Pennine Way Day 01. 12 Nov. Edale to Torside. 27km. 7,5 hours, 980m up. 980m down. The forecast offered me some hope as I looked out of the window at a foul day with near gales, heavy rain cascading down in opaque curtains and from what I could see through the mist some snow lying on the higher slopes. I did not have the luxury of waiting as there was 8 hours walking ahead of me and it would get dark in 8 hours time so I put on my rain gear and gaiters and set off just after 8.
The village of Edale was awash with water. It was cascading down the road some 4 inches deep and welling up through drains. In 10 minutes I reached the Old Nags Head Hotel and a cluster of houses at the top of the small, quaint, Idyllic-looking village. Here was the start of the Pennine Way and it went up past the flooded beck and into fields. Thankfully the route across the field was paved with flagstones as the soil was sodden, so sodden an abundance of earthworms had come up to the surface.
Despite the driving rain and wind I was warm, dry and comfortable in my rain gear and it was easy to luxuriate in the cultural landscape of stone build farms under slate roofs. About 2 or 3 green fields abreast lined each side of the valley before the stone wall divided these lush sodden pastures from the brown of the hillsides which were largely covered in autumnal braken. The path went across fields and through small gates for nearly 4 km passing trees whose golden leaves were being stripped and scattered by the wind. Only the alders leaves had not turned but their trees were nearly bare save some green remnants.
After a good hour I reached the bottom of Jacobs Ladder, where the path left the comfort of the rural valley and started to climb onto the exposed moorland. Beside the path the dark brown torrent of the stream in spate cascaded down. Froth and scum collected in eddies and sat on the dark peaty water like a pint of porter. The rain soon turned to sleet and everything was obscured save the flooded path in front of me. I climbed steadily for another hour until the climb eased off at a large cairn which I assumed was Kinder Low, 633m.
Continuing north I noticed that the sleet had abated and the rushing mist was starting to have clearer patches. Suddenly the mist cleared and a view burst forth to the west down to Kinder Reservoir and the green fields surrounding it, some of which were vibrant with patches of sun. These sudden revelations are like an epiphany after the oppression of the sleet, mist and wind. I now followed the western escarpment of the large plateau which was Kinder Scout, grey with a scant covering of lying sleet and snow. There were many grouse up here which flew off at the last minute when I approached, circling down to below the crags of the escarpment.
There was a large stream to cross, The River Kinder, which was in spate. I hopped across a few submerged boulders amazed no water found it way into my boots. Just below the torrent went over a waterfall and there was huge spray which was being blown back up by the wind to recycle into the torrent and over the falls again. The path continued across the lip of the escarpment until it reached a promontory in the plateau and descended steeply to the vast Ashop Moor.
The moor was dull. A vast open windswept expanse of peat and heather which was completely saturated. Thankfully the path across the 4 km of this moor was covered in flagstones. The flagstones looked like they had been recycled as most had chisel marks or holes where wooden dowels once were embedded. The flagstones were a complete godsend as the moor was deep and hungry. Often the flagstones themselves were under 1-2 inches of pooled water. Ashop Moor finished at the Transpennine A57 road which crossed the spine along which I was walking.
After the A57 I found a peat bank to sit on and have a quick lunch before continuing north across another equally dull moor, Hope Woodlands Moor. Both this and Ashop Moor were managed by the National Trust. Initially the path was good but it soon vanished under a swollen beck which I had to walk up and cross frequently, only falling in it once. I felt I was in a Tough Mudder competition. Eventually as the beck neared the top of Bleaklow Head it scattered into a plethora of rivulets emerging from the black peat hags. Again there were lots of grouse here which were the only thing to keep me company.
From the top of Bleaklow Head there was an easy but often boggy path down the NW side of it. The rivulets emerging from the sodden hags soon joined forces and a torrent was born. The path kept to the north of it on the lip of the ravine until it dropped down to cross it. By now the stream was big and powerful and I had to muster all my limited athleticism to jump it. Once over I spent nearly an hour on a rocky path which kept to the lip of the deep valley containing the swollen stream, The Torside Clough, which cascaded down it. I was high above the stream now flushing grouse frequently as the Torside Reservoir came into view a few km ahead. it was my destination for the day.
The path dropped down steeply towards it until it got to Reaps farmhouse. It was nearly 4 o’ clock now and the skies were beginning to darken as dusk neared. I was back in the bosom of the valley again and the hostile windswept moorland was over for the day. It was just a quick saunter down the track to a B road and then a rush down half a km of that to The Old House, a farm which did B&B, where i was booked. I got there at 4 and they were waiting for me with a cuppa. It was a delight and the room and bathroom was superb and much cheaper than the shoddy Ramblers Inn I had stayed in last night at Edale. My hosts were sheep farmers and unusually for this area kept Cheviot sheep, rather than the ubiquitous Swale sheep of the Dales.
Pennine Way Day 02. Nov 13. Torside to Diggle. 23.5km. 6,5 hours. 860m up. 870m down. The stay at the Old House was excellent and the breakfast was hearty, but the weather was poor with rain and mist, but at least it was still. The forecast said it would improve so I left feeling hopeful. I was tired and sore after yesterday’s severe baptism but I soon loosened up. I went through the fields to reach and old railway track, but passed under it through a cattle passage to the north side. Here there was a short track to the dam which was easy to cross. Around the reservoir above the dam the large trees, largely beech were in their autumn glory.
On the other side of the dam the path followed the waters edge through beech forest for a km before crossing the busy Transpennine A628 road. On the north side of the road the route continued east along a lane through pastures where the Swaledale sheep were grazing. Most had a yellow rump where the dye container on the ram’s stomach had rubbed as he was servicing them. Just before Crowden the route veered north up the west side of the valley and stream.
Before long the gentle rural landscape was left behind as the rough path started to climb up steeper ground, crossing a couple of becks to reach the lip of the escarpment. The mist was coming and going but the rain had stopped. The Crowden stream was now far below in its canyon between the two escarpments. As I went north the valley rose and the escarpments came together. By now the mist had cleared completely and I could see the moorland ahead.
