Yorkshire Dales - Summits
|Metres||Feet||Grid Ref||Hill Classification||Trig||No. of visits|
|736||2415||SD738814||Marilyn, Nuttall, Hewitt, CoUa||Yes||1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6|
Somewhat confusingly there are three fells named Whernside in the Yorkshire Dales - Great Whernside, Little Whernside and the subject of this page simply known as Whernside. Along with Ingleborough and Pen-y-Ghent, Whernside is one of the celebrated Three Peaks of Yorkshire. Whernside also has the distinction of being the highest summit in Yorkshire having usurped that title from Mickle Fell when the latter was unceremoniously ceded to Durham during the 1974 boundary changes.
Despite being the highest of the Three Peaks it is perhaps fair to say that Whernside is probably the least fashionable of the three and is just as much likely to be climbed as part of the Three Peaks Challenge as it is purely for its own merits. By contrast Pen-y-Ghent and in particular Ingleborough are very popular climbs in their own right and have a reputation for being more interesting than Whernside. Personally I think this is a bit of a shame as Whernside has far more of interest than is likely to be seen by the average Three Peaker.
Without a doubt the most popular starting point to climb Whernside is from Ribblehead, the valley head of both Ribblesdale and Chapel-le-Dale. Apart from Whernside itself the most striking feature of Ribblehead is the 24-arch Ribblehead Viaduct, part of the Settle-Carlisle railway. The view of the viaduct backed by the steep wall of Whernside is a fantastic combination of natural grandeur and a man made construction.
From Ribblehead most walkers climb the fell anti-clockwise following the railway line before crossing over both the line and an aqueduct before following a broad track which effectively performs a semi-circle as it climbs up on to the summit ridge. A more direct route is to go under the viaduct to Winterscales Farm before taking a thin path that makes a bee line over Winterscales Pasture before a final steep scramble brings you up on to the main ridge just south of the summit. Another option is to climb up the steep, stepped rocky path above Bruntscar which is most walkers' route of descent.
By far the finest route up Whernside from Ribblehead that I have taken initially follows the main path until you cross the viaduct. Here instead of following the main path you can cross a broken wall to follow the east bank of Force Gill. A leisurely climb alongside reveals a succession of delights the most impressive of which are the upper and lower waterfalls which surely gave the gill its name. These two waterfalls are, in my humble opinion the equal of almost any to be found in the Yorkshire Dales and it is a shame that most people will only ever see the lower one from a distance. A short section of rougher ground needs to be crossed upon reaching the head of the gill but in clear weather this shouldn't be a problem as the main path should be visible ahead and to the right.
From the head of Force Gill an alternative to rejoining the main path straight away is to make your way carefully over boggy ground to the attractive Greensett Tarn, often seen from the main path but as with the waterfalls of Force Gill much less commonly visited. There is something about upland tarns that I find particularly attractive and the Yorkshire Dales has the finest tarns in England outside of the Lake District. While tarns are fairly common in the Yorkshire Dales it is still unusual that Whernside should have no less than five tarns marked on the Ordnance Survey map. The only Dales fell that can beat this total is Baugh Fell. Apart from Greensett Tarn there are four tarns situated closely together approximately a mile north of the summit and are named collectively as Whernside Tarns.
While most people who climb Whernside will at least see Greensett Tarn the Whernside Tarns will only be seen if one looks north at the right point as the path arrives at a fence junction on the main summit ridge. Most people who visit the Whernside Tarns will probably do so if they are climbing Whernside from Dent leaving the Craven Way at Boot of the Wold. It should be said that from my experience the route from Dent is perhaps the most satisfying all round route for climbing Whernside, not only as it gives you the opportunity to visit the Whernside tarns but also because of the variety of views the walk offers. For people climbing from Ribblehead the main valley views are of Ribblesdale and Chapel-le-Dale but if you are climb from Dent then you also can add excellent views of Dentdale, Kingsdale and Deepdale into the mix as well. Incidentally this also highlights Whernside's importance as the dividing line between so many valleys.
Given that Whernside is the highest fell in the Dales it is not surprising that it also makes a good viewpoint. The view down into Ribblesdale and Chapel-le-Dale is fantastic all along the main summit ridge. What particularly impressed me though on my first visit was the view from west to north where the hills seem to go on forever. It should be noted that even though Whernside was the last of the Three Peaks I'd climbed individually it was the first of the three, and the first summit I'd been to, where I could actually see anything from the top. In fact I've always considered Whernside to be something of a lucky fell for me as on each of my six visits I've had, for however brief a moment, a good view from the top.
While I've now been up Whernside half a dozen times I still do not feel I've unlocked all it's secrets. The long ridge to the south west which terminates in Twisleton Scar End looks particularly enticing and perhaps one day I will tie this in with an ascent or descent starting from Kingsdale. It is almost heretical to claim Whernside is the finest of the Three Peaks but personally I would have to say it is my favourite.