The Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge (again)
The Yorkshire Three Peaks comprise of Pen-y-ghent, Whernside, and Ingleborough. The hills are traditionally also walked in that order, starting at the village of Horton in Ribblesdale where it’s possible to clock out and in at the Pen-y-ghent cafe. The challenge is not merely to walk these three hills, but also to do it in under 12 hours. Technically, it doesn’t matter which order the hills are climbed or where it’s started from. So long as all three are summited and the walk starts and ends in the same place within the 12 hours then it can be counted as a successful attempt. In terms of mileage and effort, the walk can be between 23 and 26 miles long depending on the exact route used, and covers over 1,400m of ascent.
Length: 24 miles
Area: Yorkshire Dales – Southern Fells
GPX File: Download
Pen-y-ghent – (Height: 694m, Drop: 306m)
Whernside – (Height: 736m, Drop: 408m)
Ingleborough – (Height: 724m, Drop: 427m)
Other POI: Brackenbottom, Brackenbottom Scar, Pennine Way, Hunt Pot, Whitber Hill, Sell Gill Beck, Sell Gill Hill, Nether Lodge, Ribblehead Viaduct, Bleamoor Tunnel, Force Gill, Grain Head, Bruntscar, Philpin Farm, Chapel-le-Dale, Old Hill Inn, Souther Scales Farm, Southerscales Scars, Braithwaite Wife Hole, Humphrey Bottom, Simon Fell, Sulber Nick, Limestone Pavement
This was a planned event with the Outdoor Bloggers group that I’m a member of. I’m not normally one to turn up to these social events as, being the antisocial git that I am, I prefer to be out there alone. However, I fancied doing the challenge one more time after missing all the views in January and, additionally, I have some pretty long 40+ mile walks coming up in June and thought that this would make a good warm up exercise.
So after picking up a few strays on the way, I eventually arrived at the Holme Farm campsite in Horton in Ribblesdale. As soon as I parked, the bloke onsite (we’ll call him Mr Campsite) who was directing the parking pointed out that my tyre was completely flat. Luckily I had an emergency wheel in the boot which Mr Campsite kindly offered to fit whilst I stood around looking useless. The task turned out to be harder than expected due to the wheel being completely seized on, although it turned out to be no match for Mr Campsite and his collection of hammers and metal bars. As grateful as I was, I was also mentally willing him to finish quickly as I’d been driving all day and was eager to grab a meal at the Golden Lion pub nearby. I’d been recommended the steak pie that, previously during the evening, had been served in a deep oval pot, and topped with puff pastry. Unfortunately, by the time I ordered, they’d clearly ran out of the appropriate pots and hadn’t gotten around to doing the washing up yet as I was served with a normal dinner plate covered in a thick gravy with the odd bit of steak floating in it, and an out of place oval shaped lump of puff pastry plopped on top. I didn’t complain though as I was hungry. The walls of the pub were surprisingly plastered with Burnley FC memorabilia which my Burnley supporting dad would have loved. I think it’s safe to say that the owner is a fan.
The next day, I was up bright and early to eat my breakfast of some tasteless ‘all day breakfast’ sandwiches I bought from Asda the day before, and to get prepared for the walk ahead. I knew it was going to be a rainy day so I’d treated myself to a new vivid orange Trespass rain jacket on the journey here. We set off on the walk at around 7am and headed to the first peak of Pen-y-ghent. As promised, the rain started to pour…
The route starts with a left turn just past the church and just before Horton Bridge. After a short distance, a small footbridge is crossed where a farm track continues alongside the line of the stream. Eventually, the signpost is reached at Brackenbottom pointing the hordes of walkers in the right direction – eastwards and uphill towards Pen-y-ghent. The path follows the line of the wall past Brackenbottom Scar until the junction of the Pennine Way is reached, carefully navigating a few sections of some extremely polished and slippery limestone on the way. On a summers weekend, there’s hardly any need for these directions as it’s a simple case of follow the crowds. At the junction, turn left and follow the track to the top of Pen-y-ghent via a brief scramble up the steep rocky slope. On a clear day, Pendle Hill can be seen to the south, Fountains Fell to the south east, Ingleborough to the west, and Whernside to the north-west. Heading north continues onto Plover Hill, which is only a short distance away for those that wish to be greedy and bag 4 summits instead of the traditional 3. Pen, like welsh, means Head or Top. y, also like the welsh language, means ‘the’. Ghent isn’t quite so clear and could potentially mean wind(s) or border, or could even have been a tribal name as the hill is thought to have once been an important tribal centre.
