THE traditional route up Whernside from Ribblehead is excellent. However it can be significantly improved (and a little extended) by a detour to the northern flanks of the mountain overlooking Dentdale and the path via the rarely visited three Tarns.

Park in the many parking places at the junction of the B6255 and B6479 and head towards the viaduct. This is clearly in view with the large bulk of Whernside behind. The viaduct was built between 1870 and 1874 with over 1,000 navies involved and includes 24 stone arches towering impressively to over 100 ft above your head. It is best viewed when one of the steam trains passes along the Settle to Carlisle line. Do not pass through the viaduct but keep to the eastern path as it heads north.

Pass Blea Moor station before arriving (and crossing over) the aqueduct that marks the start of the climb up Whernside. Directly ahead is the one-and-a-half mile Blea Moor Tunnel, simply one of the outstanding achievements of Victorian endeavour.

As you start the climb to your left is the waterfall at Force Gill. After 350 feet of steady climbing a stile to the left marks the start of the traditional and well laid out route to the summit of Whernside. Ignore it and carry on uphill on a less obvious path. After a couple of hundred metres the path starts to flatten and winds around the north western fringes of the mountains. The views across Upper Dentdale to the Great Knoutberry, Dent station and Arten viaduct are superb.

Follow the grassy path for a mile north and then west to a stone wall, the Boot of the Wold. Leave the path and turn sharply left alongside a wall and follow a faint path climbing steeply alongside the wall. After half a mile the slope levels out and you will arrive at the first of three (four when wet) tarns.

In good weather take the opportunity to leave the path and cross towards Dentdale where two large cairns mark two superb viewpoints. This is access land so feel free to explore the wide shoulder before returning to the faint path. The path continues north, arriving at a small stile next to a wall. Cross it and re-join the main, obvious path leading for half a mile to the summit of Whernside, the highest point in Yorkshire and the highest ‘Dales 30’ mountain.

Continue south from the summit following the wide path for three quarters of a mile before it heads west down a steep slope. The first and steepest section of the path is unpleasant and although recently improved the large stones are still slippy in the wet. The path improves and the slope flattens after the first gate. Pass through two more small gates and arrive at the farm at Bruntscar. Instead of carrying on down the main farm track (this is the route of the Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge) turn left in to a field and head north east, contouring the lower slopes of Whernside. The path passes through the farms of Broadrake and Ivenscar before an obvious track on your right (one mile from Bruntscar) heads towards the viaduct. Turn left at the farm of Gunnerfleet and under the viaduct back to the start.

* Fact File:

Distance: Roughly 10 miles.

Height to Climb: 480m (1,580 feet)

Start: SD 765793. Parking places on the roadside near the junction.

Difficulty: Hard.

Refreshments: Take the few minutes walk to the Station Inn.

Be Prepared: The route description and sketch map only provide a guide to the walk. You must take out and be able to read a map (O/S Explorer OL2) and in cloudy/misty conditions a compass. You must also wear the correct clothing and footwear for the outdoors. Whilst every effort is made to provide accurate information, walkers head out at their own risk.

* Jonathan Smith runs Where2walk, a walking company in the Yorkshire Dales.

He has written his own book, the Dales 30, which details the highest mountains in the Dales. He also runs one-day navigation courses for beginners and intermediates.

Join his Learn a Skill, Climb a Hill weekends in the Dales.