Walking the Three Peaks, some problems and some potential solutions

Yorkshire 3 Peaks

Everyone loves the Yorkshire Dales, but sometimes for different reasons. For many, it’s the peace and tranquillity of this beautiful part of the world which is the attraction; for others, the physical challenge of walking the hills and perhaps conquering the Three Peaks has a massive appeal. For me, both of these factors are hugely important but I can see why sometimes the two can come into conflict.

Walking the Three Peaks is a case in point. A group of businessmen have suggested changing the start point for the start of the Three Peaks walk from Horton-in-Ribblesdale to Ingleton to relieve pressure on Horton. Now I can see why the locals in Horton get fed up. They live in a national park and they expect some of that tranquillity which the countryside gives you. But on some weekends it is pandemonium. In fact it can get so bad that people sometimes leave their homes over the weekend. The main complaints are noise in the early mornings and late evenings or during the night plus the parking problems which influxes of walkers bring. But it can be even worse. Reports of people urinating and verbal abuse have been heard. Once an ambulance could not get through so a baby was born in a pub. Residents say their lives have been made a misery.


A minority of these walkers are ill-prepared for conditions on the hills, so they cause even more problems. The mountain rescue team gets called out to lost walkers who, in some cases, do not have a map, compass, torch or the right clothing. So it’s not difficult to see why voices of dissent have grown. Yet the Yorkshire Three Peaks is a popular charity walk just like the National Three Peaks and it’s important that people can do these walks and enjoy the fantastic feeling of achievement they give. Around £6 million is raised from walking the Three Peaks for charity each year but there does need to be a balanced approach to the needs of the residents. Now the National Three Peaks has suffered from very similar problems but a code of conduct has been introduced for that walk – a wise move, in my opinion. Here in Yorkshire something needs to be done to protect a national park area which has a population of 23,000 but into which a least 100,000 people come to walk the Three Peaks every year. Just think of the path erosion problems alone!

A change of start

Yet I’m not convinced starting from Ingleton is the solution. That would add 6 miles to the route and 140 metres more ascent. And if the start point was moved how would that effect businesses in Horton over the weekends? Both pubs, for example, are packed with walkers drawn by the magical appeal of the Three Peaks. So I am not in favour of changing the start point. As a guide I know you can be out 13 hours or more on the fells. By adding the extra distance it will extend this time and I believe that there will be more call outs for mountain rescue as walkers (especially the poorly-equipped and poorly-prepared ones) will become tired and need help. Changing the start point will not solve that – it will make it worse. The paths will still become eroded no matter where you start and the problems Horton faces will be transferred to Ingleton.

But as an experienced guide who loves the Three Peaks walk and wants to help it prosper, I am certainly not being complacent. I think the best thing to do is to promote other start points along the route, the main ones being Ribblehead and Chapel-le-Dale. My company Northern Guiding starts all our guided Three Peaks walks from Ribblehead. The reason why I chose this was that it is simply a nicer location. We meet at 6.30am on a morning so we do not create a disturbance to local people. Also, you escape the hordes of visitors which gives us that more relaxing and peaceful start which I believe most walkers want. I also think the route is easier. We go up Whernside which is long and steady and tackle the descent, quite steep and the trickiest of the three, while we’re all still fresh. Then we climb Ingleborough, the hardest climb, so you complete that as the centrepiece of the walk. Once you have done Pen-y-Ghent all the hard work is out of the way so you can relax a bit and get to Ribblehead in great spirits. Also, using this route means that when you get to Horton you can get the train back if you really are too tired to attempt Pen-y-Ghent. Transport is another issue with the Ingleton idea: how do tired walkers get back to Ingleton? With a Ribblehead start those who cannot continue at least have the Horton to Ribblehead train to fall back on.

Code of Conduct

I also believe a code of conduct must be introduced as it has with the National Three Peaks. I believe the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority has a draft one, and I definitely think this is a sensible way forward. I also believe adopting other start points along the route will help matters significantly. Critics might say that if you promote other start points like Ribblehead then they could become problem areas in turn. They might point to a lack of facilities at such places. Well, an eco-friendly toilet block could be build at Ribblehead, one that blends in with the lovely scenery there. Or the YDNPA could provide discreet portaloos for the season. There is no perfect solution but, to me, promoting other start points along the route is the best way forward. I’d also like to suggest the YDNPA promotes guiding services – that way far fewer people will get lost!

Northern Guiding is a caring company.

We think about the environment, and we are concerned about local residents. If the above ideas were adopted, it would help protect our beautiful part of the world and would be a step towards solving some of the problems that have built up. We run guided Three Peaks walks throughout the season.

For dates have a look at https://www.northernguiding.co.uk/guided-yorkshire-3-peaks-challenge/

We also donate £5 per booking to Friends of the Three Peaks to go towards footpath repairs. We feel a great responsibility to the Dales landscape, and this is us doing our bit to help maintain it for future generations.