Taking On The Popular Yorkshire Dales Circular Walk!
Feeling at peak fitness having just returned from Corsica on completion of the GR20, we decided the following weekend (maybe crazily so) that we would undertake one of the great outdoor challenges of the UK – to ascend the 3 highest peaks in Yorkshire in a single day!
The ‘Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge’ as it is popularly known, is a circular walk in the Yorkshire Dales National Park in the north of England. It’s called a ‘challenge’ for a reason. Not only are you faced with the demands of walking 24 miles over a variety of terrains, but it also entails conquering the three summits of Pen-y-Ghent (691 metres), Whernside (728 metres) and Ingleborough (723 metres), in 12 hours or less.
Having passed through this stunning area whilst hiking the Pennine Way and Coast to Coast path last year, we had firmly put the 3 peaks on our to-do list! Now the time felt right, so we eagerly set off for the Dales and the start of a new outdoor adventure… The scenery was dramatic and ever changing, as was the weather! But we were fully prepared for the demands of the day. Taking the traditional route, here is a round-up of our latest hike in the UK…
Almost at the end of our challenge! Heading back to Horton after conquering the 3 peaks.
Arriving early Friday evening in the midst of a storm, thereby prompting us to question our sanity about the whole undertaking, we eventually pitched our tent at Holme Farm Campsite in the little village of Horton-in-Ribblesdale – the start point for the traditional route where Pen-y-Ghent, the shapeliest of the Yorkshire 3 peaks, is ascended first. This village is the traditional starting point for many reasons; namely there’s a range of accommodation options, plus pubs and a café in the village. It is also accessible by train and there is ample (paid for) car parking.
The campsite, whilst becoming waterlogged by the minute, was already near full capacity due to a large groups of walkers taking on the 3 peaks that particular weekend as part of a national fund raising event. But we managed to find a relatively decent pitch, and as we had come this far, (in fact, around 122 miles by car,) we were not going to let inclement weather put us off.
So donning our waterproofs, we made a hasty retreat to the pub for dinner, whilst keeping our fingers crossed for a better forecast for the morning.
Having stayed there on the Pennine Way, it was our second visit to the very homely Holme Farm Campsite in Horton-in-Ribblesdale.
It was worth waiting out the storm, as the new dawn brought a more promising day for a walk in the hills. Setting off around 8:30am, we didn’t check in at the Pen-y-Ghent Café in the village, as is customary if you want a certificate at the end! But rather, Wayne set his GPS tracker to map our route and we were off, trying to stay one step ahead of the hundreds of walkers taking the traditional route just like ourselves.
Starting from Horton in Ribblesdale, you track to Pen-y-Ghent via Brackenbottom, steadily climbing to Brackenbottom Scar until you reach the junction with the Pennine Way, at which point the imposing face of Pen-y-Ghent looks down on you. It’s a steep climb up to the summit, so be prepared for your first challenge of the day in as little as 1 and a half hours after setting off! (We saw at least two people from the first charity group up ahead already drop out at this point, so it’s important to realise the level of difficulty of the task, particularly if you are not an experienced walker or have done minimal training.)
The peaks themselves can be pretty hostile in poor weather as you will see from our photographs. Ideally walkers should have an average to good standard of fitness and stamina, and most certainly have suitable mountain equipment and some outdoors experience before attempting the challenge. In addition, despite the route being well-signposted, you should go prepared with an Ordnance Survey map and know how to use it. Good navigational skills are a life-saver during poor visibility.
Passing the church in Horton-in-Ribblesdale.
Looking back to the village from Brackenbottom.
Our first stile of the day – but who’s counting!
We tried to get ahead of the large charity groups setting off from the village around the same time as us, but there was already a steady caravan of walkers making their way to Pen-y-Ghent.
The pathway was clearly marked so we couldn’t get lost at this point!
To minimise erosion, pathways have been slabbed making for a much more pleasant walk on usually boggy terrain.
Looking up the steep face of Pen-y-Ghent.
Heading up the stone steps towards the summit.
A steady flow of walkers zig-zag to the summit.
Although the skies were rather dull and grey, the greenery of the hillside was striking.
