The 3 Peaks, Yorkshire Dales (Chapel-Le-Dale)

13th May - 15th May 2005

On this occasion an unusually small number of people had booked to go on the hike.  Though the total number was around twenty folk, some new faces were to put in an appearance and a breath of fresh air they were too!  Bonnie and her son, Conaugh, had asked me for a lift.  As I had a monthly train ticket and walked to and from Royston and Welwyn Garden City stations, this meant that we had agreed to meet at five, for Bonnie to drive up and leave her car at my house.  It didn't quite work out that way and we only got on the road from Royston around eight.  Though not close to major highways, the easiest route was straight up the A1198, picking up the A14 near Huntingdon, which joins the M1 / M6 junction north of Northampton.  At that hour it did not appear necessary to divert to the M6 Toll Road.  No more dog-legging through Bradford for me! Bonnie and Conaugh both passed out at some stage.  Some navigator this one turned out to be (:-) So it was that we came off the M6 just north of Lancaster, picking up the narrower, winding A683 and A687, just after midnight.  At the next junction, it was a short journey  to reach Chapel-Le-Dale.
    It was chilly and Conaugh was sound asleep.  Upon arrival, all others had turned in by that time, though Chris Platten and Peter Karran were still awake in their bunks in the "Jennifer Lopez" room and had taken a bet three minutes earlier that I was probably not arriving till the next day. 

The Old School Bunkhouse at Chapel-Le-Dale, Yorkshire Dales (left), all set and ready for departure (right).

By the sounds of their voices and high-spirited good humour, it seemed that they had been partying much better since their arrival, an empty bottle of brandy providing firm evidence of that. As is usually the case on most Xerox hikes these days, John Adams had arrived there earlier that morning. The following morning broke and the weather seemed fine.  Staying in B&B's and doing a Xerox Hike are probably the only times I get to consume an English Breakfast.  As is usually the case, a number of parties set out on routes of their choosing and whatever they feel comfortable with. It seemed that there were two distinct groups, Pete Mathews setting off with one over Ingleborough to Selside.  Having done this hill the year before, I chose to join the larger group being led by Tim Porter, opting for Whernside instead.  Then there's the gung-ho group, comprising Chris and Peter, who set out at 7h00 to conquer all three peaks, though I was told later that, owing to his recovering from a bout of the snivels, Peter had become quite ill halfway through, causing him to redecorate the landscape in the process, with no option but to link up with Peter Mathews.   Naturally this had nothing whatsoever to do with the copious amounts of brandy consumed the night before.  With breakfast out of the way, we headed out on the farming countryside of the Yorkshire Dales, mostly pastures for sheep.  We soon encountered some unusual Yorkshire entrepreneurship.  Within 5 minutes of leaving the bunkhouse, we passed a farmhouse with snack-bar at the side. Ice-cream that early in the morning somehow did not seem that appealing, so he was not able to solicit our patronage.  Just when we truly needed it, the snack-bar was shut on the final leg on our way back later that day.  It was only after we began our ascent and reached the summit of Whernside that we encountered a severe, rather chilly wind despite the sunshine, that literally blew us off our feet.  We took a break. How nice a cup of tea would have tasted!
  I could barely move my lips and found conversation rather difficult.  The sight of bulls in the nearby field made me nervous, though I felt more secure in the knowledge that a solid wooden fence, capable of withstanding a sudden charge, separated us from them. Perhaps I had been accustomed to too many clichés in this regard. Eva and Luis sported colourful crocheted beanies.   

The ascent of Whernside, with Ingleborough in the background (left); A tea-break and group shot at Whernside summit (right).  Smiles all round despite the chilly conditions.

