#27 – At last! The real Whernside!! – (Whernside and Ingleborough – two out of the Yorkshire Three Peaks)

Olivia and Roo on Ingleborough, with Whernside in the distance

The Yorkshire Three Peaks (Y3P) are like old friends.  I’ve known them for years, since I started hill walking, in fact.  Like old friends, sometimes a few years will go by without any contact, then you meet up again and it’s just like old times.  I had re-acquainted myself with the Y3P in 2009, at the same time meeting up with Kim Tyrrell, an old mate from my time in the Royal Marines.  We had a great day out on the Y3P challenge route, and as far as I was concerned that was probably enough Y3P for another decade or so.

Within a few months I was back on familiar ground, writing a guidebook for the Y3P Challenge walk for Discovery Walking Guides.  Chris and I saw a lot of that part of the Yorkshire Dales over the winter of 2009-10, so much so that at one point she had asked, “Could we go somewhere else for a walk”?  John Bamber, another old mate, had also been involved with the project, helping out with photographs, and the guide was published in July 2010.

Journey’s beginning – the railway station at Horton

One of my earliest customers for the book was Roo, who we first met with her lovely family halfway up Cadair Idris.  She was planning to do the Y3P challenge in June 2011, and had already done a training walk over Pen y Ghent – I received an email asking would I like to join them for the next training walk over Whernside and Ingleborough.  Well, any excuse for a walk, and despite an ‘iffy’ looking weather forecast, the day dawned fine as I met Roo and Olivia at the railway station at Horton in Ribblesdale.

Ribblehead Viaduct

The intention was to start at Ribblehead and from there to walk the Y3P Challenge route over Whernside followed by Ingleborough, then to finish at Horton.  So, after our short train ride we set off by walking under the iconic Ribblehead Viaduct.  This put us on track for one of the less popular ascent routes on Whernside, the one that the fell runners use.

You can’t run up that!!” – the fell runners’ way up Whernside

The runners’ route is steep, and somewhat brutal and ‘in yer face’, but it takes a straight line almost to the summit, and possibly saves as much as 30 minutes over the prettier route.   The animated and interesting conversation that had continued from Ribblehead died away, but by the time we reached the path on the summit ridge we had gained an extra 30 minutes advantage on the guidebook time, on top of the 30 minutes for going the steep way.  Result!

The path on the summit ridge, heading for the top

The descent to the Hill Inn at Chapel le Dale went well, with our time advantage intact and growing.  A water stop gave time for a short break from walking – it also gave time for the rain to arrive, though it didn’t linger too long, and had started to ease off during the ascent of Ingleborough.  Another steep section loomed ahead, but before long we were on the summit, sharing the views with several others.

The rain started to ease off during the ascent of Ingleborough

The summit

Striding out on the way down to Horton

Having done the usual summit things it was time to head off down to Horton.  The path varies in quality, and goes on a bit, but several sections saw the pace picking up, and more minutes shaved off the predicted time.  There was even time to admire some of the spring flowers on the way down – sections of the Ingleborough area have a managed grazing regime, to prevent sheep cropping everything down to ground level.

Bird's Eye Primrose

Early-flowering Purple Orchid

Although the flowers made a welcome addition to the route, the main feature was Pen y Ghent on the horizon – not on today’s itinerary, but it just didn’t seem to get any nearer!  Then, all at once, it was over – A short slope led down to the railway with Horton just beyond.  A good day for all of us, with Roo and Olivia having done two of the three peaks in less than the predicted time – Wish ‘em luck on 18th June when they do all three in less than 12 hours – or even better, click here to sponsor them!

Pen y Ghent in the distance

p.s.  The Y3P guide is still available direct from me for £8 and free postage – click here for more details

p.p.s  When she isn’t tramping the hills, Roo is an artist who paints ordinary things in an extraordinary way.  To see her website click here

Text and images © Paul Shorrock

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#26 – A short walk in the Carneddau (Part 3)

Carnedd Dafydd from Pen yr Ole Wen

 Day 3 of the trip dawned fine and sunny, unlike the day before.  The previous two days had given us great walking, but hadn’t exactly been true to the title “A short walk in the Carneddau” – In fact, Day 1 had been quite long  and the weather on Day 2 had dictated a change of plan, and although the walk had been short, it hadn’t been in the Carneddau at all!  However, the last day had to be reasonably short, as Shreyas and Ravi had a train to catch, but I had the perfect route in mind – Carnedd Dafydd from Ogwen.

