Pennine Way Blog 3 – days 1 – 3.

Welcome to the Purposeless Pennine Way, Episode One.

This is something of a Philosophical Pennine Way.
Practical Pennine Ways with trail tips are also available, both south to north and north to south.

…in which I set out purposefully and happily to complete my favourite trail, while disclaiming purpose and anticipating edifying pain.

triangulation [oint on kinder low derbyshire england

Trying to look both intrepid and purposeless…

You may have seen the BBC programmes ‘celebrating’ the fiftieth anniversary of the Pennine Way. This summer they were repeated. In my opinion they were a travesty. An opportunity for some immortal ‘slow TV’ squandered in favour of a catalogue of breathless ‘adventures’, most of them nothing to do with walking the trail and communicating nothing whatsoever authentic about the experience of doing so. Just more box ticking, shopping for ready-made thrills, as if we don’t all need a break from those destructive, stereotyped behaviours.

The tone was set at the start of every episode; a bushy-tailed adventurer bragging his credentials – he’d been abroad (whoo!), he’d explored (double-whoo!), but now here he was slumming it on a mere path in boring old England, trying to work out why some tweeded fools fifty years ago thought that walking 270 miles might be fun. His conclusion – it wasn’t enough fun. It was necessary instead to go rock climbing and white water kayaking. This made me cross.

pies ont he pennien way whitley pike northumberland england

How can white water kayaking be any more thrilling than this?

The only bit of the programmes I liked was when they showed an endearing soul who peacefully, harmlessly and all by himself walks The Way every year. An ordinary-looking chap with ordinary-looking gear; there he was, trudging along through what looked like Ribblesdale. The inevitable question: ‘So, why do you walk the Pennine Way every year?’

I jumped up from the sofa. ‘Mate!’, I cried, ‘No! Don’t justify! Don’t rationalise! Just shrug aimlessly, or say you do it just because nothing, so there!’ 

I reckon he’d had his arm cruelly twisted by some vivacious production assistant, who from my own experience of TV work probably wasted three days of his life for thirty seconds’ screen time. Uncomfortably, he mumbled about his ‘fitness regime’. ‘I walk it every spring, then I’m fit for the rest of the year’. Not being unkind, he didn’t look like a fitness fanatic to me. Clearly underwhelmed, the presenter bounded off to the car that would drive him to his next off-the-peg, paid-for ‘adventure’.

I resolved immediately, then and there, that I would walk the Pennine Way again soon, simply, quietly and for no reason whatsoever. I looked online at cheap train tickets. Darn it, there was one available, very cheap. I bought it. And so, ladies, gentlemen and sheep, we present the Purposeless Pennine Way. OK, mostly sheep.

 

Day One – Edale to Kinder Low.

I leapt enthusiastically off the train at Edale. Well, alright, not exactly leapt. It was a quarter to three and so I started the way I meant to go on, with a nice cup of tea and a sit down in the excellent Coopers Café which, as you might hope given the location, is 100% walker-friendly, filling your water bottle and selling takeaway cakes and sandwiches. You can camp here, and they do breakfast.

cafe at edale derbyshire peak district on the pennine way

Coopers Café, very nice too.

The sky was clear and sunny as I bounded up Jacob’s Ladder. Well, alright, not exactly bounded, but I was certainly buoyed upwards by excitement and glad anticipation.jacobs ladder ont he pennine way national trail england jacobs ladder ont he pennine way long distance trail ukI also felt a remarkable sense of liberation and independence, not least I think because I was carrying no map and no guide book – I knew the way. Famous last words – a good job it was clear and sunny1. All the familiar landmarks of the Kinder massif were laid out before me, like balls on a giant pool table. It was wonderful.

cairn on the pennine way england

The Pennine Way cairn on Kinder Low.

There was a chilly breeze on the top so I pitched the Stealth flysheet in tarp mode and in a dip that would normally have been a sopping quagmire but after this year’s remarkable drought was only slightly damp. I have never, ever seen these moors so dry, it was astonishing. If Wainwright had walked the Pennine Way in these exceptional conditions he’d have loved it a little more, perhaps.

kinder low on the pennine way trail england uk

Bone dry peat – unheard of!

campsite on kinder low peak district england

Kinder Low wild camp. Sleeping up there is not officially encouraged so it’s especially vital to be discrete and leave absolutely no trace.

