Or more commonly known as “The Yorkshire Three Peaks” or Y3P for short.
As far as ‘day-long’ walks go then this is the biggie, the coup de grás (I just don’t know how to spell that!) the cream of the crop! 23.5 Miles and three bloomin’ big mountains and you have to do it all in less than TWELVE hours!
Oh sure there are longer walks to be done over the course of a day, why even the Anglezarke Amble at twenty-four and a half miles is longer than this and then there is the Leaden Boot Challenge (26.5miles) and don’t even get me started on the 50-miles Red Rose challange which pops up every Semptember and I dare say that there are even more stupid ones in the Lake District…but this is the giant, the most notorious, arduous and infamous one. So read on…
Where is it?
That’s a sensible question given that Yorkshire is three counties these days, it’s in the village of Horton-in-Ribblesdale in the Craven Area of North Yorkshire, the nearest town of note is Settle.
Is it hard?
Well now, it’s not as hard as it used to be – kind of! The route when first popularised by the late great Alfred Wainwright in the 50s was an unadulterated bog-fest, mud for breakfast, peat for lunch and a good old soaking at Black Dub Moss! In recent years, much has been done to steer the brave walkers away from the cloying peat and mud: first Ingleborough’s notorious Humphry Bottom was ‘slabbed’ – festooned with old mill floors / sturdy slabs of millstone grit on top of the worst of the sticky patches. Next the area at the foot of Pen-y-ghent was mended – a diversion put in place to avoid walkers having to risk getting caked in stinking peat at the two moss sections – Red Moss and Black Dub Moss. Now the last remnants of filth have been stepped over on route up Whernside from Ribblehead. However, whilst the mud has now been avoided, each section of stone paving results in a slightly more elevated terrain than in its former existence, the route is almost twenty-four miles and believe me, after eighteen or so, you do notice (or at least your calf muscles and hips do) every minor (and major) increment in gradient. Nowhere is this more evident than the express-way over the infamous Humphrey Bottom.
Okay, so on with the route then!
No problem! We start nowadays from outside of the (now closed) Pen-y-ghent café in good old Horton in Ribblesdale. The café used to run a ‘clocking in and out’ service for ‘three-peakers’ which essentially acted as a customer draw for worn-out walkers returning after a hard day on the hills to spend all of their spare change on beverages (and presumably cakes!). The weary souls would be informed of how long it had taken them to complete the route. Alas the café appears to have closed its doors for the last time in the autumn of 2018 which means we now have to keep our own record of what time we set off and return. We cross the B6479 and head south for a couple of hundred metres before taking the left turn at the side of Saint Oswald’s Church. Heading north we amble under a leafy canopy and are diverted onto a tarmac road which crosses the bridge over a stream. For around half a km or so we will be heading in the direction of Brackenbottom farm along this gentle flowing tarmac road.
And here’s the first bit of hard work, straight up Brackenbottom Scar. It’s best to cut this section in two mentally, and just go hell for leather on the first half! Yes’ it’s steep and your calfs will not thank you at all, but from the gate at Brackenbottom farm to our first wall stile is around 500 metres then the terrain mellows out for a while. Over the stile; and the grass gets a bit more lush…notice that there are some small scrambly sections that emerge from the field and there is no way around…well not unless you want to make the walk twice as long! Finally, there is a lovely downhill section, whereby if one hits it at enough speed; one’s momentum will propell one’self up to the huge wall at the end of the section (of course this is nonsense!). Go through either one of the two gates, take a breather and then gaze in awe at the spectacle to your left which is the southern face (the lion) of Pen-y-ghent. Oh and by the way you are now stood upon the Pennine Way footpath.
There’s no two ways about it, we are now in for a lot of uphill work, and the worse thing is that it looks like nothing on the maps and is a little over six hundred metres in length! Sounds a doddle doesn’t it? The way ahead is obvious – GO UP, but the path does some meandering, given that the gradient is so severe that’s understandable. There are two steep scrambly sections before the summit is reached but at the top of the rise is a nice gentle slabbed path to the trig point (ordnance survey column)…which seems to go on forever (lactic acid in the legs will do that to your perceptions). Have a breather at the summit, avoid the wasps that have been driven crazy by the copious, discarded banana skins which thoughtless people have seen to leave behind (or are they trying to make some peat for future generations, hmmm!) and turn 180 degrees…annoying isn’t it, you just cannot see the enormous slope you just staggered up! If you’re lucky, to the south you should be able to make out Pendle Hill…okay so that only matters to me. Onwards! Over the precarious wall style, you’re going downhill!
