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Three Peaks, Ten Tors - a Cicerone guidebook to UK Challenge Walks - Introduction

Cover of Three Peaks, Ten Tors
3 Jun 2010
17.2 x 11.6 x 1.9cm
1st Published
14 Feb 2007
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Three Peaks, Ten Tors

And other challenging walks in the UK

by Ronald Turnbull
Book published by Cicerone Press

A guidebook to the best UK challenge walks. The 15 routes include the 3 peaks (National, Yorkshire & Lancashire), Dartmoor Ten Tors, the Lyke Wake Walk, Across Wales Walk, the Lairig Ghru, the Exmoor Hundred, the Welsh 3000s, Lakes 3000s and the Cairngorm 4000s. With notes on planning, schedules, how to choose the challenge and much more.

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A look both serious and humorous at what it takes to do a long-distance or challenge walk – the mental toughness, experience, the slight madness – plus notes on planning and undertaking the best such routes.

Ronald Turnbull, veteran of many a long-distance and challenge walk, intersperses sound advice with wry recollections of his experience of the 3 Peaks Challenge and other such routes throughout the British Isles.

Suitable for aspiring or novice long-distance walkers, the guidebook provides tips on how to minimise the suffering, to stay safe, to raise money for charity perhaps, and to find a surprising amount of enjoyment along the way. Old hands will enjoy comparing their experiences with the author’s reminiscences of the highs and lows of long-distance routes.

Includes route outlines and schedules, tips on minimizing the environmental impact of challenge routes and suggestions for new ‘3 peaks’ and other long-distance routes.

Includes sections on the following routes:

•  National Three Peaks
•  Yorkshire Three Peaks
•  Lancashire Three Peaks
•  Three Peaks of Somerset
•  Ten Tors (Dartmoor)
•  Lyke Wake Walk
•  Derwent Watershed
•  Across Wales Walk
•  Lairig Ghru
•  Fifty from your Front Door (do-it-yourself)
•  Welsh 3000s
•  Lakes 3000s
•  Cumbria’s Old Country Tops
•  Cairngorm 4000s
•  Mourne’s Seven Sevens
•  Tranters’ Walk (Lochaber)

  • Seasons
    Throughout the year. Winter walking in remote areas is only for those with the necessary skills and experience.
  • Centres
  • Difficulty
    Walks from 25km (15.5 miles) to 80km (50 miles), and from 7 hrs to 34hrs. Some remote and mountainous areas. Good fitness and navigational skills (including night navigation) required.
  • Must See
    The group experience; the shared suffering; the sense of achievement. Crossing the finish line. Planning your next route. Wondering why you are doing it...
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Key to Route Maps   
Map: Location of the Walks



1 Introducing the Three Big Hills   
    Ben Nevis   
    Scafell Pike   

2 The National Three Peaks Challenge:
Ben Nevis, Scafell Pike and Snowdon within 24 hours   
    The route: Ben Nevis   
    The route: Scafell Pike   
    The route: Snowdon   

3 The National Three Peaks Challenge by Public Transport   
    The good, the bad, and the mystery socks   
    Challenges and the imagination   
    The Three Peaks by bus   


4 The Yorkshire Three Peaks: Pen-y-ghent, Whernside, Ingleborough   
    Route and schedule   
    Adventures of the invisible worm – a winter’s night on the Yorkshire Three Peaks   
    Up Ingleborough underground   

5 The Lancashire Three Peaks: Longridge Fell, Easington Fell, Pendle   
    Pen-y-ghent – or Pendle?   
    Route and schedule   

6 Everywhere has Three Peaks in it   
    Peaks in threes   
    The Three Peaks of Somerset: Dunkery Beacon, Periton Hill, Selworthy Beacon   
    The Marilyns: 1554 hills you probably haven’t heard of


7 A Weakness for Bleakness  

8 The Dartmoor Ten Tors: 50 Miles of Moorland over Two Days   
    History and geography   
    Ten Tors for grown-ups   

9 Mastery of Misery: The Lyke Wake Walk   
    The easiest walk in England?   
    Route and schedule   

10 The Derwent Watershed: 39 Miles in the Dark Peak
    For Peat’s sake   
    Route and schedule   

11 The Across Wales Walk: From the English Border to the Sea over Plynlimon   
    Walking across Wales   
    Brief route and schedule 

12 The Lairig Ghru: The Great Through-route of the Cairngorms 
    Through the Ghru   
    Route and schedule  


13 Time and Space: The Fundamentals   

14 Fifty from your Front Door: A Southern Upland Story

15 A Hundred Miles at Once: Two Days and Nights over Exmoor   

    The Exmoor Hundred   
    Survival skills: Sore legs and feeling sick  


16 The Welsh 3000s: 15 Peaks in One Day  
    Brief route and schedule   
    Foel-fras to Snowdon with extra fun   

17 The Lakes at Length: Lakes 3000s and Old County Tops  
    Stuffing the daffodils   
    Lakes 3000s brief route and schedule   
    Old County Tops brief route and schedule   

