Yes I know the title is a bit outlandish but then read on and you’ll see why.
After the success of October’s walk over the Nick of Pendle to the Pendle Hill summit and back again I was flushed with success and decided to organise another walking forum meet-up and opted for two old favourites – Whernside and Ingleborough, with Simon Fell and Park Fell thrown in for good measure.
It’s something of a badly kept secret that at times I have had problems in this area – getting all excited about doing the Yorkshire Three Peaks challenge in May 2010 was a definite downfall as I failed to prepare for what a challenge walking in this environment could be. Regardless, I posted a meet-up on the walking forum and then duly, mostly forgot about it as I messed about temporarily moving homes, staying in hotels, trips to London…that sort of thing!
The meet got nearer and I got a quite nasty bout of gastroenteritis … then a cold and those dear reader are the reasons proffered as to why I once again failed to do any training for what is essentially a tough walk.
The morning of Sunday the 9th of March arrived and as usual I reached the start off destination a full fifty five minutes early – there will be a time when I don’t get to the start way ahead of my fellow walkers…it just has not happened yet!
Around 8:30 others had started to arrive and by this time I had donned the walking coat – I went for “big blue” this time as it has an in-built fleece lining and as it happens this was a wise choice – it was bitingly cold at Ribblehead. The Brasher Hillmasters were the next on – it was on a Whernside ascent (from Chapel le Dale) that I broke these boots in – to be honest it was more a case of the other way around! Still, owing to neglect they are looking quite the worse for wear and I think it may only be a month or so before they are buried at Pendle Hill (nonsense – we have a tip in Southport).
More and more continued to arrive until finally the full complement of 10 was assembled. Greetings were exchanged this was the first time that I had met some of the bigger characters from the Walking Forum – YorksGal and Andy Broadley with whom I was supposed to ascend Pendle last year but traffic had conspired against us. It was great to see Karl for the first time this year and Sue (whom I had not seen for over a year) and Peter with whom I had spent many moments as we traversed Spence Moor in October.
At 9:05 (or thereabouts) we set off on the very obvious path that would lead us from Ribblehead all the way up to the top of modern-day North Yorkshire. Out of the exposed section of the Ribblehead T-junction the weather was not at all bad. There was no sign of the “mini-heatwave” which had been promised to us by all of the UK’s weather reports but then most walkers tend to pay lip service to these often fantastical premonitions (sorry but I can’t refer to them as forecasts!). The walk along the path was very comfortable indeed, although we were ascending it was hardly noticeable and the thought did strike me that I was within relatively close distance of Ribblehead – yes the “head” of the “Ribble”. Peter (whom as always was the font of local knowledge but geographical and historical and overall genuinely good-egg) informed me that the Ribble was close but it was not the body of water running along side of us – then it was, and before long I had my first stumble of the day when a fairly large white dog caught my eye whilst I was fording a very shallow stream. No damage was done – this was rather by luck than design as I stopped myself smashing my face on rocks via the open-palms method (for the record this can be just as prone to causing injuries as falling on one’s side).
Before long the ascent became much more noticeable – this route is not a particular hard one in terms of the inclination of the path – Pendle and Skelgill Bank both knock spots off it! However the clue to Whernside’s climb is in the fact that for four and a half miles one is going uphill (with the odd flat stretch). At what I would estimate (an ability which I decided I possess during my walk up Skiddaw last summer) to be 2,100 feet the weather seemed to get hostile, very hostile. The wind which had been but a gentle breeze lower down the slope now transformed into an extremely biting constant whoosh of freezing air that shook me to the very core.
We had not been treated to any kind of distant views on the way, now the local one had faded to just a few tens of yards as the clouds literally sat upon us. This was now serious – ‘don’t dawdle’ weather, albeit mostly dry, any moisture was not coming as rain but as the process before rain can fall, bad hair all around… but under hoods and hats. We ploughed on and after something like two hours and twenty something minutes we were at the apex of the mountain. It borders on ironic (leave me alone grammar police) that what is perceived to be the highest spot in North Yorkshire…lies within the boundary of neighbouring Cumbria. Yes it’s true folks the ordnance survey column atop Whernside is actually a few feet over the border and a dry stone wall in Dentdale, Cumbria…and on this day was shockingly hostile and strangely much colder than the summit shelter around the other side of the wall back in North Yorkshire! I had a banana…everyone else had the various other gelatinous sweets which most other walkers gorge upon on Sundays and only Sundays when they know the calories consumed can be burned off!
We began the descent.
The summit ridge of mighty Whernside at first can be a promenade, an easy stroll across a high environment, the metaphorical high-spot of any mountain walk. Soon however, came the drop, the fall off the mountain itself and before we reached the bottom of the slope four of the ten of us had fallen over – myself twice and one comedic spate of involuntary hill-surfing. Poor Ruth was the first to go over and injure her knee, myself and Jon then went next…the slope was not taking prisoners – or at least it was knobbling them first!
I feel that at this juncture I must stress that this is not good for North Yorkshire and not good for the local economies of Ingleton, Ribblehead, Chapel le Dale, Dent, Horton in Ribblesdale – injured walkers tend not to stick around to buy refreshments and snacks etc. Other than that it’s also damned dangerous, there is an official Park Ranger covering the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority’s Three Peaks Area, so this shows that various authorities are aware of just how many tens of thousands of footsteps are planted on these paths each year, the path which used to lead muddily over Black Dub Moss has had substantial renovation, repair and even re-routing, now surely it must be time to start to formulate a re-working of the route of the path down Whernside towards Chapel le Dale – the state of what is there is simply not fit for the purpose of dropping people safely down what is after all a proud mountain. Granted we are now swiftly approaching the time of year when the Dales in general but more importantly the Yorkshire Three Peaks, will be at their busiest. We had four fallers and on the previous day in the same vicinity a man fell and broke his ankle, the first time that I did this descent I fell thirteen times…in short that path’s got to be fixed!
For me, and four others, there was not much of the walk left, I had grown so tired of the sound of my own puffing and panting in the ascension of the mountain and then used up all of my remaining adrenaline reserves descending the path of death…I was just spent. I don’t think that I could have even boarded an helicopter and flown over Ingleborough let alone walk up it and then another two hills – of which Park Fell has something of a reputation as being “a bit sticky” and 2009’s stride across Simon Fell taught me what real winds feel like…no! For me the Station Inn at Ribblehead seemed an altogether comfier and achievable proposition.
Peter and Ruth made their way to their car, Sue and Kelly went on to have a little walk around the valley – and why wouldn’t they now that the sun was breaking through the clouds? I went to the pub for a butter shandy before the sixty something mile drive home.
If I had trained for this walk and still arrived at the same outcome then I would be disappointed. I didn’t – well we can’t really call walking about two to three miles per day on tarmac and flagstones adequate training for such an arduous trek as this walk had promised. I am happy at what I did achieve – last year’s first walk of the year was Pendle, the year before was Rivington Pike …I’ve improved and am improving. I am a bit disappointed to have not gone up Ingleborough it’s a glorious mountain and the respect I have for it is unwaning. I will return in summer, possibly on my own – although given the recent spate of injured walkers in this vicinity that may not be wise and I did really enjoy the company with whom I shared the day…I’ll be back don’t you worry about that.
Next up I hope to once again tackle the epic trail along Southport’s Coastal Road as the Irish Sea batters me with salt-laden gusts on an eighteen miles walk in my home town. Speak to you soon…