Route: Circular Route from Horton-in-Ribblesdale, 26.3 miles
Waking up to another beautiful sunrise and blue sky, Pam and I were excited about the day ahead. The Yorkshire Dales is famous for the Yorkshire 3 Peaks and that was to be our focus for the day. Driving into the park the night before, memories of caving, climbing, running and leading Duke of Edinburgh expeditions had come flooding back into my mind. With its rich history, amazing limestone pavements and diverse geological features, it had also been somewhere that Pam and I visited during a fieldwork trip at Liverpool University. We chuckled at how we had thrown snowballs at each other when we were supposed to be studying a geological feature called an unconformity. Ok, we may not have been as focused as we could have been but we have never forgotten that unconformity because we were having so much fun!
As Pam and I slowly got ourselves ready, Zoe, our companion for the day excitedly shared with us all the extra equipment that she had brought with her. Zoe is an Atmospheric Research Scientist, an excellent runner, skier and mountain biker and a constant source of energy and enthusiasm. Like us, she is passionate about sharing Environmental Science with families, schools and children and sees outreach projects as fundamental to the work she does. She has worked on research projects in Antarctica, with young adults through the British Exploring Society and has also worked voluntarily for the Peak District National Park.
Our scientific focuses for the day were going to be weather phenomena across the three peaks and the amazing structures that we saw on route. Armed with an ozone detector meter, two temperature and humidity meters (One on Zoe’s back pack and one on mine) and an anemometer to measure wind speed, we were well equipped. Zoe had also brought with her a carbon dioxide and air quality meter. As this needed a power supply, we chose to use this at the start and end of the day rather than throughout the run. Our investigation into amazing structures focused on dry stone walls which are so well preserved and maintained in this park and arch bridges such as the Ribblehead viaduct. Hundreds of railway builders (“navvies”) lost their lives building this viaduct, with its 24 massive stone arches 104 feet (32 metres) above the moor. It caused such loss of life that the railway paid for an expansion of the local graveyard.
Bags packed, scientific equipment attached and plenty of coffee and tea consumed, we piled into my van and drove the short distance to the start of our route at Horton-in-Ribblesdale. With Pen-Y-Ghent, the first of the three peaks in view, we eagerly started our run towards it. Within 40 minutes we were nearing the top. It was good to be feeling so strong and positive after issues with my leg the day before had stopped me in my tracks. The benefit of a massage from Lynne Taylor of Global Therapies was definitely paying off as my legs happily pushed me up the final short scramble to the top. Pam was grinning with delight as the summit views stretched out before us, recounting tales of her last excursion here where all three peaks had been covered in thick cloud.
Eager to take some wind speed readings, Zoe held up her portable anemometer. We could tell that the wind speed was very low and with it registering as under 1 metre per second, we concluded that it was insignificant. This reading was understandable as the air was exceptionally still in the valley below and we could only feel a slight breeze where we now stood. We stood and stared at the views for a few minutes more, before starting the descent down.
As our legs rolled underneath us, they were clearly grateful for the relief of the well maintained tracks and paths that lay underfoot. The Yorkshire Dales have made it an integral part of their current plan to improve and maintain the footpaths and bridleways that form the Yorkshire three Peaks walk. Pam and I commented on how noticeable the work the park rangers, contractors and volunteers had done after completing this circuit many years earlier. At over £28 per metre though this is no easy task and they are always looking for sources of funding and volunteers to continue this good work.
With Pen-Y-Ghent behind us, we strode out as we ran along the valley before looping back round towards the Ribblehead viaduct and Whernside. With a tea van and the Railway Inn in site, we decided that we would have to stop for some refreshments before tackling the second of the three peaks. At this point, I would like to introduce Pat who served us tea, ice-cream and soup from her tea van. She was clearly interested in what we were doing and asked probing questions about how Science can be brought to life in the outdoors. We gave some simple examples like energy transfers and cooling through evaporation which seemed to help convince her. We would have loved to have talked more, but the pub and an opportunity to refill our drink bottles was calling.
We were treated to a warm Yorkshire welcome as we wondered into the pub. One gentleman asked how the turbo pack on our bags propelled us up the hills. It took me a few seconds to realise that he was referring to the temperature and humidity meters that were attached to our ruck sacks. When we explained what they were and how they fitted in with the purpose of our challenge, the bar man pitched in,
“If you have completed 10 marathons, you should be good at them by now!”
This left Zoe, Pam and I in stitches as we sat down to rest our weary legs for a few minutes before continuing our journey.
Refuelled, we set off for Whernside. Marvelling at the architecture of the Ribblehead viaduct and it’s 24 arches which towered above us, we started the long slog to the top. Zoe questioned how anyone could cycle this route after reading about the Yorkshire 3 Peaks Cyclo-Cross race in the pub. Always one for a challenge, she was clearly interested in entering this event at some time in the future. She kept us amused, and distracted from the fatigue in our legs, as she weighed up the pros and cons of partaking in this race.
At the summit of Whernside, we stopped for a few more photos and admired the views before hurtling down to the warmth and comfort of the Old Mill House pub below. Met by piles of chocolate brownies, lemon drizzle cake and flapjack as we entered the bar, we decided that it would be rude not to purchase any alongside our drinks. With 6 miles to go, we knew that we had broken the back of this marathon and wanted to savour the last few miles. Fellow three peak walkers drank and chatted merrily with us as we all concluded that Ingleborough had a sting in its’ tail. I remembered this all too well after running the Yorkshire 3 Peaks race a few years before. Cramping up as I scrambled up the last few steps, I had to dig deep into my mental and physical reserves to reach the top. Totally exhausted, I eventually collapsed at the summit as both my legs went into spasm. A bit of tender loving care by mountain rescue, the angles of the hills and I was back on my feet again, running the last few miles into Horton-in-Ribblesdale. Fortunately, we were all feeling quite strong as we piled out of the pub and started the final ascent. Passing limestone pavements as Ingleborough stood vertically in front of us, we didn’t let its daunting climb dampen our spirits. With plenty of words of encouragement and sweets from Zoe, the summit was upon us. It was much colder at the top of the three peaks than it was below and this is reflected in the temperature and humidity readings recorded on route. You can clearly see the temperature dropping relative to height as we summited Pen-Y-Ghent, Whernside and Inglebrough at 10:40, 14:45 and 17:00 respectively in the graph below.
With the colder air and cooling effects of evaporation, we were started to shiver as our bodies tried to warm themselves up. With the three peaks accomplished and the evening drawing in, we saw no reason to hang around. We steadily trotted our way back down to the van. Endorphin fuelled and minds enriched with all the amazing views we had seen that day, we needed nothing more than food and sleep to be perfectly content. They say the best things in life are free and on this day it certainly felt that way. However, to keep these experiences free for future generations we all need to do our bit. This can be done by volunteering our time to assist with National Park path or wall maintenance projects or giving a small amount (£28 per metre) to fund maintenance work.