This journal was written nine months after the event. Writing it was an epic trip in itself that helped me to relive the event (without the aches and pains). Hopefully on paper, I have matched the outstanding nature of the achievement with appropriate levels of pomposity and verbosity.
But I was not to be defeated. Having consulted Piers Corbyn, solar flare interpreter and soothsayer extraordinaire, I knew that July 2007 would be the time to renew my acquaintance with the Pennine Way. Armed with my weather predictions, I had booked my B&Bs in February, and anticipation mounted throughout the year.
THURSDAY 6TH JULY - GETTING THERE
As I trained up from Birmingham to Berwick, I questioned whether I’d have the stamina to cover 265 miles with a heavy pack on my back. The train, bus from Berwick to Kelso, and bus from Kelso to Kirk Yetholm all had a Heart of Darkness feel that I was getting deeper and deeper into wilderness. Well not really, bathed in sunshine, the approach to Kirk Yetholm seemed not unlike my far off Peak District destination.
FRIDAY 7TH JULY - KIRK YETHOLM TO USWAYFORD (14.5 MILES)
I woke up to the sounds of woodpigeons, sheep and occasional cows and knew this was it guys. The Pennine Way welcomed me with a brief spot of rain, but after an obligatory photo at its start, and one of a Scottish flag at the last house in Yetholm to remind me where I was, I wandered off into the Cheviots.
Beautiful green rolling hills quickly took me up into emptiness and meandering views. I felt tired already as the path circled gently up through fern patches on Green Humbleton, but found my rhythm on the subsequent spongy green paths before the first real climb of the day up Whitelaw, and the long slope up the Steer Rigg buttress. With the vertical ascent of the Schil coming into view, I paused briefly to chat with a woman who was also staying that night at Uswayford Farm. Resting at the top of the Schil, the solid bulk of the Cheviot loomed up ahead, with the startling ascent to Anchope Cairn running down its flank. I guess the guidebook didn’t mention that climb because most people would be coming down it and it would seem irrelevant that close to the end of the Pennine Way.
Treading the first Pennine Way flagstones, I played cat and mouse trying to take photos of birds flitting from fencepost to fencepost. I then held my own personal two minutes silence for those who had died in the Tube bombings thinking it sad that they would never enjoy the spectacular valley below me.
I was asked by someone at the mountain refuge to look out for Dave coming up from Byrness. Not sure what I was supposed to do when I found him, but hey – the Pennine Way is made for meaningless but community spirited encounters. The climb up to Anchope Cairn involved putting one foot in front of another, and was crowned by the views, a sense of achievement and a realisation that I might have the stamina to do this. The detour to the Cheviot summit allowed me to leave my pack for a breather, but there wasn’t anything much up there, and so I whistled back quickly, meeting Dave on the way.
At the idyllic but cheap and cheerful Uswayford Farm. Mrs Buglas, confirming what the guidebook said she’d do, told me that it wasn’t the farm, the pun being that there isn’t anything else for miles around. She didn’t seem like the sort of person it would be wise to cross. But she made me (and the other person who I’d met previously) welcome and regaled us with stories about the perils of sheep and goat farming. The latter were British Toggenburgs, as I have subsequently found out, apparently the most popular breed in the UK, but rare enough to me.
The first part of the day worked its way through big sweeping vistas alongside the fence border between England and Scotland, and was dominated by the ever present but gradually-more-distant Cheviot. And I finally managed to photograph a bird on a fencepost. Following a brief attack of second day tiredness and a short flurry of rain, I was joined at the mountain refuge by an Irishman working off a hangover.
SATURDAY 8TH JULY - USWAYFORD TO BYRNESS (15 MILES)
Waking up early, I walked back up to the trail in sunshine and apprehension about my knee holding out. Windy Gyle lived up to its name, and shortly after I met the seven day man (doing the Pennine Way in seven days, originally planned six but got ill). Although he paused for a chat, he was gone pretty quick.
Having now been joined by the fellow traveller I had met at Uswayford, we skirted the Chew Green Roman remains, prominent on the map, but barely evident on the ground. The bleakness of the landscape suggested this wouldn’t have been a posting relished by legionaries. The path dipped in and out of Scotland and then up Ogre Hill, aptly named because of its steepness. Walking over wooden slatted paths, and chatting to a squaddy who’d been sitting in a field since early morning, we then made our way down a steep wooded descent into Byrness, finding the Byrness Hotel as it started to rain. My encounter with the windswept but cuddlesome Cheviots was over. Pleasant enough it had been as a start to the walk. I was glad I’d done them in two days rather than the one the guidebook suggests some people do.
Built initially as a pub for workers building a nearby reservoir, the Byrness Hotel was now just a B&B, but a comfortable enough one. We shared dinner with a couple of bikers attending a biking rally in Kielder Forest. I retired to watch the Portugal/Germany World Cup Play Off match, not a match I particularly remember now.
SUNDAY 9TH JULY - BYRNESS TO BELLINGHAM (14.5 MILES)
Third day and it all might have gone wrong here. It started out raining, eased off, then came again. So there was some squelching today. Plus I was suffering – feeling quite exhausted at various stages, and my knee was suffering. And apart from towards the end, it was a pretty nothing stage whose only purpose was to get from the Cheviots down to Bellingham, unless one likes relentless forests.
I set off early in drizzle and full wet weather gear, past the cute Byrness Church behind the Pennine Way notice board, reassuring in that they appear several times on the trail. The walk along the River Rede was pleasant, but the unceasing trudge along the happily signposted forest walks was only mitigated by their less squelching solidity. I should have been thankful for the two scenic detours off the main tracks, the sun emerging during one, but the dense wet undergrowth added to the water in my boots. The Forestry Commission welcomed Pennine Way Walkers, but my wet feet didn’t reciprocate the feelings.
