Whernside

Whernside

Whernside is one of the famed Three Peaks of Yorkshire and, since the boundary changes in 1974, the highest summit in Yorkshire.

Height (m): 736
Height (ft): 2415
Prominence (m): 408
Classification: County Top, Nuttall, Hewitt, Marilyn
Hill No: 2779
Grid Ref: SD738814
OS Map OL2
No. of Visits 8

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.

The long summit ridge of Whernside
The long summit ridge of Whernside

Another, often overlooked, result of the boundary changes in 1974 is that the trig point on the summit of Whernside is now on the Cumbrian side of the boundary with North Yorkshire. Bizarrely the trig point is listed on the Ordnance Survey database as Little Whernside.

The trig point on Whernside
The trig point on Whernside

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.

Whernside above Littledale Beck
Whernside above Littledale Beck

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.

Ribblehead Viaduct from Whernside
Ribblehead Viaduct from Whernside

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.

The final steep section of the direct route from Winterscales
The final steep section of the direct route from Winterscales

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 Low Force and High Force.

Force Gill
Force Gill

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.

Looking down on Force Gill's Low Force
Looking down on Force Gill’s Low Force

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.

Greensett Tarn
Greensett Tarn

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.

The view of Great Coum from one of the Whernside Tarns
The view of Great Coum from one of the Whernside Tarns

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.

A cloud topped Whernside from Ingleborough
A cloud topped Whernside from Ingleborough

In fact I’ve always considered Whernside to be something of a lucky fell for me as on each of my visits I’ve had, for however brief a moment, a good view from the top. 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.

Looking down on Greensett Tarn from high on Whernside
Looking down on Greensett Tarn from high on Whernside above

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