This moorland was dull. Luckily the path was laid with recycled flagstones again otherwise it would have been a peaty slog through hags and across bog. There was little of interest as I slowly climbed up to the top of the unloved Black Hill. It is is not difficult to see why people scorn it, but it reputation as a barren, eroded quagmire of slimy peat is now unjustified as it has been replanted and the flagstone path prevents further erosion.
From the top of Black Hill there was a great view to the NE towards the “Last of the Summer Wine” town of Holmfirth and the green pastures around it. The Pennine Way however did not go this way but dropped north down to Dean Clough stream, a dark brown beck flowing over the shelves of gritstone in a ravine. The sun was out at last and I sat beside the water and ate my lunch in the shelter of the slot.
After my lunch stop crouched beside the stream, there was another small climb up barren moorland teeming with grouse to a saddle where the A635 crossed the Pennines. The descent on the other side was far more pleasant as it took me past the two Wessenden Reservoirs on a gently descending track. They were built in 1800 by a group of mill owners in Marsden to secure their water supply to drive the machinery. I walked this stretch with a retired civil servant who knew the area well. The distance was eaten up in conversation.
I had to leave the track however, dip down to the stream linking the Reservoirs and then climb up and over Wessenden Moor. It was a stiff climb but it was bathed in the evening sun which made the golden sedges and grasses glow. The path took me up past two small reservoirs on the top of the moor before it descended down the west side of the plateau to reach Brun Clough Reservoir. It was now warm and the sun was bright in my eyes. Here I had to leave the Pennine Way for the day to find accommodation in Diggle.
The final section of the day was an easy descent on a different path, called the Oldham Way. it descended some 2 km down a track with piles of rubble. I think much of the rubble had come from the Standedge Tunnels underneath the path where the railway line and Hudderfield Canal went. It was a delightful walk in the early dusk past scattered houses and fields full of the delicate looking Swaledale sheep.
The path spilled me into the village of Diggle where I had pre booked a hotel. The hotel was simple and in need of some upgrading but the pub downstairs was an authentic local bar with a fire and large portions of honest food. There was a pub quiz which I joined in and enjoyed a rowdy evening before an early bed. My body was tired and tomorrow was another long day.
Pennine Way Day 03. 14 Nov. Diggle to Hebden Bridge. 29 km. 7,5 hours. 780m up. 870m down. The hotel kindly served me an early breakfast at 0700 so I was away early, but still long after dawn. I retraced my steps for half an hour back up the rural lane and track to Bran Clough Reservoir. Back down in the valley Diggle was coming to life and shaking off the grey light. I had to stop at the reservoir and put on my jacket and gaiters as the east wind was a near gale and bitterly cold. Still the visibility was good and it was dry.
I set off north along Stanedge. To the west were distant sprawls of towns, all with pale retail parks nearby. Oldham, Rochdale and even Manchester all shimmered in the gale. There looked little pleasant down there in one of the heartlands of the Industrial Revolution. Indeed there was little pleasant ahead either as I clawed my way across the featureless, barren moor for 3 hours. it was so dull that the highlight was crossing the very busy M62 motorway on a footbridge. The roar of the traffic could be heard above the wind which had increased to a gale.
As I neared the A58 the path dropped down from the moorland and followed an arc above the town of Littleborough. At the road itself was the White House, a lonely inn beside a reservoir. The lights were on and smoke was getting whipped out of a chimney. I decided to go in for a soup and some respite from the gale but it was closed until 1200. I looked at my watch and that was in 5 minutes. I ate my packed lunch in the shelter of the porch and then went in for soup and a rest. It pertained to a gastropub with fine wines but this was lost on me as I had to set of agiain at 1230.
The next 5 Km would have been very easy were it not for the strong gale. The route followed a level track which linked up 4 reservoirs. All built over 200 years ago, initially to supply water for the Rochdale canal and now used as a water supply for the urban sprawl below The wind was buffeting me all over the place and my face and bare knees felt weatherbeaten. I reached the last one, Warland Reservoir, and now veered east as the green Calder Valley slowly unfolded below me.
It looked welcoming in the valley and I knew I would soon be down there. First I had to walk along the edge of the escarpment above the peaceful rural valley for 3-4 km to Stoodley Pike where an enormous memorial stood marking the defeat of Napoleon. It was perhaps 50 metres high and was constructed from massive blocks, but there was little charm to it. One could go up some dark stairs but my torch was packed and rain threatened so I strode past.
The final 5 km were by far the most pleasant of the day. As I descended from the bleak moor and memorial the wind eased. I soon found myself in typical Pennine farmland where fields were separated by stone walls and the scattered farmhouses almost blended into the hillsides with their stone walls and roofs. A small variety of sheep grazed the field and ate the hay the farmers had put out.
After a few km of this easy, calm walk a path called the “Hebden Loop”, headed off to the east leaving the Pennine Way which descended to Callis Bridge, where there was no accommodation. There was plenty in Hebden however. The path descended into a dell where the turning beech trees were still glowing in their autumn colours. it crossed a stone footbridge and then headed down the east lip of the dell between steep beech wood and the green fields surrounded by stone walls. It was a delight to be walking here after the battle on the moorland through most of the day.
The path soon met a cobbled lane which descended steeply into the charming town of Hebden Bridge. It had the look of an early industrial town but was also quite Bohemian with an array of cafes and bookshops. The guest house I was heading for, The Angeldale, was through the town on the north side. It was a Presbyterian Victorian villa, but with a cosy lounge, hot shower and well travelled compassionate host. I had to go out in the evening to buy tomorrow’s lunch and have dinner.
The forecast rain was now falling heavily but it did little to dent my first impression of Hebden Bridge. It was a funky cosmopolitan cosy town full of charm and character. I found a pub, The Old Cafe, sat beside the open fire and had my veggie burger and Czech pint while the rain continued. It more than made up for the windy trudge across the moorland.
