Let’s start from the beginning, if I have to be conventional for once! Two people are to blame here, for my six-years fixation with wanting to walk “The Three Peaks of Yorkshire”. So take a step forward David Arthur Hill who first got me interested in the names, Pen-y-Ghent, Whernside and Ingleborough, way back in the 1990s on one of our trips up to Darwen Hill. Also, take a step forward author Jack Keighley who managed to make walking up Pen-y-Ghent and Whernside look so easy in his Walks in Ribble Country that when I bought the book in 2009, I was immediately hooked.
In 2009 when I was on my first flush of going for walks in the country, it was Christine (ha!) who, having observed me reading the said book, over and over again, calmly announced, “Well, let’s do Pen-y-Ghent then”. I didn’t give her the chance to change her mind and within the week we’d nailed the first of the three. At the time I was not exactly sold on the idea of doing all three on the same walk. It just seemed an impossible task to me. However, once at the top of Pen-y-Ghent that summer afternoon in June 2009, I saw for myself the sense of bonding between co-walkers (even co-workers) and was more than a bit intrigued. This only intensified on our next visit to the area when we successfully navigated the mist at Ingleborough. On our way back to the car I was transfixed by the long string of Three Peakers en route to this last of the three, they all seemed happy, I liked this, a lot.
And so it was finally to Whernside, two months after our ascent of Ingleborough. There was no doubt about it, we’d picked the hardest route – from Chapel-le-dale, the route is festooned with false summits, multiple types of walking surfaces and oh yes…it’s phenomenally steep and somewhat relentless. On a conventional three peaks course, this is part of the descent, going up would be a killer. At the top of Whernside on our day, were countless three peaks challengers all having a breather before the steep drop down and on to Ingleborough. I was well and trully snared now. The following Monday at work I began to ask around, ‘Who’d like to give it a go?’
Initial response was positive, ultimately nine of us would sign up to do the walk – in aid of Mountain Rescue (bets well and truly hedged) eight members of staff and one husband. We agreed on a date Saturday May 29th. The day came and so did the rain. I had done a number of local practice walks, around Southport, Winter Hill and a couple of Pendle Hill excursions. This counted for nothing. Pen-y-Ghent completely knocked me out, I had not trained anywhere near hard enough and although I made it all the way up the mountain and through the horrid bogs en route to Ribblehead, it was at the Station inn and Ribblehead where I had my reality check and gave up, vowing to do it again in the future.
That ‘future’ was all set to happen in the summer of 2014, but following a sleepless night whilst on holiday in Benalmádena, I decided to cancel my booking and to get in shape before even setting a date. I started to see a Dietician who introduced me to the concept of low carbohydrates as a lifestyle instead of a ‘diet’. After losing 4.5 kilograms in the first week I decided to keep as closely as possible to this newer way of food watching and after a few months factored in regular gym visits. Added to this, walks up some truly huge mountains: Scafell Pike, Scafell, Helvellyn, Skiddaw, Cross Fell and Great Gable and the usual two of Winter Hill and Pendle Hill, have without doubt, made a massive difference and I am now at least two stones lighter than I was at this time last year.Thus, when I posted a photo taken of me (with Whernside in the background), on Facebook a conversation regarding the area turned into ours (mine and Mark Carson’s) 2015 Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge! Yes, I know, it took as long to get to this point in the post as it does to get up Ingleborough! A group of four of us had arranged to meet at the Penyghent Café in Horton in Ribblesdale at 07:00 on Saturday 6th June. I even hired a car as I didn’t want to be full of foreboding anticipation of our car (the wheel balancing of which needs fixing), making the journey or not! Peter had warned that he may not make the day because of injury, sadly this was to become true and his very Yorkshire presence was missed on the day.
Linzi and Mark however, did arrive and we eventually left the café site at around 07:05. Linzi posted a note through the café’s door containing our start time. The gentle amble around to Brackenbottom, was soon replaced by the horrendous slog up the side of the moor. There are a couple of scramble sections to break up the seemingly endless slog. In all honesty, when I did this walk at a much slower pace with Chris in 2009, I got more out of it. Your Y3P day is not a day for taking photographs or admiring the scenery. We had set off at a blistering pace and I could hardly believe my eyes when at the joining of the Three Peaks and Pennine Way paths I glanced at my watch and saw that so far it had not yet been an hour since we left the café! After some more steep scrambling and the gradual run-in to the top, we were at the ordnance survey column. I checked the watch – it read 08:19 – roughly one hour and fourteen minutes to reach the top of Pen-y-Ghent, fantastic. There was a factor that I have thus far forgotten to include – the wind. The wind on Saturday was impressively irritating! There would be few precious, silent moments when the wind was not howling away.