Ravi and Shreyas, with Tryfan behind

 We started from the long lay-by on the A5 near Gwern Gof Uchaf farm and campsite.  The path up to the small lake of Ffynnon Lloer gave great views of Tryfan and Y Garn, and brought us to the start of East Ridge of Pen yr Ole Wen.  The path gains height steadily, and is a far more pleasant proposition than the South Ridge rising directly above Ogwen Cottage.  There is even a pleasant  ‘hands-on’ scramble up a short groove, spoiled only by the fact that it isn’t long enough.

The short scramble on the East Ridge of Pen yr Ole Wen

Shreyas making short work of the scramble!

Beyond there the path weaves about a bit,  still gaining height with several frustrating false summits.  Then, suddenly, it all goes flat (in the best possible way) and in good weather conditions the scenery is amazing.  Pen yr Ole Wen is in one of the best positions to get all round views of Snowdonia, and some time was spent admiring the panorama.  In fact, the only hills that you can’t see all that well from here are the remaining hills of the Carneddau, mainly because Carnedd Dafydd (David’s Cairn) is blocking the view.

Shreyas approaching the summit of Pen yr Ole Wen

Ravi on the summit

So, the solution is to continue to Carnedd Dafydd.  The route follows a broad ridge, passing Carnedd Fach (The Small Cairn) before finishing on Carnedd Dafydd itself, our highest summit of the day at 1044 metres altitude.   The group of hills is named The Carneddau (The Cairns) after the many cairns found hereabouts, some of them very ancient indeed.  Carnedd Dafydd and Carnedd Llewelyn (Llywelyn’s Cairn) are popularly believed to be named after Llywelyn ap Gruffudd and his brother Dafydd ap Gruffudd.

The route to Carnedd Dafydd

Carnedd Llewelyn (right) and Yr Elen from Carnedd Dafydd

The story of Llywelyn and Dafydd, the last true Princes of Wales, is not a happy one.  In the 13th Century the English, under Edward 1st, were in the process of bringing Wales under English control; Llywellyn and Dafydd were both captured and killed, and to complete their control of Wales, the English took Llywelyn’s daughter, Gwenllian, and imprisoned her for life, as they also did with Dafydd’s sons, Llywelyn and Owain.  Edward subsequently gave the title “Prince of Wales” to his own son, and the title has gone to English princes ever since.  Gwenllian, the last heir of a Welsh dynasty, has recently been commemorated by the Ordnance Survey, who have renamed Garnedd Uchaf  (The High Cairn) as Carnedd Gwenllian.

Heading towards the top of the Ysgolion Duon cliffs

The East Ridge of Pen yr Ole Wen from Afon Lloer

From Carnedd Dafydd we followed a typically “Carneddau” style plateau, heading towards the top of the cliffs of Ysgolion Duon (The Black Ladders) where the intention had been to find a path straight down to Fynnon Lloer.  Having failed to locate the top of the path, we resorted to the original plan and followed an easy grassy descent back to the stream of Afon Lloer, and the path we had used earlier in ascent.  A quick descent to the road followed, with Shreyas and Ravi eventually heading to Bangor for their train connection, hopefully with many happy memories.  For me it was home for a quick turnround, then straight off the next day to Mid-Wales, and a walk in the Brecon Beacons a couple of days later.

Shreyas and Snowdonia panorama

p.s.   For those who are enjoying the blog, you can get an email alert of a new post by clicking the “Sign me up” button on the right margin.  Or why not share the blog with your mates on Facebook?

p.p.s   Off to Skye and the Hebrides today, so the next two posts might not appear at the usual time or day (early Monday morning), all depending on finding internet access.

Text and images © Paul Shorrock

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#25 – A short walk in the Carneddau (Part 2)

Yr Aran from Llyn Gwynant

So, Day 1 had started the weekend well.   However, Day 2 was to prove more challenging….


