24 December 2010

The Final Peak

An ascent of Whernside by Little Dale, before returning by Bruntscar.
Distance: 8 Miles | Time: 3h 59m | Difficulty: Easy

As wintry weather continues to batter the UK, the Yorkshire Dales remain as a little oasis of calm - with gentle snow flurries and pleasant temperatures (as pleasant as minus 4 can be) making ideal conditions for FellFallers three (plus dog) to get their missing piece of the Three Peaks completed; Whernside.

Ribblehead Viaduct

Considered by some to be the dullest of the three peaks; Whernside sits as a long, drawn-out, mound separating Dent Dale from Chapel-le-Dale. Stretching for 6 miles and rising to 736 metres it's the largest peak in the Yorkshire Dales and our last big hill round these parts to tick off.

Sure it lacks the rugged, deeply stepped, face of Pen-y-ghent or the sheer sides of Ingleborough but an icy winter's day makes it slightly more interesting (and a heck of lot less boggy) than usual.

Quick links: the map | photos on flickr | gpx file for your gps device

Abandoning the venerable Fellmobile at the foot of the Ribblehead Viaduct (okay, not so true; it was parked neatly near the superb Station Inn, but that doesn't read as well), the gods of weather seemed to be momentarily smiling upon us as we started off toward Little Dale and Blea Moor.


As it's a reasonably long drag before you start ascending Whernside proper we opted for the more direct route following the Settle-Carlisle railway line; for a more meandering path you can follow the bridleway under the viaduct as it wanders around Gunnerfleet Farm and Winterscales before gently climbing towards the desolate (and oft photographed) signal box on Blea Moor.

Leaving the railway cottages behind us (and the Telfaller as he fannied about taking photos, albeit superb ones) we picked our way across the ice to the aqueduct at Force Gill. Here the watercourse is carried over the railway whilst handily providing a route up onto Whernside without the need for a detour onto Blea Crag.

Obscured by Clouds

Unfortunately it was at this moment that our spell of good weather (heavy grey skies, not bad considering) decided to have a go at redecorating the landscape, covering the thick, glistening, expanses of ice with a pristine layer of fresh white.

I'd like to say that at this point, with the ice now indistinguishable from the rest of the path, we broke out our axes, poles and crampons and continued with our ascent - however we'd left the more sensible kit in the car so had to make do with Tel's hipflask of mystery malt as our only assistance with the treacherous conditions underfoot.

The cold did bring about one major benefit to this walk; the bogs that plague Whernside (and the rest of the Dales for that matter) where rendered solid, forgiving and, perhaps most importantly, clean. There was no cushion to be felt in your step, no opportunity to loose a boot (or even a team member) to the normally waterlogged hills, and mercifully no chance of getting clarted up to the eyeballs in mud. I don't mind getting muddy, it's cleaning kit that I don't have time for.

Inversion Layer

Coming over Greensett Moss the pitiful attempt at a blizzard abated and the skies did their very best to clear, leaving a vast swathe of blue behind us and a lovely inversion layer sitting over Dent Dale.

In an earlier post I'd mentioned that this walk was 8 miles, 4 hours and 0 people - let's just call that artistic license shall we? Yes, it is 8 miles, it does take around 4 hours, but we did actually see another soul. Soul might be too strong a word, as I believe this one was unfortunately beyond helping. Yes this poor so-and-so, was a fellrunner.

I've said a number of times I've nothing against fellrunners, I just find them ... strange beings. I can think of few things less sensible than running over an ice covered hill in nothing more than tights and a bobble hat, on your own, on a cold winters day.

I know I tend to shrug off the thought of plummeting to my death from an exposed ridge with abandon but freezing to death, alone, on a hilltop doesn't strike me as a particularly creative way of shuffling off your mortal coil.

Bright Sun, but Icy Cold

Anyways, reaching the drifts and trig point at the summit presented an ideal opportunity to drain Telfaller's flask of its liquid sustenance and top off our energy reserves with a combination of malt loaf, pork pie and yoghurt-covered banana chips. A combination most likely frowned upon by true outdoors types (No lectures on the dangers of alcohol and sub-zero temps, please) but darn satisfying at the time.

Leaving the summit behind it was onwards and downwards towards Bruntscar and our route back to the viaduct. The warmth of the sun had started to melt the earlier dusting of snow and returned an icy sheen to the path, avoidable at this stage but making for interesting going later.

Hazy Ingleborough

It wouldn't be one of our expeditions without someone going on head-over-tit, and once again this honour was reserved for me. A wee stumble whilst taking what was, in my mind anyway, a better route over the snow, led to a sudden vertical descent on my arse.

In our never-ending camaraderie of one-upmanship the Telfaller tried to get artistic points for his descent of the same slope with, what I believe was meant to be, a back dive with a half-twist, but ended up as a star-jump and him stuck, up to his waist, in snow. The judges were definitely not impressed...

Dogs and Walkers

As we descended the snow soon disappeared leaving in its wake frozen ground and slipperiest of ice covering our path down. The fine folks at the Yorkshire Dales NPA have done their very best to preserve the hillside here with wonderful slabs of Yorkshire stone and finely constructed steps to limit the impact of us outdoors people on the landscape, however when it's iced over it's as slippery as feck, could be downright lethal if you're unsure of your footing. Equally, the mossy ground to either side was just as slippery - so maybe those crampons would have been a good idea.


Reaching Bruntscar the path gently works it's way back towards the viaduct through a few fields (7 or 8 of them I'd reckon) and farmyards, before heading up Turf Hill back to the signal box on Blea Moor. Then it's the simple matter of retracing the route from earlier back to the warmth of the Station Inn at the start of the path.

All in the route was only just over 8 miles, and just under 4 hours to complete. Having completed it I can see why people don't rate it as highly as the nearby peaks, but the experience made it worthwhile. Anyhow, Mallory's rules stand; it's there so you've got to do it.

There's plenty of parking to be had along the B6255 but it fills up quick on a weekend (one of the reasons for walking on a Monday). Equally there's a station just before the viaduct with hourly (don't quote me on that) trains to Leeds.

And Merry Xmas to all!

The Map

OS Maps: Landranger 98 | Explorer OL2

View the trip at | See all the pictures on Flickr | Or go get the GPX file

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