With thanks to Crisis UK, Cotswold Outdoor, Gossamer Gear, my supporters & donors, the Twitter community, the people I met along the way, and my accommodation providers for all their support. My videos of the Pennine Way can be found in my trail video playlist. I hope you enjoy them as much as I enjoyed creating them.
The Pennine Way national trail is about 270 miles (430km) long and traditionally runs from the Nag’s Head at Edale in the Peak District to the Border Hotel at Kirk Yetholm in the Scottish Borders.
I couldn’t resist the challenge of the Pennine Way as a walk to raise funds for Crisis UK. Opened in 1965, the Way runs along the Pennine hills, sometimes described as the “spine of England”. According to the Ramblers Association it is “one of Britain’s best known and toughest paths”.
The walk crosses three National Parks; the Peak District, The Yorkshire Dales and Northumberland, one area of outstanding natural beauty in the North Pennines and one World Heritage Site at Hadrian’s Wall. The route initially crosses the gritstone moorlands of the Kinder Plateau, the Bronte country and the Yorkshire Dales National Park via Malham, Pen-y-ghent, Great Shunner Fell and Keld. It then descends from the high fells to the River Tees before following the South Tyne northwards to the Northumberland National Park. Hadrian’s Wall is followed for about 12 miles before the route turns north across the Kielder Forest to Redesdale and the Cheviot Hills. Here the route follows the border fence over the border ridge before gradually descending to join the St Cuthbert’s Way into Kirk Yetholm.
As a relative newcomer to camping, I opted for small campsites for this walk, partly for the facilities and partly for the support. The quotes I had for baggage transport were prohibitive so I did a lot of research on finding lightweight kit to enable me to complete the walk unsupported. You can read my kit list and data sheet for the walk here. For some advice on ways to lighten your pack weight please read my page about backpacking kit.
The remainder of the walk was spent in a magnificent array of campsites, youth hostels, bunkhouses, barns and one or two B&Bs. My final daily distances were as follows:
- Edale – Crowden 18 miles / 29km
- Crowden – Standedge 12.5 miles / 20km
- Standedge – Hebden Bridge 17 miles / 27.5km
- Hebden Bridge – Haworth 11 miles / 18km
- Haworth – Malham 18 miles / 29km
- Malham – Horton in R 15 miles / 24km
- Horton in R – Hawes 15 miles / 24km
- Hawes – Keld 13 miles / 21km
- Keld – Clove Lodge 17 miles / 27.5km
- Clove Lodge – Middleton in T 6 miles / 9.5km
- Middleton in T – Langdon Beck 8.5 miles / 14km
- Langdon Beck – Dufton 13.5 miles / 22km
- Dufton – Garrigill 15 miles / 24km
- Garrigill – Knarsdale 10 miles / 17km
- Knarsdale – Greenhead 10 miles / 17km
- Greenhead – Once Brewed 8 miles / 13km
- Once Brewed – Bellingham 15 miles / 24km
- Bellingham – Byrness 16 miles / 26km
- Byrness – Windy Gyle 14 + 2 miles to pick up / 22.5 + 3km
- Windy Gyle – Kirk Yetholm 2 + 14 miles from drop off /3 +22.5km
This worked out at an average of about 15 miles per day including walks off trail to accommodation. Originally I had planned to do the walk in 18 days but I realised that a couple of those days were over ambitious in the heat. As I have never aimed at breaking speed records as a walker, re-planning these days mean’t that I was able to enjoy some of the spectacular scenery in this part of the walk more.
And so it was that I set off on the train for Sheffield on 17th June on a hot summer day with a pack weighing 19lb / 8.6kg including camping kit and some food and water. I had also posted a couple of top up parcels to myself along the route with more food and new maps.
I only had the chance to test the new tent out for one weekend in the garden when a lot of advice was given by friends on Twitter, but I was still slightly nervous. Like the start of a Bridget Jones novel, I was just trying ineptly to pitch the tent when a man introducing himself as a bushcraft instructor came over to help, showing me exactly how to tighten the little pulleys and ensure the fly was taut. Serendipity!