And it is for quite some time that we are going to be descending. If you are in the company of one of those fast walkers…ditch them, it’s very easy to lose your footing on this drop from above and momentum really can act as the enemy here. So just relax; safe in the knowledge that for the next 2.5km you’re on the descent. Having dropped until there’s just no more dropping to be done, it’s time to amble along and take in the views. Bask in the warm glow of looking back at Pen-y-ghent’s dramatic profile, knowing that you’re just been up it. Traverse the stile and head north-west but the path is blatantly obvious. Nowadays, this is the best part of the entire walk, if you’re a bit lazy (like me). Oh sure, there are undulations but it’s nothing short of amazing just how quickly one can power up and over Whitber Hill without realising it. In 2012 a new path was laid here and since then it’s all been plain sailing compared to the former mudfest the route used to traverse. In fact, so easy are the next few miles that all we can do is look at the scenery as the Ribblehead Viaduct gets progressively nearer, as do Park Fell and Simon Fell, fortunately, Ingleborough stays hidden for quite some time.
For a long time we will follow a general north-westerly route only changing direction to due nother in order to pass by Jackdaw hill. Some variations of the route take us off this (the Pennine Way) and onto the neighbouring Ribble Way. We’ll go with the Ribble one and head towards Birkwith Cave (signposted) in a NNW direction. We cross a bridge that the locals chose to name “God’s Bridge” – hmmm what about the ones around the rest of the country? Next step is the area known as Nether Lodge (there are some great names in this vicinity!), where we will then swing left (or due west as it’s known) passing though pastures until passing Lodge Hall (or Ingman Lodge on O/S maps). Now for a very short spell we drop south then do an abrupt right turn (on tarmac) heading off to the distant hum of the B6479 again. A right turn here and then for a mile and a bit; march like you’ve never marched before all the way to the shadow of the Ribblehead viaduct (and the butty van!).
Take time out at Ribblehead – it’s the law! Change your socks if you’ve been anal enough to plan for such an eventuality – clean socks are refreshing and you’re going to need every minor lift of mood for the next four and a half miles because across the t-junction lies the beginning of the ascent of the highest mountain in modern-day North Yorkshire, Whernside.
The route starts off easily enough as it passes by and over (and under in Winter) Winterscales Beck, people will lie and tell you this is the river Ribble, treat them with a certain distain as they never pointed that out when you actually did pass over the Ribble a couple of miles ago near Nether Lodge! Hop caerfully across the stones as you fail to notice that the gradient just got a little steep and before you know it we’ve merged with another long distance path – the Dales High Way which we shall follow all the way up to the 500-metre mark where we’ll hang a left and head off for the summit (which seems to be retreating from us). On route you may be lucky to see not one, not two, but three waterfalls – I never have seen more than one, but Force Gill is a stunning sight. You’ll also pass by Whernside Tarn(s) which are not really spectacular on your left! Finally the summit of this ever-reaching ridge comes into view. You might want to take off your backpack as someone with a wicked sense of humour saw fit to place the trig point behind two pieces of rock with the narrowest of all gaps. Bask, bask and bask some more but whatever you do , try not to gaze out at the mighty flat-topped summit of Ingleborough across the valley. It’s much further than it looks.
Admittedly for the next few miles we shall be descending once more…haha! Whernside’s most notorious feature is the drop, stumble, fall down… towards Bruntscar. Even in summer on a baking hot day this can be a treacherous gradient as water springs up at any opportunity turning the path into an ice rink, you’ve been warned! After the drop from hell it is plain sailing for quite a long way and soon we get to walk on tarmac some more. Even more pleasing is the chance to stop in on route for refreshments (or the loo) at the little stall at Philpin Lane, the owner is a lovely lady.
