Yorkshire 3 Peaks Debate

September 23, 2018

Roughly 100,000 walkers came to the Yorkshire Dales in 2018 to climb the 3 Peaks (24 miles, 5,500 feet of climbing).  The difficulty and distance make a completion (within the preferred 12 hours) a cause for great satisfaction. 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.

Present Problems on the Challenge.

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 re-routing of the track down Pen y Ghent to avoid the previous peat hags has vastly improved the experience. Once the funds are in place to re-route the badly eroded descent off Whernside then the paths are satisfactory and robust. 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

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 the residents do have a case. 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

A variety of solutions have been discussed.

  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. I am not sure how much parking is available at the quarry (it is a site of interest anyway); even if there is enough there would need to be toilets put in and maintained. More 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.

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 is already in discussion and would certainly help. Once agreed upon this should be prominent throughout the village. In addition it should be published across all websites and charity groups in addition to the national park as many arrive to complete the 3 Peaks in smaller private groups or as individuals. It is a job for public relations. The anti social nature of the challenge is not just down to the larger charities.
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. The profit should go to the farmer unless it is managed elsewhere. Fields are opened for the large charity groups and I am sure money talks!

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 a lack of facilities at present in Horton so there may be an opportunity 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 the National Park

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.
  • 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 one of the 3 Peaks with other friends/families who do not want to do the full challenge could also be encouraged.
  • If the stewards 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……


Follow the link for more information on the 3 Peaks Challenge.

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  • Jonathan says:

    I think the complaint is more where they go…not trying to at least get out of sight

  • 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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