stone work for both is so similar that the trig point is almost camoflaged by the shelter. A Wensleydale Round Table plaque is also built into the shelter, presumably they were responsible for its construction. Whoever did build the shelter it provides welcome respite on a windy day.

The Wensleydale Round Table plaque on the shelter
The Wensleydale Round Table plaque on the shelter

The fell is usually climbed via the Pennine Way which traveses almost the entire length of the fell. The most common approach along the Pennine Way is from the south starting at Hardraw. It is a long but easy walk of 4.5 miles from Hardraw to the summit, the build up in height being only very gradual. Unless planning a long walk most people tend to return by the same route.

Approaching Great Shunner Fell from the south on the Pennine Way
Approaching Great Shunner Fell from the south on the Pennine Way

The shortest, but largely pathless, approach to the summit is from the parking area near the Butter Tubs. The Butter Tubs are a set of deep vertical potholes and limestone pinnacles; legend has it that farmers used to keep their butter cool by storing it in the deep shafts, hence the name. Situated right next to the Hawes to Muker road they are one of the most interesting and accessible limestone features in the Yorkshire Dales.

The famous Buttertubs
The famous Buttertubs

In truth neither of these options show Great Shunner Fell in the best light. For the more adventurous there are far more interesting options which take in some of the features missed by the Pennine Way. One such approach is from Cotterdale via an old colliery track that peters out in Jinglemea Bog and then on to the modest gritstone edge of Broadmea Crag and the well construced cairn named Long Gill Beacon.

Broadmea Crag
Broadmea Crag

So far my favourite route is to trace Fossdale Beck almost all the way to its source – a tarn below Stony Edge just over half a mile from the summit of Great Shunner Fell. Fossdale literally means ‘ Waterfall Valley’, the most famous waterfall being Hardraw Force. While the latter is easily accessible it is not particularly straightforward to get alongside the stream further up the valley but once this is achieved it is a lovely, mainly pathless, walk. As the sides of the gill narrow above Wofell Scar it is necessary to climb up away from the stream but if care is taken a series of delightful waterfalls can be viewed from above.

One of the small tarns below Stony Edge
One of the small tarns below Stony Edge

Another possible route is via the Hearne Coal Road, another old coal miners route, this time to the pits on Pickersett Nab. Unfortunately in its upper reaches the Hearne Coal Road disappears into a long stretch of reeds, the only sign of a route being an occasional wooden stake. A newly constructed shooters track also climbs up on to Pickersett Nab via the farm at Fossdale. It passes through private land so is not accessible to the public in its early stages and besides it is a fairly ugly scar on the fell side.

Great Shunner Fell from Baugh Fell
Great Shunner Fell from Baugh Fell

So far I’ve not explored any of the approaches from the north either via the Pennine Way from Muker or along Great Sled Dale both of which are on my lengthy ‘to-do’ list. However, the fact that there is still so much more to explore is one of the reasons why I find Great Shunner Fell one of the most interesting hills in the Dales.

Long Gill Beacon
Long Gill Beacon

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