Welcome to The Perverse Pennine Way Blog!
Perverse in that I walked the ‘wrong’ way, north to south, and largely spurned indoor accommodation. For a more user-friendly walk, you might prefer The Pleasant Pennine Way Blog. I’m using ‘pleasant’ and ‘perverse’ for effect, obviously, in fact I enjoyed both itineraries more or less equally. ‘South to north or north to south’, I hear you cry, ‘which is best?’ Aha…
The north-south option offered an interesting opportunity to schedule a walk ‘out of phase’ with the standard sequence of stopping points. Rather than experiencing open country by day then eating and sleeping in a built environment, the lie of the land suggested eating and resupplying during the day then maximally engaging with the countryside – gulp – at night.
Don’t you love post hoc rationalisation? What actually happened was that I realised wild camping at the south end of The Cheviot would make a night at Colin and Joyce’s a scheduling nonsense, and it turned out they were on holiday anyway. As all subsequent accommodations would be an anticlimax, I figured I might as well wrap myself in a bin bag and sleep in ditches.
Once the mad idea of an ultralight Way with maximal wild camping had rooted in my head, it couldn’t be shifted, not even by the non-availability of another clear three weeks of my life until October. October, for goodness’ sake. I ordered a tiny tent to be hand-sewn by tiny Scottish pixies and a tiny rucksack that, compared to my trusty old cordura monster, appeared to be made from chip paper and shrimp nets. Some said I had unordered my tiny mind.
‘Let me be clear’ is a cliché of modern oratory invariably preceding obfuscation, so let me be clear that company and comfort do not compromise the Pennine Way, they just make it different. Walking alone and camping wild are no indicators of bravery or toughness – I’m spectacularly deficient in both those enviable qualities.
As the song doesn’t say, there’s only one Pennine Way and that’s your own. If you fancy walking The Way in a group of jolly friends, paying for baggage transfer and carrying only grouse paté sandwiches, Vivienne Westwood waterproofs, an Internet-enabled iHydration system and gold-plated Compeed between your pre-booked luxury hotels, please do so, The Way needs you. One day I will grow up and do exactly that as well, in fact I’m positively looking forward to it.
Wild camping in England is technically illegal without the landowner’s permission, but in high, wild country, barring chainsaw-wielding hillbillies on crystal meth, the worst thing realistically likely to happen is that a representative of said landowner will detect you and require you to move on. For the sake of goodwill and the bigger picture you must do so at once, politely and without shirtiness, whatever the hour and the inconvenience.
This hasn’t happened to me on the Pennine Way, in fact everybody I met was friendly and supportive. Publicans, dog walkers and even gamekeepers cheerfully suggested campsites. Keep a low profile, pitch late, leave early, use discrete equipment. You’re not up there to show off or party, just to shelter and sleep. I don’t consider informal camping appropriate for groups. I apologise to and thank the landowners on whose property I briefly squatted.
Wild camping is only acceptable on a zero impact basis. You must refrain – quite obviously – from lighting a fire and leave absolutely no trace of your stay; this in particular includes toileting, visible evidence of which drives landowners (and fellow walkers) quite reasonably round the twist. As Baden-Powell said, leave two things at a campsite: nothing and thanks.
If you’ve the sense you were born with and can tolerate those simple restraints, then do try wild camping. In my opinion it has important psychological and political, with a small p, dimensions. While respecting and accepting the property rights from which I, as a homeowner, benefit every day, I feel that a little non-destructive informal sleeping out is an important part of establishing and reasserting our need and our right to engage with and authentically to experience the precious little wild countryside we have left.
Below is my bare-bones itinerary. Days with links have blog posts available. All my Pennine Way Blog posts are organised into Resources, Navigation and Journal. The idea was that people just wanting resource and nav information wouldn’t have to plough through my journals looking for it. I hope this hasn’t ended up more confusing!
The basic pattern was four nights’ wild camping, as much as I could stand in October, then a dry-out in a hostel. Short days were an issue. Again, distances and elevations are estimated and rounded; they’re just for rough as old boots initial planning. No metric this time, sorry, calculators are available.
Hilltop camping can be life threatening and is only for confident, experienced campers with good gear. Use your own judgement; please check and monitor weather forecasts and local evolving conditions. Always have a Plan B. I’m not an outdoor expert and this blog is provided for anecdotal entertainment only; it describes the Pennine Way as it was in October 2016 and will not be updated. Please only use it as a supplement to planning your own unique adventure using up to date, professionally produced information.
The Perverse Pennine Way blog:
Travelled by train to Berwick upon Tweed and stayed at YHA hostel (pre-booked).
16 miles, + 3890 ft, – 2850 ft.
Bus to KY via Kelso, wild camped on Lamb Hill, 500 m.
15 miles, + 1810 ft, -2090 ft.
Wild camped on Padon Hill, 370 m.
17 miles, + 1600 ft, – 1830 ft.
Wild camped in the mysterious sheepfold.
16 miles, + 1670 ft, – 1740 ft.
Wild camped on Black Hill, 290 m.
14 miles, +1640 ft, -1610 ft.
Hostel at Alston, pre-booked via YHA.
11 miles, +2320 ft, – 340 ft.
Wild camped on Cross Fell, 890 m.
17 miles, + 2360 ft, – 3800 ft.
Wild camped at Cauldron Snout, 420 m.
20 miles, + 1940 ft, – 2110 ft.
Wild camped at Race Yate, 420 m.
19 miles, + 3100 ft, – 2180 ft.
Wild camped on Great Shunner Fell, 710 m.
7 miles, + 130 ft, – 1620 ft, a rest day.
A planned easy day, I stayed at Hawes Hostel (YHA – pre-booked).
22 miles, + 3690 ft, – 2520 ft.
Wild camped on Fountains Fell, 540 m.
8 miles, + 340 ft, – 1800 ft.
An unplanned easy day, I wimped out and stayed at Malham Hostel (YHA).
21 miles, + 3000 ft – 2250 ft.
Wild camped on Ickornshaw Moor, 440 m.
13 miles, + 1760 ft, – 1830 ft.
Camped at May’s Shop.
16 miles, + 2200 ft – 1890 ft.
Wild camped at Northern Rotcher, 420 m.
17 miles, + 3140 ft, – 2520 ft.
Wild camped on Bleaklow, ∼600 m.
12 miles, +1139 ft –2370 ft
Lovely BnBnB (Bed and Bath and Breakfast!) at Ollerboook Barn (pre-booked). The following day I took the train from Edale to Sheffield and thence home.
Some thoughts on gear:
I walked this time in trail shoes and my feet enjoyed it far more than they did either of my previous two booted efforts. On the Pennine Way in anything other than actual snow or ice I’d always now walk in trail shoes, not boots.
I used a Trekkertent Stealth 1 tent (a nifty little thing but I had terrible condensation issues), a Montane Ultra Tour 40 backpack (profoundly uncomfortable), Alpkit Carbonlite Ultra trekking poles (already found unreliable on Pennine Way 1) and Salomon X-Ultra GTX shoes (which leaked and one of the silly non-replaceable laces wore out). Don’t you just love outdoor gear?
Reviews of all these and more may well appear on this blog in due course. I hope you find my posts useful and encouraging if you’re contemplating the Pennine Way. I’ve done it three times and I’d happily do it again, although I’m neither tough nor particularly fit. It’s a great walk.