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Posts Tagged ‘three peaks’

penyghent from horton irThere were three events at Horton in Ribblesdale on Saturday. I’m not sure what they were exactly but I assume each involved a lot of boots scrambling over the Dales’ three peaks – Penyghent, Whernside and Ingleborough. It also meant the carparks were pretty much filled up by mid-morning. It was a relief to find somewhere to leave the car on the overflow.

You can usually see Penyghent from Horton. It resembles the prow of a mighty ship, sailing a rolling green ocean of moor over Brackenbottom, but not today. It was in a strop over something, possibly all the attention it was getting. There was a riot outside the cafe, start of the three peaks route, an army of excited children, hundreds of them, squealing at a pitch fit to burst eardrums while their minders bellowed instructions. An optimistic notice on the wall urged a more respectful tone in consideration of neighbours. I hope none of them were trying to lie in that morning, let alone nursing hangovers.

Better get cracking then. The last thing I wanted was to get stuck at the back of that lot. I managed a ten minute start before I heard them swarming up the track behind me. It was a more strenuous ascent of the hill than I’m used to then, one lacking the luxuries I normally allow myself of lots of pauses to admire the view and take photographs. I would have let them pass, but there were other armies of pixies, elves and dwarves all mustering in the rear and it would have taken the entire day.

The route ahead was also very busy, in particular there were jams of jittery folk on all the craggy bits below the summit plateau, and then a walking day procession along the paved way to the trigpoint. More squealing children awaited my arrival there, while a party of crusty old curmudgeons cracked open a whisky bottle and splashed out generous measures of amber comfort. It was an eclectic gathering for sure, ages ranging from five to eighty five, the atmosphere one of festival, of celebration. There is no other hill like Penyghent on a weekend afternoon.

Starting out overcast, the weather had turned a bit edgy, a light breeze at valley level stiffening to a bitter easterly. I crouched on the leeward side of the wall, some distance away from the merriment. The wind was blowing clean through it, chilling the sweat on my back, so I used the sack as a windbreak and caught my breath at last – long slow breaths, filling my lungs with that musty, muddy, metallic air of the high places.

Then the army of elves, pixies and dwarves caught up, and the summit was lost to madness as they over-ran it. Time to move on. I pressed, squished and excused my way through the crowd to get anywhere near the stile, then queued for my turn to get over it. Ahead of me, crocodile after crocodile of three peakers headed west into the wind-blown mist, jackets flapping like lubberly spinnakers all along the well trodden way to Whernside. How a mountain can take such punishment as this, day in day out and remain beautiful, I don’t know. If you like your mountains quiet, and Penyghent’s still on your bucket list, come mid week, term-time, and come early.

Three Peakers are a mixed bunch and, yes, they make me grumble. It’s this apparent blindness to the metaphysical dimension of the hills, for how can they be tuned in to that when half of them have phones glued to their ears? They come to do battle, while for me a walk is more of a cooperative endeavour between oneself, the mood of the hill, and the weather. Still, I do admire their grit. I didn’t follow them, I headed north instead, along the line of the wall into a high moorland wilderness, towards the more sublime, summitless solitude of Plover Hill.

Plover Hill is Penyghent’s quieter, less intrusive neighbour. If we include it in our day’s outing it makes for a more significant leg-stretcher, the round from Horton being then a shade under ten miles. It also affords time for a more peaceful contemplation of the Dales. I did not meet a soul again until crossing the three peaks route once more, above Horton.

Conservation work has improved the descent from Plover Hill, which had begun to scar quite badly, recent rock-paving bringing us safely down to the broad valley that carries the Foxup road, a lonely, pathway, linking the villages of Foxup and Horton. If you’re looking to put some miles between yourself and the next person – even on a busy summer’s weekend in the Dales, Plover Hill and the Foxup Road are a good place to start.

Back at Horton, feet on fire by now, I was ready for a brew but the cafe was still besieged by screaming pixies. They looked too fresh to be returning, but couldn’t be setting off so late in the day, the whole three peaks round having to be completed in under 12 hours if you want your badge, and rather them than me, I thought. I gave them a wide berth, retrieved the car from the sheep plopped meadow, and drove to Settle for a more restful pot of tea and a toasted teacake at the Naked Man.

Early retirement from the rat-race features ever greater in my plans these days as the light at the end of my personal tunnel of captivity grows brighter. I have wondered about the Dales villages, of downsizing, of nesting up in an old stone cottage within sight and sound and easy access to these beautiful hills. It’s an idle fancy for now. I’m probably better where I am, just driving in as needs be, but if I did decide to do it, I wouldn’t be moving to Horton in Ribblesdale.

Simply too many boots on the ground these days.

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ingleborough

Ingleborough

After the last couple of posts on the subject of mindfulness, it seems reckless now to talk of the egotistical conquering of a mountain, but such is the duality of man. Still, my excuse is that if we remain mindful, we might proceed without physical or psychological injury. I have a friend who says that after spending hours slogging up a big hill, and coming within sight of the summit, one should deny the ego by not quite reaching the top. That the top is attainable is, by this point, self evident, so why go the whole distance if it’s not to simply feed the illusion of one’s own self worth? I used to think he was a mad, but these days I’m pretty much of the same mind.

It seems I am no longer a peak bagger.

