The simple act of walking and camping in the hills is reward enough most of the time. Now and again, though, there is the need for challenge, to test your fitness, your endurance, your tolerance of discomfort.
The hills pf Pen-y-Ghent, Whernside and Ingleborough form a 24-mile triangle around this small Yorkshire Dales village and it gets its fair share of visitors keen to test their mettle on this challenge walk.
Things really get crowded in late April every year, too, as hundreds of insanely fit fell runners scamper around the course in the Three Peaks Race, some in under three hours.
Mere mortals who prefer a more sedate pace can complete the route in a day. Indeed, the Pen-y-Ghent café will reward your toil with a badge if you punch in and the start and complete the trek in 12 hours or less.
Being pretty familiar with my own limitations on foot, I reckoned I could complete the journey in eight hours or so without making my feet bleed.Things started ominously, however.
Parking in Horton at 7.30am, I toiled for 10 minutes to get the parking machine to accept my £3.20 fee. The machine whirred and buzzed when it acknowledged that the coin I was feeding into the slot was Sterling, only for the next nugget to cause some mechanical failure and the coinage to be spat out in the change tray.
Swearing under my breath I then felt an unexpected sensation, like a drunken friend spilling a pint down my back. I pulled my fleece round to find an enormous splatter of bird muck.
This incredible scatological feat extended from just below my neckline to the calf of my trouser. Not the Yorkshire welcome I was expecting.
I couldn’t see the offending bird, but could only assume it was flying along, one wing clamped over its behind, after the avian equivalent of a madras the night before.
I repaired to the public loos and spent another 15 minutes using the automatic hand washer to soap, rinse and dry my filthy top and trousers.
By now, I just wanted to get going, so I left a written message on the top of the dashboard for the parking Gestapo and hoped for the best.
The forecast for the day was good: light winds, some hazy sunshine later and the odd chance of a shower.
Continuing to the junction with the Pennine Way, I turned left and headed up the rocky snout of the hill clambering over grit stone steps which provided a geological timescale.
A steep climb rapidly brought me to the gentler ground to the summit. Today, views were obscured by a hazy clag and I didn’t linger, mindful of the day’s schedule.
The route headed northwest off the summit and then skirted its rocky fringe heading northwards. Despite the poor visibility, it was easy to follow.
Dropping down to a junction of paths, I left the Pennine Way and headed again northwest across bog. Rainfall had made conditions treacherous underfoot and I soon slammed on my backside making the fleece, which was tied around my waist, even more grubby. Grumbling, I bundled it into my pack.
The route across this soggy section was relatively easy to follow due to the number of boots and fell shoes that have trampled it previously. Still, I kept an eye on the map as the three peaks route crosses numerous others on the way.
This section should not be underestimated, though. The side of the between Pen-y-Ghent and Whernside is the hypotenuse of the three peaks triangle and, if wet, it can be demanding trek as you divert for swamp and stream.
At Birkwith Cave, the terrain was more benign and a farmers’ track led to the Nether Lodge and then Lodge Hall, and an unfortunate but necessary bit of road walking along the B6479 to reach the impressive Ribblehead Viaduct.
The snack van was open for business at the Ribblehead car park so I gulped down a bottle of water and munched a scone, preserving my own rations of chocolate and cake for later.
Here, the walker traffic increased significantly, as a procession of pedestrians traipsed alongside the railway heading towards the base of Whernside.
Perfectly on cue, the Settle to Carlisle train rumbled by, today pulled by two hulking diesel engines rather than a coughing steam locomotive. I hoped passengers were sipping Champagne as the limestone slid by, but meat pies and mugs of tea were more likely the order of the day.
Now really feeling the effects of the heat, I wrapped a drenched Buff around my head and zipped the legs off my trousers. The relief was immediate and welcome.
The route skirted around the back of Whernside giving me plenty of opportunity to appraise the ensuing climb. The path then crossed the rail line and became a well-engineered stairway upward. Like others enjoying the Bank Holiday sunshine, I had my head down and pressed up to the top.
To the left were views of a high, flat-bottomed moorland bowl providing a home to hardy sheep and, no doubt, wild campers from time to time, although that kind of thing is frowned upon rather than tolerated in these parts. Reaching the summit ridge, the path followed a wall to the trig point and summit shelter.
By contrast to the deserted Pen-y-Ghent, the top of Whernside was busy with walkers chomping on sandwiches, consulting maps and, in one case, in deep conversation about a wrist watch that was a compass, an altimeter and, I believe, a time piece too.
I looked east to see the first hill of the day, but the haze obscured it. My objective, Ingleborough, was a bulky presence to the south though, having a formidable profile from this aspect.
Again, I didn’t linger at the summit of Whernside, keen to get away from the chatter.
On the straightforward route down, I caught up with a family and the dad wanted to know if ‘I was doing all three’. I nodded, and he had a wistful look in his eyes.
‘I did them eighteen years ago,’ he said. ‘Enjoy yourself’.
I said I would try and hurried by. Catching up with his kids he bellowed at them to move aside. He made me feel like I was competing in the fell race. A little more road walking was then required to reach the footpath to Ingleborough. Tempting me was the Old Hill Inn, with its excellent Masham ales on tap.
No time to celebrate yet, though, as the largest hill of the day remained. A superb path through the matrix of limestone pavement carried me to the foot of Ingleborough, it’s profile stepped like Pen-y-Ghent, like a big brother standing the other side of the Ribblesdale.
Now I was presented with the cruel sting in the tail of the walk as a short but very sharp climb carried to the ridge if the hill. I munched a chocolate bar and took it slow. I stopped and looked over the pavement, looking like a bed of white flowers on a lawn from this height, to the bulk of Whernside.
On reaching the crest, it was a simple clamber over rock to the summit plateau, with its trig point, its collection of cairns and the now obligatory shelter. Any feeling of achievement was countered by the long decent, some three miles, back to Horton.
With Pen-y-Ghent now in view again, I followed the well-marked path down and felt the first raindrops of the day. The path was muddy, and through the pavement again, gave cause for concern as a slip could have meant torn shins on the limestone clints.
With the village buildings now in view, I didn’t delay and made the Horton station with only mild discomfort underfoot. I hadn’t looked at the time all day and the clock read 4.15pm: just over eight hours.
Back at the car, I was relieved to see no ticket or wheel clamp and I slumped on the curb. A flask of coffee was hastily consumed and cake… a Yorkshire Tea Loaf, naturally.
I kept one eye on the skies for birdlife, just in case.