That these were likely to incur the wrath of these beasts is probably.....a load of bull.  Nonetheless, we erred on the side of caution and crossed over a stile, giving the beasties a wide berth in the process. The path generally seemed well maintained, though we left it at this point, as it veered off down towards Ribblehead Viaduct, clearly visible from the summit. Instead we crossed over a fence and followed a makeshift path in the direction of Whernside Tarns and Whernside Cairn, which Tim wished to show us.  In the course of my usual photographic meanderings, I nearly lost the group and was called back, after I had wandered down the hillside towards the Cairns. We sheltered on a narrow shoreline off one of the Tarns.   The wind stirred up a series of fairly dramatic waves, causing the water to lap against the embankment in some places.  Our Spanish wave, on the other hand, seemed to be enjoying themselves and in general, we were all having a whale of a time. The Spanish contingent consisting of Eva and Luis Bustos, Cristina Marti and Elisabet Ricart, had not known about the Xerox Hiking Club on the Intranet.  Owing to the small turnout on this occasion, an e-mail was sent out to a wider audience and so it was that, being based with Human Resources down in Slough and elsewhere, they were made aware of the club's existence and decided to join.  Elisabet, it transpired, was our proverbial world traveller and had lived live for spells in a number of places around the globe.   Given the stark contrast in colours, the pale hues of the moor scrubland set against the dark blue of the Tarn waters and some bright-coloured beanies, it was not difficult to spot the potential and thus it was, that a fashion photo-shoot ensued. Thanks to Cristina for the "art direction", who came up with the idea of matching the red apple with the colour of the Beanie.  So what about two Beanies?  Three Beanies?  Time was of the essence and we had to press on! [Whernside Location]
  There was a consensus that Bunkhouses were in need of some upgrading and that perhaps there was a market for spas and saunas and for those who wished to pay for it, our hiking club might consider having their own hired, resident  masseur and /or masseuse.  What a novel idea indeed!  I had been to southern Spain and found the Arabic baths and Teteria quite delightful. Somebody mentioned that they had been to a spa in Austria, where the owner insisted that all guests dispense with their clothing.  I guess that sounds quite appealing if you have the figure to match. Rather than it being a standard, enforced rule, one did what was comfortable with when frequenting spas, naturist clubs and the like.  This is the rule at the naturist massage centre in North London.   Did you know that in 2003, nude rambling had become something of a fashion in the UK and acquired a certain status? Indeed, as I was writing this I recalled that, when I drove up to Skye that year, this activity, at the time, was in full swing, so to speak. The most famous of these exponents was Steve Gough, a 44-year-old former truck driver and father of three, who had been arrested as he began a nude walk of some 900 miles from Land's End to John O'Groats.
 He was ordered to appear at Truro magistrates' court and rearrested when he turned up on time but still naked. Gough said he has embraced a life of "public expression", and the courts in Truro eventually agreed that he hadn't committed a criminal offence. Wearing nothing but a pair of boots and a rucksack on his back, he reached  John O'Groats on the northern tip of Scotland in January, 2004, to a rapturous welcome from local residents. I think he might even have attempted the return leg.  According to an article in the Guardian dated August 6th, 2003, naked ramblers were being spotted up and down the country, from Exmoor to the Yorkshire Dales and the Scottish borders.   I know what you might be thinking.  I'm not suggesting we try it on Xerox hikes!
  Anyway, back to the present!  We headed down the beautiful valley with Deepdale to our left, along an eroded pathway towards the village of Dent, stopping en route for lunch.  It was about here that we began to encounter scores of runners and later cross country hikers competing in two separate, unrelated events.     

The lane leading down to Whernside manor, close to Deepdale village.

The runners all had the same predictable build - slim, sinewy, incredibly fit, with not an ounce of fat to speak of. We entered a gate that took us down past Whernside manor, past an old stone church, taking a footpath off the tarred road, bearing right up a hill. We crossed the river over a foot bridge and walked along the stream.  I shut my eyes to absorb the sheer splendour of this glorious day and the surroundings.   I felt so relaxed. We watched as a farmer astride a 4-wheel lawn buggy sporting fairly chunky set of wheels raced across a field with a flock of sheep within.  The sheep followed as is their natural instinct, thinking "oh, oh, it's grub time".  The farmer made it to the gate at the far end of the field, shut the gate, remounted the buggy and began to race back just as the flock of sheep managed to reach him.  It was a hilarious.  They did the fastest U-turn. One moment you had the sheep chasing the farmer, the next the farmer chasing the sheep!

We crossed the stream yet again and the group lined up on the wooden footbridge for a quick photo.  Slogging up a tarred road for about 20 minutes, water bottles were refilled at a farm just before the road swung sharply left over an arched, quaint stone bridge.  With the low level of the stream indicating the lack of decent rainfall throughout the season, the expanse of smooth rock on either side beckoned for yet another stop, allowing us to bask in the sunshine.  Tim thought it a novel idea to proceed up the river as far as we could for a few minutes.  

