Richard Sykes, from Skipton, set himself the challenge of completing the Yorkshire Three Peaks 100 times while still in his 60s. He completed the ton with time to spare, in early July – just before he turned 70. Here, he shares some of the pleasures. 


HAVING addressed the challenges of walking the Yorkshire Three Peaks in last week's Craven Herald, it might now be wise to comment on the pleasures to be enjoyed.

On the peaks - Whernside, Ingleborough and Penyghent - you will meet 'all-sorts', and not everyone, when addressed in a civil manner, responds in kind. However, whilst the impolite are soon forgotten, pleasant encounters remain.

Thus, for example, on top of Ingleborough, I spoke with a man who had been walking a bit ahead or behind of me since passing the monumental Ribblehead viaduct. I thought I recognised his accent but, with the wind blowing at 30 mph, was unsure. I set off and when he caught me up we spoke again briefly. The accent continued to nag me, being so familiar. Then, 'Aha! Yes!' It was a perfect match with Joe Gladwin's, with Wally Batty's!

In a briefer encounter below Whernside's ridge, I approached two people, a young woman and a youngster The woman was taking a photograph, carefully framing the girl - presumably her daughter - with Penyghent in the background. What I shall never forget is the woman standing there just bursting, but bursting, with pride in her daughter.

As the walk has peaks, so also has the venture in my sixties. Peak achievement arrived in the fourth year. My times had improved steadily from nine hours, 30 mins to just under eight hours. But in 2017, I went crazy; and a young woman was the likely cause - as I tried to keep up. Completing 13 rounds, just one time exceeded eight hours, the personal best seven hours 28 min. That was a glorious year, for both stamina and daftness. 'Is it not strange that desire should so many years overpower common sense!'

Finally, and most poignantly, there was the encounter on Ingleborough with a teenage girl, above average height, and overweight. I first saw her resting in a group on my arrival at High Lot - an 80 metre, one-in-two climb, and for many people a make or break moment, not to forget the recent fatality nearby of a 59-year-old male walker.

The group set off as I did myself shortly afterwards. Within five minutes I caught up with the girl, red-faced, breathless and 'abandoned'.

I told her to forget the others, think only of herself and take her time. Feeling not entirely comfortable, I left her and on reaching the top perched myself on a boulder near the group. As I was setting off for the trig point, I noticed the girl had arrived at the top, was seated, and, although hyperventilating, was in company.

Later, as I started to walk off Ingleborough, I noticed the girl again, now with a friend, off to my left. She gave me such a broad, warm, friendly smile that to this day whenever I think of the event my vision blurs.

Benefits? Whilst contact with fellow human-beings can provide much fun, the varied landscapes of the walk are invigorating. The awe-inspiring bleakness of the peaks with views out to sea contrasting with the green acres of farmland, limestone outcrops, dry stone walls and the verdant treed valley bottoms.

Regarding the last, my particular favourite is Lodge Hall dating from 1687 and wonderfully set on a gentle slope near the Ribble, backed by mature trees.

Having considered, so to speak, flora, fauna and geomorphology, what about 'me', how does 'my person' benefit? Of course, provided care is taken, the exercise does no harm. But in my opinion the benefits to state of mind far outweigh the physical side. I recall a remark made by my grandmother when collected by my father from her care home.

She leaned over towards me and said sagely, "There's nothing graceful about getting old!" Nothing graceful, indeed. And thus, perhaps, it's all the more important to establish and maintain a sense of self-esteem to resist the challenges of 'the dying of the light'.

Conclusions? 'It': the Yorkshire Three Peaks walk is a serious challenge, and, despite the Yorkshire Dales National Park's best efforts, the 'funny' state of paths in places helps to make the challenge a tad more onerous. However, thereare sloping paths that have remained intact during my sixties and represent 'state-of-the art': hardwearing, wide enough for two, and offering a varied range of comfortable step heights. May they become more widespread.

'Us': the walk is not for the faint-hearted, but is far from impossible. Further, I cannot emphasise enough the importance of facing up to and meeting challenges. They are the building-blocks of self-confidence which, according to Kenneth Clark, when absent may lead to the fall of a civilisation, no less!

'Me': in my own way, I have paid my respects to the sacrifices of World War One. I have followed in my father's footsteps, so far as the physical challenge is concerned. In terms of professional achievements, the laurels go to my father who worked under Lord Penney on Britain's nuclear deterrents and, when PM Macmillan bought USA deterrents, worked on signals intelligence at GCHQ.

I hope to return to the Three Peaks soon and (fairly) frequently. However, perhaps as insurance, another project recently started should provide less physical challenges: at 69 this bachelor became a 'father of ten', sponsoring ten orphaned teenagers in the Gaza Strip, Palestine.