The oldest and longest National Trail in the UK, the Pennine Way was something I had heard of even in the early days of my coming to the UK. Being 429km long, I never really thought I would do it one day – and of course, I still haven’t completed the Pennine Way, even in parts. Nonetheless, I’m really pleased that, together with a group of friends, I’ve successfully completed part of it. The entire trail takes about 16 days to complete (though the record is 2 days 17 hours 20 minutes and 5 seconds), and can be split into 3 sections: 1) Starting from Edale in the Peak District to Horton-in-Ribblesdale in Yorkshire Dales National Park, 2) Horton-in-Ribblesdale to Dufton in North Pennines AONB, 3) Dufton to finish in Kirk Yetholm in the Scottish Borders.
We had previously attempted the first section from 28 Oct to 5 Nov 2014, but we were thwarted by injury on our second/third day (somewhere around Diggle/Delph) and had to take the train to Horton-in-Ribblesdale. We went up Pen-y-Ghent and visited Settle and walked around the area, so it wasn’t all wasted. I had intended to blog about the attempt, but never got around to it, so here’s some paragraphs that I wrote for it:
We were camping, as it was cheaper than youth hostels, which can also be more inconvenient to get to at times. Though I had been on several long distance hikes/mountain climbs, I never really had to carry more than a day pack (thanks to the wonderful porters who are simply amazing). So having to carry our own tents, cooking equipment and food reminded me tremendously of my time in RGS OutDoor Activities Club, when we had to do that for our 2/3 day camps. It also meant that I had to carry a rather hefty weight for a long distance.
The weather wasn’t too bad for most of it, we had some really nice and sunny days. Most of the time was just plodding along trying to convince myself my bagpack wasn’t heavy/I wasn’t tired/thinking. Lots of thinking (fragments of thoughts: landscape farming grazing nature pruning shifted baselines culture biophilia nature deficit disorder tropics camping comfort level pubs etc no buildings)
Easter 2015 we did the West Highland Way in Scotland, but this year we decided to give the Pennine Way another go. First proper long-distance hike carrying tents etc. in which we experienced all the seasons Britain has to offer. We didn’t just camp this trip, we also wild camped some nights (abiding by the Code of Conduct of course) to give us more flexibility.
Day 1 – Horton-in-Ribblesdale to before Hawes
We took a morning train from London Kings Cross to Horton-in-Ribblesdale, arriving about 3+pm. We started off straightaway on the hike, after a quick coffee break at the cafe. The weather seemed decent enough, when all of a sudden, hail! Fairly large hail as well, about the size of raisins. The day’s hike was supposed to end at Hawes, but we would have arrived there too late in the evening, so we decided to wild camp en route. Choosing a wild campsite is harder than it sounds – it was very windy so we had to find a fairly sheltered, dry and flat area, which is fairly difficult on upland moors. We pitched the tents and started cooking dinner, then cleared up to hide in our tents from the wind. And not a moment too soon, for as I was brushing my teeth, it started snowing.
That night was not a restful one for me, though in the other tent, they were already knocked out. Despite my sleeping bag comfort limit being -3˙C, my cold tolerance is still fairly crap especially at night, that I was only warm enough to sleep in my sleeping bag when I have my down jacket on (top of the three layers I wear when hiking and the microfleece). This I learnt subsequently.
Soundtrack of the day: Misty Mountains (LOTR) You know how when you hike, especially on long stretches on your own, there’s always a soundtrack playing in your head? Mine usually loops the same song over. Though of course there was not just one song the entire day – the soundtrack of the day was just the song I felt most represented the day.
Day 2 – before Hawes to Thwaite
Struggled out of my sleeping bag the next day, having finally fallen asleep and being warm(er in the sleeping bag than outside). Instant coffee, depitched tents and off we went. Through Hawes, where we stopped for a nice breakfast and coffee in a cafe, and got more groceries. Then the Great Shunner Fell, the third highest point in Yorkshire Dales apparently, at 716masl. I never do well going up slopes, so I trudged along, trailing behind all the others. There was also a lovely snow blizzard. Yet I distinctly recall telling myself that, while I don’t particularly enjoy going uphills, I’m actually quite happy trudging uphill amidst heavy snow. Why, I have no idea, though I have questioned my love and need for the outdoors many times, especially in rough conditions.
The clouds passed as we were going downhill, and it was 雨过天晴 (clear weather after the rain). Beautiful blue skies and not a hint of snow anywhere, so we stopped for a bit. While on the summit, we met two guides who were in charge of a group of Duke of Edinburgh kids (DoE is an award for outdoor activities). They suggested a really nice campsite in Thwaite, and dinner in a pub nearby, and so we stayed the night at Usha Gap campsite (and had a nice hot shower). I also cheated that night and slept in the common area (there was no one else in the campsite) to avoid the cold, though I barely slept still cos I was too caffeinated probably.
Soundtrack of the day: Seven Years (Lukas Graham). The tempo makes for pretty good walking rhythm. Also lots of thinking about life, which I do a fair amount of time anyway.
