The Pandemic Pennine Way – Itinerary

Three Pennine Way trail diaries are quite enough for one blog, so instead of writing up my latest hike in full detail on here I’ve instead compiled reminiscences of all five of my Pennine Way completions into a quirky little book – plug, plug. Nonetheless in response to enquiries I thought I’d knock out a quick summary of my 2020 itinerary, mainly just to show how flexible and informal a Pennine Way can be.

August 20th 2020, a sunny but very windy day on Kinder Scout, and a temporary lull in the pandemic.

Given the situation, this itinerary featured an unusual lack of planning, even by my standards. In fact I planned absolutely nothing at all, to the extent of ambling up onto the Pennine Way without even a train ticket home. In my sixties and in a covid-vulnerable group, I wanted to be able to adapt to how I felt from day to day about being out and to any sudden changes in the lockdown rules, to the extent that for the first time on a trail I even felt comfortable with the possibility of aborting the hike and ducking out for home if necessary. As it turned out that wasn’t necessary; apart from the first day on Kinder the trail was quiet and everywhere I stopped to buy food was taking impressive precautions.

My other adaptation to covid was that I’d resolved not to sleep indoors at all, the plan was to camp out every single night along the trail and as remotely as possible. Again this proved reasonably straightforward. It would have been extremely straightforward but for my encountering not just one but two actual storms, touchingly named Ellen and Francis by whoever names these phenomena. These dodgy characters made for several blowy days, and several pretty interesting nights. I’d hoped that somehow campsites would be able to provide showers every few days but only a few of them had managed to make this work to the satisfaction of the safety officer. I ended having having only three showers in eighteen days away from home!

Day One – Edale to Bleaklow

A cheap ticket on empty trains got me to Edale at lunchtime, the covid precautions in the Nag’s were impressive, so I took the precaution of scoffing their sausages before breezing over Kinder in what was already a pretty stiff southwesterly. Luckily from the Pennine Way that blows you onto Kinder rather than off it. Yomping over to Bleaklow I found I had the entire place to myself on a beautiful sunny evening which was quite something. Storm Ellen was well on her way by now and it took a while to find a relatively sheltered camping nook. Despite my best efforts to do so it was a hellish night of virtually zero sleep, the wind howling and the tent slapping like a machine gun.

Bleaklow summit wild camp

I should mention that I had two missions to accomplish on this Pennine Way. One was, bizarrely, to write a poem a day, hence the title of the book. The other was to try and accomplish my ambition to sleep out on all the trail’s high summits, while actually hiking the trail. It’s all in the book, plug, plug…

By the way, even in the Pennines sleeping out on the high tops can be life-threatening. Please don’t try it unless you’ve bombproof gear and some idea what you’re up to. Unlike me.

Day Two – Bleaklow to Standedge

Normally not too ambitious a distance but getting over Black Hill in the teeth of the storm was ridiculous. Fortunately the wind was at my back but the horizontal rain was extremely vexing. Worse still, just as I clambered out of Dean Clough I was condemned to watch the snack van on the A635 packing up and driving away! Apparently it had proved far too windy for it to operate safely. I pulled up early to pitch in the shelter of one of the bits of old wall, a good decision as there’s no shelter at all from a southwesterly any further on other than bivying behind a rock at Blackstone Edge, and I didn’t have a bivy. After my Coast to Coast that thing has gone in the bin!

Wild camped at Standedge. It was a bit blowy so the picture isn’t super-sharp.

Day Three – Standedge to May’s Shop

Having passed the White House far too early for lunch, by the time I got to May’s I was famished and ate three of her meat pies in quick succession. I then felt a little queasy.

The tragedy of passing a pub too early…
In a schoolboy error I’d pulled from the drawer a pair of socks that had already walked the Pennine Way.
Poor things, I knew how they felt.

Day Four – May’s Shop to Ickornshaw

For quite a while now I’ve wanted to stop over at the Squirrel Wood campsite which is getting quite a name for itself as a Pennine Way social hub. I got there rather early in the day but as everything I was carrying was already filthy and soaking wet (remind me why I wanted to hike this trail again??) and the sun was out it seemed a good chance to regroup. Squirrel Wood is in a bit of a dip so the ground can be a bit on the wet side. Thanks to Storm Ellen it was in fact at this time a quagmire, so I elected to sleep in the Hobbit Hut, or Hobbit Hutch as I kept mistakenly (but not inappropriately) calling it. The hot dinner, beer and cooked breakfast at Squirrel Wood were all most enjoyable and Ady had got the go-ahead from the authorities to re-open his showers, so all in all I had a good hose down and a good feed up here.

The Hobbit Hutch next morning – sunshine!