I had the entire summit to myself. The usual noisy aeroplanes glittered overhead in the low sun, the wind grew much colder; I had wear all my layers which was a bit of a worry on only the first evening. As I was finishing my sandwich and date slice (from Coopers) in the shelter of the tent, an unearthly sound suddenly drifted down to me, a kind of wailing and chanting; I’d never heard the like. I poked my head up out of my damp dip, it was coming from a group of people gathered around (and even upon) the triangulation point.muslims chanting to prophet on a summit

Kashmiri Muslims from Sheffield, they were singing praise songs to the Prophet on the summit, apparently this is quite the thing to do in Kashmir, albeit rather higher up. I went over to investigate, they were very friendly and invited me to join in. The kids wanted to tell me about their climbs of Ben Nevis and Snowdon; Dad preferred them to carry on chanting, the purpose of their ascents. It was God’s purpose that I should meet them up there, I was firmly informed. I apologised for my lack of Arabic and listened, intrigued, slightly embarrassed at my own lack of purpose but at the same time defiantly rather proud of it.gritstone rock at sunset on kinder peak district england

sunset kinder peak district

Sunset from Kinder Low – not a classic but good enough.

I did have a slight incidental agenda on this hike, if not an overriding purpose. Directly on the Pennine Way there are seven summits over two thousand feet. Kinder Low (2078), Bleaklow (2077), Fountains Fell (2192), Pen-y-Ghent (2277), Great Shunner Fell (2349), Cross Fell (2930) and Windy Gyle (2031). On three of these magnificent seven summits I had not yet camped out; Kinder Low was the first of those modestly extreme sleeps to purposefully be ticked off on this walk.

Knock, Great and Little Dun Fells are also over 2000′ but in my book part of Cross Fell. Sleep on Great Dun and you’ll be irradiated by the radar station. I consider Cairn Hill and Auchope Cairn outliers of the actual Cheviot (2676), which is optional and who wants to sleep in a flat peat bog completely exposed to Scottish gales? Unless you’re actually in Scotland, of course, where that kind of fun is compulsory. 

Day Two – Kinder Low to a plastic bag in some random midge-infested bog on Marsden Moor.

Yes, I still knew how to have fun, not least by getting out of bed at four am, after a rather parky night. Wandering around Kinder Low by moonlight, all alone, was also fun although perhaps not the kind of fun to tell the safety officer about.

pennine way kinder low trig point at dawn

Kinder Low triangulation point, four in the morning.

The sun rose as I ambled along to Kinder Downfall, one of my favourite places in the world for breakfast.

kinder donwfall peak district derbyshire uk

Breakfast at Kinder Downfall

kinder downfall on the pennine way at sunrise

kinder downfall peak district derbyshire england

To be honest, the downfall was more like the dryfall.

kinder-gritstone-boulder-pennine-wayThere was nobody about, and very little traffic on the A57 although what little there was I could clearly hear from Mill Hill through the still morning air.

cairn on ht eennine way in the peak district england uk

Posing weirdly at Mill Hill cairn

Nobody on Bleaklow either, bar a solitary mountain rescuer running a few tens of miles to keep fit and a chap posing weirdly on the distant skyline. Don’t ask me, some kind of Tai Chi perhaps.

bleaklow head peak district derbyshire england

Unusually, all alone on Bleaklow

summit cairn on bleaklow peak district

Pretty funky sky…

On Peaknaze Moor they were shooting and as I mistakenly took the peaty track away from Clough Edge, rather than the rocky track along the edge (a bad mistake in normal conditions but not too disastrous when it was all so dry), I nearly got mixed up in their bangy old business.

penine way original sign peak district england

Tiny vintage waymarker on the trail above John Track Well, probably from 1965!