Yr Aran seen from the west

 Sometimes I can guess what the weather will be before drawing back the curtains of the camper.  The sun of the previous day was well hidden behind a curtain of mist.  The trouble was, the Carneddau was equally hidden.  Now, I can yomp across hills in the mist all day, and have a good time, but the aim was to give Shreyas and Ravi a good day – on top of poor visibility a cool wind was racing across the Carneddau plateau, an area not exactly well known for being sheltered.

The Watkin Path

For a good day I would have to look elsewhere.  Something worthwhile and interesting was called for, but with options if there was a sudden change in the weather.  It just had to be Yr AranYr Aran is a shapely and interesting mountain, but at 747 metres altitude, it isn’t the biggest by a long way.  That suited the day just fine, because I was looking for quality, not biggest.  Of course, I wasn’t going to get any reasonable photos – one grey cloud looks pretty much like another!  No worries there, though, as I had a few in my image library, so the views you see here are the views that Shreyas and Ravi missed.

The West Ridge of Yr Aran

In picking Yr Aran for the day I had also managed to stay in the original brief – Shreyas had asked for less crowded routes, and Yr Aran doesn’t seem to attract the crowds.  The reason is simple – Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon) is about 3 kilometres away, and that’s the one that everyone comes for.  We started the route at Nantgwynant, where the Watkin Path heads off for Yr Wyddfa, but after the top of the fine set of waterfalls we left the crowds behind and headed for the West Ridge leading to the summit of Yr Aran.

Final part of the ridge to the summit

The word ridge often implies an exciting tussle between fresh air and gravity, but not so on this ridge.   As ridges go, it’s fairly broad, with a stone wall running along the crest.  The height is gained without any real grief, and the views of the surrounding hills are outstanding, and are yet another good reason to come this way.  As the wall reaches a col with a descent on the other side, the route turns sharp left to head for the top.  The summit is surprisingly small, but is a great place to admire Yr Wyddfa.

Yr Wyddfa from the summit of Yr Aran

Shreyas and Ravi had to take my word for this, as we had been in mist since leaving the Watkin Path near the waterfalls, but even with low visibility the route held interest.  Following the time honoured ritual, lunch was at the top, before we returned to the col and the steep descent.  The way down is a bit bouldery and scrambly at first, but not unpleasantly so, and as the angle lessened we came out of the mist at last.  A steady walk took us back to the Watkin Path for a look at the Gladstone Rock.

The way back down the Watkin Path

The Watkin Path has been described as, “the most demanding route direct to the summit of Snowdon”.  It’s certainly not my favourite way, which perhaps fails to show gratitude to the railway entrepreneur Edward Watkin, who conceived and executed the idea of the path bearing his name.  Edward was fairly well connected, and had his mate William Gladstone, the then Prime Minister, come along to the opening in 1892.  Being a politician, Gladstone spotted an opportunity for a speech, delivered from what is now known as the Gladstone Rock.

Yr Aran (centre) with Yr Wyddfa higher and to the left

The day had been rescued, with an interesting way up an interesting hill, away from the crowds.  So, two days done and one to go.  As we headed back to Bethesda I was hoping for better conditions for the third and last day – we had a date with the Carneddau.

(To be concluded next week)

Text and images © Paul Shorrock

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#24 – A short walk in the Carneddau (Part 1)

Yr Elen from Carnedd Llewelyn

I had a booking for two customers over Easter weekend.  The brief was simple enough – three days walking on interesting hills in Snowdonia BUT away from crowds.  The venue also had to be handy for a railway station.  Having previously been in Wales on Bank Holidays, with hordes of unfit, sweaty walkers queuing to get up Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon) by the PYG or Miners tracks, I was clearly going to have to use a bit of imagination here.  It only took a couple of minutes to come up with the obvious choice – The Carneddau.

