Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Yorkshire 2000s - Whernside & Ingleborough

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Route: Ribblehead viaduct, Bleamoor Sidings, Blue Clay Ridge, Slack Hill, Grain Head, Cable Rake Top, Whernside, High Pike, Bruntscar, Philpin, Philpin Sleights, Southerscales Scars, Humphrey Bottom, Ingleborough, Green Hill, Black Rock, Park Fell, Colt Park, Gauber Road

Date: 12/02/2012
From: Ribblehead

Parking: Lay-by at Ribblehead viaduct
Start Point: Ribblehead viaduct
Region: Yorkshire Dales

Route length: 13.9 miles (22.3km)
Time taken: 06:20
Average speed: 2.5mph
Ascent: 1028m
Descent: 1035m

2000s on this walk:
Whernside (736m), Ingleborough (723m)

Additional summits: Park Fell (563m)

Other points of interest: Ribblehead viaduct, Braithwaite Wife Hole, Southerscales Scars

I took advantage of a weekday off work in February to go for a long walk around the latter half of the three peaks challenge; a circuit from Ribblehead up Whernside and then across to Ingleborough, the two highest peaks in the Yorkshire Dales. Given the amount of snow we'd had over the weeks preceding, I was hoping for a decent smattering allowing a wintery walk without the need for any specialist equipment. You'll see later on that I was probably just on the limit. Funny how the weather at 700m differs to that lower down.

Being a walk during the last throes of winter, time was of the essence and I set off from Wakefield nice and early to get to Ribblehead at a decent time. Despite this, the morning rush hour conspired against me meaning I didn't arrive until 11:00, a bit later than anticipated. It was obvious driving along the valley past Pen-Y-Ghent that the Dales had had significantly more snow than Wakefield and it was still present on the high hills. Parking at the lay-by next to the Ribblehead viaduct, I kitted up and set off.