Pennine Way Day 04. 15 Nov. Hebden Bridge to Cowling. 27 km. 7,5 hours. 1080m up, 930m down. It poured with rain all night but my luck was in as it was exhausted by my 0700 breakfast. I left at 0800, full to the brim, and started up the steep lane past small houses. I was soon looking down on the tall terraced houses of Hebden. At the top of the climb was a short section of quiet road which took me took the small village of Heptonstall. It was a delightful village of old stone houses and a cobbled main street. I turned north at the quaint inn and picked up a series of paths on the north side of the deciduous dale, passing the hamlet of Slack, until I picked up the Pennine Way again near Colden.
Just before reaching the Pennine Way I glanced over a wall to my right and saw a sheep in distress. It was hanging by one of its front legs from the side of a circular hay feeder. it was nearly motionless as it hung front legs akimbo and its rump on the ground in a pool of water. I went over and saw its leg was trapped in the gap where the rwo halves of the feeded bolted together. It’s shin fitted in the slot but its hoof did not. it must have been on top of the feeder or put its front legs up and one slipped into the slot and there was no way it could get it out. It was a bit like looking at an animal in a gin trap. I had to lift the whole sheep up to get the leg out of the slot. Unfortunately it was completely broken a few inches above the hoof. I carried the sheep out of the water and put it on the grass where it bleated helplessly. There was nothing more I could do other than bash it on the head with a rock. Which I thought was step too far. Instead I left it in the hope that the farmer might find it soon or that it would eke out the rest of its not miserable life on 3 legs until it was time to head to the abattoir.
With the plight of the sheep on my mind I continued past a farmhouse but there was no one in to alert them. A bit beyond I picked up the Pennine Way again and walked up onto Heptonstall Moor. it was as bleak as ever but there were patches of sun breaking through. Indeed for the first time this walk I took my jacket off. I then dropped down into the higher reaches of Hebdon Dale where there were a string on reservoirs to follow for a good hour. The lower ones had patches of forest arouund them but as I climbed it got more windswept and bleak. There were a few lonely farms up this remote valley which must have wrestled a living from hill sheep farming. About half way along Middle Walshaw Reservoir I stopped for my first lunch as I had been walking for well over 3 hours. After lunch I left the valley and climbed up the dull, sodden moorland slope of brown grass for an hour to reach Withins Height.
On the descent I soon came to a derelict farm, there was a notice saying it was probably Heathcliff’s home from the Bronte novels. There were some ladies looking about the ruins and I got chatting to them. They were 5 jolly and bright ladies all from a book club in Cambridgeshire and this year their annual outing was to Bronte Country, which I was just coming into. We walked for 2 km together and they were a delight to chat to. They could see I was not a literary man so filled me in on some of the details of the Bronte family which seemed beset by misfortune and early deaths. I had to leave them before they returned to Haworth, the Bronte Village, as the Pennine Way did not descent that far but veered NW down to Ponden Reservoir. As I descended I noticed a few of the footpath signs were in Chinese as Bronte Country is popular with them.
Ponden Reservoir and the scattered farms around it were idyllic. Some were traditional farms with Swaledale sheep grazing in the soggy, lush fields and other were homesteads with more exotic livestock like rescue ponies, herdwick sheep and platoons of hens. The route went to the south of the reservoir then crossed the stream and headed up fields and through the woods on the northside of the valley climbing up to the third and final bleak moorland of the day. Just before the moor I had my second lunch.
This last moor was as bleak and dull as the others and too make it more inhospitable there was no path save for a boggy trench, often 3-4 inches deep. I had to pick my way between clumps of rushes to save the water coming over my boots. It also started to rain as I squelched across the soggy plateau. I could look ahead to the first half of tomorrow’s route, and it looked pastoral which cheered me. The descent down the north side of the moor went quickly. I had noticed how quickly landmarks and cairns approached on the moors. What initially loked like a good half hour to reach was there in just 10 minutes. On the way down I passed a lot of huts which looked like leisure huts. All have stove pipes. I thought they might belong to city dwellers trying to rekindle a connection to the land after their forefathers had been disenfranchised from it after settling in mill towns.
The final easy slopes down to Cowling were across gentle fields which spilt me onto the busy A6068 road. I turned right here and walked down the village pavement for 200m to reach the Winterhouse, a B&B where I had booked. The hosts had been doing B&B for 50 years since the inception of the Pennine Way and had slowly developed their business. It was a lovely place and my room was in the converted barn. They did not do an evening meal but said they could make me soup to save me walking down the road to a cafe. That was great by me and I had two soups and a scone. The host were genuinely kind and warm and my stay in Cowling was perhaps the most delightful so far.
Pennine Way Day 05. !6 Nov. Cowling to Malham. 30km. 8,5 hours. 930m up. 860m down. My hosts thoughtfully served me a great breakfast at 0700, and made me a packed lunch so I was ready to go before 0800. It was drizzling as I set off through the hamlet of Ickornshaw but the forecast was for an improving day. The route took me through small fields and clusters of houses for an hour to reach the pictureaque village of Lothersdale, where there was an inn amongst the houses. it was too early to stop so I carried on up the slope to the north and onto a small section of moorland which was shrouded in thick mist. There were many early dog walkers up on this moorland section.
The moor was over in a flash and I soon descended out of the mist into a wide pastoral valley. The fields were sodden and had been trampled by cattle so the going was tough and I was frequently up to my ankles in mud especially around Brown House Farm. The farmer here was spreading effluent across his field not using a trailer but by dragging a hose which another tractor was pumping the effluent into. The hose must have been nearly a km long. The air was rich with manure.
Just after the farm the route went into the quiet hamlet of Thornton-in-Craven. There was a small bench here so I ate the packed lunch. I had been walking for nearly 4 hours and though I was doing well but I was not even half way. The soggy fields and the numerous gates and stiles meant I could not stride out. After lunch I crossed a beautiful, almost hidden, dale with a small stream before climbing up to what I though was an old railway. So I was surprised and delighted to see it was in fact a canal; the Liverpool to Leeds Canal.
