Walking the Yorkshire 3 Peaks

The Yorkshire 3 Peaks challenge is a walk that I had not previously done – or even attempted – only having climbed the 3 summits separately over about a year. That was until on a recent night out with some mates when I foolishly agreed to accompany 2 of them on this particular outing. Descisions made whilst in the pub are often regretted in the cold light of day though having said that, the 3 Peaks is a classic walk that we should all try – well at least once.

So it was that Saturday July 9th saw me up at six, out at seven and in Horton in Ribblesdale before eight which is the usual start point along with several hundred others all seeking some severe punishment.

The peaks themselves are Penyghent, Whernside and Ingleborough and are all situated in the Yorkshire Dales National Park. As for us – We were a team of 5 comprising two Daves, two Pete’s – the author included – and Ben.

The first part of the route is a steep but easy ascent from Horton to Penyghent which is the hill that dominates the village to the East. The path ascends to the right of the summit and reaches the ridge by a stile over the stone wall. Turning up the ridge towards the end of the hill that rises sheer like the prow of a ship up on the left the way gets steeper but finds an easy route past this obstacle on the right. Another steep ascent to a short easy scramble takes you to the top of the ridge where – now in mist – we walked along a wide grassy swathe to the trig point on the summit at 694m or 2277 feet, just over the wall.

walkers descending Penyghent

Heading down the far side of Penyghent - the first of the Three Peaks

The advantage of the mist was that we couldn’t see how far it was to the next peak of Whernside and we followed the path north along the top of Penyghent before it headed down the steep western slopes to reach a junction 4km or just over a mile and a half from the summit. Here there was some confusion over the route. The crowds of people on a Macmillan organised trek were heading right where a path heads towards Littondale which is the wrong way.

These walkers were – we could see – branching left a short way up this trail by the spectacular chasm of Hull Pot – one of the many pot holes in this area. It is very important you don’t fall down this hole as that would be a bad end to any three peaks experience; it being far better to admire the waterfall from a safe distance. As to the route, none of our maps showed a path that way but there were traces of one on the ground which soon vanished in water and bog on open moorland.

Yes it is a short cut to the Ribblehead path but perhaps it would be better to cut across lower down ie go straight on or initially left at the junction so making the pathless section much shorter. There are nice views and just maybe – after a dry spell – it’s a good walk but we got wet. On the other hand going too far left on the good path from the junction towards Horton just adds distance to an already long day out.

We found a wide easy track in the end though – the Pennine Way heading north with distant Whernside and Ribblehead Viaduct visible ahead and Ingleborough over across the valley. This section is a pleasant easy walk and presently joins the Ribble Way footpath to keep towards Ribblehead. Staying on the Pennine Way takes you too far eastwards.

Whernside from the Pennine Way

Far off Whernside seen from the Pennine Way after the boggy section

Ingleborough across Ribblesdale

Ingleborough seen from the same place across the Ribblesdale valley

We had been descending for some time now and after a footbridge by a farm turned left off the Ribble Way (which is signposted straight on) onto a wide track that led down across the valley flats to cross the river Ribble at a more substantial Bridge. You have covered 14km or almost nine miles here.

Just beyond, a short ascent bends around to the right and leads through a farmyard onto the road for Ribblehead. An eye was being kept on the weather as dark skies were looming ahead over the massive Whernside which was definitely much nearer and meteorological observations – ie looking at the cows – revealed no clear consensus either way. Half of the bovine population were lying down while the other half were still happily grazing. I guess this is what they mean by “fifty percent chance of showers” and half way along the road the heavens duly opened – for 5 minutes. That was all the rain we got.

It was dry again when we reached Ribblehead and we had a lunch stop by the road junction just before the viaduct having walked 17km or 10.5 miles. The route to Whernside from here follows an easy path past the Ribblehead Viaduct and on up the valley beyond where just after the railway is crossed and a waterfall is seen on the left the track heads around in that direction climbing steadily. Three of us mafde good progress yup here though 2 of our party – Dave and Pete – had decided to abandon at Whernside and so followed slowly behind.

waterfall on the way to Whernside

The waterfall on the way to Whernside after the railway is crossed

Ingleborough seen from Whernside

Ingleborough seen whilst descending from Whernside

After a small tarn was passed on a grassy plateau, the track climbed steeply up and back around to the left to gain the summit ridge which was followed easily to the top of Whernside – at 736m/2415ft the highest point of Yorkshire and of the 3 Peaks route. With far reaching views all around, we didn’t stop but headed on down the far side to descend some unpleasant stone steps down the steep slope. These finished off the other Dave’s knee and he duly abandoned. We were told it is 19 miles (30km) to this point.


The Ribblehead Viaduct from below the steep part on Whernside

View of Whernside

Looking back to Whernside from the boardwalks on the route to Ingleborough

So it was just two – myself and Ben – who set out for the last peak of the day – Ingleborough – which rose massively ahead. It is the middle one in height at 724m or 2375ft but looks the highest from most angles and is the hardest of the route – mainly because you have just climbed the other two. The route heads through a pleasant open landscape with  views across the limestone country down towards Ingleton until a line of boardwalks are reached that traverse some boggy looking ground on the mountain’s lower slopes. Ahead the path could be seen ascending a short but very steep section though we were up this in 10 or 15 minutes. It is steep though!

Here we followed the ridge up to the top of our last peak. We had done it! Now we had to get down back to Horton in Ribbledale 5 miles away. The way back is steep and knee jarring at first but eventually settles into a long steady descent that would be a nice walk if you have not just walked over 20 miles. The way traverses limsstone country and open grassland and is not too boggy. We though just found it hard work after the day’s excesses.

The summit of Ingleborough

The last peak, on top of Ingleborough

Looking onwards from Ingleborough

From Ingleborough the last stretch is in view. The path on the right goes to Horton.

After an age the path – always heading back towards Penyghent – descends to fields and turns a corner where Horton comes into view and the end is in sight. The route emerges at the railway station which is good if you arrived by train but for us it was the pub where the team was reunited over pints of Black Sheep.

The total distance of the 3 Peaks walk according to my own measurement using electronic mapping for the route we took was 25.5 miles or 41km though I have heard figures from 24.5 to 27 miles in connection with this route. The usual start point is Horton in Ribblesdale just north of Settle and a good bail out point for those not wishing to continue either before or after Whernside is Ribblehead where there is a railway station and a regular train service back to Horton in Ribblesdale throughout the summer. I’m not sure what the winter service is like but I would not recommend this in winter because of the lack of daylight. In all it is a hard walk because of the distance but one  I ended up enjoying a lot more than I thought I would.

Pete Buckley July 2011  

Penyghent >>> Whernside >>> Ingleborough >>> 41 kilometres  >>> 25.5 miles

About Pete Buckley

Hi I'm Pete and I'm a UK based outdoor enthusiast, part time writer and photographer. My work includes action adventure novel The Colonel of Krasnoyarsk as well as a couple of travel stories recounting firstly a campervan adventure around New Zealand and then a week on foot in the Swiss Alps, hiking from the Eiger to the Matterhorn. The subject of these pages is predominantly hiking in the English Lake District (which is near where I live), North Wales and the Scottish Highlands as well as cycling; from rides with the kids to trail riding in the Highlands of Scotland and other wonderful places... Thanks for visiting.
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2 Responses to Walking the Yorkshire 3 Peaks

  1. This is quite the walk for one day. I love the pictures in which the clouds are touching the hills. I grew up and still live in the prairies of middle America and land being high enough to touch the clouds is always fascinating to me.


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