Pennine Way – A Walker’s Account
The Pennine Way is one of the more popular Long Distance Paths in the UK. It runs from the Peak District in the south to just across the Scottish border in the north, a distance of 268 miles and can be walked in either direction. I walked the Pennine Way in May / June 2006 to raise money for a cancer charity and took just 13 days. Looking back this was too ambitious but necessary due to time constraints. In this article I look back on my walk and provide useful information to others who might want to tackle this classic long distance walk. Hopefully this will help in the planning of your own Pennine Way walk.
Day 1 – 27th May 2006
I leave London early and drive up to Edale. Once parked up I begin my walk and stop to take a photo of The Old Nags Head pub which is known as the official start point of The Pennine Way. It’s just before 10:30am. I’m not using any baggage transfer service but I’ve still managed to pack everything I need into a 35 litre rucksack. I have a few changes of underwear, the shampoo and shower gel are in small containers and my DSLR camera is taking up most the weight. I have the entire route printed at OS Explorer size on A4 sheets of paper and I’m carrying a Garmin Etrex Summit GPS.
From the pub I head west and before long I’m at the distinctive steps known as Jacob’s Ladder. The direction of travel soon changes to northerly. The Dark Peaks area is known for being boggy and I have to tread carefully around the summit of Kinder Low at 633 metres above sea level. Once I reach Kinder Downfall I follow the route left. Navigation is pretty easy and as I continue north I cross Snake Pass. I’m walking at a pretty quick pace since this is a long first day and I started fairly late. About 7 hours in I reach the path between Rhodeswood Reservoir and Torside Reservoir and from here it’s a short distance to my accommodation for night one of my Pennine Way adventure at YHA Crowden, less than a kilometer off the route. When I arrived I realised that I’d lost my mobile phone somewhere! Total distance today was 26.3km or 16.34 miles.
Day 2 – 28th May 2006
I leave YHA Crowden after breakfast and continue with my Pennine Way adventure. Black Hill is reached quickly before crossing the A635. The walk now features a number of reservoirs which you pass by. You also cross a few more A roads before the drone of traffic noise really approaches as you reach the M62. A footbridge takes you over this busy motorway before tranquility returns again and more reservoirs. A short deviation from the path takes me to my accommodation at YHA Mankinholes. I decided to do some hand washing and used the hostel drying room. I would do washing every 2 or 3 days along the Pennine Way. Total distance today 38.1km or 23.67 miles.
Day 3 – 29th May 2006
On day 3 after leaving the hostel and rejoining the Pennine Way I quickly reached Stoodley Pike monument. Visible from some distance the monument is 121 foot high and sits on Stoodley Pike hill which is 1,300 feet high.
Later I passed a couple of reservoirs and then reached the ruins of Top Withins. This is Bronte country and Top Withins is thought to be the setting for Wuthering Heights.
A short stop for a photo and it was onwards to Ponden reservoir. The moorland continues for a while before crossing an A road near Cowling where there is a pub. Another pub is passed when you reach Lothersdale but no time to stop as it was getting late and I was beginning to flag. Finally I left the Pennine Way for a detour of a couple of kilometres to YHA Earby. I arrived around 9:00pm, too late to get a proper meal. Total distance 41.1km or 25.54 miles.
Day 4 – 30th May 2006
Since I had not had a proper meal the previous day and knew that today was going to be a shorter day I made sure I visited a cafe for a cooked breakfast before getting under way. Back on the Pennine Way and heading north, passing through Gargrave I noticed that I was making slower progress than on previous days. I stopped briefly at a cafe for a drink. There was a Pennine Way sign showing that Edale was 70 miles away and Kirk Yetholm my ultimate destination was still 186 miles away. I arrived at Malham YHA in the Yorkshire Dales at a decent time to make sure I could get a proper meal. Total distance 20.6km or 12.8 miles.