The Carneddau from Bethesda

The Carneddau range in North Wales is big, and I do mean big!  It’s the biggest upland mass south of the Scottish border, and you could comfortably move the Snowdon hills and the Glyderau into the space that the Carneddau occupies, and still have room left over.  They are surprisingly quiet hills, though.  The reasons for that soon become apparent – long walks in and out, high summits and an almost featureless plateau that in bad weather becomes a navigation trap for the unprepared.  As I said, the obvious choice.

The Carneddau

We all arrived at Bethesda at about 0930, Shreyas and Ravi having travelled by train overnight.  After last minute adjustments to gear we set off for Carnedd Llewelyn (Llewellyn’s Cairn) which at 1064 metres altitude is the highest peak of the Carneddau and the third highest in Wales (Yr Wyddfa is 1085 metres).  A long easy ridge led us up towards Yr Elen via an unnamed top and Foel Ganol.  I don’t speak welsh, but I know enough to translate that as the ‘Centre Bare Hill’, but centre of what?  The answer became obvious, with Foel Ganol in the middle of three peaks ending with Yr Elen.

Un-named peak, Foel Ganol and Yr Elen

Ravi and Shreyas near the top of Yr Elen

Yr Elen saw a transition from grass underfoot to rock, and from below the way wasn’t immediately obvious.  Up close, a path could be seen meandering through small outcrops.  The summit held one surprise for Shreyas and Ravi – after a long grassy ridge, the east side of Yr Elen plunges down steep cliffs.  Fortunately that wasn’t our way, and we lost a bit of height heading south then southeast before the final height gain of the day up to Carnedd Llewelyn.

Carnedd Llewelyn from Yr Elen

I hope Carneddau fans will forgive me here, but Carnedd Llewelyn isn’t the most stunningly interesting mountain in the world, but it is big and impressive, dominating the view from several directions.  We didn’t linger as we still weren’t halfway round the route, though thankfully our major height gain was now behind us, so after a short break we started on the long way back.

"...the long way back".

Moorland and craggy outcrops...

The long way back in this case was entirely different in character to the outward section – a long, grassy switchback of a ridge, very much moorland in appearance, with the addition of interesting craggy outcrops along the way.  The sunny weather had inevitably led to hazy light conditions, not the best for photography or long distance views, but you can’t have it all.  Eventually we reached Drosgl, our last peak of the day.  The drama here was man-made – a huge Bronze Age burial cairn on the summit.  An impressive place, with a sense of history.

Bronze Age burial cairn on Drosgl

So, Day 1 had started the weekend well.  Day 2 was to prove more challenging.

(To be continued next week)

Text and images © Paul Shorrock

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#23 – “Oh no, not another flippin’ Whernside”!

Little Whernside from Scar House Reservoir

 It may appear that there is a “Whernside” obsession here, but our walk this week was yet another Whernside.  I had previously blogged our semi-epic over Great Whernside in the snow (#8 – Great Whernside …Underground, overground) but had failed to acknowledge the presence of its smaller relative, Little Whernside.  Where we live it’s always easier to approach these hills from Wharfedale, but longer days and good weather suggested the Nidderdale side for a change, so Little Whernside was in the frame.

Scar House Reservoir in Upper Nidderdale

 Above Pateley Bridge the River Nidd has been captured and tamed to supply Bradford with drinking water, via the reservoirs of Gouthwaite, Scar House and Angram   Not always that tame, though.  Nidderdale has a well known cave system including Manchester Hole and Goyden Pot, and parts of the system are prone to sudden flooding.  Accidents have occurred here in the past, including a tragic fatality in November 2005, when a 14 year old schoolboy was drowned – a contributory factor was the strong westerly winds sending waves over Scar House Dam.

The bridleway to Kettlewell – Great Whernside in the distance

As we set off from Scar House Reservoir, flooding was the least likely event of the day, and both Scar House and Angram reservoirs were well topped-up, a legacy of the winter weather.   Soon after we joined the bridleway to Kettlewell we had further evidence of the dry conditions – an adder basking in the sun by the path.  Getting a good photograph without making ‘Mist’ curious was not easy – the thought of carrying a  border collie weighing 18.5 kilos down to the car after being bitten didn’t bear thinking about!


