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Trail talk: Pennine Bridleway. The Settle Loop

Simply glad to be alive on the Settle Loop

The 205 mile long Pennine Bridleway has two included loops. The first is the 47 mile Mary Towneley Loop that I completed on my way up from Middleton Top. The second is the ten mile Settle Loop. My plan was to traipse round it in a few hours and call the remainder a day off in Settle. But first I had the aftermath of a night of torrential rain to contend with.

Day Ten. Kings Field, Barnoldswick to Settle 18.25 miles, 2016 feet ascent. 22.54 miles, 3001 feet ascent, to wildcamp that night on the Settle Loop

My walk from Barnoldswick to Settle on day ten on the Pennine Bridleway had been 18.85 miles. However I wasn’t staying in town that night and I carried on out of town looking for a pitch for the night. After a steep climb out of Settle I reached the point where the trail again divided, one branch going left and continuing the linear trail, the right branch beginning the Settle Loop, I turned right onto the loop. The couple of miles of the Settle Loop that actually pass through Settle are included in the main trail so I was now already two miles into the loop.

1.79 miles from Settle I passed a small old cow shed and briefly considered halting there as I was now ascending into worsening weather and had also seen both sheep and cows all around me. Sheep don’t bother me but I always try and get away from the latter if camping as I am wary about their trampling a tent and occupant.

Looking at the map I could see there was a small plantation that I thought I might be able to tuck myself away in so I carried on to there. However once I arrived at the open gate through which I could see the wood, and having made a sodden walk across the cow trodden field of mud and shit I found that the interior resembled an artillery shelled no-mans land. But no, it had simply been accommodating cows for some weeks and they had trodden every patch of ground beyond anything that could take a shelter. I turned about and headed back the way I had come, retreating back down the hill to the little cow shed passed earlier.

Starting the Settle Loop the previous evening I originally had my sight on a nights camp in a small plantation about a mile into the loop. Trodden by cows, it was a mudfest and completely unsuitable and I needed to retreat back the way I had come in search of a better location
Starting the Settle Loop the previous evening I originally had my mind on a nights wildcamp in a small plantation about a mile into the loop. Trodden by cows, it was a mudfest and completely unsuitable and I needed to retreat back the way I had come in search of a better location

As it was, that location provided a small field behind it where I was sheltered and hidden from the trail by a dry stone wall. It was flat and had nothing grazing nearby larger than a rabbit. It was, in the gathering swirling wet cloud, an adequate, nay, perfectly good, pitch for the night. Day ten, including my end-of-day backtracking, had been around 22.5 miles. Excluding that fruitless wander further on, it was actually 20.64 miles from my wildcamp at Barnoldswick to where I was now, with 2753 feet of ascent.

Wildcamp just below cloud base. The trail is the other side of the wall on right
Wildcamp just below cloud base. The trail is the other side of the wall on right
Weather is closing in, time to heat water for a meal and brew before battening down the hatches
Weather is closing in, time to heat water for a meal and brew before battening down the hatches

I had pitched a little after eight in the evening and had to get a move on with the necessary camp chores before dark fell. Heavy rain set in soon after I had got the evening meal rehydrating and I closed all the Duplex doors and prepared for a bit of a wildnight. I was fairly well sheltered in my location and the rain increased along with the wind and kept it up right through to dawn, becoming torrential for some hours. Everything stayed nailed down however and I had no issues. I groggily rose a couple of times during the night to shine a light around the interior but there was nothing to put right and I slept surprisingly well considering the storm.

Day Eleven– Remainder of the Settle Loop. Wildcamp on the loop to Settle. 8.54 miles, 980 feet ascent.

