Garsdale and Wensleydale split the Yorkshire Dales conveniently into southern and northern halves.

This page looks at the southern group. It contains the Yorkshire Three Peaks, which form such a memorable group from the Settle & Carlisle railway: Pen-y-Ghent, Ingleborough and Whernside.

There are seventeen Hewitts in the group. Three are in upper Wharfedale, three around Hawes, while the rest are companions of the Three Peaks. Note though that, while all are in the Yorkshire Dales National Park, not all are in Yorkshire! Cumbria claims three these days, while one (Gragareth) is in Lancashire.

Check out my Yorkshire Dales North page


Ingleborough from Fountains Fell

The Yorkshire Three Peaks

Saturday 6 August 1977. The three peaks from Horton-in-Ribblesdale, 24 miles.

Mike Murphy and I took advantage of a long bank holiday weekend to do walk this, one of the great hill rounds of Britain. Not much documentary evidence now apart from an entry in a log book. Then as now, there’s no ‘official’ route, but we did what almost everyone else did / does: start from Horton, go straight up Pen-y-Ghent (2277ft), go under the Ribblehead viaduct and tackle Whernside (2415ft) (then, directly; now, by looping up by the railway and approaching from the east, to lessen erosion), before climbing Ingleborough (2375ft) from Chapel-le-Dale, probably with a pint at the Hill Inn on the way.

The Ribblehead viaduct and Whernside, 2019

The round involves roughly 5200ft of climbing, and there’s a guide time of twelve hours. I remember we finished in ‘under nine’, but I was 26 at the time.

We had done a bit of a recce beforehand. (Indeed, it’s possible that we went for the Three Peaks because of the recce.) We’d climbed Ingleborough (my logbook says there were three of us, maybe one day I’ll remember the third) on Monday 7 June and Whernside the Wednesday after.

Companions of Pen-y-Ghent

Pen-y-Ghent is probably the best hill on the Pennine Way, not that there’s much competition, and it was that trail that first drew me there, first in rotten weather in 1973 with Dave Travers and Mike Chant, then again solo in the baking summer of 1976. For more information see my Pennine Way pages.

It looks like an isolated hill but it has three companions which the PW just misses. To the north-east there’s Plover Hill. Dave and I traversed it on one of my Two Walks to Grassington, of 2009. South-east, across Blishmire, rise Fountains Fell and Darnbrook Fell; not strictly a P-y-G companion, but not far away, is Birks Fell, which it’s easy to combine with those two.

Thursday 17 October 2019: Fountains Fell and Darnbrook Fell from Blishmire, 4½ miles; Birks Fell from Litton, five miles

It’s not difficult to pick up hills in the morning, drive a bit, more hills in the afternoon, at least not when you have a 1000ft or more start and only that much climbing for the summits. Today was such a day (tomorrow would be too, see next section).

First, find somewhere to park high in Blishmire – much easier these days, thanks to Google Street View. Fountains Fell (2192ft) is just a simple straight-up pull, on the Pennine Way at first, then staying near the wall when the Way moves left. It’s a fascinating top, relics of mediaeval coal mines still present, most fenced off these days but take care all the same. Very interesting.

But then you have to go to Darnbook Fell (2047ft). It’s not far, just a mile and a half, with just 40 metres of re-ascent from the col. I could see a fenceline taking a bit of a kink, so thought I would go there more directly. After twenty minutes stumbling through heather, I decided my return would be by the fence. And when you get there, it’s one of those hills where you stand on top of this prominence then that and can’t be sure where the top is. It’s defined, apparently, as ‘peat hag near trig point’, the trig point being the wrong side of the barbed wire, so good luck with that.

As compensation I’d planned a lunchtime pint at the Queens Arms in Litton and this helped my mood no end. I wasn’t so sure I was going to enjoy the climb of Birks Fell (2001ft), but it was a nice day and, apart from a brief veer off the path near the start, was soon on what passes for the ridge.

There is a spot height marked as 610m which, like I’m sure generations of others, I assumed would be the top, beyond the wall to the west, but it didn’t look very promising. The true top is, indeed, at a cairn to the east, which I found without too much searching.

While on the hill, it’s worth checking out Birks Tarn as well, and as insurance in case the guys with satellite theodolites promoted it to Hewitt status, the 607m top of Firth Fell as well. All in all, much nicer than expected.

Darnbrook Fell

The view into Littondale from the path leading to Birks Fell

The trig point on Calf Top

Companions of Whernside and Ingleborough

Three groups: Calf Top in the west, Gragareth and Crag Hill in the middle, and Ingleborough’s outlier Simon Fell to the east. I climbed them all, possibly, when based for a few days at Ingleton in 2022.

Monday 17 October 2022. Calf Top from Hodge Bridge, nine miles.

How annoying it must have been to be completing a Hewitt round in September 2016. All of a sudden, the Ordnance Survey announces the recalculation of the height of Calf Top to 609.606 metres – or, two inches over 2000ft. So off you go to the Dales, expecting a dull plod over tedious soggy moorland just for an extra tick.

