Welcome to The Pleasant Pennine Way blog. The Perverse Pennine Way blog is also available. Either Way pour a drink, put your feet up and read about a challenging but enjoyable walk along England’s oldest and best National Trail.
The ‘pleasant’ walk followed a conventional south to north itinerary, in late May and early June 2016. This is pretty much the optimum time of year, although a week later would have been even better for the wild flowers which, as it was, were fabulous. This walk took in most of the standard stops and, although it had its moments, was ultimately achievable even for an oldie of moderate fitness. I based the plan on my first Pennine Way, walked back in April 1999 when I was young and blithe. That was more or less improvised on the hoof, constrained by short days, fierce weather, laughable unfitness, a ridiculously heavy pack and pathetic naivety.
Despite the longer, drier days of summer, better gear and better knowledge (ha ha), I was more cautious this time, allowing nineteen days instead of 1999’s seventeen. I was older now, I’d been troubled all spring by foot and knee pain and between Gargrave and Steel Rigg I was to be accompanied. The latter was an excuse to book several accommodations more luxurious than I’d have justified walking alone.
Complications of companionship also decreed ambitiously compressing the standard first five days into four. I wouldn’t recommend this for a first Pennine Way; many people fall by the Wayside within those early days as it is. Unless you’re already seriously hill-fit, I’d start more slowly and speed up. I could barely speak on staggering into Gargrave.
In fact, when I did struggle (days three, four and 18), this was caused by hurrying to reach particular places. Given the ample daylight and benign weather, I could have knocked a day or two off the walk overall by taking greater advantage of my tent to distribute the miles more evenly. I’d also suggest at least one complete, pack-off, rest day rather than a couple of short walking days, which just don’t seem to have the same restorative effect. I’m assuming a tent. To me, a Pennine Way without camping is like the proverbially unpedalled pisciforme.
Many Pennine Way blogs are litanies of pain and misadventure; I’m hoping to avoid that. This was a wonderful walk. I enjoyed it so much I did it again four months later. We didn’t get lost to any really troubling extent, but then I’d done the trail before. We didn’t fall into life-threatening bogs or freeze or have to be rescued, but then it was June. The days were light, dry-ish, cool, floriferous and wonderfully long.
On the downside, the latter tempts you to do too much, hostels have to be booked and it’s virtually impossible to sleep on campsites noisy with families.
Each day’s account is vaguely organised into three sections: Resources, Navigation and then a Journal section of random anecdotal waffle. I’ve tried to corral the latter so you don’t have to plough through it to find useful information.
Guidebook references including page numbers are to Pennine Way – Official National Trail Guide by Damian Hall, Aurum Press (‘NTG’), although this walk was actually done using collapsible vintage copies of the previous two-volume NTG by Tony Hopkins. I’ve since been converted to the A to Z guides which are light and ideal – just the OS maps bound together with no extra weight of pointless persiflage. References to Wainwright are to his Pennine Way Companion. Simon Armitage references are to his book Walking Home – Travels with a Troubadour on the Pennine Way, Faber, 2012. Grid references are OSGB and are estimated by eye from the NTG maps or in some cases noted while on The Way from the free smartphone app OS Locate, which I recommend. In all cases they are approximate and subject to error, as are any bearings given.
Do not rely on this blog for ‘live’ navigation on The Way. Things change, I make mistakes, I’m no expert. This blog is for entertainment, as a supplement to your properly planning your own adventure using professionally produced data. It describes the Pennine Way as it was in June 2016 and won’t be updated. The Pennine Way is a non-trivial undertaking involving rough hillwalking in challenging weather. Even for the suitably experienced and equipped, it can be hazardous.
The Pleasant Pennine Way Blog: Summary
Here’s the bare bones itinerary, with links to the blogs. Distances and elevations are estimated on Google’s Mapometer website, they’re approximate and change every time I do them, so I’ve rounded them to the nearest 1 km, 1 mile, 10 m and 10 feet. Hence they don’t convert consistently, like recipes. They’re just a rough indication for basic planning.
May 27th. Travel by train to Edale, arrive late afternoon.
Camped at Upper Booth farm campsite (booking essential).
25 km, + 680 m, – 750 m. 16 miles, + 2240 ft, – 2460 ft.
May 28th. Upper Booth to Crowden via Kinder Downfall and Bleaklow.
Camped at Crowden campsite.
33 km, + 910 m, – 750 m. 21 miles, + 2980 ft, – 2460 ft.
May 29th. Crowden to Light Hazzles Edge, via Black Hill and The White House Inn.
Wild camped at Light Hazzles.
29 km, + 670 m, – 830 m, 17 miles, + 2180 ft, – 2710 ft.
May 30th. Light Hazzles to Ponden, via Stoodley Pike, May’s Shop and Top Withins.
Camped at Ponden Mill campsite.
28 km, + 730 m, – 840 m. 17 miles, + 2410 ft, – 2760 ft.
May 31st. Ponden to Gargrave, via The Hare and Hounds at Lothersdale.
Bed and Beakfast at The Masons’ Arms, Gargrave (pre-booked).
11 km, + 210 m, – 120 m. 7 miles, + 680 ft, – 390 ft.
June 1st. Gargrave to Malham, an easy recovery day.
Camped at Town Head Farm campsite on Malham Beck.
24 km, + 830 m, – 800 m. 15 miles, + 2710 ft, – 2610 ft.
June 2nd. Malham to Horton in Ribblesdale via Fountains Fell and Penyghent.
