Discipline: Fell running / Hill walking
Area: British Adventure: Yorkshire Dales, North West England
Type: One day wonder
Distance: 38 KM & 1600 M ascent
Duration: 6-12 hours
Time of year: Any time of the year. Route in busy in Summer months
Maps: OL2 or Landranger 98
Logistical recommendations: There is plenty of parking in Horton in Ribblesdale, though you may wish to arrive early on Summer days. You can also reach the village by train.
It’s a safe assumption that this was the the original Three Peaks challenge, though not to be mistaken with the National Three Peaks challenge. This single 38-42 KM loop takes in three hills in the remote Yorkshire Dales. The summits include Pen-y-ghent (694m), Ingleborough (723m) and Whernside (736m), the latter of which coincidentally falls half in Cumbrian territory. First completed in 1887 in a time of 10 hours, the area is steeped in history. From Roman roads, Iron age forts to the iconic Carlisle-Settle railway line. As well as a decent day of hiking or running, the area offers fantastic Yorkshire scenery letting you sample the fruits of the (probably self-proclaimed) “God’s own country”.
OS Grid Refs of Peaks Whernside SD73868141 Ingleborough SD74137460 Pen-y-ghent SD83857338
On first inspection, the fairly moderate ascent (1500 m) of the challenge seems quite achievable, and it is. With each peak around the 700m mark, it’s not quite comparable to that of the National Three Peaks, or Welsh 3000ers however, it still makes for a big day out. Covering the distance of a marathon in one day is going to take its toll on the legs, especially if like us, you try and run a decent portion of the loop.
Is this challenge for me?
More than likely, yes. Whether you’re hoping to dabble at some fell running, or settling in for a big day of hiking - it is a tough but achievable goal for most intermediate but determined hill walkers. Most people undertaking the route aim for under 12 hours, so if you’re still not sure, I suggest trialing yourself on half, or two-thirds of the distance and ascent to ensure you could maintain the pace needed to complete the challenge (around 3.5km/h). Anyone fit, or running the peaks should be aiming for 5-7 hours, though don’t be too smug as the 1974 record still stands at 2hrs 29 minutes…
So with a fleeting text to fellow yes man, Ed “Yorkshire 3 peaks Saturday?” and as easy as that we were committed. “Did you check the weather? I haven’t” I mumbled as we arrive in the sleepy village of Horton in Ribblesdale. There was a persistent feel to the drizzle but it was Summer, how bad could it get?
Knowing a friend managed the challenge in a 6hr45 minutes, we both agree to aim for 6 hours, hoping to one-up him, however Ed being a truly unique human, decides we should complete the peaks in a different order to make things more interesting. Nursing an unsavory hangover from a work party the night before, I agree, setting off spritely toward our first peak, Pen-y-ghent. Being accustomed to bigger Munros and the like, we made quick work of the our first peak. Steepening to a satisfying scramble near the top, the path is good and effortlessly navigable, with some sections even made up of impressively industrious paving stones.
We couldn’t help notice the number of larger groups than normal on these peaks, and our first peak was no exception. A quick trig point picture and a few jaffa cakes each, we shoot off down the hill trying to make some good time. Most people at this point, head to Whernside continuing on their loop, anti-clockwise. So we of course, headed to Ingleborough, descending the West face of Pen y Ghent and back through the village of Horton.
Peak # 1 - Pen y Ghent (694m)
The following 10 kilometers or so would present an undulating but continuous ascent of slippery rock and mud, though the moderate gradient made it fairly easy going. The rain now coming in harder, and the wind picking up we get some food onboard and stuck a layer on. This time, on a large, flat plateau, we attempt to locate the trig point with visibility down to 25m or so. Feeling energetic, I jump aboard the Trig point, a childish habit I’m yet to grow out of and after some polite exchanges with fellow hikers, we get moving to warm up and get out of the chilling rain.
Peak #2 - Ingleborough (723m)
Adding some extra miles to our adventure, we jog down towards Ingleton and begin heading over to our final peak, Whernside. Once on the shoulder, we follow the dead straight wall up the rounded ridge for around 5 miles. Finding ourselves suitably off piste, we’re now firmly away from the crowds and off the beaten track - a brief lifting of the dense cloud finally revealed some views where our day had taken us.
Rejoining the pedestrian motorway 15 minutes from the top, we pass a few confused 3 peaks goers clearly wondering why we were passing them from the other way, but we had completed our summits with just a descent to come. Topping out on our final summit felt particularly exposed to the now seriously deteriorated weather, demonstrating what Yorkshire “in Summer” can offer. Fully saturated from torrential rain and beaten up by some hail, we hide in the shelter for our final peak picture! Shorts weather indeed…
Peak #3 - Whernside (736m)
Taking route 1 down the side of Whernside, we scree run and slide down the steep descent towards the iconic sight of Ribblehead Viaduct, knowing a pint is waiting for us just behind it. Just over 6 hours after leaving Horton, we’d successfully covered 38km and climbed Yorkshire’s three peaks. Sodden, but with a sense of achievement, we settle in for some pub grub before jumping on the train back to the car. Though not one of those picture perfect days, we’d braved Yorkshire’s elements and completed an iconic round with our own special twist.
This is a good one for anyone without a vehicle and can easily be accessed by train from Manchester, Leeds, Carlisle etc.
Though the route isn’t technically difficult, or particularly isolated, the conditions can change quickly and are exposed to wind and rain. Take appropriate clothing, or be willing to move fast if you’re going light.
Wet weather means wet shorts. This can cause chaffage, if you’re not used to covering these distances then it’s not a bad idea to pack some chamois cream (generally for cycling) as this can be a day ruiner.
Don’t be scared to mix up your route. The peaks are busy and popular, but you don’t have to deviate far to get away from the crowds.