All three peaks candidates are fully aware that it is on the downhill sections of the route where time can be made up. Alas, with the wind hitting us from the left, this effectively slowed down the dropping of Pen-y-Ghent. I’d already made the call that we would be taking the newer, less organic and drier route over Whitber Hill as opposed to the old wet one over Horton Moor. Actually, I don’t even remember seeing the turning for the older route – it was no great loss. Even a little lump of a hill such as the 420 metre Whitber Hill, can take its’ toll, and ascending a hill that is only slightly higher than Great Hill was still something of a trudge after the mountain we had just ascended, but we did it and for quite some time the terrain got easier to traverse and the views were delivered to us. My Three Peaks DVD manages to make the route from Pen-y-Ghent to Ribblehead look like a complex series of twists and turns. We were fortunate in that this was a busy Saturday with many walkers to follow. Navigation was simply not an issue other than a case of ‘follow the throng’. I had been looking out for the Ribblehead Viaduct as a landmark, but, had failed to recognise it! What I had wrongly believed was ‘just a bridge’ was in fact the afore mentioned viaduct – we were now in sight of the end of the second section (the top of Pen-y-Ghent being the first section’s end). No Three Peaks walker will ever admit this, okay, I just broke that rule – the part of the entire walk which is the easiest and most comfortable to walk is: the stretch of road from Ingram Lodge to Ribblehead. Progress is swift, the terrain is quite level and as long as the people in front of you don’t keep stopping to talk to each other, then it’s all good. Better still was the fact that we had now arrived at road’s end. We sat and had something to eat – Millionaire’s shortbread which did give me a little bit of a sugar rush. For Whernside I would need all the energy I could muster.
Because that wind would just not let up! On the positive side, this did aid progress, we set off from the road at 11:05 and I forecast that if we kept to our current speed, we should be at the top by 13:00. After a period of being in a relatively small group, we were suddenly surrounded and indeed our little procession turned into a giant chain snaking its’ way over the hillside. The wind continued to interfere with progress and I did stop a couple of times. However, there came a point when it was simply a case of ‘left foot forward’ – regular readers of this blog will note that whenever I lead with my left, it’s business! I put my foot down, then stopped to fill my water up, then put my foot down again and powered across Whernside’s summit ridge. The going was tough, the howling wind was quite literally pushing people sidewards.
It was less than a minute before Linzi and a rather refreshed-looking Mark appeared amongst the throng of walkers, after squeezing through the narrowest of all gaps to get to the trig point we sat and had some water, I had another energy gel thing, they were working really well today. I glanced at my watch once more – it was 12:59!
The last time I dropped off Whernside, I practically fell off it – twice, in about ten yards. I was prepared for it to be as bad this time, but, it wasn’t! Okay, I did have to stop and put gloves on (did I mention it was windy?), Mark and Linzi carried on after checking that I was okay. I caught them up and then for reasons of which I am still unaware, I went into warp speed descend mode. Seriously, I have never managed to walk so confidently and quickly down any hill before, and this was a hazardous one. On a number of occasions I did stop in order to wait for my co-walkers, but, I just couldn’t see them! A couple of late-teenage girls made an observation that I was the only person on my path (it had split into many grass v rock sections) and that I must ‘know something’. I simply responded ‘Yeah, but I’m mad!’ which brought about giggles galore!
After the major descent I got talking to a fifty-something-year-old lady who was having a great old time and loving every moment of it…apart from the wind, we carried on chatting and walking for quite some distance until I reached a great big gate, where I decided to wait again for Linzi and Mark. After four minutes there was no sign, so I continued to walk and made my way uphill onto Philpin Lane in the direction of the little shop/stand. I wanted a coffee and damn it – it was going to have sugar in it. I reached the cart/stand and got the much awaited coffee. After a few moments Linzi and Mark appeared, and I was very grateful to be reunited with them once more.
Next came the bad news as Mark revealed that Linzi was pulling out and catching a taxi from the Hill Inn on the B6255 back to where she was parked. Although I tried not to show it, I was a little bit saddened by this as it brought back memories of my own early exit five years earlier. In addition it’s always sad to lose a fellow walker but I did understand that the wind had whipped the zest out of her coming up Whernside. I do hope that she’ll try again at some point in the future. Mark and I resolved to continue the walk and we said our goodbyes to Linzi at the Hill Inn.
We both knew that from here on in, it was going to get more difficult, Ingleborough is a tough, relentless slog, then there was the ‘steps’ with which we had to contend. We stopped several times, but that was okay, many other people (including a delightful couple from Wigan / Heathrow) stopped several times. This was negative bonding, or was it just bonding in the face of adversity – Bear Grylls would have been proud of us. I lost a water bottle – I have no idea at which point on the slog over from Chapel-le-Dale to Humphrey Bottom the little beggar made it’s bid for freedom, but I was relieved to remember that I still had a bottle of Bounty milk in my backpack and this would only come out when absolutely necessary. At the foot of ‘Frodo’s Steps’ as they have come to be known, we took a five minute breather. Mark gave me one of his cans of Red Bull and within moments I was shaking like a leaf. I don’t know what’s in that vile concoction, but it works, and is probably really bad for a person. Today, it was good, so good!
