Three Peaks: Day 3 – Whernside, viaduct, aqueduct and bolting rhubarb

8.04 miles 5h 3min ascent 473m

Ribblehead-Viaduct-Dales High Way-Cable Rake-Whernside-Skelside-Broadrake-The Scar- Gunnersfleet-Ribblehead

Whernside was the third of our Yorkshire Three Peaks walk. It takes its name from the OE cweorn ‘Quern, millstone’ and at 736m it is the highest of Yorkshire’s three peaks, and the highest summit in Yorkshire – at least since the 1974 boundary changes kicked its rival, Mickle Fell (literally Great Hill), into County Durham.

Our walk is summed up pretty well by The Yorkshire Dales website description of the route from Ribblehead…

Starting from the impressive Ribblehead Viaduct this route takes you to the highest point in Yorkshire – Whernside. On a clear day there are great views out to the Howgills, the Lake District and Morecambe Bay. The ascent of Whernside involves a long steady climb and a lovely high-level ridge. The descent is steeper with a final flat section through the fields to finish underneath the spectacular Ribblehead viaduct.

It’s difficult to add much to that…but I’ll have a go. We started off by walking alongside the viaduct, its 24 arches towering above the valley floor. The path is very clear with slabs laid in places, to control erosion. The wee bridge below is, I think, over Hare Gill. I’m sure we would have been OK getting over without it but the fact that there is a higher approach to the bridge suggests that the beck can be more of an obstacle.

The path levels out beside the old signalman’s house, now a ruin. I’m almost certain I saw a little girl in the signal box itself, but perhaps it was a trick of the light. A small garden had rhubarb in flower (which I believe is called bolting). A first for me!


The railway had been our companion for a little over half an hour but we were about to part ways. A combined footbridge and aqueduct carried us, and Force Gill over the rails while the railway continued on to disappear into a tunnel under Blea Moor.

Beyond the crossing we started our climb up the slopes of Force Gill ridge. A couple of men were working the path, presumably repairing it. From their comments about working for nothing, I take it they were volunteers.

We fell in behind a trio of older walkers (to be honest we were probably the same age as them). They were walking just a little slower than I would have done and I was tempted to overtake them. But as the path climbed their pace proved to be just right. They carried on along the Dales High Way while we took the ‘shortcut’ up Grain Ings.

The force of Force Gill

A brief shoulder, Hagg Worm Haw, gave us a chance to catch our breath. A hagworm, by the way, is an adder ‘ while haugr is yet another word for a hill. We didn’t see any snakes just plenty of mud. The last main pull was across the steep eastern slope of Whernside above Greensett Tarn. We stopped on the way up to ‘admire the views’.

Greensett Tarn

Once up the hillside, the path climb was more gentle. Easy walking, great views. We reached a gap stile in the wall and stepped through to find the trig pillar. A pleasant surprise. I had thought it was further away. Our surprises are usually the way round, we think we are almost there but find we still have another slope to climb.

Whernside, the third peak

We had lunch about 5m from the summit trig, in yet another wall shelter. With views, as advertised, of the Howgills and Morecambe Bay.

Descending Whernside

The descent was straightforward. Though steep in places there were good rock steps where needed. In fact the steps looked relatively new. My right hamstrings sent in some complaints but we were on gentler slopes soon enough.

the path off Whernside

The final section took us along farm tracks beneath a small limestone scar and eventually across Winterscales Beck and back under Ribblehead Viaduct. The fields, full of sheep and lambs, were pocked with potholes. We had noticed some of the trees seemed dead but close up we could see they had buds. I don’t know what type of tree they were but they must be one that blooms later than most.

We finished our third Three Peaks walk in bright sunshine.

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