We did not enter the village of Dent and Dent station (supposedly the highest in the country) which came into view a short while later from the paved road we were on.  Instead, the plan was to head back towards the tunnel at Dent Forest.  In essence, we had come off Whernside and we were now in the process of circumnavigating it in a clockwise direction.  Eventually, after a long slog passing a number of houses on the main road, we took a footpath to the right through a farm gate.  At Dent Head Farm, we encountered the cross country hikers coming down the undulating, eroded, muddy track from the forest we were about to enter ourselves.  Fortunately, no nude ramblers were accounted for. Dent Head farm was home to an assortment of bright-coloured large turkeys and other birds, one of which spread its plumage and cavorted around tamely, beyond the farm gates.  This delighted the Spanish contingent or was it the Beanie Brigade, no end. The farm lady proudly described the character of each to us.  Upon enquiring whether these odd looking creatures were likely candidates for a forthcoming Sunday roast, we were told that, as each turkey has its own name, the attachment  had become too personal and this was therefore unlikely.  Being so close to the railway now, we were fortunate to witness a train approaching the tunnel across a viaduct from the direction of Dent station.  I sweated buckets up the hillside.  The others were horrified to learn that I had not brought any water along with me and as I had not said anything, the offers of water came pouring in (pardon the pun). 


Eva's moment of sheer ecstasy at our Tarnside photo shoot, demonstrating that an apple never tasted better!

Beyond the forest the landscape opened up to Blea Moor and we soon realised, upon sighting a number of the air shafts, that we were criss-crossing the tunnel itself, all of 2300 yards long.   We descended down the hill side past Little Dale station.  Tim left us, as he wished to cross Whernside.  Soon we reached the 24 arches of the impressive Ribblehead Viaduct, 104 feet high, built between 1870 and 1875 at a cost of £3.5 million.  As luck would have it, another train came by, providing a perfect photo opportunity.  The impressive viaduct is part of the Settle to Carlisle railway, a one hour and 40 minute journey some 71 and three quarter miles. We made our way back and rejoined the track just prior to our ascent up Whernside earlier in the day, passing the farmhouse snack bar, now thoughtlessly shut when we needed it most.  After a walk that had lasted some 8 to 9 hours, we reached the Old School bunkhouse.  The Spanish contingent prepared their own meal at the bunkhouse whilst the rest made their way to the railway inn just up the old Roman Road from Chapel-Le-Dale but joined us later.  Conaugh was happily entertaining some locals at the pool table.  It's amazing how good average food and a refreshing glass of cider or the local brew tastes after a good day's walk. 
  One of the loveliest aspects of the hiking club is that there is an opportunity to engage in good conversation with practically everyone else.  Sandra Bird was also new to the group or had not been back for some time and spoke of some of her recent, daring travels with her daughter.  

Crossing the stream near Whernside manor (left); Ribblehead viaduct and its impressive array of all of twenty four arches.


Back at the bunkhouse later that evening, in the absence of Rob and Dave and their travelling rock show, as is customary, John Adams assembled his karaoke and we entertained ourselves.  Highlights were the Spanish rendition of La Bamba and Pete Mathews astounding us all with his energetic, passionate vocal performance, which he had kept under wraps for so long.  He was the only one of the male contingent  who could practically hold a tune.

I had not planned for much activity come Sunday morning but when Chris Platten announced that he was doing Malham Cove and with others more than remotely interested, I changed my mind.  So it was, after breakfast and packing, that we drove up in convoy to Malham Tarn car park.  From there we set out for the cove down towards Malham itself, where we stopped for lunch at the Buck Inn after one.  Bonnie's Conaugh was a bundle of energy, skirting side tracks, exploring the caves we found en route, climbing up rock faces and generally having a swell time.  The Spanish quartet decided, as it was getting close to mid-afternoon and wanted to head back to London, that they ought to take advantage of the local bus, which stopped at the car park as well.  Chris, Bonnie, Conaugh and I resumed the walk via Gordale Scar.  The weather was significantly warmer than the day before and judging by the number of people about, it proved a fairly popular walk.  Unfortunately, I had not brought my camera with on the walk.  Conaugh ran out of steam two miles short of the car park but completed the journey nonetheless.  To his credit, the lad complained not one bit and had no doubt, enjoyed the day immensely. 

We took the route back down the M6 and M1, navigator and company fast asleep most of the way.  My car had begun to develop an obvious problem with a strange noise emanating from the engine compartment, sounding much like the sound of a drill through a concrete wall, from the other side! I somehow missed the A14 turn-off at the junction of the two highways, instead picking up the A428 through Northampton. What a wonderful diversion it proved to be!  It's a beautiful drive through some splendid countryside. On the way one passes the estate of Althorp, where Princess Diana is buried.  Judging by the size on a map of the estate which, incidentally, is open to public visitation, it's almost the size of Northampton itself!  The accumulation of objects by 19 generations of one family is on display.  It is also home to an exhibition, located in six rooms, depicting the life and work of Diana, Princess of Wales.  The estate plays host to a number of concerts, Neil Diamond being the most recent.  Northampton is a neat, picturesque little town and well worth a more thorough visit.  The journey to Bedford down to Royston proved just as enjoyable, albeit that the noise had grown worse.  At a roundabout, I picked up a slight squeal and shudder from the steering column and hazarded a guess, that it was probably a "shot" wheel-bearing, which it subsequently turned out to be, repaired later that week at my trusty garage in Welwyn Garden City.  It was around 21h00 when we reached my home.  It was dark.   Bonnie transferred her stuff and headed off immediately.