1/ Edale to Crowden
I was woken very early in my tent by a riotous dawn chorus which ensured that I overslept. I then underestimated how long it would take me to get ready to leave the campsite. It was a glorious hot and clear day as I climbed Jacobs Ladder onto the Kinder plateau. This was my first time in the Peak District and I was unprepared for how bad the erosion at the start of the path would be, cutting deep trenches into the soft peat. It was a shock to realise how much damage can be done by acid rain and excessive footfall.
Having panicked about the navigation in this unfamiliar area, I realised that there is a line of cairns along the plateau to help you locate the path. I gradually began to leave the day walkers and the eroded track behind as I turned towards Bleaklow Head. After following the rough path for a couple more hours I realised that it was evening, so I tried to speed up. Unfortunately darkness fell, with the moonlight blocked by low cloud, just as I was walking gingerly along a tiny ledge high above Torside Clough about half a mile from my campsite. A terrible attack of vertigo caused me to make the only Rescue callout I have made in 20 years. Thankfully they ensured I reached my campsite safely.
2/ Crowden to Standedge
I did my best to strike camp and get back on the trail earlier the next day but the fierce heat which descended by mid morning brought me to a complete stand still on the Laddow ridge. It was a lovely place to rest but the pressure of keeping to my schedule was ever present during the walk. I pressed on as it got cooler and emptied a packet of rehydration powder into my water bottle to keep my energy levels up as evening came. This technique was really helpful during the hottest days of the walk.
There is a deep gully shortly after Wessenden reservoir where I became aware that if I were to fall as I clambered up the steep slope with a full pack, nobody would know. I took the climb slowly, clutching clumps of grass and concentrating on every foot and handhold until I reached the top.
Here I made a call to the pub campsite at Standedge to discover that they had finished serving food. The landlady kindly agreed to meet me at a car park where the route crosses a road. I hurried across the moonlit moors to the car park where she was waiting to give me a lift. Just as I had pitched my tent, she came out with enough food for dinner, breakfast and lunch the following day which saved my walk. I suppose the accommodation providers along the route are used to seeing varying degrees of preparedness among their walker guests, but I felt bad for arriving late.
3/ Standedge to Hebden Bridge.
You are never far from civilisation on this stretch of the walk which passes a succession of main roads, telephone masts, reservoirs and drainage channels. Any illusions I had of the Pennine Way being a wilderness walk were dashed that day. There was a burger van parked in a layby just before the M62 where I enjoyed a cup of tea and a chat with the other drivers who had stopped there. Sensing that I was a bit downcast, they cheered me up telling me that the next section passing three reservoirs was quite level, and that I was just entering Yorkshire where the route improved. Both of these observations turned out to be true, and I am glad I persevered.
The climb to Stoodley Pike was tiring and I took a wrong turn as I neared the campsite. For the third day running I arrived quite late at the campsite due to the intense heat during the middle part of the day. Luckily I was given a lovely meal by the owners, and fell asleep so quickly once I was tucked up in my tent, that I didn’t even have time to open the drink which another camper had offered me when I arrived.
4/ Hebden Bridge to Haworth
The next day was a slightly shorter one to Haworth, the home of Emily Bronte, where I had planned a rest day at the grand gothic youth hostel. I walked past another cluster of reservoirs and across moorlands covered with wild cotton, before I was finally able to sit down and relax at Top Withins, without feeling the pressure of time.
The first thing I did at Haworth was to send a few things home which were surplus to requirements. Once this was out of the way I enjoyed a nice lunch and a short session of internet access to post some updates on Twitter.
5/ Haworth to Malham
It felt good to have lost a bit of excess kit which had brought the weight of my pack down to about 18lb / 7.8kg. I was looking forward to entering the lovely Yorkshire Dales National Park which I discovered last year on the Dales Way.
This was quite a long day but the meadows and hedgerows were full of wild flowers, making it a constant pleasure to walk through.
