The sky darkened and rain streaked across the carriage window as the train drew further north. Not a good sign. Time to put some faith in the weather forecast, which had remained consistent over the last few days, promising largely dry conditions with the odd shower and light breezes. Not perfect, but certainly sounding better than the Lake District the week before, which had led to abandonment of the trip. I really wanted this one to go a bit better…
Day 1: Friday 13 July
As the train approached my destination, an older couple on the other side of the train excitedly pointed out of the window and exclaimed “Look, there’s steam coming off that cow”. Priceless. Crewe was grey as I alighted and walked out to the pick-up area outside, looking for Stuart’s car. We shook hands and I loaded my gear into the boot, before we headed off for the last leg of the journey. But first a detour home, for Stuart to pick up some clothes he’d left behind, realising only when he got home that he hadn’t actually left them behind and they were in the car the whole time. The first of several bits of forgetfulness which I put down to “senior moments” on his part. Well he is 6 years older than me.
As we thundered up the M6, the typical conversation of two outdoors folk meeting for the first time flowed around the car, covering walks we’d done, gear and how our walking fitted in with the more mundane parts of our lifestyles. Although this was the first time we’d met, I felt like I knew Stuart already, having followed his blog since 2008, and even having had an email exchange with him about hosting my blog on his Walking Places site. I’ve avidly followed his accounts of his annual long distance walks, his seemingly endless quest for footwear that lasts and his general philosophy on walking. I knew we’d get along.
We entered the Yorkshire Dales National Park and headed for Malham as Stuart had a delivery of his Herriot Way guidebooks to drop off. We then stopped off at Gordale Scar for a leg stretch and spent a few minutes watching the intrepid few attempting to descend the slippery rocks.
After a swift adjournment to the Buck Inn for a pint of Timothy Taylor Landlord and a coke, we continued on our journey, driving through Ingleton to park up in Kingsdale behind a burnt-out van. We strode out along the farm track towards Twisleton Scar, Stuart evidently nervous about whether there would be a car still recognisable as such in the morning. Losing no opportunity to add to his apprehension, I nevertheless made sure that I took all of my kit with me up the hill.
We zigzagged up onto the nose of the ridge, which ultimately leads up onto Whernside, threading our way between outcrops of limestone pavement and a handful of solitary trees. We emerged onto a flatter part of the hillside and explored looking for that magical combination of flattish ground, dryness and some protection from the wind. This saw us drop down slightly to find a pitch below a limestone rampart and close to the wall. This gave some, but not complete, shelter and, given the equipment I had, I let Stuart take the more sheltered spot near the wall. I pitched on the other flat, stone-free (but not quite poo-free) spot a bit further away from the wall.
Having had some discussion on Twitter over recent days about the Scarp, Stuart was keen to see one in the
flesh silnylon and I showed him around. Dinner eaten and the temperature dropping, we retired to our tents, with Stuart moaning about having managed to leave his iPod behind in the car, thereby sentencing him to the sound of his tent flapping and me snoring during the night. Feeling the breeze rising and expecting some precipitation, I decided to put the crossing poles on the scarp. At least that way I could justify having lugged them from home and up the hill. And to see if Stuart noticed. As the sun went down, we joked about the orange glow in the sky over Kingsdale being the car burning.
Day 2: Saturday 14 July
Breakfast eaten and camp struck, we headed back down the hill, and found the car not just where we’d left it, but also intact. Being a bit behind schedule, Stuart attempted to break the land speed record as we raced towards the main meet-up point at Ribblehead. As we came down the hill, it was easy to spot Martin’s red mini in the distance and we pulled up into a convenient space alongside. More introductions and a discussion of the plan. We’d already agreed we’d aim for two of the 3 peaks today and the remaining one tomorrow. But which way to do it ?
With crowd avoidance as our main consideration, we decided to head for Ingleborough first, but to take the ridgeline route from Ribblehead. We headed off along the road to pick up the footpath that would lead us up onto Park Fell. We slogged up the surprisingly steep slope and negotiated several soggy patches as Martin talked about his quest to improve his photography in the face of divorce-risking equipment lust. In the distance ahead a tapering stone column was outlined against the sky. Stuart eagerly led the way to the trig point and proceeded to photograph it from all angles.
