The Road goes ever on and on; Down from the door where it began;
Now far ahead the Road has gone; And I must follow, if I can;
Pursuing it with eager feet; Until it joins some larger way;
Where many paths and errands met; And whither then? I cannot say.

[JRR Tolkien, Lord of the Rings]

Sunday, 4 August 2013

Yorkshire Three Peaks (in 23 Hours)

With another year of my life having passed, I took the opportunity to choose a couple of birthday treats to fill a few days of last week. The first was a trip to the Royal Shakespeare Theatre at Stratford (for a performance of All’s Well That Ends Well), and the second was a quick over-night trip somewhere easy to reach from Halifax (where we were dropping Ma-in-Law back off on Friday morning).

As is so often the case, with two days to go before the intended trip, I’d only vaguely looked at some maps and was struggling to come up with a logistically-easy plan, when Mick happened to mention the Yorkshire Three Peaks. “That’ll do!” I exclaimed – we’ll go and backpack the three peaks over two days.

Setting out from Horton-in-Ribblesdale at just a few minutes before 3pm on Friday afternoon, we soon got the overwhelming feeling that we were heading the wrong way as we greeted about a million people (I may be exaggerating slightly…) heading downhill. This photo doesn’t convey quite how many people were on the path:


You can, however, see the rain which just skirted to the west of us. To the east the sky was black and thunder was rumbling around. By good fortune, only a handful of drops hit us.


The thunder wasn’t the only thing to be rumbling. We had been far enough up Pen-y-Ghent to put us beyond the point of ‘just nipping back’ when we realised that the supplies we had stopped to buy on our journey north were still sitting in the car. That gave us rather meagre rations to see us through the next 24 hours.

Having made do with a few jelly sweets on the summit, we debated which way to go next (along to Plover Hill, to follow the old Three Peaks route, or to follow the clear path which is the new Three Peaks route). The decision was to follow the new route, which was a bit unexciting by virtue of being a good path almost all of the way, but was also quick and easy. It’s a bit of a scar on the landscape, but necessary given how many people walk this way:


The new path is the grey one. The lighter coloured one further behind me is the Pennine Way.

We didn’t stay on the Three Peaks route the whole way. As that route crosses the Ribble Way we took to that Way, on the basis that it was more likely to give us somewhere discreet to camp.

Then we erred. There is a clear rule which says that if you come across a perfect pitch within an hour of sundown, or within a mile of your finishing point, then you take it.

What you see in this next photo is a lovely bit of flat cropped grass on a bend in a stream. We got so far as taking our packs off and discussing exactly where to pitch. Then we had a rush of blood to our heads and decided to carry on to the next stream, which is where we had intended to stop. The previous three streams had all had good pitches alongside, so surely the next one would too…


…the problem was that we weren’t where we thought we were, and the pitch shown above turned out to be exactly where we had intended to stop, which also happened to be the last likely-looking stream on the map.

We didn’t realise that immediately. In fact, we didn’t realise that until much later in the evening when, in playing with Mick’s phone we found that the UK mapping, which had disappeared in April had suddenly and spontaneously resurrected itself.

Aside from not being alongside water (and having a neighbouring sheep with a very bad cough), the pitch we did find was pretty good. A couple of remaining chunks of wall hid us from the view of two farms across the valley, and the views were excellent.


This pitch isn’t just ‘by’ the Ribble Way, it’s ‘on’ it!

I only just noticed that this next snap, looking back towards Pen-y-Ghent, has a faint rainbow:


Saturday morning dawned wet. The rain absolutely hammered down and our previous concerns about rain getting through Rita Rainbow’s end vents in heavy, wind-blown rain were completely borne out (although perhaps that rain wouldn’t have got through if we had clipped the vents into the ‘closed’ position). Fortunately the flood was largely contained … by Mick’s wool socks and t-shirt which soaked up the worst of the water nicely. Unfortunately for Mick, he didn’t have a spare top with him.

By the time we dragged ourselves out of bed, cut the stove windshield in half and coaxed a cup of tea each out of the stove (it had been five years since I last used a meths stove, which was sufficient time for my hatred of meths to be subdued enough to think it a good choice for this trip), the weather had brightened, although none of the soggy stuff (and there was quite a lot of soggy stuff) had chance to dry.

Further along the Ribble Way we went, before bearing off to follow the line of a public footpath which would take us to near Ribblehead. On the way we had to cross over this bridge, which from above just looked like a very nice, but reasonably unremarkable, old packhorse bridge.


Thanks to Mick having stopped for a faff at this point, I clambered down to look at it from the downstream side, and it really was picturesque:


Then onto Ribblehead we went.The viaduct is a much photographed sight, and at a glance this just looks like another ordinary snap of it. But, if you look carefully you might just be able to make out that there’s a goods train atop it, which is almost exactly the same length as the viaduct.


The train’s a bit clearer on this one, before it got fully onto the bridge:


Last time I was on the B-road (all of two weeks ago), there was a tent ‘wild-camping’ at the roadside. This time there were just a few motorhomes at the roadside, but someone had been a little more discreet in the tent pitch, being under one of the arches of the viaduct – complete with their car.


