Adam Woolf recalls spending three weeks walking from Edale in the Peak District to Kirk Yetholm in Scotland. At the time Adam described himself as a ‘Southern urban weakling’, so for him, finishing the Pennine way ranked pretty highly in his list of personal achievements.
The Pennine Way is a national trail which follows the Pennine hills, the backbone of England. Like all backbones its contour is far from smooth: it contains some fierce hills which challenge your feet, lungs and imagination. It also offers you the opportunity to experience the beauty of Northern England in a way which will always be denied to the car passenger or the day tripper.
And Northern England is beautiful. It is also very diverse. Everyone who has done the walk will have a favourite section. The exhilaration of walking along high moors and gritstone edges on the stretch between Stanage Edge before reaching Studley Pike near Hebdon Bridge; the tranquil river stroll from Thorton-in-Craven before witnessing the breathtaking limestone beauty of the Malham Cove and Gordale Scar; the peculiar double edged sensation of isolation and contentment when crossing Sleightholme Moor between Tan Hill and Bowes; the exhilaration of reaching the top of Cross Fell, whose 900 metre peak is the highest on the walk, and seeing Lake District in the distance.
Perhaps its the view of Pen y Ghent – the most handsome of the famous three peaks – from the top of Fountain’s Fell in the Yorkshire Dales; or the Howarth to Keld stretch two days later which takes you over the top of Great Shunner in the heart of the Dales with stunning views all around. Maybe it’s the walk along the River Tees from Middleton and seeing the thunderous water of High Force; or the final section through the rounded Cheviot Hills where the long blades of wild grasses trick your eyes with pinks, reds, oranges, greens and browns as the blow in the wind.
My favourite was the stretch by Langdon Beck and Dufton which takes you along the bleak isolation of Maize Beck before you reach High Cup, a geological quirk, where without warning the land suddenly passes away almost beneath you to open up a spectacular panorama of the green and rich Eden Valley of Cumbria below. You stare in amazement and then you look up. You think you have been conned. You look around for other people as such views are only possible without the obligatory coach parties and ice cream vans. Then you smile. There’s no road access. You’ve walked ten miles from Langdon Beck. You are alone. The view in front of you is all yours to keep for ever.
There maybe walks which offer even more spectacular scenery but the uniqueness of the Pennine way is that – like the weather – the landscapes and terrain change quickly, sometimes three or four times each day. Throughout your journey you are in a state of perpetual curiosity. You rediscover your childhood sense of adventure, excited and inquisitive about what you will view from the top of the next peak.
The first two sections – a 28 miles stretch from Edale to Stanage Edge via the appropriately namely Bleaklow and Black Hills – are the hardest. Many do give up at this point. They set off too fast and quickly lose heart and gain blisters. The walk becomes easier. Experienced walkers say that if you make it to Malham on the southern edge of the Yorkshire Dales, you should make it all the way.
Your feet do tire. Sometimes they throb harder they the bass line of a Bob Marley record. You are happy to carry on because the discomfort of your feet does not match the sense of well being you feel. Hill walking offers a primitive sense of tranquillity. You do not forgot all the problems of life back home. Somehow they do not matter. You are only interested in the changing landscapes before your eyes and where you are on the map.
You are also travelling which is tremendously exciting. Each evening you look at the map a see how far you have walked. It gives you a buzz. The fact that you are travelling by foot and carrying all that you need on your back gives you a sense of self-sufficiency and an isolation from life you have left behind.
There are dangers. Clouds, wind and rain all have the uncanny ability to creep up on you. You are suddenly very wet and cold. You can see no further than twenty yards infront of you because you are – quite literally – walking with your head in the clouds.
You are therefore grateful for the set of warm clothing and good waterproofs that you are carrying in your rucksack. You should also be able to read a compass to allow navigation if you map reading skills fails you.
Twisting and spraining your ankles is also a risk. Perhaps not life threatening but they can be extremely painful as well as rendering you immobile, a dangerous state to be in if you walk alone. You must have good boots to minimise the risk of slipping on uneven surfaces.
Boots are an obsession of Pennine walkers. When you meet up with other walkers in the evening you find yourself engrossed in conversation for hours about boots and the state of people’s feet. Your listen eagerly to pick up hints on how to capture the illusive combination of socks (both inner and outer) and boots to maximise comfort. If your boots are too loose you will be courting blisters – which are feared like the plague. They can quickly develop over just a few miles. If your boots are too tight your can bruise your feet. Getting it right is as difficult as balancing a spirit level on a rollercoaster.
Accommodation can also be tricky. Some choose to camp. Campsites are plentiful along the route. In the few places where they do not exist, polite inquiries at farmhouses along the route usually secures permission to stay.
Camping offers obvious attractions. You can stop anywhere you like for however long. The problem is that you have to carry your camping equipment and food with you. As there are times when even the weight of a extra rizzla paper seems unbearable, camping does have its draw backs. Drying out clothing can also be problematic when the weather is bad.
Some go for an even more simple approach. They sleep in bivvy bags – (very well insulated and waterproofed sleeping bags) and just crash out in any sheltered spot off the path. It’s pretty rudimentary and usually only preferred by whose who celebrate hardship. They finish the Pennine Way quickly because they see it as a test for their own endurance rather than a pleasurable experience.
Youth hostels offer cheap straightforward resting points. The showers are always hot. The beds clean and the food – usually available – is plentiful. The service is always good and you know what to expect.. Hostels are often booked out, especially on weekends and in popular places. It is therefore wise to ring ahead. The Youth Hostel Association also offers a Pennine Way service which will make all the booking arrangements for you in advance, finding nearby B&B’s or independent hostels should the hostel be full.
Reaching Kirk Yetholm the sense of achievement you feel is immense. It’s a very uncomplicated emotion. It doesn’t matter if you taken 10 days or over a month. You just feel pleased with yourself.
We sell a range of Pennine Way T shirts and hoodies to help celebrate your personal achievement…
We have also written a blog about the highest pub in Britain which is on this route…https://blog.climbitrange.co.uk/?p=1059