A lot of water had dropped during the night but it stopped in the morning. Enough for me to open up the vestibule doors for a brew, drunk while I stared out at a misty damp world and the rocky scar, a geological unconformity, slowly being revealed on my left. This breakfast boil used up the last of my 240 gas cart but that was no issue as I was headed into Settle today for a small resupply for the remainder of the trail. A peaceful breakfast comprised the last of my pumpkin crackers with the remainder of my chocolate peanut butter. Perhaps it was a half day off coming up, but I was fed and watered, fit and happy, warm and dry. As it should be if I had planned correctly for a multi-day hike. The day outside was clearing up and I packed up, prepared for a wet and muddy morning.

Half a mile past the plantation I had given up on the previous evening I came across a swollen beck. Managing to cross without much issue and feeling far too pleased with myself as a result. Gorbeck, another half mile on was a different matter. This dramatically showed how a small rivulet can become grossly swollen after rain. I am sure many cyclists normally pass through this at speed without lifting their feet from the peddles, while walkers probably bound across. Not this morning. I took off shoes and socks to wade across the racing water that brushed my hoicked up shorts, the feet got a decent cold wash in the process.

Fording the swollen Gorbeck
Fording the swollen Gorbeck

Despite the heavy rain the previous night and resultant muddy trail to start with, plus a temporarily swollen beck, the Settle Loop is simply a ten-mile loop walk out of and back to Settle with frequent moderate views. It is climbing for the first four miles, then mostly levels out with just a little more ascent, then drops back down to the town. Pleasant enough, with some good limestone country being traversed, however I am not at all sure why it is part of the Pennine Bridleway. I enjoyed it, but it is very much an optional walk that many could, and probably do, skip.

Any rain, mist and low cloud had cleared off well before I reached my sharp right turn at the junction of bridleways at Langscar. I had considered continuing onward here for an off trail visit to Malham Cove, but not only had I gone there when I hiked the Pennine Way, but I had chores awaiting me in Settle. So I took a few minutes out to simply view the anomaly that is Malham Tarn below me before turning up to the Grizedales and a walk through limestone pavements toward the cows awaiting me. Large and impressive beasts, those sprawled across the path couldn’t even be bothered to stand up and impassively watched me skirt them, obviously very familiar with the many day walkers and cyclists that pass this way.

Climbing toward Twin Bottom, Malham Tarn in the distance behind me
Climbing toward Twin Bottom, Malham Tarn in the distance behind me. This natural lake sits on a bed of Silurian slate. Anywhere else and it would drain away through the surrounding porous limestone
Settle Loop signage

My day eleven walk from my overnight halt, round the loop and back into town, was a modest 8.54 miles with 980 feet of ascent. If I had then carried on round the loop it would have been 9.78 miles to the second turnoff waymarker post where the trail continued northward (with 1495 feet ascent) or 10.14 miles to where I had wildcamped the night before (with 1495 feet of ascent).

“can I help?”

“not unless you have a spare freewheel in your pack

The ten mile long Settle Loop can be tackled either clockwise or anticlockwise, but there is a long and steep ascent and a long and steep descent regardless of which way it is completed. Beginning my home stretch down the rocky Stockdale Lane, I began to meet the first of the day walkers out of Settle, most headed to Malham Cove, some walking the Loop. Some looked to be enjoying the start to their day immensely, others less so. With the climb out of Settle these included many very obviously reluctant children, dragging their heels many paces behind enthusiastic parents. Two forlorn cyclists inspected a broken freewheel. It was going to be a difficult return to the car for one of them. The rocky path is easy enough to walk up or down with care, but pity the cyclist or horse-rider.

Rocky path descending to Stockdale Farm
Rocky Stockdale Road descending to Stockdale Farm.

The bridleway transitioned to metalled road and I walked straight into a noisy flock of sheep being moved up from fields to farm. I stood to one side to watch the wild-eyed animals, many determined to go anywhere other than where they were being encouraged. The two riders on quad bikes, riding side-by-side, at their rear were directing six busy sheepdogs by whistle. It was a remarkable exhibition of countryside expertise.

