Whernside, one of the Yorkshire Dales’ Three Peaks, is often thought to be a relatively boring walk compared with its partners, Ingleborough and Pen-y-Ghent. I disagree – though it is certainly easier-going than the other two and, if you stick to the popular route in good weather, it’s quite hard to get lost. So try not to.
Whernside looks like a long, brooding, monster. The name is Old Norse in origin – Whern from quern (a millstone – Old Norse kvern) and side from saettr, summer pasture. It’s a long ridge, running roughly north-south, on the border with Cumbria. At 2,415’ (736m), Whernside is the highest summit in North Yorkshire and, as one of the Three Peaks (see Pen-y-Ghent for a bit about this) it is subject to all those fit-types zooming up and down it - so it can be a bit like the M25 during rush hour. Unlike the M25, though, things do tend to keep moving. When we last walked it the enthusiasts must have been on the other two peaks, or training in Wales, because it was reasonably peaceful.
Like most things, there are a variety of ways of tackling Whernside. But the most popular walk starts and finishes at Ribblehead on the B6255 between Ingleton and Hawes. It’s about 8 miles and I’ve done it (aging and overweight) in about 4-5 hours.
You’ll walk by the impressive 104’ high, 440 yard long, 24-arch Ribblehead Viaduct, which carries the Carlisle-Settle railway. Completed in 1870, it claimed hundreds of lives during its construction through accidents, fighting and disease. There’s a station at Ribblehead – so you could easily get to this walk by train. If you’re lucky, you’ll see a steam loco on the bridge – a magnificent sight, just like being in a Harry Potter movie.
The walk takes you past Blea Moor signal box, up by the side of a cute little aqueduct which channels Force Gill over the railway, and past Force Gill waterfalls. Now, if you take a little something with you to enjoy en route (I’m thinking sandwiches, pies, coffee - that kind of ‘little something’) I should point out that there are few decent spots for a picnic beyond this point. I like to search out a convenient stone on these occasions, preferably free of the detritus of previous visitors, reasonably sheltered, and with a good view. Not many of those on this route. The path up Whernside hereabouts can be decidedly soggy and, once you start to climb the ridge it can get a little breezy. Oh yes.
The views from the top are spectacular. Below you to the east, Ribblehead Viaduct is a stunning juxtaposition of Dales country with a Victorian engineering triumph - albeit health and safety might have been better. To the south east, Ingleborough. To the west, beautiful Dentdale and, beyond that, you can see Morecambe Bay and even the off-shore wind farms.
The path will take you down to your left (east-ish), then left again (north-west), past Winterscales Farm and back to the viaduct. If you’ve been very good, you might find an ice cream van parked up nearby waiting for you.
As usual when you’re walking in these parts, leave the high heels and trainers behind, wear good boots, sensible clothing and take a map. Visit the Ramblers’ Association website for practical guidance on walking – equipment, safety etc.