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“There's no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing”

posted 29 May 2017, 06:26 by Swindon Mountaineering   [ updated 29 May 2017, 06:28 ]

Yorkshire Meet, 12-14 May 2017

If ever there was a mantra for enjoying the outdoors it must surely be that quote from Alfred Wainwright MBE (1907-1991). Though a son of Lancashire, Wainwright had a passion for the high fells across the whole of the north of England, including those in neighbouring Yorkshire. His Walks in Limestone Country is the best-selling walking guide to Yorkshire of all time. Quite simply, Yorkshire is walking country. (Unless you are a caver of course! – Steve).

And where better to walk than in the magnificent Yorkshire Dales National Park! Established in 1954 the park covers an area of 1,762 sq km (680 sq miles) across the counties of North Yorkshire (the largest county in England) and Cumbria, straddling the central Pennines. On its western edge lies the area known as the Three Peaks; a reference to three particular mountains: Pen-y-Ghent (694 m), Whernside (736 m), and Ingleborough (723 m).

This was the 3rd SMC Meet in the Three Peaks (following on from 2009 & 2015) and, once again we used Helwith Bridge, by the side of the famous (and very recently reopened) Settle-Carlisle railway line as our base. There was a strong turnout featuring (in alphabetical order): Andy D, Celia, Clive, Javier, Lee, Marta, Natalie, Ross, Theresa, and organiser Steve. For Javier & Marta this was to be their first visit to God’s Own County!

The M6 on a Friday evening is never a great place to be, but as everyone – except for Celia, who didn’t need to use it – made their way north on the Friday evening, it rapidly became apparent that it was going to be a ‘special’ evening.  Depending on where people were coming from, the M5, M40 and M42, also proved to be magnificent warm-up acts! Even Mother Nature decided to take a hand with some spectacular, but highly localised, downpours enroute!

Celia & Steve managed to coordinate their arrival in time for dinner in the pub, whilst everyone else made it in time for last orders... but then decided to defer their pints in order to get a good night’s sleep in preparation for the long day ahead. (Now you’d never catch cavers doing that! – Steve).

Reveille was sounded at 06:30, 06:45, and 07:00 by various watches and mobile phones and, by the time everyone had finished their breakfasts, plans had been hatched: Clive, Javier & Marta would walk the Three Peaks Circuit for the first time, accompanied by Andy & Steve who had done it before; Lee, Natalie and Ross (who had also walked the Circuit before) would ‘run’ it this time; and Celia and Theresa (who was allegedly nursing a sore ankle) would go for a cycle ride instead (though, ominously, they were seen perusing a printout of a stage of the Tour de Yorkshire!).

The Three Peaks Circuit is 38.6 km (24 miles) and includes 1585 m of ascent. The ‘official’ start and finish is Horton-in-Ribblesdale, conveniently just up the road from Helwith Bridge. (On our previous visits we had started and finished at Helwith Bridge itself, but the extra distance, particularly at the end of the walk had not, shall we say, proved very popular!). During the more clement months numerous people undertake the Circuit, often under the guise of a ‘challenge’, usually for a Charity. The objectives are usually to: a) complete the Circuit and, b) do so in less than 12 hours. Not something Wainwright approved of. In researching this particular weekend Steve thought he had avoided these events...

The walkers set off first, squeezing into Steve’s car for the short hop to Horton. By the time Steve had rediscovered his parallel parking prowess in the lay-by – evidence that we would not be alone on the Circuit - a light drizzle had started to fall. Suited and booted we headed off in the direction of Brackenbottom and the direct path to the top of Pen-y-Ghent.

The higher we went, the fouler the weather became. Drizzle turned to rain. All views were obliterated under a blanket of grey murk. And the wind blew: a lot! The forecast had only been for showers; nothing like this! What had been clothing dilemmas barely half an hour earlier at the bunkhouse now proved wise choices. We wondered about the runners; of necessity they would be ‘travelling light’: would they discover that Wainwright knew what he was talking about?

Natalie, Lee & Ross at the summit of Pen-y-Ghent (Photo: Natalie)

The final scramble to the top of Pen-y-Ghent, over the slick wet rocks, required some attention, but basically all we wanted to do was get out of the wind and rain. So the trig point at the summit was given but a cursory nod as we turned on to the Pennine Way and hurried down towards Birkwith Moor, marvelling at the concrete pavement the NPA volunteers had laid to ease erosion since we were last on the mountain. All it needed was to be painted yellow! But, as we descended, the clag actually started to break up and the weather could be seen to be clearing from the northwest.

Lee & Ross crossing Whitber Hill (Photo: Natalie)

These days the Circuit takes the Whitber Hill route towards High Birkwith, rather than the old route across the forebodingly named Black Dubb Moss (where one of the 2009 SMC group came to grief in a boggy patch). Where these two routes converge is also where the route of the Circuit leaves the Pennine Way. Shortly after you cross Cam Beck and then the River Ribble (which was just a dry river bed given the lack of rainfall this spring), then join the road between Horton and Ribblehead for a mile and a half walk to Ribblehead itself. It was on this stretch that the runners caught up with the walkers! By all accounts the runners had had much fairer weather on Pen-y-Ghent. It just goes to show what an extra mug of tea at breakfast can do for your day!!! The two groups wished each other well and separated again.