Sharing one section of the road with the local livestock
Craggy outcrops overlook the road walk down to Settle
The craggy outcrops of Attermire Scar overlook the road walk down to Settle. ‘Scar’ is the local name for limestone cliffs
Lambert Lane bridleway
Lambert Lane bridleway
Pennine Bridleway signage at the junction for the Settle Loop
Pennine Bridleway signage at the junction for the Settle Loop

I got a bit fed up with the interminable tarmac and was relieved by a welcome stretch of stone wall bordered bridleway, that eventually, again, spat me out on to tarmac. I was soon passing the same junction waymark post I had paused at yesterday. I now knew only too well the continued descent that I had back into town.

Descending toward Settle. Ribblesdale and the Yorkshire Dales are ahead

The market town of Settle was granted a Market Charter by Henry III in 1249. It is a popular well-appointed location and the ideal place to take time out from the trail to explore, to resupply and to rest. I had booked an overnight in the Royal Oak. Despite it being a Sunday, everything was open and the town centre was busy with locals, tourists, cyclists and motorcyclists. I never saw another backpacker but I had already passed many day walkers in the surrounding hills.

Fish and Chips at The Fisherman, Settle
Fish and Chips at The Fisherman, Settle
Three day, breakfast, lunch and dinner resupply
Three day breakfast, lunch and dinner resupply
My room in the Royal Oak was sufficiently large for me to liberally decorate it with washed and unwashed clothing and equipment
My room in the Royal Oak was large enough to liberally decorate with drying clothes and equipment

Settle is home to Castleberg Outdoors, one of the best independent clothing and outdoors equipment specialists. This was my first port of call on reaching town as I wanted to pick up three dehydrated meals for the remainder of my trail. Not only were they well stocked with a couple of the better brands of these but I also enjoyed a few minutes of gear chat with one of the knowledgeable staff and we compared the relative merits of the Altra Lone Peak 4’s he was wearing against the 6’s I had on. On his recommendation, it was then off to what is possibly the best of the chippies in town- The Fisherman, for haddock, chips and mushy peas. They may know how to cook a decent F&C but hadn’t a clue about tea. I asked for a strong tea and was given a pot of water with a single teabag, plus another pot of boiling water to refill it. Presumably if I had asked for weak tea I would have just got the two pots of water. Fortunately, my brewkit was near the top of my pack and I pulled a couple of teabags from that. Having eaten, I crossed the road to the Co-op inside the petrol station to withdraw some cash and finish my food resupply with simple breakfast fare of cheese and brioche and sweet stuff for trail snacks.

I booked into the Royal Oak and my half day off then comprised of a shower and washing clothing in the sink before hanging it to dry alongside airing and damp gear next to my thankfully large open windows. It was now that I found my USB-C to USB-C charge lead had got damp in one of the connectors and my phone refused to accept it, instructing me to “disconnect immediately“. So I found myself searching a small Yorkshire town on a late sunday afternoon for a charge lead with connectors no-one seemed to have heard of. Remarkably, the little Premier store had one, result! A lesson to be learnt there methinks. Now I could rest. A kip in the room, followed by a trip to the local Indian for a simple but decent lamb and chicken balti with rice and cauliflower bhaji. I had water with this so felt I was entitled to then search out a recommended micropub in the town.

Bar 13 micropub in Settle, thoroughly recommended
Bar 13 micropub in Settle, thoroughly recommended

Bar 13 seemed to be on a high following the football result, the Lionesses had just beat Germany in the Euro final and the pub was filled with exuberance. After a couple of pints I returned to my room but with the windows open, it was too noisy with boy racers in the street outside so I sat with a couple of glasses of wine and a film until one in the morning. There was no need to get up early as my included breakfast didn’t start until 8.30 the following morning.

Bar 13. Successful Lionesses on the telly

Leaving Settle tomorrow, I would then begin the final section of the Pennine Bridleway. From Settle to trail’s end at The Street, Ravenstondale, in Cumbria.

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