Walking the Pennine Way

I think it was Rob Turnbull (Outside Store Manager) who, when I explained my intention of walking the Pennine Way a second time, questioned that it might be a bit monotonous. He was wrong. The landscape, wildlife, culture, weather, the sheer physical challenge of it and, of course, the other eccentric characters that you meet along the way make it a delightful and varied excursion and well worth doing.

As is widely known, The Pennine Way runs 267 miles from Edale, which is just around the corner from the Outside shop in the Peak District, north through the Yorkshire Dales and the Northumberland National Park, ending at Kirk Yetholm just inside the Scottish border. Although not the United Kingdom's longest National Trail (this distinction belongs to the 630-mile long South West Coast Path), it is one of Britain's best known walks. The toughest is probably the relatively new 470 mile Scottish National Trail developed by another ex-outdoor journalist Cameron McNeish which also begins in Kirk Yetholm but runs north all the way to Cape Wrath, a variation of which we completed last summer.

Contrary to my usual purist views on things, I do however favour doing these walks in chunks, in order to be able to fully enjoy each day, rather than one long haul.

In recent times the Pennine Way has fallen from fashion, we only met about half a dozen people who were doing the whole thing. I think the reason is that for many it is too long and tough and requires a full range of mountain skills, clothing and equipment along the way. The Coast to Coast is far easier, shorter and most people have their luggage carried by taxi to the end point each day, or cheat as I prefer to call it!

It was back in the summer of 2008 that my wife Janet and I completed our first Pennine Way, the flush of success I have to admit only being marred slightly for me by catching viral meningitis on the train home at the end. At the time of writing I have not repeated that part of the adventure this time.

At the beginning of April this year Janet and another friend, also called Janet, and I completed the 100+ mile chunk of the Pennine Way from Dufton near Appleby in Cumbria to the finishing line at Kirk Yetholm in Scotland. Here’s a taster of the first day…

The 21 mile first day climbs Great Dun Fell and Cross Fell, at 2930 ft, the highest point in the Pennines. We were in snow, wind and cloud from the start and using traditional map and compass micro navigation techniques, plus the brilliant little free app OS Locate which tells you your grid reference wherever you are. For me this is the eleventh item to add to the traditional 10 essential bits of kit for hillwalking.

At the summit of Great Dun Fell, there is a radar station that is operated by NATS and is a key part of the Air Traffic Control system for Northern England and Southern Scotland. It is housed in an enormous white golf ball like structure usually visible from the M6 motorway many miles away. In the cloud, leaning on the perimeter fence we couldn’t see it 10 metres away.

It is not the place for the ill prepared, later in our trip we met a solo walker who got so lost he had to stop, put his tent up and call the Mountain Rescue Team to escort him off.

Greg's Hut Bothy

Below the summit there are the remains of “hushing” gullies on the slopes of the mountain, created during lead mining in the industrial revolution. It’s a good idea to stick to the path if you can find it under the snow, as the area is littered with mining related pot holes and machinery as well. Linked to this is the very handy Greg’s Hut bothy, disappointingly he was apparently a former lead miner rather that a high street baker, but it is a much better place for lunch anyway, provided you’ve brought your own.

A very long snowy trail leads down to the village of Garrigill where we met a very friendly elderly life-long local resident who was off to play snooker. Garrigill is no more than a cluster of houses but apparently it has the only snooker tables between there and Carlisle and on match night years ago used to have up to 90 local members playing. The school and the pub are now gone and we missed the still operating post office /café opening by 10 minutes. Our new friend waved us on our way with a chuckle and the advice to follow the river as its all downhill.

We did, and 5 miles further north reached the beautiful town of Alston. It looks as if it has been locked in a time warp of the 1950s. The Youth Hostel (you don’t have to be a youth to join) is surrounded by woods and you can sit at a bay window and watch a large family of endangered red squirrels feeding, playing and generally looking cute. Much as most of Britain would have been in the 1950s, before the imported grey squirrels passed on a virus that nearly wiped then out, I imagine.

The pubs all have cheery log fires and serve a variety of local ales and superb food. What is there not to like about that?

Monotonous I don’t think so and that was just the first 20 or so miles.

By Tom Richardson
Footwear and expedition specialist

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Tom Richardson
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