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The Three (Yorkshire) Peaks Revisited

Finlay Smith - August 2006

After having run the 3 Peaks first in 1996 (see Tale), and last in 1998, I finally had the opportunity to return to Yorkshire to walk the route, and perhaps enjoy the delights of some of the sights I had previously only glimpsed as mere blurs whilst speeding (ha ha) by. Not being a walker, and not having run much over a max of an hour, I was interested to see how I would fare based mainly on muscle-memory and determination!

Insomnia, or childish excitement, saw me leaving Derby at 04:30, and strolling out of the empty car park in Horton at 07:00. I headed through the Church inexorably towards the looming mass of Pen-y-Ghent with my mind swirling with fond memories. I was surprised by how much of the route I remembered step for step, at least until l reached the top of the final climb where the boardwalk seems to have gone. I trigged out in 68m, more than double my PB time running.

The wind beckoned me off the hill, and the elbow junction away from the Pennine Way to my route across Horton Moor and Black Dub Moss snaked damply through the rain seemingly into infinity. Here I have to apologise to all walkers, as, despite my best intentions, it soon became clear that whilst my body shouted "DON'T DO IT", my mind whispered "Go On; See If You Can!" So, anchored by my chunky Karrimor boots and a fairly hefty 50l sack, I broke into a ungainly trot down the down bits; which soon included the up bits; which soon became the moist bits; which eventually became the road into Ribblehead.

So far, I had passed a father and son descending Pen-y-Ghent, and a couple walking towards Nether Lodge, who appeared startled by the noise preceding me before I thundered wraithlike out of the mist. Inevitably grinding to a walk as I clumped through Lodge Hall (the free water sign had gone) and down towards the "café" at the road junction, the old competitive spirit further reared its ugly head as I kept snatching glances behind me to make sure they weren't gaining.

Whernside was finally showing herself now through the mist and rain as I passed the old railway cottages, still undecided as to whether or not to cut off short, and just do Ingleborough. Hooded and dripping, I pulled into the "café" for a cup of sugar drenched in hot coffee, and spent ten minutes chatting with the owner whilst eyeballing the road behind me. Sure enough "the competition" pulled into view, forcing my decision. A final scalding gulp, and I was over the road belching steam and heading under the viaduct on auto-pilot before I realised that I was now committed to all three peaks.

Again, as in '96, I was heading up the front of Whernside following the traditional route through Gunnerfleet Farm, whilst "the competition" eased off in the direction of the "new" route up the flank. Up, up and more up, into heavy rain and then over the final peaty shoulder, I again faced the final rib-bending climb up the crumbling scar to the path to the trig in 4h 48m. Once more, the 52m climb from besides Winterscales Farm taking double my previous times.

The rains parted long enough to see two other people each heading down in either direction. After a quick gulp & munch, I headed down the rough and awkward path to Philpin Lane, and passed a chap changing out of his waterproof trousers who engaged me in conversation despite my attempts to press on. Turns out Alan had also been a fell-runner, and done the 3 Peaks long ago, so the next few miles past the Old Hill Inn and up through Souther Scales passed quickly. Lovely old stone flags had again replaced the bitumen surfaced boardwalk of old, and we pushed hard until Alan, who was heading over Simon Fell & Park Fell, opted for a brew in Humphrey Bottom just short of the penultimate climb.

Burning quads screaming mercy heralded the top of the zig-zag climb up Ingleborough, and my legs welcomed the more gentle slope, up what was rapidly becoming a stream, to the rock strewn summit. An unerring sense of direction took me (for once) directly to the trig in 7h 11m for a quick break to rest a wearying body.

Running, it would have taken 40 minutes through Sulber Nick back to the finish, but everything today was working on a multiplier of two, so I figured I'd be down in about an hour and a half. Following the day's multiplier theory, the descent was twice as bad as the ascent, but only about half as bad as the painful descent of Whernside, which was therefore four times as bad as the ascent of Ingleborough. Yeah, I was mentally wandering thinking of such as I tried to keep alert as I plodded down, and down, and then along before some more down.

I passed a finger-post at 8h 19m saying 1½ miles to Horton. Knowing I could normally run that in less than 11 minutes, I briefly flirted with striking up a jog to try to get below 8½ hours. Sanity, and gravity, quickly re-asserted themselves, which is more than can be said for the sanity of the person who amusingly erected the 1½ mile marker at least 3 miles out!

That "1½ miles" took me 48 minutes. Admittedly, I was slowing, but not slow. So, at 9h 7m I reached the car, just in time for the heavens to open and give a passable impression of Rangoon in Monsoon season. Changing as rapidly as I could whilst hopping in and out of puddles on one leg giving passable impersonation of Gene Kelly, I hit the rush hour back to warm reality, hoping it wouldn't be another ten years before I again returned to this most wonderful route.

However, the only trouble with having walked it is the lingering thought that maybe, just maybe I can still run it!

Watch this space.........................

Finlay Smith

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