18 The Cairngorm 4000s: Five Granite Giants in a Day   
    Brief route and schedule   
    Getting the wind up   

19 The Mourne Seven Sevens: All Northern Ireland’s 700m Peaks   
    Brief route and schedule   
    Mourne is never less   

20 Tranter’s Walk: 18 Munros around Glen Nevis  
    The freedom to fall   
    Brief route and schedule   

21 Start/Finish   

Appendix 1 Information and Internet 

Appendix 2 Walks Summary   



Ever since man came down out of the trees, stood on two legs, and started to walk, some other fellow has been trying to walk further. The fields and fells of England, the mountains of Wales, the forests and drove roads of Scotland: these are all about healthy exercise, the loveliness of the landscape, the pleasure of good company. Except that, from time to time, they’re not. They’re about one (probably blistered) foot in front of the other, again and again, till you reach 30 miles or seven summits or some other arbitrary mark. That’s what long-distance walking is all about.

Such self-inflicted suffering does have compensations. There’s a genuine thrill in getting the view of Ingleborough from Pen-y-ghent at dawn, and 10 hours later the view of Pen-y-ghent from Ingleborough at sunset. Short walks, or even moderately long ones, can be frustrating – you have to come down just as the hills are getting interesting. Twice as far can, indeed, be twice as much fun.

Short-distance walking is a solitary, or small-group, experience. But a ‘challenge walk’ is often undertaken as part of an organisation or horde. The shared suffering and endeavour are more intense than life usually offers outside the field of football hooliganism. Lie down on the wooden floor of some village hall among 100 others who, tomorrow, will drip their sweat into a single furrow. As you stumble into the final checkpoint just after midnight on the following morning, be heartwarmingly applauded by the three people still awake.

What follows, then, is the ‘how’ of it – including, importantly, the ‘how not’. Here is the ‘where’, with 16 routes in detail, plus the whole of the UK and the rest of your life in summary. Here is the ‘why’, or sometimes the ‘why not’, in stories of sore legs and sunrises, of Ben Nevis by bus and the underground route up Ingleborough. Here is how to minimise the suffering, to stay safe, to raise money for charity perhaps, and to find a surprising amount of enjoyment along the way.

The routes

Ultimate walks come in and out of fashion. These last few years everyone’s been doing the National Three Peaks, meaning Snowdon, Scafell Pike and Ben Nevis (the highest mountains in Wales, England and Scotland respectively); this is described in detail in Part I. As training for the Three Peaks, try the Yorkshire version: Pen-y-ghent, Whernside and Ingleborough (Chapter 4). Meanwhile, the Lyke Wake Walk (Chapter 9), once justly famous as the most horrible 40 miles of peat in the east, is almost forgotten.

The only fault of the favourites – if they have one at all – is a lack of imagination. The National Three Peaks is also environmentally dodgy as it involves driving around in cars and disturbing the folk of Borrowdale. So in the later parts of the book the thinking brain leads the legs into new and less-trampled lands. Part II introduces Three Peaks Rather Closer Together: the ones of Yorkshire, but also those of Somerset, South Wales, Ancient Cumbria. Use your imagination and your own local map; instead of following mindlessly in someone else’s muddy footsteps, have the satisfaction of wandering into a solitary bog that’s entirely of your own devising.

Fellwalking is the invention of the late 18th century: Coleridge on the Helvellyn Ridge at midnight, Wordsworth on Snowdon. Challenge walking, at about the same era, can trace its origins to the ‘I bet I could do that’ attitude of the Regency bucks. Would it be possible to drive a flock of geese from Norwich to London? Can I, by using the Lairig Ghru, walk to Inverness quicker than the coach road? £2500 says that I can. Part III, Moor and More, steps back through history into the heather, finding a taste for the waste country of Britain: the Derwent Watershed where the hard men of the Rucksack Club did their 60 or 80 miles among the peat groughs (Chapter 10), the Cold War ethos of the 40-mile Lyke Wake Walk (Chapter 9), the Lairig Ghru itself (Chapter 12).

Part IV introduces the Long Distance Walkers’ Association, its annual 100-mile challenge (Chapter 15), and how to prepare the feet (and more importantly the brain) for Survival of this grim and glorious event.

Despite the appeal of long-distance routes, it’s hard to ignore the tradition of the last two centuries: the highest form of outdoor endeavour goes over the top of the mountain. What are 50 miles of forward motion without 15,000ft of uphill along the way? 100km of ‘onwards’ requires at least 5000m of ‘up’. So hit the big-time on Snowdon and Slieve Donard, Coniston Old Man and the Cairngorms. There’s the friend you’ve been meaning to visit who’s 20, or 30, or 50 miles away from your own front door. And finally, for those with the hill skills and the really muscly legs, there’s Tranter’s fabulous round of 18 mountaintops around Glen Nevis (Chapter 20).

