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3 June, 2006

Walk/Cycle ride: Clapham-Pen-Y-Ghent-Ribblehead-Ingleborough-Lancaster

When people attempt the Yorkshire Three Peaks walk (three adjacent hills on a circular route to be completed within twelve hours), they usually begin with Pen-Y-Ghent (694 m asl), but in my case it's the last I've climbed, having visited Ingleborough (723 m) numerous times over the past decade (most recently in April) and Whernside (736 m) in November 2005.  Time to complete the circuit.

I did try to climb Pen-Y-Ghent several years ago, on the occasion of A or K's birthday, but in hindsight it was unsurprising that late January brought driving rain and zero visibility, so we gave up halfway and retreated to the café.

Today's weather was much better, and a cloudless morning in June was likely to remain that way (hopefully), so I caught an early train to Clapham. Giggleswick might have been closer; maybe next time. On a trip last year, I explored the lanes from Clapham to Austwick then on to Horton in Ribblesdale, so knew which rough tracks to avoid and was at the start of the walk by about 09:40.

I planned to follow the fairly direct route across Brackenbottom Scar around and up the southern end of the hill, rather than the better-known path along Horton Scar Lane and across the moor to climb the middle of the western side of the ridge. I remembered the latter as somewhat boring (though the conditions hadn't been exactly ideal) and I always prefer to climb steep paths rather than descend them (a choice reinforced on Coniston in April). That worked very well; the Brackenbottom route was attractive, not especially busy, and dealt with the steep sections pleasantly quickly. Even stopping to take several photos, I was at the summit shelter by 10:45.

I did follow the Horton Scar Lane path back down to the village, largely because I wanted to make the diversion to Hull Pot, a huge chasm I'd seen on that aborted trip. In fact, I hadn't – that had been Hunt Pot, a narrow (though at ~60 m, three times deeper) slit nearer the main path. It's strange that my memory had been distorted, presumably by seeing other people's photos.

By midday I was in Horton again, the planned trip complete rather early in the day. Now what? Whernside had been a less than challenging walk last year, and just as brief, so I decided to do it again, taking advantage of the improved visibility.
As I hadn't anticipated two walks today, I had only brought a couple of handfuls of cashew nuts, a little cheese and 500ml of Coke, all of which I'd already consumed at the summit of Pen-Y-Ghent. It seemed sensible to refuel with a cup of tea and a sandwich at the Pen-y-ghent Cafe. A key rest stop on the Pennine Way since 1965 (i.e. it's as old as the long-distance footpath itself) and the official clocking-in point for the Three Peaks challenge, it also serves distinctly unimpressive toasted cheese & pickle sandwiches.

Leaving Horton, I cycled to Ribblehead, past numerous trainspotters, then back down the next valley to the Old Hill Inn, where the Three Peaks route crosses the main road. My plan was to follow the surfaced road (Philpin Lane) by bike to Bruntscar, cutting ~1¼ km off the walk, then climb Whernside the same way as last year. However, the lane was totally clogged with pedestrians (in the middle of the road – that's road, not footpath, ****ers!) so I could only ride at a walking pace anyway, and I could see the path up to the ridge was similarly busy. By the time I reached Bruntscar, I'd already pretty much decided that I didn't want to walk with a crowd (queuing my way up Scafell in 1996 put me off that for life), but the deciding factor was that there was nowhere to safely leave my bike. I think I made the right decision in turning back, even if it meant fighting my way through the inconsiderate pedestrians again.

It was still only about 13:30, so Plan 'B' was to climb Ingleborough instead, parking the bike near Chapel-le-Dale church then joining the Hill Inn path via a shortcut (legitimately – one shouldn't roam randomly in a sensitive environment like limestone pavement, so I kept to a designated footpath). Initially, that went well, and I passed the famous limestone pavement exposures without meeting an abnormal number of people, but on the narrow ascent to Humphrey Bottom I struggled to overtake what seemed to be whole coach parties. Looking up at the final ridge, I could see that I faced much the same for the rest of the walk, and the summit was bound to be lost in a braying horde, so again I gave up, to return on a quieter day rather than spoil this one.

Please don't misunderstand. I don't remotely object to sharing Ingleborough with a couple of dozen other walkers, and I wouldn't have dreamt of being rude to those I passed, but the sheer number of people was just excessive. Again, please don't interpret this as empty snobbery, but several weren't 'proper' walkers. There may well be an appropriate place to loudly discuss golf via a mobile phone whilst strolling in pristine deck shoes, but I really don't think it's at ~500 m asl on Ingleborough.

I retrieved my bike at ~15:15, which limited my options for the rest of the trip. I could continue down the valley to Ingleton and wander around the village for over an hour before going on to Bentham and the train to Lancaster, or I could head home immediately, covering the ~32 km by bike. I did the latter.

I'm afraid I didn't notice what time I reached Lancaster, but I'd been out all day, covering 67 km (41.6 miles) by bike in 3 hours 37 minutes (not counting time the bike was stationary), which gave an average speed of 18.5 km/h (11.5 mph), peaking at 45 km/h (28 mph) at least once.

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