Personal challenge, a sense of achievement, and overcoming adversity have been motivating Pennine Way (PW) walkers for over half a century, but is the trail’s hard-hitting reputation overrated? What inspires people to try the route in the first place? I encourage you to read Andrew McCloy’s article, written on 2 October 2016 here, which explains walkers’ motivations for completing the Pennine Way – Britain’s most difficult long-distance trail.
Edale to Kirk Yetholm
Northern England to Scotland, UK
15 days – 430kms (267 miles) (incl. Part 2)
Days 1 to 7
Edale to Hawes – 175-185km (109-115 miles)
What inspires people to try the route in the first place? I encourage you to read Andrew McCloy’s article, written on 2 October 2016 here, which explains walkers’ motivations for completing the Pennine Way – Britain’s most difficult long-distance trail.
I will admit its notorious reputations for dreadful weather and the boggiest of trail conditions appealed to me. As Pennine Way veteran Keith Carter observed, ‘Talking up ‘the Pennine Way experience’ is just as important as walking it. I wonder if recollecting those times of hellish struggle against the elements, blisters, tired legs, aching back, heavy sack, etc. is more fun than the actual doing of it?’
In my mind, it was also a perfect fundraising walk with less resilient souls happy to donate to Multiple Sclerosis Research Australia (MSRA) if it was only me that used my soles to walk the whole way. My sister and brother-in-law accompanied me. Together we raised $22,000 for continued research into finding a cure.
But there is definitely mystique to Britain’s best-known trail as it winds 256 mile (430km) through three National Parks – the Peak District, Yorkshire Dales and Northumberland – starting in Edale in the Peak District and crossing the border into Scotland where it finishes at Kirk Yetholm. This superb footpath showcases Britain’s finest upland scenery, while touching the literary landscape of the Bronte family and Roman history along Hadrian’s Wall.
Britain blessed us with good weather for all but a few days. In September 1938, Alfred Wainwright, well known for his Pictorial Guides to the Lakeland Fells in Cumbria, England, made a solitary walk through the Pennines as the storm clouds gathered over Europe. The weather played a huge part in his unpleasant experience and resultant poor appraisal of this walk.
As a result, he offered to buy half a pint of beer at The Border Hotel in Kirk Yetholm for any walker who completed the full trail. I believe it cost him over £15,000 before his death in 1991. Thankfully, the Border Hotel continues this tradition, and we claimed our reward. It took Wainwright until 1973 to devise a walk more to his liking with his creation of The Coast to Coast walk from St Bees to Robin’s Hood Bay. I completed the Coast to Coast walk in 2014 with twenty other walkers and admit I find it more picturesque. But the Pennine Way is not without its fair share of majestic scenery. I consider High Cup Nick, Upper and Lower Force, Pen-y-ghent, and the Cheviots mountains absolute must-sees.
Who joined me?
Just a small team this time. My sister and brother-in-law join me or leave me to my own devices. As experienced mountain bikers, their quad muscles are strong. They motor up every steep incline and leave me for dead. I plod along at the rear, taking photographs, and enjoying my own company. We are using Stuart Greig’s Trailblazer Guide book for navigation, and we load the route’s waypoints from this publication onto a Garmin eTrex 20X handheld GPS.
Brigantes arrange our accommodation and provide a daily baggage transfer service. Helping us move our luggage each day allows us to walk the entire route with only a day pack. This service is reasonably priced if you want comfortable dry accommodation and a welcome meal each night. This meant we could be less vigilant with our packing if we wanted more clothing options. I have heaps of clothes changes and bring plenty of plasters and Fleecy Web padding for my feet because I have the room. I can change the dressings regularly and do not have to be as frugal with my provisions.
Refer to the Trailblazer Guide book noted below or similar publications for the latest information on current services available. The baggage transfer service works wel, allowing me to focus on walking and finding the relatives way ahead of me.
I highly recommend the 5th edition of Henry Stedman and Stuart Grieg’s Trailblazer guide The Pennine Way January 2019 under ISBN 9781912716029. It provides the information you need to research this walk, together with downloadable GPS waypoints and concise hand-drawn maps for guiding you through tricky areas, particularly around towns.
They were not what I expected. They have completely tamed the dreaded bog areas where progress was always slow. The notorious Black Hill is a breeze to traverse. They have laid huge 150-year-old Bacup sandstone flagstones over the worst of the boggy areas, allowing swift movement and good mileage gains. They place the large rectangular slabs rough side (underside) up to give maximum grip to walkers’ boots and lay them directly onto the ground floating on the soft peat. There is now little chance of getting sucked into a peat abyss.
They have their cons though. The flagstone’s surface is hard on the feet and I suffer more blisters than usual, but the blister pain eases after a few days’ walking. I think most walkers agree the trail improvements make for a more enjoyable hiking experience.
