One man’s rocky quest of Yorkshire’s Three Peaks leaves no stone unturned

Views of Ingleborough, one of Yorkshire's three peaks.
Views of Ingleborough, one of Yorkshire's three peaks.
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A new book shows that Yorkshire’s famous Three Peaks offer a lot more than just a gruelling climbing challenge. Chris Bond reports.

STEPHEN Oldfield was just four years old when he first fell for the special charms of the Yorkshire Dales.

“I grew up in part of Lancashire where there’s very dark rock and one day we went over to Malham Cove and I saw the gleaming white limestone and it had an instant impact, and ever since I’ve been hooked,” he says.

Oldfield, a keen naturalist, has regularly returned to the Dales over the years, drawn back by this endlessly fascinating landscape.

It’s something he explores in his new book, A Three Peaks Up and Under, in which he goes well off the beaten track to shed light on Ingleborough, Whernside and Penyghent, revealing some of their lesser known treasures.

This trio of Yorkshire landmarks are best known for the Three Peaks challenge, which walkers and climbers attempt to complete within 12 hours.

But Oldfield says the beguiling Dales landscape has a lot more to offer, including potholes, caves and waterfalls, as well as a raft of archaeological treasures, that many people don’t see in their rush to reach the summits of the peaks.

“I’ve studied this landscape for years and a lot of the best books on the Dales are from the 19th Century, what I call the golden age.

“The Victorians were very interested in the Three Peaks but a lot of modern literature tends to concentrate on this marathon challenge, they don’t have the same depth, and I wanted to move away from all that and write something that was more detailed and at the same time ntimate and also humorous, because there’s a lot of humour in the book.”

As well as delving into the nooks and crannies of the Three Peaks, Oldfield, who is a keen walker and caver, embarks on a journey that takes in strangely-named places like the Hurtle Pot Boggart and Yordas Cave, to the vastness of Gaping Gill and the close confines of the Cheese Press.

The book came about on the back of a blog that Oldfield, a primary school headteacher, started writing. It grew increasingly popular, attracting as many as 100,000 hits, with people contacting him from as far away as the United States.

“I started the blog and added some photographs and people began getting in touch with me,” he says. “They were saying things like ‘I can see the Rockies from where I live, but I would love to live near your Three Peaks.’”

Enthused by this he set about piecing together the book, which he hopes Dales lovers will find interesting.

“If you go to the Lake District or the mountains in Scotland they’re very impressive but for me they don’t have the same appeal as the landscape in the Dales. If you take Ingleborough, for instance, it has these layers of limestone and Yoredale and it’s incredible, it’s like a giant sponge cake.”

The Yorkshire Dales is one of Britain’s finest limestone areas and Oldfield immerses himself, sometimes quite literally, in this ancient landscape.

“When I’m up there studying the landscape sometimes someone will see me and rush by, they never slow down to find out what I’m looking at. And that’s one of the reasons why I’ve written the book because it’s got so many treasures. There are hundreds of caves and potholes you can explore, and it all adds up to create what is probably the most geologically interesting place in Britain.”

He says it is this that makes the Dales so intriguing.

“Each time you visit you see something different. There are some obscure areas that you might not realise exist and I just want to show people that there’s more than just the Lake District in theNorth, that there are plenty of other interesting places which are well worth exploring.”

A Three Peaks Up and Under, published by Scratching Shed Publishing, is out now, priced £14.99