Branching out of the forest brought different challenges. A squelch up Brownrigg Head, leading to a steep descent in rocks and mud, followed by an equally steep climb up Padon Hill, punctuated by an encounter with a Texan whose cellphone had been stolen from a campsite shower block. The guide book told me that Padon Hill was named after a Scottish Covenanter who held services there to avoid persecution. His congregation must have been hard, particularly if they enjoyed the same heavy rain that greeted me there. I can't complain. I had only 1½ hours of rain on the whole 265 miles of the Pennine Way, and this half hour batch stopped as the terrain changed into windswept moorland.
By then my legs and feet were hurting, and I felt exhausted. It didn’t help that the path became vague, but the scenary and weather brightened up. My spirits were lifted by a radio 4 programme about the Berlin World Cup final venue reclaiming its architecture from its Nazi origins, followed by a battling but unrewarded performance by Rafael Nadal in the Wimbledon Final. The descent into Bellingham seemed positively sunny.
Not sure that Bellingham or the Cheviot Hotel particularly welcomed Pennine Way walkers. I went to bed to watch Zidane’s sending off. In writing this, I had to check who France had been playing in the World Cup final. The anti-racist statement that got Zidane sent off seemed more memorable and more important than Italy’s uninspiring performance.
MONDAY 10TH JULY - BELLINGHAM TO TWICE BREWED (15 MILES)
My concerns from the previous day were forgotten as I crossed the Tyne in bright sunshine. A walk through the beautiful rolling green farmland around Shitlington Hall was punctuated by a detour where I lost the path. I was joined by a guy from Manchester whose girlfriend was ferrying his luggage for him. He was going as far as Greenhead and so we parted as I took a break shortly after the place where my previous year’s exploits had ended in soggy bogs. This year’s contrast could not have been more dramatic.
2005 had seen me, and a fellow walker, miss the path turning in Wark Forest. This had meant a lengthy walk in the rain along forest tracks with concerned compass checks indicating the wrong direction. Eventually finding the Pennine Way signpost at the northern end of Wark Forest had been a relief.
The right path through the forest was more exciting, the relentless conifers relieved by the gap at Hawk Side. My spirits were lifted considerably by the first sighting of Hadrian’s Wall where the Pennine Way emerged back to the forest track where we had missed the path in 2005.
With the wall ahead and dry weather, the dull trudge between Wark and the wall went by much quicker than it had done in 2005. Despite the sharp climbs and descents on the wall, my spirits were high. My knee required me to take the three steep descents slowly, but on reaching the Twice Brewed Inn, despite discovering that my knee was "scrunching", I realised that I had now acclimatised my body to walking with a pack on my back. So I rewarded myself with a long soak in a bath in a more expensive room.
TUESDAY 11TH JULY - TWICE BREWED TO HOLMHEAD (7 MILES)
Something of a rest day, I dawdled along the wall, resting at both the first and second quarries, contemplating the three long days to come. Having seen the wall the previous year, it perhaps wasn’t as interesting as the first time round.
Leaving behind the views up to Crag Lough in the East, the South Tyne Valley, my destination of the next day, started to emerge further West. The wall’s constant ups and downs were none too friendly to my knee. This was partially solved by the addition of a support bandage bought from a kiosk at the second quarry, an aid I found surprisingly useful over the next few days. The sun came out in earnest as I arrived quite early at Holmhead Guest House.
With some time on my hands, I visited Thirlwell Castle, and then walked along the railway to Greenhead. Back at the Guest House, I met up with some Norwegians from Stavinger, who lived in a housing co-operative, interesting to me due to my working in that field. They told me that the cost of living in flats is more expensive in Norway than houses. The B&B had a particular Norwegian connection, with the proprietor Pauline Staff having been an air stewardess in an earlier life. It turned out that the other people staying there were also Norwegians, from Bergen. Apparently, so I was told, Bergenese are noted for their arrogance, whilst Stavingerese are noted for their puritanism.
Having enjoying an artfully crafted dinner over a half bottle of wine, Pauline asked the Norwegians to translate a none too complementary review of her allegedly fussy guest house. The tourist board had also suggested she dispense with some of the copious decorations, curios and information on the Wall (of which she was a particular student) to make the place a standard B&B. To me, its character, the home made muesli and fresh kippers the next morning, and Pauline’s cat, whose name I can’t remember, all made it a great place to stay.
WEDNESDAY 12TH JULY - HOLMHEAD TO ALSTON (16.5 MILES)
I have a confession to make, no doubt shocking for Pennine Way purists. In 2005, I had diverted from the path near Alston to go along the disused South Tynedale Railway to take advantage then of a slightly less soggy path. This had meant that I had enjoyed the beautiful Lambley Viaduct before rejoining the Pennine Way above Lambley. I decided I wanted to see it again this time. So I missed out on a stretch of the trail the guide book describes as not a scintillating one. Apologies to purists!
Setting off from Holmhead, crossing the railway and a golf course, I climbed up Blenkinsopp Common, remembering its stamina sapping sogginess of last year. I got lost again on Hartleyburn Common, where only frantic map and compass checks had returned me to the trail in 2005. This year the abandoned bus in the first house after the Common showed me the way. The diverted path at Hartley Burn (a raging torrent last year, this year a minor stream) meant I lost my way again, and ended up on the road down to Lambley.