I followed the canal north past the lovely old East Marton church across the water, and then came to the unique double arched bridge supporting the A59. The canal opened up beyond this bridge into a basin with a string of long boats moored up along the bank. By another bridge there was a large and active livery with lots of horses being trained on a circular carousel to which they were harnessed. Unfortunately the route now left the easy and interesting canal towpath where horses once dragged the longboats, and climbed over a small rise to a further series of fields.
In one of the fields there was a pheasant shoot. Beaters were driving the hapless birds hoping they would take to the air and fly off into the guns. It is bad sport to shoot the birds on the ground. I think many of the clients now are nouveau riche urban folk who want to emulate the upper class and think blasting, slow, cumbersome birds who have been breed to purely shoot will cut the mustard. I have heard after such a shoot all the birds are usually flung in a mass grave because nobody wants to eat them.
There was now a very muddy 3-4 km to wade through sodden grassy fields until I got to a firmer track which descended to the large village of Gargrave. Time was getting on and I still had 11 km to go but I wanted to stop here. there was an old hotel with barfood opposite the parish church, but I wanted something quick and easy. A bit further on was a very chintzy tea room ful of delicate decorations. I went in with my muddy boots (after getting clearence) and had a soup and a roll in fron of the fire. I left after half past one and was delighted to see the sun was trying to come out. I crossed the canal again by some old wooden lock gates and then started the last third of the day.
Initially there was a small lane but it vanished and I had to go into the soggy fields again and squelch across the muddy surface. It was exhausting work, especially going up hill. Thankfully this only lasted for a short hour and then I dropped down to the Aire Valley. The next 5 km were the most pleasant of the day as the path followed the small river through riparian fields which were dotted with specimen deciduous trees. I flushed a couple of herons and numeros ducks from the clear river as I sauntered across the fields. There were frequent stiles and gates and by the end of the day I think I must have crossed over 200 of them today. I passed a large old mill which had been converted into nice flats at Airton and then a lovely manor house at Harlith.
There were a lot of dog walkers about and families returning from jaunts as I closed in on Malham in the dusk. I got there at 1630, long before I needed to get the headtorch out. It had been a long day and I was tired. I found the Miresfield Farm B&B where I was staying. The lounge was cosy with a roaring coal fire. My room was perfunctory and dated but it had a shower, and was all I needed. There were no meals here so I had to go out in the evening to the Lister Arms for dinner which was more of a gastro pub rather than a local.
Pennine Way Day 06. Malham to Horton. 25 km. 7 hours. 1040m up. 1080m down. I managed to get an earlier breakfast and was ready to go at 0830. It was drizzling heavily outside and everything was drab. None more so than the owner’s son who was making the breakfast. He was so outspoken about doing the Pennine Way in November and the conditions en route he would have made Geoffrey Boycott look timid. I told him I had done worse.
I left the popular village and headed up the road, and then path to Malham Cove, the famous limestone amphitheater with the River Aire emerging from under the rocks. Hawthorn trees lined the riverbank and they were heavy with crimson berries. From the floor of the amphitheater I climbed up the west shoulder to the limestone pavement on the top. The stones up here were fiendishly greasy and slippery, being, wet, polished limestone and Geoffrey Boycott’s breakfast rant now seemed pertinent.
Naturally there was a great view over the lip of the cove down to Malham in the gentle valley below, its grey stone houses clustered together in a sea of green fields. I now walked north up the dry ravine with crags on each side. The river which once flowed here was underground in limestone tunnels and caverns. At the top of the valley I crested a rise and could see Malham Lake spread out on a large shallow shelf covered in green fields. Beyond them the land rose to the moors which were obscured by mist.
I walked anticlockwise round half the lake passing the Malham Lodge in its shelter belt of woods. It was now a National Trust building, as was the surrounding estate. After Malham Lodge the route went through exposed fields passing a few barns until it got to the small tarmac road.
The gentle, interesting pastoral culturescape stopped here and I now had to climb onto the bleak dull moors again as I crossed over Fountain Fell. While the views were not obscured by mist they were lost in the poor light and everything merged into a featureless photo. There were plently of grouse up here again. At the top of the hill there were open mineshafts. Some were unfenced with vegetation overhanging the lip. I peered into one and it dissapeared into the black like a deep well. It was very dangerous for humans and I am sure there are a few sheep down them.
The descent down to the tarmac road was easy and on a good path. To the west Pen-y-ghent loomed large, its ramparts of sandstone interspersed with shelves on its south ridge. It was my next challenge. When I god down to the valley I had virtually been on the go for 5 hours without stopping so found a sheltered spot for lunch. Geoffrery Boycott’s packed lunch was superb and very tasty and his pessimism was soon forgiven.
As I climbed up the south ridge of Pen-y-ghent the rain returned and mist shrouded the top. I did not find the limestone slabs as slippery when they were drenched in water as when they were just damp and greasy. There were two bands of sandstone to climb through on natural steep steps to reach the summit plateau. It was a quick saunter along recycled flagstones to the summit which was think with mist.
I did not wait but set off down the superb path on the west side, initially down flagstone steps and then a wide gravel footpath. The views opened up and I could see Horton in the valley below. It was a joyful end to the day which was perhaps the easiest of the trip so far. I met a father and two enthusiastic children on the way down and we chatted for half an hour for the final 2 km to the village.
I was booked into Broad Croft B&B. It was expensive and I was expecting luxury. It was superb. Most things like a dressing gown were wasted on me but a fridge full of food I could just help myself to was a rare treat. The room was comfortable but the shower was fantastic. In the evening the hosts offered to make me a meal so I did not have to go to the local inn as it was still drizzling.
Pennine Way Day 07. 18 Nov. Horton to Hawes. 23 km. 6 hous. 650m up. 620m down. At last it was a glourious day with a heavy frost on the ground and horizon to horizon clear skies. It was also a relatively short day, not quite short enough to be considered a rest day but near enough. I still managed to leave around 0830 thanks to the hosts giving me an early breakfast.
