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About the Pennine Way
About the Pennine Way
Anyone walking the Pennine Way today owes a debt of thanks to the journalist Tom Stephenson. When he first proposed ‘a long green trail’ in 1935 there were no official long-distance footpaths in the UK. He first described ‘a Pennine Way from the Peaks to the Cheviots’ in an article in the Daily Herald in June of that year, in response to a letter from two American ramblers who were looking for suggestions on walks to do in England. America, he said, already had two incredible treks: the 2000-mile (3200km) long Appalachian Trail in the east and the even longer, 2500-mile (4000km) John Muir Trail up the western side of the country. Albeit on a smaller scale, he suggested there was no reason why England couldn’t produce a walk to compare with these enterprises.
It took 30 years of wrangling, negotiation, compromise and even conflict to agree a 256-mile* (412km) route from Edale, along almost the exact route proposed by Stephenson, to Kirk Yetholm in Scotland. The Pennine Way was finally opened at an official ceremony on Malham Moor on 24th April 1965. Like many ‘official’ openings, then and now, the path had been in common use for a while before this ceremony took place, with walkers using a pamphlet from the Ramblers’ Association (as it was called at the time) to follow the route (see box p36). However, it wasn’t until 1969 that the first official Pennine Way guidebook was published, by HMSO, written of course by Tom himself.
The original premise of a natural path, ‘no concrete or asphalt’ meant a much tougher walk for the first Pennine Wayfarers (see p36), as much of the path crossed terrain that tended to hold water, not least the dreaded peat bogs! As more and more feet churned the delicate peat into an ever-widening black morass, slabs were laid over the worst of the erosion to protect the environment and, as a result, walkers benefited from certain navigation and dry feet in places where previously neither was guaranteed.
The Pennine Way was just the first of many, so if you walk any of the country’s long-distance paths (official or otherwise), doff your cap and raise a glass to Tom Stephenson; surely the father of long-distance walking in the UK.
The 50th anniversary of the Pennine Way is on 24th April 2015 and the Pennine Way Association (see box p50) is arranging a variety of events to celebrate this occasion.
HOW DIFFICULT IS THE PENNINE WAY?
This book is not intended to mislead, so be prepared for a tough walk, especially if you intend to walk the Way in one go! There are only a few demanding days that you can’t break down into smaller chunks (unless you’re wild camping), but the real challenge is walking day after day for over two weeks. If you could guarantee good weather for those two or three weeks, that would also reduce the difficulty of the Way, but this is England and on the high moors you really can experience all four seasons in one day.
Over recent years the waymarking has improved and slabs across some of the expanses of peat have made navigation easier, but there are still wild and remote sections where navigation skills are required, so the ability to read a map and use a GPS or compass is essential. Half the Pennine Way is on open moorland and a quarter on rough grazing; only a tenth passes through forest, woodland or along riverbanks.
Over the course of the Pennine Way you will climb approximately 40,000ft (12,000m), but don’t be put off, there are very few steep gradients and even the most serious sufferer of vertigo is unlikely to be troubled. There are about 230 miles (369.5km) on slopes of less than 10Ëš, 20 miles (32km) on slopes of 10-15Ëš, and only 3? miles (6km) on steep slopes of more than 15Ëš. However, if you can read a map and comfortably walk at least 12 miles (19km) in a day you should manage it; just don’t expect every day to be a walk in the park.
‘Nothing in life worth having comes easy’, or so the saying goes and this applies to the Pennine Way. Many experienced and hill-hardened walkers leave Edale and never finish; but those who do can stand proud and claim to have walked one of the toughest paths in Britain.
HOW LONG DO YOU NEED?
However long you take, you’re unlikely to complete the Pennine Way faster than Mike Hartley did in 1989. The current record holder completed the route in 2 days, 17 hours and 20 minutes, running without sleep and stopping only twice on the way, one of which was for fish and chips in Alston.
Most mortals average 17 days and even that schedule has some long days of well over 20 miles (32km) in it. Trying to fit the Pennine Way into a 14-day holiday is another order of magnitude, with many more challenging days, and would be a step too far for most walkers. A relaxed schedule with a couple of rest days will require 19-21 days.
Whichever schedule you choose, or have imposed upon you, there are going to be some long days that can only be broken by the flexibility of wild camping (see pp19-20), or by negotiation with B&B owners for collection from the path and a return the next morning. The final 25?-mile (41km) marathon stage from Byrness to Kirk Yetholm being a prime example of this.
- Contents list
- About the Pennine Way
- Practical information for the walker
- Using this guide
- Sample route guide: Calder Valley to Ickornshaw
- GPS waypoints
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