Last year I had walked in front of the beautiful Lambley Station, with the viaduct winding across the valley in its front garden. It was now a private house, so I took the detour under the towering stone pillars of the viaduct. As I rested there, a red squirrel flitted by, momentarily sizing me up, and vanishing as soon as he had appeared when I moved to get my camera. The walk down the railway was punctuated by regular visits from jets screaming up the valley and various bits of abandoned farm equipment.
Walking through the old Slaggyford railway station, a bizarre poster screamed religiously about the perils of Sunday Pleasure Trips. Shortly after Slaggyford, I rejoined the Pennine Way on a nondescript section, but the approach into Alston proved scenic. Having caught the post office just before it closed to post home surplus weight, I checked into the same room I had had the year before at Alston House just as it started to rain.
THURSDAY 13TH JULY - ALSTON TO DUFTON (19 MILES)A bright sunny day, the climb up Cross Fell, the dazzling views across Cumbria to the Lake District, and day one of the second test against Pakistan on the radio. Who could ask for more?
In 2005, I had been forced back by torrential rain and wind before I finished the steep climb up to Knock Fell. Getting from Dufton to Alston by public transport so I could continue the next day had involved the lengthy process of getting a lift to Appleby, a train to Carlisle, and a bus to Alston. All purged from memory as I set off from Alston in brilliant sunshine along the South Tyne.
The beautiful walk from Alston, punctuated by stiles and overgrown dewy fields and by the ever present Tyne, led to the quietly contented village of Garrigill. From there the path labours interminably up and across towards Cross Fell, along a miner’s track, described by the guide book as an old corpse road, due to a previous lack of consecrated ground further down. The bleak and empty engulfing open spaces were a contrast to the test, just starting on the radio.
I reached the isolated Gregs Hut Mountain Refuge for lunch, recording my presence in the visitor’s book. Having doggedly picked a way through the boggy section below the summit, I reached the top of Cross Fell, the highest point on the Pennine Way, and the second highest point in England. The guide book advised me that the weather would be the making or marring of my Cross Fell encounter. Right enough in 2005, but this time round, the weather was fine but windy, and the views across Westmorland and to the Lake District staggering.
I think I had almost made it to the top in 2005, but the lack of visibility would have made it perilously difficult to have found the route over the fells. My previous year’s encounter made me apprehensive about the descent, but apart from its steepness crunching my knees, the descent was beautiful in the late afternoon sunshine. I got to the bottom as Cook and Collingwood scored centuries. A large hare running across the path (apparently I sent Grumpus a text asking "is a rabbit with big ears a hare?") led my tired legs into the cute village of Dufton.
A beautiful golden sunset glinting off the red sandstoned Dufton buildings, experienced walking back to Brow Farm B&B from dinner at the Stag Inn, forecasted a forthcoming cloudless day for the exciting walk to High Cup Nick and along the Tees.
FRIDAY 14TH JULY - DUFTON TO MIDDLETON (21 MILES)
Wow! 21 knackering miles under gorgeous primary blue skies, reflected in the bubbling waters of the Tees, and matched by the primary green colours on the ground. Grumpus thinks I use the word too often, but this really was glorious! Setting off early from Dufton in crisp early morning sunshine, the climb up to High Cup Nick was exhilarating. Rejecting the notion that I should jump on the back of a farmer’s trailer as it passed me, I reached High Cup Nick by 9.00am.
Arriving at High Cup Nick the first time from Dufton Fell had been mind blowing, and that had been on an overcast late afternoon. I’d subsequently brought Grumpus there on a crisp sunny winter’s day when it had been icicle cold. This time the early morning warm sunshine with views stretching out as far as Lakeland made it different again. There isn’t a way of describing High Cup Nick. Although it tells you to expect something special, the guidebook doesn’t prepare you for its magnificence. And although the photo below currently welcomes me to my computer, photos can’t tell the story of the majestic sweep of the curve carved out of the valley; of the statuesque organ pipe vertical rock faces holding back the hill sides on either side of the valley; of the twinkling river that babbles down into the cheeky little stream meandering and laughing along the valley floor having been its architect over the centuries; of the chequerboard Westmorland opening out at the end; of the blue shimmering and jutting Lakeland hills in the distance; and of the peacefulness contrasted by magnificence. High Cup Nick says with dignity but not without humour – I’m here and I’m not going anywhere. You fit your life around me.
Yeah – having said all of that, my visit was punctuated by the farmer on a quad bike rounding up his sheep, although I was impressed by him scootering up the steep left hand side of the valley.
Conscious of the further 17 miles left to go, I waved goodbye to High Cup Nick. The dull trudge between Cauldron Snout and Maize Beck of last year (after 17 overcast miles) became a happy stroll over Dufton Fell and Rasp Hill, chatting with various walkers coming the other way. At Cauldron Snout, the Tees cascades down into its river bed from Cow Green Reservoir above. Its thrashing demands a pause, not least by the path clambering down boulders at its side, not easily negotiated with a heavy rucksack. But maybe it’s a bit pedestrian in a day filled with other natural wonders.
I preferred the path stretching alongside the Tees below the Falcon Clints cliffs, despite the difficult stepping across boulders on two stretches. As the path opened out into greenness, I paid homage to the Tees by cooling my feet in it as I stopped for lunch. The path then wandered over a nature reserve to Langdon Beck, habituated by birds whose names I knew not, dense meadow grass, and cows stolidly occupying the path. As I rejoined the Tees, getting quite knackered by this point, I needed another pause under Wheysike House.
I’d seen High and Low Forces the previous year, so I didn’t do the detours to view them this year. I preferred the lugubrious and tranquil flowing Tees, although by this point, getting over the many stiles on its banks was becoming arduous. I was encouraged by Ian Bell reaching his century, which led to an England declaration and a subsequent tumbling of Pakistani wickets. Knowing from last year that the Belvedere House B&B had a deep relaxing bath managed to eventually coax my aching muscles into Middleton. I had completed the three longest spectacular days. The notes made that evening simply say "Made it".