In the distance Ingleborough was now visible, and on this, my third visit, I dared to hope that I might at last get to the summit and find it cloud-free. We followed the wall around and onto Simon Fell. Now it was my time to be the anorak, as I made a beeline for the pathetic pile of stones that marks the summit of the fell (a Nuttall and Hewitt). On my first visit to Ingleborough, I’d dragged my reluctant father along through the mist and over squelchy ground to bag this top and it had seemed to take forever. Today though, with our target plainly visible, it seemed to take no time at all.
We reached the col and the main path coming up from Chapel-le-Dale and headed up to the summit of Ingleborough, now no longer alone as people converged from the four points of the compass.
A few spots of rain as we took a break in the shelter, before returning to the col and taking the path that leads down to Horton-in-Ribblesdale.
We reached a stile, and Martin went into arty picture mode using the stile to frame the view of Pen-y-ghent ahead.
The long walk down to Horton passed fairly quickly due to car talk and before we knew it we were crossing the railway.
We collapsed onto a bench by the river and stuffed pies and jelly babies into our faces, before heading south through the village to pick up the path through Brackenbottom. Pen-y-ghent seemed to tower up in the distance and I knew this was going to hurt.
We slogged up the slope, clambering up onto the successive limestone shelves, and for the first time in the day found myself ahead of Martin, as he had his head down engrossed in tweeting and ensuring the walk was being captured for sharing on Social Hiking. This didn’t last long, though, and as we gained the ridgeline and joined the Pennine Way, Stuart told us that this was the point on the Pennine Way that was a key test of character. With Horton a couple of miles of easy descent below, the alternative of completing the ascent to the summit looks foreboding and a climb too far, especially if you are carrying a heavier pack (as you would almost certainly be if you were doing the Pennine Way).
Stuart and Martin led the way, while I trailed in their wake. But we made it to the top and took a breather in the shelter.
We sat there a while, and watched as Martin suddenly went to greet a couple of guys arriving at the summit. Learning they were his colleagues from the Highways Agency, more minutes passed in conversation, and by the time we stood up to head off, half an hour had passed sitting in the sun. We headed down as the sky darkened over Whernside and a rain shower crept towards us. A shaft of sunlight broke out from the cloud to illuminate Hull Pot and I managed to miss this open goal of a photo opportunity. But Martin was alert and got one, so best look at his pictures. We descended steadily along the Pennine Way to Horton, stopping occasionally for Stuart to photograph a stile and for all of us to look at scenery along the way.
We walked along the main street in Horton with an hour and a half before the next train to Ribblehead. So it seemed only right to wait out most of this in the Crown in the company of some Black Sheep. When we eventually got to Ribblehead we picked up the cars and transferred them to the pub car park, and set off for the field behind. Not expecting to find it empty, there were half a dozen tents already up. We moved a little way from them and pitched, Martin and Stuart getting some nice flat ground and me having to conjur something up from amongst the uneven, sheep shit strewn ground. There seems to be a pattern emerging. Karma reasserted itself when both Martin and Stuart complained about the firmness of the ground and the difficulty of penetrating it with their tent pegs. Meanwhile, after much faffing about to find the
best least bad spot, my Scarp was up and pegged quickly.
Now for the pub itself. We went in and found ourselves in what looked very much like a biker’s heaven. A constant stream of rock favourites spewed from the jukebox, and very poor karoake spewed from the bikers themselves. And what were they doing with that statue ? We found a table and seated ourselves in prime position to watch the inevitable horseplay. Some Dent Brewery beer helped wash down a generous chunk of pie, as we all discovered the free wifi and, in contrast to the bikers, sat there in virtual silence playing with our devices (no that is not a euphemism!). After a while the bikers went and things calmed down. We headed back to the tents. Further karma when I found that the wifi worked form the tent, and best of all I was nearest to the pub so probably had the strongest signal.