At the end of the lane turn left, cross over the B6255 and head towards the Hill Inn, but don’t go in or you’ll never finish the route! Take the first turn on the right and follow the wide grassy trail. This area is known as Souther Scales and it has to be said that there is a lot of geological interest to be had here, if only you weren’t in a rush. Over the next mile and a half the gradient gets progressively steeper – the onset of the stone slabs belays the former bogginess that was – this is Humphrey Bottom. By this time your legs will be hurting, if not, you’re lieing, your legs are hurting, grab a breather whenever possible. Before long the steps have vanished and what lies ahead of you is the gobsmacking spectacle of Frodo’s Steps (or The Arks on O/s maps). This is the single steepest part of the entire route, it makes boys out of men and has been known to magically turn the air blue! Although the distance from the bottom of this climb is around one-tenth of a mile, it feels a whole lot further, we’re about to climb over 200 metres in less than half a mile (considerably less than half a mile). If you feel the need to sit down on one of the gigantic stone steps whilst ascending…there are about six that I can heartily recommend! Fortunately the terrain does even out a little at the top of the first climb…and then takes off again for another 250 metres before hitting the summit plateau.
If the date is the thirtieth of February, or the day has no vowels in it the weather will be wonderful and not even the slightest gust of a breeze at this the final trig point. More likely; a howling wind will do its level best to drive you back off the summit quicker than you ascended! Be brave, take that summit selfie, try and pour yourself the remainder of that coffee without scolding those around you, even smile and believe that it’s all downhill and easy from here on in. So turn around a full 180 degrees and head back towards the spring which gave you a little bit of a soaking at the top of Frodo’s Steps. We’re not going all the way back down to the col instead we are going to head off to the right – just look for others disappearing and if you don’t hear them screaming then you’re going the right way!
This is a trudge, if you are not familiar with that word then do this walk and it will become all to fitting an adjective. True, the limestone pavement can be captivating and don’t forget that by now, technically you have done the three Peaks…just not completed the route but you have every right to feel this elation. Watch as Pen-y-ghent appears, then gets ever-so-closer as you drop ever nearer back to that confounded café which you are all too sure somebody has moved! Laugh with derisive scorn at the lying sign which promises Horton-in-Riblesdale is merely one-and-a-half-miles away, no it damn well isn’t! Soon you’ll be talking to strangers and if they look in better condition than you, you’ll play the victimn and recount the torrid times that you had falling off Whernside and scrambling up Pen-y-ghent and is it true that some crazy souls run this damn thing?
Conversely, if you’ve faired better than them give to them a reasurring and not at all patronising ‘not far to go now’ even though, in all honesty you don’t really know where you are! The path back to the café seems to go on forever, but you’re tired, your last carb was burned off high-fiving a complete stranger at the Ingleborough trig point and your backpack seems to be on a mission to push you down the side of the slope. As your blood sugar drops you’ll notice that all too frequently both feet try to occupy the same space, with comedic effect (for those behind you!) drink it in, you don’t get these sensations on any other day. Keep glancing at your watch, you may have a doctorate in applied Mathematics but for some reason you can’t work out how long it has taken you to get here if it’s four o’clock now and you set off at six…you’ll find out at the café (damn there’s no clocking in service anymore and even more damn, there’s no café at all)…but there are two pubs!
Eventually you reach a road and then a place to cross the railway, it’d be such a shame to get squished here so for your own sake look left and right. Then what’s this? One of those road type things that people live on…a street, you remember streets right? Good, stop swearing, be nice, don’t forget that people have a right to live here and you’re the outsider! Please don’t abandon spent water bottles here, even if there is a bin couldn’t you take that home with you, hmmm? At the end of the road take the right hand turn, call in at the public loo – you must need to go by now and if not then at least grab a few moments of quiet time before hitting the pub! Depending on your own plans for the evening, whether you’re driving straight back of getting a lift or even camping locally then this determines where you go next, but it’s the pub isn’t it? Go on…you’ve earned it! The rest is up to you but do drink responsibly.
Lap of honour?