Day Five – Ickornshaw to Malham

The campsite at Malham was blessedly open, albeit for backpackers only and with no showers. As I was pitching at the highest point on the field, thanks to the owner’s kind warning, it started to rain. Unbelievably this was the harbinger of a second named storm in quick succession, Francis, no less. It absolutely hammered down, by suppertime tents lower down the field had streams running through them and were frantically being relocated. I trudged to the Lister Arms in despair that was rapidly brightened by discovering I could get a tenner off my dinner. ‘Great, I’ll have the steak’.

Impressive new boardwalk on the way down to Thornton

Day Five-and-a-Half – Malham

My next summit sleepout target was Pen-y-Ghent but the weather forecast was abominable, 24 hours of lashing rain and gales. Sleeping up there had already eluded me several times and I wasn’t going to miss out on it again. I decided to have a day off at Malham, most of which I spent sitting under the DofE groups shelter at the campsite in hammering rain, drinking dubious instant coffee from a grubby plastic bag someone had left.

It’s a high life on the trail…

Day Six – Malham to Pen-y-Ghent

After the storm the weather on the summit was absolutely perfect, still and calm, there was even briefly a bit of a view. Things were looking up.

Fountains Fell.
Yes my trusty Regatta jacket has finally bitten the dust, how do you like my birthday present?
I didn’t claim it was much of a view…

Day Seven – Pen-y-Ghent to Hardraw

A long trudge in dry weather for a change. The Penyghent Cafe at Horton was still closed and the pub wasn’t about to do coffee at nine in the morning but as luck would have it a nice chap living nearby overheard me asking them and very kindly made me a mug of coffee himself. Somehow I missed the trail heading down into Hawes and had to walk along the road, I’ve never done that before! Most of the food places and pubs were open, thank goodness, so I stocked up. The campsite at Hardraw was again minimally open and again with no showers but I was pleased to see it and just as I’d pitched up heavy rain started to fall yet again. The pub was also minimally open but I wasn’t prepared to venture out through the downpour and ate pies in my tent instead.

I hadn’t stopped at Hardraw before, it’s quite pretty.

Day Eight – Hardraw to Keld

I heard the campsite at Keld was open, then heard it was closed, then allegedly it was open again. Either way it was worth a try as I’d also heard they’d managed to get their showers up and running, literally, by investing in a disinfectant fogging machine. Having filled up at Keartons as there’s notoriously little to eat at Keld I was pleased to find Rukins campsite was indeed open, as friendly as ever, and selling hot drinks. I could easily have walked up to Tan Hill but they’d insisted they were full, even for campers, so a short day to Keld it was. After fifteen hours of heavy rain the river Swale was astonishing, I’ve never seen it so high or so fast.

Some say that when it’s angry the Swale is the fastest river in England

Day Nine – Keld to Middleton

If you know your Pennine Way you’ll know that this itinerary was becoming quite eccentric. A couple of really short days and now a really quite long one, a bit of a leg-stretcher. Tan Hill kindly stepped up with coffee and breakfast, although they were indeed seriously busy and would have preferred me to book, and the tuck shop just before Middleton was a lifesaver. I camped for a fiver at the Daleview caravan park on the way into Middleton where I could also have had a shower but the site was very busy and having had one the night before I didn’t feel I needed to chance it.

The chip shop at Middleton is amazing, everything is home-made.

Day Ten – Middleton to Knock Fell

Another bonkers long day, yomping at a crazy pace through Teesdale and past High Cup on a Bank Holiday Sunday. There must have been at least ten people at High Cup – madness! Thank goodness the Post Box Pantry at Dufton was open, and until four o’clock, their tea and food was as great as ever. The reason for this rather sudden change of pace was the weather forecast; a completely still night was predicted, perfect for camping at the summit of Knock Fell. It was quite a struggle to get up there after such a long day but well worth it, although there was frost on the tent in the morning. Actual frost, on August Bank Holiday Monday!

Knock Fell summit camp – that’s another one ticked off!

Day Eleven – Knock Fell to a field

It was wonderful on Cross fell, sunny and warm, I dried the melted frost off my tent with not another soul in view or in earshot; just wonderful. I ate a vast pile of chips at Alston and bought some socks but the hostel was closed (NB during the pandemic it has normally been open for PW backpackers) and I couldn’t find a rumoured informal campsite. Hence I ended up a random field some way north of town.

Cross fell summit
A random field north of Alston

Day Twelve – a field to Holmhead

The micro-campsite at Holmhead, by Thirlwall Castle, was open for PW backpackers only and on a no-contact basis, you had to book ahead by email and receive instructions, fortunately I’d been tipped off about all this and had a great night all alone at this lovely little site, including a welcome shower which turned out to be my last on the trail. Supper entailed a short walk back to the Greenhead Hotel which has unfortunately been tarted up and as a hikers’ pub in my opinion not improved, how depressing.

