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.
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. Click here to jump to my itinerary.
Don’t you love rationalisation? The truth is, once I’d realised wild camping at the south end of The Cheviot would have made a night at Colin and Joyce’s a scheduling nonsense, all subsequent accommodations would have been 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.
Company and comfort don’t 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, 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 myself, in fact I’m positively looking forward to it.
Wild camping in England is illegal without the landowner’s permission but in high, wild country, barring chainsaw-wielding hillbillies on crystal meth, the worst thing 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, 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, and even this is only acceptable on a zero impact basis. You must refrain – obviously – from lighting a fire and leave absolutely no trace of your stay; this in particular includes toileting, 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. I think it has important psychological and political (with a small p) dimensions. I respect and accept the property rights from which I, as a homeowner, benefit every day, but I also feel informal sleeping out is an important experience for everyone. It’s part of establishing and reasserting our need and our right to engage with and authentically experience the precious little wild countryside that we have left.
Below is my bare-bones itinerary with links to blog posts. 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. Distances and elevations are estimated and rounded; they’re just for rough initial planning.
Hilltop camping can be life threatening and is only for confident, experienced campers with bomb-proof gear and a Plan B. Use your own judgement; please monitor weather forecasts and local evolving conditions. I’m not an outdoor expert, this blog is 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 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
Bed and Bath and Breakfast at Ollerboook Barn (pre-booked). The following day a train from Edale to Sheffield and thence home.
I walked in trail shoes this time 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 shoes.
I used a Trekkertent Stealth 1 tent (a nifty little thing but I had terrible condensation issues), a Montane Ultra Tour 40 backpack (fragile and uncomfortable), Alpkit Carbonlite Ultra trekking poles (unreliable) 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?
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…