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The Yorkshire 3 Peaks Challenge - 65,000 steps in a day!

One of the famous walking challenges in Yorkshire is The Yorkshire Three Peaks. It’s a walk of 24.5 miles but with 5200 feet (1585m) of ascent which has to be walked within 12 hours to complete the challenge.

The walk takes in Yorkshire’s two highest peaks – Whernside (the highest) and Ingleborough (at number two) as well as Penyghent which ranks at number five in Yorkshire. These peaks form part of the Pennine range encircling the head of the valley of the River Ribble in the Yorkshire Dales National Park.

As part of a fund raising exercise I was doing for a playground building project in Uganda next year, I decided to complete the Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge as a sponsored walk. My wife Liz decided to join me for the day and we took my black lab Bronte as pace maker.

Most people choose to start at Horton in Ribblesdale, bagging Penyghent first before the long walk to Whernside and finishing off with Ingleborough. But we decided to do the walk the other way round – the logic being to get the two highest peaks out of the way early would psychologically help us! With hindsight this was probably the wrong thing to do with two very steep descents down the staircase at Ingleborough and off the nose of Penyghent.

We set our alarm for 5am, set off at 6am and were off walking from the Dales National Park car park in Horton in Ribblesdale by 7.06am. The sun was out and there was a beautiful early morning light but temperature wise it was still freezing with frost on the ground.

The Three Peaks path was picked up at the train station in the village and started gently to climb across fields full of sheep. You can see the silhouette of a peak on the horizon but this is not Ingleborough but Simon’s Fell (a good climb in its own right). Our route followed a well-marked path across limestone country, through Sulber Nick (a gap in the limestone) and skirting around the lower slope of Simon’s Fell.

There is an interpretation board as you enter Ingleborough Nature Reserve, explaining about how the limestone was formed from the deposit of millions of sea creatures shells being deposited when Yorkshire was under a deep tropical sea 350 million years ago.

After gradually ascending for a couple of miles, a cobbled path heads off reasonably steeply for the final ascent of Ingleborough.

One on the distinctive flat plateau it was very windy, but we walked over to the trig point reaching the peak before walking to a stone shelter where we sheltered from the wind for a flask of tea and a fruity flapjack to get our energy levels up.

It had taken 2.5 hours to reach the peak, so were on schedule. We re-traced our steps back to where we had arrived at the summit but here another path bears off on the left for the descent.

We followed the edge of the cliff, slowly going down a rough path, before reaching the section I had not been looking forward to. I’ve been up Ingleborough many times before heading up from Chapel le Dale and coming down on a gentle path into Ingleton. This route involves a climb up a particularly steep section called “the staircase”. The path was closed for a year for repairs but had re-opened and we had decided to descend this way. I had come down this way before, but with my dodgy knees and slight vertigo it was worse than I had remembered.

Whilst my wife and dog made quick progress, I had to do most of the descent on my backside and slowed our progress right down.

Once off the staircase, the path is well defined and passed through Southerscales Nature Reserve with some stunning examples of limestone pavement. This is where the limestone has been exposed and over the years the joints have been eroded by rainwater to leave deep grooves called “Grykes” and large blocks known as “Clints”.

Some trees have started growing within the grykes and we get a great view of Whernside, Yorkshire’s highest peak where we were heading next, in the distance.

There are also some great views back of Ingleborough with its flat table top profile to take in.

We followed the path past the old house at Southerscales where I have stayed many times on walking trips to the main Ingleton to Hawes road.

Here we crossed the road at Chapel le Dale, just down from the Old Hill Inn and followed the signs across farmland to Bruntscar.

From here the path starts to climb quite steeply and there are great views over to the right to Ribblehead Viaduct as well as back over the valley to Ingleborough.

The final steep climb onto Whernside’s long ridge has been repaired recently using hard greywacke, so even though it is very steep it is not too difficult and only a short section of pain.

Even though we thought all the climbing was done, it was a good 20 minutes further to the trip point at the summit. The wind again was furious up here and although it was bright the wind chill factor made the temperature sub zero.

Whernside, whilst Yorkshire’s highest peak at 736m is perhaps not as impressive to look at as the other peaks as it is basically a long ridge, but there are stunning views down to Dentdale. We made it to the peak after 5 hours walking, so were still on schedule for a sub 12 hours for the 3 Peaks.

Doing Whernside by this route, means that whilst the descent is very long, it is more sympathetic on your knees as the gradient is relatively gentle.

We eventually reached the railway track of the Settle to Carlisle Railway and stopped for our packed lunch close to Blea Moor signal station.

After lunch we walked past the magnificent Ribblehead Viaduct, one of Yorkshire’s famous features. The Viaduct spans 400m across the valley and consists of 24 arches to carry the railway. It was finished in 1874 and had taken 2,300 men to build it. The story of its construction was shown in a recent ITV drama called Jericho.

We eventually ended up back at the main road just down from the Station Inn. Where we had a stretch of about a miles road walking on the B6479 before picking up a path at Lodge Hall.

This walk over to Penyghent is a long un-relenting stretch through beautiful undulating countryside. Every so often the blue skies changed to grey and we had snow flurries, but they did not last long and the blue skies returned.

The path crosses Horton Moor. I remember this stretch from 25 years ago where one of our group went up to his waist in a bog, but the path has been significantly improved over the years and is obvious to follow as opposed to previously, where you needed a map and compass and to be constantly be aware of avoiding the many pot holes.

As we reached the foot of Penyghent my wife was starting to run out of energy, so a quick chocolate bar stop was required before our final ascent. The path gradually rises along the side of the peak before reaching some well-constructed steps which take you up the final section to the peak.

We reached the peak of Penyghent at 694 metres and felt a great feeling of satisfaction having completed all the climbs. We now had to get back to Horton in Ribblesdale before 7.06pm.

The path off the peak started off as easy walking on old stone slabs which we marched along at pace. We then reached a section where the path disappeared from view. We looked over the edge and realised we had reached “the nose”.

Here the path went very steeply down a crag and needed a bit of scrambling to get down. Just like coming off Ingleborough, I found this section very difficult and again my descending on my backside really slowed progress.

Once off this steep section, it was gone 6.30pm and we knew we needed get a move on or we would be outside our 12 hour deadline. Paths were good and remembering I had a cool box with some cold tins of beer in my car helped to drive us on through farmland past Bracken Bottom and into Horton in Ribblesdale.

We hobbled along the main road to the car park, getting back to the car at 6.58pm – with 8 minutes to spare! We had done it in 11 hours and 52 minutes – at 55 and with dodgy knees it was a proud achievement.

Needless to say the cold beer hardly touched the sides. We headed off home with tired legs and a warm glow after 12 hours of cold walking. Having been informed by my Fitbit that I had walked 65,000 steps and burnt 7,500 calories, we phoned my son Joe who had a hearty fish and chip supper waiting for us when we got home, I even treated myself to a battered sausage on the side!

The map of the route can be found here:


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