Saturday, 12 July 2014

Yorkshire Three Peaks, Spring 2014

And so the lure of the fells around Horton In Ribblesdale reached out to us once again, more or less a year since our last Three Peaks. Claire and I found ourselves parked up at the Ribblehead viaduct early one Spring morning, waiting for our challenge walk partner Dave to roll in from Leeds. This was our first walk together since our epic Lyke Wake Walk challenge but I think out boots had only just finally dried out!

We set off in beautiful conditions, and made quick progress up the lower slopes of Pen-y-Ghent. The ground underfoot was fairly dry at this point, which was a new sensation after our last walk. Pen-y-Ghent is a great way to start the challenge as the short sharp ascents conquered fairly quickly, and so you start thinking "one down two to go" early on in the walk. There has been extensive repair work done to the path approaching the summit, and whilst the stone slabs looked very new and somewhat out of place/ character, it is definitely a necessity, to help the fells cope with the thousands of boots stomping up and down the route each year.

The Three Peaks are great walks individually and whilst I enjoy the challenge of the walk, I am keen to come back and explore some of the other attractions Pen-y-Ghent has to offer, in particular Hull Pot.

For some the walk from here to Ribblehead is a long dull trudge but I feel it gives you a chance to relax and feel as though you become a part of the bleak yet beautiful landscape. The footpath restoration work here is a little older and has started to blend in well with its environment, although it got very muddy at times and we were quite glad to have tarmac under our feet for the last section to the viaduct where our supplies awaited as did a van selling cups of tea, and with a steam train crossing the viaduct as we approached, the image was complete.

Whernside is a bone of contention for many as the long whaleback of a hill feels like it takes an eternity to climb. With Pen-y-Ghent and Ingleborough you have a short but intense ascent that sees you hit the higher ground fairly quickly, but Whernside likes to take its time. Slowly but surely it saps the energy from your legs as you gradually gain altitude. This time around, this section actually flew by, it's amazing what good company can do to you, and before we knew it we had crossed the narrow gap in the wall to put our feet briefly on Cumbrian soil and admire the OS trig point.

Although we never set out on these challenge walks with the expressed intention of beating previous times, we were making good progress. As with the climb up, the descent of Whernside had not been especially pleasant on previous occasions, as the steep zig zagged path really starts to jarr on tired knees by this point, however once again this felt like a breeze. Whernside, your kindness has been noted.

We were on good form as we crossed the road and hit the lush pastures that lie at the feet of Inglebrough. I think this is possibly my favourite part of the walk with majestic Ingleborough in your sights as you cross farmland. The rich green farmland is criss-crossed with drystone walls and peppered with limestone outcrops that make this scenery so special and immediately recognisable.

The trees that manage to eke out a living deep in the limestone crevices are a wonder unto themselves, as well as being an amateur photographer's dream. Take a picture of these survival experts and it seems to always look great!

Eventually you reach the bottom of Ingleborough having exchanged a knowing nod of anticipation with any resting walkers, as the amazingly steep path ahead is clearly defined and at this late stage in the walk, a testing moment.

Yes, it is a real climb, a trial to tired limbs and lungs, but it doesn't go on forever and sooner that you think, you reach a little path of turf where you are welcome to flop down and give yourself five minutes. It is worth catching your breath, as the summit is still considerably higher, leaving you with another climb to reach the vast rocky plateau that is the top of Ingleborough. Although normally a lovely place with amazing views, it was fairly hazy today and with a cold wind biting, we headed off fairly quickly.

For me, this last section is the real killer.You feel like you have really completed the walk, hiked for many hours, and actually climbed the Three Peaks. Not so. A good few miles lie ahead and on tough terrain. Slippery limestone, thick mud and some moody, sturdy looking cows have still to be negotiated.

But this is part and parcel of the walk. A desire to complete this majestic circuit on your own two feet mean you have to cover the ground carry out and the legwork to reap the rewards, and these last miles are the final piece of the puzzle.

Finally we made it back to Horton, and as we crossed the railway tracks at the station, smiles broke out all round as we had made good time on our circuit and once again became part of an incredible Yorkshire Dales experience.

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