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 online.
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.