Cloud clearing from Pen-y-ghent.
Last spring, B announced his desire to walk the Three Peaks. I wasn’t very confident about my ability to complete the walk last year, but stored away the idea, and this spring I asked B whether he still felt the same way. He did. So we planned to tackle the route during Whit week. In my head, the weather is always reliable at Whit, but obviously that’s just wishful thinking and this Whit was particularly unsettled and wet. A couple of weeks later though, and the Sunday forecast looked reasonable, so B and I set off early for Horton-in-Ribblesdale. As we drove over, it was raining and the hills were completely obscured by cloud, but as we climbed out of Horton the cloud was beginning to clear and we could see blue sky appearing behind from the direction of the Bay…
When I was in my teens, my dad was hooked on challenge walks. I walked a few too, usually with him, often with his colleagues from work too, sometimes with my mum and sometimes with the local scout group. The first that I attempted was the Lyle Wake Walk, but I stopped after 20 miles, by which time the borrowed boots I was wearing had made a bit of a mess of my toes. After that we walked the Derwent Watershed, the Limey Way, the Welsh Three-thousanders, the Bullock Smithy hike, and the Three Peaks, which I think we did a couple of times.
Approaching the last part of the climb onto Pen-y-ghent.
I remember those walks with a great deal of affection, and I’m sure that my dad does too; recently he’s been wearing a sweatshirt with his Bullock Smithy badge from 1983 sewn onto it.
Some years later, when I was in mid-twenties, I walked the Welsh 3’s again. I’d just spent 10 days or so alone in Lochaber, sleeping in bothies and bagging every Munro and Corbett in sight. Though I didn’t recognise the fact at the time, I was as fit as the proverbial butcher’s dog. None-the-less, by the time I’d finished the punishing route and was descending from the Carneddau towards Rowen Youth Hostel, where old friends M and J were volunteer wardens, my knees, ankles and feet were all very sore and I vowed not to get involved in anything so foolish ever again.
I haven’t done any challenge walks since.
But, with the commitment I’d made to join my old school pal JS on the charity 10in10 walk and the training I’d been doing for that, a Three Peaks walk seemed like a perfect opportunity to test my fitness. What’s more, taking on a challenge walk with my own son felt like an opportunity to complete the circle somehow, to pass on the torch.
I’d arbitrarily decided that we should aim to finish the walk inside 12 hours and had drawn up a schedule accordingly. I’d allowed an hour and half for our first ascent and was pleased that we arrived on the top with ten minutes to spare. As we did so, another group also reached the summit, celebrating the fact that they’d done it in an hour and ten. We’d be leap-frogging this group for most of the day: they walked faster than we did, but stopped more often and for longer. We did pause here in the shelter though, to eat the breakfast we’d deferred due to our early start.
The onward path. Ingleborough behind.
On the long walk to Whernside.
The weather would improve through the day, but early on, despite the sunshine, it was still quite cold. Occasionally, we had a few odd spots of rain, but the threatened showers never actually materialised.
There’s a bit of road walking leading up to Ribblehead. The verges were overgrown with Sweet Cicely and I tucked into some lovely aniseed flavoured seeds. B not only declined my offer of some seeds, but seemed to think that I would poison myself by indiscriminately indulging on foraged treats. He had the last laugh: fibrous strands from the seeds had me coughing and spluttering for a while.
I was carrying an old point-and-snap Fuji compact camera, rather than my Panasonic. It was lighter to carry, and, more importantly, could be stashed in a pocket and was therefore quick to use. Even so, we were trying to maintain a steady pace so I didn’t take as many photos as I usually would.
Whernside was quite busy, but I suspect it had been much busier, the day before, a Saturday, when apparently there had been a number of organised charity events taking place in diabolical weather conditions.
Slightly away from the trig pillar and shelters, a radio ham had a tent pitched and a substantial aerial rigged up, presumably in order to contact far-flung parts.
Lots of people were picnicking on Whernside, but there was still a cold wind blowing, so we dropped down and found a sheltered spot by a wall for a longer stop and some late lunch.
Our lunchstop view.
The route between Whernside and Ingleborough took us through very familiar territory, and right past The Old School House at Chapel-le-Dale where we have stayed many times over recent pre-Christmas weekends. In general, navigation was very straight-forward: partly because the route is so well sign-posted, partly because I’ve walked almost all of the route recently, some sections several times, but mostly because there were enough other people who were obviously ticking off the Three Peaks and we could just follow the crowd.
Because I was trying to resist the temptation to stop and poke my nose into everything like I usually do, I didn’t take many flora or fauna photos, but I couldn’t resist this. I think it might be Mossy Saxifrage, and if it is, then it hasn’t appeared on this blog before.
The route from Chapel-le-Dale on to Ingleborough crosses a fair bit of wet ground. In one fair sized pool I spotted a Newt, and when I pointed it out to eagle-eyed B, he soon spotted several more. The water was dark with peat, and anyway I didn’t have the right camera with me to get photos, so I’m not sure whether these were Palmate Newts again, like the ones we saw in Red Tarn a couple of summers ago.
Almost the last part of the climb, out of Humphrey Bottom and on to the ridge, is very steep and I have to confess that I started to struggle here. By the time I’d reached the top of the steep section my legs had turned to jelly, but somewhat to my surprise we were still ahead of schedule when we reached the trig pillar…
B meanwhile was still going strong and never showed any signs of flagging. I’d already warned him about the long walk from the top of Ingleborough back down to Horton: on reaching the final summit it can feel like all of the hard work is done, but in this case you still have many miles to walk.
Although B refused to take his sweater off, the sun was shining by now and it was really quite warm, a huge contrast with earlier. We’d both carried a lot of water, but were both running out, and we were very glad to find a small spring just off the ridge and a little way from the path.
Heading for Horton. The large grey area in the middle distance is the extensive limestone pavements above the head of Crummack Dale, one of my favourite places in the Dales.
I feel like I’ve spotted far more caterpillars this summer when I’ve been out on the hills than I ever have before. I’m not really sure why. I’m not sure either what kind of caterpillar this is. The caterpillar of the Broom Moth has three longitudinal stripes, but in all the pictures I’ve looked at those stripes look much bolder than these.
Descending from Ingleborough.
Pen-y-ghent ahead, looking quite different from earlier in the day.
A final view of Pen-y-ghent from just outside Horton.
Though I didn’t realise it at the time, my phone was on it’s last legs. Mapmywalk worked well on the day, recording the walk as almost exactly 25 miles, but then ‘lost’ the file afterwards, so I can’t post the map or relay an exact time. I think we finished in just a little over 11 hours, not that that matters very much.
We stopped off in Ingleton on the way home for a celebratory milkshake and pepsi. I’m pretty sure I remember my dad buying me a pint at the Hill Inn when we walked the Three Peaks on a hot summer’s day, when I must have been around B’s age. I definitely recall the pint he bought me when we finished the Derwent Watershed (although I thought the pub was called the Dambusters and I can’t find it online – I suppose the name may have changed in forty years). How times have changed!
I reluctantly passed up an opportunity to walk from Old Glossop, on an old favourite route, with some old favourite friends on that Sunday, so that I could fulfil my promise to B by doing this walk with him. On balance, I think I made the right decision: I really enjoyed our day. I was hobbling on very stiff pegs for three days afterwards however, whilst B was posting a new PB for 800m (his latest sporting obsession).