The viaduct is a magnificent sight as it spans the Ribble valley. Built between 1870 and 1874, the bridge is 400m long and 108m high and is currently a Grade II listed building and Scheduled Ancient Monument. The path runs alongside the entire length before climbing up the 100m to meet the tracks as they head towards the Blea Moor tunnel.
The Ribblehead viaduct sitting beneath Whernside
A close up of the famous arches
The path as it follows the railway line towards Blea Moor
The path follows the railway line for a couple of miles before rising up and crossing a bridge to stride out on to the lower slopes of Whernside. You can see the Victorian engineer's ingenuity as a series of steps carries Force Gill over the railway tracks adjacent to the footbridge. From the bridge it is also possible to see the entrance to the Blea Moor tunnel, the longest tunnel on the Settle-Carlisle railway.
The Victorian diversion of Force Gill
The railway as it plunges into Blea Moor tunnel
Beginning the steady climb up Whernside, the snow began to deepen and I was thankful that I'd decided to wear my gaiters. The path marked out by footsteps in the snow from previous walkers but is easy to follow in fine weather, particularly due to its popularity with the three peaks challenge.
Gaining height, the snow quickly deepens on the path up Whernside
From path you can see the falls on Force Gill, perhaps the most viewed waterfall in the Dales but one of the least visited. Alas, I fall into that category as I stuck to the path to avoid any navigational misdemeanours.
Force Gill resists the frigid temperatures
Climbing steadily past 500m, the path follows a wall before turning left and heading towards the summit ridge. After the final steep little climb on to the ridge I was greeted by the coldest wind chill I've experienced so far in my short walking career. With no thermometer to hand it's difficult to say what the temperature was but it did make short work of freezing the water in my drink tube and left some spectacular icy sculptures on the fence posts. Following the ridge to the summit is arguable the most interesting section of the walk up Whernside as the ground sweeps away into Greensett Moss and Winterscales Pasture.
Snow drifts alongside the path
The ridge at the top of Whernside
The horizontal wind-blown icicles
It was a magical spectacle
'The roof of Yorkshire'; Whernside is the highest peak in the county at 736m, though the actual trig pillar sits across the county boundary in Cumbria. As with many hills in the Yorkshire Dales, its name is thought to derive from the old Norse words "quern" (millstone) and "saettr" (summer pasture). Views were obscured the day I visited but you're able to see Blackpool Tower on a fine day (with the aid of some binoculars) as well as the fells of the Lake District and splendid views of Ribblehead and Ingleborough.
The trig pillar on top of Whernside
It's fair to say that the summit shelter, with its thick coating of ice, looked less than appealing so I didn't hang around for long before continuing along the path as it begins its descent towards High Pike. Following the path to Bruntscar, the snow and wind dissipated once I reached the valley floor, the perfect time to grab some lunch.
Not quite as sheltering as anticipated, time to move on.....
The path as it descends off Whernside
Philpin Lane - out of the snow, for now
Ingleborough can be seen across the valley. What a sight it is
Following the three peaks route, I followed the farm lane out to Philpin Lane, crossed Low Sleights Road and strode out onto Southerscales Scars, a classic example of limestone pavement. Along the path you pass a large depression in the ground; Braithwaite Wife Hole. I can only speculate as to why it's called that.....
The limestone pavement at Southerscales Scar
Panorama of Braithwaite Wife Hole
The route up Ingleborough crosses Humphrey Bottom, an immense area of marshy ground. Helpfully, as a result of the three peaks no doubt, much of the boggier sections can be crossed with the aid of wooden boards and a well pitched stone path. It's a reasonable distance to the foot of the steep slopes of Ingleborough and I was once again back in the snow as I approached. The final section on to the ridge is probably my favourite part, a steep 100m climb straight up the side. Luckily, people had passed before me and there were some reasonable footsteps in the snow to follow.
The wooden boards as they carry to across Humphrey Bottom
The foot of the steep 100m climb up onto the ridge
The path zig zags up the side
Reaching the top was like stepping into another world. The snow here had formed waist height drifts and was generally ankle deep throughout the final walk to the summit. The name Ingleborough derives from the fact that there is a suspected Iron Age hill fort on the summit. The word 'burh' means 'a fortified place.
Snow drifts make the going tough
The cairn guiding you to the summit had a good coating of ice
An artists impression of the Iron Age settlement atop Ingleborough
The summit can be a very popular place, especially on a weekend when large numbers of visitors are drawn from miles around. I, however, was greeted with splendid isolation when I reached the substantial shelter that offers a safe haven from the wind. This time, despite the ice, I utilised the shelter for a quick breather and tea break and took a few pictures.
The large Victorian summit shelter on Ingleborough
Not the most ideal place for a brew, but, it'll do
Proof I actually made it!
As you can see from the photos, the clouds had closed in again while I was at the summit so, not hanging around long, I retraced my steps back towards the route I would take back to Ribblehead. The path leads northeast along the ridge above Souther Scales Fell, descending to Black Rock before a brief climb up Park Fell. Unlike the route up the to the summit, this path had had little traffic and the going was difficult due to the depth of the snow. The climb up Park Fell was particularly tiring.
The path above Souther Scales Fell
There were some very deep snow drifts
The clouds finally lifted and presented this fine view of Ingleborough and it's surrounding fells as the sun began to set. Wonderful.
Ingleborough and Humphrey Bottom
Part walking, part jogging and part leaping through the snow, I beat a hasty retreat down the flanks below Park Fell by following the dry stone wall down to Colt Park.
The route down off Park Fell into Ribblesdale
Colt Park
From Colt Park, I rejoined the main road and made my way back to the rather lonely looking car parked at Ribblehead.
The car cuts a lonely figure as the light fades
This was probably the more adventurous walk I've done and gave a real taste of what winter walking involves without some of the risks that might be associated with higher or more remote areas. It was a totally new experience for me and one I would like to repeat. It was great to take advantage of the weather and see these iconic mountains in all their winter glory. I also gave me the chance to experience them without the usual throngs of other hikers that regularly visit the area. Next time though, I would like to see a view.....

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