Bunkhouse at The Golden Lion (pre-booked).
22 km, + 450 m, – 450 m. 14 miles, +1480 ft, -1480 ft.
June 3rd. Horton to Hawes via the Cam High Road.
Bed and Breakfast at The Old Board Inn (pre-booked).
20 km, + 710 m, – 620 m. 13 miles, + 2320 ft, – 2050 ft.
June 4th. Hawes to Keld, via Great Shunner Fell and Thwaite.
Camped at Swaledale Yurts (pre-booked).
June 5th. Keld to Tan Hill.
7 km, + 280 m, – 80m. 4 miles, + 930 ft, – 270 ft.
Camped at Tan Hill Inn (no booking). Another easy recovery day.
16 km, +200 m, – 400 m. 10 miles, + 650 ft, – 1310 ft.
June 6th. Tan Hill to Clove Lodge, via Sleightholme Moor and God’s Bridge.
Bunk Barn at Clove Lodge (pre-booked, check availability).
25 km, + 540 m, – 470 m. 16 miles, + 1750 ft, – 1550 ft.
June 7th. Clove Lodge to Langdon Beck, via Middleton in Teesdale.
Hostel at Langdon Beck (YHA, pre-booked).
20 km, + 380 m, – 580 m. 13 miles, + 1230 ft, – 1900 ft.
June 8th. Langdon Beck to Dufton via Cauldron Snout and High Cup.
Hostel at Dufton (YHA, pre-booked).
25 km, + 940 m, – 770 m. 15 miles, + 3080 ft, – 2520 ft.
June 9th. Dufton to Garrigill, via Cross Fell.
Camped at Garrigill Village Hall (normally no need to book).
20 km, + 260 m, – 400 m. 12 miles, + 850 ft, – 1300 ft.
June 10th. Garrigill to Knarsdale, via Alston.
Camped at Stone Hall Farm campsite, Knarsdale (normally no need to book).
28 km, + 620m, – 610 m.17 miles, + 2040 ft, – 2000 ft.
June 11th. Knarsdale to Once Brewed, via Greenhead and Hadrian’s Wall.
Bed and Breakfast at Vallum Lodge (pre-booked).
25 km, + 430 m, – 530 m. 15 miles, + 1420 ft, – 1750 ft.
June 12th. Once Brewed to Bellingham, via Rapishaw Gap, Wark Forest and Horneystead.
Bunk Barn at Demesne Farm (pre-booked).
25 km, + 580 m, – 470 m. 15 miles, + 1890 ft, – 1540 ft.
June 13th. Bellingham to Byrness, via Whitley Pike and Redesdale Forest.
Bunkhouse at the Forest View Inn, Byrness (pre-booked).
33 km, + 1160 m, – 790 m. 20 miles, + 3800 ft, – 2600 ft.
June 14th. Byrness to The Schil, via Windy Gyle and Auchope Cairn.
Wild camped on The Schil.
9 km, + 180 m, – 650 m. 5 miles, + 600 ft, – 2130 ft.
June 15th. The Schil to Kirk Yetholm (high option).
Hostel at Kirk Yetholm (Friends of Nature, pre-booked).
June 16th. Buses from Kirk Yetholm to Berwick on Tweed, via Kelso.
Hostel at Berwick (YHA, pre-booked). Train home on the 17th.
General Pennine Way Gear Issues
As well as time of year, type of accommodation and rough schedule, one of the most important decisions is choice of footwear. Our number one problem was sore feet. I was pretty much unblistered as my boots were worn in and I was proactive and pre-emptive with the Compeed. I merely suffered unpleasant toe and metatarsal pain on descents, inexplicable instep bruising (only on my left foot) and eventually unattractive and itchy foot rot. My companion unfortunately did encounter the Wayfarers’ number one curse of blisters and, like so many, was unable to complete her planned walk because of them. We both wore mid-weight, upper-mid-price leather boots.
That was my decision, based on my 1999 experience walking The Way in suede, fabric and Goretex hybrid boots, Karrimor KSBs. I still recall those boots with loathing. They were comfortable, but they leaked like sieves after around day eight. Barely-thawed bog water poured through them, even with gaiters, Nikwax was no help and from Hawes northwards my feet were permanently soaked and freezing (I also acquired frostbitten ears – The Way in April can be quite hardcore if you’ve no idea what you’re doing). I thought leather boots would be better, but in fact my Goretex lined Scarpa Rangers behaved identically. From around day eight they too leaked ridiculously, rendering their weight and bulk pointless.
After completing this Pennine Way I subsequently walked the entire trail a third time, in October 2016. I walked it nimbly and lightly, with no foot pain, rot or blisters. How? By finally heeding advice I’d heard often from wiser walkers. Ditch the heavy, soggy boots and walk in trail shoes. For three season fellwalking in the largely unpointy Pennines, for me personally it’s now that simple.
Guess what: my Goretex lined trail shoes leaked too, and from around day eight! It seems no Goretex footwear can remain waterproof for more than a week or so on the Pennine Way. But, being light and minimally structured, they dried quickly too. Trail shoes rock.
One more thing on footwear – I routinely ditch all insoles, however fancy, and replace them with Sorbothane Double Strikes. As I was kindly advised by a wise and experienced trailwalker back in 1999*, the three essentials of long distance walking are Sorbothane insoles, Compeed and trekking poles. These are all to do with saving feet and knees. Get your feet and knees along the Pennine Way and they will drag the rest of you with them. Now, get those feet up and let them drag you vicariously along – The Pleasant Pennine Way…