Saturday, 31 August 2013

Yorkshire Three Peaks

(For those who want to know, right at the bottom is a map of the route)

I've been wanting to do the 3 peaks walk for years and years and years - after the Coast to Coast (I'll do it one day!) it must be my longest lasting aim... but for various reasons I'd never got round to actually getting out and doing it. But, finally, that day came! I've done Ingleborough and Whernside before but there was a little bit of mystery still left in that Pen-y-ghent had so far remained untrodden by myself. I was doing the 26 mile walk with my brother, Dan, who whilst enjoying the outdoors almost as much as me - certainly doesn't get out anywhere near as much. It was my longest walk ever, by a few miles, but it was at least double Dan's previous longest - and, being the kind of person he is, he'd not done the slightest bit of preparation for it - so (giving the end away here...) it was quite an achievement for him to make it round!

Anyway, we got up and set off by 5.30 and got to enjoy the most amazing sunrise you'll ever see (Dan's a real man's man - not one for pretty sunrises - but even he agreed). No chance to jump out and photograph it, so you'll just have to believe me... but a very, very nice start to the day! We headed up Wensleydale and as soon as we reached the watershed to come down towards Ribblesdale we were greeted by a much less inviting sight...

Photographically, I love mist, but not so fun to walk in!
We arrived at Ribblehead (we were doing the hills in height order, highest-lowest) and set off on our way up a very wet Whernside. This is, in general, a very easy going climb even though it's the tallest - with even the summit only being mildly steep at best.

Setting off...
Ribblehead, looking lovely as ever.
A miserable start.
Upon reaching the top the rain started to ease off a little - probably because we were now comfortably in the clouds - and then on the way down we could see that the weather forecast was starting to come true... as the mist around us started to glow as the sun burnt through. Before long we could start to make out the valley floor and Ingleborough in the distance. The descent of Whernside is much less easy going than the climb, with some very steep sections that can be extremely slippy underfoot - so this part really slowed us down. 

One down, two to go...
Brightening up, through the mist.
The sun starting to show itself over Ribblehead.
Looking back up to Whernside
It was only now that we came across our first other person of the day - it must have been around 9am and he seemed suitably impressed to see us coming down the hill at such a time! Up until this point the route is very obvious - but as you reach the road running between Whernside and Ingleborough the route we had marked, at least, no longer exists as a seemingly selfish landowner has blocked the footpath. However, a few hundred yards up the road there is another entrance into the fields so we were soon on our way again - now very much in limestone country.

A quite obvious bit of 'Oh my god, I need some foreground interest...".
Approaching Ingleborough.
It's not long until you come face to face with the imposing slopes (more like cliffs) of Ingleborough. This was the climb I'd been wary of. I'd seen it from afar a number of times before and never got my head around how there was a path up the front of this seemingly vertical mountain - and as you approach it doesn't get any shallower. It was certainly a cameras-away job - and made even worse when carrying however many litres of water in your bag... pulling you away from the face of the hill as you grip on.

My first glimpses of heather this year, it can brighten any landscape!
Clearly no way up here...
Looking back from whence we came - Whernside in the distance.
The view back down, from the top, demonstrates the problem here. You can see where the path starts, and you can see where it ends up, but there is quite a large altitude discrepancy between the two. Anyway, on we went - a bit out of puff but fueled by adrenaline from the climb - across the large flat plateau summit of Ingleborough to the trig point on the other side. 

Dan near the top of Ingleborough
Two down, one to go!
And then came the long, but relatively easy slog back down towards Horton in Ribblesdale - to grab a few refreshments before our final hill - which is forever looming ahead for this section of the walk.

Looking down along the endless walk to Pen-y-ghent (in the distance).
This is where our ordering of hills made a lot of sense, by leaving the unknown until last it meant there was still some intrigue and new sights to be seen that would lure us on. We left Horton and continued up through the always-lovely limestone scenery to reach the summit of Pen-y-ghent. The final section here, whilst a bit of a scramble (you need both hands at the top) certainly doesn't have the same fear factor as the Ingleborough ascent - I think because the drop is slightly less - but is interesting nonetheless. 

The approach to Pen-y-ghent.
Some contrasty limestone pavement.
The summit of our final hill.
Three down, nought to go!
Due to our ordering of the hills, we now had a seemingly endless walk back to the car over forever undulating smaller hills. All the excitement of the climbs was done with and the rain decided to return - but I did have one slight detour to make... for a quick look at Hull Pot which I'd not seen before. I was hoping to catch it with the waterfall after the morning's rain - but somehow it remained dry...

Back down Pen-y-ghent.
A very dry looking Hull Pot.
Dan had decided to continue on whilst I had a look at this, and for some reason put quite a spurt on! So, somehow, I had to summon the energy to go bounding after him. It turns out, as weird as it may seem, that having a 5 minute jog after a 20 odd mile walk is somewhat refreshing... it must be using significantly different muscles. So, I caught up, we had a snack, and then the last mile or so is (rather ridiculously) along the main road. I would have thought we'd gone wrong somewhere but there is certainly no decent path on the maps, and I've seen the three peaks crowds on this road before... so we just had to get on with it. Not the nicest end to the walk, but you certainly can't complain after the scenery the rest of the way. 

A nice reminder of what we were doing... very useful!
Some lovely tarmacked scenery.
Our walk came to a perfect conclusion when we were greeted by crowds of people out with their cameras at Ribblehead... unfortunately, not for us, but rather for the steam train crossing the viaduct. Quite a sight, and to think that we timed it so perfectly after 26 miles, 10hrs and 40 minutes, of walking - we couldn't quite believe it.

I'm sure you've all seen enough of my beautiful face stood beside some trig points for today - but if you'd like to get your own lovely faces beside the same trig points then you can see my exact(ish) route below.


  1. Nice one. Three fantastic hills I've done several times but never had the desire to do them in one go. I'll leave that to young uns like yourself.

    1. They certainly are! I don't think you can appreciate Whernside until you're on top of it - it doesn't look as imposing at all.

      The amount you get out and about, I'd have thought it would be no problem for you!