Ribblehead viaduct

Pen-y-Ghent, Ingleborough and Whernside: walking the Yorkshire Three Peaks with children

As we took our seats in the Pen-y-Ghent cafe it was hard to ignore the bright red arms and necks of the two men on the table beside us. The Yorkshire Dales aren’t usually known for their sunny climes but we had somehow managed to coincide our holiday with a week of good weather.

Inspired by the lack of rain we spent part of our holiday walking the Yorkshire Three Peaks with the kids. This 24 mile challenge, with 5200ft of ascent, is often completed by charity walkers in around 12 hours. That wasn’t a sensible option for us so we climbed the hills individually on different days.

Pen-y-Ghent

Start of our route up Pen-y-Ghent
Start of our route up Pen-y-Ghent

Our first hill of the week was Pen-y-Ghent. This is the lowest of the Three Peaks but its distinctive shape, as seen in the photograph below, helps makes it one of the most popular.

Walking up Pen-y-Ghent
Walking up Pen-y-Ghent

Our route up Pen-y-Ghent followed the well worn track from the cafe in Horton-in-Ribblesdale, up past Brackenbottom Farm. Although this is the classic route for Three Peaks walkers it was pretty quiet. I guess we timed our departure well.

Pen-y-ghent summit path
Pen-y-ghent south face

The path took us up beside a stone wall until we reached a junction on the ridge, signposted the Pennine Way. Turning left we encountered a steeper section followed by an even steeper section. We had to use our hands a couple of times to pull ourselves up but it was pretty straightforward, barely a scramble.

View from Pen-y-ghent descent
View from Pen-y-Ghent descent

The summit was much busier than our walk up. We spent a while pointing out the other hills in the Dales, before climbing over the stone wall stile. I love a good stone wall and always wonder at the logistics of building them on top of the hills.

Our descent path was clear, snaking down across the hillside like a white ribbon, so no chance of getting lost. Adventurous walkers might want to visit Hunt Pot, a fissure in the ground off to the left of the path.

Looking back up to Pen-y-Ghent, Yorkshire
Looking back up to Pen-y-Ghent, Yorkshire

A little further on we detoured a couple of hundred metres to visit Hull Pot, a collapsed cavern which is the largest natural hole in England. We peered carefully in; although inaccessible to walkers it is popular with climbers. In wet weather a waterfall flows over the sides but it was completely dry on our visit.

Hull Pot, visited on the descent from Pen-y-Ghent
Hull Pot, visited on the descent from Pen-y-Ghent

From Hull Pot it took us about 45 minutes to walk back along a walled lane into Horton-in-Ribblesdale. Hill number one successfully completed!

Ingleborough

Our walk up Ingleborough was an add-on to our Gaping Gill cave descent. We’d already walked for 1.5 hours to reach Gaping Gill, on the flank of Ingleborough, so it seemed a shame not to climb the hill.

Whilst I thought it was a good idea my son didn’t. He was, he said, starving. Instead of a picnic on Ingleborough summit we ended up stopping halfway up to eat the remains of our sandwiches (which we’d partially eaten at 9am whilst waiting for our cave descent). Suitably refreshed we continued up the hill although my son still wasn’t impressed by the climb.

Summit trig on Ingleborough
Summit trig on Ingleborough

It turned out to be a good decision to eat our picnic early. As we emerged from the last few steps up to the summit plateau the wind took our breath away. Even though there’s a small stone shelter it wouldn’t have been a pleasant picnic stop. Instead we headed over to claim the trig point before quickly retracing our steps off the hill.

Route down from Ingleborough, Yorkshire
Route down from Ingleborough, Yorkshire

Once back out of the wind and heading downhill my son perked up. We retraced our steps past Gaping Gill, down Trow Gill to Ingelborough Cave. The show cave conveniently sold ice-creams, a perfect reward for completing hill number two.

Whernside

We hadn’t planned to walk up Whernside. My original idea for the last day of our holiday was a gentle stroll around the Ingleton Waterfalls Walk. But how could we resist the appeal of the highest hill in Yorkshire on such a gorgeous sunny day?

We decided to walk the standard Three Peaks route from Ribblehead Viaduct but in reverse. This turned out to be a good decision.

Ribblehead viaduct and Whernside
Ribblehead viaduct and Whernside

After walking under one of the arches of Ribblehead Viaduct our route took us into a couple of livestock fields and then through meadows full of buttercups. Definitely one of my favourite memories of our Yorkshire Dales holiday.

Buttercup meadows near Whernside
Buttercup meadows near Whernside

After the meadows we started our climb. We passed a few people already heading down off the hill, some finding the steepness quite tricky and resorting to their backsides. Something I’ve also done in the past on other hills! Although our ascent was steeper than the reverse route my knees definitely prefer a more gradual descent.

Whernside summit family photo
Whernside summit family photo

As we reached the summit a couple of fell runners overtook us. I almost felt jealous of them. Obviously the sun must have affected my head.

We ate our picnic lunch in one of the ingenious curved shelters designed into the dry stone wall. We didn’t really need protecting from the elements but I imagine they’re very welcoming in inclement weather. Sadly the second shelter appeared to have been used as a toilet; how can people have so little respect?

Track along Whernside summit, Yorkshire
Track along Whernside summit, Yorkshire

The stone wall along the ridge defines the boundary between Yorkshire and Cumbria. It’s evidently possible to see Blackpool Tower on a clear day but I was obviously looking in the wrong direction. However we were treated to fabulous views of the Lake District peaks.