The route through the Dales follows a mixture of moorland, pastures and meadows through regularly spaced villages with shops, so there was never any danger of running out of food or drink.
6/ Malham to Horton in Ribblesdale.
By this stage I had begun to relax and enjoy the walk, as the Dales never disappoint. As I left the friendly hostel at Malham, I knew that some of the most famous landmarks of the walk lay ahead. Wandering past the ancient field systems of the area I turned towards Malham Cove and began the climb up the steps to the wonderful limestone pavement which lies at the top.
My spirits began to lift as I walked along the Watlowes valley where the rocky terrain begins to feel much wilder. When I got beyond here, I headed towards Malham Tarn before crossing the moors around Fountains Fell up to Pen y Ghent, famous as one of the Yorkshire three peaks. The ascent was quite a daunting prospect for a non-climber like me.
7/ Horton in Ribblesdale to Hawes
Here the route heads north towards the Cam Woodlands plantation and briefly joins the stretch of the Dales Way where I lost the trail last year suffering from heat exhaustion. I sat down for lunch beside the new signpost on the Cam High Road which should prevent other walkers from getting lost as I did. Little did I know then that I would be back and I felt happy to be in that area again.
The well defined track follows a high ridgeway with great views of the surrounding valleys, before descending into Hawes, famous for it’s Wensleydale cheese. I was disappointed to arrive just as the Creamery shop was shutting, as I had been looking forward to trying some cheese.
8/ Hawes to Keld
I headed out on another bright and pleasant morning over the River Ure to begin the slow and steady ascent of Great Shunner Fell which, I hoped, would prepare my legs for the bigger hills further along the route.
The long ascent and descent of this fell afforded some great views of the surrounding countryside.
The last stretch circles around the steep sides of Kisden hill and into the lovely Swaledale village of Keld. This small village is a honeypot for walkers, being situated at the crossroads of the Pennine Way and the Coast to Coast routes.
9/ Keld to Clove Lodge
I felt quite sad the following day as the route headed out of the Dales National Park at the famous Tan Hill pub, where I stopped for a quick coffee.
I had opted to take the original Pennine Way route, which heads directly north under the A66 at Pasture End rather than the Bowes alternative. A missing signpost near Trough Heads led to a hot midday scramble through the tall bracken to re-trace the route.
All seemed well as I neared the road and could see the underpass, but then I noticed a Beware of the Bull sign on the gate. It didn’t occur to me to question the veracity of the sign and I opted to take a large detour along the hard shoulder of the A66, re-joining my original path beyond the underpass. This section of the original Way is slightly neglected, possibly because most walkers follow the Bowes route. It crosses a large expanse of flattish heather moorland interspersed by the occasional pole to keep walkers on the route. I was glad to arrive at Clove Lodge which sits right on the trail.
10/ Clove Lodge to Middleton on Teesdale
After 5 days continuous walking, I was relieved that the sixth day was a short 6 mile walk across Crossthwaite Common into Middleton in Teesdale. In this pleasant town I spent my second rest day. I managed a little bit of wifi time to post updates, as well as re-jigging my schedule for the remainder of the walk with the helpful Tourist Information Centre.
11/ Middleton in Teesdale to Langdon Beck
I had been over ambitious in my original schedule, having not studied the map for this section carefully enough. My plan hadn’t taken enough account of the difficult terrain and steep ascents or the lovely scenery in this section.
Dividing two long days into three shorter days was dictated by where the accommodation was, so this ended up being a short 8 mile day to Langdon Beck which allowed me to enjoy my first visit to Low and High Force. It is hard to associate the lovely unspoilt river here with the river that ends up in the industrial areas around Stockton on the north east coast.
12/ Langdon Beck to Dufton
Careful study of the map would have told me that this would be a tricky section of the walk but I hadn’t anticipated that it would be so beautiful. I began to understand why it has been designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty as I followed alongside the lovely Tees.
Clambering over the large rocks at Falcon Clints took some time and was shortly followed by a nerve wracking scramble alongside Cauldron Snout waterfall.
