Christmas seemed busier than usual this year, families making extra efforts to keep constant communication due to COVID. It was tiring, and I selfishly wanted it to end so I could ‘recharge’ through hiking.
I could only get out for one night. I desperately wanted to go to the Lake District and gaze upon the majestic high craggy peaks with their snow-capped tops. I wanted a challenge, to look down on the icy lakes as they mirror the mountains that overshadowed them.
Due to restrictions, I had to stay in Yorkshire. I have always been an ambassador for the Yorkshire Dales, as many people underestimate its beauty. But this time I was feeling disappointed and underwhelmed at the thought of climbing a modest peak I have done dozens of times before.
I booked the bunk barn at Ribblehead Viaduct. I have stayed there many times before and revelled in the isolation it offers. The icing on the cake is the pub next door offering home-cooked food and a roaring open fire, offering the best of both worlds.
The bunk barn in the past has not been a place of luxury. Its draughty doors and windows always let in the cold, the heaters never work and the beds themselves look 50 years old. If that wasn’t bad enough, you always find a few dead bugs lying around. I never knew if the top or bottom bunk would be safest away from spiders or creepy crawlies. It’s fair to say that my disappointment of not being in the Lakes and the trepidation of the bunk barn made me wonder if I should have bothered going at all.
Shorting after arriving I was assured I was put into ‘one of the good bunks’. To my utter amazement, the barn had been completely refurbished. Re-plastered, painted, new bunks, beds, floor and the pièce de résistance, an en suite and a working radiator! My bed was already made up for me, surrounded by 5 empty ones. My trip was already looking up; I was just missing some company.
Having arrived late, it was already 3 pm! With only an hour or so before the sunset, I headed for a short walk. Aside from Whernside being in a thick low cloud, the evening had all the makings of an excellent sunset. As I headed toward the towering Ribblehead Viaduct I took the path toward Gunnerside Farm where I caught a glimpse of a snow-capped Ingleborough.
The skies were clear and the sun was hovering over Ingleborough’s trig point. The light was beautiful, an aura of orange haze surrounding the mountain. I kept on the road toward Ingleborough for a closer look. As I got closer, the sun was getting lower in the sky, and the sunset was approaching rapidly.
I drew a line from the top of Ingleborough following its natural silhouette, where it meets the road towards Ingleton. From my viewpoint, the road seemingly disappears into a deep crevasse, where a luminous red sunset was lighting the way for motorists.
I wanted to stay and watch the whole sunset, but the ice underfoot urged me to head back before dark. Reluctant to turn back, my disappointment was short-lived as I was met with a purple sky hanging over the viaduct.
As I got closer, the seemingly enormous and bright full moon was suspended in the sky, sitting under the arches of the viaduct. It was stunning. I grabbed my camera and took a picture, knowing that it was going to be one of those literal picture-perfect moments, no editing necessary. Not sure how long I stayed just taking in the view, but each second that passed, I could feel my metaphorical batteries being recharged.
Darkness had now covered the Ribble Valley so I headed to the pub. I found a table next to the open fire, ordered a gin, and kicked back with a book. Outside, the cloud had lifted from Whernside, its white peak reflecting the full moon lighting up Ribblehead. As I immersed myself in Phoebe Smith’s ‘Extreme Sleeps’, I was kicking myself for being too much of a wuss to wild camp myself tonight. Whernside looked so mesmerising that evening I had to restrain myself from putting on my boots and going up there and then, but the -10 forecast was a bit of a turnoff. I figured it could wait until morning.
I started hiking at 7 am; I couldn’t remember how long it took to get up to the trig so I hoped I would get there in time for sunrise. Although it was still dark, the full moon was lighting up the sky and the dark silhouettes of Ribblehead Viaduct were in full view. About 30 minutes in, it had already started to get light, foregoing the need for a head torch. Being extremely icy underfoot, the pace was slower than I had hoped. About halfway up I look around to find sunrise was already in full swing. Behind me, Pen-y-Ghent was lit up in a fiery red glow, to my left the tarn that sits below Whernside was seemingly frozen in time with the ripples frozen mid-flow. In front of me were the cloud-free summits of Ingleborough and Whernside. It was a welcome break from all the bad weather that has seemingly followed me around for months.
Sunrise was a little anti-climactic, I think I set off a little too late and it came and went very quickly. As I approached the top section of the walk I couldn’t help but detour to Whernside Tarns (the ones people don’t realise exist), crazy really as the views from the tarns are spectacular. Usually, the trek up Whernside offers views of the three peaks, Dent and Pendle Hill. From the tarns, you can see all of that, plus the Howgills and the Lake District.
The detour was worth it! I had 360 degrees of stunning views. As I sat beside the frozen tarn I watched the sun getting higher in the sky over Pen-Y-Ghent, behind me, a full moon hung over the snow-topped Lake District, and to the side of me the ‘sleeping elephants’ of the Howgills. I stayed for a while soaking up the views, as I did, more walkers were starting to appear on the usual Whernside path.
As I got back on track, a thin veil of cloud-shrouded the summit. I wasn’t too disappointed as I had my fill of awesome views. The steep descent down wasn’t as icy as the approach and it was a pretty straight forward route back toward the Station Inn pub where I would finish my walk.
Despite my initial reluctance and hesitance about my little 24-hr trip, I had an amazing time. It is hard to articulate the beauty of these places, especially in good weather conditions. I truly enjoyed my little adventure and I intend to go back shortly and brave the cold wild camp.