For Sandy and I, our goal was simple. To complete the Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge. We had last made the round of Pen-y-Ghent, Whernside and Ingleborough back in the summer of 1984 soon after we had first met. Now, 35 years later, it was time for another go!
Having booked time off work in mid – July, in order to give us near-maximum amount of daylight should we need it (I admit it, I can become a little paranoid when it comes to time, as my long-suffering wife will readily testify), the first task was to choose our accommodation. Although not an obvious choice as it is about a 45-minute drive from Horton-on-Ribblesdale, our chosen start-point, we had passed through Kettlewell a few years back on a cycling trip and knew of the hostel there, although we didn’t know it had since become independent. Sandy has had a long association with the YHA – when we first met, she was about to start work as an assistant warden up in the Lake District – and over the years has tried to stay in as many of the hostels as she could. She was keen to visit Kettlewell Hostel again and first impressions from all the reviews on the website were extremely positive. Not wanting to miss out, we booked up immediately and sat back and waited for July to arrive (well, not exactly sat back as there was the small matter of making sure we were well enough prepared for our little jaunt…).
We arrived in Kettlewell on a damp Sunday evening to be greeted by a village adorned with imaginatively and elaborately dressed scarecrows! We hadn’t realised but we were staying during the week-long annual scarecrow festival. And we had picked the 25th anniversary too. Outside almost every house sat/stood/dangled/whatever’d a home-made scarecrow – one even claimed to have been there all 25 years! The whole thing was brilliant and clearly both brought the community together and the visitors in – over the next couple of days the village was full as people, young and old, flocked in to follow the Scarecrow Trail. And during the week the Village Hall was open and busy selling home-made goodies along with teas and coffees, with all proceeds from the whole event going to the school and local church.
Our first impressions of Kettlewell Hostel – once doubling as the village post office (get Saul to tell you the story of the last visit from the PO when it closed for the final time) – confirmed the reports we had read. Saul and Floss took over the running of the hostel around 5 years ago and have turned it into – dare I say – a boutique hostel. The atmosphere from the moment you enter is warm and inviting and this impression was only reinforced when we were greeted by Floss with a big welcoming smile who took time to show us around the hostel and up to our room. It was clear very early on just how justifiably proud they are of their business and how much joy it gives them. Nothing was too much trouble and both Floss and Saul always found time for a chat to their guests.
The hostel is well equipped with all you’d expect – a small but very functional and well- equipped self-catering kitchen* (and, for once in a hostel, not actually smelling of damp tea towels!), a large and airy dining room and a cosy, comfortable lounge on the first floor. There are also drying facilities and a bike shed although we checked neither out. The bedrooms are situated on the second and third floors, the latter up a steep and narrow stairway, and are a mix of small dorms and some two-bedded rooms. Our room, being a private double room on the third floor, was a little cramped with not much headroom below the sloping roof (especially for a tall chap over six feet like myself) but it was more than comfortable and we happily made it home for our four-night stay (actually we had booked for three but so enjoyed the place that we added a fourth). There is also WiFi – and much as I hate to admit it, how many of us can actually get through a day without a daily ‘fix’ on the net?
*For self-caterers its worth knowing that as you drive up the valley along the B6160, there is a small but very well provisioned Spar mini-supermarket at the garage in Threshfield. There is a good choice of tasty home-made meals to pick from, made with locally sourced produce, at a very reasonable price; mixing up self-catering and ‘eating out’ we took the chance to sample an evening meal and a breakfast and both were very tasty and filling, either sating the hunger of a long day out or setting us up for the coming day. Evening meals were washed down with a glass of the local ale from the small independent Dark Horse brewery at nearby Hetton. As an alternative the village is well catered for with three pubs, two of which offer evening meals. We ate at The Blue Bell Inn and would thoroughly recommend it.
Another nice little touch is that bookcases around the hostel are filled with second-hand books that one can read and put back or buy for a modest price (all in vgc.)
As the weather forecast was a little doubtful for our first full day, we took the opportunity to explore the local area. Ingleborough Cave, accessible via a short walk through the Ingleborough Estate Nature Trail above the pretty village of Clapham, was well worth the effort and the modest entrance fee. The Little Cycle Café in Clapham itself is worth a visit if you fancy a cuppa and a bit of ‘old world charm’; whilst we were there, and the only ones in, the lady serving popped out and down the road for a couple of minutes without warning – we could easily have walked out without paying with an armful of cakes had we so wished! Such trust seems a rare commodity these days.
Tuesday promised better so we set off early and were walking out of the Horton car park by 7.30 (just £4 for the whole day – you can park for free on the roadside but like many others we wanted to do our little bit to help support the National Park). Suffice to say, my fears that we might need all fourteen daylight hours available were unfounded – we not only managed to get around in under the 12 hours of the challenge but we also actually managed to beat our previous time by an hour!
Thrilled by our achievement, we treated ourselves to an extra day’s holiday as we had long wanted to go on the Settle-Carlisle Railway and also look back at the route we had walked. But the weather the next day was lousy so we postponed that for a day (and booked the extra night) – a good decision as it was then an almost-perfect day on which to sit back and enjoy the train journey. Instead we took the opportunity to explore yet another cave – this time, White Scar, which has the distinction of being the longest show cave in Britain, with the tour taking around an hour and a half. Again, it is well worth the visit and an ideal outing if the weather forces you off the hills. There is a sad history to the founder of the cave, a young man who gave up his medical studies to pursue his first love – potholing. The cave has been explored further since the days of Christopher Long and the story of how the final chamber was discovered many years later – by the girlfriend of one member of a weekend caving group – is well worth hearing. It is difficult to imagine how young Hilda must have felt, being sent ahead alone up an extremely narrow chimney into the unknown, and then breaking out into the enormous cavern, knowing that she was the first person alive to have ever seen it.
Also well worth the visit is the small but immaculately presented little church in Hubberholme – ‘ubber’ome’ to the locals – just a few miles up the valley from Kettlewell. Try to spot the hand-carved ‘Thompson Mice’ on the pews and chairs – the exquisite signature of the carpenter himself.
Yorkshire has so much to offer the visitor – and of course it is famed for its walking and its cycling. And if you appreciate warm hospitality in an inviting and convivial atmosphere, you could do much worse than Kettlewell Independent Hostel from which to base yourself.
There are lots of other independent hostels in the Yorkshire Three Peaks area and as well as independent hostels along the route of the Setttle to Carlisle Railway.