Well, the good news is that Calf Top is much better than that. There are clear paths, barely any wetness and a well-defined top with views across the deep trench of Barbondale. Some choose to park in this dale, climb the ridge and walk back along the road in the dale, and it would be OK for a quick bag, but it’s nicer to park at Hodge Bridge just off the A683 and climb the hill from the village of Barbon instead.

There’s a steady climb with bits of cragginess up to the lesser height of Castle Knott, where I caught up with the local Monday walkers’ group on this blustery day. At the col below, there’s the only wet patch that I found, before the rise to Calf Top itself, and its gaily-painted trig point.

From here a path runs eastish across the moor, towards Mill House – but not to Mill House. It’s now a collection of bijou holiday lets, and a stern notice claims property rights to keep the likes of us well away.

Maybe one day the National Park access officer will bang some sense into their heads, but to avoid unpleasantness I dipped down to cross Millhouse Gill to follow a sheep track just above the intake wall to an old rusty gate. From here, it was a simple crossing over grass back onto rights of way, and soon the lane back to Barbon.

The Monday walking group at Castle Knott

Tuesday 18 October 2022. Gragareth and Great Coum from Leck Fell road, ten miles.

A strange circular this, with an uphill finish. More of that later.

There’s a couple of parking places high on the Leck Felll road at about 1300ft, and on this lovely still and sunny day I wasn’t too surprised to be one of four cars spread between them. From the gate to access land, it’s possible to make a beeline for the top of Gragareth aka Leck Fell (2057ft), but that would be a sin.

The great glory of Gragareth (emphasis on the first syllable) is the stone men guarding its western slopes. My path took me on a tour of many of these, with first of all the ancient Three Men of Gragareth.

The summit, by contrast, is somewhere east of the trig point. I plodded around a few likely candidates just to be on the safe side. This is, by the way, the highest ground in Lancashire.

The north ridge heading a couple of miles to Green Hill is damp and my usually sensitive bog-attenae didn’t stop me getting a bootful. From here though the day’s high point, Great Coum (2254ft) in Cumbria, isn’t far away.

Like Gragareth, the true high point isn’t obvious. It’s not on the path beside the wall at the junction; I hopped over and found one cairn to the north-east and another to the north-west, and judged the former to be the likely candidate. I reported my findings to the solo walker and couple that I had met on the ascent.

The high point is emphatically not the trig point of Crag Hill, but from here a good but, like most everything else around, rather damp path headed south-west. A few fences later, and I was at the entry to Ease Gill.

Here the route changes character completely for a short mile, and very welcome that change is too. The gill takes a narrow ravine; for a few yards it’s a busy stream, but then it disappears into a pot.

All of a sudden, the stream bed is dry. It must take spate conditions to have any water at all.

Stone men on Gragareth, looking over to Calf Top

In Ease Gill

Sometimes it was easier to be on the left bank, sometimes right. Progress was slow, with gorse and bracken often the alternatives to the stony stream bed. But it made a welcome relief from soggy-hopping.

Eventually there’s a steep thrutch away from the gill, following a wall back to the road, the stone men of Gragareth still on watch.

The Howgills from Great Coum

Wednesday 19 October 2022. Ingleborough and (possibly) Simon Fell from Ingleton, ten miles.

Another day of high winds and cloud, like the Calf Top day 48 hours before, but the popular Fell Lane track – three couples set out at roughly the same time as me – had me at the summit of Ingleborough in an hour and a half. Busy it was too, with the other routes – from Chapel-le-Dale, Horton and Clapham – disgorging walkers too.

But I wasn’t here for Ingleborough, I was here for its outlier Simon Fell (2133ft). I could see it on the map, a simple mile away, mostly with a wall for guide, and 650-metre spot height to aim for. I soon found the little cairn, just a few stones in the grass, and made my return.

The cairn below Little Ingleborough

This was quite fun, contouring beneath Ingleborough’s south-eastern slopes; I found a faint track, so I wasn’t quite an explorer. This joined in with the broad track to Clapham, but only as far as Little Ingleborough.

Here, a trackless few yards leads to a cairn (left) and a lovely green track that slowly descends to the Old Road – a beautiful way off, even if there were a couple of quiet tarmac miles thereafter.

It was only later, back home, that the doubts crept in. There’s another cairn marked on Simon Fell. It doesn’t have a spot height, but like the 650m height I had found, it’s enclosed by the 640m contour. Indeed I remember looking over to it, thinking that looks pretty high too.

I’ve checked my sources. One says the high point is the 650m spot height, the others say it’s the cairn to the SE. So I had possibly climbed Simon Fell.

Thankfully, I’ve since found an old log book, which records climbing Simon Fell on Sunday 19 June 1977, during a re-visit to the Dales a couple of weeks after the Three Peaks Walk noted above. So I hadn’t needed the most recent ascent after all.