More usefully tarted up, the marker post on Blenkinsopp Common
The lovely little campsite at Holmhead

Day Thirteen – Holmhead to The Mystery Sheepfold

Up onto Hadrian’s Wall, approaching which I encountered an alarming number of cattle and in fact, shockingly, a walker was killed here by cattle just a few days later. Leaving the wall to the north I slightly lost my bearing towards the forest and had to actually look at my phone for the first time on the entire trail. The wind picked up and became quite fatiguing, rather than press on to Bellingham, always a very long day from Greenhead, I pulled up at the sheepfold, one of my favourite wild camps on the Pennine Way.

Another night in the sheepfold, cowering out of a very strong wind.

Day Fourteen – the sheepfold to the swamp!

The Cheviot Hotel was open for lunch and a very good lunch too, with immaculate covid precautions and high speed phone charging sockets; the bar here has been done up too but in excellent taste, improved not spoilt. What a great place Bellingham is! I stocked up on pies and Sly Cake at the bakery and whizzed off up Whitley Pike where it was a bit too exposed to camp in the very strong wind, the direction of which was also wrong for Padon Hill. Paddling up towards the legendary Rumblingsike Bog I was getting a bit desperate to camp; just below Brownrigg Head I finally found a flat but most unprepossessing swamp inhabited by a large and persistent frog. Ah well, my tent is made in Scotland…

A pretty horrible swamp, but flat and at least I had a bit of a view.

Day Fifteen – the swamp to Yearning Saddle Hut

Stocked up with food from Bellingham I slithered up onto The Cheviot; it rained and rained and rained. Disheartened, I prospected around Chew Green for a bit of shelter but just as I’d settled on a campsite the sun came out. Cheered, I toddled on to Yearning Saddle hut in which I had the great pleasure of cooking Supernoodles without having to lean on one elbow. The little flat spot in front of the hut was perfectly sheltered from the persistent wind but this was the coldest night yet, I had to wear every stitch I was carrying.

Camped in the lee of the hut at Yearning Saddle

Day Sixteen – Yearning Saddle to The Cheviot

A very leisurely day, a late breakfast in the hut and a slow dawdle across the vast green hills, mostly in sunshine although the wind grew stronger and stronger; by the time I got to The Actual Cheviot, my final summit camp to tick off, I could barely stand upright. It was also quite extraordinarily boggy, but after wading my way just off the top to the south-east I found a dry and sheltered nook where I spent a sunny afternoon and a great night. The forecast for the next morning was thick fog so I did spend some of the afternoon taking bearings and counting paces back to the trig point, writing the directions in my notebook. Otherwise this was a remarkably relaxed day.

A room with a view…

Day Seventeen – The Cheviot to Kirk Yetholm

Anyone familiar with the Pennine Way will have twigged that I spent a ridiculous three days ambling over The Cheviot. This came about because the weather forecast was a bit mixed and I wasn’t going to risk missing my summit camp, the last one along the trail I needed to tick off. Hence, while sitting uncomfortably on a garden wall at the top of Alston High Street, up to where I’d had to climb to get a signal, I’d booked a train ticket home that gave me wiggle room. Hence after waking late and in the predicted thick fog here I was, wiggling around in the Auchope hut, drying my gear, drinking coffee. Eventually I strolled down to KY and ate an enormous lunch at the Border. Followed quite soon by an enormous dinner. If you’ve walked the Pennine Way you’ll understand. Both the hostel and the Town Yetholm campsite were closed so, encouraged by the pub staff, I followed time-honoured Pennine Way tradition and camped on the village green.

The Schil, my Happy Place on the Pennine Way

In the morning it was just a question of empty buses followed by empty trains home, pausing only for a lasagne pie from the Rothbury Home Bakery at Kelso and to buy clean socks at Berwick, where the High Street was the first and only time on this trip I was actually a bit concerned about social distancing. The Pennine Way is a great place to avoid your fellow-humans, but Berwick town centre isn’t and I was glad to get home to Norfolk. Stating the obvious, this was quite a relaxed itinerary, I could easily have made it home two days earlier, maybe three. As on my Coast to Coast I carried my Alpkit Gourdon 30 litre rucksack modified to attach a small chest pack, but this time with my trusty Trekkertent Stealth tent instead of the dreadful bivy. I wore Altra Olympus trail shoes; feetwise this was my most comfortable Pennine Way yet, not even a hint of a blister all the way from Edale.

