Monday, 15 February 2016

Backpacking the Yorkshire Three Peaks

It's month five of my wild-camp-every-month challenge and, this time, it's the Yorkshire Three Peaks. And let's be clear about this, it's the original Three Peaks, the name, in more recent times, having been hijacked by the nutcases who've applied it to the "so-called" National Three Peaks.

I'm wildly irritated by the National Three Peaks. Quite why anyone would be daft enough to climb Snowdon, Scafell Pike and Ben Nevis in 24 hours is beyond me. Add to this the concept of the charity challenge and it becomes even sillier. I've no problem with raising money for a good cause but why use a format which endangers life and limb by driving idiotic distances in limited time and causes incredible damage to local environments while doing so? 

If you're a fan of the National Three Peaks as a concept ... move along please ... there's nothing for you here.

In a similar vein, the Yorkshire Three Peaks is now attracting the charity bandwagon, bringing serious erosion problems to the route. Horton in Ribblesdale, the usual start point, becomes a circus on many spring and summer weekends as folk, often with seriously limited hill experience, pit themselves against the clock to cover this route in less than 12 hours. Such tomfoolery ... which sucked me an' a couple of pals in, over 30 years ago. I was young ... and daft. Now I'm old ... though still a bit daft.

Looking for backpacking adventure me and my pal Chris decide (or at least I did and Chris didn't object) on this as a route over a more sensible period of time ... three days ... and in t'winter. 

We leave Chris's motor in Horton and lunch in the famous Pen y Ghent cafe. Shame about the silly approach to coffee, "If you want a pint mug it'll be instant. If you'd like filter coffee you can have a (tiny 1.5 cup) cafetiere" and the toilets which are, "100 metres down the road in the public car park". It's bin the same owner since me an' Chrissie came in here over 20 years ago. Can you imagine how much brass this guy's made, but he still won't build a loo on his large plot ... or sell me a pint of filter coffee. Sod 'im ... I won't be going in again.

We're off on our route by 1pm. A lazy start means we miss the Saturday crowds. 

It takes us about an hour and a half to hit Pen y Ghent's summit. It is seriously cold; a bitter wind blowing from the east.

We drop off the top into milder air again and head off, across the moor to a pleasant brew stop.

Then it's onwards, into failing light ...

... and a camp for the night.

In darkness we pitch tents, filter water and eat together in the cold. But it's a sheltered spot; with only the slightest of wind through the night. Still ... and cold.

We emerge in the morning; through icy zips, to a clear sky; the promise of a good day ahead. 

Now, away, across country towards Gearstones, on the Ingleton to Hawes road.

We march along the roadside; views of Ingleborough ahead and the looming presence of elegant Ribblehead viaduct.

With the Settle-Carlisle line at our side, we begin the slow, steady ascent to Whernside, stopping along the way for a brew, near Blea Moor's signal box.

We cross the railway by a magnificent aqueduct ...

... gaze across the valley at the bulk of Ingleborough ...

... and pass by the waterfall in Force Gill ...

... before continuing the long, long climb up to the peak ....

... donning microspikes on the way.

We're soon over the top. Eschewing the summit crowd we descend a couple o' hundred metres to find shelter behind a wall. Chris produces a fine lunch of noodles flavoured with mulligatawny soup (yes, really) while I brew coffee; a superb repast. 

The view down and across the valley is truly beautiful.

Then, down, down, down to the road crossing by the Hill Inn in Chapel le Dale.

We filter water from a stream then ready ourselves for the tough ascent of the mighty Ingleborough. Too much effort for photos on the way up, but we, eventually, hit a late afternoon, blissful, peaceful summit.

It's cold ... we don't linger long. Off, down the hill to find a camp.

Spying a flowing stream and some flattish ground we stop ... and pitch. It's VERY cold. By the time the tents are up we're both inside, seeking the warmth of down cocoons. Fingers are numb.

A seriously cold night; we reckon -5C at the most. P'raps colder with the windchill.

The morning brings a clear, blue sky again. Porridge and coffee warms, before we brave the outdoors again and drop tents.

I lose a stuffsac in the wind (it was weighted down!) and spend a fruitless half an hour searching before we depart.

Chris feels the need for countless "clothing adjustment stops", whilst I amuse myself with photography.

The iconic limestone pavements are a delight.

Buoyed by the magic of the weather, we're in high spirits, righting all the world's wrongs, designing PERFECT outdoor gear and laughing at our own silliness.

Almost before we know it, we see Pen y Ghent, once again ahead of us ...

... and we're back at the car.

With due consideration, we decide against giving the owner of the (toiletless) Pen y Ghent cafe any more of our hard earned cash and head off, instead, for the teeming metropolis of nearby Settle, where we lunch on superb fisn'n'chips in the Fisherman Restaurant. A fine end to a cold, but fabulously slow crossing of the Yorkshire Three Peaks.

Smile; life is good.


  1. Ha, don't get me started on the National Three Peaks! The Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge has ruined this part of the Dales for me, it's now an area I avoid at all costs, other than in the deepest part of the winter - even then you still meet them! The weather looks fantastic in the photos, shame about the wind. A great alternative way of doing these iconic mountains :)

    1. Cheers Stuart and thanks for looking.
      You're right of course: I only entertained this route cos it's winter.
      And boy did we see some clowns on Whernside. Talk about ill equipped!
      Thankfully PyG and Ingleborough were quiet cos of the time we hit 'em.
      In the end, it was a fine trip. I heartily recommend it ... in winter ... slowly ;)

  2. Totally agree on the Three Peaks nonsense. Lovely area for a wander.

    1. Thanks Robin. It's a shame isn't it that, seemingly, thousands of people disagree with us. But most of 'em aren't, dare I say it, "proper" outdoor types.
      It really is beautiful though and, despite the nearness of roads, can feel quite remote in places.

  3. Hi Geoff. Cracking route and by far the best way to walk the Three Peaks. I love that area but I'll avoid the cafe in Horton now! Planning something similar with a leisurely 4 day backpack around the Welsh 3's over Easter. Couldn't agree more on these challenges. Read some very disturbing stories about the damage caused in Wasdale (dumping and leaving glowsticks on the path to light the way). Great report

    1. Thanks for visiting Andy and the kind comment. Backpacking the Welsh 3s sounds a challenge; good luck with that. Sometimes wonder, in these days of social media, how folk like that cafe owner stay in business. Sadly, he has a monopoly in Horton, which itself is, inevitable, a honeypot. And yes, I think Wasdale, being so remote, suffers worst from the idiocy of the National Three Peaks.

  4. Fantasmagorical Geoff, Brilliant photos too, well done. Had quite a shock a while back when coming down to Horton, passing an obvious group of three peakers, I gave the usual cheery 'good morning' only to be totally blanked. Maybe I ought not to have been surprised, a lot of folk doing the 3 peaks are not from the hill walking fraternity.

    1. Thanks Dawn. Yeah, sadly that seems to be the case. It's a shame really. A daft, timed challenge is no way to get folk hooked on hillwalking, in my humble opinion.


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