A long walk in – The ones that got away
It was a crazy idea but perverse itineraries have always captured my imagination and inspired me to reach for my boots. As I sit here writing in the comfort of my East Anglian home, I can’t help wondering if we were ever in any danger of completing our latest foolhardy escapade. It was all Rob’s idea of course, but it seemed like a good one at the time of conception and I was only too willing to aid and abet my string bean cohort. Before I tell of our day and ultimately our failure to win through, a few facts may be worthy of consideration.
Our plan was to take on the Yorkshire Three Peaks, a famous challenge walk of 25 miles over the hills that surround Ribblesdale in the Yorkshire Dales. It is a stiff test of endurance and must be completed in less than 12 hours for the participants to gain entry into the Yorkshire Three Peaks Club. Sounds simple? Well, it is but why keep things simple when the ante can be upped? In retrospect the answer is that there is every reason to keep things simple, the walk is hard enough as it is.
A few more facts for you…it is late October and we have about 10 hours of daylight to work with. What’s more, we have decided to tackle the classic rock climb ‘Red Pencil’ en route. Now then, if you are following this you may have realised that apart from the time constraints of daylight hours coupled with the added climb we would be further disabled by heavy loads consisting of wet weather gear, food, water and climbing paraphernalia. How hard did we want to make it for ourselves? We were about to find out.
The usual starting point for the walk is Horton in Ribblesdale but feeling rather non conformist and ignoring the collective wisdom of the masses we set off from Chapel le Dale. Ingleborough, our last hill of the day (?) sat high above, occasionally peeping out from the cloud but we turned our backs on it, heading for Whernside, the highest hill in Yorkshire at 2419ft. After an unpromising start the clag soon cleared, sunlight illuminated our first peak and we found ourselves under a blue sky. We made good time and were soon at the summit where the view north and west proved to be a winner with the Howgills taking prominence and further west Morecambe Bay beside the distant Lakeland Fells. It was a fine vantage point but we were not able to stay for long as our next hill, Pen y Ghent looked a long way away. Indeed, as the crow flies it was 8 miles distant and over ten on the ground, ground which at times we would find difficult.
After a steep direct descent and a spot of bog trotting we made our way to the impressive Ribblehead viaduct which was completed in 1874. Rob and I couldn’t help but notice that it was climbable, but noted that there was a distinct lack of protection…climbers eh? Once again, with little time to spare we strode off, this time for a couple of miles tarmac bashing on the B6479 before turning off near Hall Lodge, a particularly spooky old house where if things don’t go bump in the night then they certainly should. Beyond the lodge we took an excellent path into a lonely hinterland which felt wonderfully remote. We were still feeling strong but each time Pen y Ghent came into view it still seemed as far flung as ever.
At Nether Lodge the terrain changed from rough, desolate moorland to lush pasture, however the trod masquerading as a path became very muddy underfoot until we came to the plantation at High Birkwith. We were getting close now, but the intervening farm and moorland would keep our hill from sight until we were within striking distance.
At Scale Farm we had a lengthy discourse with the farmer’s daughter who insisted that the path marked on the map, which passed over their land had been closed after court action some years ago. As our map was at least 15 years old we took her word for it and nodded appreciatively as she described an alternative route to Pen y Ghent. I found it hard to decipher the words through her thick accent and strange dialect and even Rob, a native of the West Riding was none the wiser. A pointed finger however is less than ambiguous and we thanked her before moving on.
We scrambled over rotten limestone outcrops and once out of sight of Scale Farm we hoofed breathlessly onto the moor where Pen y Ghent greeted us over an expanse of tussocks and bogland. The next couple of miles were found to be the most trying of all. We had found our way onto, or rather into Black Dub Moss, an extensive quagmire from which there seemed to be no escape other than to plough through it hoping for the best. We had lost a lot of time and unless we climbed Ingleborough in the dark we would not complete the challenge of the 3 Peaks. Deep down we both knew that the game was up. Still, we had a ‘Classic Rock’ tick in Red Pencil to save the day so we endured Black Dub Moss in high spirits which for me took great resolve as my leggings had become sodden resulting in a painful dose of gusset hell.
Once across the moss we paused to inspect Hull Pot, a miniature limestone canyon and then commenced an excruciating ascent up Pen y Ghent on a path which is best described as a steep and greasy stain.
At the summit we took another short break, bemused but not surprised to be surrounded by walkers who had come up from Horton. Many looked as tired as I felt. I gazed back out to Whernside and consoled myself that at least I had the right to feel a little footsore and dishevelled, having walked 14 miles to get here. The mood of the day had taken a turn. Clouds darkened and capped Ingleborough which lay 6 miles away across Ribblesdale. She would have to wait for another day, but we still had unfinished business and left the crowds to it.
We headed due west on an increasingly convex slope until we were at the top of the escarpment. The way ahead wasn’t obvious and we gingerly picked out a route down the crumbling and dangerously unstable slope until we found some rock of a more trust worthy nature. Carefully we traversed across looking for Red Pencil as the light started to drain from the sky. We hadn’t long to get the climb done. “I think I’ve found it” called Rob who was some way ahead of me. When I joined him the news wasn’t good.
He’d found it alright, but sadly it had been in vain. Our climb, the reason we had handicapped ourselves on this challenge was green, wet, and horribly greasy. There was no way we could risk climbing it in such a condition. We had failed the challenge and we hadn’t even managed to climb…for a moment I was dejected but then I remembered that time in the hills is not about conquest, but just being out there. With that in mind we’d had a fantastic day. With first hand knowledge of where we went wrong we agreed to come back to complete the Yorkshire 3 Peaks at a more sensible time of year, and climb Red Pencil in a prolonged dry spell.
It had been a long walk in, and you know what that means…a long walk out.