The Pennine Way is generally regarded as the toughest, most demanding, and most challenging long-distance walk in Britain. That's true enough, but it's something more than that. It's adventurous, exciting and rewarding as well. There is nothing technically difficult about the Pennine Way - you won't find yourself dangling off ropes, clinging to rock faces or staring down terrifying abysses, and there are really only three ascents worthy of special mention. The challenge is, essentially, a mental and a logistical one. Your adversaries on this walk are the terrain, the climate and the awesome sense of loneliness.
Many people imagine that the Pennine Way must be some ancient monument; a route travelled by monks or pilgrims, or a medieval trade corridor to Scotland, or an invention of the Romans. In fact it's almost a modern invention, though it encompasses elements of all the above. It was concieved in the early 1930's by a journalist named Tom Stephenson who, enthused by tales of the Appalachian Way in America, suggested a route of equivalent signifivance in Britain. The Pennines were an obvious choice - the so-called "backbone of England", they form a virtually unbroken spine of high moorland and bleak, empty hill country along the watershed between the east and west coasts, running for some 250 miles from the Trent valley to the Carlisle-Newcastle Gap. Stephenson described a route that would traverse these hills from south to north, encompassing their wide open spaces, their scenic highlights, their moods and their challenges. He had penned many such articles and this one might well have gone unremarked, but it caught a national mood. This was a time of economic depression and the working men of the northern industrial towns were beginning to seek out these wild, empty moorlands as a safety valve, a spiritual escape. Hiking and cycling clubs set out every Sunday from Manchester, from Leeds, from Sheffield and from each and every major town, to enjoy the uplifting experience of these high, empty lands. Yet vast tracts of these moors were inaccessible, enclosed by landowners and guarded by their gamekeepers, the preserve of the hunting and shooting fraternity. Public demand for access became overwhelming and culminated in a celebrated mass trespass of Kinder Scout in Derbyshire.
Officialdom moved painfully slowly. A Pennine Way association was formed and drew up detailed plans for the route. The second world war intervened, but as part of the reforming zeal that followed the new Government set in process a wholesale review of land use and outdoor recreation, leading in 1948 to the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act. A body known as the Countryside Commission was set up to oversee these developments and the Pennine Way Society's plans were taken up by the Commission. Although much of the proposed route already enjoyed legal public access the rest had to be opened up by negotiation with landowners and due legal process, and it wasn't until 1965 that the Pennine Way was officially opened, by the same Tom Stephenson (by then the secretary of the Ramblers' Association) at a ceremony at Malham, Yorkshire.
The name "Pennine Way" is a bit of a misnomer because the route carries on beyond the northern limit of the Pennines, crossing Hadrian's Wall and traversing half the Cheviot ridge before terminating in the Scottish border village of Kirk Yetholm. But the name "Most Of The Pennines And About Half Of The Cheviots Way", which would be technically correct, doesn't exactly scan. The name stands accepted as the description for Britain's finest outdoor experience, this 267-mile walk from the Derbyshire Peak District to Scotland.
The route starts with one of its toughest sections, the traverse of the Dark Peak - the peat moorlands of Kinder Scout, Bleaklow and Black Hill. Be warned that this terrain is very boggy and in bad weather it is unpleasant at best and hazardous at worst. North of the Dark Peak you come to waterworks country and progress is fast on rough tracks beside silent, brooding reservoirs, with impressive views of Greater Manchester and much of Lancashire to your left. You come down to the Calder valley at Hebden Bridge and enjoy the wooded river valleys hereabouts before climbing out over the Haworth moors, the so-called Bronte country. Ahead of you now is the county of North Yorkshire and the gentler farming country of the Aire gap. Beyond Thornton in Craven you cross into the Yorkshire Dales national park and enter the remarkable limestone scenery of Malhamdale before climbing up over Fountains Fell and Pen-y-Ghent, the first major hills of the Way, to come to the ancient drove roads connecting Horton-in-Ribblesdale with the market town of Hawes. Another summit, that of Great Shunner Fell, is crossed to reach the serene beauty of Swaledale. From here the Way winds northwards to Tan Hill, England's highest pub on the borders of Yorkshire, Cumbria and Durham, and then crosses Sleightholme moor to the Stainmore gap. More lonely moors lay ahead before Teesdale is reached, and a day is spent in the company of one of Northern England's liveliest and most scenic river valleys.
