YorkshireNet guide to the Three Peaks

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The Three Peaks area covers about 160 square kilometres of upland in the Pennines, with internationally famous limestone scenery. Much of the area is a Site of Special Scientific Interest, owing to the special nature and fragility of its upland ecosystem.

Whernside, Ingleborough and Penyghent, the Three Peaks, all around 700 metres high, are probably the most popular outdoor areas in the Yorkshire Dales National Park due to the wild landscape, the limestone features, and the hill walking potential. As many as 120,000 people climb Ingleborough each year.

The combination of high rainfall, poor drainage, and thousands of boots tramping across fragile vegetation have brought massive footpath erosion and damage to the natural ecology. As a result, the National Park has established several innovatory schemes to repair paths and safeguard the environment whilst preserving the natural wilderness feel.

Ribblehead, at the top of Ribblesdale, is in the centre of the Three Peaks and is itself famous for the Ribblehead Viaduct where the Settle-Carlisle Railway crosses the boggy moor. This was the site of an infamous shanty town during the railway construction, a task which required many tunnels, viaducts and bridges, and cost many lives. The ascent of Whernside is tackled from the Ribblehead area.

Further down the dale, Horton in Ribblesdale is a stopping off point for Pennine Way walkers and for the ascent of Pen-y-ghent. Dominated by its limestone quarry, it is a useful base for exploring upper Ribblesdale. The dales road continues through Stainforth, whose ford was replaced by a graceful packhorse bridge in the 1670s, and past Langcliffe to Settle, the market town for the area, overlooked by the enormous limestone crag of Castleberg.

Settle's market charter goes back to 1249, and on Tuesdays its Market Place is filled with a variety of colourful stalls, overlooked by the unusual two storey arched Shambles. Settle has retained many of its old buildings and its intimate atmosphere, with a wide range of small, independent shops. Nearby Giggleswick is an interesting village, well known for its public school.

Settle is by-passed from the A65 Leeds-Kendal road, which continues north west to Clapham, also by-passed.

More wooded than most Dales villages, Clapham is an excellent base for exploring Ingleborough and the limestone landscape north of the village. 

The Farrer family rebuilt Ingleborough Hall, planted thousands of trees, and transformed the village. They discovered and opened up Ingleborough Cave as a visitor attraction, now forming an outlet to the famous Gaping Gill system. The Reginald Farrer nature trail commemorates his exploits travelling the world in search of plants and new species. Every autumn is the Three Peaks Cycle Race.

Close to Clapham, Austwick is the site of the famous Norber Erratics. These are boulders carried by a glacier during the late Ice Age and dumped on this limestone plateau.

The limestone supporting them has been eroded away by rain and wind, leaving the huge boulders supported on small pedestals of white limestone.

Further north west, Ingleton provides another route to walk up Ingleborough, and is famous for its Waterfall Walk through the local ‘glens’. Village streets are narrow and winding, centred on the tiny market place.

On the Hawes road from Ingleton, White Scar Cave is open daily and features the longest show cave in Britain.

Settle-Carlisle railway Ingleton Watefalls Pen-y-ghent in the snow