SATURDAY 15TH JULY - MIDDLETON TO BOWES (13 MILES)
This might not have been the most riveting of stages, sitting between the Tees and the Yorkshire Dales, after the previous day’s wonders. Its shorter length meant it was something of a rest day for me. But the dazzling sunshine, the brilliant blue skies, and the reservoirs and bridges all served to make the day enjoyable.
Walking over Harter Fell, I met a speed walker heading for Cauldron Snout, intending to do more than 30 miles, but worried because his son was lagging behind. My mum rang on the walk down to the Grassholme Bridge, which was idyllic and beautiful in the heat haze.
Reaching Grassholme Bridge, I remembered feeling exhausted here the previous year in overcast weather having walked up from Tan Hill. The climb from Grassholme goes through a thicket of trees, where I was joined by a bevy of flies. The path headed down past Hannah’s Meadow Nature Reserve, set up to preserve natural pastureland. It was named after Hannah Hauxwell who farmed nearby Low Birk Hat Farm with no electricity or piped water and who had a TV documentary made about her struggles for survival. Having passed the pretty Blackton Bridge, I headed off on the Bowes Loop option of the Pennine Way. This decision was to give me a different path than last year, to see what Bowes was like, to avoid Atherstone Moor, remembered from the previous year as having what the guide book notes as few redeeming features, and to make a shorter walk after the previous day’s 21 miles.
Gratefully replenishing my water supplies at a farmhouse, I headed off into moorland and up the gritstone outcrop at Goldborough, where I paused for lunch. From there I could see that the path across Atherstone Moor on this side was as featureless as it had been on the other. It proved tricky finding it, and I was not unhappy to cross the fields opposite, displacing an annoyed group of sheep from the only shade in their field as I crossed a stile. This led to the road into Bowes, past the signs saying this site contains unexploded ordnance and toxic material, not a problem evidently for the cows chomping away on it.
Bowes was cute enough, but not sure that my visit there was that worth it. The castle, the room I had at the Ancient Unicorn Inn having a window across one side creating a sweltering greenhouse effect, eating crocodile for dinner and having three pints of beer are points that stick in my memory.
SUNDAY 16TH JULY - BOWES TO THWAITE (15 MILES)
A day of contrasts. Verdant greens through farmland in the early morning, the bleak vast expanse of Sleightholme Moor, the rough descent down and along the shoulder of Stonesdale Moor, the hidden gem of Catrake Force, and then the scramble around Kisdon Hill down into the Yorkshire pastureland of Swaledale – all shepherded by constant blue skies.
A crisp morning ushered me past Bowes Castle, and then along lush green pastures and farms alongside the tranquil River Greta, which the path seemed to cross on several occasions. Shortly afterwards I rejoined the other Pennine Way, and headed into the gorge like Sleightholme Beck, before setting out onto what the guide book refers to as the delights of Sleightholme Moor, a soggy expanse of bog and low tussocky moorland. Nothing particularly boggy about it in this weather. In fact, the sun, the cricket (Yousuf scoring a double century), the heather almost emerging, the shimmering heat and sense of space spreading across the Moor, the chasmic slash of Frumming Beck, and the gradual mirage like appearance of Tan Hill Inn on the horizon all kept my momentum up.
Having encountered a pint, a posse of ducks, and the tame sheep at Tan Hill Inn, I wandered off down the nondescript path down towards Keld, the only points of note being an attractive stream, an abandoned railway carriage, Pieterson throwing his wicket away, and the emerging views of Keld, Swaledale and Great Shunner Fell in the distance. Catrake Falls were shady, busy, and relaxing.
I hadn’t remembered the sharp climb up the conical Kisdon Hill. In 2005 it had been downhill. But I did remember the steep slopes tumbling down to the Swale valley. Skirting round the hill, I descended to Thwaite through fern patches, pondering why England had not declared, especially after Ian Bell was run out.
The stay at Kearton Country Hotel was notable for a tiny bedroom; a small rainbow to the West despite no clouds in the sky; roast beef and yorkshire pud for dinner; and two young couples from London satisfied with achieving the 8 miles from Hawes that day, but setting themselves an ambitious target of 22 miles the next day to Middleton. One of them asked “What was the point of the Pennine Way?” expecting it to have been an ancient farming, miners or Roman track. I knew enough to know about its 20th Century origins, leading to a discussion about the Kinder Trespass. I went to bed satisfied that my efforts were part of a proud political tradition of land access rights.
MONDAY 17TH JULY - THWAITE TO HAWES (9.5 MILES)
Another rest day! Just the climb over Great Shunner Fell and down into Hawes, once again in brilliant sunshine. Remembering it as a painful descent from the previous year, the climb up the fell, although requiring some energy in the last section, was uneventful. A party of girls doing a Duke of Edinburgh (DoE) award scheme were resting at the windbreak at the top, carrying packs that looked bigger than they were, and sounding distinctively miserable. I don’t think my suggesting that they would have fond memories of their efforts helped any.
Views stretched in every direction. Great Shunner is a vast plateau between the bleak acid moorlands I had come from, the green chequerboard of Swaledale, the rolling Wensleydale, and the three Yorkshire peaks of Whernside, Ingleborough and Pen-Y-Ghent, the latter two now visible in the distance. When a very large Bombus Bombularium joined me, it was time to move on.
