Most people who climb the Yorkshire Three Peaks, Wernside, Ingleborough and Pen-y-ghent, do it as part of a challenge, raising money for charity or as part of a team building exercise. We were going to climb them purely for pleasure, and while most of the group were only climbing the two, Mike, Jonathan and I were going up a day earlier so that we could do all three.
As we headed north up the M6, England was bathed in glorious autumn sunlight. Mike and I decided to break our journey at Charnock Richard services, and, unbeknown to us, so had Ann and Stella, who were also going up a day early. A leisurely catch up with them over lunch and coffee added another hour to our journey.
Continuing north, we arrived in Ingleton by mid afternoon, full of intention for going for a walk but after checking in we wandered round the village until we settled on a cafe for a cream tea. It never ceases to amaze me how easily we can be distracted. We did eventually set out to walk to a series of waterfalls to discover, in no uncertain terms that they were private and there was a charge of £6 to walk up to them. In the end we didn’t go there but explored more of the village with its numerous eateries and cafes, far more than a town of its size warrants, but clearly catering for a constant stream of tourists.
The evening was spent enjoying the hospitality of the Whearsheaf Inn on the High Street.
Before dawn a bright light shone through the curtains of our room as the “harvest” full moon sat low in the sky outside our window. It was enormous and incredibly bright. The moon, having sunk into the western sky, it was replaced by the sun which shone from a flawless sky on to an earth sparkling with morning dew and perhaps a hint of frost. It was going to be a perfect day. That perfect day started with a full, Yorkshire breakfast, although, as I later climbed Wernside, I began to regret its volume.
While Ann and Stella were off to the Lakes for the day, Mike and I were joined by Jonathan, an extremely fit, retired GP, interested in joining me in Nepal next spring. We drove round to Ribblehead, renowned for its stunning viaduct, a testament to Victorian railway engineering, with its twenty four arches carrying the Settle to Carlisle line.
Our walk took us initially parallel to the viaduct and railway until it disappeared into a tunnel under Blea Moor. Standing beneath the stone and brick structure highlighted just how big it is and, looking through the arches framed Ingleborough. Crossing the railway we began our ascent on a good, well used, path, a mixture of stone chippings and well laid slabs of rock. It was easy to walk on and we were making excellent progress, when Mike tripped and fell headlong into the bog to the side of the path. Fortunately he did not hurt himself and once we had ascertained the fact we fell about laughing. He was plastered in wet, black mud. A little further up the path we stopped to sit on some rocks on the summit ridge so that the sun could help dry him off. As we did so a widely spread group of young soldiers were following our route. They were making good progress despite carrying 55lb packs on their backs. The PT sergeant who was well clear of the rest of the group was extremely positive and driven, while some of the squaddies following behind were less enthusiastic and didn’t mind telling us.
Well rested, and Mike partially dried, we headed on up to the summit, which provided superb 360 degree views. The views are not necessarily dramatic and all the hills are of a similar height and the slopes, on the whole, are well rounded. It was the feeling of space, of being away from the normal hubbub of UK life that made it so pleasurable. The summit was not without its crowds, for shortly after we arrived a large group of accountants, in varying degrees of distress, reached the summit on a team building charity challenge. This was their second summit of the day having already climbed Ingleborough. All they had left was the long, cross country walk to Pen-y-ghent. I anticipate that some might be really struggling towards the end.
I never really appreciated before just how far west the Yorkshire Dales go, but from this lofty viewpoint Lancashire was well and truly squeezed between the Dales to the east and Morecambe Bay to the west. Just to the north of Morecambe Bay the hills of the Lakes could be clearly seen, with Scafell Pike and others being easily identifiable. To the north, south and east there were rolling hills as far as the eye could see.
Back in Ingleton, we settled into the camping barn at Stackstead Farm and awaited the arrival of the rest of the group. As the afternoon progressed towards evening friends arrived in dribs and drabs until it was time to head out to the Wheatsheaf for a meal and a drink or two. It was a good evening and the conversation flowed between friends who have known each other for a long time but don’t necessarily see each other that often. It was also a bonus that we were introducing new people into the group, adding greater interest and diversity. While some of us headed back to the barn, some stayed on for a few more drinks and, so I am told, went in search of a take-away, despite having had a sizeable meal only a couple of hours earlier. There were a few lapses of memory the following morning.
