WHERNSIDE, the tallest of the Yorkshire Three Peaks, is actually the easiest, and includes the stunning Ribblehead Viaduct, writes Lesley Tate.

IN my haste to complete all three of the Yorkshire Peaks before the end of the summer - but not on the same day, I did actually want to savour each one - I went up Whernside on not the nicest of days. It was a shame, as it is the highest of the three peaks, at 796 metres, or 2, 415 ft, and the views on a clear day must be absolutely stunning. That said, the swirling mists that drifted in and out as we neared the high ridge were very atmospheric. It meant tantalising views one minute, and nothingness the next - and all with other walkers appearing and disappearing like ghosts. Despite it being the highest of the three, with Penyghent the lowest (694m), followed by Ingleborough (723m), I found the climb to the top the easiest of the three - and in the words of Craven councillor and member of the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority, Robert Heseltine, 'nothing but a gentle stroll'. Of course, the climb to the top has to be followed by the route down, which here, is nothing like as gentle as the way up. Steps installed by the national park have saved the path, but they are quite unforgiving on the old knees, and if wet or icy, need careful negotiating. I'm told Whernside is the least popular of the three peaks, which is surprising, to have the Ribblehead Viaduct as the start and finish point alone makes it my favourite. Its okay to take a dog along, although mindful it might be busy, I left mine behind, and of that I was grateful, one path close to the end took me through a farmyard and directly across an enclosure packed tightly with sheep.

Step by step:

1 Head off the road along the track heading towards Ribblehead Viaduct. Continue on path to right of viaduct - you will go underneath it on your return. Stay on the path as it keeps to the right of the railway line, passing the old signal station at Blea Moor sidings. Stay on the path signed to Blea Moor, ignoring a bridlepath that turns off to the right, you will cross over a viaduct and start to climb.

2 The path will take you to the right of Force Gill waterfall, which was looking quite spectacular when I was there, because of recent, heavy rain. Stay on the well trodden path, which is now signposted Whernside, and steadily climb up the ridge - which is very long, off to your right - if its clear enough, you will get fabulous views of Dentdale, while on your left, you will be able to see Ribblehead and across to Park Fell and Ingleborough.

3 Continue along the ridge, next to the wall on your right, and eventually start to climb back down again. It is quite a scramble back down, and if wet or icy, the stone slabs can be a bit slippery, so take care. You may also need to step aside for those part way through all three peaks, who may well be in a bigger rush than you. Once you reach the bottom, its far easier walking and after passing through a couple of gates, you will come to a junction of paths. Ignore the three peaks path straight ahead, and take the one through gate on left, signed Winterscales.

4 Cross over field and follow the footpath as it crosses through a farm and over more fields before coming out on a surfaced track, turn left and then right along bridlepath signed to Ribblehead.


Area: Whernside, Yorkshire Dales National Park

Distance: Six miles

Level of difficulty: Moderate, in terms of climbing. But beware of the weather, and dress accordingly with extra clothing, in case of rain and drops in temperature, and do wear proper walking boots. Also consider carrying a stick, or two.

Parking: Laybys off road, near Ribblehead Viaduct, B6265

Gates/stiles: Easy

Terrain: Maintained track, moorland, stone steps (on descent), fields, and farmsteads.

Livestock: Sheep, dogs must be kept under close control.

Refreshments: The Station Inn, in the shadow of Ribblehead.

OS Map: OL2 Yorkshire Dales, showing Whernside, Ingleborough and Penyghent.