The lane to Whernside Manor and view of Deepdale valley.


With a delightful weekend in one of the most beautiful, endearing parts of the UK having drawn to a close, I leave you with a quotation from Bill Bryson's "Notes from a small Island":

"I suppose everybody has a piece of landscape somewhere that he finds captivating beyond words and mine is the Yorkshire Dales.  I can't altogether account for it because you can easily find more dramatic landscapes elsewhere, even in Britain.  All I can say is that the Dales seized me like a helpless infatuation when I first saw them and will not let me go. Partly, I suppose, it is the exhilarating contrast between the high fells, with their endless views, and the relative lushness of the valley floors, with their clustered villages and green farms.  To drive almost anywhere in the Dales is to make a constant transition between these two hypnotic zones".

Tim Porter's account........

Friday 13th May 

Left home at 7:15, and arrived in Chapel Le Dale at 11:20, EXACTLY 250.0 miles from door to door.  Eat some lunch, quickly change, use the facilities of the lodge and head off up Ingleborough that lies just across the road.  I did this hill last year, but this year the intention is to do the things I didn’t achieve last year.  Last year, when I got to the top, there was a morning mist so I couldn’t see much.  Also I wanted to walk along the ridge of the hill this year.  It is sunnyish and good walking weather.  Not many people around but clear enough to be ok walking in the hills on my own.

 Nice walk through the sheep fields before reaching the plateau of limestone rocks that protrude from the ground.  Looks almost biblical with spartan weather-beaten trees scattered around.  On the ground….fantastic;  wild orchids; everywhere.  Beautiful Fuchsia coloured plants only 6 inches high.  They seem to grow only just (immediately) below and above the limestone plateau. So onwards across the marshy peat land.  The neat York stone path makes life so much easier, if not the traditionalist’s idea of walking!  They flagstones were helicoptered in from an old mill; it must have been a huge undertaking as they are big and very heavy stones.   Then up the steep climb; 300ft up the steep ‘steps’ cut into the hill.   At the top, wooooooah!!!   Where did that wind come from?  Took my breath away! I couldn’t stand up. The view is good; lots of Yorkshire hills in every direction (but nothing is as good as Whernside (below). 

So off along the ridge.  This one is to one side of the hill, and thankfully the side away from the wind.  Lovely views of the Ribblehead viaduct.  Looking back along the ridge one can see the curve of the hill, like a bowl, that just isn’t obvious when looking up at the hill.  Time to take a short cut downhill towards the viaduct. Actually the path has evaporated and it’s time to make my own way; just like the old days. From the viaduct it is a 2-3 mile walk through lowland farmland.  How do those lambs manage to leap vertically into the air from a standing start like a flea?  They are so funny; especially the one with the big sticky out ears!  They go around in pairs and often there are two side by side looking inquisitively at me; just like Stanley and Ollie (my two black cats).  The beauty is the contrast of the agricultural pastures and livestock in the midst of the wild hills; this is certainly big country (for England).  Back to the lodge, and there are three friends just about to set off for a short walk (1/2 hr) before the pub and supper……………yes….up towards Ingleborough.  Oh well, another chance to see the orchids.  A long walk to the pub…..50yards up the road; that’s acceptable; and the beer and food were very good.

Sat 14th May: A walk with a little bit of everything.

Breakfast of Fried eggs, bacon, beans(!) tomatoes, toast, OJ, cereal, for 20 people and then to clear up before the off at 9:00.   And no panic anywhere!  So, off we go.  4 Spanish, 1 American, 1 Scot, 1 South African 2 English.  How did that happen?  That’s the diversity of Xerox. It is a bright sunny morning as we trek through the low farmlands under the watch of Whernside.  The baby lambs are active, already leaping around.  As we climb gently, we can see the Ribblehead viaduct for the first time, and just for us, a train passes over it.  Always a delightful sight with the viaduct in the valley surrounded by the high hills.