It must have been around 11:30 when it started. A large volume of shouting as a group of guys staggered onto the camping field and proceeded to bicker as they sorted themselves out. As we all know, in a tent any external noise is magnified and seems a lot nearer than it actually is. This sounded like they were within touching distance of my tent! Dragging woody sounds came through the silnylon as they assembled the makings of a fire, and they sat around it shouting for half the night. The rain came around 2am, and even this didn’t dampen their enthusiasm for nocturnal revelry, or the curses that I rained down on them. Then a miracle – loads of shouting about getting more beer turned seemingly into “goodnight” as they rumbled into their tents.
Day 3: Sunday 15 July
Stuart claimed he only got half an hour’s sleep, and every conceivable expletive was used by the three of us to describe the events of the night before. Up early (I wonder why ?) we breakfasted on the tables in the beer garden and then struck camp. With the cars moved to the layby, we were ready to walk by 7:45. A fine day beckoned, with blue skies and broken cloud over our target – Whernside.
We cut across the grassland to the path alongside the railway and headed up towards Littledale.
The weather helped the mood considerably and we made good time up to the aqueduct taking Force Gill over the railway to join Little Dale Beck.
We followed the path upstream and then spent a few moments admiring the waterfalls.
The ground steepened as we swung left to climb up onto the ridge, still enjoying the views back to Ingleborough and the Ribble Valley.
Slabs and sections of steps eased our progress as we got high enough to look out across Greensett Moss. A sucker for a tarn, I dallied here longer than the allowed minimum photo-stop time and as I was bringing up the rear the others didn’t spot that I had fallen (even) further behind. But a tarn’s a tarn and demands to be photographed and admired.
We gained the ridge and as our heads rose above the wall line, felt the breeze coming from the other side. Stuart was ahead, no doubt eager for the trig point, and I walked with Martin for the last few hundred feet. We spent a few moments at the summit and then carried along the ridge, descending to a sheltered spot for a breather.
A relaxed break, now that we were on the home stretch of the walk, and many jelly babies were devoured. We made our way down until we got to farmland and then threaded our way through fields and lanes towards the viaduct.
We passed under the viaduct and across the grass to the cars. Sausage baps and hot tea followed before we shook hands and got in the cars to go home.
Reflections on the trip
I really enjoyed meeting, at last, a couple of guys that I’d conversed with through social media (mainly Twitter). An epic comment stream of 153 postings on Google+ worked out the arrangements and, sadly, narrowed the field down to 3 as we lost Chris (the brains behind the original idea) to concussion, then Dean and Alvin to other commitments. This didn’t detract from the meet itself – 3 is a nice number, and no one gets left out as a result. We all had our roles – Martin as gadget man did the honours tracking our route on Social Hiking, Stuart increased our knowledge of trig points and specialised in leaving things behind in the car, and my role was to bring up the rear and pitch my tent in the shit.
The first day amounted to around 15.5 miles walking which took just under 7 hours, with the second day being just under 8 miles in a little over 3 hours. This turned out to be a nice split of the route (for me at least!), and the decision to start each day’s walking from Ribblehead rather than to follow the official 3 Peaks route, in hindsight seems inspired. We saw relatively few of the many hundred of 3 peakers that must have been out that first day, and on the second we were out and about early and so missed them then too. The ascent of Ingleborough by Park Fell and Simon Fell was great as I’d not done it before, meaning that my 3 ascents of the mountain have been 3 different ways – just the Ingleton route to do now. The ascents of Pen-y-ghent and Whernside were equally interesting compared with the standard 3 Peaks routes. Walking in a group also tends to have some benefits in terms of my pace, as it usually means I don’t stop every few yards so as to not get left behind. But when I walk in a group where the others are fitter than me, I do spend a lot of time at the back.
We were lucky with the weather, with a few spots of rain on Ingleborough and overnight when we were in our tents. Other than that it was relatively clear, albeit breezy at times. A far cry from the sort of weather we’ve been having lately.
The low point of the meet was clearly Saturday night and this is where a low turnout hurt us, as a confrontation with loads of pissed-up bikers wasn’t really on the cards with only 3 of us. Afterwards I think we all felt that we should have camped further away from the pub and accepted a longer walk for food and beer. But hindsight’s a wonderful thing…
I was glad that I went up a day early, had the opportunity to spend some time with Stuart, and to get a wild camp in. This certainly added something to the weekend and helped me bump up my wild camp count, which still needs quite a lot of work.