Pennine Way – episode 3

Langdon Beck to Knock. 15 miles

Weather very unpromising first thing, but not too bad by the time we left the hostel. Fair walking to Cauldron Snout, very good time made. Slower time but still good progress on to the Maize Beck crossing point. Long rest here (except Frank) before proceeding at a good pace to High Cup. Lunch taken here before proceeding downhill. Arrival in Dufton welcomed and a rest taken. The walk to Knock Y.H. over roads was fairly quickly accomplished and we had to wait for 5 O’Clock to come.

20 miles Knock to Alston

Very low cloud present so bad weather route taken on road from Knock Y.H. to Great Dun Fell W.T. station. Cloud entered about 1500′, very strong wind and extremely cold on top, so we all put thicker clothes on in the shelter of the W.T. station before setting off by compass for Little Dun Fell which was quickly reached. Cross Fell was some time further off and arrival at the top of the scree left us with a problem of finding the O.S. column since visibility was only ~10m. Almost got lost on the descent after eating lunch on top, but eventually found the old corpse road and walked to a bothy (mile 172) which we entered. Mist cleared suddenly here so we proceeded on a long slog to Garrigill (this part seemed endless). A half hour rest in Garrigill before proceeding at a fair pace along the South Tyne Valley to Alston. Here we got a lift to Ninebanks Youth Hostel (and back).

25 miles Alston to Once Brewed

At this point, my written diary seems to give up, but I do recall a lot of walking on the road around Slaggyford, and then finding it a very long way, particularly along Hadrians Wall, which has a lot of up and down. We were quite late getting in to Once Brewed Youth Hostel, and quickly formed a very low opinion of the warden who seemed to fancy himself as some sort of tin pot dictator.

From Once Brewed, we walked, mainly through the endless (and very midgey) plantations of Kielder Forest, to reach Bellingham, where the Youth hostel meal was so big that I had to go and lie down for some considerable time. The following day, to Byrness, was also dull walking through the forest.

The final day of the Pennine Way (going north) is also the longest, at 27 miles, to Kirk Yetholm, and starts out along the edge of the huge MOD ranges, heading up to the Scottish border. Even in these days, long before talk of Scottish Independence, there was a border fence – though no armed guards… The border wiggles, and the route cuts corners, so the fence isn’t as useful for following in the mist as you might hope (and we tended to need, in this cloudy, wet summer), but after the big shortcut north of Chew Green, we were following the fence most of the way, across great quaking sphagnum bogs. There’s much gentle up and down, with various rounded minor summits. Eventually, at a corner in the fence, a great brown track heads off on the English side – the ‘optional’ detour to the summit of the Cheviot. Wainwright says things like “Ghastly at first, then improving” and “Do it for the record or to satisfy conscience, if you must, but do not expect to enjoy it. In mist or rain, give it a miss altogether.”

We’d walked a hell of a long way to get to this point, and were in a spirit of dogged determination not to miss anything that we might later feel obliged to come back for. The weather was not too dire, and we weren’t about to even think about not ticking the Cheviot. It wasn’t as bad as he’d made out, apart from a ring of saturated vegetationless peat, inches deep in water, like a moat round the trig point. We splashed on through, the hell with it ! And we did enjoy it – to our amazement, not far off the top we met a couple out walking (I think they must have come up from the side), with not much in the way of rucksacks or foul weather gear, struggling up in rather lightweight footwear. The young lady was having a bit of trouble getting across a peat grough (my memory, surely distorted by the ravages of time and retelling of the story, is that she was in high heels), and had just passed her handbag across to her partner as we squished our way past. We gave a cheery hello and passed on, struggling to keep straight faces… From the sounds behind us, I think they might have been heading for a divorce!

Back at the border, soon after, the fence became a wall, and we turned left, finally entering Scotland properly. The way is now more often down than up, and soon starts to lose the slushy peat for firmer footing. Wainwright’s guide parodies the mental state of folk who have got this far with comments on the outskirts of Kirk Yetholm like “30 m.p.h. sign – SLOW DOWN!” and finally “STOP! This is the end. Son, you have walked the Pennine Way.” Yep, we had, and we were glad to stop (decades later, it’s still the longest continuous walk I’ve done, and by far the wettest).