 It is not long before the gentle walk becomes a steady upward incline and then a stony incline which turns to a steeper rocky climb, and before long we are climbing ‘steps’ up the side of Whernside.  It is amazing how often one feels it necessary to stop just to take in the views, a euphemism for taking good few deep breaths to recover. Still looking upward the shoulder does not seem to be getting closer as the legs start to feel the 300 metre climb.  And once there……whooooooooooooh! The view and …….the wind.  Can see Morecombe Bay, the Lake District and all the other hills of NW England.  Now it is just a long steady upward walk along the ridge of the hill to the summit. The wind is almost in our faces and easily blowing us off our strides, but the view all around us is superb and worth the effort.  We get to the top and take refuge behind the wall; in the sun, out of the wind, and taking a deserved drink (of water).  Not long before we get up and go!  Continuing along the ridge.  Good grief the wind is fierce.  Thank God it’s sunny.  And thank goodness there is a wall to protect us a little from the wind.  


And now we traipse of away from the path towards the tarns. Ooops, it’s a bit boggy in places.  Ha! Ha! I am wearing boots, but no so for everyone else who are wearing shoes.  I wonder what a shoe full of bog water feels like?  We get to the tarns,  two of them side by side, sitting there on the shoulder of the hill. Each about 200metres across and full of clear water that looks black because of the dark peat that forms the base. 

A view across Deepdale valley towards Ingleborough (left); Crossing fields after Whernside Manor (centre); A row of cairns strewn across the moors on Whernside summit (right).


We walk around to get to the causeway between the 2 tarns and lo! And behold!  A beach! 20 metres of sand at the edge of the tarn. What a surprise.  And what a joy to sit by the beach overlooking the water.  And out of the wind.  Perfect.  But no bucket and spade.  And freeeeeezing water. So, off we go down the gentler side of the hill, through grazing sheep and to the main path again. Now we are overlooking Deepdale valley with its texture of trees and lush grassland contrasting with the high, barren hills surrounding them.  Now, to make us all feel better (not) we start meeting people running up the hill!   Well, as we sit down for lunch and take in the scenery, we know who feels better!

 Soon everything changes.  We reach the bottom of the hill, walk across a couple of green meadows and start to walk along the riverside.  And as the river widens, there appears to be so little water. And soon we are walking along the flat stony bed of the river, and as all good walkers do, we stop, sit down on the stones and eventually lie down to take in the sun.  Where has all the water gone?  Who cares?  We are enjoying the smooth, flat limestone rocks that form the base. The smooth swirling curves in the rocks tell the other story of the power of the water when the river is full.  But when empty(’ish) it looks artistic……and suits our purposes well. 

And so we have to walk on boring roads.  Or so we thought, until we found 10 dead rats ceremoniously strung up along a fence. Time to get out of here, so the step speeds up a little.   Next we take the footpath off the road. Now we are in the thick of the fitter (madder) human beings running the 56mile route through this infinitely variable countryside…….with packs on their backs.  They seem amazingly cheerful for people who have run 20miles already.  We stop to take a breather just to give the lady with the turkeys a good listening to. The 2 male turkeys are certainly in the springtime mood. Their tails are fanned and their plumes and feathers puffed up.  How fabulous a black and white turkey can look.  The female wears a small leather saddle to resist the overzealous approaches of the male’s pecking.   

Upwards toward the train tunnel.  Time to wave to the passing passengers (well some (one?)) of us did).  The warmth of the valley disappears as we walk though the small pine forest. It is a steep, and very muddy path too.  Emerging back into the daylight the long distance runners seem to be approaching from all directions;  so no help there for finding the way to go.  Just follow the air shafts for the tunnel below. At least it is still warm and sunny and ever since we left the top of the hill, we have been out of the wind.   

All that is left now is the steady trek back via the viaduct  to the hostel.  Except that I decide to climb Whernside again in the opposite direction.  Looks like I am the last one today to climb the hill.  A few people descending remind me how windy and cold it is on the summit, but it does not deter. What a bunch of wimps.  At the top the wind is nothing compared to the morning.  But the views are at least as exhilarating.  Now the waters of Morecombe Bay and Lake Windermere glisten with the reflected evening sun, and the hills of Pen-y-Ghent and Ingleborough look superb in the sun.  Looking along the ridge feels like the top of the Yorkshire world.  And so to the last descent.  O boy!  I forgot about the steep rocky descent that was hard enough on the way up, but at the end of the day, going down just pounds on the knees.  But survival is easy;  there is a pint of Black Sheep with my name on it at the end. 

After supper, just when you think it’s time to collapse……….it’s Karaoke time;  O GOOD!  I never knew how hard it is to sing such simple pop songs.  But we get by with some ‘unusual’ singing.  The Spanish contingency really show us up!  Oh, those Spanish songs must be so simple.  And twisting at midnight after nearly 20 miles over the hills is…….different, but enjoyable.   


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