Adder - close-up

The bridleway gains height gradually, and in a civilised way, with no gasping for breath or halts to ‘admire the scenery’.  At its high point the path creeps under the slopes of Black Dike End, the northerly point of the Great Whernside Ridge, but we turned away to head northeast up the final slopes of Little Whernside.

The final slopes of Little Whernside

The top of Little Whernside is virtually a plateau, so we didn’t really have views of anywhere until we started descending the east ridge.   From there it was literally downhill all the way, and before long we had a view of our start point at Scar House Reservoir, and as we lost more height Angram reservoir came into view again.  Apart from the sighting of the adder, the day was fairly unremarkable – a good walk out in summer conditions, with the peat bogs on Little Whernside quite dry.

Scar House Reservoir from Little Whernside

p.s.  Just back from a great trip to North Wales, with a couple of good days in the Carneddau – trip report to follow, probably next week.

Text and images © Paul Shorrock

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#22 – Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon) – A mountain for all

Yr Wyddfa (left) and Garnedd Ugain from Crib Goch

 I can still remember the first time I saw Snowdon (or to use the correct Welsh name, Yr Wyddfa).  I was eighteen and had started hill-walking about 1½ years earlier.  After a three-hour drive, we finally arrived at the campsite at two o’clock in the morning.  Above us towered Crib Goch and Clogwyn y Person, and although the night was pitch black, the moonlight on the snowy peaks left us in no illusion that these were much bigger mountains than the ones we were used to.  The next day we did the Snowdon Horseshoe, and despite a large degree of inexperience and naivety, we managed to get round without any mishaps.  Since then I’ve been a regular visitor, winter and summer.

The Crib Goch Ridge on the Snowdon Horseshoe

Yr Wyddfa rises 1085 metres (3560 feet) above sea level, and is a mountain that can’t be ignored.  As the highest peak in Wales, and also higher than anything in England, it attracts both admiration and disapproval as well as thousands of visitors; it has been described as the busiest mountain in Britain.  Legends about the mountain stretch back into ancient history.  Yr Wyddfa, means The Tumulus or Grave, and is said to be the last resting place of Rhita GawrRhita’s main claim to fame was his cloak, made up from the beards of the kings he had killed.

Yr Wyddfa from Llyn Llydaw

As Rhita was a giant and presumably had a large cloak, we can assume he had killed a good number of kings, but eventually his luck ran out.  He had decided he needed King Arthur’s beard to add to the collection, but Arthur wasn’t having any of it, and after killing Rhita he had him buried under a cairn on the mountain.  Arthur is said to have fought his last battle at Bwlch y Saetheau (the Pass of the Arrows), which lies between Yr Wyddfa and Lliwedd, where his knights lie resting on their shields in a cave on the face of Lliwedd; Arthur himself is said to be buried there.

“Snow Dun” – The Snow Hill

English invaders later named the mountain Snow Dun meaning “Snow Hill”, a name that is often quite appropriate, despite recent global warming.  The weather can be harsh and unforgiving at times, and the 19th century miners who worked on the slopes below Yr Wyddfa must have been tough and hardy people.  The lead and copper that they mined was destined to be replaced by a richer prize than lead or copper – tourism!

A busy day on the summit

Tourism can be a blessing and a curse, and this is certainly the case with Yr Wyddfa.  Many would consider that one of the curses is the railway to the summit, and the café that followed.  The café especially had attracted much negative comment in recent years, with Prince Charles describing the building as “the highest slum in Wales”.  In Summer 2009 the replacement building, named Hafod Eryri (it means the “High Dwelling in Snowdonia”) was opened after a three-year demolition and re-build project.

The Snowdon Mountain Railway

Many mountain lovers would say that there is no place for a railway and visitor centre on a mountain, especially in the UK.  I agree in principle, but would argue that Hafod Eryri is a special case.  The old summit café was in poor condition and had to go, but demolition and removal would have left scars that would have taken years to heal. The new building has been designed to fit into its environment, and does a reasonable job of that.

Hafod Eryri

Critics of the building should also consider the local people.  The railway and summit building are a huge tourist magnet for Llanberis and the surrounding area, and support many local workers and businesses.   Also spare a thought for those who can only get to the summit by the railway – they have as much right to be there as we who walk.  So, let Hafod Eryri stay.