How to use this book

Man is an animal with two legs at one end and an overactive imagination at the other. So this book feeds the mind as well as the feet. The descriptions of specific routes can be distinguished from the stories, advice, dreadful warnings and incitements, as the route descriptions are headed by boxed data sections. The routes described are also summarised in Appendix II.

The initial part is devoted to the National Three Peaks challenge: Snowdon, Scafell Pike and Ben Nevis. It does not give instruction in map reading and navigation, but otherwise is intended to be complete, giving all the information for even an uninitiated challenge-walker.

The following two parts cover walks that, while arduous, are not among crags and crowded contours. On the moorland walks of Part III, it is likely that an inexperienced walker who is both lost and ill equipped, and who is then hit by bad weather, is getting into a serious situation. Some competence at navigation and hillcraft is assumed, and so the route descriptions become briefer and less detailed. For the mountain walks in Part V, as well as for Dartmoor and the Lairig Ghru, hillcraft including competence with maps and navigation is essential, and the route descriptions in this book are a supplement to that.

Distances have been measured with a piece of cotton on 1:25,000 scale maps, and ascents by counting contour lines. Anquet mapping software gives distances that are 5 percent to 10 percent shorter, and ascents increased by about the same. Many authors add 10 percent or more for wiggles – so that the Lyke Wake Walk and the Lakes 3000s are often quoted at 45 miles. Not here; but if you need the extra 10 percent for boasting purposes, please add it back in.

The schedules are based on Naismith’s Rule, whereby 1000ft of uphill counts as an extra 1.5 miles horizontal (100m of up as 0.8km), and then a speed of 3mph, dropping after a tiring amount of walking to 2.75mph (4.8kph dropping to 4.4kph). The formula fails where ground is rocky or especially rough, and also where steep, difficult slopes occur downhill. I have adjusted the timings accordingly. The resulting pace is described as the ‘standard strong walker’, who can manage the National Three Peaks in 24 hours. The column headed ‘Ascent’ is the total amount of ‘up’, taking account of any undulations.

The large-scale sketch mapping of the summits of Ben Nevis, Scafell Pike and Snowdon is as accurate as I can make it, and is intended to supplement (not replace) a walkers’ map of the whole mountain. The other sketch maps are not intended for navigation on the hill. At various tricky corners, 8-digit grid references are given for GPS users: provided your GPS isn’t blindsided by a steep slope or obstruction, these are good within 10 metres. If your GPS requires 10 digits, add a 5 or any other digit to the end of each 4-digit group. To convert to normal 6-digit grid references, remove the last digit of each 4-digit group.

In this book, 100m (no ‘etres’) is a vertical height, while 100 metres is horizontal. A ‘track’ is wide enough for four wheels; a ‘path’ isn’t.
Information on mapping, access, public transport and accommodation is concentrated in Appendix 1.

So how does it happen?

A moment of inattention – a simple ‘oh I guess so’ – can so easily lead into a day and a night of serious non-stop walking. The human brain is super-sensitive to the slight increase in status achieved by crossing the Yorkshire Three Peaks, while conveniently blind to the pains ahead, and afterwards equally forgetful of the agony just passed. And so, after a hot bath and a beer, you find yourself saying ‘well why not’ to the Dartmoor Ten Tors (Chapter 8).

For Nature didn’t design the human leg just for hanging trendy kitten heels or snakeskin trainers on the end of. A convenient way to operate the brake pedal and the clutch, yes – but feet do have other functions. We humans are long-distance landscape animals. So, late on a summer’s day, I found myself heading through long green shadows beside a sparkling river into one of the loneliest glens of Northern Scotland. There, in a small deerstalkers’ lodge, were 50 or so folk enjoying a song, the sound of the bagpipes, and a very large meal, with all the satisfaction of having – after 38 miles – finally stopped walking. Self-indulgent? Not a bit of it – we were raising money for the charity Children First.

In the morning it was up and over a clouded high pass, and down another great empty glen, where the peculiar inspiration of the organisers had provided checkpoint sustenance of greasy beefburgers and neat whisky. The man in kilt and sandals showed just how sensible that outfit is for thigh-deep river crossings, but modestly asked me not to photograph him in revealing mid-stream. At evening, through a rocky hill-slot, we looked out over Loch Duich, golden under low sunbeams. And it was all the more beautiful for being the Atlantic end to two days that began at the North Sea.

It may or may not raise very much money for charity. It’s probably going to hurt. And nobody but ourselves is really going to be impressed. So let’s get into our lightweight footwear, and go out and have some fun.
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