The day was rounded off by an astonishing walk above the breathtaking High Cup, which appeared out of nowhere and involved traversing a high level waterfall.
The walk finally descended into the lovely village of Dufton where the vocal encouragement from local cyclists brought a lump to my throat. This was to happen a few times during the walk and never failed to move me.
13/ Dufton to Garrigill
This was a big day, as it involved crossing three peaks before reaching the highest point on the route at Cross Fell (893m). I got up early, determined to complete the day in good time. When I finally reached the summit of Cross Fell, I wasn’t prepared for how windy it would be as I clung to the stone cairns for support.
It was a relief to reach the cross shaped shelter on the summit for a quick lunch. As it was an overcast day, I decided to push quickly on for Garrigill. Just as I reached Greg’s Hut bothy, it began to rain and continued for most of the rocky “corpse road” (originally built to allow coffins to be transported). My waterproofs stayed firmly on until I reached the pretty village of Garrigill.
14/ Garrigill to Knarsdale
It was a welcome respite to follow the South Tyne river for most of the way to Greenhead. The countryside was very different on the lower ground following flower filled country lanes for much of the way.
Accommodation on this part of the walk is limited, so I had opted to camp in a farmyard at Knarsdale. I spent the evening watching the local men playing quoits outside the pub before heading for my sleeping bag.
15/ Knarsdale to Greenhead
It was lovely to wake to the farmyard sounds of cockerels and sheep before having a camp breakfast and packing up ready for the section to Greenhead.
Unfortunately, it began to rain just as I left Knarsdale and the path was indistinct along the hilltops. Later that day I had to clamber over a lot of bins and old furniture put there by a disgruntled farmer to keep walkers out of his Tynedale farm. If the farmer reads this, you have been reported to the Ramblers association.
I was glad to reach the hostel at Greenhead, where I had stayed on my Hadrian’s Wall walk, for my final rest day. Here I was able to post all my camping kit home, so I was liberated of another few pounds from my pack.
16/ Greenhead to Once Brewed
The hot sunny weather for most of the following week was not typical Northumbrian weather in case anyone should plan to come without waterproofs. I re-joined Hadrian’s Wall on the section where it had rained incessantly on my walk last year, but was lucky enough to see the Wall and Northumberland National Park at it’s best this time round.
Walking this popular section of the wall coincided with the Wimbledon finals weekend, which millions of people usually spend in front of the television. I therefore had most of this section to Housesteads in the sunshine to myself, which was bliss.
I decided to follow the most strenuous route over the crags at Steel Rigg and Winshields in an effort to prepare my legs for the tough Cheviot days at the end of the walk.
17/ Once Brewed to Bellingham
I really enjoyed the spectacular stretch of Hadrian’s Wall and I felt really privileged to have it largely to myself again.
I left the wall and turned across moorlands, pastures, followed by large conifer plantations towards Bellingham. This section took me through areas of the National Park which were totally unfamiliar to me, even as a regular walker in the area. Northumberland National Park is not nearly as busy as the Peak District National Park and it is quite possible to walk all day without seeing anyone else.
18/ Bellingham to Byrness
I wasn’t looking forward to this section which crosses the huge conifer forests at Wark, as I find walking in plantations a bit monotonous. It was another baking hot day, but I expected there to be some shade through these woods. Instead I found that the route followed long, wide logger’s roads, which bounced the hot sun back into my face. The only way to reach the dense, impenetrable shade of the forest was to climb across one of the large ditches on either side of the logger’s track.
Without my sunhat and copious suncream I would have really melted in the heat, which was over 30c. I found myself counting the miles to a public toilet on the map at Blakehopeburnhaugh, where I would be able to re-fill my water bottle. The following three days were to prove a lesson in hot weather walking and I saw several cases of sunburn and heat exhaustion. It was very pleasant to leave the forest behind and wind down past the church into Byrness.