We were booked to stay at the Border Hotel – a night of comparative luxury, but, and far more important, back then, there was still a free pint available for those who had walked the full distance, courtesy of Wainwright, and we made haste to claim ours. No evidence had to be produced – the landlord had been seeing walkers stagger in for many years and he just knew which ones had really done it. We were all under drinking age, but no-one batted an eyelid as we took our pints and retreated to a warm corner.

The next day, it was all over, we took our final photos and got into the car for the journey home (handy things, parents). I think this was August 29th, a Thursday.

Pennine Way – episode 2

Malham to Horton-in-Ribblesdale, 15 miles

From Malham, we set off unusually late on a good day (sunny periods with some cloud). Good progress (interrupted by good photography) made up Malham Cove and along the dry valley to Water Sinks and then to the road around Malham Tarn. This caused some foot suffering. Relief gained by walking over fields at Tennant Gill (passing through a field with 1 bull in it).

Tim (nearest) and Simon walking up the Watlowes valley above Malham Cove

A long ascent over (many) false summits eventually led to the top of Fountains Fell where lunch was greedily devoured in a hollow. The wind was now very strong and keeping balance during the descent was something of a problem, but rapid progress was made from ~2200′ to 1700′ slowing down as the valley was approached at 1400′. Painful walking along the road to Dale Head, where a short lane containing a white bull was negotiated (except by Tim, who snuck round off the path in an adjacent field). A long climb through soft ground to the 1800′ contour, then a steep climb up the limestone rockstep and then the gritstone rockstep to 2100′ followed by a climb (all this in a near gale) to the cairn on top of Pen-y-ghent at 2273′.

Simon struggling not to be blown off the trig point, Penyghent

A rapid descent to 1900′ followed by a boggy descent to 1300′ came next and then an agonising 1½ miles down a very rocky lane to Horton.

Horton to Hawes, 16 miles

Sunny again for a long walk up a green lane (actually grassy most of the way) for 3 miles at a good pace. Cutting off to join another packhorse road led to a slightly worse path, but still good walking (though boggy in places) for a couple of miles. The walking got harder and a lot more boring as Cam End was reached, but fair progress still being made in an increasing breeze. Joined a Roman road, but still boggy in places. This track was followed for 2 miles, which included us passing a cyclist (!) and a sharp shower before stopping in a (not very) sheltered hollow for lunch at the 100 mile mark. Progress uncomfortable along a tarmac road, but getting better along a wide grass (?) path, a little rocky in places. Good progress still being made, though under occasional threat of rain. Progress slowed down visibly and painfully along the lanes and later roads of Gayle and Hawes. A change into pumps and a wait for the hostel to open made us feel quite good on checking in to Hawes Y.H.

Another rest day, visiting Aysgarth Falls in high water.

Hawes to Keld, 14 miles

Set off in pumps for first mile (on roads) but then changed to boots for action, regretted slightly on lane after Hardraw. Weather started well but rain came after just over 2 miles walking. Remained damp throughout the uphill slog toward Great Shunner Fell. Conditions got worse as the ground got boggy again. Summit reached after endless slow climbing. Sat down to eat lunch just as the clouds burst. It stopped raining just as we finished and the weather began to improve. Sun shone less than a mile later and the temperature rose as descent proceeded. Enter a walled “lane” thus slowing progress dramatically with the threat of twisted ankles and me lagging (!). Eventual arrival in Thwaite at 14.30 (!). Change into pumps for a 1½ hour wait for the tea rooms to open (Keld meals reputed to be small). Eventual departure at ~ 16.30, still in pumps, sun shining mostly, for a fairly pleasant walk around hillside to Keld in good time.

Keld to Bowes, 13 miles

Set off in good weather and at a good pace over a faint track on the moors toward Tan Hill which was reached in pretty good time and entered immediately. Party departed 1½ hrs later, falling and drunken in varying degrees (Tim worst, I was nearly sober (only 1 pt shandy)).