The pavements of Horton were slippery with frost as I wondered through the small village with its pubs and hotels. A train passed on the hillside to the west which surprised me. At the north end of the village I left the road and headed north up a track. It was gentle, frozen-firm and grassy under foot so it was easy to stride out. Soon I was up above the Ribblesdale valley and had large sweeping views. Across the valley to the west were the other two of the Three Peaks, Ingleborough and Whernside, with Pen-y-ghent to my east. They were very modest hills really, but Yorkshire folk were proud of them.
What I found more rewarding was the cultural landscape I was walking through. Green fields, nourished by the limestone soils, were vibrant in the morning sun. These fields were surrounded by neat stone walls, all about 4-5 foot high with a cope of vertical stones. Stone barns with flagstone roofs were scattered here and there for the sheep to shelter in during bad weather.
The track slowly climbed to a shallow shoulder and then descended to a remote sheep farm. It would be lonely here in the mid winter. Beyond the farm was a small limestone gorge called Ling Gill. It was protected as a small nature reserve. The track now climbed again for almost 2 hours up the moorland flank of the upper reaches of Langstrothdale. The track was part of the Cam High Road, an old drove road. There were some old stone barns and stone sheep fanks in the valley for the hill farmers but it was too remote for farms which were further east down the valley.
The track contined up the flank of the valley on the Cam High Road until it reached a saddle with the adjacent Widdale to the north. I stopped here for my lunch, perched on a stone, and could see across the moors to the distant peaks of the Lake District, some of which were covered in snow. The track continue to contour NE along the hill side on the Cam High Road high above a small deep valley beside Widdale.
Eventually the Cam High Road dropped down the hillside while the Pennine Way continued to contour round the hillside on a small grassy track which was often boggy. I oftened check to see if this was in fact the right route. It was despite the Cam High Road being the obvious route. At Ten End, a collection of small tarns and even boggier terrain, the route reach a shoulder and the large Wensleydale appeared below me, wide, gentle and green. I could easily see the small town of Hawes at its head where a few smaller valleys met.
The descent to Hawes was lovely. There was a series of small paths through fields. At each wall was a small stile or gate. The pastoral landscape was very gentle and soft and there were farms scattered across it. Stone walls dissected it into small parcels of lush pastures all with flocks of sheep grazing. The late afternoon light made the landscape vibrant and rich in features. After an hours descent I was on the outskirts of Hawes.
I wandered through houses and lanes passing many stiles which just consisted of a narrow slit between to large stones. My legs just fitted but a sheep or larger dog would not. I passed the old parish church and then went through an arch and suddenly found myself on the high street of this bustling town. I did not have any accommodation and after turning down a couple of hotels due to their late breakfast found a great B&B with a lively host who could do breakfast at 0700. Before going out for dinner in one of the pubs nearby, I went to the shop to get a packed lunch for the next two days. I really liked Hawes, it reminded me of Hebden Bridge in its friendliness and quaintness.
Pennine Way Day 08. 19 Nov. Hawes to Tan Hill. 28 km. 8 hours. 1140m up. 730m down. I left Hawes at 0730 after a great breakfast cooked by my gracious host at Daleshouse B&B. It was a cold morning and it felt about -5. However it was totally windstill and the newly lit fires in the stone houses sent their plumes straight up. I walked through the town on frosty pavements until I headed north on a tarmac road with previously rich green fields now pastel with frost. The road followed the mature River Ure past a couple of meanders and then headed off through fields to the west where sheep slowly moved out of my way.
The series of pastoral paths led me to the charming hamlet of Hardraw It had an inn and a church and I walked and chatted with the warden as she returned home after opening the church. It was idyllic in Hardraw. The path now left the hamlet and started on a long track up the hill. It took well over 2 hours to ascend the track to the gentle hump which was the top of Great Shunner Fell, 716m. The walk up was easy and the views back down to Wensleydale and the town of Hawes in the middle were some of the most picturesque on the walk.
About half way up a grouse came over to investigate, possibly attracted by red jacket. It made some clucking sounds and I returned them which heightened its curiosity so much that it came ever closer. We toyed with each other for 10 minutes by which time it was just 2 metres away. I got some good photos of it.
To the north of Great Shunner Fell the dull moorland stretched out into the distance, with just a few snowy peaks in the distance to relieve the tedium. I started down it on a path of flag stones and frozen bog. On one flagstone I misjudged the ice and slipped crashing to the ground and bashing my knee. It hurt for a good 5 minutes but I thought it best to walk on. My knees are still a strong point in my 60 plus years and I guard them well, but this was a chink in their defence and I was relatively lucky.
As I descended suddenly a fantastic vista opened up as the tranquil valley of Swaledale wove gently up between the dull moorland to just beneath me. I knew from the map it was there but only once I saw it could I see how lovely it was. It was the stuff of coffee table books or photography courses. I walked down the gentle track, wary of the ice, towards this panorama of green fields and stone walls gently curving up from the wooded river on the valley floor. Farms were scattered and in most fields there was a small barn.
My descent took me down to Twaite, a small village in the upper reaches of Swaledale and arguably the prettiest village on the walk so far. It had a small inn, a few farms and many holiday homes which had been tastefully restored from older houses, and even the village chapel. The inn was closed so I continued through the village, across the fields, over the river on a bridge and then started up the slope which would take me onto the higher hill once again.
I wondered why the Pennine Way went round the three sides of Kisdon Hill rather than just head up the west side to Keld. Well, I soon found that this longer route had some sensational views over the Swaledale valley as it went up the hidden east side of Kisdon Hill. It was wild here and there was no road, just the large mature river in the valley floor and some small barns. The path kept above the valley floor which almost went into a gorge before arriving at the village of Keld.
There was a 5 minute diversion into Keld village where there were signs for a self-service tea room. It too was a delightful village but more austere than Hardraw or Twaite. Its tea room was in the community hall. I went in and there was no one else there but the kettle was still warm. I looked round to see a coal stove warming the room, a great table in the middle with lots of well thumbed coffee table books, a table with used novels for sale and a whole worktop of tupperware boxes filled with cakes. I had three including a Yorkshire Brank. I sat at the table and leafed through pamphlets eating the cake. There was an honesty box to pay for them with the proceeds going towards the upkeep of the hall. What a community spirit Keld had.