I last attempted Ingleborough at New Year. It was a very wet, stormy day and the experience was discouraging. Ingleborough sent me packing, dripping wet and shivery-cold, seeking the sanctuary of a Clapham tea shop. I had become unfit, not walking the hills anywhere near enough, so, from ignominious defeat, I was motivated to exercise a little more, to climb at least one modest hill every week, come rain or shine, and then to test myself on Ingleborough again, and hopefully bag the peak. I know – I’m not a peak bagger – but there’s that duality thing again.

Anyway, today was the day.

Ingleborough was still a stiff climb, but the training had worked; I had greater reserves and was able to make the summit without serious difficulty – plus sunshine and blue skies always help to lubricate the grind. I made the top with a smile but, thinking of my friend, I was careful to avoid the trig point.

When I attempted the climb at New Year, I met few people on the path. Saturday was different though; the climb from Clapham, once beyond the nick of Trow Gill and up Little Ingleborough was more of a procession. But the people I met were friendly, unhurried and enjoying the day, eager to share a bit of passing banter and all of this added to the buoyant mood as I climbed. If you want a quieter walk, you go at a different time, or you pick a different hill. Ingleborough is what it is. And what it is is very beautiful, when the sun shines.

Entering Trow Gill

Trow Gill

Returning to a hill can also reveal the flaws in one’s memory. It’s probably ten years since I last made the summit by this route. I have a memory of a fairly flat upland plateaux, and that the route, after gaining Little Ingleborough, was thereafter fairly level, with only a short climb to the stepped summit. But today I discovered it wasn’t flat at all and that the final climb to the top was ten times what I had imagined. It was a wonderful walk all the same though, full of scenic variety and clear views all round. If you’re visiting the Dales and you’ve not done Ingleborough yet, I highly recommend it. It’s a moderate climb from Clapham. Allow two or three hours up and an hour or two down.

Return was by the High Dales Way and a short section of the popular Three Peaks Route. If I thought the ascent was busy, this section was positively crowded, and the fraternity was not so easy going.

I’ve decided there are two types of walker. There are those who do it because they get mystical in the mountains. And there are those who do not see the mountains. I know I’m risking an argument here, and hasten to add that not all Three Peakers fall into the latter category, but I met a good many today who clearly did. “Met” is not quite the right word, however. It would be more accurate to say I obstructed them in their purpose by virtue of my mere presence on the path.

limestone pavement

Limestone pavement, Sulber gate, Yorkshire Dales

The Dales National park is an area of outstanding beauty. Its dramatically stepped hills, its weirdly weathered limestone pavements, its waterfalls, its caves, its beautiful unassuming little villages, and even its dreaded shake-holes, are all things of wonder. They invite one to amble and to pause. But on the Three Peaks route, that would make you the little old man in his Morris Minor tootling along in the fast lane at thirty, with big parties of peak baggers crowding you from behind and squeezing through the gaps, pedal to the metal.

They were making their way, hell-for-leather, down the home stretch to Horton and the clock that would time them in. Three peaks in twelve hours: Penyghent, Whernside and Ingleborough. 24.5 miles. It’s a tough challenge, and I have never attempted it, partly for fear of permanent injury – because I just don’t think I’m hard enough – and also because I keep telling myself I’m not that kind of walker.

To complete the three peaks route is a worthy achievement, but it would be wrong to think of it as a measure of one’s personal prowess. Success in the mountains is always won in part with the cooperation of the mountain, and there will always be an occasion when the mountain turns you back. Pressing on regardless invites insult or injury. The call-out books of the mountain rescue teams are ample witness to that.

I remember at one point, pausing by a ladder style to take in the vista, and finding myself in the way of a guy who was busy yakking into his mobile phone. We were in the midst of a sublime wilderness, not a farm, not a telegraph pole, nor power-line, nor wind-turbine in sight. It was all quite breathtaking, but there was this guy, hurrying along, entirely unconscious of it, yakking into his phone.

I apologised for blocking his way, but he was too busy to reply. He crossed the stile, almost stumbling over it in his haste to make the clock. Others, similarly time-pressed, piled after him. I remember another occasion where I had felt just as crowded by unconscious hoards swarming at my heels – but that was on London’s Euston Station, and me a yokel from the sticks, blinking wide eyed amid all that city-slick bustle. There’s a time and a place, and for me, the Dales is not it. The green is what keeps us sane. It’s where we come to decompress, to recover our sense of stillness. Making a time-trial out of it just doesn’t add up. You might as well do it on a treadmill in a gym.

I was therefore glad to escape the peaks route by turning off at Sulber Gate. Here the way became suddenly empty, and for the first time I could feel the space. This was the start of the route that links up with the appropriately named “Long Lane” and which leads us arrow-sure, back to Clapham. Coming usually at the end of the walk, Long Lane always feels a bit too long for me, but today, it floated me down to Clapham, feather light, and I was able to savour the steps. It helped that I was a little high on sunshine and the success of the walk, grateful too that the hill had allowed me to feel like a half competent walker again.

I repaired to the same little tea shop I’d sat in at New Year. This time though I sat outside, under a clear blue sky in the late afternoon warmth. The laburnum tassels were in full bloom and the hawthorns were shedding blossom like confetti. The only thing that was the same after five months was the giant pot of tea, which, after ten miles in the heart of Limestone country, is the elixir of the gods.

tea at clapham

I seem to be getting my legs back, and that’s good. I’ve just not to let it go to my head. I’ve a few more mountains ahead of me yet it seems, but I’ll be doing it mindfully, which means not being a peak-bagger, and not getting too het-up any more if, now and then, the mountain turns me back.

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