Stopped shortly later for various members to change into shorts in the middle of a flat, open peat moor. Stopped again 1½ miles after Tan Hill for packed lunch, most of which was thrown at Frank. Progress then made to Sleightholme moor road (delays on entering and leaving) and then plodded across more moor towards Bowes (I was lagging a lot). Eventual arrival in Bowes at 16.30 where 1½ hours spent waiting for bus in sunshine.

Bowes to Langdon Beck, 18 miles, plus some extra for using the “Bowes alternative”

After a night spent in Barnard Castle (during which most of us phoned home to get our ‘A’ level results) we used a “taxi” service to Bowes to make sure of a decent starting time. Weather not too bad, for dreary road walking through M.O.D. property. Weather improved to cloudy as another moor is crossed to Baldersdale and then on the road to Clare Lodge. A stop made here for a pint of milk each before proceeding over further moors to Birk Hatt. After a rest, more uninspiring walking over to Lunedale. A rest here before proceeding over the moors and down to Middleton where lunch was eaten. A very fast pace maintained to Low Force, then a slower pace to High Force. An even slower pace at first but better later. One stop Cronkley Farm, then on to Langdon Beck in good time.

Langdon Beck proved to be poor choice for a rest day, but we did visit a small cave in the course of our day. This would be 21st August.

Pennine Way – episode 1

Five friends, who had often been walking with the Southport Fellwalking Club, planned their own expedition for the summer of 1974. The Pennine Way is officially 250 miles, but the most popular guidebook, by Wainwright, comes up with a figure of 270 miles. The five were myself, Simon Farrow, Tim Patrick, Ian Spencer and Frank Whiteley, all then in the sixth form at King Geroge V school in Southport. 1974 proved to be a very wet and windy summer…

Edale to Crowden, 18½ miles

Sign at start of Pennine WayArrived at Edale at 16:20 on the 7th August, and settled in to a dorm called “The Nab” (up 93 steps). We were off before kicking out time (all youth hostels want you off the premises by ten) and ran along a nice track to the official start point of the Pennine Way. The first day is “in at the deep end” with more than 18 miles of trekking across very bleak moorland and saturated peat hags. The weather forecast was looking pretty grim, so we chose the bad weather alternative route to get to Kinder Downfall, although it was cloudy/fair as we set out. Beyond Kinder downfall, the bad weather set in with a sudden darkening of the sky and an increase in the wind to force six or so. We reached the top of Mill Hill, whereupon a fairly light but definite thunderstorm commenced.

The long slog towards the Snake Pass was over increasingly rough peat bog. Trying to avoid the water led to long detours and became more and more futile, so we learnt just to plough on through. We found a spot for lunch by the Snake Pass road (at twenty five past three), but there weren’t enough places off the ground for all of us to sit. Ian was very subdued and ended up sat on the ground, whilst the rest of us failed to notice that he was showing classic signs of exposure. Fortunately, lunch must have helped, and the weather cleared a little (though we were still in thick hill fog) as we set off up Bleaklow. Guidebooks recommend taking a bearing on a large and highly visible TV mast to aid navigation. It’s twenty miles away. Visibility dropped below ten yards, the thunderstorm started up again, and was quite torrential for a few minutes. We were cold, not thinking clearly, and definitely off-route. Eventually, a compass bearing led us to a west-flowing stream, which we knew must come off the right side of the hill, so we followed this in improving conditions until it met a north-flowing stream, which we waded through and followed on its west bank until we dropped below the cloud and found our way to Crowden youth hostel at 7:45, by which time the weather was quite fair again. This was after meal time, but we did manage to get something to eat.

Crowden to Standedge, 11½ miles, plus 2½ miles on the road to Marsden

The second day is shorter, and we left Crowden in fair weather. Navigation didn’t go entirely smoothly, and correcting our mistake led to a very steep climb. As we gained height, the weather became windier, and the ground boggier as we climbed Black Hill. We had lunch close to the summit in very strong wind, and at one point on the top, an innocuous enough looking bit of peat bog proved to be thigh deep, and a struggle to get out of. The weather continued grim, and the walk was continually over peat bog, until we arrived at the Standedge cutting after 11½ miles. There’s no youth hostel anywhere near here, so we walked 2½ miles along the road to reach the New Inn in Marsden, where we had booked B&B.

