Why Richmond writer has hiked to the summit of all Yorkshire Dales mountains

Richmond-based travel writer Peter Watson has used the pandemic as an opportunity to climb to the summit of each Yorkshire Dales mountain. Laura Reid reports.

Peter Watson at the summit of Calf Top. Picture: Atlas and Boots travel blog.

It has been six years since former teacher Peter Watson quit his job and spent a year travelling around the South Pacific and South America.

En-route, he launched Atlas & Boots, an outdoor travel blog, which he runs with his partner, author Kia Abdullah.

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Now a writer and photographer, the 36-year-old has visited more than 80 counties and has been working his way through a challenge to climb the Seven Summits, the highest mountain on every continent.

He was four in - having conquered Kilimanjaro in Africa, Elbrus in Europe, Kosciuszko in Oceania and Aconcagua in South America - when the coronavirus pandemic took hold, forcing him to press pause on his plans.

Instead, the keen trekker and climber, who lives in Richmond, North Yorkshire, turned his attention to a series of outdoor adventures closer to home.

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And over two years after tackling Great Shunner Fell, the third highest peak in the Yorkshire Dales National Park, when he moved to the region, he has now hiked to the summit of all 41 of the park’s mountains.

“I climbed my first Yorkshire Dales National Park mountain over two years ago. I didn’t set out with a time frame in mind, I just wanted an excuse to go hiking regularly,” he says.

“I travel a lot for work which often means I am out of the country for long periods of time.

“However, when the pandemic hit I couldn’t travel so it proved the perfect opportunity to complete the challenge. Over the last few months, I started bagging peaks much more quickly.

“I tried to get into the Dales as often as I could and cross off a few peaks at a time.

“The most I managed to climb in one day was seven when I spent a long day hiking in the Howgill Fells near Sedbergh.”

In the UK, 2,000ft is widely accepted as the benchmark height for when a hill is promoted to the lofty ranks of a mountain.

Until recently, the Yorkshire Dales were home to 40 such landforms.

However, in 2016, Calf Top was re-categorised as a mountain after Ordnance Survey recalculated its height to 2000.02ft (609.606m), slightly above the threshold.

“I finished with the park’s – and England’s – newest mountain, Calf Top,” Peter says.

“I thought about leaving Whernside – which at 736m (2,415ft) is the park’s highest peak – until last.

“But early in the challenge, I found myself in the Western Dales and just couldn’t resist ticking it off.

“Calf Top seemed like an appropriate place to wrap the challenge up.”

Peter first began the local hikes as a way of getting to know his new neighbourhood, after attending an evening at the Richmond Walking and Book Festival, where a presentation was given about the highest mountains in the area.

He is urging others to explore their local areas, as restrictions as a result of the coronavirus pandemic continue to be imposed across the UK.

“For me, this was a great way of getting outdoors during lockdown and getting to know my local area,” says Peter, who hopes to resume his Seven Summits challenge as soon as he can.

“Engaging with nature and getting into the outdoors has proven mental and physical health benefits and this is particularly important under lockdown. I would urge anyone who is finding life difficult in these times to have a look at their local area and pick a micro-adventure or create a micro-challenge to complete.

“It could be ‘10 local trails’ or ‘20 hills over 500m’, it doesn’t really matter what it is or how long it takes.

“With normal life so restricted at the moment, it’s more important than ever to get outside, get into nature and disconnect.”

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