After walking approximately 3 miles, we reached the summit of Pen-y-Ghent at 691 metres in around 2 hours. Proud of their first achievement and rightly so, the summit was extremely busy with walkers eager to have their photograph taken at the trig-point. So instead of joining the queue ourselves, we decided to hot-foot it down the mountain and keep the momentum going in preparation for our second summit of the day – Whernside, the tallest of the 3 peaks at 728 metres.
Descending Pen-y-Ghent and reaching the junction with the Pennine Way.
The 3 peaks form part of the Pennine range, and encircle the head of the valley of the River Ribble and of Chapel-le-Dale, in the Yorkshire Dales National Park. The route is both well-known and well signposted.
It wouldn’t be a day in the Dales without spotting some sheep! (At least these didn’t need rescuing by Wayne, as has been the case in our previous encounters!)
Over the course of the 24 miles (38.6km), you will find yourself walking over a variety of terrains, and even though the paths have been improved greatly over recent years, certain sections can still be very boggy and energy draining. In our experience, walking poles prove an immense help when trying to avoid the worst sections! (The storm from the previous evening however had not helped at all as the ground was already very saturated!)
Trying to avoid the bog and not fall foul of the giant puddle blocking the path!
A very full and fast flowing Cam Beck.
Slowly but surely making our way to Ribblehead.
From High Birkwith we crossed God’s Bridge and continued on to Nether Lodge, following a farm access road leading to Ribblehead.
10.4 miles into the day and we reached Ribblehead in around 5 hours. On the B6255, there was a perfectly placed ‘Tea Waggon’ for our first proper rest stop of the day. (This was also a popular spot with families cheering on charity hikers!)
It was too cold for ice-cream but we were more than ready for a cuppa and a sandwich!
From Ribblehead, you cross the B6255, and follow the path to the right-hand side of the viaduct. Continue north, crossing the railway, then follow the path steeply north west to head towards the peak of Whernside.
This section is approximately 4 miles long, and involves a steep climb up Whernside, but mostly the paths and tracks are well defined and easy underfoot. For us however, the weather had worsened at this point and we found ourselves rapidly changing into waterproof jackets and putting our cameras away.
Setting off along the pathway to the right of Ribblehead Viaduct with rain clouds looming overhead.
A train goes by on the Settle to Carlisle railway.
The Ribblehead Viaduct or Batty Moss Viaduct was designed by engineer, John Sydney Crossley. The first stone was laid on 12 October 1870 and the last in 1874. The land underneath and around the viaduct, where the remains of the construction camp and navvy settlements known as Batty Wife Hole, Sebastopol and Belgravia were located, is a scheduled ancient monument.
The dramatic scenery took our minds off the changing weather.
As we quickly discovered, the weather is not on your side in the Dales and can change at any time. Therefore we always have our waterproof gear easily accessible at the top of our packs. Similarly, gaiters are a good option for parts of the route that can be really boggy.
There is a temperature difference of between 3 to 5 °C every time you ascend one of the peaks compared to the bottom of the valley, regardless of the season. So it’s also a good idea to have some warmer clothing in your pack should you need to put on additional layers.
Wrapped up and ready to face wet weather at the summit of Whernside, the tallest of the 3 peaks at 728 metres. It is often termed the ‘roof’ of Yorkshire!
Although many walkers think Whernside to be visually less interesting than its distinctive neighbours Ingleborough and Pen-y-Ghent, the summit of this fell offers some spectacular views in good weather. It was just a shame it was a white-out when we reached the top!
Like its neighbours, Whernside is capped by millstone grit on top of limestone – a geological profile which gives rise to a network of caves and potholes formed by waters draining off the upper slopes.
Whernside’s long shallower slopes host a number of tributaries of Little Dale Beck and Winterscales Beck, which in turn runs in parallel with West Fell southwards and eventually into the River Doe.
We had to take our time coming down as some sections were both steep and slippery. Thankfully the cloud had lifted and we were treated to an expansive view of the valley. (Even better for navigation purposes.)
Two peaks down, 1 peak left to go!
Aided by some additional signage!
One lonesome tree searches for sunlight.
The route from Whernside takes you along the ridge then steeply downhill to Bruntscar. Here you follow the access road towards Chapel-le-Dale, and back to the B6255 main road. There is a ‘snack caravan’ at Ivescar Farm if you are in need of refreshments or toilet facilities before you reach the Hill Inn at Chapel-Le-Dale.