Standedge to Mankinholes, 14 miles

We managed to get a bus ride back to the walk, and walked with an American whom we’d met in the B&B. It continued windy and damp, but at least the going underfoot started off a bit drier, as we were close to a cliff edge and the ground was well-drained. Going deteriorates, though spirits lifted by improved weather. But mist soon followed, very thick later, after White Hill. Met Ian’s parents for lunch at Windy Hill. Rain torrential as we approached the M62 trans-Pennine motorway, but mist cleared for crossing on the spectacular high footbridge. Going poor up to Blackstone Edge, but fair on rocky top. Conditions improved, both aerial and sub-aerial on Roman (?) road, and on waterworks track. Stopped at White House P.H. for loos and a cake. Hard walking in mist and intermittent light rain down waterworks road. Ground very tussocky over to Coldwell Hill (track lost near here). Gave up and cut down to Mankinholes Youth Hostel in time for opening.

At the planning stage, we had reckoned that the long days would be wearing, and had therefore factored in some rest days – this was a good move for trying to get gear dry, too. But, of course, you can’t stay inside a youth hostel during the day, so we spent our first rest day visiting the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway (the Brontë musueum wasn’t really our sort of thing). Typically, as we weren’t walking, the weather was significantly nicer. A unique feature of Mankinholes youth hostel was that everyone got woken up very early, by the warden playing classical music very loud. One day, it was the 1812 overture, the other, something very Wagnerian.

Mankinholes to Earby, 25 miles

The next day was one of the very long ones, so we felt no shame in taking a slightly quicker route to reach Stoodley Pike. It was very windy, but at least the rain kept off. Inside the monument is a spiral staircase (pitch black) which took us to a platform from which we obtained a good view ahead. We were now walking in fields, rather than open moor, which was easier, but meant lots of stiles. One pair (Tim and Frank) was slower, but didn’t get too far behind. The sun even shone slightly as we descended to the Calder Valley. Very long, steep climb at a good pace out of the valley, good pace continued through good weather. Route very well signposted (but we nearly got lost). Heptonstall Moor was boggy but no rest was taken until arrived at Graining Water. Walking later on waterworks concrete roads in light intermittent rain, but this cleared, giving way to cloud and a fair wind as we walked round the reservoirs. The walk over the moor to Withins was boggy again, but the descent down to Ponden was a jog since we had lunch here. After changing socks, we recommenced for a slog round the reservoir and over the hills through sunny periods. Ikornshaw Moor was hard work and shot guns were heard as we crossed it – this would be the glorious twelfth! After Ikornshaw the feet were beginning to suffer, but we plodded on, with sunny periods, over the hill to Lothersdale. “Lothersdale is friendly, as few places on the Pennine Way are” advised Wainwright, so we disappeared into the “Hare and Hounds” for a cider or shandy. The restart was slow and laboured as we “attacked” the moor over the Pinhaw beacon. Here, I twisted my ankle and had to hobble the remaining miles to Earby (well off the actual Pennine Way) where we arrived at ~ 21.00.

Earby to Malham

The walk started slowly in a hot humid atmosphere surrounded by flies. The speed increased as we approached Thornton-in-Craven, though I was lagging most of the way. A rest at Thornton was followed by another slow (my fault) slog to Gargrave, the weather being cloudy. An interesting point was the ORANGE cloudy sky in the west a mile or two before Gargrave. Arrival in Gargrave was quickly followed by disappearance into the “Grouse” for shandy and (very expensive) sandwiches. The walk got slower as Airton was approached, until, at mile 77½, I put a support bandage on my ankle, whereupon the pace increased, though I was still lagging. Eventual arrival at Malham village (met by Mr. & Mrs. Spencer) was a great relief and the party proceeded to the Y.H. only after changing shoes. This seemed to work a dramatic (well, fairly) recovery on my ankle, and the arrival at the Y.H. was not too painful.

We were aiming for a rest day after every third day walking, but the places we could stay meant that there weren’t a multiple of three day stages. As the day to Earby was very long, and Malham a touristy sort of place, we’d put a rest day here, which gave me a chance to recover with only short walks in light footwear and no backpack. It was now the 14th August.