Day 8 is a tough but classic Yorkshire Dales walk. You need to be fit. This walk is hard in foul weather. Great Shunner Fell is a proper summit with cold, biting south easterlies.
Days 8 to 16
Hawes to Kirk Yetholm – 243.5km (151 miles)
Day 8:Hawes to Tan Hill
25.5kms – 8-10 hours
Eager to make good time, we pass up on the opportunity to see Hardraw Force, a small waterfall you pay to visit. Can you believe you must access it through a pub, The Green Dragon, and pay £2.50 for the privilege? We did not want to wait until they opened at 8am so we headed straight to Great Shunner Fell at 716m on a well paved easy climb.
Great Shunner Fell is a proper summit with cold, biting south easterlies. It requires attention between Thwaite and Swaledale to avoid a wrong turn, and the last leg of the moors can be troublesome. Blessed again with pleasant weather, we enjoy meadow wildflowers, barns, and glorious green Swaledale.
There are lots of idyllic English villages to visit along this stretch. We enjoy a morning cappuccino in Thwaite.
For lunch we visit Keld, the village I can only remember now for the missing car key episode when I lead 20 walkers on Wainwright’s UK Coast2Coast Walk in 2014. We approach the town from a different direction this time enabling me to look long and hard at the Keld Lodge, where this mishap occurred and chuckle to myself at the memories.
At the end of that day, we found the keys in my backpack when I tipped the contents onto a bed in our Reeth hotel. They must have fallen off the table into my pack, directly beneath the table. My walking buddies strip-searched the entire room, leaving no cranny unturned, but they did not check my backpack. ‘Life is either a daring adventure or nothing’ – Helen Keller. I totally agree. Having adventures, in whatever shape or form, is what matters.
At the end of this day we reach the Tan Hill Inn, the highest pub above sea level in Britain and our official halfway point. A cosy, rundown affair with new owners who do not know what to do. Their reservation system cannot retrieve the old bookings. All we want is our room, a wash, and a good feed.
We stand tired and patient as they work it out. Dinner is a choice of Yorkshire stew or Yorkshire stew, with mash and fresh vegetables. I don’t know whether it is because I am famished or prepared to eat anything, but this meal, prepared by staff who aren’t real chefs, is divine. I use my mash to soak up every bit of the rich juicy meat gravy. I take my hat off to them. I think walking the Pennine Way is far easier than running a hotel.
Day 9: Tan Hill to Middleton-in-Teesdale
26.5kms – 8-10 hours
The experts rate this day as a classic Pennine Trail day, even if you get the expected atrocious weather. It will be yucky, windy and a bit repetitive. Sleightholme Moor is renowned as one of the worst sections for boggy terrain. We expect soggy feet. Barry Pilton could not have described it better in his book One Man and His Bog when he wrote, ‘On my death bed I may well murmur the words “Sleightholme Moor” involuntarily as I expire.’ If too unpleasant, you can always walk on the roads to avoid the worst of this moor.
The other choice is to consider the Bowes Loop Route, a drier path that lets you see Bowes Castle, a ruined Norman keep. Today’s weather is fine. We could have kept to the original route, but the fear-mongering over expected dampness underfoot steers us towards the drier option.
The Bowes Loop alternative route has fewer difficulties and is more scenically appealing, but it is longer, and you meet lots of gates and stiles which can be hard on the knees for anyone of advancing years.
Day 10: Middleton-in-Teesdale to Dufton
32kms – 9-11 hours
I can only describe this day as GOLD. We are expecting an exceptional valley walk with waterfalls, hooded banks and deep gorges. This could not be a better day to celebrate fellow Australian, Jacqueline Ballard’s birthday, and pay tribute to her brother, Ian Ballard, pictured here on our cycling jerseys, for all his work fundraising and raising awareness for Multiple Sclerosis in our local community back home. It touched me deeply that Jacqueline could join us for this special day. While the relatives set a cracking pace, Jacquie and I walk at a leisurely pace and reminisce on our great MS fundraising walks, particularly Wainwright’s Coast to Coast in Britain in 2014.
For a linear south to north walk, this day finishes further south than it starts out. Follow the river and you should not have too many navigation issues. The highlights are the River Tees and its waterfalls – Low Force, High Force, and Cauldron Snout.
They cannot compete for size with the waterfalls I observed on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), but that is not the point. The frequent times I heard Americans on this trail saying ‘You call that a waterfall’ completely misses the point. They soothe and delight, gently cascade and babble, and just make you happy to be alive.
We lunched at Cauldron Snout below the dam of the Cow Green Reservoir. Unlike the Forces, this waterfall has strength and noise to it, making it hard to converse.
The pièce de résistance for this golden day, arguably the best sight along the entire Pennine Way, is High Cup Nick or just High Cup, as Nick refers to one particular cleft on the northern bank. On a good day, you can see the Lake District and the Yorkshire Dales from this magnificent, geometrically U-shaped chasm considered glacial. The Pennine Way follows the northern escarpment on the right-hand side of the photo below, taken from the valley’s head.