Wayne heads over the stile and bypasses the pub, firmly focussed on reaching the summit of our third peak!
Whether you stop at the caravan or the pub, it is important to refuel before setting off on the long climb up to Ingleborough. Ingleborough is another 700+ metre peak and needs all of your attention and effort to get to the summit being around 19 miles and 10 and a half hours into your day!
With the thought of a celebratory drink waiting for us back at the tent we are even more determined to reach Ingleborough!
Ingleborough, with its famous flat topped profile, is perhaps the best known of the Yorkshire 3 Peaks.
Greeted by swathes of gorgeous purple heather. We were thankful of the slabs leading the way to Ingleborough.
The distinctive shape of Ingleborough is due to the local geology – a broad cap of millstone grit atop a broader plateau of carboniferous limestone. (Thanks Google!)
We weren’t the only hikers making our way up to the 3rd summit of the day! We didn’t find it at all daunting having recently completed the GR20 and made short work of the steep ascent.
Quite happily powering up the mountain!
The terrain gets a bit more tricky especially as there is increasing erosion of the trail.
Despite the cloudy skies, we still enjoyed a great view from the top!
The top of Ingleborough is quite unexpected when you reach it. It’s completely flat with a wind break and trig point in the middle – and is eerily quiet.
(This football shirt has been laid at the top in memory of a guy named Danny Jones.)
Success! Reaching the summit of Ingleborough at 723 metres – our third peak of the day!
After a quick breather, it was time to head back down the mountain and back to camp in Horton-in-Ribblesdale. From Ingleborough, we only had another 5 miles to go to complete the circular route!
To leave the summit, you have to retrace your steps for 200 metres or so before heading off the ridge to your right. Here the route takes you gradually downhill, over several stiles and on to a lane where the path heads to the left, then over several more stiles before finally ending at the train station back in Horton-in-Ribblesdale.
Fantastic light towards the latter part of the day.
Horton-in-Ribblesdale is that way!
The last 5 miles or so was relatively easy walking on the flat or downhill.
Not far to go… In the distance other walkers head home after a successful day tackling the Yorkshire Three Peaks!
The last few miles…
The trail conditions worsened the closer we got to Horton-in-Ribblesdale.
Navigating the water-logged sections!
A mini Malham Cove!
Was the sun finally going to make an appearance?
Blue skies at last!
Ingleborough now far off in the distance.
What an amazing view to end the day!
The route crosses through the Horton-in-Ribblesdale Railway Station. We were back at the village around 7pm.
10 and a half hours later – we were back where we started at Holme Farm Campsite! And in good time too! ‘The Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge’ – Job done!
After celebratory drinks and a shower, Wayne prepares a camp dinner feast.
We’re proud to say that we completed the ‘Three Peaks’ challenge in just 10 and a half hours! It’s amazing what a good set of walking legs and a bit of get-up and go attitude can do, even if the weather isn’t on side! Despite the drizzle and dull skies, we had a great day in the hills exploring the Dales.
You Can Help Support The Yorkshire Dales By Getting The Official Certificate!
Despite it being a long and demanding walk, the ‘Yorkshire 3 Peaks Challenge’ sees thousands of walkers trying to complete the circuit every year, with a large majority taking on the challenge as part of a fundraising event for many well-known charities. It’s also important to remember however that track improvements and upkeep of the route have a cost, so you can support the Yorkshire Dales in a small but meaningful way by purchasing the official ‘Three Peaks’ certificate.
If you do the challenge in less than twelve hours, you can get the official certificate for your achievement from the Tourist Office/ Pen-y-Ghent Café at Horton-in-Ribblesdale or you can get them online too from the “Friends of the Three Peaks“.
The Friends of the Three Peaks help to raise funds in order to support the Three Peaks Project. The aim is to both promote and protect the beautiful and distinctive area of the Yorkshire Dales, keeping it open and accessible to the thousands of people who use the paths every year.
If you haven’t attempted the ‘Yorkshire Three Peaks’ yet, or visited the Yorkshire Dales – then make it a priority – it’s a great part of the world!
You can export a GPX/KML file from this by clicking on the Yorkshire 3 Peaks link.