Stone slabs marked the long descent down. Either side the bog cotton and dried peat reminding us that the weather in Yorkshire isn’t usually so dry.

View from Whernside
View from Whernside

Near the bottom we stopped for a while to admire an aqueduct carrying the stream from Force Gill waterfall. It was interesting to consider man’s impact on the landscape around us. The aqueduct, viaduct and Blea Moor Tunnel were all major projects of their time; impressive structures but no match for the natural beauty of the hills.

Finished the Yorkshire Three Peaks!
Finished the Yorkshire Three Peaks!

There was time for one last photo stop to celebrate the completion of the Yorkshire Three Peaks.

The viaduct finally came into view, marking the end of our walk. Even better was the sight of the snack van as we’d all run out of water. As we sat relaxing by the stream and enjoying our drinks we were even treated to the sight of a train crossing the viaduct. The perfect ending to hill number three.

More info:

  • Thinking about walking the Yorkshire Three Peaks with your children? Please consider your abilities and check the summit weather conditions before setting off. We were incredibly lucky with the weather on all three days but ice, rain, wind and fog are pretty common.
  • We followed the classic routes up all three of the Yorkshire Peaks (although walked one in reverse). I found the Walks in Yorkshire and Where2Walk websites helpful with route planning.

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25 thoughts on “Pen-y-Ghent, Ingleborough and Whernside: walking the Yorkshire Three Peaks with children”

  1. Really enjoyed reading this. Walking is something my husband usually does on his own, or with the children if it isn’t too challenging, but I’m determined to make it much more of a family outing over the next couple of years. We too are outdoorsy but tend to stay on flatter routes 🙂 Really glad I found your blog! #countrykids

  2. Oh we used to live near here and I loved exploring these hills! Such a stunning part of the world. We used to jump on the train from Skipton and go exploring. Such happy memories 🙂 #countrykids

  3. I’d love to have a go at this. The scenery looks stunning and my kids are all old enough for the challenge. I would be envious of the fell runners too, I love running the coast path here or over Bodmin Moor which is a similar sort of landscape. these Yorkshire hills look a great ways to enjoy some family outdoor time and well done on completing all 3.

    thank you for linking up and sharing on #CountryKids

  4. Can I just say that this post made me want to start walking as in now! Those views are just amazing and I think everyone would really want to experience them. I wish I can go somewhere as stunning as this place. I am sure you wont see me inside the house when I live there as I would always be out enjoying what this place has to offer!

    #countrykids

  5. Haha I know that sinking feeling as you’re struggling up the hill and fell runners or mountain bikers power up it like it’s nothing. How do they do it? Lovely to hear your experience of doing the three peaks with children. My friend and I are considering doing it as part of the D of E Diamond Challenge (without kids) so it was lovely to see the pictures from your experience. The viaduct is so beautiful. I’m originally a Yorkshire girl so feel a real warmth for the 3 Yorkshire Peaks x

  6. We took our little one up Ingleborough when he was 4 months old in a backpack. Have yet to do the other 2 with him although we have done them ourselves. We live nearby so it’s likely we will do sooner than later. You got some brilliant weather for your trip and so sensible not to attempt it in a day. I keep saying I could never do that! #countrykids

  7. Your photos make me want to head on up there right now and do the three peaks. You were lucky with the weather. What fabulous views. So true of our walks – one child not so keen, then cheers up, and being overtaken on steep slopes by mountain bikes being carried on shoulders with ease. How do they do it? #CountryKids

  8. This makes me miss Yorkshire so much (I’m a Yorkshire girl currently stuck in the South East)! It is a beautiful walk isn’t it? And that view of Ribblehead Viaduct is one of my favourite views in the whole of Yorkshire – we have a picture of it on a wall. I can’t wait until my children are old enough and able to manage one of these walks! #CountryKids

  9. This looks like a stunning adventure that my two will love. Now to survive the journey north! Looking forward to our summer with loads of ideas.

  10. Looks lovely. I often wonder about the people who carried the stones to the top of the hills. I find it hard enough at times without having all that to carry! This looks like a great walk or set of walks, a lot more sensible with kids. Thanks for sharing! #mondayescapes.

  11. Great that you were able to do a child-friendly way of doing the walk with your children. I’d love to do this with mine. Walking is such a great way of seeing the countryside and enjoying each other’s company at the same time – with none of the distractions of the everyday to get in the way. #MondayEscapes

  12. Glad you had nice weather!

    Our children are still quite young (aged 3 & 6) but we are trying to get in more hiking trips with them in the hopes that we will eventually be able to hike the Camino de Santiago as a family. Definitely pinning for later!

  13. Enjoyed reading about your Yorkshire three peaks walks. Beautiful photos. Particularly love the photos of the buttercup meadows. #MondayEscapes

  14. Yorkshire is one area of the country that we haven’t explored much as of yet. We may have to leave it for a while until Finn can walk a bit further, but I love your account of the 3 peaks. This is something we will definitely attempt in the future. Great post!

  15. You were so lucky with the weather – it can be tricky even in the summer. What wonderful views you were able to enjoy. It certainly sounds like to lovely way to see the Yorkshire peak and a bit more relaxed than doing the 24 miles all in one! #MondayEscapes

  16. Wow, those sound like some pretty long hikes, but oh, what a gorgeous place to be hiking in! Weather definitely makes a big difference when you’re hiking–glad the weather was good for you guys!

  17. We used to go hiking nearly every weekend in the Peak District, but haven’t been since our daughter was born. Your walk doing the 3 Yorkshire peaks has got me wanting to start hiking again. Just need to wait until Elise is a bit older.

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