After the success of last year's National Three Peaks Challenge, work decided this year to take on the Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge. This challenge was likely to appeal to more employees as it is accessible from our larger offices in Manchester, Leeds and Liverpool. There is far less logistical planning required and the walk starts and finishes at the same place. The weather forecast was wall to wall sunshine with a cold start. When I set off early on Saturday morning from Manchester it was only seven degrees celsius.
Cold for July
As I drove over Lancashire's West Pennine Moors and into the Yorkshire Dales it got even better. What a fantastic day we chose to do this. The mist was now hovering over every field as I made my way to Horton-in-Ribblesdale, the starting point of the Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge. The warm summer was rising and creating atmospheric mist patches in fields and over water. Driving along the M60 at the point where it drops and crosses the River Irwell there was a line of mist following the river through the valley.
Although it was early when I arrived, the car parks at Horton-in-Ribblesdale were already starting to fill up. It is a very busy time of year here and there was a large British Heart Foundation charity event taking place. I geared up and headed to the Pen-y-ghent Cafe. The start point of the challenge.
The cafe wasn't open which I found a bit odd considering how many hundreds of hungry walkers are there with plenty of cash to spend. In fact instead of the friendly welcome you would expect, at one point an angry woman shouted out of the side window telling everyone to be quiet as she was trying to sleep. I understand locals being annoyed by an influx of noisy visitors at early hours during summer months but if you are living in a cafe at the start point of one of the countries most popular walks with thousands of potential customers, surely it makes more sense to embrace it and take advantage.
I met up with my colleagues who were easy to spot in their bright green corporate t-shirts. There were a few familiar faces including Clare who does a great job of organising the events, Heather who was with us on the National Three Peaks Challenge last year and mountain guide Dave, better known as Bear. In perfect weather we all set off heading south down the road towards Horton Bridge, passing the camp site where a few colleagues had stayed the night before. At Horton Bridge we ascended the lane to Brackenbottom. The lovely Horton Beck on our left. At Brackenbottom just before the farm we turned left through a wide gate then a narrow gate to reach the fields through which the footpath ascends to Pen-y-ghent.
It is a direct ascent following the path through the fields towards Pen-y-ghent but the gradient is not too harsh. About half way up I pointed out to the others that if they looked left they would get a panoramic view of Ribblesdale with all three of the day's objectives in view. Pen-y-ghent on the right, Ingleborough on the left and Whernside the highest and furthest away down the other end of the dale. Some of them were quite shocked when I pointed out Whernside as it is twelve miles from Pen-y-ghent.
We soon reached the stone wall at the top of the fields on the shoulder of Pen-y-ghent. We stopped for drinks and Jelly Babies then joined the queues for the trickier scramble up the shoulder of Pen-y-ghent. It is not a technical scramble just a rocky path with a few hands on sections, but on a mid summers day it gets busy with people of varying experiences. I am happy to say everyone took their time and was patient and courteous to others.
We were soon on the summit of Pen-y-ghent and marvelling at the views. It was a brilliant day for a challenge like this, wall-to-wall sunshine but not too hot due to the cold start. After more drinks, snacks and photos we made our way over the stile in the stone wall which crosses the summit. From here you get that same view across Ribblesdale with Ingleborough ahead and Whernside the next target twelve miles away on the right.
Ingleborough & Whernside
As we descended Pen-y-ghent I had a great chat with one of the mountain guides. As an experienced walker I don't require a mountain guide. However when I do these type of events through work or clubs I know it is often a requirement. I could write a book about how much I admire these people. There is something incredibly level-headed, patient and caring about them. They make sacrifices financially and socially to be doing something they truly believe in and are incredibly passionate about. If you are ever thinking of doing events like this in larger numbers they are worth every penny.