The whole experience was so different in both character and detail from my last visit to Bleaklow that at John Track Well I suddenly felt a sense of purpose. The rivers were so low I could paddle; last time I’d nearly drowned leaping desperately across a foaming maelstrom. On this my fourth visit, the Pennine Way was already a changed place, showing me new things, exciting novel feelings.

Just uphill from the river I found a tiny vintage waymarker, crudely inscribed into a rock, partially hidden; I had to remove soil and moss to see it. It struck me this was the fourth time I’d walked past it but only now had I seen it, even though it had probably been there for fifty years. At the reservoir, brand new signs made finding the way down to the dam easier, not that I needed help now on my fourth attempt. It occurred to me that perhaps my purpose was to walk The Way finally with the time and headspace to see change, rather than in a quotidian struggle merely to navigate the present. Walking the history, the heritage and the ongoing renewal of this remarkable trail rather than simply its distance, its obstacles. Not only looking, for the route, for the campsite, for the pub, but actually seeing.

Then I remembered I wasn’t supposed to have a purpose.

wessenden head landscape frame

Well, exactly…

pennine way signs

New signs, new directions, instructions, constant change.

pennine-way-crowden-reservoir

Never thought I’d see Crowden Reservoir this low

Above Laddow Rocks I met a woman intrigued by my footwear, which we then had an almost argument about. I can never understand why so many people think walking in the hills requires such different footwear from running in them. Dog walkers on Black Hill gave me the bad news that the snack van on the A635 had been absent for a while. Progress was so fast in the dry, sunny conditions I was up there by early afternoon; I’d thought about camping on the summit but was out of water, I stupidly forgot to top my bottle up from Crowden Great Brook and there’s nothing on the top of Black Hill but foetid swamps.

black hill peak district

On Black Hill with my own personal wildlife guide. Not really, he was busy enumerating radio masts.

black-hill-trig-point

‘I see the trig point has sagged a bit more’ I said to the chap with binoculars. Surprisingly for a mast aficionado, he hadn’t noticed it wasn’t straight.

For this reason alone, I would have needed to continue but it was so pleasant and I had so much surplus energy I actually jogged most of the way down to Dean Clough. Where a dead sheep had recently been dragged from the stream. Oh well, at least it wasn’t still actually in the water I needed.

dean clough pennine way uk

Oh dear, I’m out of water. Still, so is the dead sheep.

At Wessenden Head a beautiful Short-eared Owl was quartering the rough meadows, I pointed it out to a young couple heading down to see the reservoir and they kindly took an interest, the lad actually asking me ‘what does it eat?’ ‘Mostly voles’ I replied. Pause. ‘What’s voles?’ By the time I got down to the lodge I was pretty tired and really wanted to camp somewhere, but the lower I descended the more midges appeared. I was so thirsty I eventually stopped at the bridge to brew some soup from the river water; clouds of midges latched onto me, they rapidly became maddening. I couldn’t bear to discard my irreplaceable soup, but it was too hot to drink.

Throwing everything but the actual soup back in my pack, I slithered up one of the steepest little climbs on the entire Pennine Way with my two poles in my left hand and in my right hand a slopping titanium mug of Ainsley Harriott wild mushroom soup. The midges followed me, lured no doubt by Ainsley’s authentic mycological pheromones. Only at the Blakeley Clough tank was I left in sufficient peace to salvage the lukewarm dregs of Harriott’s fungal finest.

pennine-way-blakeley-clough-tank

Finally enjoying my soup at the mysterious tank.

By now I was so tired I could have just flung myself into a swamp like Ophelia, my rucksack ‘pulling me from my melodious lay to muddy death’ (© W. Shakespeare). The moor was far too tussocky for the tent so I was forced to break out the bivvy bag, brought with me specifically for one of my three summit sleep-outs.

No photos exist of this camp, it was too awful. I lay in a random bog, midges descended once more but I had a piece of silk to cover my face; I fell asleep before sundown. In the morning I discovered that had I walked for another twenty minutes, I could have camped properly. At a pub.

Some will tell you the purpose of walking a trail is to have fun, or at least engender future fun, after the event and perhaps also in others, through recollection. I expect we all know about the three types of outdoor fun. Type One Fun is actually fun, and fun to remember. Type Two Fun is horrible at the time, but then becomes fun to remember. Type Three Fun is just horrible, and for ever.