As the poet, Simon Armitage, observed in his comic journey on the Pennine Way in Walking Home (now available from Amazon in PB June 2020 edition here), ‘The walking is good and bad, easy and hard, memorable and forgettable, all these things rolled into one. Some of the established sections are too long. Parts of the route are frankly awful. The main thing is to take it as a whole and put it down to a treasured part of your life’s experience.’ Could not have summed it up better myself.
From Sydney we flew, via London, to Manchester. From there, a quick road or train journey to Edale in the Peak District where the walk begins. Edale is the town from which you can also explore Mam Tor and Winnats Pass before you start the Pennine Way.
Day 1: Edale to Crowden
25.5kms – 6-8 hours
The first day begins with a visit to the pub, the Old Nag’s Head, for the official start of The Pennine Way. It is too early to christen our journey with a pint, but starter excitement is high. After a quick photo outside the pub, we move across the road for another photo opportunity at the first of many Pennine Way signs noted with an acorn emblem.
The walk once travelled to Kinder Scout, but we skirt around it today. Kinder Scout was the site of the famous 1932 mass trespass by hundreds of working-class ramblers to assert their ‘right to roam’ versus the rights of the wealthy to have exclusive use of moorlands for grouse shooting. We owe it to these ramblers for allowing modern day hikers such as ourselves to roam at our leisure through private lands. Parliament passed the National Parks and Countryside Act in 1949 to facilitate the enhancement, protection, and public enjoyment of ‘those extensive tracts of country in England and Wales.’
More national parks came into being and they negotiated further access agreements with estate owners. In 1965, they created England’s first long-distance trail, the Pennine Way. The Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000, known informally as the CRoW Act or “Right to Roam” Act, came into force on 30 November 2000.
Today could test your navigation skills around Kinder Scout, Hern Clough and Bleaklow Head (a cairn) in poor weather. The mist rolls in, fast diminishing visibility but the weather today is kind. We experience dull English skies with low clouds. Perfect walking weather.
I enjoy walking along Jacob’s Ladder, an ancient packhorse route, passing Devil’s Dike, an assortment of weird and wonderful shapes, and The Wain Stones, weathered stones that resemble an old man and woman kissing.
Day 2: Crowden to Marsden
20.8kms – 6 hours
Today is a classic day. Not as tough or as scenic as yesterday, but a good undemanding day walk with no serious challenges. They have tamed the much-feared boggy terrain surrounding Black Hill, also called ‘Soldier’s Lump’, with sandstone flagging making navigation easy and manageable.
Today we head to Black Chew Head (Laddow Rocks) with magnificent valley views, past Wessenden Head Reservoir, the highest of four reservoirs in this area, and Wessenden Reservoir. At day’s end we walk alongside busy Manchester Road to the Carriage House, the only accommodation available within walking distance of the trail. The proprietor looks completely run off her feet. With washing strewn around the dining room, we hastily find our rooms and start washing our own clothes. Ever so nice, we suspect she is fast growing tired of smelly hikers.
Day 3: Marsden via Calder Valley to Hebden Bridge
25.5kms – 7 hours
Steep terrain today with fast progress on rough tracks. Except for Blackstone Edge, there’s little chance of going astray provided you stay high and follow the cairns and stakes through to Aiggin Stone. On a fine day you will get impressive views of Greater Manchester and Lancashire. Apart from the M62 bridge crossing early in the day, I thoroughly enjoy walking past Blackstone Edge and Warland Reservoirs, and Coldwell Hill.
It is at this stone marker that I dispute my sister’s navigation skills. I head along Oldham Way, to prove a point, without a map, confident I will link up with the Pennine Way a few minutes later. Minutes pass, but I veer further away. I link up with the Pennine Bridle Way for horses, not the Pennine Way for walkers. I swallow my pride, and ring my sister, with barely one bar on my phone, to admit I am lost. She reluctantly agrees to wait a good 15-20 minutes while I run up a steep road to reconnect with them. A grunt of disapproval awaits me when I arrive. I eat more humble pie and apologise profusely for my pigheadedness. Oh, the pitfalls of always wanting to be right. Sisters! Just shows you how working together and maintaining a cool head is always the better way. I have never forgotten this navigational mishap. I learnt my lesson. You cannot have two leaders. A bit of joint consultation never goes astray.
The two highlights today are Stoodley Pike, an imposing monument begun in 1814 to commemorate Napoleon’s surrender of Paris to the allies in 1814, and the lovely village of Hebden Bridge, popular amongst artists, alongside Rochdale Canal. With tired feet, the walk alongside the canal takes forever before we arrive at our upmarket and very stylish accommodation for the night – The White Lion Hotel near Bridge Gate.
Day 4: Hebden Bridge via Haworth to Cowling
25kms + 12km for Haworth Detour
We end up walking about 31kms and getting a taxi from Haworth back to Ponden Reservoir where the walk resumes to save time and avoid an unpleasant on-the-verge road walk.