Approaching Yr Wyddfa from Bwlch Main

It takes more than a building and a railway to deface a mountain as magnificent as Yr Wyddfa.  From the east it looks like the kind of mountain that a child would draw, sharp and pointy.  Six ridges radiate from the summit, each with its own character and difficulty.  It would take several visits to get to know the mountain well, but Yr Wyddfa is a mountain worth getting to know.

Lliwedd (right) with the lakes of Glaslyn and Llyn Llydaw

It’s a place of legend, a playground for walkers and climbers, it’s accessible to many who could never dream of being able to climb a mountain, and a source of employment in an area where jobs are scarce.  On top of all that it is an icon of the growing self-confidence and sense of identity in modern Wales.  It’s also one of the most beautiful mountains you could wish for.

Yr Wyddfa above the frozen Glaslyn

Text and images © Paul Shorrock

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#21 – If at first you don’t succeed… The Nantlle Ridge

Nantlle Ridge 11 June 2008

My last trip to Snowdonia had been on 3rd December (blog #3).  I had intended to walk the east section of the Nantlle Ridge as part of the research for the Discovery Walking Guides Snowdonia project.  I already had a GPS track log for the route, but it was a messy composite of two different days walking – I also had some photographs, which were OK if you like different shades of grey mist, but didn’t really show the route to its best advantage.  A combination of deep, fresh snow and low cloud meant I was unlikely to improve on what I already had, so I made a vow to return before too long.

Moel Hebog, Moel yr Ogof and Moel Lefn in the morning mist

Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon) with Yr Aran off to the right

8th April – A weather forecast so optimistic as to be almost a work of fantasy had tempted me back to North Wales.  Following my usual route cross country from Ruthin to Cerrigydrudion, I had an early view of Tryfan and the Glyderau, and there wasn’t a cloud in sight.  So, I couldn’t believe it as I approached Pen y Gwryd and saw the clouds down low over Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon).  By the time I reached the start point at Rhyd Ddu things were starting to improve a bit, and as I set off up Y Garn the clouds finally broke up.

Start of the Nantlle Ridge - Mynydd Drws-y-Coed from Y Garn

Mynydd Drws-y-Coed - "Up Close and Personal"

The most interesting part of the ridge comes into view near the top of Y Garn, with Mynydd Drws-y-Coed standing up like a shark’s fin.  As well as looking interesting, it has the most technical part of the outing, being classed as a grade 1 rock scramble – this is probably over-graded, as there are only a couple of places where you have to stop and think about the next move.  Extra interest was added by the state of the rock – slate, still a bit greasy after the damp winter weather, requiring just a bit of care extra.

The summit of Trum y Ddysgl

The ridge off Trum y Ddysgl

Then all too soon it’s over, at least as far as the rock is concerned.  What follows is a superb romp along an undulating, grassy ridge.   You not only look as if you are on top of the world, you also feel as if you are!  The summit of Mynydd Drws-y-Coed is succeeded by a small grassy plateau on Trum y Ddysgl (highest mountain of the day at 709 metres), from where a wide, easy path drops down to a col with bit more scrambling on the way.  From there an easy slope takes you up to Mynydd Tal-y mignedd, with its large stone obelisk marking the summit.

Mynydd Tal-y-Mignedd, with Craig Cwm Silyn beyond and left

"...imposing and impressive..." Craig Cwm Silyn

Another wide, grassy ridge drops down to a col nestling below the imposing and impressive Craig Cwm Silyn.  That was for another day though.  The complete Nantlle Ridge from east to west is recognised as one of the finest high-level routes in Wales, but getting back to your start point at Rhyd Ddu is far from simple, unless you use two cars.  A simpler option is to leave the route before Craig Cwm Silyn, taking an easy descent down a grassy cwm to return to Rhyd Ddu by a bridleway through the edge of Beddgelert Forest.  A visit to the Cwellyn Arms to finish off was the perfect end to a perfect day

The easy descent down the grassy cwm

Looking back to Craig Cwm Silyn from the bridleway

Text and images © Paul Shorrock

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