On the 50th anniversary since the official opening of the Pennine Way Long Distance Footpath, why not mark the occasion by pulling on your walking boots and hitting the trail.
The first of the 15 National Trail footpaths to be established in England and Wales, the 268-mile Pennine Way opened on 24 April 1965, following relentless campaigning by rambler and journalist Tom Stephenson. The route winds its way from Edale in Derbyshire to Kirk Yetholm in the Scottish Borders, and is considered one of the nation’s toughest long distance walks.
From the Peak District through the Yorkshire Dales, North Pennines AONB and Northumberland National Park, the route covers unspoilt swathes of countryside, countless incredible views, natural wonders and historic landmarks. Running like an artery from the heart to the head of Britain, the Way was opened in response to the public’s growing awareness, post-Second World War, of preserving areas of wilderness for all to enjoy for future generations.
Following the devastation of the war years, Britain was greatly investing in redevelopment, pushing into the countryside to build homes and expand industry. The establishment of National Parks, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and National Trails, formerly known as Long Distance Routes, has ensured that these “special” areas of the country remain that way for ever.
At 50 years old, the Pennine Way will be celebrating its anniversary in style throughout 2015. Preparations began last year, with the restoration of an historic dry-stone shelter at the top of Cross Fell, near Dufton, in Cumbria. The BBC has filmed a three-part series about the trail, due to be aired in the spring, and a number of events are planned along the length of the route.
Renowned fell walker and author Alfred Wainwright published his own pocket guides to the Pennine Way in 1966 and 1985, the latter recently revised and updated into a coffee table format. Wainwright on the Pennine Way, is published by Frances Lincoln, priced £25, and is fully updated with new images by acclaimed photographer Derry Brabbs who also contributed to Wainwright’s earlier books.
As it can take the seasoned walker over two weeks to walk the entire trail, which is often challenging with long climbs and changeable weather, we have selected five highlights from the Way, achievable in a day:
Calder Valley to Ickornshaw
Via Heptonstall Moor, Bronte Country and Ickornshaw Moor
16 miles (26 km)
Despite a few potential route-finding blind spots, this is a relatively undemanding stretch. You’re in Bronte Country now, a highlight of which is Top Withens, reputedly the inspiration for Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights – and, as such, a tourist attraction in itself. All that remains of Top Withens now is the roofless remains of the old house, positioned to look across the dramatically beautiful Worth Valley.
Another Wuthering Heights feature is the 17th-century Ponden Hall. Easily accessed from the Pennine Way this cosy guesthouse is the perfect place for walkers to stop for rest and refreshment. The Way climbs from the Calder Valley, over Heptonstall Moor, back to the literary landscapes of Bronte country and up again onto the bleaker Ickornshaw Moor, passing a few reservoirs en route.
Malham to Horton in Ribblesdale
14.5 miles (23 km)
Alfred Wainwright thought the limestone country around Malham ‘the best walking territory so far encountered along the Pennine Way’ and few would disagree. You’re treated to majestic Malham Cove and Malham Tarn before the curious-looking lump of Pen-y-Ghent, the highest point on the Way so far. Expect two stiff sustained climbs, in the deceptively tough Fountains Fell and Pen-y-Ghent. The latter is certainly worth it for the views. Wainwright described the descent to Horton in Ribblesdale as ‘very, very good’, but some will find it interminable.
The path is good but don’t stray too far off the beaten track as there are a few sinkholes and mineshafts on Fountains Fell.
Middleton-in-Teesdale to Dufton
Past High Force, Cauldron Snout and High Cup – 21 miles (34km)
This memorable stretch incorporates three great waterfalls, and includes High Cup as its magnificent climax, arguably the best sight along the entire route. The Way starts with a leisurely amble through flower dotted meadows and beside the River Tees. ‘A walk of near perfection,’ said Wainwright. Upper Teesdale ushers you through a picturesque valley before a testing scramble by the spectacular falls of Cauldron Snout. If you prefer to take more time to enjoy the scenery, you could break it up in Forest-in-Teesdale or Langdon Beck, which are just off route. Both have limited accommodation choices and you could lunch at the Langden Beck Hotel.
Greenhead to Bellingham
Via Hadrian’s Wall, Wark Forest and Shitlington Crag – 22 miles (35km)
Expect a physical challenge. The Way encounters Hadrian’s Wall, following this historic boundary for eight miles (12.8km), including its most dramatic stretches. Wainwright thought the Pennine Way should end here, with Hadrian’s Wall providing a dramatic climax. At Rapishaw Gap you break from the stones and crowds towards the silent Wark Forest, then farmland and a little moorland. However, the end of this leg, along the road to Bellingham, is tortuous. Do note that the only facilities are housed at Once Brewed, a pub and youth hostel, a slight detour off the Way. If you fancy extending your visit to learn more about Hadrian’s Wall, head to Housesteads Roman Fort, which lies about a mile (1.6km) off route.
Wyndy Gyle to Kirk Yetholm
Past the Cheviot and over the Schill – 13 miles (21 km)
The final push is peppered with more big hills, some very strong winds and a few sneaky bogs. There are some choices to make: firstly whether to detour to the top of the Cheviot and back, and secondly whether to take the higher or lower routes for the final descent. The Way leaves England and enters Scotland, and for weary walkers who have spent a good fortnight on the trail, the sight of Kirk Yetholm will be a blessing. A drink at the Border Hotel is perhaps the only way to celebrate.
Public transport would be the better option for those planning to spend more than a day’s walk; the southerly point of the trail is at Edale, Derbyshire, and Kirk Yetholm lies in the Scottish Borders, with several options for short stay parking in towns and villages near the route. By train, both ends of the Pennine Way are accessible by public transport. Edale railway station is about five minutes walk from the centre of the village, where the Pennine Way begins. Trains from Manchester and Sheffield stop at Edale. At the northern end of the Trail, Kirk Yetholm has a bus service to Kelso (35 minutes). Connections can be made onwards from Kelso to all parts of country and to pick up rail services at Berwick-upon-Tweed