Day 5 – 31st May 2006
Malham YHA is right on the Pennine Way which was a relief as today was going to be a mammoth day. The bones in my feet ached and I was getting concerned how I might cope with the long days. At least today would be a fairly scenic day, early on in the day I reached Malham Cove and soon after Malham Tarn. The paths seemed rough and I was desperate to find some soft grass to walk on. The summit of Pen-y-ghent came and went, I only had time to stop for a brief photo. The route then passed through Horton in Ribblesdale and it was somewhat demoralising to look at the map to see myself heading south for a short distance. The route continued north through Wensleydale where the terrain seemed much kinder on my sore feet. I finally arrived at my accommodation at YHA Hawes tired and glad to be taking the weight off my feet. Total distance 44.9km or 27.9 miles.
Day 6 – 1st June 2006
As I was walking the Pennine Way alone I decided I did not need to book my accommodation much in advance which gave me some flexibility. Today would be one such day as I had originally hoped to walk to Keld YHA but due to how my feet were feeling I ended up stopping in Thwaite. After leaving the hostel I visited an outdoor shop in Hawes and bought some sorbothane insoles in the hope that the extra cushioning would help my feet. The first real point of interest today was Hardraw. It’s well known for Hardraw Force waterfall but since you need to pay a fee at the Green Dragon pub to see it, I’d seen it before and time was pressing I continued. With feet throbbing I reached the summit of Great Shunner Fell (716 metres) where a few other people were gathered so I asked one to take my photo.
As I reached the village of Thwaite it was still quite early and I certainly had time to continue. After seeing the Kearton Country Hotel and noticing a very agreeable room rate I decided to stop right there. I called my girlfriend from a phonebox to explain the loss of the mobile phone. She was to join me for a day on the Pennine Way and would buy me a cheap PAYG handset. The hotel felt like luxury, the bed was large and comfortable and I had a bath where I could soak my tired feet. Total distance 15.6km or 9.7 miles.
Day 7 – 2nd June 2006
By stopping early on day 6 it would mean another really long day today. I passed near Kisdon Force and Cutrake Force and felt a very sore patch on the back of an ankle. I should have stopped to look at it but due to time constraints just pressed on which was a mistake. The next point of interest was The Tan Hill Inn, the highest Inn in Britain. I stopped for a quick drink and was somewhat surprised to see a sheep in the pub.
After leaving the pub I was attacked from the air by nesting birds. I never deviated from the path so why these birds decide to nest so close to the path is beyond me. After passing God’s Bridge I began flagging slightly. By the time I reached Baldersdale I had run out of water and should have stopped at the hostel for a refill. I decided to continue though and as the light was beginning to fade I reached Middleton-in-Teesdale. I followed the River Tees passing Low Force waterfall and crossed the river just before High Force waterfall. I’d finally arrived at High Force Hotel where my girlfriend was waiting for me. I was exhausted, the Pennine Way was really taking its toll. I had a massive blister on the back of my ankle and I was beginning to worry if I would be able to complete the walk. Total distance 44.3km or 27.53 miles.
Day 8 – 3rd June 2006
By now the Pennine Way seemed to have done some permanent damage to my feet and I was glad to have company for this particular day. We both found a geocache near High Force and then concentrated on the walk. At Cauldron Snout waterfall I had to stop and take the boots off. With some massaging of the feet and a cold pain spray I was able to continue. Progress was slow and I had to make short stops every hour to apply the pain relief spray. We reached High Cup Nick where Jen went to look for another Geocache while I rested. Looking at the map did not help my mood, today had largely been heading west and if anything I was further south than the previous day.
Finally we arrived in Dufton and our accommodation at Hall Croft B&B which serves vegetarian breakfast. The owners could see I was in some distress and Ray the owner was a fell runner and provided me a foot care pack. After an evening meal in the local pub I hobbled back to the B&B and had a long soak in the bath. Total distance 25.7km or 16 miles.
Day 9 – 4th June 2006
After a lovely cooked breakfast it was still not clear whether I would be able to continue. The fact I was doing it for charity was the main motivation for continuing and Ray kindly offered to drive and collect me if I was struggling. Jen walked the first couple of kilometres with me before turning round to catch a train back to London. I was surprised to find that my body was holding up. I reached Great Dun Fell which is visible for some distance because of the ‘golf ball’ radar station that sits at the summit. Cross Fell followed soon after, at 893 metres this is the highest point on the Pennine Way. When I reached the bothy known as Greg’s Hut I stopped for a brief rest and some food.