Day 3 – Thwaite to Baldersdale
In my opinion, the best bit of the hike. Leaving Thwaite, we had a good amount of uphill to go to reach Tan Hill Inn, the world’s highest pub at 528masl. No where as steep as Great Shunner Fell, and I was really enjoying myself hopping across puddles in cloudy, slightly rainy weather. As we approached Tan Hill Inn at noon, a rainbow appeared. Not wanting to spend too much time or money, we only had a quick hot chocolate/coffee, before we proceeded. Lots of moor after that, with barely visible trails and lots of leaping across streams (or just getting feet wet). We crossed the A66 and entered the County Durham, and spent the rest of the afternoon crossing a vast moor to get to Baldersdale. Of which only Clove Lodge was left (is it still considered a village if it has only one property?), and looked to be going soon (sale signs were at the gate). We had not booked ahead, and it was fortuitous that the owner happened to come back that evening (so we managed to get some bread and eggs from him for breakfast the next day).
Another hot shower that night, though the night was frigid cold – there was frost the next day. With all my layers apart from the waterproofs though, I was warm (and sleep-deprived enough) and managed to sleep. Pitched on a bit of a slope though, and kept sliding down.
Soundtrack of the day: Test Drive (HTTYD). How To Train Your Dragon OST is my favourite upbeat epic soundtrack, especially Test Drive.
Day 4 – Baldersdale to past High Force waterfall
This day was also extremely pleasant, and might have been my favourite day if not for carelessness on my part in the later afternoon. We left Baldersdale for Middleton-in-Teesdale, and it was pleasant, sunny weather. Got there in time for lunch (chicken burger for me, fish and chips for the rest), more groceries, then onwards for a gentle ramble along the river Tees. The Middleton-in-Teesdale to Dufton section is usually done in a day, but as we were doing it in a day and a half, we took our time to dawdle and enjoy the wonderful weather. The river Tees reminded me tremendously of Scottish rivers, which are wilder and less tame (canalised) than most English rivers. We stopped atop a stack to admire the river, then again at a surprisingly impressive waterfall called High Force. England’s highest drop apparently, at 21 m. At which point, I realised I had left my watch on the stack.
We pressed on past High Force to a place we thought we could camp at, which I have named the Garden of Junipers. I dropped my bagpack, leaving the rest to pitch the tents and cook dinner, and ran/jogged/walked back to find the watch. Managed to get somewhat lost, wandering amidst some sheep at pasture, and failed to locate the stack, despite it being just along the river. So I expended an extra 2 hours or so, covering an extra 8km to no avail. It was another very cold night, with clear skies (could have star-gazed if I could stand the cold), though it got warmer through the night.
Soundtrack of the day: Touch the Sky (Brave). Another one of my favourite happy outdoors songs, especially in Scottish scenery.
Day 5 – Garden of Junipers to Dufton
The last day of hiking, which I was somewhat thankful for as my feet were starting to hurt. The morning was definitely not one of my finest moments hiking, and I was getting fairly dragged down by the weight of my backpack. We stopped by a farm for some water, and filled our bottles with spring water (a rather interesting taste). Most of the hike after was right alongside the river Tees, and involved a fair bit of scrambling over rocks, and up a waterfall. We stopped for lunch break, but it was getting incredibly windy and rainy (which did not help my mood). We struggled against the gale force winds and prickling rain, got to an amazing U-shaped valley called High Cup Nick. We paused to admire for a bit, before the cold forced us on. Eventually got to Dufton, a tiny village with barely any shops. We were all wet and thought we might treat ourselves to a night in the youth hostel, but to our disappointment it was fully booked for the night. So another night in the tent it was, though we did get a hot shower, as well as an amazing dinner at The Stag Inn, the village pub.
The next day, we got a ride from the kind campsite owner to Appleby-in-Westmorland where our train departs, and spent a pleasant if rainy day in the village. Mostly in the secondhand bookstore/antique/collectables shop. English villages always have gems like these, and I’m glad I’ve had the chance to visit a good number in my time here in the UK.
Soundtrack of the day: 遇见 (孙燕姿). A Chinese song for once, and a suitably emo one for the miserable day. Ended well though!
It was a much needed respite from work and city, and I really enjoyed being in the English countryside. Was a bit of a shock going into Leeds (while waiting for the train transfer) and London. The Pennine Way seems to epitomise the quintessential English countryside, with rolling hills, boggy moors, meandering paths, quaint villages and everything I read about in books by Enid Blyton/Roald Dahl/other English authors.
As much as I enjoyed it though, I think perhaps I’ve exhausted my British long-distance hikes limit (unless time and opportunity present themselves). Perhaps I’ll be able to do all of the Pennine way in one go at some point in the future. I’m really looking forward to doing more long-distance hikes though! And this trip has shown me that I can be fairly self-sufficient for hikes, in terms of carrying my weight.
What I was carrying
- Gelert Track 2-men tent
- Snugpak Travelpak 3 sleeping bag and a sleeping bag liner
- MSR Alpine Stowaway pot 775ml
- Primus Mimer Stove
- A Leki Carbonlite pole (cos the other was with my friend)
- A small first aid kit, a Swiss army knife, whistle, lighter, Light My Fire titanium spork, Klean Kanteen flask 700ml, Nalgene bottle 1l, Source hydration pack 2l, Black Diamond Spot headlamp, various packets of salt/pepper/tomato sauce/tea bags, moisturiser, soap leaves, deodorant, lip balm, tooth brush, tooth paste. And a ground sheet that was never used.
- A change of clothes, microfibre towel, light microfleece, and down jacket
- Gaiters, waterproof trousers, waterproof outershell jacket (what I was usually wearing, along with heat tech long pants and hiking trousers, tank top, long-sleeved base layer, and t-shirt, buff and a beanie)
- All in a Lowe Alpine TFX Kibo ND65 Womens Rucksack