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Travel North - 61: Yorkshire's Three Peaks Hike

Updated on February 11, 2020

From High Birkwith Farm, north of Horton-in-Ribblesdale

First on the way - Pen-y-Ghent can be seen from the cafe along the road north. Limited parking space available, but much more space along the road at the public car park
First on the way - Pen-y-Ghent can be seen from the cafe along the road north. Limited parking space available, but much more space along the road at the public car park | Source
Area sketch map - take an Ordnance Survey map for accuracy and detail.
Area sketch map - take an Ordnance Survey map for accuracy and detail. | Source
From the starting point at High Birkwith Farm, take the gate out onto a well cared-for track
From the starting point at High Birkwith Farm, take the gate out onto a well cared-for track | Source

At various times when you walk this route you'll see all three peaks from one spot when you turn on your heels.

Whernside and Ingleborough will show up well on a good day, although it may not be possible to climb them if you're on this hike... And that's what it is, all fourteen miles of it. It's not too late to just sit on the car park wall outside the Pen-y-Ghent Cafe and admire the grandstand view across the road, uphill to the peak itself (2,277 feet/694 m).

Begin the hike at High Birkwith Farm, north from Horton-in-Ribblesdale on a narrow road between the two bridges by the Crown Inn. The road only goes as far as the farm and roadside parking is limited. The farmer won't thank you for blocking his access, so best find space at the public car park back down the road near the cafe. There's usually lots of room and there are public conveniences that face the road.

You start the walk proper not far from the farm, pass a pair of the best beginner's caves - you might come this way again in the pursuit of adventure - Birkwith and Old Ing. They're known as 'stream caves, easy to explore on another day out. They form a section of a greater cave network only qualified cave divers can access.

After the farm follow the bridle path north-eastward, then north through sheep country. The Three Peaks Way from Pen-y-Ghent to Ribblehead crosses at this point. Ignore it and stay on your course past the appealingly scenic packhorse bridge over Ling Gill ('ling' is a type of heather, a 'gill' is a hillside or mountainside spring) where you meet the noted north-south Pennine Way that you will note is in good condition.

Ingleborough, above Ingleton (the first is the mountain, the second is the village close by)

Ingleborough with its 'table-top
Ingleborough with its 'table-top | Source
'Ling Gill - 'ling' is heather, a 'gill' is a hillside spring
'Ling Gill - 'ling' is heather, a 'gill' is a hillside spring | Source

The views open up here where you take in Ingleborough and Whernside...

You follow a steady climb, probably best viewed when the track meets the Cam High Road.

This way originated in Roman times and was used by their legions north to Hadrian's Wall - and for a short time also the Antonine Wall - It is used and maintained by the Forestry Commission and is as such in good condition.

Turn right at this road and climb steadily onward for a further mile. After around a third of a mile (500 m) take the path right that cuts through one corner of a forestry plantation. Two stiles will bring you to Cam Houses, worth a closer look - and enjoy a picnic while you're there.

The following mile is 'tussocky', over clumps of grass and earth - not easy walking and not good after heavy rain - towards Swarthgill Farm, and a bit boggy in damp conditions. At Swarthgill Farm and nearby Nethergill Farm you are at the heart of the Yorkshire Dales. They are both remote, although the farmers have made great strides towards diversification, offering overnight accommodation to those who follow the Dales Way.

Nethergill is impressive as conservation landscapes go, and is a tourist attraction as much for bird watchers as for those who wish to take in the scenery... Pure and símple. From Oughtershaw a footpath leads southward between farm buildings and follow a steep course to a stíle before entering a forest.

On to Oughtershaw

Cam Houses near Ingleborough and Whernside
Cam Houses near Ingleborough and Whernside | Source
Whernside with Ribblehead Viaduct. Ingleborough is within sight near the olpposite - southern - end of this magnificent structure that was set for demolition until Transport Secretary Michael Portillo stepped in to secure a more realistic estimate
Whernside with Ribblehead Viaduct. Ingleborough is within sight near the olpposite - southern - end of this magnificent structure that was set for demolition until Transport Secretary Michael Portillo stepped in to secure a more realistic estimate | Source
Above Oughtershaw - the terrain and going overall on this route are good. It's the route length that is the trial
Above Oughtershaw - the terrain and going overall on this route are good. It's the route length that is the trial | Source

From this point the nature of the walk changes, with the forest obscuring the views, weather and sounds of the earlier seven miles or so.

Over a mile the footpath winds through the forest westward onto another dead-end road. Follow the road another mile to High Green, where the metalled road gives way to a farm track - in good condition all the same.

Another mile of forestry track takes you to where the track divides. Follow the westerly fork and take in the view of Pen-y-Ghent to the south, with the other two peaks away to the north-west. If you're keen on trains you might see a steam special on its way over Ribblehead Viaduct in the distance, with Whernside visible in the north at 2,415 feet (723 m) and Ingleborough at 2,372 feet (723 m) to the west of the line near the southern end of the viaduct.behind the village of Ingleton.

