People are always saying how such-and-such-a-village used to have a dozen pubs, and now has only a Spar. Well, Ingleton, which has a population of about 2,000, has three pubs, an ex-servicemen’s club and a “microbar” called the Old Post Office, which is doing what canny little boozers all over the country do now – providing a warm environment for real ale and friendly chat, while conserving a historic building.
There’s also an excellent pub – Masons Freehouse – on the main road, the A65, just 10 minutes’ walk from the centre. I would recommend having a pint in any or all of these before setting off if it weren’t for the fact that dehydration could be an issue for the classic uphill walk that starts in the centre of Ingleton.
The hike to the summit of Ingleborough is straightforward, and moderately hard, depending on the weather. I went up on a clear, warmish day and while I met people coming down who said there was a lot of low cloud on top, I made it to the summit just as the clouds cleared. I was lucky though: as the climb goes from about 130 metres to 723 metres above sea level – Ingleborough is the second highest of the Yorkshire Three Peaks – it’s vital to check the weather and wear appropriate clothing.
A broad bridleway winds up from the B6255, just east of the village. It’s a perfect way to start a longish walk as the ascent is gradual, with good views of the surrounding farmland and beyond to the limestone pavement of Twistleton Scar on the left and Whernside, the highest of the Three Peaks.
Distance 11 miles
Time 4 hours
Total ascent 741 metres
Difficulty Moderate to tough
Google map of the route
The track starts to climb more sharply after a mile or so, with well-made stone staircases up the steepest sections, protecting the terrain. This is national park territory and – unlike the neighbouring Forest of Bowland, which is owned by the Queen and other rich individuals, and routinely burned for grouse – these hills protect vital peat bogs, heather, moor grass and plants such as bog asphodel.
The geology is interesting, too, with limestone outcrops bursting through the grass on either side of the stone steps. Streams pour through the porous rock, and deep in the crevasses – known as grikes – are small flowers and mosses. It’s worth stopping to study the forms and flora, because the going demands your full attention. It’s also advisable to raise your head and look about, as the view below suddenly opens up to reveal the magnificent Ribblehead viaduct and the wide valley where the Ribble rises.
Ingleborough’s summit is a broad, flattish tableland, and while it’s only a few feet higher than the staircases, it is far more exposed. The first thing to do on reaching the final lip is pull out a sweater or jacket. Since the best spots for tea and a snack, minus wind, were taken up – Ingleborough gets busy at weekends, especially when the weather is fair – I hunkered down on the lee-side of the hill, with a view over to Pen y Ghent, the lowest but best looking of the Three Peaks.
It took me an hour and a half from Ingleton to the top. This felt quite speedy at the time, but it’s actually rather pathetic. People have been walking and running the course of the Three Peaks for more than a century; the record back in 1887, according to a sign on the footpath, was 14 hours, set by two teachers; the record today is 2 hours, 46 minutes and 3 seconds. The distance is 24½ miles. Amazing. I’d walked all of 3 miles.
From the top there are many ways down. The easiest and quickest is to double back to Ingleton. There are also paths down to Clapham, Horton-in-Ribblesdale and Chapel-le-Dale. I was aiming for the last of the three, which involved a very steep staircase, with mercifully short drops at each step. I bumped into a couple of runners, who were 20 miles into their challenge. They looked somewhat weary, but unfazed. Behind them came assorted huffing and puffing scramblers, in a state of shock at the tough ascent.
Eventually, this drop levelled out and a series of flagstone and wooden paths led across a beautiful wide open marsh. Signage at the far end said I had come down the Ridge Walk and welcomed me to Southerscales nature reserve, a wondrous swathe of limestone pavement with rain- and wind-sculpted formations spread over grassland and blanket bog.
Immediately to the right was an impressive crater, a shake hole (sinkhole) colourfully called Braithwaite Wife Hole. But my eyes were already fixed on the shelves and stumps, fists and clumps of polished limestone. In his famous poem In Praise of Limestone, Yorkshireman WH Auden linked the rock to the human body, to nature and to history, and to shimmering Mediterranean mountainscapes. But English limestone is as beautiful as any, strangely white and smooth, and both firm and ever-eroding.
Sheep were my main companions during this walk, but a few Belted Galloway cows mooched around the fields beyond the reserve. Eventually the path zigzagged down to Chapel-le-Dale, a tiny hamlet. Here stands the Old Hill Inn; its bar and restaurant is temporarily closed to passing trade, but it’s a great place to stay a night.
To get back to Ingleton, there’s a strip of asphalt along the line of a Roman Road that runs parallel with the B6255. The limestone scars are close on the right now and there are optional diversions to both Thornton Force waterfall and White Scar Cave.
Ordnance Survey OL2 covers the Western Dales. The Settle Carlisle train stops at Horton, Ribblehead and Settle; there are buses from Settle to Ingleton.
The quirky Old Post Office is a microbar – which is to say it’s small and focuses on drinks, ultra-personalised service and a cosy, welcoming atmosphere (all the things “pubs” used to do). Well-travelled Yorkshiremen Rob and Adam took over the venue in 2019, and have divided it into a main, art-filled gallery bar, a speakeasy-style, armoury-themed room and, for the cold months, a private, bookable, vaguely Game of Thrones-themed shelter in the garden. With room for six people, it’s called the Sanctum, and comes with blankets, music, heating and mood lighting.
Three cask and four keg ales – mostly local – are served, including Old Post Office Blonde from Lancaster Brewery, plus lots of bottles of fine continental beer. Food is snacks only (premium scratchings, crisps and nuts) and the place has become a walkers’ pit-stop, located as it is at the end of the Ingleton Waterfalls Trail. Hosting micro-live music gigs from time to time, the OPO is popular with locals as well as tourists.
Where to stay
The beautiful Old Hill Inn, here since 1615, started life as a farm and was later a drovers’ stopover. a base for trips in the Dales.Prior to the pandemic it was a popular drop-in for walkers. But now it’s functioning as a hotel only, with two cosy ensuite rooms, two glamping pods and a caravan site. The owners, Colin and Sabena Martin, are fine chefs and serve locally sourced food. Guests have access to the pub bar, with its log fire and exposed beams. Dogs allowed.
Doubles from £110 B&B