Traveller's tales

Monday, May 29, 2006

The Three Peaks Walk

Essential qualities needed to complete the Three Peaks of Pen-y-ghent, Ingleborough and Whernside are strength and fitness, stamina and a determination to succeed. These are admirable qualities in any undertaking, but for this walk they are vital.

The walk covers 22 miles or so, and it has to be done in under 8 hours. Don’t quote me here, I might be a bit out. At any rate, that is how I remember it.

I was a member of a team of lads from Bewerley Park Outward Bound Centre, near Pateley Bridge in the valley of Nidderdale, which is in the Yorkshire Dales National Park.

We had more or less come to the end of a 5-week course there, so we were all fit, and we were all 16 years of age. The masters from Bewerley Park accompanied us, as they did on many of the route march type exercises we had to do while we were there.

This walk was special. We were picked out from the classes of boys. Some boys were bigger than me, some a bit smaller, but we were all fit; and we needed to be.

Taking us to the start of the walk at Horton in Ribblesdale in the Park Land Rover was the first trial some had to overcome; a few were sick to their stomach as we flew up and down the glacial moraines left by the glaciers that gouged out these valleys.

As we leapt out, some were still a little white around the gills, as they say, but they soon recovered, as I remember, and we set off for the first of the three peaks.

This was the Welsh sounding Pen-y-ghent, several miles up the green roads that lead out of the village of Horton. The way climbs gradually until it reaches the foot of the hill. From this point, it is more of a scramble than a ramble; against the clock, it was a sharp uphill dash to the trig point on the windswept top.

From here, we could clearly see the rest of our path, and the other two peaks. I think the leaders allowed us to eat an orange here, and we relished the tangy juice and the soft pulp that stuck on our teeth, the taste of oranges staying with us as we descended to Hull Pot on to the foot of Whernside, our next peak.

Whernside is higher than its namesake, Greater Whernside, though perhaps not as vast in area as the hill we were about to climb.

Running and walking, running and walking, like we used to do whenever we were late for school, running a lamp post, walking one and so on, we became almost giddy and laughed as our legs carried us down, down to the valley bottom.

It is well that we found something to cheer us, for the climb up to the final face of Whernside was a weary one; it just seemed to go on and on, never steepening or changing underfoot until the hill suddenly reared up in front of us.

“Rest, lads,” said one of our leaders, a Mr. Lawson, and we threw off our packs and lolled as boys do when teacher goes off duty for a second.

Back on our feet, we all felt the tiredness of the walk now. That rest had relaxed our taut calf muscles and exertion hurt.

The stamina I mentioned earlier has to kick in here; the rest is just hard work, but we reached the long ridge-like summit of Whernside in cloud, unable to see into Dentdale hiding behind the back of the beached whale that is Whernside.

At this point, Mr. Lawson told us to eat our dates; a block of squashed dates that I gladly pulled apart and ate too quickly.

Before the valley bottom, heading for the final peak of Ingleborough, I had stomach pains so hard that they felled me and I had to stop and drink water, much to the disgust of a few of the lads that belonged to other house teams at Bewerley.

That few minutes cost us dear and we almost had to run up Ingleborough and down the other side to the start at Horton. We made it in time, but it was close.

The journey back in the Land Rover was a quiet one; we were all dead tired, some were still fomenting their ire, I closed my eyes and shut them out, and we arrived back at the Park gates as dinner was being dished out to the boys and girls sitting at long tables.

My place was there, between Stephen Howis and a lad from Huddersfield, whose name escapes me now. They weren’t really interested in what I had been doing all day, so I ate my dinner in silence. Still, I had done the Three Peaks Walk, I had, and I glowed inside from the exertion and from the achievement.
Robert L. Fielding

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