So what do you do if you’re looking for a 1 day challenge that involves some steep climbs, away from it all countryside and good old fashioned English grub to finish? Having already done the National 3 Peaks a couple of times, The Lakes 3,000 footers and deciding that the Welsh 3,000s sounded too much like hard work, the next A-Z team challenge needed to be something that a) could involve a mixed bag of young(ish) and old(ish), fit and well, less fit members and b) ideally be something we’d already done to make planning easy. So the Yorkshire 3 peaks challenge 2016 was born.
This 24 mile circular walk set in the Ribble Valley is usually completed within 12 hours and includes the peaks of Pen-y-Ghent, Whernside and Ingleborough, all of which has a combined ascent of over 2,000 metres. The paths are well maintained and accessible for most. The climbs aren’t too strenuous and only the final sections of Pen-y-Ghent and Ingleborough require a little bit more attention bordering on grade 1 scrambles.
The recognised start to the Yorkshire 3 Peaks challenge is the café at the small village of Horton in Ribblesdale (SD809725) where the clocking in/out machine can give you an ‘official’ time but just be wary of early starts as the café is not always open early. We had already made the unusual decision to start our walk midway between the first and second peaks at the Station Inn, Ribblehead. This meant that providing we kept our pace up we should avoid the crowds that would surely arrive on a Saturday in May. It also meant that we could roll out of bed on the Saturday morning early and get started as our accommodation for the night was situated directly along the route. The Station Inn guest house sits in the shadow of the giant Ribblehead viaduct. It has bunkhouses and B&B rooms making it the ideal place to base your walk.
We were up early and ready to go by 6:30am, the girls though were up much earlier than this being so eager to get going. We set out optimistically armed with our A-Z Adventure Yorkshire Dales South Atlas (5E page 13) on the ascent of Whernside. Normally this huge ‘bump’ would be visible from here but today even the other end of the car park couldn’t be seen – it’s wet.
So, faced literally with a marathon walk and 3 mountains to cover we set out into the mist but by half way up peak number 1 we were soaked, horizontal rain, strong winds and damp feet meant that the experienced members of the group had to try hard to convince some of the newer members that this was a fun, worthwhile activity.
The path up to Whernside can be slightly frustrating. After leaving the viaduct behind, the path heads along the eastern side of the mountain hugging and eventually crossing the Settle-Carlisle railway with the peak itself constantly looming large in the distance. You’re soon parallel with the peak (not that we’d have known it this morning) but instead of taking a sharp left directly up, the track loops around to the north of the peak before coming back around and finally to the summit. The going is good though, steps have been laid from about half way up and soon we we’re at the summit trig point, some smiling, some shivering but all made it. Time taken 2 hours.
The path down from Whernside’s summit heads south and is gentle to start before a swing to the left signals the start of a tricky set of steps down. In the dry this would be fairly standard but today some of the group seemed to prefer the ‘sitting down’ technique. Before long we were all down, past a couple of farms, a brisk walk along a track and then to the Roman road. There’s a little tea shop here and if this hadn’t been the first peak of the day we may have been tempted to stop for a cheeky bacon roll, but no time today – we were late!
We cross the road here and onto the grassy bank that signals the foot of the Yorkshire Dales’ second highest peak just as the first cracks in the grey sky appear. Ingleborough’s distinctive shape is now visible and the grassy terrain underfoot soon gives way to a manmade pavement that even the best garden make-over team would be proud of. This path soon swings round into what appears to be a dead end. Now, only a faint zigzag path is visible winding its way up to what appears to be a solid wall in front of us. This is a fantastic introduction to what follows; a steep climb up the side of Ingleborough that comes as a bit of a shock to the system. It’s only about 70 metres up but does require a scramble in places. Unfortunately the top of this climb isn’t quite the summit, which did lead to a fair bit of abuse, aimed at me in particular. The real summit was only about 600 metres away but once again we were in the cloud, no visibility and wet. We had only just dried out from our Whernside experience. Time taken 5 hours.
Once the hailstones started we knew it was time to leave, but which way? Visibility was non-existent and we really needed to use the map and compass to make sure we didn’t drop off the north-western edge of the day’s second peak.
The path to Horton felt like it went on forever. It’s a gentle descent for 4.5 miles with the prize of the final peak Pen-y-ghent, visible for most of it, but this just made it feel even longer. This section would normally be the finish straight when the challenge is tackled the usual way round and would come with the chance of a good finish time and a welcoming pint. Today though, the only thing that would greet us in Horton was another hill to climb and very slowly drying pants.
There is some interest along the way. The Limestone pavement at Sulber is impressive along with its narrow corridor of rock named Sulber Nick, which on this day was blocked by the largest cow we’d ever seen. Soon we cross the railway line (again) and head into the village of Horton which feels strange to be amongst civilisation again.
We pass the café and some of the group find it irresistible not to pop in for a quick Yorkshire tea but no time to waste though, our hope of completing this in 10 hours may have vanished but the 12 hour target is still on. We head south out of the village before turning left and onto the ascent of Pen-y-ghent just as the sun shines for the first time of the day. Our pace quickens.
This is an easier hill to get into. It’s not got a drawn out introduction like the other 2 peaks and the grassy path is a steady ascent up to the junction with the Pennine Way. Similar to Ingleborough, this mountain has a slight sting in the tail; the last 140m is a climb, scramble or crawl (depending on the size of your inner leg). It feels good to make use of a different set of muscles that had been called upon for last 4 hours. The summit was windy but clear and it was nice for the first time this day to get a drenching in nothing but sunshine. Time taken 9 hours.
You may have noticed however from the picture below that not everyone made it to the trig point on Pen-y-ghent’s summit. Some of our group had already decided that they would complete Whernside before returning to base, others finished Ingleborough before deciding enough was enough. This had all been pre-decided though. The Yorkshire Three Peaks is the ideal challenge if some of your group want to take part but not necessarily complete it due to its circular layout. Just make sure you have a decent set of walkie talkies and a willing volunteer who’s happy to taxi knackered hill walkers around for the afternoon.
Whilst we were at the top we couldn’t help ourselves but point out the new route across Horton Moor to some fellow walkers who just happen to make the mistake of glancing down at a map to discuss their next direction in front of a bunch of map geeks. The newly created route off Pen-y-ghent was created to avoid the boggy route across Black Dub Moss and instead makes use of the much more durable paths of the Pennine Way and the new path over Whitber Hill.
From here it’s a route march back to the Ribblehead viaduct which takes about 3 hours and for the few that now made up the team the sight of the giant train bridge is a very welcome sight.
So we didn’t complete this Yorkshire 3 Peaks challenge in 10 hours, we didn’t even complete it in 12 and some of our group just did 1 or 2 of the 3 peaks but that’s the great thing about this challenge, you can do as much or as little as you like…. The grub’s not bad either!