A trail blog definitely affects my real-time trail experience, often positively. Trudging through trackless sludge and horizontal rain, I can at least console myself for the misery of the moment with the thought of an entertaining subsequent blog post. Sometimes, though, I fear I’m seeking out Type Two Fun for the sake of a tale to tell. Is my everyday life really so dull that I must purposefully make it less enjoyable in order to make it more interesting? Then again, isn’t this the inevitable resort of any autobiographical writer? Because, ultimately, can Type One Fun ever be truly memorable or even interesting? In which case, why do we allow ourselves to be constantly seduced into shopping for it?

Proust was big on this stuff, of course. According to Alain de Botton he suggested “we become properly inquisitive only when distressed. We suffer, therefore we think”2. Wisdom acquired painfully through one’s own life is, according to Proust, far superior to that acquired painlessly from a teacher, including perhaps from a professional Outdoor Activities Instructor with helmet, harness and risk assessment. Was acquiring a healthy dose of pain, solitary, unprofessional and unpaid, but thought-provoking and memorable, actually my Pennine Way purpose?

 

Day Three – Marsden Moor to May’s Shop.

It was no hardship to rise before the sun on Marsden Moor, because my appalling bivvy bag was sopping wet inside with condensation. There must be something wrong with that thing, unless I’m just using it inside-out.

pennine way sunrise marsden england uk

Sunrise over Marsden Moor

I squelched out of my plastic pouch like an unpleasantly mature pickle and ambled damply around the reservoirs in the dawn light. Their clear water was infinitely preferable for morning coffee to the Dean Clough sheep juice, which I happily discarded.

marsden standedge great western pub pennine way

Would you believe that building is a pub at which I could have camped?

marsden-muesli-pennine-way

At Millstone Edge I thought someone had very kindly left a sack of muesli for passing hikers…

marsden-sheep-feed-pennine-way

Drat, not muesli…

Blackstone Edge is one of my favourite Pennine Way locations; not only a lovely spot in itself, it means one has passed over and left behind the horrid M62. It also means the White House pub is near.

pennine way motorway M62

The horrid M62

pennine way blackstone edge lancashire england uk

Blackstone Edge in warm sunshine

aiggin stone ancient waymarker pennine way lancashire

The first time I’ve had any spare energy to inspect the Aiggin Stone – another example of walking the PW with a different kind of purpose

penine way lancashire england uk

Ditto the Roman Road which is actually rather interesting

Both the Edge and the pub are also in Lancashire, hence it was necessary for me to wait an hour outside for the latter to open at midday so I could have black pudding for lunch. Outside I met a slim, fit-looking man who said ‘I’ve always wanted to walk the Pennine Way but my wife won’t let me. She says I’m too old’. ‘Outrageous’, I replied, ‘how old are you?’ I thought he was about my age. ‘Seventy-eight’. ‘Ah. She may have a point. You could do it in sections…’ He seemed pleased with this idea and continued with the ten miles he was walking to Todmorden. Before lunch.

The pub was great as ever but I had to crack on as I knew with the steep climbs up from the Calder it would be a haul to get to May’s before she closed.

pennine-way-white-house-pub

Looking back to the White House

pennine-way-reservoir-stones

Vintage reservoir architecture

On the way to Stoodley Pike I came upon a strange leather harness and some chains, lying on a rock by the trail. It looked like a waymarker for an S&M hiking club, or perhaps a bit of bondage-themed geocaching.

pennine-way-cyrils-seat

Cyril’s Seat, yet another favourite spot

At the pike a man with several misbehaving dogs enquired whether I’d seen their leads anywhere. ‘Ah…’

stoodley pike hebden bridge yorkshire england

That Stoodley monstrosity

In Callis Wood I was nearly run over my a mountain biker descending at insane speed. By the canal, the alternative types who live there in vans and boats were already sipping wine and smoking whatever they smoke on garden chairs in the warm sunshine. I do sometimes wonder how and indeed for what purpose I’ve organised my own life so incompetently. The Calder valley and its northern slopes have been completely taken over by Himalayan Balsam, it’s in every garden and all along the trail up the hill; I believe I may have predicted this in a blog two years ago #toldyouso.