19/ Byrness to Windy Gyle
Byrness is a honeypot for walkers as it contains the final accommodation for people doing the Pennine Way northbound, so it was good to exchange chat and stories with other walkers when I arrived. Unfortunately the landlady thinks nothing of dissecting your walking speeds, kit and stamina in front of a full lounge of other hikers, which made it feel more like a spell in boot camp than paid for accommodation.
When I left next morning, it was boiling hot by 9am so I was glad when I finished the humid climb through the bracken to reach the top of Byrness Hill where I could enjoy the slight breeze and the good view of the huge forests below.
The ridge path covers six summits between Byrness Hill and Windy Gyle, the halfway point. The good weather had transformed the exposed stretch from the border fence at Chew Green. As I rose up to climb Lamb Hill, Beefstand Hill and Mozie Law, fantastic views opened up northwards into Scotland beyond the Eildons at Melrose and southwards into the Northumberland Cheviots.
I met several walkers who were suffering in the heat that day, some without hats or suncream, and some with too much in their packs. As I had decided to split the last 28 mile stretch into two days, I had said I would be at the pick up point near Windy Gyle on time for a lift, otherwise I would have happily stayed to enjoy these amazing views. With hindsight it would have been easy to wild camp or use the mountain huts on the last stretch and I would have avoided the hiking critique at Byrness, which spoiled the final stage of the walk for me.
20/ Windy Gyle to Kirk Yetholm
I was almost relieved when I was greeted by low cloud at the top of Windy Gyle the following day. Because of the cooler weather and the flagstones, I was able to cover the ground quite quickly that morning. Sadly the cloud was still low when I descended from Auchope Cairn to the refuge hut by The Cheviot to have lunch. If I have any home turf on the Pennine Way, this area would be it. As I was nearing the end of the walk, I decided to leave my spare food in the hut for any walker in need.
By the time I reached The Schil, the clouds finally began to lift and I realised it would be possible to follow the original high route to the end. Indeed the views all round were stunning as I crossed the border ridge….
…and descended into the pretty Bowmont valley.
I decided to be assertive and claim my free half pint (a tradition initiated by Wainwright for anyone finishing the Pennine Way) when I arrived at the Border Hotel in Kirk Yetholm. After this I settled in to enjoy a bit of welcome luxury for my final night. It seemed strange to be sitting at a table with crisply laundered table linen eating delicious food after all the climbing, scrambling, clambering and camping of the previous 19 days.
The LDWA give the following stats for the Pennine Way:
410.6 Km (255.1 miles)
11,345 m (37,215 ft) ascent
893 m (2,920 ft) maximum height
Wikipedia offer the following trivia about the walk:
A survey by the National Trails agency reported that a walker covering the entire length of the trail is obliged to navigate 287 gates, 249 timber stiles, 183 stone stiles and 204 bridges aided by 458 waymarks. 198 miles (319 km) of the route is on public footpaths, 70 miles (112 km) on public bridleways and 20 miles (32 km) on other public highways.
Observations about the trail.
Because of it’s proximity to major cities, the start of route in the the Peak District National Park suffers from problems with erosion and acid rain, For the first three days you are never far from evidence of the nearby cities such as reservoirs, pylons, masts and drainage channels, and the sound of planes from nearby Manchester airport. This may be a disappointment for those expecting a “wilderness walk”. However this imperceptibly changes as the walk heads north and enters the Yorkshire Dales, becoming pretty wild through the North Pennines and the Cheviots.
The enormous job of laying flagstones along the boggy areas of the route is well underway. As well as protecting the ground, they speed up the walker, protecting them from the bogs and aiding navigation. There is plenty of low cost accommodation close to the route and the accommodation providers were very kind and helpful, but I had problems getting any phone signal or 3G coverage for most of the walk with my network.
Finally, it is a tough walk which needs preparation and stamina to complete, having a total of 11,350m of ascent. I have done four distance walks but the Pennine Way stretched my boundaries, involving some scrambling and a lot of hill climbing. For reference I used the Paddy Dillon Cicerone guide, the 3 Harvey strip maps for the walk and the LDWA GPX download of the route for my phone.