Grumpus had joined me in the rain for last year’s ascent of Great Shunner. It had been an interminable trudge up its many false summits. This year the descent was a simple meander down through cotton grass. The Northumberland National Park website tells me that cotton grass is a type of sedge, with the cotton made of long white hairs that help the seeds disperse in the wind. Grumpus tells me it’s Eriophorum. With the emerging views of Hawes and Wensleydale, the descent was marked by a debate on whether England should have declared earlier and forced a result. The cricket had been a constant companion over the last five days. I was not sure that a drawn test match had ever been quite so poignant.
Not being in any rush, I enjoyed a pint in the Green Dragon Inn at Hardraw, a pub that time had forgotten, and then explored Hardraw Force in their back garden, a delicate plume of water spraying down into a secluded rock pool.
It was now seriously hot, and I was glad that the walk over to Hawes was now a short one. I reached Hawes just in time to do some washing at the launderette (a collection of machines in someone’s front room), and hang it out on the line at Herriotts Hotel overlooking the slate roofs of Hawes. I finished my book on Bismarck before going to bed in my tiny room.
TUESDAY 18TH JULY - HAWES TO HORTON (15 MILES)
Yet another blue skied crisp morning saw me exiting Hawes through the church yard, past horses and cows, and then up a steep climb up Rottonstone Hill. Half way up my mum rang me, who got concerned about my breathing, heavy due to the climb, probably amplified by the mobile, but nothing of any concern.
The stretch from Ten End to Kidhow Gate was a more steady climb up an old packhorse track, alongside pockmarked undulations stretching down into the deep-set valley of Snaizeholme Beck, and with the summit of Ingleborough peeking over the horizon (although I mistook it for Pen-y-Ghent).
A DoE scheme supervisor on a mountain bike was resting at Kidhow Gate. He asked if I’d seen a group of lads coming up from Hawes. Apparently this group were neither quite with the spirit of the scheme nor the best navigators. Earlier they had left Hawes, only to return moments later by another path. He explained that DoE scheme participants are required to carry everything they need for a three day period (except for water but including tents), and hence their massive packs. He said supervisors have to encourage participants to leave behind make-up and designer clothes, the sheep not being impressed by either. I moved on reluctantly, my interest tweaked about the missing group of lads.
The guide book described the walk down from Kidhow Gate along Cam High Road, a felltop trackway in use in Roman times, as uninspiring. I remembered it being uninspiring when it had been uphill last year. This year it was notable for encounters with several groups of enthusiastic walkers and two less enthusiastic DoE groups. The boy group looked really miserable; the girl group were at least talking to each other. The path gradually emerged into the massive expanse between the three peaks (Whernside, Ingleborough and Pen Y Ghent). Some walkers I had met had suggested the Pennine Way is deficient for not including them all. Nonetheless, their presence certainly dominated this part of the trail.
Noting the continued presence of the bones of a dead sheep I had seen the previous year, I reached the attractive bridge over Ling Gill for lunchtime, where a large group of elderly walkers almost left one sleeping walker behind. The final five miles became a grind in the heat, with little shade, my water running out, and an uncomfortable descent into Horton along a painful stony track. Still the views of Pen-Y-Ghent and Horton and its clonking and dusty quarry were refreshing.
With the famous Pen-Y-Ghent Café closed, I refreshed myself in the Garden at the Crown Inn, and then checked into the beautiful Knoll Guest House, with its friendly proprietor Patricia Crewdson. What she had done to another walker’s boots was a grim reminder of the need for regular boot maintenance. Grumpus rang me at the Knoll. I was particularly energised that she was going to join me at Malham at the end of the next day’s walk.
WEDNESDAY 19TH JULY - HORTON TO MALHAM (15 MILES)
There were two parts of the Pennine Way that had stuck in my memory as being vertiginous. The descent of Pen-Y-Ghent was one of them! Last year, first seen from Fountains Fell, thinking I’d never be able to get up it, a feeling that worsened as I got closer, the climb had been over quickly. This year, the climb from Horton, along the same stony paths from the day before, seemed interminable, with Pen-Y-Ghent looming up, but not seeming to get any closer. The actual diagonal climb was sharp, but mostly in shade, and it wasn’t long before I was sitting in the stone semi-circular wind break on the summit, much needed in the strong breeze. The views across to Ingleborough and Whernside on the one side and Fountains Fell on the other made the climb worthwhile.
Strange how photos don’t capture the vertical horror remembered! Getting down was about going for it, taking it step by step. With the drop on view ahead, and a heavy pack on my back, going down might have been worse than going up. But after the worst bit, I felt OK enough to take photos. Vertiginous horrors are about anticipated apprehension. The doing is never quite the same.
The wide detour between Pen-Y-Ghent and Fountains Fell screams out for a more direct path. Interrupted by a dog chorus, I knocked at the door of a farmhouse seeking in vain to replenish my water supply. And the bubbling streams I remembered on Fountains Fell that might have been a second option weren’t there in this heat. So reaching the top of the fell was a thirsty struggle compounded by what seemed like a major back twinge when I took my pack off next to the jutting stone man at the top. Looking back, the three peaks of the last two days lined up to say goodbye, Fountains Fell being the only place from where they can be seen together.
Happily my back twinge was soon forgotten on the descent from Fountains Fell, described by the guidebook as a sprawling, rather cheerless hill. As a descent it was pleasant enough, especially with Malham Tarn twinkling into view in the distance. I did manage to replenish my water supply from a mountain stream, but the little black things swimming in it meant I didn’t use it. Emerging from the fellside into rolling green pastures and buzzing meadowgrass, the path meandered along drystone walls and around rich green tussocks onto the edge of Malham Tarn. Eventually I managed to get some clean water from the idyllicly sited Malham Tarn House National Trust Field Study Centre.
