The Pennine Way – the ‘right’ way

In 2018 I blogged about the other occasion I did the Pennine Way when my friend Steve and I did it the ‘wrong’ way, i.e. north to south.

Now five years later I started in the south at Edale, only this time with my brother Colin. In our 40s we did the Lakes 3000ers and the Snowdonia 3000ers, and more recently the 55-mile Derwent Valley Heritage Way and a 40-mile section of the Jurassic Coast Path – all big undertakings, each done in a single day. The Pennine Way was a completely different proposition but perhaps as twins we realised that we would be fairly compatible on this lengthy journey. My primary job was navigation and his was making the tea when we finished each day and first thing in the morning – it seemed a fair trade to me.

Back in 2018 Steve and I did it in 9½ days wild camping along the way. Colin was having none of that, so we agreed to stay at B&Bs every night and have our main luggage transferred for us. This is obviously not a cheap option but Contours Holidays (based in Cromford, near Matlock) did an extremely efficient job of organising this. Occasionally, Contours arranged a taxi to get us to and from our overnight accommodation when there was nothing available on the trail itself. Their service was seamless throughout.

Averaging 19 miles per day our 14-day schedule was still a proper challenge. Although Colin is a fit competitive race walker his normal race distance is usually less than 3km and he has never done a multi-day walk before. Therefore, with accommodation booked we were committed to completing each day’s walk with no chance of a rest day at any stage.

We were particularly delighted that Colin’s twin sons Fred and Sam joined us for Day 3 between Standedge and Hebden Bridge. Their company and enthusiasm were most welcome, and our pace was noticeably quicker!

4 people smiling in pub - Chris Harle Blog
Twins and twins

The summer of sun and no rain was obviously not going to last. While southern Europe sweltered in record-breaking heat, we got caught in weather patterns north of the jet stream. This meant cold polar air and significant rain. Day 12 between Greenhead and Bellingham was particularly memorable when persistent heavy rain and a cold wind seriously tested our resolve. Full waterproofs and four layers of clothing, plus two hats and a pair of gloves were only just enough to stave off the onset of hypothermia. The photo of Sycamore Gap in pouring rain, shows the most photographed tree in Northumberland. This was made famous by a scene in the 1991 Robin Hood film featuring Kevin Costner and Morgan Freeman.

Sycamore Gap on Hadrian’s Wall - Pennine Way Blog
Sycamore Gap on Hadrian’s Wall

For me this journey was a completely new experience because my viewpoint was always 180º different to the previous occasion. The constantly changing landscape, and different types of footpaths and trails, meant that interest levels were always maintained. Bizarrely one seasoned traveller we met stated that he was disappointed with the scenery (having just passed the astonishing sight of High Cup Nick near Dufton). It brought to mind the classic John Cleese scene in Fawlty Towers when a customer expressed disappointment with the view from her hotel room. Basil Fawlty responds with, “May I ask what you were expecting? Sydney Opera House, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, herds of wildebeest sweeping majestically…”

High Cup Nick near Dufton - Pennine Way Blog
High Cup Nick near Dufton

Perhaps the highlight for both of us was the people we met along the way. American, Dutch, German and British walkers were all having their own adventure with different schedules and types of accommodations. Those carrying heavy sacks with camping equipment were certainly being tempted by dry hostel and B&B alternatives. We first met Ben just outside Hawes and from then on saw him every day. We were impressed by his determination on his solo journey and felt somewhat sorry about his fear of cows, which were met on many occasions. He admitted to being delayed on one occasion for 25 minutes before plucking up the courage to continue. Another time he vaulted over a barbed wire fence to escape a stalking bull and was obliged to do a significant detour. Colin had a similar concern when we walked directly through a herd – “If they spook Chris, don’t make me run fast - I’ll probably pull a hamstring and then it will be game over…”

Cross Fell – the highest point on the Pennine Way - Pennine Way Blog
Cross Fell – the highest point on the Pennine Way

Others we met readily admitted that they had grossly underestimated the difficulty of doing the Pennine Way in one go. Weather, distance, navigation, rough and boggy terrain all contributed to their decision for calling it a day earlier than hoped for.

Hosts of the accommodation we stayed at could not have been more helpful. Some of them willingly took away our wet and muddy footwear, stuffed them with paper and put them in a drying room for us. Definitely above and beyond the call of duty.

One of our stated aims was to have at least one pint every night. We had no problem achieving this because there were always nearby pubs or beer available at the B&B itself.

The Cheviots - on the border of Scotland and England - Pennine Way Blog
The Cheviots - on the border of Scotland and England

Being used to long distance walking there were no equipment issues. Anything Colin needed I was able to provide, and we only differed on choice of footwear. Colin wore his trusted leather boots while I took trainers (La Sportiva Jackals and Inov8 Talon Ultra 260s) knowing that wet feet were inevitable on most days. Minor aches and blisters were easily dealt with, and for most of the way we kept up a very respectable pace. On the last day overuse injuries began to make themselves known and we were very glad to eventually finish at The Border Hotel in Kirk Yetholm. Thanks to the Hadrian Border Brewery we were treated to a free ½ pint and a finishers certificate. This was a tradition established by Alfred Wainwright who offered to buy all finishers a free half. Apparently, it cost him £15,000 up until his death in 1991.

Our Pennine Way journey was completed when the ever supportive and reliable Jane picked us up the following morning and drove us back to Matlock.

The finish at Kirk Yetholm - Pennine Way Blog
The finish at Kirk Yetholm

Information about the Pennine Way is readily available via the web, or by buying bespoke maps and guidebooks. For me part of the fun of doing these challenges is in the preparation and planning. If you want to do it in one go then a lot of forward planning is needed particularly if you are considering booking accommodation. In some places there is very limited supply.

Colin and I had an absolute blast doing it together and I’m quite sure that we will find another suitable challenge walk in the next few years.

DateFrom/ToKmWalking time
(inc breaks)
Ascent (m)
Wed 12th JulyEdale to Torside25.0006:50764
Thurs 13th JulyTorside to Standedge/Diggle22.5306:10752
Fri 14th JulyStandedge to Hebden Bridge26.0005.43379
Sat 15th JulyHebden Bridge to Cowling28.2206:51954
Sun 16th JulyCowling to Malham29.4006:56709
Mon 17th JulyMalham to Hawes42.7309:471253
Tues 18th JulyHawes to Keld21.7805:40778
Wed 19th JulyKeld to Middleton-in-Teesdale35.8808:00895
Thurs 20th JulyMiddleton-in-Teesdale to Dufton33.5508:15682
Fri 21st JulyDufton to Alston31:0007:301052
Sat 22nd JulyAlston to Greenhead27.6006:30558
Sun 23rd JulyGreenhead to Bellingham35.1508:301075
Mon 24th JulyBellingham to Byrness25.2606:08605
Tues 25th JulyByrness to Kirk Yetholm40.5409:521321

The above was measured by my smartwatch. Each day includes any walking needed to get to and from the B&Bs that were not exactly on the route. It also reflects our choices when the Pennine Way offered different alternatives.

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