A Short Walk Up Kisdon Hill (& Back Again)

Kisdon Hill is a fell in Upper Swaledale in the Yorkshire Dales. At 499m it’s of relatively modest height, but severed from it neighbouring fells by the actions of the last ice age and encircled by The Swale, to the north and east, and Skeb Skeugh and Straw Beck, to its west & south*, it stands prominent and alone.  Look at a map and it is clear why the hill is sometimes named Kisdon Island. 

Though accessible from Keld and Thwaite all walks have to start somewhere and A Short Walk Up Kisdon (& Back Again) begins outside our gallery in Muker on a fresh, snowy, winter’s day. Up into the village, past the vicarage, through the gate near William’s barn, then start the steep ascent on the track that winds up the side of the fell. 

It might be a short walk, but any walk up Kisdon is a stiff climb. I stop to catch my breath. Looking back Muker is set out like a model village.  On a good day, and feeling fit, I’ve run (this is pushing the term) up to Kisdon Cottage. Today, in the snow, weighed down with winter gear and a winter paunch, it’s exercise enough walking. 

At the foot of the straight, walled track that leads up to the cottage the gate is blocked by drifts. It’s impossible to open so I climb over.  Beyond the gate I soon discover that the snow hides a layer of sheet ice. I find myself on my arse more than once. Though I normally avoid disturbing snow drifts (works of art to my mind) it’s safer to walk where the snow lays thickest.  

Above Kisdon Cottage drifts fill the hollow track. I walk on the edge not knowing what’s under my feet. The drifts become deeper and distance, in the flat light, difficult to judge. I find myself wading  knee deep in snow before I realise. To make faster progress I squeeze between the drifts and the dry stone wall through a gap that varies in width from a few inches to a couple of feet. 

This isn’t Everest stuff, or Alps, or even Lakes, but trudging up hill in snow 12 inches deep is hard work. Though the temperature is below zero the effort and winter clobber make me  uncomfortably warm. I unzip my jacket to let in some air. 

As the ground begins to flatten I reach a wall on my left; my cue to leave the track. I follow the wall’s course west. On the open ground, blown by the wind,  the snow is less thick and the going easier. I stop to take in the views towards Buttertubs.

I’m heading for a  dry stone wall that climbs seemingly vertically to meet a scar; one of Kisdon’s most prominent features on its southern flank. Though the summit cairn is some way off, at 495m the scar is just 4 metres shy of  Kisdon’s full height. From Muker it’s been a climb of perhaps 250m over a distance of not much more than a mile. It feel like more! 

I reach the wall as another snow flurry passes. The wind is shifting the clouds quickly from the north east to the south west and the light is changing. It’s worth waiting around for a while and I zip up my jacket and hunker down. 

After 40 minutes or so I retrace my steps back to the track, then descend the way I came taking care to avoid the worst of the ice. I reach Kisdon House as the sun sets over the Buttertubs Pass.

With the sun behind the fells I begin the final descent. The track is noticeably icier and best avoided. I walk directly down the fell side staying clear of its twists and turns. As I round the corner Muker comes into view.  I rejoin the track for the final stretch. I’m soon back through the gate and into the village. A Short Walk Up Kisdon (& Back Again) complete.

Please note: The ice on the track was treacherous, especially because it was hidden by snow. This is true of many tracks in the area (I have the bruises to prove it), so if planning a winter fell walk it’s wise to wear crampons or micro spikes.

* These streams  follow the Swale’s original course.

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