Walking through the little clump of woods around the Centre, I paused by the side of the Tarn, thinking that it would be nice to come up to the tarn with Grumpus and a bottle of wine later on. But then I realised that in the real world you can’t drink bottles of wine whilst driving a car. Oh well – the real world hadn’t really been with me for some time and the pleasantly soporific haze of the tarn in the dazzling sunlight with birds frolicking and swooping invited a lack of reality.
I was further mesmerised by some climbers on top of the rock climb up Great Scar Close that skirts the tarn who seemed to be about to climb down it. I was confused by what they intended to do with their dog. An ice cream van and a group sunning themselves at the tarn’s south side temporarily reminded me of reality. But then the path took me back into the unreality of a Wild West style jagged deep ravine.
I had to escort another DoE supervisor down to Malham Cove who was having problems map reading, although there was only one way through the ravine. Malham Cove was a picture postcard, with its shelves of giant molar teeth, and its panorama over Malham with the Pennine Way slicing across rich greenness.
The sharp descent at the side of the Cove reminded me of the knee problem I thought I had left up at Hadrian’s Wall. It then led to a gradual stroll into Malham and to the wooden-panelled Beck Hall, where shortly afterwards I was joined by Grumpus. We shared what I have called in my notes a humdinger of a meal at the Buck Inn, where all the DoE supervisors I had met over the last few days were all also eating. Apparently the group of lost lads had completed the course.
THURSDAY 20TH JULY - MALHAM TO EAST MARTON (8.5 MILES)
Grumpus’s arrival meant that I no longer had to carry my heavy pack. The original plan was that Grumpus would get the post bus from Skipton to Malham and would join me on the Pennine Way. Hence planning two short days south of Malham. So much for plans. Romantic joint walking between Grumpus, usually walking at Olympic pace reading a book, and me, strolling along nonchalantly admiring the view, doesn’t really work. So she arrived in a car, and hence my worldly goods being daily transported from now on. Oh well, even if purists are shocked, my knee was not unhappy with the weight reduction. It did mean that from this point South, I had to elicit by conversation the Pennine Way walker camaraderie that my heavy pack had previously earned.
I met a father and daughter bickering the Pennine Way. Grumpus might have considered the combination of pompous older man and tolerant practical younger woman reminiscent. The path then set out across fields before meandering into the town of Gargrave, where I paused for a pot of tea outside the café with the strategically placed sign announcing 186 miles to Kirk Yetholm and 70 to Edale. My calculations had been that the walk was 265 miles, but maybe that accounted for detours to get to overnight stops.
Today’s walk having only been a short one, we took a spin in the car to Skipton. Strange to be in a car after the last two weeks of solitude. Grumpus played me music by Portuguese fado band Madredeus. She reckons I need to mention that they were remixes. We returned to a sumptuous dinner at the Cross Keys Inn overlooking the Pennine Way where it joins the Leeds and Liverpool Canal.
Another short day, although made slightly longer by my having to return for my walking stick. Crossing more fields, I dodged vast cuddly pink cylinders strewn across the path to make a new gas pipeline. Grumpus joined me for the walk along the canal under the double arched bridge under the Cross Keys. A hilarious monument to unnecessary human endeavour, the bridge was double arched because its single arch had apparently not been high enough.
Leaving the canal, the path drops into a creek and wanders past a farm with flowers growing in a bath, and then climbs into Thornton in Craven, before descending into a buzzing nettle strewn field and crossing a disused railway line. Before the ascent starts across Elslack Moor, the path negotiates Brown House Farmyard. Last year, two sets of gates across the Pennine Way had required unravelling fiddly twine. This year, the farmyard was a smelly quagmire.
I remembered the climb to Pinhaw Beacon as longer last year, possibly due to not being able to see through impenetrable clouds mantling the moor. The guidebook raved about the views from the Beacon giving walkers a foretaste of impending Malham delights, perhaps not so special having just come from there. Still the emerging pinks and purples of the heather were attractive.
Oh well, we had the car. Having had another short day, we drove off across narrow winding country lanes into the Bronte bedecked Haworth, and then across to a pub recommended by our overnight hosts, with the drive back gilded by a golden sunset that made Cowling seem an idyllic pastoral setting.
The weather forecast was for torrential rain, which hastened my pace for most of the day. Grumpus having returned me to the path in the car, I climbed up from Cowling onto Ickornshaw Moor in weak sunshine. I discovered from a man in one of the squat little huts on the edge of the moor that their official use is peat collection. I suspect their probable uses are solitude and fresh air. The man did say they played a part in the recuperation of World War 1 gas victims.
Swiftly crossing the featureless Ickornshaw expanse, I found the correct descent where we’d got lost last year, past a rubbish tip that had now all but gone, to the severely depleted Ponden Reservoir. Skirting the reservoir, I now climbed up into Bronte Country firstly marked by chequered fields and drystone walls, and then by bleak windswept moors. Thunder clattered somewhere as I reached Top Withins (Wuthering Heights’ alleged inspiration), so I didn’t wuther about.
Climbing over the moor above, a little Stoodley Pike announced its presence in the distance. Thankful for the sun emerging, heavy black clouds brooded over the neighbouring valley, fierce lightning jagging down from them. I descended past more parched reservoirs, and then took a slight detour to the Packhorse Inn. Knowing that I now only had the short crossing of Heptonstall Moor, I ambled over a couple of pints in the sun with a lively couple on their third day. What style! I wished them well as they trundled off after at least three pints, hand rolled cigarettes trailing from their mouths, heavy camping packs on their backs.