himalayan balsam in calderdale

#toldyouso

The lovely ancient bridge at Hebble Hole had collapsed, and would you believe that according to a notice taped onto it the council has to apply, to itself, for listed building consent to repair it? A temporary scaffolding bridge was thankfully in place.pennine-way-hebble-hole-bridge The steps up from Colden Water had been very nicely repaired by the same council. It was a relief to reach May’s as I’d had a poor night. Her son asked if I had any washing to go in the machine, her daughter made me a mug of tea and sold me supper – it was like coming home, well, apart from the small sum of money changing hands and even that was painless as now – ta daaa – amazing news – May takes cards! Hence I spent a significant sum on essential stocks, for the purposeless privations lying ahead.

In the morning May gave me a free cake, for having already walked the Way three times, and we had a chat about the BBC programmes. ‘That chap never walked the Pennine Way’, she laughed in her lovely Yorkshire accent, ‘he just drove up here in a car. I said to him “you look exhausted” ’.  She too isn’t walking very far these days, but she seems determined to keep running her small but miraculous retail empire, and purposefully to boot.

It occurs to me I should have asked her what the purpose of her shop is, she must have one; successful businesses surely always have objectives and mission statements, although come to think of it I’m not completely convinced the latter have reached High Gate Farm Shop. It’s hard to imagine how something could become so perfect purposelessly, other than by evolving via natural selection over eons of course. Perhaps May’s is a kind of retail living fossil, slowly permineralising under its massively heavy stone roof slabs, like an Archaeshopteryx. It’ll certainly be a missing link for the Pennine Way if May retires.

may's shop on the pennine way, yorkshire

One very happy hiker in the evening sun at May’s Shop

1I would like to mention that, not being completely daft, I had GPX waypoints from the trail website loaded into the OsmAnd mapping app on my phone, also a compass, whistle and full camping gear.

2in How Proust Can Change Your Life, Picador, 1997.

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14 comments

  1. John Bainbridge · · Reply

    Grand writing, Grand Pictures.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you very much John for your kind encouragement, bw A

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Marvellous. That TV programme sounds like one of the reasons I rarely watch TV anymore. I can’t stand the forced jollity.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Me neither, it’s either that or spurious arguing or catastrophising, or all of the above!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you for your account of your adventure; I enjoyed reading it.

    I do feel you were a bit unkind about Paul Rose, the presenter of the TV series. I hope that your tongue was firmly in your cheek!

    More please…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Actually, yes, ‘numpty’ is a bit unnecessary, I think I’ll edit that. Thanks for the kind feedback and encouragement. I didn’t meet you on the PW did I? I’d better try not to be unkind about anybody else, just in case! 😉

      Like

  4. I was thrilled to see you are doing the trail again. There is much joy in your account and your lack of purpose for doing so prompted by that vacuous TV program is more than sound.
    I’m writing to cheer you on as thanks as your blog was a great resource for my PW completed in July (finally after dreaming about doing it for years). Now I can’t stop thinking about it but I can re-live it by proxy through you.
    Keep up your walking adventures and great blog.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much and I’m glad my blog was some kind of help. I’ve done my best to update the ‘resources’ sections but I was surprised to find how much had changed in just two years. But also relieved that so much was the same. It’s a great walk and not easy, well done for completing it.

      Like

  5. Ah, Andrew. How you make me laugh. Onward!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, I’m pleased and grateful to hear it, especially as I don’t even have to bother making stuff up like a proper writer, this is just my life 😉

      Like

      1. Proper writers are overrated.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. More wonderful writing. I very much enjoyed your categoridation of the three types of fun. It helps me rationalise the foolish decision I made recently to enter for my fifth TGO Challenge next May.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks again for your support, and the kind retweets. May all your fun be type one-and-a-half at worst 😉

      Like

  7. Categoridation? I’ve invented a new word. You’ll know what I meant.

    Liked by 1 person

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