Ingleborough from Crina Bottom

Ingleborough from Simon Fell (possibly)

Upper Wharfedale

I can just about recall climbing Buckden Pike (2303ft) on Monday 2 August 1976, and I’ve been back twice; first on one of my two walks to Grassington, with Dave Travers, in 2009, and then on a short break with Collett’s Mountain Holidays in 2012,

The 2009 walk included Great Whernside (2310ft) too. It has to be said that the linking ‘ridge’ heading away from the Pike is a bit gloopy in places.

That just leaves Yockenthwaite Moor.

Wednesday 16 October 2019: Yockenthwaite Moor from Hubberholme, five miles

Some hills have reputations. Yockenthwaite Moor (2110ft) is one, for all the wrong reasons. It is, apparently, a year-round wet gloopy mess out of which you will not come unmuddied. The map says as much after all. But like so many reputations, it is not totally well-deserved.

I’m not saying it’s one of the great hills of Yorkshire, far from it, but my admittedly brief experience, taken late in the afternoon on my way up to Hawes, was perfectly pleasant. It benefits from a start at Hubberholme, probably my favourite Dales hamlet, and I’m in good company; the great Bradford-born playwright and essayist JB Priestley chose to have his ashes scattered in the little churchyard here, and I started my walk with a brief communication with his spirit (not really, Priestley was as rational a man as I).

A track leads up to Scar House, where I had a brief chat with the resident saying I’d be back soon (cups of tea etc available too), then contours round for a while until it meets Strans Gill. This is the key to the ascent; that is, follow the sort-of path with the gill on your right until the gradient eases out. It’s really not very hard, and not boggy either. There are a few peat hags after you cross the gill near its source, but nothing too messy.

Spend a few minutes at the top, then go back all the same way, nice and clean.

Looking down the valley of Strans Gill, Buckden Pike to the left

Around Hawes

West of Hawes we find Great Knoutberry Hill (2205ft), which I climbed on my cross-England walk in 2015.

Due south of Hawes rises Drumaldrace, a great name for a hill that’s often overlooked. (Strictly, the the hill is called Wether Hill, the summit is called Drumaldrace.) I climbed it in 2012, on the Collett’s holiday mentioned above.

To its south-west is Dodd Fell Hill, another hill that the Pennine Way just misses. I squeezed it in to my 2019 round up this way.

Tuesday 13 March 2012: Drumaldrace from Bainbridge, 13 miles

Just like the Buckden Pike climb on that holiday, this was in a large group too, but the hill wasn’t on the agenda, so two of us left the group (with permission of the leader of course) to find the summit. It’s only a few hundred yards away from the Cam High Road, a Roman Road that runs south-west from the village of Bainbridge and indeed the walk was advertised as ‘Cam High Road and Semer Water’.

Alas the top of the hill was in mist so we didn’t see much, but it meant we had to leave the main party with compass and following a bearing, which we hope impressed people.

My companion on the diversion (she might have been a Kate) and I promised to catch up the remainder of the group in Bardale, which we easily did. I think we walked up the hill road to Green Side, as the map shows, but we might have dropped down the open hillside. Similarly, the route by Semer Water is ‘for information only’, but it follows rights of way and there are only so many you can take. All in all, a nice little circuit.

Saturday 19 October 2019: Dodd Fell Hill from Kidhow Gate, 2½ miles

Well this hardly counts does it. There and back in an hour, with a little under 400ft of climbing; that’s what it takes to climb Dodd Fell Hill (2110ft) from the nearest point on a public road.

If I’d been thinking about it at the time (and I wasn’t, it was several decades in the past), I could have simply have run it as a diversion from the Horton-to-Hawes stage of the Pennine Way, for the hill / fell is only a short hop from the Cam High Road just before it descends into Hawes. But I’m glad I didn’t, because I was off to see my sister rather than go straight home, and she lives Huddersfield way so I could easily afford the time for this morning hill.

And, as it happens, someone else was glad too. Arriving at Kidhow Gate, I wasn’t the only car; there were a couple of others, support team for the Pen y Ghent Ultra Marathon, a 50km race in these parts. Had a quick chat, went up my hill and down again, and there was Dave, hobbling. He had done something very nasty to his knee and/or ankle, had to withdraw, and was faced with a five mile hobble back down the road to Hawes, treatment and partner.

So I was his angel. Once or twice, I’ve come across someone on the hill who has given me good advice. This time, it was my turn to be of practical support. What state his limb might have been in otherwise I do not know. As it turns out, he would soon have all of lockdown’s enforced rest to make recovery …

Dodd Fell Hill, Ingleborough distant centre, Whernside right

Back to the hill. Walk along Cam High Road for about 1 km, there’s a couple of cairns pointing in the right direction, pick your way to the cairn, reverse. A touch damp on top as you will see, but Ingleborough looks really good from this angle.