A super climb on to Great Shunner Fell from Swaledale with a rougher return over Lovely Seat and Muker Common with glorious views throughout.
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Prior to this walk I’d been up Great Shunner Fell several times using both the usual route from Wensleydale on the Pennine Way, as well as more adventurous routes via Cotterdale and Fossdale. However, I’d never been up or down from the Swaledale side. I planned this route therefore to climb Great Shunner Fell using the Pennine Way from Thwaite. To avoid retracing my steps the route continued down to the Buttertubs Pass before climbing over Lovely Seat and returning to the starting point at Muker via the bridleway at Greenseat Gate.
I was joined on this walk by my friend Paul, a regular companion now on any walks I do in Swaledale. We started the walk from Muker where there are ample parking opportunities. Parking options include the official car park at the eastern end of the village as well as the large laybys at the western end of the village.
“This was by far the best conditions I’ve enjoyed on Great Shunner Fell. The sun was shining and the visibility was excellent.”
Walking into the centre of Muker we took a small road to the right of the Muker Cafe to then turn left alongside a row of house above the Farmer’s Arms. This led out on to a gate and a path across a pasture. There followed a pleasant walk along fields to Thwaite, easy underfoot even though the narrow gate and squeeze stiles did start to get a bit tiresome after a while.
Passing through Thwaite we took a footpath on our left as we headed north out of the village. This briefly shadowed Thwaite Beck where I went in search of the waterfall that is marked on the map. It proved to be a disappointingly small affair. I do wonder how waterfalls like this made it on to the map when some quite fine falls such as Nidd Falls don’t appear at all.
The path soon climbed steeply up through a couple of gates to bring us to the Pennine Way. Turning left on the enclosed track we began a steady ascent above the side valley of Stockdale with increasingly fine retrospective views of Swaledale. One of the things I’ve found about Great Shunner Fell is that, despite its height, the summit rarely stands out on any approach that I’d previously done. Not so on this route where from about the 430m contour onwards the summit is in view almost the entire way.
At the end of the enclosed stony track the path entered open moorland. For about 90% of the rest of the way the path was flagged. While I’m not a huge fan of flagged paths there is no denying that it definitely made the climb much easier and quicker. Passing over Stony Band the views now began to open out to the west as well with the High Seat ridge, Wild Boar Fell and Nine Standards Rigg all appearing. Shortly afterwards we climbed up to a splendid cairn which had been in view for sometime. This provided a good foreground to a magnificent vista of Swaledale.
The final rise to the summit seemed to be on cobblestones rather than slabs. A lone walker soon made off after our arrival so we were able to enjoy the summit to ourselves. This was by far the best conditions I’ve enjoyed on Great Shunner Fell. The sun was shining and the visibility was excellent. The panorama included the Three Peaks, sections of the Lake District and a long sweep of North Pennine fells.
After enjoying our lunch we retraced our steps a few metres to the north to follow the fence dropping down over Little Shunner Fell. It is many years since I’ve passed this way. There was a fairly good path underfoot most of the way, something which I’m sure didn’t exist 13 or so years ago. Where the fence takes a sudden turn to the right on Hood Rigg we carried on to make a beeline for Buttertubs. While it would have been easier and quicker to follow the fence down to the top of the pass we couldn’t come this way without visiting the Buttertubs themselves.
Looking down into the valley of Cliff Beck I could see a waterfall. Assuming this to be the Cliff Force that is marked on the map Paul and I decided to amend our planned route to go and investigate. Dropping down into the beck we first came across a small limestone cliff below which a stream was emerging. There is little doubt that this is the same stream that was plunging into one of the Buttertubs high above us on the other side of the road.
Cliff Force, if indeed my identification was correct, appeared to be a number of small waterfalls on a couple of adjacent streams. These emerge from another limestone cliff, below Long Scar to join the stream emerging from the Buttertubs to form Cliff Beck. From Cliff Force we slanted steeply uphill to the western end of Long Scar. Continuing at a slightly easier gradient we continued slanting right up the fellside to reach a fence. Crossing over we gained a thin path which we followed all the way to the summit.
This is the first time in four attempts that I’ve enjoyed good visibility from Lovely Seat and the panorama didn’t disappoint. It stretched from the Bowland fells in the south to the North Pennines in the north and from the Lake District in the west to the North York Moors in the east. The finest thing about the top of Lovely Seat though is the summit cairn which is shaped like a rough stone throne.
As the clouds began to gather we left the summit, initally on a thin trod to head along the ‘ridge’ towards Muker Common. The ground between Lovely Seat and Peter Rigg is, with the possible exception of Yockenthwaite Moor, as peaty and boggy as anywhere in the Yorkshire Dales. It was certainly a contrast to the slabbed path of our earlier ascent of Great Shunner Fell!
Passing to the south of Peter Rigg we continued along the fence to reach the 621m spot height. From here we began to descend to the north-east so that we dropped down below Noon Gill to our left and Greenseat Gill to our right. It was with some relief that the ground underfoot suddenly changed to nice short cropped grass just above Greenseat Gate.
Sadly the waterfall just below the gate was dry but compensation was soon on hand as the sun once again began to break through the clouds. With the skies brightening up again the final descent into Muker on a good track was superb. The views of Kisdon, Muker, the Swale Gorge and the dark slopes of Rogan’s Seat were a great way to finish what had been a thoroughly enjoyable walk.