When you descend from Pen-y-ghent you are on the Pennine Way so it has always been fairly well laid. The Pennine Way does eventually make its way north through Ribblesdale the way you want to be heading, however it loops back south into Horton-in-Ribblesdale first. Historically this was always a problem as it meant everyone crossing eroding boggy paths and streams in order to connect with the outgoing Pennine Way heading north. This was certainly the case when I last did this challenge almost ten years ago. I was pleasantly surprised however to find that after years of unnecessary erosion, someone has finally built a proper path connecting the paths together which everyone now uses.
After the long walk through Ribblesdale and crossing the River Ribble we finally reached Ribblehead Viaduct. Here Clare and other members of the support team had laid on a feast of sugary and savoury treats which we all devoured whilst sitting on the grass in the sunshine. After a short break we headed towards the majestic Ribblehead Viaduct. As we walked alongside the railway line towards Little Dale a train passed. We exchanged waves with the passengers as they enjoyed the comfort of an old first class carriage.
At Little Dale I spotted something moving on the side of the path. I looked down and could see what appeared to be some kind of rodent next to a bunch of marsh grass. I was amazed it was just sat still and not running away, at one point it even started cleaning itself. I realised then what it was, a Water Vole. There are only a handful of animals I have not seen during my many years of walking around Britain and this happens to be one of them. I was chuffed to see one.
We crossed over the railway at Little Dale and started the ascent of Whernside. Of the three ascents this one is the biggest slog. The ascent is a long curve that seems to go on forever. There were a few rests and drinking stops required. By now there were a lot of people on the path, especially from the British Heart Foundation event. Some in fancy dress and many with tributes to those they were supporting or had lost.
We started the ascent of Whernside as a group chatting away. By the time we reached the summit the slog and the ever rising temperatures had dispersed us into breathless individuals. The summit was very busy. Most people were sat down admiring the incredible views.
From Whernside we had the perfect view across the dale to Ingleborough, our next objective. To get there though we had to first descend Whernside into the dale. The descent could not be more different than the ascent. The descent is direct, steep, rocky and tricky. Everyone in our group got down safely with no stumbles. We then walked along Philpin Lane towards Chapel-le-Dale. There is a farm shop here that sells ice cream and cold drinks. We didn't need it on this occasion as Clare and the support team were waiting for us at the main road with refreshments.
After what would be our last refreshment break we walked up the road and turned right on to the path to Ingleborough. We followed the path across fields to the limestone pavements of Southerscales Scars. There were some pretty scary looking shake holes by the side of the path. As the ground got higher and boggy the path was laid with huge stone slabs. As we approached the north face of Ingleborough it looked uninvitingly vertical. I downed Jelly Babies, Snickers and Lucazade then went for it. One step after the other I have no idea how I found the energy to get my unfit body up that sheer face but I did and so did everyone else.
Myself on Ingleborough
One final push up Swine Back, the neck of Ingleborough, and we were finally on the summit plateau of Ingleborough. We took photos and congratulated each other on our achievement. The views were again stunning. To complete the challenege we had to make it back to Horton-in-Ribblesdale and do so within twelve hours of our start. We started at half seven and it was now half four. That gave us a generous three hours to walk the four and a half miles back to Horton-in-Ribblesdale.
The descent from Ingleborough was fairly easy, though we were often kicking rocks as our tired legs failed to lift our sore feet over them. The path flattens out at Subler Pot and makes its way through narrow sections of the huge limestone pavements. The rocks here are absolutely fascinating. The path seemed to go on forever though. I don't know if it was just a psychological thing, we had after all just walked twenty miles over three mountains.
We finally reached Horton-in-Ribblesdale with an hour to spare. I have no shame in admitting that I was absolutely knackered. As we reached the cafe the mum of one of the girls with us came running out to meet us and she gave her a well-deserved hug. As I had no one there to greet me and needed a hug too I stole her mum for one. It was a perfect weather day and I loved meeting new colleagues and chatting to so many different people. We also managed to raise a few thousand pounds for our work's charitable foundation. We finished in eleven hours ten minutes, beating my old time of eleven hours and fifty minutes.