Whernside, Ingleborough and Pen-y-ghent - Yorkshire's famous three peaks

PUBLISHED: 23:56 18 January 2010 | UPDATED: 16:17 20 February 2013

Clouds gather over Ingleborough, seen from Thornton in Lonsdale

Clouds gather over Ingleborough, seen from Thornton in Lonsdale

After decades of tramping walking boots, Yorkshire's most famous mountains need a little help from their friends. Terry Fletcher takes up the story<br/>Photographs by Andy Stansfield

Every year more than a quarter of a million people climb Yorkshire's Three Peaks. The distinctive trio of Whernside, Ingleborough and Pen-y-ghent cluster round the head of Ribblesdale, throwing out an irresistible challenge to walkers of all abilities. To climb any one of them is an exhilarating experience but to stand on all three summits and cross the 20-odd miles of rough moorland between them in a single day is an achievement to savour.

And that's the problem. The iconic status of the Three Peaks has proved their undoing and in recent years the mountains have been showing the strain, worn down under hundreds of thousands of boots, filled not just by recreational hikers but also by sponsored walkers raising a small fortune for local and national charities.

Steve Hastie is the man with the task of looking after the Three Peaks and he says the battered fells need a little help from their friends.

The Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority is inviting all those visitors who love the mountains and the charities and businesses that profit from them to join a new organisation set up to care for this special corner of the county.

The Friends of the Three Peaks was formally launched this summer by WI Calendar Girl Angela Baker, whose late husband, John, initiated an earlier restoration programme, signing up as its first member.

John was involved in 1986 when the Institute for Terrestrial Ecology concluded the Three Peaks had the most eroded network of paths in the entire country. Huge scars had formed on the sides of the fells where paths had been trampled into quagmires and walkers had strayed ever further in search of firmer footing. The resulting eyesores could be seen from miles away.

Steve, the Three Peaks manager, recalls: 'As a lad in the 1970s I can remember hopping from tuft of grass to tuft of grass to cross the worst bits. It was absolutely awful in some places.'

Salvation came in the shape of a 20-year programme to repair the paths. The aim was not just to help walkers but also to restore the surrounding vegetation. It left a legacy of engineered tracks that are still there today. But, without regular maintenance to repair surfaces and clear drains, heavy rain and tramping boots quickly undo all the good work.

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