If you’re unfamiliar with the Pennine Way and were hoping for more detailed information, I’d like to suggest having a nose at my three complete PW trail diaries elsewhere on this blog. This one is the most recent, and also the most competently written in my opinion, I’d had a bit of practice by that point! I also recommend the very friendly Pennine Way Walkers Facebook group as well as perhaps (dare I plug it again?!) my book The Pennine Way A Poem A Day which is virtually useless as a trail guide but should give you a feel for the actual lived experience of this long but wonderful hike. And with poems! Thanks for reading 😉

18 comments

  1. Mike Hooper · · Reply

    Good to see you had such a great time.

    I was due to follow in your footsteps last year but the covid restrictions filled my head with visions of closed and shuttered villages and campsites.

    Hopefully this year…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, I think I just hit a brief feasibility window. Regular campsites with showers were definitely a problem, but I just wild camped and smelt 😉 All good wishes, A

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  2. Do you keep a written of of pies consumed on the PW Andrew? It would make a fascinating read and be an excellent planning aid for others planning the walk. i would suggest: Date, source, price, filling, together and a taste rating on a scale of up to five stars. Perhaps with a comment about the flakiness and firmness of the pastry too.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That should have read “written log”. Obviously. Or just “log” if you aren’t into tautology.

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    2. That sounds like an excellent idea for a blog post! 😉 Trouble is pies come and go. My most astonishing I think was a ‘Wolf Pie’ from the craft bakery co-op at Alston, sadly that’s gone now I believe. Second most astonishing, socioeconomically if not gastronomically, a Ginsters pasty for £1 on the Hebridean Way. Baffling how it could even get to the Outer Hebrides, let alone retail there at that price! 😉 all best, A

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  3. Jonathan Davies · · Reply

    Great writing, as ever Andrew. Inspirational to absolute novice long distance walkers such as myself
    I intend to try again maybe this summer, should restrictions lift
    Thanks for the detail you put into your travelling and tips

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re welcome, it’s fun to write them up, when I get around to it 😉 I’m certainly no expert myself! Thanks to you for taking a look, all the best A

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  4. That was a good read, don’t know where I found you.
    The only time I camped on Knock Fell, in 1968,the Helm Wind tried its beast to destroy me and my tent.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for taking a look, yes the same happened to me on Cross Fell, it was terrifying! Consequently when I camped on Knock Fell this time I literally nailed the tent down, but there wasn’t a breath of wind all night! All best, A

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Another fantastic read again Andrew and your comments about walking in isolated places vs the high street are absolutely right. However walking in the National parks never made the those that govern rich in tax money

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Too true, thanks for checking in and all good wishes for ’21. A

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Ah, I love reading your trip reports. And, yes, I bought your book a couple of months ago! The surprising thing in your book was that you felt so strongly that North to South is wrong. I can’t recall reading that in your accounts…must read again.

    Holmhead: I camped there in 2015. Absolute midge-fest in the morning resulting in me packing up gear whilst walking in circles as much as possible to avoid the blighters.

    Cheviot camp: blimey, it was that cold in early September? Hmm, will bear in mind for future reference.

    Well done you for making the effort. I decided to skip any walking last year – not been any further than about two miles from the house. As Mike Hooper says above, I was concerned that my walks (was thinking of Pembrokeshire Coast Path) would suffer closed villages / campsites. Or that things would be over-run given that rent-a-crowd didn’t go abroad.

    Re the bivy bag: I thought it was just using a micro-tarp you weren’t impressed with. But alas, the bivy has met its maker.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Paul, thanks ever so much for buying the book. I may have slightly exaggerated my aversion to North/South for comic effect. Having said that since my sole N-S I’ve done S-N twice more and it just feels right to me. The tarp is what it is, but my bivy bag wasn’t what it was supposed to be i.e. waterproof. I’ve just ordered an Alpkit Hunka, they’re a tenner off in their January sale. It’ll be interesting to see if that’s any better. All best A

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  7. ThingsHelenLoves · · Reply

    Brilliant post. Having been a long time short/ medium distance walker, I’ve decided this is the year I’ll tackle some longer ones. Your post gets me fired up for it. Love that Bellingham gets a mention, have spent some great weekends in that part of the world.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Good to hear, thanks for visiting and kind comments. Yes I love Bellingham.
      Would you happen to know whether it’s possible to hike up the hill back onto the Pennine Way from Hareshaw Linn?

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  8. Re your question about Hareshaw Linn to the PW, I’m in a position to advise. I explored Hareshaw Linn on my last PW in 2017. A lovely walk to it. I struggled up a near vertical incline to find the PW. Not to be advised. At the top there is a near continuous stone wall but I managed to find a five bar gate that I climbed over. I couldn’t give the grid ref. Overall, it was an experience I wouldn’t care to repeat.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi Geoff, many thanks for this useful info, wow, top marks for effort! I had a feeling it might be a bit hairy, it would be recommended all over the place if it was an enjoyable or even viable option. Best wishes, A

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  9. John Bainbridge · · Reply

    A wonderful account. Well done!

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