Now happily relaxed, I headed off into a hazy afternoon down the steep but attractive Graining Water ravine, and then back up through ornate double gates that seemed to lead to nowhere onto Heptonstall Moor. After a pleasant stroll across the moor, the views of the diminishing Packhorse Inn turning into the distant Hebden Bridge. The path then headed down towards Calderdale, pausing to navigate the steep descent into the heather lined Colden Clough ravine. It then skirted fields at the side of Badgerfields Farm, an overnight stop remembered fondly from the year before, particularly for its fresh roast parsnips.
Having driven down into Hebden Bridge to get some money, we shared a delicious Badgerfields dinner on the outdoor verandah with the dewy eyed Badgerfields dog who managed to charm even the cat-loving Grumpus, and with three tired horsewomen on a three day excursion.
SUNDAY 23RD JULY - HEBDEN BRIDGE TO DIGGLE (16.5 MILES)
As I arrived at the Poker, two walkers emerged from its much steeper north climb, and led me up a very dark and hidden flight of stone steps leading to the Poker’s first level. The views stretched out over the Calderdale valley rift, across vast sweeping moorland slopes, chequerboard fields interspersed with tussocks of trees and occasional sprawling settlements.
With the Poker gradually shrinking behind me (not seen last year until within 30 yards), I headed off along the vast Coldwell Hill Ridge. A scrubby and featureless drainage system that curved into Warland Reservoir led to three miles of relentless reservoir paths. Eventually I circled a smouldering peat field, and met Grumpus for lunch at the White Horse Inn, perched in its isolation beside a Pennine road crossing. The peat field had apparently been burning for several days. They thought they knew the culprits, but couldn’t prove it.
Jagged rocks and sand gave way to a spongey moorland descent, with the sounds of the M62 startling across the moorland gradually amplifying. The guidebook tells how the Pennine Way was there before the M62, and so the road builders had to build the elegantly curved bridge that ferries walkers across. Its delicate nature and the drop down to the cars whizzing along obliviously below meant that, with no other way to get to the other side, I was happy to get across it quickly, eyes resolutely focussed ahead, one foot in front of another.
I walked past the giant Windy Hill telecommunications mast I had been oblivious to last year. The walk up White Hill was noticeable only for the gradual decrease of car noise, and for a strange man striding by with stetson and binoculars who I took for a bird watcher. Catching him up shortly afterwards, it turned out he was a farmer searching for lost sheep. I walked with him over the remaining miles. This was one of those chance encounters that greatly increased (possibly over increased) my rudimentary knowledge of sheep farming. This included how far sheep can stray; buying sheep farming land usage rights from the National Trust; neighbouring farmers’ illegal encroachments; wild west style attempts to run him off his land; and rounding up sheep for lambing and shearing. I also learned of the consternation of the people of Saddleworth that they are now considered part of Lancashire rather than Yorkshire, and of the Standedge railway tunnel between the two. Once we got onto the detailed immortalisation of local poet Ammon Wrigley, memorialised on Standedge, I decided that I now had sufficient knowledge of local anthropology. I wandered on down to the car park I had hitched a lift to last year in clouds and rain, and waited for Grumpus to take me down to our overnight stop at Diggle.
The sign outside the Diggle Hotel, perched above the Standedge tunnel, the only place serving food in the vicinity, said that there weren’t serving anyone else. So we were thankful again that we had the car, although we drove many miles beyond Mardsen to find somewhere to eat. So much so that I had to drive even further, through desolate industrial terraced housing to find petrol for the car. Still it was a nice restaurant, and on the drive back, we enjoyed a spectacular golden and pink sunset that heralded the return of blue skies the next day.
MONDAY 24TH JULY - DIGGLE TO CROWDEN (13 MILES)
Grumpus having deposited me back at the path at Standedge, I ambled past isolated reservoirs bathed in brilliant early morning sunshine, until the path started to trend down towards Wessenden Head. The descent, across the shoulder of a steep cutting and then straight down the vertiginous bluff beyond it, was unexpected. But the alpine splendour of the Wessenden valley in the crisp heat haze took my mind off its steepness.
As I started walking up the Wessenden reservoir valley, a group of farm workers herding sheep through the steep fern covered slopes renewed my acquaintance with sheep farming. In one of the many inlets of the valley, I found a small group they had left behind. I fancied that one of the lambs had become my friend as I paused in the balmy heat, although it was just trying to get past me to get to its mother. Chatting with some people rebuilding the path, I was soon at the top of the valley, remembering reading a sodden map there last year in driving rain.
Crossing the A635 the path was clearly visible slashed across the peat moorland up to Black Hill. Last year, this had been miserable wet clouds with no hint of the massive expanse of views stretching down to a tall thin mast pinning out on the plains below. Climbing Black Hill this year was a delightful stroll in the sunshine watching the views unfold, and chatting with a couple of walkers for whom this was their second day. I was already beginning to feel the same mix of achievement and sadness that the end was in sight that many Pennine Way walkers must feel. Still I knew that several delights still awaited me.
Book after book tells you of the horrors of Black Hill. Hah – it’s a pussy cat in baking sunshine, and after its hellish qualities of the previous year, I drew a perverse sense of delight from its taming. Its trig point bobbled invitingly amidst the baked peat sea, with its white flagstone path snaking across the bare morass. I was joined by two other walkers at the trig point, one who had walked up a path along the peat, jointly celebrating Black Hill’s temporary calmness.