It rained heavily in the night and the cloud hung low over the hills. Looking at the conditions and knowing that the forecast was predicting it to get worse, I suggested a late change of plan, to climb to shorter Pen-y-ghent on the Saturday, leaving Ingleborough for our last day. It made sense, so after a full breakfast, we drove over to Horton-in-Ribblesdale for the relatively short ascent of the third, and lowest, of the Three Peaks. It wasn’t actually raining as we set off, although many of us decided to wear our full waterproofs for the eventuality.
It was an easy walk on the Pennine Way, a wide track leading from the village on to the open hill. Immediately on reaching the open hill, Mike suggested we take a slight detour to look at Hull Pot, a former cavern where the roof had collapsed, leaving a large hole into which the river fell before disappearing underground. It is an impressive sight, a classic limestone feature in an area full of classic features – shake holes, limestone pavements, escarpments, pot holes and caverns.
Shortly afterwards we veered off to look at Hunt Pot, another hole in the ground where the stream disappeared into a maze of underground passages and caverns. Mike’s enthusiasm for showing us these features made it all the more interesting. In his early years of teaching he was an enthusiastic potholer and spent much of his time crawling along underground tunnels and squeezing his way through tight corners.
Continuing our climb, the path became steeper, the last section being a newly made staircase made of huge slabs of rock. As we climbed the weather deteriorated. With greater height came stronger winds and by the time we reached the trig point the rain was driven horizontally across the summit. Thankfully there was a wall behind which we could shelter in order to eat our lunch.
There seemed little point, and less enthusiasm, to walk along the summit plateau to Plover Hill before making our descent, so we headed back down the way we had come. It was an easy descent despite the fact that in the early stages of it the wind did its best to throw us off balance.
Back in Horton-in-Ribblesdale there is a tree in the car park behind the Golden Lion Inn. This tree bears a rather strange fruit. This is not a seasonal fruit but one that occurs throughout the year, but, perhaps more so in the summer months when there are more visitors. The fruit I refer to is lots of pairs of boots and trainers hanging by their laces. For many, this is the finishing point for the gruelling 24 mile Three Peaks Challenge, a time when those who have succeeded may have sore feet and who feel they will never walk up a hill again and will certainly never want to put their boots on again. So, as tradition has it, when they feel this way, they hang their boots on the tree. Looking at them closely, there were some decent pairs of boots there with plenty more wear in them. A bit of a waste but I presume that occasionally somebody harvests them and feeds them to a shoe bank, making way for more.
As the afternoon wore on the rain ceased and just before dusk we were treated to some sunshine casting a strong light on the fields leading up to a still cloud enshrouded Ingleborough. The evening was spent eating good, home cooking (although I say it myself) and lively and amusing conversation until, gradually, people began to drift off for an early night. A combination of exercise, fresh air and perhaps a little over-indulgence the night before, ensured that nobody was late to bed.
Our last morning dawned bright and sunny, although cloud still hung around the summit of Ingleborough. It was expected to clear. Walking from the barn, we passed through the village to pick up a wide path between two walls, which would eventually lead on to the open hillside and head straight up to the summit. As we got nearer to the summit, the cloud did, indeed, clear and all we saw now was clear blue sky and the hillside bathed in glorious autumnal sunshine.
The gradient up the hill is quite gentle to begin with but it was quite warm work, particularly as, unlike yesterday, there was hardly a breath of wind. Ingleborough, very much like Pen-y-ghent, has a summit plateau surrounded by steep, often vertical slopes. Hence, the final part of the ascent was making our way up these steeper sections to the trig point and shelter. The views from the summit were outstanding, made the more so by beautiful cloud formations bubbling up in the autumn heat. During the weekend we had seen the Ribblehead viaduct from a number of different angles but from the edge of the plateau it looked particularly impressive.
On the summit, we discussed how we wanted to play the remainder of the walk and day. Some were anxious to get back on the road and head south , while others opted to extend the walk and stay out as long as possible. Some rushed back the way we had come while others took their time and chilled out on some very comfortable rocks for lunch.
It had been a fabulous weekend in every respect. Mike, Jonathan and I had climbed all three peaks and while the weather on Saturday was not at its best, it could have been a lot worse. In the main, we had seen the Yorkshire Dales at their best. Stackstead Farm provided us with an excellent base and is one I would be happy to return to on a future occasion. But what makes these occasions so special, is the group of people you share them with, the common interest, the camaraderie and the laughter. All a stark contrast to what was to follow, as I left to join my sister, to be with her and give her support when her husband died the next day. Thank you to you all.