The Pennine Way

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The Pennine Way

This article describes my adventures negotiating one of the toughest high level walks in Britain.
Starting at Edale in Derbyshire and travelling north across the Yorkshire Moors and along the Pennines to Greenhead, then along a stretch of Hadrian’s Wall before heading north again through the border forests and the final sting in the tail across the Cheviots to Kirk Yetholm just inside the Scottish border.
Originally calculated at 250 miles; Arthur Wainwright, now regarded as the authority on the walk, reckons 270 miles, whilst Pennine Wayfarer Barry Pilton considers that depending on the amount you exaggerate and the amount you get lost 300 miles is likely to be more appropriate. Of course it is not all peat bogs, there are many notable and interesting features, too many to fully describe here.
I started on Easter Sunday, the Information Centre issued warnings of snow showers; freezing temperatures and gale force winds above 2,000ft. In case you don’t remember the weather then it left a bit to be desired. The first obstacle was straight up Kinder Scout, a 2,000ft mountain with a desolate plateau on top where the route is undefined, just a lot of peat groughs to help throw you off course – these are erosions in the peat caused by weather and water.
Not wanting to delay things I started undaunted, with compass immediately to hand. The objective on the far side of the plateau was the Kinder Downfall; not very aptly named this day as there was no water falling over the edge, it was all being blown back up vertically. The rest of the day was a trudge across endless moorland peat bogs to Crowden. This is the point where most people give up arriving weary and with aching limbs thinking, “fifteen miles gone, only two hundred and fifty five to go”.
Day two started bright with a steep climb to the top of Laddow rocks then, still climbing, more peat bogs to the top of the 1,900ft Black Hill. I was half a mile from the top when I looked back and saw a violent storm rolling towards me at a tremendous rate of knots. I quickly located my compass clipping it to the straps of my rucksack and battened down the hatches of my Gore-Tex. Within minutes there was a complete white out with hailstones. I located the top and stood there looking at three sheep thinking “poor things” while they stood there looking at me thinking “wally” when there was a tremendous crash of thunder and lightning and I remembered I was the highest thing for miles and with a metal framed rucksack – time for a rapid descent.
Disaster nearly struck on day 4 when, making progress more rapidly than was good for me, I strained the ligaments in my left knee. I was alright going uphill but any steep descents were particularly painful. This was to cause concern for the next few days but with the help of a strong bandage and a bath in Ralgex each night I was able to continue. The worst day was day 10 with the ascent of Great Shunner Fell at 2,340 ft. Not a difficult climb but with a steep descent culminating with a high level walk along a stony sheep track with a beautiful view down Swaledale; unfortunately wasted on me as at the time all I was concerned about was how I was going to get down or whether I could continue at all. Luckily the next couple of days were straightforward moorland walking and, treating the knee with utmost respect, a reasonable recovery was made.
Going back to day 7; because I couldn’t get booked in at Horton on Ribble on the Saturday night, I had an enforced stopover in Malham. This wasn’t a bad thing, Malham is an excellent centre for walking and gave me proper chance to have a look at Gordale Scar and Malham Cove which have to be seen to be appreciated.
The following day Fountains Fell first had to be negotiated followed by the awe inspiring Pen y Ghent, at 2,273 ft a mountain that had dominated the skyline for 24 hours.
As I was stopping in a B&B in Horton I went to the pub for a homemade steak and kidney pie – delicious. I spent half an hour listening to two women, straight out of Coronation Street, talking across the bar about washing and referring to the weather in terms of “Pegging out” days.
I am easily attracted to waterfalls and so with a slight detour on day nine I was able to see Hardraw Force. With a drop of 96 ft it is England’s highest unbroken waterfall. For anyone surefooted it is possible to walk behind, this obviously I could not resist.
One day I particularly wanted sunshine was day 12 for the walk along Teesdale but it unfortunately rained. This is a beautiful stretch of the river Tees with it’s many waterfalls including Low Force and High Force. I was a bit disappointed, maybe it was the weather or maybe I was expecting too much after having seen Iceland.s gigantic waterfalls the previous year.
Day 13 saw one of the most amazing sights the British countryside has to offer, that of High Cup Nick. The spectacle is best seen by Pennine Wayfarers travelling from south to North. Having trudged for miles across moorland peat bogs the land suddenly falls away at your feet and you are suddenly standing on the brink of a colossal horseshoe hollow with steep sides lined with basaltic columns and a view across the fertile valley of Eden to the mountains of the Lake District 20 miles away.
Day 14 necessitated a rescheduling of overnight stops. The next stage was scheduled at 21 miles (measured flat) and included four of the five highest peaks on the journey. I managed to reduce the length to 16 miles but not the number of peaks. The first of the peaks was Knock Fell, at 2,604 ft being just below cloud base and the only one not in cloud. The next peak was Great Dun Fell at 2,780 ft. On climbing this I went into cloud at 11.00am and didn’t come out for 5 hours. Then came Little Dun Fell at 2,761 ft followed by the highest point of the whole Pennine Way, Cross Fell at 2,930 ft.
Days 16 to 17 contained a 10 mile stretch of Hadrian’s Wall built by the Emperor Hadrian in AD125 to keep out the northern tribes. I suppose it worked for a few years. The National Trust and Countryside Commission are certainly to be congratulated on the standard of maintenance with not a sign of graffiti anywhere. This stretch was hard going with the wall built on the edge of an escarpment with a lot of short but sharp ascents and descents to be negotiated and at the start of a heat wave which was to stay with me for the rest of the journey. It was along this stretch that I caught up with the best medical team a bachelor could meet up with on the latter stages of a journey such as this – Helen, a G.P. and Jackie a midwife. As we had identical schedules for the rest of the journey we more or less stayed together along with another couple who we met the following night, Alan and Margaret. By this stage Jackie suffering badly with blisters but with loyal support from Helen was not prepared to be beaten. In conversation I related the story of the two women in Horton talking about their “Pegging Out” days, of course in the girls trade pegging out has a whole different meaning.
After passing through the Wark and Kielder forests all that now remained was the final 28 mile stretch across the Cheviots with no habitation en-route – a very long stretch in a heat wave. We decided to split the journey by dropping down into the valley and stopping overnight at the beautifully remote Uswayford Farm, many miles from the nearest corner shop.
The final walk into Kirk Yetholm was a bit of an anti-climax, Wainwright in his book had indicated that there would be no brass bands; he was right, there wasn’t even a shop where we could buy a coke. It’s lucky there was a group of us to exchange stories for an hour while we waited for the Border Hotel to open for us to obtain our congratulatory pint, courtesy of Mr Wainwright. It was a place we were to return to later to celebrate properly with Steak and Kidney pie and a few more glasses.
It took a few days to re-acclimatise, my return train home stopped at White Hart Lane to pick up the Spurs supporters who had obviously won; what a shock to the system.
Final analogy; it took me 19 days progressive walking which, based on 270 miles, is an average of 14.2 miles per day. In addition Barry Pilton calculated if you add on all the mountains and hills you will have climbed, and presumably descended, the height of Everest.

Stafford Steed