Descending from Black Hill, and then easily picking a way through what had been the soggy meandering mud of Crowden Great Brook where last year I had got my first boot full of water, I chose to take the lower path under Laddow Rocks. I could have kidded myself that it was because I wanted a different route or that I particularly wanted to see the rocks or even that Wainwright says he prefers the lower route, but the real reason was I didn’t feel the need to relive the terrors of being perched on the narrow path above the Laddow cliffs.
Having chosen this route, presumably not used much, the overgrown vegetation made it hard to find at the northern end of the valley. But pushing through green fern tussock patches and scrubby heather, ambling down the stony stepped dusty paths, crossing bubbling brooks, with the statuesque presence of the Laddow rocks to the right and the slash of the valley to the left, and all in a constantly enchanting still heat haze, it proved to be a spectacular descent through a spaghetti western valley. The only negative was the gradual emergence of my nemesis at the end of the valley. More of that tomorrow.
After the delights of the day, the Crowden Valley seemed functional with its hurtling busy trunk road. I remember a restful stroll through a wooded section, and then the secluded path under the railway tracks up to the Old House, but hey – Torside is just another reservoir!
We had remembered the Old House as being a nice place to stay, but this time the different room in the attic with no windows and without the bath I had been looking forward to all day, meant it wasn’t so pleasant. I think again we drove some distance to find somewhere to eat, but can’t remember where we ended up. Grumpus did let me into the secrets of Hadfield, Royston Vasey of The League of Gentlemen, although some local shops for local people might have brightened up what was a pretty mundane Manchester overspill town. I don’t think I got a lot of sleep that night. My nemesis was to come.
TUESDAY 25TH JULY - CROWDEN TO EDALE (15 MILES)
This was the second section of the trail I had not been looking forward to. Last year I hadn’t known what to expect, and, whilst experiencing mild terror, I had put one foot in front of another and got round it. This year I had to really steel myself, knowing that a sharp exhausting climb would be followed by the terrifying Clough Edge, and that I’d have to do it to get into the final day’s delights.
The climb up was fine enough, until the path veered left and entered the Clough Edge rim. I barely remember the next section. Pounding heart. Legs automatically moving forward. Trying not to look down. Desperately trying to keep to the right of the piteously narrow path. Not noticing the lack of wind. Not noticing the beautiful Torside Clough slicing invitingly down. A path along it would be nice.
It seemed ages, but probably wasn’t that long before my legs happily took me into the paths that started to venture into the heather bank to the right and away from the rim. Presumably I hadn’t been the only person who didn’t welcome a narrow path on the edge of a precipice. As the path veered right towards the climb up Wildboar Grain, I felt an enormous sense of relief that I had conquered my nemesis and I started to enjoy the clattering stream, the radiant blue skies welcoming me to my last day and the purple heather patches emerging from the peat bogs.
I rang Grumpus to let her know I had emerged victorious, and in my cocoon of relief, the rocky climb up Bleaklow was uneventful. Bleaklow – an imposing bulk with the Torside terrors on one side and a gargantuan impenetrable sludge of peat groughs on the other. Appropriate that its moonscape summit was announced by a plank of wood unceremoniously speared into a pile of rocks.
Remembering being perplexed last year about the many direction markers left for someone initialled PW through the peat groughs, I successfully charted my way through the twisting labyrinthine mass of brown peat cakes. I crossed the A57 Snake Pass road, described by the guidebook as a corridor of noise and movement in the timeless silence of the moors. Then the Pennine Way’s final ribbon of flagstones twist for three miles across the Featherbed Moss expanse, with the edge of Kinder Scout beckoning on the horizon.
The climb up to Kinder Scout was sharp but brief, and I was welcomed onto the top of the plateau by an old man who seemed astonished that I had nearly completed the Pennine Way. The Kinder plateau, carved stone medallions scattered across twinkling sand, scene of the mass trespass, is both a geological and political crowning glory of the Pennine Way. But there had been so many crowning glories, and I had been here before. So I unceremoniously paused briefly for lunch at a sun-baked Kinder Downfall, pondering whether to take the official Pennine Way that continues round Kinder edge and down Jacob’s Ladder, or across Kinder’s pathless peat mounds and down Grindsbrook Clough, the path that it had been diverted from to prevent erosion.
Figuring I’d never have such clement weather to cross Kinder again, and having done the Jacob’s Ladder path before, I headed towards Kinder Gates on the advice of another walker who ventured the opinion that “you follow the river bed, head out across the peat, and you won’t get lost”.
He was right. At first, the river bed, flanked by brooding rocks at Kinder Gates on either side, formed a natural sand highway across Kinder. Although heading out across the peat involved constant compass checking across numerous pathless ascents and descents of vast mud cakes with boot prints leading beguilingly in every direction, their dryness made their passage easy. Sentinel stones appearing on the horizon announced the top of the Edale Valley ahead, and coming down a particularly large peat grough on my backside, I emerged back somewhere between Crowden Brook and Grindsbrook Clough.
Grindsbrook Clough curves delicately and invitingly down from the plateau flanked by green slopes. Its initial descent was steeper and rockier than I had remembered, painful on tired feet, but not much would have taken away from the satisfaction that I was completing the Pennine Way down its historical and beautiful start. Declining the invitation to join a couple of lads for a dip in one of the many rockpools alongside the path, I strode on down the gradually shallower descent, admiring the heather slopes and the emerging Edale views below.
Elated after the fitting sunny end through electric green fields and over a shady stream crossing, I had already drunk one celebratory pint by the time Grumpus joined me at the Old Nags Head. The barman seemed decidedly nonplussed about my achievement. Oh well, I guess he’d seen it all many times before. Instead my achievement was formally celebrated by a Pennine Way badge for my walking stick that Grumpus had bought me, and a photo under the start sign, ironically leading to the official path I didn’t take.