The path drops between a couple of low hills or mounds to New Ings and joins the out-bound track back to High Birkwith Farm (a 'birk' being a birch tree).

-----------------------------------------------------

Jonathan Smith's Where2Walk is a walker's guide site. His own book titled 'Dales 30' describes the highest Dales mountains and peaks. He runs one-day navigation courses for beginners and intermediates, where skills are taught or refined in climbing or hill walking:

Maps to buy, ways to go...

Three Peaks area map. Best to buy an accurate Ordnance Survey map...
Three Peaks area map. Best to buy an accurate Ordnance Survey map...
Yorkshire Dales, Southern & Western, OS Explorer Map OL2... Be safe and take a compass. The sun might shine brilliantly, the sky might be blue but all that can change within the hour.
Yorkshire Dales, Southern & Western, OS Explorer Map OL2... Be safe and take a compass. The sun might shine brilliantly, the sky might be blue but all that can change within the hour. | Source

Distance covered: approximately 14 miles (about 22.5 km)

Height (above sea level) achieved 1,030 feet (310 m), start point (Ordnance Survey referen ce) SD 800767 by High Birkwith Farm, north from Horton-in-Ribblesdale.

Going is not too hard and the walk takes much of a day, best in summer or early autumn. The terrain is not the challenge as much as the distance. Refreshments are available at either of Horton's two pubs and at the Pen-y-Ghent Cafe.

Be prepared for sudden changes in the weather, wear good watertight boots and woollen socks - not trainers, they'd be sodden before you reached the halfway point! - and don't wear jeans or T-shirts for the same reason. Denim soaks up the damp and makes walking decidedly uncomfortable.

Take - and be able to read - an Ordnance Survey map - most are available at the Pen-y-Ghent Cafe. Take a good compass in case the cloud cover 'drops' and reduces visibility. Take a flask of whatever hot beverage you prefer, food and chocolate to sustain energy. The.cafe offers Kendal Mint Cake, very good for energy boosts and comes in various flavours.

If you're driving, take suitable footwear to replace your walking boots for your return home, or to your hotel (they won't take to your muddy boot marks all over their carpets). Take your litter home with you or use the car park bins, don't throw it away, where wildlife or farm stock may suffer.


© 2020 Alan R Lancaster

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    • alancaster149 profile imageAUTHOR

      Alan R Lancaster 

      3 weeks ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

      Any time you want, come across the 'pond' to this li'l land of ours (England's Texas) and help yourself to some of the rarest air you'll find anywhere (he's a poet and he knows it). When it's bright and dry it's the best walking country on this earth. When it's wet... don't bother. '

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 

      3 weeks ago from Houston, Texas

      Thanks for showing me this part of your world. I really appreciated the photos as well as your descriptions of this hiking adventure through the beautiful countryside.

    • alancaster149 profile imageAUTHOR

      Alan R Lancaster 

      3 weeks ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

      What part of God's Country did you live in Linda? When I was at the Telegraph newspaper a colleague came from Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He'd lived in Middlesbrough when his dad worked at a petro-chemical plant in the Teesside area. I lived a few miles out of Middlesbrough on the Redcar road (seaside, horse racing). My family on dad's side were all fairly local (within a ten-fifteen mile radius).

      I drive up there as often as I can and receive several online newspaper reports from the Evening Gazette (Middlesbrough), the Northern Echo (general North East area) and Yorkshire Post to see what's on (or up, you know, like an earthquake felt the other day on either side of the Tees).

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 

      3 weeks ago from British Columbia, Canada

      I lived in Yorkshire for a short time when I was a child but don't remember much about the period. I would love to return and explore the route that you've described. Thanks for sharing the information and the photos.

    • alancaster149 profile imageAUTHOR

      Alan R Lancaster 

      3 weeks ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

      It's very likely he'd have been more at home in the TV studio than in Westminster, although to be fair as a TV pundit he couldn't have swayed Maggie away from closing the S&CR.

      I have a gripe though. When he did the run from Darlington to Whitby he missed out most of Teesside - including Middlesbrough - aside from Marton (previously Ormesby).

      Back to the walk, I've driven this way as well, via Ribblehead, to Hawes. At the Pen-y-Ghent cafe there's a factory-type clocking-in apparatus for walkers. If someone's not clocked out they send a search and rescue team out. Great little cafe, you should try it some time if you're up that way Liz.

    • Eurofile profile image

      Liz Westwood 

      4 weeks ago from UK

      This is definitely a scenic walk. Nice to see that Michael Portillo was able to help preseeve the viaduct when he was in government. I still think his TV programmes have achieved more than his parliamentary career.

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