It was good to take the weight off my feet. I was beginning to get tired but had to push on. I reached Garrigill and seriously considered stopping here for the night but the pub did not have any rooms so I continued. It was getting dark when I finally arrived at Alston YHA. Total distance 30.4km or 18.89 miles.
Day 10 – 5th June 2006
Alston is a lovely town with some cobbled streets. The blister on my ankle was larger than the compeed plasters I was using so I took the opportunity to visit a pharmacy. I bought some large Smith & Nephew cushioned dressing pads which covered the whole area and really helped. I began to feel more positive and had a feeling that this Pennine Way adventure was going to be OK. As I started walking I met another person doing the Pennine way who I was to walk with for a couple of days. He was a very religious Christian who was expecting to be posted overseas for a mission. Talking about various life issues took my mind off things and we both arrived together at Greenhead YHA later that day where we both enjoyed the hostel food. Total distance 25.6km or 15.91 miles.
Day 11 – 6th June 2006
The Pennine Way from Greenhead follows the Hadrian’s Wall path. Just before Housesteads the Pennine Way deviated north. The day was relatively easy and I now had someone to chat to during the walk. We both arrived later that day at YHA Bellingham. Total distance 34.8km or 21.62 miles.
Day 12 – 7th June 2006
I could also feel the finish line of the Pennine Way. Today would be a short day and then there would be an early start for the long final day. I noticed that I had been losing weight, burning more calories than I was getting from food. The latter part of todays walk took place in Redesdale Forest and I reflected how the views and terrain had changed over the course of the Pennine Way. I arrived at YHA Byrness which was one of a parade of normal residential houses. Had it not been for the green YHA logo you would not know this is a hostel from the outside. The warden was very helpful showing me around and warned me of grass snakes on the final day. As I planned to leave early for my final day and I’m not a morning person I prepared my packed lunch and water the night before. Total distance 23.8km or 14.79 miles.
Day 13 – 8th June 2006
I left YHA Byrness at about 6:30am for my final day on the Pennine Way. It had been hard at times and I knew I would look back on it fondly but at this precise moment I just wanted to finish The Pennine Way and return to London. Total distance 40.8km or 25.35 miles. The Cheviots are known as being a boggy area and within an hour of leaving the hostel I had sunk to my knees into soft mud. The thought of having to walk with this mud for so many miles did not fill me with joy. Luckily it was a very warm day and the mud seemed to dry and fall off. The Pennine Way heads left just before you reach the summit of The Cheviot. I considered going to the summit but I’d visited it before and the thought of adding an extra few kilometres to what was already going to be a long day did not appeal. There were a couple of basic mountain huts on this final day where some people tackling the Pennine Way stop overnight to avoid the long final day. I suppose if you were not using hostels and had a large rucksack with camping gear and stove I could perhaps understand. I certainly stopped in both huts to get out of the sun briefly and sign the book that was in each hut. The last few kilometres into Kirk Yetholm took a while as my pace slowed. I saw the Scottish flag flying on a house and knew I must have crossed the border. I was looking forward to my free drink in the Border Hotel. When I arrived in Kirk Yetholm I was shocked to find the pub was closed because of a fire in the kitchen the night before. I checked into Kirk Yetholm hostel and had a long shower before getting into some clean clothes. The staff advised that I was unlikely to find any food in Kirk Yetholm and suggested I walk into Town Yetholm. With the boots back on I walked into Town Yetholm but arrived just after the pubs had stopped serving food. By now I just didn’t care, I was heading home in the morning. I had a Guiness and a couple of Mars bars and walked back to the hostel. The Pennine Way had been completed and my feet certainly knew about it. The following morning I caught a bus to Berwick and then a train back to Edale where I collected my car and headed for London. The Pennine Way had been an adventure. I was glad I’d done it but looking back I would advise others thinking of doing The Pennine Way to consider taking at least 15 days for this challenge.
If you are looking to do the Pennine Way there are lots of websites with plenty of information. What will be my next long distance path, the Coast to Coast perhaps!