One of the leaflets explained the small barns. There were cow’us (cow house) and it showed how the beasts spent the winter in relative luxury with stalls and bedding at one end and the stored hay at the other. I had passed perhaps 50 of these cow’us in Swaledale today and there was more to come. I returned to the path, dropped steeply down to the river and then climbed up through fields and more cow’us to reach the moorland again.
The final section of the day was a shallow climb up the moorland for about 5 km. It was getting on and dusk was coming but I managed to cross the moorland on the relatively soggy path, still frozen in places to reach Tan Hill Inn. It was supposed to be the highest pub in Britain and looking at its lonely setting in the middle of the moor beside a minor road one would hardly doubt it, especially in the dusk at 1630. However inside it was full of character and warmth with a lively bar full of artifacts and beer pumps. I had already booked a room and was pleased it was so tidy and clean with a hot shower. The exterior certainly disguised the bar and room.
Pennine Way Day 09. 20 Nov. Tan Hill to Middleton. 28km. 7.5 hours. 700m up. 970m down. Breakfast in the characterful inn was not until 0800 so I did not get away until 0830. I left the lonely hotel on the bleak moor and headed NE across the bog. The first 5 km were pretty grim as the small narrow path sloshed across the top of the bog. I was frequently up to my ankles and my gaiters did an admirable job keeping the water lying on the sphagnum moss and the black slimy peat out. Not only was the path wet and slow underfoot the scenery was featureless and tedious.
After these dull first 5 km the soggy path crossed the forming stream and met a gravel track. The going was not much easier and I made up for lost time as I blasted down the gentle track for a few km to the first farms surrounded by their green fields. Here the track left the track and went down the same stream as earlier in the day. It followed it for a pleasant km then crossed over to more boggy ground between it and the River Gretna to the north. The route crossed the Gretna on a natural bridge of sandstone. It was big enough for a small tractor. The bridge was aptly named Gods Bridge.
Just after the bridge the route went under the busy A66 and climbed up onto more soggy moorland where it stayed for another 5-6 km. Again there was nothing uplifting or enlightening about it other than it was ful of grouse. I seemed to flush some every few hundred metres. This was private land so I am sure these grouse were farmed to provide shooting. Half way across the moor it dropped down to a shallow dale where there was an estate hut in which shooting clients could dine. A portion of it was an open shelter for walkers so I went in and had lunch here out of the wind.
It was only after this moor, some 18km into the day, that the landscape became more interesting. The route dropped down to Blackton where there were some farms, lush green landscapes and a reservoir. There were some kayakers having lunch under the bridge and surprisingly they had sea kayaks. Despite the my poor time I stopped and chatted with them. They were from Cumbria and were very accomplished. We swapped stories of Scotland’s West Coast and I told them about Norway.
The Pennine Way now left this valley, the floor of which was covered in a string of reservoirs, and climbed up through Hannah’s Meadow. Hannah was a groundbreaking organic farmer on her traditional farm here in the 1970’s and donated her farm as a nature reserve when she retired.
There was another short stretch of moorland after Hannah’s Meadow before the route descended again to another valley, again with a string of reservoirs along it. On each side of the valley floor were green fields and farms with small barns. This cultural landscape inspired me as much as the moor bored me. I crossed the top of Grassholme Reservoir on a bridge and was delighted to see there were perhaps 500 ducks gathered on its waters and a small nature reserve on its south side.
I was getting tired now as the path had been demanding underfoot. However I still had 5 km to go and this involved yet another small climb up onto the moor before the descent to Middleton in Teesdale. It was quite a taxing climb up due to soggy ground but the descent was just what I needed. It was a gently sloping hillside of firm closed cropped grass for 2 km which took me down to the valley.
In the valley I met a road just as dusk fell. I had a km to walk along the pavement which was lit up with street lights. I passed the large sheds of the Middleton livestock market, crossed the River Tees and then entered the town. I had pre booked the Teesdale Hotel in the middle of the town. It was a traditional simple quiet hotel and very reasonable for dinner, bed and breakfast. It was a quite tired and dated inside but my single room was perfunctory and there was a wood fire in the bar come dining room. I was tired due to the day’s terrain but the landscape was a disappointment.
Pennine Way Day 10. Nov 21. Middleton to Dufton. 34km. 9 hours. 750m up. 710m down. The Teesdale Hotel was very good about an early self service breakfast in their kitchen. I got up at 0600, had breakfast and was off by 0700 with the faintest tint of frost and a dull glow to the SE where the unrisen sun was approaching. Middleton was a another nice town, like Hebden Bridge or Hawes, but I did not get a chance to see it in the daylight. I was out of town on the south side of the River Tees before day broke.
The walk for the next 2 hours was absolutely stunning as I sauntered up the river bank. It was quite a large river and there were many pools and small rapids. The pools were full of mallard ducks which swarmed from the river bank as I approached. I frequently wondered through fields of sheep who looked at me hoping I was the farmer bringing them treat. The was a small waterfall called Low Force where the whole river plunged over a 3-4 metre waterfall and then a few km later I came to High Force where the river plunged 20 metres in a spectacular waterfall. I had no idea such a spectacle existed here so was quite astonished to see it.
For the next three hours the walk continued to follow the River Tees as I walked west up to its headwaters. The vegetation went from mixed deciduous forest with some native oaks, then birch and alders woods amd finally an area of junipers before the moorland began. There was a strong wind but it was helping me along as it was an easterly. I went past the last of the farms and then entered a wide gorge with a flood plain and the river meandering along the bottom. There was a shed here and I found some lee to have my lunch. The river cascaded down a further waterfall in a series of flumes just before I reached the dam of the Cow Green Reservoir. Here I left the River Tees and continued west. It had been a marvellous morning.
