The Yorkshire 3 Peaks

Little sleep, big walk

It’s a rainy April Friday afternoon, I’ve just got back from an exhausting work trip in Germany, and in 40 minutes I’m meant to meet my friends on the other side of town with my bag packed for a weekend adventure. I grab my backpack down from above the wardrobe, and start piling things on the bed. I haven’t had a chance to properly unpack from a hiking weekend the week before which makes things slightly easier. I rummage through my adventure box (what do you mean you don’t have one?) and dig out a map, compass, suncream (ever optimistic), waterproofs (ever realistic), garmin, hiking poles, and various buffs and gloves.

I make it out the door in 25 minutes, which I’m pretty proud of, and hop on the bus. Where we crawl along at barely faster than walking pace thanks to all the traffic and rain. Eventually I reach them and hop in the car. We don’t reach Yorkshire until after 11pm, and find our guesthouse in Horton-on-Ribblesdale quite later than planned.

Sunrise over Pen-y-ghent

None of us sleep well. We’re in the ground floor dorm, with about 20 bunks in, all of which creak at the slightest movement. The nearly full moon shines directly onto my pillow. People in the room above move around like heards of elephants. The door has no anti-slam fixture. Disconcertingly loud snoring erupts from 3 bunks over. It is unpleasantly stuffy and smells of damp clothes.

So, all feeling very un-refreshed, we are up at 6.30 for breakfast, and are out the door just before 7am. It’s a beautiful sunrise, cold and crisp, and our moods improve significantly as we head towards the first of our 3 peaks. We’re doing the classic anticlockwise route: Pen-y-ghent – Whernside – Ingleborough. So, it seems, is half of Yorkshire. As with all hikes, I’ve brought maps, but it is questionable whether they’re needed; we can just follow everyone else clearly doing the same thing.

peak 1
Looking south over the Yorkshire Dales

It’s uphill straight away, and within half an hour or so we’re at the top of Pen-y-ghent, with gorgeous views and clear skies. It’s cold though, so we take a few pictures then eat as we continue walking to stay warm. A rolling descent winds its way down across the hills.

The walk between the first and second peaks is long, and we can see Whernside in the distance. It looks a long way away. We take a pit-stop to check on blisters, and eat some more (this will be a theme).

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Ribblehead viaduct going around Whernside

As we get closer to Whernside, Mira Rai runs past, preparing for the 3 peaks trail race next weekend, and I have a little fan-girl moment. We decide not to stop at the food van, and continue on by the viaduct.

We stop for lunch near the bottom of Whernside, taking a bit of shelter from the wind that has picked up. The gravel trail turns into stone slabs about half way up, and I ponder on the man-effort required to get the massive lumps of stone up this high. I’m glad they’re there though, as the ground either side is mostly peat bog.

Views of the Lake District from Whernside

The views from the top are stunning; north to the North Pennines, north west to the Lake District, west to the sea and a field of wind turbines, and south back to Pen-y-ghent and the Dales. England really is beautiful.

A steep descent down from Whernside brings us through some fields of turnip-eating sheep, and we follow the winding path to a very entrepreneurial family who have set up a chip shop van and toilets. It starts to snow. We watch a hen staring down a lamb (the lamb wins) before turning the corner to find the chip shop had been in its own microclimate, and it has stopped snowing.

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Whernside to Ingleborough

Our third and last peak of the day, Ingelborough, gets closer. We struggle to see the path to the top until it’s right in front of us – a very steep criss-crossing ascent with a little scramble at the top. Emma remarks that she can tell when we’re starting to climb again as I start coughing again – I’ve got the remnants of a nasty cold that has turned into a cough, exacerbated by exercise (such as walking up 3 Yorkshire peaks).

After the steep climb it’s a gentle slope to the peak, and we enjoy the views to the sea. On the descent the other side I take a little shortcut across some rocks, but find another group are following us and I try and explain that the path is probably safer. We’ve now been walking for about 10 hours, and with the 3 peaks done, I feel the tiredness for the first time that jellybabies can’t cure.

The walk down from Ingleborough feels like it last forever, with the village always over the next field. My legs get heavier, and my backpack seems to grow by the minute. My lower legs feel like they’re connected to my knees by string. Eventually the village actually is over the next field, and we fall into the pub just in time for the carvery. 24 fine English miles in ~11 hours.


Having done the national 3 peaks as well, I can say that I prefer the Yorkshire version. The peaks might not be as mighty, but rather than dashing up and down then sitting in a cramped, damp minibus for several hours, Yorkshire was just about the walking. We stayed in local accommodation (even if it wasn’t great) and bought our food locally. Too often with the national challenge groups hop from mountain to mountain and give nothing back to the local communities and economy, and can pollute waste and noise. Not all groups, of course!

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