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Ribblesdale: Best for walking
‘That’s it – we’re all set!’ announces Sylvia Grieve, as she stamps her boots, adjusts her backpack and takes a last swig of tea. Around her, the other members of the Preston & District Walking Club are getting ready for the day’s hike: water bottles are filled, jackets are zipped and bootlaces tied, and a few of the walkers plot out the route ahead on a well-thumbed Ordnance Survey map, their breath clouding in the morning air.

‘There’s nothing better than being out early on the hills,’ smiles Sylvia, pulling a telescopic walking pole from one of her backpack pockets. ‘I’ve been hiking here for 30 years, and I still get excited every time I put on my boots. I mean, just look at that view,’ she exclaims. ‘No wonder they call this God’s Own County!’

She gestures across the Ribble Valley where a fuzzy sun is rising above the hilltops, tinting the land in olive greens, fox-fur oranges and chestnut browns. In the distance, two squat peaks brood on the ridgeline, their summits wreathed in cloud: the mountains of Ingleborough and Pen-y-Ghent which, along with nearby Whernside, make up Yorkshire’s three highest peaks. ‘I don’t think we’ll be tackling those today though,’ she chuckles, half-grimacing at the thought. ‘I think I’d need a few more cups of tea for that.’

While Sylvia and her team are planning a more modest stroll, there are plenty of other walkers who have already set out on Yorkshire’s most formidable hike: the Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge, in which participants must conquer the summits of all three mountains in 12 hours or fewer. Covering 24.5 miles and several thousand feet of ascent, it’s a formidable proposition, although that doesn’t seem to deter the thousands who visit the valley every year to put their hiking mettle to the test.

The traditional starting point is the Pen-y-Ghent Café in the hamlet of Horton-in-Ribblesdale, where an antique clock allows walkers to stamp their start and finish times. Those who complete the route in the allotted time are officially admitted to the Three Peaks of Yorkshire Club, a coveted badge of honour for every self-respecting British walker. The record time for the route is an astonishing two hours, 29 minutes and 53 seconds, set by local fell-runner Jeff Norman in 1974 and still never bettered.

‘Oh yes, I’ve already done the Three Peaks twice,’ says Sylvia matter-of-factly, unfazed by her advanced years. ‘In fact, I’m planning to do it again soon. I rather fancy seeing in my next birthday on top of Ingleborough. That would be a grand way to celebrate, wouldn’t it?’

She chuckles, slips on a bobble-hat and tramps off down the path, watched by a flock of Ribblesdale’s resident sheep. Before long she’s disappeared, swallowed up by a patchwork of pastures and russet-red hills.

Where to eat
Comforting pub classics such as bangers and mash and beefsteak and ale pie are the order of the day at the Lister Arms, a smartly renovated gastropub near Malham, 11 miles southeast of Horton-in-Ribblesdale (mains from £10.50).

Where to stay
Once a boarding school, Yorebridge House in Bainbridge has been converted into a seriously luxurious hotel. Each room in this Georgian building is inspired by the owner's travels – some have a dash of Italian style, others feature Oriental fabrics or French furniture – and all make the most of the building's period looks (rooms from £150).

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