It was a magic rain-free day today – the perfect day to celebrate our guest Jacqueline’s birthday and the memory of her brother, Ian Ballard, who lived with Multiple Sclerosis and did so much to put the ‘fun’ back into fundraising amongst families and friends with his creation of Foundation 5 million (F5m). If you read about my Mudgee2Sydney Walk for MS Research, it was Ian’s charity, F5m, for whom we raised $150,000 towards finding a cure for MS. MS Research Australia retired F5m, when it had surpassed its original goal of $5million in 2014 at a final impressive figure near $8 million. The ‘Kiss Goodbye to MS’ campaign replaced it and now runs the popular fundraising May 50K event, where participants get people to donate money to MS Research Australia (MSRA) for walking 50kms in May.
Day 11: Dufton to Alston
31.5kms – 8-10 hours
The classic days are coming thick and fast but this one will be seriously demanding with it expected to be cold, wet and windy. This is a very demanding day. I recommend it for the seriously fit or seriously insane. Today’s walk tackles the highest point of the Pennine Way – Cross Fell at 893m – after first tackling Knock Fell (794m), Great Dun Fell (842m), and Little Dun Fell (842m). There are no resupply options until Garrigal, five to six hours away. You must have waterproofs, fleece, GPS, compass, food, and adequate water for the entire day. And know how to keep upright walking into a severe headwind.
This area is home to its own wind, the Helm Wind, which forms a rolling cloud, a ‘helm’ as in helmet, above these fells. You know it’s in residence if two parallel clouds, seemingly stationary, sit above the Pennines. It is most likely to occur in winter and spring. Being summer we avoid it, but up on those desolate fells, being blown to smithereens, it sure felt like the Helm Wind was present.
It took every bit of energy and concentration to stay upright and avoid being swept from the slabs into bog territory. At the same time as I was seriously questioning my wish to do the PW, I was having so much fun. Pitting yourself against the elements makes me feel alive. My sister and brother-in-law waited for me at Cross Fell windbreak, where we sheltered from the wind.
You cool down fast. Best to keep moving. We aim for Greg’s Hut, a bothy, and safe shelter, for our lunch break. It looks closed when we arrive, but volunteers are inside undertaking much-needed renovations. They beckon us inside and chat merrily as we gobble down our lunch. Rejuvenated, we head off for Alston on a gravelly road that never ends.
Passing Garrigal, we have heard you can get a cup of tea from the Post Office, of all places. There is nowhere to sit nearby. Carrying a tray decked with a silver teapot, a spare pot of hot water, and milk and sugar, I head for the local graveyard. It is drizzling lightly, so I nestle on the front step of the closed church inside the gate. An unusual setting for a most satisfying cup of tea.
Day 12: Alston to Greenhead
26.5kms – 7-9 hours
To avoid a boggy and tricky start, we walk along the South Tyne Way which starts at Alston Station. At Knarsdale we drop from the railway line track to a viaduct at Burnstones to resume the Pennine Way, which joins the Maiden Way.
I do not recommend today for day walkers. Not that hard, just a slog and uninteresting. In Wainwright’s words from his Pennine Way Companion, it is probably your least favourite day ‘tedious, dull and complicated. It’s not genuinely awful, just a bit, well, boring.’
The way zigzags between fields, farms, walls, bridges, and bogs. I recommend you keep your guide book handy and maintain a positive mental attitude (PMA). This section marks the end of the Pennine chain and the transition to the Southern Upland range just beyond Hadrian’s Wall.
Drudging along, we finally arrive at the Greenhead Hotel, our accommodation and meal provider for the night. After a good night’s rest, we look forward to seeing the best sections of Hadrian’s Wall the next day.
Day 13: Greenhead to Bellingham
34.5kms – 9-10 hours
It’s Saturday today and the crowds will head for the best-preserved sections of Hadrian’s Wall. Fortunately, it rains. The inclement weather spares us from sharing this historic location with too many others.
Here’s the famous Sycamore Tree filmed in Kevin Costner’s Robin Hood movie. The crowds usually dwindle from this point. An hour later, the Pennine Way leaves the wall at Rapishaw Gap.
Continue in a northeasterly direction for an extra 6km return trip if you want to visit Housteads, the most complete example of a Roman fort built in Britain around AD122. With a hefty 34kms to cover today, we forgo a marathon and head away from Hadrian’s Wall when instructed.
Until we get horribly lost and need to use our GPS to travel in a completely linear path through boggy and high tufted grass, later observing a clear winding path on the ridgeline. Depending on how many waypoints they take for online maps, you can get yourself in a mighty mess when inhospitable terrain makes the path all but invisible.
I guess I need to learn how to use a compass for these very conditions. I rip a tiny hole in my jacket gingerly climbing over a barbed-wire fence.
Once you return to the Pennine Way, you head for Wark Forest, the largest man-made woodland in Europe. It’s hard going on hard gravel forest roads and there’s not much to see but we had the WOW factor with Hadrian’s Wall in the morning and we’re mighty chuffed at getting through our longest distance day. Our town stop for the night is Bellingham pronounced ‘Bellinjum’.