The next 2 hour section was back to the moorland. It went past a high sheep barn and then followed a track west past another sheep farm at Birkdale. It was a remote house but there was smoke coming out of the chimney so a shepherd must stay here all year. The track then veered north and the Pennine Way had to leave it and continue west down across a soggy slope to the Maize Beck valley, a tributary of the River Tees. I crossed the Beck and then started up a easy grassy slope towards a high flat area called High Cup Plain. I was lucky it was still dry and clear but it was completely overcast and somewhat hazy.
Suddenly the High Cup Plain ended abruptly in a very spectacular gash into the Pennines called High Cup. It was as if a giant horseshoe shaped scoop had carved out a vast U-shaped valley. At the top of the valley were the two jaws which enclosed it, both 2-3 km long. Both jaws on the north and the south side had a rampart of hard sedimentary cliffs which encircled the valley below. Again I had no idea anything like this existed here and was I was astonished as it was one of the most spectacular landscapes I have seen in the UK. On this hazy day one could easily imagine it was like a lost world in Venezuela. I tried to photograph it but could not do it justice and I needed a wider angle lens.
I had to walk round the lip at the top of the northern ramparts for an hour and got some great views down to the valley from the cliff tops. The wind was almost a gale and it was rushing along the cliff top and I had to take care not to get blown over. Once I reached the west end of the north jaw of High Cup the day was almost done. I still had a good hour of descent on a path, then track and finally road to reach the small pastoral village of Dufton.
There was an inn here but it was just serving food and all the other accommodations were holiday cottages, except for one B&B just before the village called Brow Farm, where I had pre booked. There was no one there but a note to me saying just go in and make myself at home. It was just getting dark as I pushed the door open and sat down. I was knackered after a 4 hour morning and 5 hour afternoon stretch, albeit in a spectacular landscape with gentle gradients. The host, Wendy, arrived after I was showered and to save myself walking the near km to the Stag Inn for a meal I asked here if she could put 2 cans of baked beans on 4 bits of toast which she did. She also said a 0615 breakfast tomorrow was OK which delighted me as it was the hardest day on the whole Pennine Way and I needed another early start for it.
Pennine Way Day 11. 22 Nov. Dufton to Alston. 33km. 10 hours. 1160m up. 1050m down. Thanks to Wendy’s early breakfast I was away before 0700 and stumbled down the lane into Dufton in the dark. At the centre of the hamlet I turned north along a lane, and soon after a track. There was just enough light now to fumble my way up the muddy track and onto the open hillside above fields full of sheep. It was an overcast, grey day when it arrived and the tops were all covered in mist.
I soon had to leave the track and follow the soggy path up the open moorland as it climbed steadily on the north side of a ravine eroded by a small stream. As the path climbed the close-cropped grassy pasture slowly gave way to squelchy moorland. I climbed into the damp mist and could quickly see condensation forming on my jacket. The wind also increased and it became cold. Less than 3 hours from leaving I made it up to the top of Green Fell which was just shy of 800m. There were patches of snow around, many firm enough to walk on. I was cold in my shorts now so dug out the overtrousers and battled to put them on in the near gale.
The path now headed north again towards Great Dun Fell. There were sporadic areas of recycled flagstones, but many were covered in wet ice and slippery, so after my slip 3 days ago I was wary and preferred the bog, which was often frozen firm. After half an hour I came across a tarmac road, complete with snow pole markers. I couldn’t believe it. After a few hundred metres the path left the easy road for a km to climb up to Great Dun Fell on snowfields and moorland for a km. As I approached the top in the mist I saw two posts. As I neared the posts they morphed into two large telecom towers, then a warehouse type building appeared and finally a large spherical communications listening “golfball” It must have been an MOD building and hence the road I crossed earlier. There was no sigh of life here which I could make out in the thick mist.
I dropped down off Greaat Dun Fell on the flagstone path and crossed over the bump of Little Dun Fell en route to Crossfell when I came across another hiker. I could tell he was not a rambler by his fell running attire and shoes. We chatted a bit, both surprised to see each other. He was practicing for the gruelling Spine Race; the entire Pennine way in the middle of January. He told me about a bothy in about an hour called Greg’s Hut, which I had previously earmarked for lunch. After a few minutes we parted, each our way, and the mist and near gale quickly took us back to solitude.
The final climb up Cross Fell was up a shallow easy gradient across larger snowfields. Indeed it was just about total snow cover and bright, almost a white out. The wind was strong and the mist heavy, but it was still just above zero as the mist was cold drizzle rather than snow. I passed a couple of huge, tall narrow cairns, perhaps 3 metres high and then reached the summit. The cairn which marked the summit looked like it had been sculptured by Andy Goldsworthy, with a central dome and 4 cardinal walls emanating from it in a flawless artwork.
The descent started quickly from this rounded summit down the north side until it met a very rough track, which the Fell was reclaiming. I followed this track down to the stone bothy which was called Greg’s Hut. it was maintained by the MBA and I was immediately familiar with its perfunctory plastic chairs, sleeping platform and shelf of unwanted food. I had been on the go for over 5 hours so the shelter from the misty, near gale was a godsend.
After the bothy the track became slightly less rough for 3 km as it veered east and then excellent for the next 7 km as it contoured the hill and then descended to Garrigill. It must have been private land as there were many notices. A lot the notices were about moorland management and the necessity of predator traps to help protect the Lapwing and Curlew and other ground nesting birds. Nonsense! these were just a marketable and coincidental benefit from grouse farming. There were a lot of grouse here, and rather than flushing pairs I was flushing squadrons.
Garrigill was a small village in the south Tyne Valley. The day was drawing to a close and everyone was going back into theiir houses. the smell of woodsmoke was filling the air. It looked like it would be a sleepy place even in the height of summer, but now heading towards hibernation is was nearly dormant.
The route followed the road through and beyond the village for a km and then headed off down the side of the South Tyne. It was a marvellous walk and a fine end to the day. Rabbits which had ventured out too early before dusk to gnaw on the lush fields bolted for cover as I approached in the dusk. After a few km I crossed a footbridge across the river to the east bank and went through a series of fields and past a few farms.