Unfortunately, on this particular day, it was anything but clear on the summit. Low cloud and rain were all that greeted us. I took a handful of quick photos then continued with the long journey. At some point between here and the Ribblehead Viaduct – I can’t remember where exactly – I realised that my trousers had become so saturated that water was starting to run down into my boots. I stopped and put on my waterproof over-trousers – something I should have really done at the beginning of the walk. I am, however, pleased to report that my budget Trespass jacket was keeping out the rain just fine.
Pen-y-ghent to the Ribblehead Viaduct
The route veers off west down the hill, and following a very well defined path along the Pennine Way. The eroded path was in the process of being improved further in the upper sections as steps were being put into place. The path continues downhill, passing the slash opening of Hunt Pot – a 60m deep fissure that acts as an active stream sink. Eventually, a crossroads of footpaths is reached. Left heads back to Horton via the Pennine Way, and right heads down the Pennine Journey footpath which heads past Hull Pot and curves around the bulk of Plover Hill. The footpath to take for the three peaks walk is the one straight ahead, heading briefly back uphill and crossing Whitber Hill, Sell Gill Beck, and Sell Gill Hill before again meeting up with the Pennine Way and heading north. A section of limestone pavement is passed on the right before another junction is reached. As with most junctions on the route, this is signposted to leave you in no doubt as to the correct way forward. The Pennine Way is exited in favour of a small section of the Ribble Way footpath as far as Nether Lodge, where another track heads roughly westwards, over the River Ribble, and eventually winding its way to the B6479 road which runs more or less parallel to the railway. This road is followed north for a short distance until a junction is reached and the Ribblehead Viaduct – a marvellous feat of engineering – is clearly visible on the left. This is where most walkers choose to take a break, possibly due to the small stall nearby selling drinks and snacks. I also see this as the place that marks the end of the first leg of the challenge.
I stopped here for a short while to have a bite to eat and replenish some of my spent energy. It had stopped raining by this point, which was a relief all round. The clouds had lifted and the hills were more or less visible in the distance. All of the walkers in our small group eventually met up again for a short while before again splitting into separate groups for the 2nd leg of the walk. I should point out that we all walked in separate groups because we all had varying walking speeds, and not because we all hated each other!
The route continues northwards, following the line of the railway on the left. After a while, the path merges with the Dales High Way long distance footpath and, just before the entrance of Bleamoor Tunnel is reached, veers left over the Force Gill aqueduct. Before long, the spectacular Force Gill waterfall comes into view on the left and is worth a pause to take a photo or two. The three peaks route branches off from the Dales High Way and veers left once moor until heading in a roughly westerly direction. You can’t really go wrong here. The path is very well defined and the hordes of other challenge walkers are visible in front and behind. In the distance, they appear as an army of ants. The path keeps on ascending until the summit ridge is reached. The ridge line heads southwards for a while until the trig pillar is visible on the opposite side of the wall – accessible via a stile in the wall. Interestingly, the trig point is actually located in Cumbria and not Yorkshire, as the wall that runs along the length of the ridge also makes up part of the county border.
The hole (or stile) in the wall is normally a tight squeeze to get through, especially if you’re a ‘larger’ person. There are normally two large slabs slotted into the stone wall with a narrow gap between them. On this occasion, there was only one, with the other lying on the floor. Whether it had fallen out naturally, or been wrenched out by a moron, I’m not sure. The weather had improved to a state of dry but cloudy, and the ground was mud free despite all the rain. The dales had suffered quite a dry spell in recent days and the water table was the lowest it had been in some time (so I was told). The rain had been swallowed up by the thirsty and grateful earth, with little evidence left on its surface. It was up on Whernside that my walking buddy, Clare (mudandnettles.com) introduced me to the world of geocaching. I had chatted to her about this previous to the walk as I thought it may be a good way to get my kids outdoors, and therefore stuck with her so that I could experience finding one of these caches for myself. No, that sounds bad – I also stuck with her due to her wit, charm, and sophistication. We found the cache, signed the log, and what can I say… the rest is history! It was on the way back down from Whernside that I decided to take off my waterproof over-trousers. What a right rigmarole that was! I couldn’t get the things back over my boots. After a lot of grunting and straining – more than I’d normally do in a gym session – they eventually came off. In hindsight, it would have been a lot quicker to just take my boots off first. Back to the route description…
After following the ridge further south for a while, the route heads downhill steeply on some loose terrain that can easily result in a few slips for those that aren’t sure footed (Hi Clare!). Again, the way forward is quite obvious as the path is so well worn with the many thousands of footsteps that trample down it each year. The steep descent ends at Bruntscar before the route continues roughly southwards down Philpin Lane until a small snack bar is reached at Philpin Farm.
