Yorkshire 3 Peaks Debate

March 12, 2021

Nearly 100,000 walkers came to the Yorkshire Dales in 2019 to climb the 3 Peaks (24 miles, 5,500 feet of climbing).  The difficulty and distance make a completion a cause for great satisfaction. Sadly most will never return.

As a guide on the 3 Peaks I would estimate 60 to 70% of walkers complete the walk within the 12 hours with a further 10% completing the walk in a slower time. I would go as far to say it is the best 1 day challenge in England.

Ingleborough from the Old Hill

Ingleborough from the Old Hill

In addition to the satisfaction of the challenge the visitors (and their relatives/support team) bring in a considerable revenue. Not just to the businesses in Horton but also businesses in the nearby towns and villages (including my own in Long Preston). They stay in the accommodation, they use the pubs, shops and restaurants, they use the guides and also make a considerable amount of money for charities, both national and local.

Not all is rosy

For years the main problems were the paths and the route itself. However over the past 10 years work on Pen y Ghent, the swine tail on Ingleborough and the rebuild off Whernside have vastly improved the route. Not only has it made a more pleasant (and easier) experience for walkers, more importantly it has contained people thereby protecting the environment (and the peat in particular). The rangers will no doubt carry on the excellent maintenance work but for the time being no major work needs to be carried out.

Celebrating at the Crown in Horton
Celebrating at the Crown in Horton

Particularly in Horton

Unfortunately the problem has now moved in to the village of Horton in Ribblesdale. Some of the residents are increasingly unhappy with the behaviour of some of the walkers. As a guide I have witnessed some bad behaviour and in many cases the residents are justified i their moans. Early in the morning parking is an issue, later in the day noise and celebrations become more of the problem. The issues are compounded by anti social behaviour, despite the fact that toilets are available they are not always used! The local anger is understandable.

I would finally add that anti social behaviour is more noticeable on the route itself. There is a lack of toilets on the route generally but some of the remains on the hills are becoming reminiscent of the pig sty that now represents the National 3 Peaks route up Scafell Pike from Wasdale.

Climbing Ingleborough on a summer Saturday
Climbing Ingleborough on a summer Saturday

Poor Solutions to the ‘Horton’ problem

  1. Lengthening or re-routing the 3 Peaks to avoid Horton. To me this will kill the golden goose. The walk length is perfect and an increase will make it unobtainable to the majority. Re-routing will make all the excellent work done by the National Park and associated bodies redundant. I cannot recommend either of these.
  2. Using a different start point. There has been some suggestion of making the official start point at Ribblehead. Again I am not enthusiastic. More parking spaces have been made available along the road which is ok but there is a limit to how many people should be encouraged here. Most importantly Ribblehead is an iconic place and the peace and tranquility of the setting would be destroyed. Thousands of people milling around, churning up the terrain and generally ‘being there’ will mean that the down side would outweigh the up side.
  3. A more draconian solution would be to limit the number of people allowed to park in to Horton. This would only cause chaos on the surrounding roads and more antisocial behaviour. In addition it would cause a large loss of revenue to local businesses as people move away to different challenges.
Iconic Ribblehead
Iconic Ribblehead

The Solution is Horton

The start point of the 3 Peaks Challenge must remain at Horton and the problems managed better than they are at the moment. Horton, like Malham and Ingleton Falls, is one of those pinch points which could be managed better.

I think there are 4 key areas that can be improved.

  1. A presence and stewarding of Horton on any given Saturday from May to September. This should probably be undertaken by the National Park who have a responsibility to their residents, and the management/protection of the national park. Whether they use staff, volunteers or some other organization the Park should make a stand on this. A high visibility presence (yellow jackets/put up stand etc:) of people who know what they are doing would automatically improve behaviour. The staff would also be able to offer advice on facilities and parking as it is the uncertainty that causes lots of the problems.
  2. Code of Conduct. This has been produced by the National Park (read it here) but is not widely publicised. The code should be published across all local businesses and particularly in the car park at Horton. It is a job for public relations. Even if the large charities do help most of the volume of walkers are in smaller, private or corporate groups who have no idea the code exists.
The church at Horton
The church at Horton

3. Car Parking. The present car park is not big enough for summer Saturday traffic but it does have toilets. The best solution is to work with a local farmer to open fields. This now is starting to happen, particularly the field across the bridge. It is a good example of locals becoming part of the 3 Peaks experience and benefiting.

4. The local residents. If the residents (and not all are unhappy with 3 Peak walkers) can see that the National Park in particular are making an effort to improve the situation then they should make an effort to be amenable too. There is an unbelievable lack of facilities at present in Horton (even the 3 Peaks cafe is closed) so there must be opportunities to cash in.

At the present time the National Park are reluctant to put a presence on the ground. They are tight on staff and do not feel policing is their business. If a criminal offence is spotted by the stewards then the police should be called. Confrontation is not the stewards job.

Opportunities for return visitors

Summit of Ingleborough
Summit of Ingleborough

However I believe that the management has to fall on to the National Park. I also believe that this is both a commercial opportunity for the park and a benefit in achieving their increased visitor number targets.

  • The Park is targeted with bringing in an increase in visitors. The easiest way of doing this is to add a small percentage of extra 3 peaks walkers. 3 peaks walkers should be welcomed and encouraged and more will come.
  • Up to 100,000 visitors arriving in a single place without investment is a marketeers dream. Each visitor should leave enthused about the area and fully aware of the different opportunities that the Dales brings for a return visit. Alternative 3 Peaks routes in Wharfedale, the Dales 30 mountains and returning to climb the 3 Peaks with other friends/families who do not want to do the full challenge should also be encouraged.
  • If the stewards/volunteers had a hub, a place where they could sell not only the area but also commercial stock then the Park could really benefit.

At present the 3 Peaks cafe is closed. Why not rent and run the building. What an opportunity…

Enjoy your walking


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  • James Aitken says:

    The numbers of people will never go down. Especially since covid and lockdown. Everyone’s getting out to the great outdoors. Which is genuinely great for everyone’s health, but bad luck for all the popular spots.

    I first did the three peaks around 11 years ago and even then it seemed more pristine and genuine, with much less people. Must have been a completely untouched landscape when it was first invented! I did it again a few weeks ago and it was absolutely heaving. I don’t think I’ll do it again. I don’t like following the tourist pack and that’s what this has become unfortunately.

    That isn’t to say any one person is at fault. It happens to anything that gains popularity, so was inevitable one day.

    I’ve invented and completed a remarkably similar Yorkshire Dales challenge, which remains unspoilt only done by four people. The Five Peaks. If you’re interested, get in touch.

  • John Hughes says:

    I’m not sure that going to the toilet outdoors is anti social ie I’m early 60s and had bladder cancer 20 plus years ago I can’t hold my bladder as long as I used to I think the problem is the numbers my old school foxwood had a farm house at Horton and owned golden lion pub weekdays late 60s early 70s you rarely saw other walkers on the 3 peaks n7mbers won’t get smaller it will bend up a long snake of people ps can’t believe the cafe is closed in Horton

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