In less than twenty minutes and several more sit-downs for yours’ truly, we reached the pass at the top of the steps. The next section of the walk, if one were to walk it having not just climbed the steps and the preceding eighteen miles, would be a relatively easy amble, the only real obstacle was the other weary walkers falling down from the summit. I saw the two girls to whom I had spoken on the path down Whernside (remember, I confessed my madness?) and they recognised me whilst cheerfully informing me “Oh it’s lovely at the summit, you’ll enjoy it!”. To which I responded joyfully “I just don’t believe you”, which brought about more laughter, altitude has a funny effect on the minds of us humans! The lovely couple from Heathrow / Wigan kept on encouraging each other – honestly to see the wife digging in deep (maybe I should have asked their names, but breath was a precious commodity!) was spurring me on like mad.
Although the wind had been messing with us all day, it was not until the summit’s ordnance survey column before it really showed its’ hand – and that hand smacked us all in the face! The wind atop Ingleborough put paid my ambitions of summit photographs, congratulatory selfies and the likes. It’s said (pardon the passive voice) that Cross Fell (70 miles north of here) has the worst winds in England. Having now done them both, I am inclined to say that Ingleborough’s wind put in a good old showing for itself, it was evil!
But Mark and I had done it, we’d now climbed these three mountains, we’d survived that bloody wind and even more, we still had food left – just no opportunity to eat it in peace. We began the long and it has to be said monotonous trudge down to Horton in Ribblesdale, with just one thing in mind, would the café still be open and us still able to register our times. It is indeed unfair to label the route down passing through lovely countryside and the limestone pavement of Sulber Nick as boring, but, when all that one wants to see are Pen-y-Ghent growing in size and the Pen-y-ghent café, then that same countryside is simply a distraction. For the next three quarters of an hour we would play catch-up, overtake, be-overtaken by those walkers with whom we now shared our vicinity. The path is fairly undulating although not in any way steep – especially compared to what we had already done. Finally Horton in Ribblesdale’s train station came into view, once safely across the lines we were back onto paving (real, not limestone) and from there the short journey over the bridges, passing my parking spot, then passing the pub (who’s name I really should remember!) then onto the café, would it be open? YES!!! We got ourselves clocked in/out/whatever, and our time was ELEVEN HOURS and SIX MINUTES – not the ten for which I had been unrealistically aiming, but below the twelve and that was more than good enough for me.
To be honest, to complete the route at all, even outside of the twelve hours is no mean feat. It’s a hard challenge, yes the spongy path which now bypasses Red and Black Dub Mosses, does facilitate progress but then so do the paved sections throughout the route, strangely you don’t hear people moaning about them! I wouldn’t dream of attempting to cross Humphrey Bottom without its’ flagstones and likewise for some of the sections on the way up Whernside. I had remembered well, the pain of trying to amble up Brackenbottom – you can’t, you just have to put your head down and charge, I even overtook people! I was so happy with my descent off Whernside, it was nothing like as challenging as when I did it in rather wetter conditions last March. Yes, the scenery was good, but do you know what was better? The people. There were no stress-heads attempting to power their way through and to hell with anyone whom should happen to get in their way. We were all walking brothers and sisters, no matter what our motives – charity or vanity, sharing this experience with people that I will most likely never see again is something, the main thing, that I want to take with me from this six-year fixation. I’d love to walk with Mark again as he is great company, (Peeler’s Hike, Mark it is on your doorstep after all) and I was gutted that Linzi had to pull out after eighteen miles but I did empathise and I’ve volunteered to go with her if she ever tries again, and would be delighted to do so.
I will do this again, next year, and I do hope to be at least two stones lighter (again) and to take at least an hour off my time, so here’s to more gym nights and visits to Pendle and Winter Hill in preparation. Controversially, Whernside is still my favourite mountain of the three, although it has to be said the other two aren’t exactly lacking in character either. Although I admit that this is not an Oscar Acceptance Speech, there are some people that I’d like to thank and the first one would be my wonderful fiancé, Chris, who had complete faith in this attempt, ‘I knew you’d do it’ was one of the first things that she said to me on my return home. Also, I’d like to say thanks to Jenny, my line manager who’s company in my lunch-time walks stopped me from getting bored and aided my progress. Mark already knows how grateful I am that he did the walk with me, but anyway, cheers Mark and to Linzi I may not make it to High Street this weekend but I do look forward to walking with you again in the future.
I’d also like to plug the Just Giving page of Kirsty from Enterprise, who was so nice to me when renting the car, which ultimately took a whole load of stress off my plate. She’s doing a gruelling thirty kilometre Coniston Challenge in aid of Alder Hey. Personally, I think she must be mad, but it’s a very worthwhile cause: Click here to visit the site.
Distance – twenty four and a half miles
Ascent / descent – over 5,000 feet
Song of the walk: there are so many (well, it’s a long walk) :
Next challenge walk: It could possibly be this: In Pendle’s Shadow or alternatively, it’s high time that I ticked off the full route of the Sefton Coastal Path, 21 miles but I’ve done more than that now 🙂