From Langdon Beck the Pennine Way turns westwards to cross the vast emptiness of Stainmore common, coming down for the first time on the western side of the Pennines at Dufton, in the Eden valley. A long day now lies in store, the 21-mile traverse of the Cross Fell and its satellites, the highest tops of the Pennines, to reach the town of Alston on the South Tyne. From Alston the Way follows the general line of the Maiden Way, an old Roman road, to reach Hadrian's Wall, the 2000 year-old frontier of the former Roman empire. Eleven miles of Wall is traversed, as far as the fort at Housteads, before the Way leaves the Pennines proper and strikes out across the Northumberland Forest Park to Bellingham on the North Tyne. A further day of lonely moors and forests brings you to the forestry village of Byrness.
Loins must be well girded now, for the final 29 miles of the Way lays along the spine of the Cheviot hills, which mark the border between England and Scotland. There is no habitation. You must either come off the ridge at the Border Gate, having arranged transportation from the remote farm of Cocklawfoot, or you must take a tent with you and camp wild at Davidson's Linn. There are also two emergency shelter huts in which you can sleep rough. The only other alternative is to attempt to walk the whole 29 miles in one day, an arduous journey which is likely to take 15 hours. But, once you drag yourself up the last hill and see the border village of Kirk Yetholm below you in the valley of Bowmont Water, you know that it's all been worthwhile.
There are plenty of places to stay along the route - the provision of accommodation has become a growth industry. Most of the recognised overnight stops have youth hostels and there is also a good deal of B&B at local farmhouses. If you prefer to tackle the Way as a series of day walks then there are a number of nearby towns with good public transport links to the Way - Glossop, Skipton, Huddersfield, Barnard Castle, Appleby and Hexham, to name but several. Indeed, something like half the route can easily be reached by train from Leeds or Manchester. But to tackle some sections you'll have to carry your belongings with you or stump up expensive taxi fares. Once you get to the Cheviots there is little choice but to spend a night out in the wild.
On the Pennines, more than anywhere else you've walked so far if you've been following the End-to-End, you need to be well prepared. Wear proper walking boots, take warm and waterproof clothing, and have a 1:25000 scale map and a compass with you. If you can get away with walking the entire 267 miles without needing at least the reassurance of a compass bearing somewhere, you'll be extraordinarily lucky. And remember that you're going to get filthy. The biggest single feature of the Pennine Way is mud. Lots of it. And weather. Horizontal rain, winds that go straight through you, hill fogs that shut out the world for days.
Believe me, you'll have a wonderful time.
|1||Edale to Snake Pass||8.25 miles|
|2||Snake Pass to Longendale||5.67 miles|
|3||Longendale to Standedge||10.9 miles|
|4||Standedge to Blackstone Edge||7.17 miles|
|5||Blackstone Edge to Hebden Bridge||7.98 miles|
|6||Hebden Bridge to Ponden||10.3 miles|
|7||Ponden to Thornton-in-Craven||12.4 miles|
|8||Thornton-in-Craven to Malham||10.9 miles|
|9||Malham to Dale Head||9.93 miles|
|10||Dale Head to Horton-in-Ribblesdale||4.86 miles|
|11||Horton-in-Ribblesdale to Hawes||13.7 miles|
|12||Hawes to Thwaite||9.47 miles|
|13||Thwaite to Pasture End||13.1 miles|
|14||Pasture End to Middleton-in-Teesdale||10.1 miles|
|15||Middleton-in-Teesdale to Langdon Beck||7.86 miles|
|16||Langdon Beck to Dufton||12.1 miles|
|17||Dufton to Alston||19.4 miles|
|18||Alston to Greenhead||16.6 miles|
|19||Greenhead to Housteads||9.3 miles|
|20||Housteads to Bellingham||13.2 miles|
|21||Bellingham to Byrness||14.9 miles|
|22||Byrness to Border Gate||13.9 miles|
|23||Border Gate to Kirk Yetholm||11.2miles|
|White Peak Way||Back to main index||South of Scotland Way|
This page last updated 26th December 2004