2018 marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of Emily Bronte on July 30. Famous for writing the classic Wuthering Heights we could not miss the opportunity to visit her hometown, Haworth, a very picturesque township set on the side of a hill. There are lovely cobblestone streets, stacks of tea houses, and plenty of kitsch gift shops to keep you occupied.
Here is a fine example of a drystone wall, very prevalent in Yorkshire. In many cases, a well-built dry stone wall will last longer than a mortared wall because frozen rain and snow get trapped in mortared seams and push the joints apart, unlike a correctly built drystone wall which drains naturally without damage.
Day 5: Cowling to Malham
23.5kms – 6 hours
This day is a bit of rural filler. According to Wainwright, it’s ‘mostly muck and manure’. The relatives decide on a lie-in instead while I head off early to walk with Chris Ainsworth, a dear friend of mine, who guided me and several other walkers when I completed Wainwright’s UK Coast2Coast Walk, in Northern England, in 2014. In this section, there are several stiles and gates to cross which could cause confusion, but the signage is mostly excellent.
With Chris by my side, I have the luxury of effortlessly enjoying the view today. We walked up to Pinhaw Beacon at 388metres and took a photo of ourselves beside the trig point. It rewards us with a commanding view, even a glimpse of Pen-y-Ghent, the Pennine Way’s most recognizable mountain in the far distance. Villages we pass today include Earby, Thornton-in-Craven, East Marton and Gargrave.
Chris and I enjoy a fine cuppa and scones at The Dalesman Cafe while we await Neil and Belinda, who will walk with me the rest of the way into Malham. Malham is the busiest town between Haworth and the Roman Wall and the perfect place for a two-night minimum stay.
Chris and friends will join us tomorrow for another classic Pennine Way day. To overcome some logistical hurdles, Chris is driving his van to Horton-in-Ribblesdale, where we finish walking tomorrow, and cycling his way home today. That way we should be able to transport everybody back to Malham for a celebratory dinner at the Buck Inn. Without further ado, I bid Chris goodbye and resume today’s walk with Neil and Belinda.
Day 6: Malham to Horton-in-Ribblesdale
23.5kms – 6-8 hours
Chris, his wife Jan, Jacqueline, and her friend Dee join us for a classic WOW factor day! Today’s walk is big, windy, and remote, including two tough climbs, but it brings the most exciting scenery to date. Malham offers us a Cove and a Tarn. They used Malham Cove in the Harry Potter Movie The Deathly Hallows Part 1. This is where Harry and Hermione set up camp on the limestone pavement found on the Cove’s roofline.
After Malham Tarn, we ascend to Fountain Fell at 668m before stopping for lunch to admire the view looking towards Pen-y-ghent, an impressive whale-shaped mountain at 694m which we ascend in the afternoon. Better signage over Fountain Fell has improved navigation on this section. This is good to know, as there are plenty of sinkholes and mine shafts lurking nearby.
Reaching the summit of Pen-y-ghent, meaning ‘Hill of the Winds’, was the highlight for me. It is one of the three peaks, together with Whernside and Ingleborough, that avid fell runners climb when competing in the Yorkshire 3 Peaks event.
With a fine day, we enjoy an exceptional view before descending to the Pen-y-ghent Café in Horton to sign the Pennine Way book for wayfarers. Afterwards, we have a piping hot cup of tea, the strongest Yorkshire brew, to revive and hydrate us.
With Chris leaving his van here the previous day, we gladly accept his offer of a ride back to Malham, but you can book taxi services too. After a quick spruce up, our English guides and friends join us for a celebratory meal at the Buck Inn.
Day 7 Horton-in-Ribblesdale to Hawes
21.5kms – 6 hours
A dull but still enjoyable day. We continue to ascend but never reach the top of anything. Karen from Bosh and Becks North Yorkshire Taxi Service picks us up from Malham and drives us back to Horton-in-Ribblesdale where we finished our walk yesterday.
What a character! She knows Australia well, has visited several times and can speak the Aussie vernacular. She even stops by the roadside to give us a peek at some fine Highland Cows, more usually found in Scotland. We farewell our terrific cabby and look back on Pen-y-ghent one last time.
t is easy picturesque walking today, sometimes marred by lots of drystone walls, but we catch glimpses of Ribbleshead Viaduct, Ling Gill Bridge, a fine example of an ancient packhorse bridge, and Cam High Road, a hard, rocky Roman road that goes for miles.
Zipping along, we make it to Hawes just in time to visit the famous Wensleydale Creamery. The popular British claymation comedy Wallace and Gromit made this factory famous, with its characters always eating Wensleydale cheese. In Australia, the Wensleydale and Cranberries variety is popular on any cheese platter. Inside the shop, a fabulous Devonshire tea, or should I say Yorkshire tea, awaits us with scrumptious scones and dollops of jam and cream. We stay at Herriot’s Inn, in the centre of town, close to amenities and even a nice little waterfall where the River Ure runs through the town.