It was 8am as we set out up Whernside and there was already a stream of people ahead of us – mainly made up of a group of twelve, but with a few singletons and couples dotted around too. Some were moving swiftly, no doubt doing the Three Peaks Challenge.


The weather was being a little unkind to us at this point. The earlier low cloud had lifted, but it was trying to rain on us, and it was very breezy and cool up on the top. We didn’t tarry at the trig or, at least, not longer than it took Mick to have a shoe faff.

The path down the south side of Whernside is horrible. Steep and variously eroded or comprised of the worst sort of stone-staircase. Urgh.

Things took an upward turn at the bottom of the hill when we saw a sign not dissimilar to this one (I didn’t think to snap the sign on the Whernside side; this one was later):


Whilst the sign is permanent, and clearly left there when the snack bar is closed, we had faith that on a Saturday morning in August, it would be open. And so they were. They don’t just sell cups of tea and snacks, but also everything that a hot, cold or wet Three Peaks Challenger could want:


Rain ponchos, new dry socks, hats, gloves, orange squash with ice, all day breakfasts, plus the full menu

We made do with tea and chocolate bars, and a goodly sit was had before we headed off for our final hill of the trip. Past the impressive limestone pavement, and up another stone staircase we went…


…before getting to the steep bit. The first time I approached Ingleborough from this side was when I did the Three Peaks Challenge myself, and on that occasion my heart sank to see the steepness of that final section. In reality, it’s a well-constructed path, with a few switch-backs thrown in, which makes it easier work that it looks.


I was still huffing and puffing by the time I hauled myself to the top thought!


That’s not the top of the hill, mind. That just takes you up to the ridge, where it’s just half a kilometre or so further onto the summit – which looks deceptively empty in this shot:


There really were a lot of people around.

We still managed to get ourselves a sheltered slot in the shelter (ousting two other chaps to sit in a quadrant on the windward side) to scoff some cake, glad that the day had warmed up since we had left the top of Whernside.

The path down into Horton is generally a quick and easy downhill, with just the occasional rocky area which stops you from striding out. I must have been striding too, as when a couple we passed commented that we walk fast, Mick replied that he doesn’t walk that fast, but was just trying to keep up with me – something of a departure from the usual state of affairs.

We were far from the fastest people on the path, as we were passed by quite a few people running. Most of them looked like runners. One (wearing Montane Terra pants and boots) looked like a Three Peaker who was either approaching a deadline or had realised that could achieve quite a good time if he got a shift on. Poor chap looked knackered!

The sunny intervals were finally prevailing by the time we reached Horton (although, thanks to the wind, all of the passing showers of the morning had been very short-lived), where we made a bee-line for the cafe to make up for the food deficit of the previous 24 hours (a deficit which wouldn’t have been so big if Mick had discovered the half bag of peanuts in his hip-belt pocket a bit sooner!).

It wasn’t a bad trip, and certainly left me feeling exercised, but I really must pre-plan a few trips so that we don’t find ourselves doing something ‘quick, easy and obvious’ next time. Whilst this route has its merits, it was all (except for the Ribble Way detour) on made paths and it’s very busy.

The stats for the 23 hours we were out were:

Day 1: 9.2 miles with 2000’ of up

Day 2: 15.3 miles with 3300’ of up


  1. Oh dear. I should warn you that you are obviously way more fit than I am. Looks like a nice little outing. Except for forgetting food (we do that) and using spare clothes to mop up (yet...).

    1. The problem with the 'spare' clothes was that they weren't actually spare. Mick reported that donning a sopping t-shirt wasn't the best way to start the day. I looked for the silver lining and pointed out that if you're going to have a flood in the tent, it's much better for it to happen on a quick overnight and on a trip when you're out in the sticks for days at a time.

  2. Well done you two. Clear days as well. Unfortunately clicking on the pics doesn’t enlarge them so i couldn’t make out the goods train. Most blogs are usually clickable?

    1. That'll be because I reduce the size of all of my photos before I post them, so the size you see is the full size. I've gone back now and put the full size one of that one in, but as the train's still not clear I've popped another photo in too, just to show that it was really there, and the same length as the viaduct!

  3. Sounds like a good outing. I have been meaning to have a go at doing all 3 in one trip (either a day or like you more leisurely) and this might be the nudge in the right direction I need!

    1. Mick's going to go and do them all in one go at some point, with the added benefit of now being familiar with the route (more or less - but where we deviated I did point out where the actual route went).

  4. A nice looking little trip, and it's now clear to me why Mick didn't get awarded the Vicdessos assignment!

    1. It's only partly clear to you. We're off to Scotland on Thursday for the week, which was more of a holding factor on him suddenly jetting off to the Pyrenees. (By coincidental timing, just as you were leaving that comment I was catching up on your adventures.)

  5. All familiar ground for me, but it looks as though there has been much new construction in parts I haven't visited for a few years. I think I would have done a Captain Oates if I'd been there without those rations.

    1. The lack of rations could have been worse (although, by the time my tea was ready on Friday night I was ready to eat a passing scabby dog). The snack van was a saviour, though.