Ribblehead was a zoo! The profusion of flags and support vehicles gave testament to the fact that there were clearly some organised challenges taking place. But, on the plus side, the sun was now out more, so we stopped for lunch.

Ribblehead is famous for the impressive, 400 m long, stone-built railway viaduct across Batty Moss, built between 1870-1874. The continuation of the Circuit parallels the east side of the viaduct right at its base, and then runs along the side of the railway until it crosses the line just before the mile long Blea Moor Tunnel. This is where the ascent of Whernside commences.

Force Gill waterfall on Whernside (Photo: Clive)

If Pen-y-Ghent is a short, sharp, ascent followed by a long, gentle, descent; Whernside is the complete opposite! The route up is a long circuitous curve, and the trig point is necessary to tell you when you’ve actually reached the summit! Though the weather was now set fair, the whole way up the spine of Whernside we were headlong into the wind.

Natalie, Lee & Ross at the summit of Whernside (Photo: Ross)

Marta, Javier, Steve & Clive at the summit of Whernside (Photo: Andy)

Javier showing himself to be a proud member of the SMC! (Photo: Andy)

On departing the summit, you continue west along the spine of Whernside for a short distance before a steep, loose, eroded descent of its south flank brings you to Bruntscar. Just below, nearer the valley floor, Philpin Farm now supplements its income by offering drinks, snacks and ice cream. By the time we arrived it was definitely time for tea! Fortunately Andy had remembered to bring some money; the rest of us hadn’t!

Mmm, chops on the hoof! (Photo: Clive)

From the Farm it is a few hundred metres to The Hill Inn on the Ingleton-Ribblehead road and the start of the path up Ingleborough. The going is easy at first, gently ascending the grass-clad limestone terraces of Southerscales. Steve pointed out Braithwaite Wife Hole to the walkers, but was unable to shed any light on the etymology of its name. The path then becomes duckboarding over a moss until it reaches the foot of Ingleborough’s northeastern escarpment. At this point the path becomes a Grade 1 scramble zig-zagging up the side of the rock face. It’s not particularly high or particularly exposed, but it is very steep, and was clearly more than many of the challenge participants had bargained on. At the top of the climb you take a short ascending detour to the Ingleborough summit plateau.

Natalie, Lee & Ross at the summit of Ingleborough (Photo: Ross)
Andy & Steve on the Ingleborough summit plateau (Photo: Clive)

Marta, Andy, Javier & Clive sheltering on the summit of Ingleborough (Photo: Steve)

The final leg of the Circuit involved re-tracing our steps almost to the top of the zig-zag climb, then forking south beside Simon Fell and on to the limestone pavement of Sulber, before eventually descending into Horton. From the top of Ingleborough to Horton is 6.5 km (4 miles) but all agreed it seemed to go on forever! Still, by now the sun was properly out, we were finally sheltered from the wind, and the early evening sun was illuminating Pen-y-Ghent in all its glory.

The walkers arrived back at Steve’s car 10 hours and 20 minutes after leaving it (so well within the challenge time!). Ross and Natalie completed their Circuit in 6 hours 16 minutes, whilst Lee just dipped under the 6 hour mark! But to put all these times in perspective, the current record for the Three Peaks Race is an insane 2:46:03!!! (And a month before our visit the 2017 race saw a new women’s record time of 3:09:19; Paula Radcliffe’s London Marathon record is 2:15:25!).

Ross' run summary!

By the time the walkers arrived back at the bunkhouse the cyclists had also returned. Celia and (supposedly injured) Theresa had done a mammoth 96 km ride. And as if that wasn’t enough, they’d even cycled UP the hill beside Malham Cove!!!

After (too much as it would turn out) lounging about with mugs of tea we decided it was time to get some dinner. Unfortunately the pub next door turned out to be fully booked. L We retreated to the bunkhouse for some frantic Googling and a few phone calls, only to discover that everywhere seemed to stop serving food at 20:30, even on a Saturday night! But finally The Fisherman Restaurant in Settle said it could take us provided we could get there by 20:30 (so they deserve a plug here!). We looked at our watches: it was already gone 20:00... Some swift driving followed! Post-dinner we returned to the pub for more celebratory beers.

On Sunday morning, after a bit of a lie-in, we headed over to Ingleton for a fry-up brunch at the local outdoor institution, the Inglesport Cafe. Somehow Ross managed to put away the ‘Welly-Filler’ breakfast (basically double everything)! Afterwards Natalie, Ross, and Marta and Javier who were car-sharing with them, departed. The rest of the party headed over to Malham as a couple of the group had never been there and it was sort of on the way home.

The gate guardians at Malham Cove! (Photo: Clive)
Malham Cove (Photo: Celia)

Malham was very busy. But we found an expensive piece of grass to park on and wandered along to Malham Cove where we watched some climbers on the Central Wall for a while. Steve then headed off while the remainder decided to go for a walk to the top of the Cove.

Climbers on the Central Wall at Malham Cove (Photos: Clive & Steve)

The top of Malham Cove (Photo: Clive)

The view from the top of Malham Cove (Photo: Celia)