Great Whernside is one of the giants of the Yorkshire Dales. Most often climbed from Wharfedale its ridges also enclose the upper reaches of Nidderdale.
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Not to be confused with the Whernside that dominates the head of Ribblesdale and which is 32m higher, Great Whernside is still a major fell in its own right and is higher than Pen-y-ghent, one of the famed Yorkshire Three Peaks.
In addition to its height Great Whernside is also a fell of great girth. The main summit ridge runs for almost four miles from the col with Little Whernside to the north all the way to Hill End in the south. The fell has a number of other subsidary ridges, the main ones descending east into the head of Nidderdale and west down to Kettlewell.
Great Whernside is often considered as belonging to Wharfedale and indeed is the final and highest summit on the recently inaugurated Wharfedale Three Peaks Challenge, a walk that also includes Birks Fell and Buckden Pike. It is worth noting though that to the east Great Whernside encloses the head of Nidderdale and the Nidd itself is actually born on the slopes of the fell at a spot called, with some originality, Nidd Head.
As important as Great Whernside is to the valley of Nidderdale its links with Wharfedale are stronger in most people’s minds. This is for the very simple fact that the vast majority of walkers who set off to climb Great Whernside do so from Wharfedale. More specifically they set off from Kettlewell, a lovely little village which has a long standing association with the fell.
The most direct and most commonly used route from Kettlewell is via the Hooksbank ridge and the scout hut at Hag Dyke. Other approaches to Hag Dyke include a pleasant walk along Dowber Gill or via the bridleway climbing up the eastern side of Cam Gill Beck.
More roundabout approaches from Kettlewell include climbing Top Mere Road before circling around above Tor Dike to cross the Kettwell to Coverdale road at Hunters Sleets and then up on to Whernside via Black Dike. The Hunters Sleets and Black Dike path can also be reached via a footpath climbing up in to the upper reaches of Park Gill Beck. Another possible route cuts across the limestone pastures of Langcliffe before a largely pathless climb up alongside the fence from Hill End and over Sweet Hill to the summit.
From the Nidderdale side there are a few options from the car park at Scar House Reservoir. The most direct route is to take the path to Angram Reservoir before striking up the broad ridge of Lodge Moor. Alternatively a bridleway makes for the foot of the Nidd Head ridge from where a path follows the wall and then a fence all the way to the summit. On this approach Nidd Head maintains the illusion for sometime of being a fell in its own right rather than the ridge that it is.
The summit of Great Whernside sits atop Long Crags, a substantial rash of large and dark gritstone boulders. The highest point is marked by a large cairn which somewhat dwarfs the neighbouring trig point. The trig point is notable for still being an active station as it is part of the Ordnance Survey’s GPS network.
The view from the summit is, on a good day, quite superb. With the exception of Bucken Pike to the north there are no other fells in the area of comparable height. Ingleborough appears over the top of Pen-y-ghent and Plover Hill but looks a long way away so being on Great Whernside does make one feel like being on top of the world. Interestingly there is a direct view down to Kettlewell from the summit, one of the few sections of Wharfedale’s valley floor that can be seen from the summit.
In bad weather things can be very different. Great Whernside is prone to some quite strong winds. On one memorable occassion when I took a group of friends from work up there it was so hard to stand up that we had to literally cling to each other for balance. In winter the top can be especially bitter in the wind and I’ve been up there when wind blasted ice, several inches long, decorated signposts, rocks and the summit fence.
Overall however Great Whernside is a friendly giant and one of the great hills in the Yorkshire Dales.