Day 14: Bellingham to Byrness
24kms – 7-9 hours
It starts with a climb out of the village on a relatively low-level route—the perfect reviver day to prepare for the Cheviots tomorrow. With poor visibility, this route may be a little thin as it branches around a bog below Callerhues Crag towards Hareshaw House.
Head in a northerly direction toward a wall before Hazel Burn, then the trees if they are visible. If in doubt, follow the muddiest, wettest trail. You will definitely need bog hopping skills today. Beware the alternative flatter route may be even boggier.
One notable mention on this stretch, is Blakehopeburnhaugh, a place of limited interest save for the length of its name. Near Kielder/Redesdale Forest Park Areas it offers you a bench and public toilet. For those interested its name means black (blake) fertile strip of valley land (hope) at a stream (burn) near low-lying land by a river (haugh). We found the toilets with an informative sign on the surrounding forests.
This area in Northumberland’s western edges is renowned for its rare wildlife including the native red squirrels, deer, otters, and badgers, all camouflaged well on the day we visited.
Mr and Mrs Taylor welcome us to the Forest View Inn with seasoned efficiency. Mr Taylor whisks our boots away to the boot room for drying and retrieval the following morning.
Meanwhile, they take us to the tea room for the perfect strong brew and instructions on what to expect next. Mrs Taylor assigns us our rooms, explains the bathing routine, and then hands us a limited menu from which to decide our dinner preference.
Not a smirk or ounce of empathy escapes her glare. “I’ll have the Shepherd’s Pie, please.” “Right you are,” she responds and leaves without fanfare. This meal and the one the following night were the best from the whole trail. Superb home-cooked fare.
What a slightly odd couple. But totally indispensable. They look to be in their late 70s. How much longer can they continue to help Pennine Walkers eager to get to the finish line? With the remaining 43kms of the Pennine Way being beyond most walker’s daily mileage, the only workable way of finishing this section is with the Taylor’s help. Mrs Taylor will pick us up at Trows Farm beneath Windy Gyle and drive us back there the next morning.
When I asked her for an early drop off back to Windy Gyle, she said she’d work it out based on the slowest hiker staying with her from today’s walk. “I’m only doing one trip and I can work out how long the slowest hiker needs to get to Kirk Yetholm before dark.” No mathematical formulas here, just knowledge from watching crazy long-distance walkers walk the Pennine Way for many years. “Can’t see the appeal myself,” she delivers with zero emotion. And good luck to her. At 70+ I’d probably not fancy the steep boggy terrain either. I admire their efforts and am grateful for their help.
Day 15: Byrness to Trows Farm via Windy Gyle
Return to Byrness for 2nd night
22kms – 5-7 hours
This day is a classic. It is hard on the knees with so many ups and downs but relatively easy to navigate. Leaving Byrness can confuse you. The path runs straight up the hill with an unmarked scramble up the last section. Pick up the path and follow it until you reach the Byrness Hill cairn or, in my case, watch my sister’s progress far, far ahead of me. Even in poor visibility, most of this section has good way markings and orientation aids, such as slabs and the fence line that marks the border between England and Scotland.
More bogs today. I suspect our boots will go straight to the drying room on our return to Forest View Inn this afternoon. The military uses this area for extensive training exercises. Authorities tell us not to touch any strange, metal or bomb-shaped objects. Okey dokey! I can live with that warning.
Windy Gyle at 619m is where we leave the Pennine Way to reach Trows Farm and get a lift back to Forest View Inn. True to its name you can literally get blown off your feet here. At Russell’s Cairn take the 3.2km southerly path to Trows Farms, a walk of only an hour when descending.
Day 16: Byrness to Trows Farm
Resume from Windy Gyle to Kirk Yetholm
21kms – 7 hours
After another delightful home-cooked dinner and hearty breakfast, Mrs Taylor returns us to Trows Farm. I am not looking forward to the steep ascent. Despite my trail fitness I struggle today.
Route finding is good. Unlike other parts of the Pennine Way, no walls, hedges, or trees will obstruct your view. Only posts and wire fences exist. Today is marginally superior to yesterday for scenery and considerably less boggy. The Cheviot Hills are a range of massive, rounded, hulking hills laid out in receding layers to the edge of your vision and an emotional descent to Kirk Yetholm to mark the end of this magnificent long-distance hike.
With good visibility, we choose the High Route, a more roller coaster walk including White Law Summit. if you have had enough, the Low Route, 30 minutes shorter, is easier.
Our Wainwright’s free beer, courtesy of the Border Hotel, awaits us if we can prove we walked the whole Pennine Way. Most publicans reckon they can tell if you are lying or not.
What a wonderful journey. The difficult terrain and remoteness sprinkled with majestic scenery, history, excellent food, and a comfy bed each night made for a treasured walking experience. It was nice to do it with family, even if I did not see much of them.