I had a not so nice cup of tea from the snack bar whilst sat on the wall. I’m not really sure how much this helped, or how much it rejuvenated me. It did have it’s usual effect of making me need the toilet not so long afterwards – something that isn’t easy to do discretely when you’re on a route with a hundred other walkers. I contemplated the remaining section of the route. It should be fairly easy going from here on, barring the incredibly steep section at the top of Ingleborough.
From the snack bar, the route continues to the end of Philpin Lane and left onto the B6255 for a short distance, before heading off south-east across the fields of Souther Scales farm. The path then continues south past the limestone formations of Southerscales Scars, and the incredible doline of Braithwaite Wife Hole, clearly visible on the left. The path continues south across Humphrey Bottom for quite a while, always ascending gently on a well defined path which is paved with stone flags for much of its way. Eventually, an incredibly daunting steep section that leads up onto Simon Fell appears before you, which marks the last big challenge of the walk.
This is a traditional spot to stop, refuel, rest, or any other excuse to delay the steep climb which awaits. At the beginning of the walk, it wouldn’t pose so much of a problem. Unfortunately, at this late stage of the walk, the legs of most mortal walkers are feeling weary and the prospect of the uphill slog doesn’t do much for motivation levels. I remembered a couple of years previous when I participated in this challenge walk for the first time. I was huffing and puffing my way up this last steep section when I was overtaken by Chris Chittell (Emmerdales Eric Pollard), who came storming past me like a man on a mission, leaving me trailing behind and looking far less fit than I should have been. I was determined not to wheeze my way up like an asthmatic tortoise this time, and so I took the whole incline with one mad burst of energy, at a decent speed and without a single pause. I almost made myself puke with the effort! I was rewarded with a nice rest at the top where I got the camera out and recorded Clare’s attempts at slogging up the hill, mainly just to wind her up. I promised though that I wouldn’t post the video on this blog and so I shall keep my word!
The route continues up a little while longer from Simon Fell to the plateau of Ingleborough where it’s quite easy to become disorientated. I always find this to be the busiest of the three peaks, and this day was no exception. I visited the trig point and wind shelter, enjoyed the great views out to Morecambe Bay, and helped Clare to look for another geocache – this time with no success. We eventually bumped into the others in our group, said a quick hi, and then continued with the final part of the journey back to Horton in Ribblesdale.
The route descends at the same spot as it ascended, but instead of heading back to Humphrey Bottom, another path veers off south-east around the edge of Simon Fell. The descent is fairly pleasant and doesn’t present much in the way of obstacles. The path continues through Sulber Nick, surrounded on all sides by an expanse of limestone pavement, before reaching pasture land and the outskirts of Horton in Ribblesdale.
It was a long descent but never particularly steep, and it made for easy walking. Whilst at the top of Ingleborough, I seemed to find my second wind and felt full of energy on this last leg of the journey. So much so that when I arrived back at Horton in Ribblesdale, I felt like I could have continued walking and gone back up Pen-y-ghent again without too much effort. Maybe the weather had filled me with a sense of optimism as it had eventually turned into quite a nice day with blue sky now visible and bursts of sunshine adding adding a vibrancy to the colours around me. I can’t remember how long the walk took me in total but I think it was between 10 hours 30 minutes, and 10 hours 45 minutes. So around an hour slower than the first time I did it, which is to be expected when walking with others. To be honest, I’ve never been that bothered about finishing the walk in as little hours as possible. As far as I’m concerned, the challenge is to do it in 12 hours and so anything under that is fine. 12 hours is quite achievable, even at a very leisurely pace. Regarding the walk, even the great Alfred Wainwright himself said “some participants have chosen to regard the walk as a race, and this is to be greatly regretted, walking is a pleasure to be enjoyed in comfort”
After the walk, I made a poor attempt at showering using the campsite facilities, then headed to the pub with the rest of the group to eat anything but steak pie. I chose the gammon this time which turned out to be the largest gammon steak I’d ever eaten! Honestly, it was the same size as the plate it came on. I needed it though, and made short work of eating it. The wine went down nicely too! I slept soundly in my makeshift bed in the back of the car and woke up bright and early for a gentle walk followed by a delicious full english breakfast at the cafe. I met up with the rest of the group shortly afterwards and we headed off on another walk to Hull Pot – but I suspect I’ve bored you all enough for now and so shall save that for another post!
Walk completed on 13th May, 2017
Map and Elevation Data:
GPX file for the walk
This route on Viewranger
Photo album on Flickr
Ribblehead Viaduct – Wikipedia Page
More information on the Ribblehead Viaduct
The Yorkshire Three Peaks page at YorkshireDales.org.uk
The Yorkshire Three Peaks app for Android
…and the same for the iPhone
Pen-y-ghent – Wikipedia Page
Whernside – Wikipedia Page
Ingleborough – Wikipedia Page
My previous attempt at this walk – at night!