I managed to hold off with my headlight until 1630 when the light faded and the path became complicated with numerous stone stiles. I am sure some of this pastoral landscape was very pretty, especially the last km when I could see by torchlight I was walking down a path beneath an avenue of mature beech trees until I got to the Youth Hostel.
The hostel, as I knew, was closed for the season so I marched on into town and followed a small set of footpaths and lanes to Ryder House, where I was booked for the night. I got there just after 1700. I was met by a very friendly couple who run the place and also manage the cafe downstairs. They showed me the room and were curious about my trip being walkers themselves. In the room I sat down on the comfy bed and was pleased the Pennine Way’s toughest day was over. I had some niggles in my ankles, knees and hips and the seed of a day off was sown. When I saw the weather forecast it quickly germinated and grew. That evening I went to the nearby Victoria Inn for a curry. If I spend another evening here I will not be going back.
23 Nov. Alston. Weather and Rest Day. The forecast was for heavy rain, even a flood warning. So I decided to have a day off confident I would be able to rearrange the next two bookings during mid week in November. So I had a lazy 0830 breakfast in the cafe downstairs smugly watching the rain pour down outside. After breakfast I went up to my room, lay on the bed and snoozed until lunch. I then rearranged my next two stays and, based on the forecast, built in a day off in Greenhead and then a day off in Bellingham. By the time I got to Byrness after them a settled spell should have arrived to allow me to cross the Cheviot Hills into Scotland.
In the afternoon I had a small wonder around Alston in the drizzle. I was astounded to see this pretty market town sat at an elevation of over 300m, It was both a market town and important mining town, with many old lead and zinc mines in the area. However once the price of the metals dropped 100 years ago this petered out. There is still a working coalmine here extracting high quality anthracite. In the evening I went to the Cumberland Inn for a meal.
Pennine Way Day 12. 24 Nov. Alston Greenhead. 29 km. 8 hours. 800m up. 1030m down. After a great pause at Alston I had breakfast at 0730, said my goodbyes to the warm hosts, Gina and Rees, and set off at 0800. I was a bit fearful for the day as everybody, not least the guide book, had slated it and warned me how wet it was underfoot. I wondered back through Alston to the bridge over the South Tyne and then found the Pennine Way footpath again.
It was a great path through interesting pastoral countryside with fields full of sheep. Indeed the fields along the South Tyne had the most sheep I had seen all trip. I think the ewe were all concentrated in these fields so the tups (rams) could service them easily. Most ewes had the tell tale dye on their rumps, but the tups were still actively chasing them. As I entered the field the ewes often ran away, while the tups usually approached, either to see If I had food or more likely to assert their authority. Some were huge, well over 100kg, and I was wary not to turn my back on them in case they charged.
After a few km I crossed the road and headed up to Whitney Castle, which was not a castle but an old Roman fort called Epiacum. Below it was the old Roman road called the Maiden Way which I would follow on occasion through the day. Epiacum must have been an important garrison in the first century and lying just to the south of Hadrian’s Wall it was probably used to supply a rotation of troops to guard it.
After Epiacum I descended to the road passing a farm with at least 100 cattle in a hard-based, but muddy, courtyard full of hay feeders. The farmer had no option as the pastures were so soggy and saturated the cows would have completely destroyed a field in just a morning, pummelling it into a quagmire. Below the road I was back into the fields of ewes and the South Tyneside Railway line. It had previously been closed down but a short section of it now was reopened as a tourist line. I reached the caravan park then hamlet of Slaggyford, crossed the road again to the west side.
After more viaducts for the old railway line to cross streams the path left the fields and went up onto the moor. It was dull as ever, wet underfoot and covered in rushes. Thankfully it was just two small 2-3 km sections with a wooded stream between them. On the first section a tall strapping woman caught me up and we walked together for a few hundred metres. Again from her attire I knew she was training for The Spine Race. It had taken her 2 ½ days to come up from Horton, while it had taken me 5 ½ days to do the same! She soon marched off with metre long strides up a drier bit of the moorland track which was on the Roman Maiden Way.
The path now dropped down to a very pleasant 4 km section of fields and stream valleys. The fields here were again full of ewes which had obviously been brought down from the moorland so they could be serviced by the tups who paraded around the fields, about 50 ewes in each, with a packet of dye strapped to their chests. One of the most beautiful sections was the Hartley Burn valley where the alder and beech lined stream wove among green fields full of sheep. I noticed all the streams on the map were “burns” rather than “becks” now.
From the pretty Hartley Burn valley I noow just had one final section of Moorland to go over. It was called Blenkinsopp Common. It was only 3-4 km but felt longer. I was obviously what gave this day its bad name as there was nothing to commend Blenkinnsopp. It was very wet and soggy and I frequently had to jump from bulrush tussock to bulrush tussock across a mire of waterlogged sphagnum moss. The gradients were shallow, which meant the water did not drain away, and the unduations did little to inspire. As dusk approached, I reached the crest of this trudge and started down the other side quickly reaching fields again.
I now to a convoluted tour to the east before reaching the busy A69 road. In this late dusk all the vehicles had their lights on and I could not make out their colours anymore. There was a lucky break in the traffic which allowed me to run across. On the north side I ignored the official Pennine Way and went down a muddy lane peppered with farm gates to reach a half km of the old abandoned A69 which took me to the Greenhead Hotel at nearly 1700. I was booked into the bunkhouse but the hotel upgraded me to a room in the hotel at little extra cost. It was very friendly and full of Geordie accents. I was quite tired but not enough to warrant a day off tomorrow which I had already arranged. Rather than mess with my future booking again I just decided to have a rest day here ad take the expected boredom on the chin.
25 Nov. Greenhead Rest Day. The weather was not as bad as the forecast said and it now seemed the good weather of tomorrow would not materialize and instead I would get the remnants of a tropical storm. I felt guilty sitting in the hotel writing and reading while it was just grey, but clement weather outside. However logistically I had to have today off and another at Bellingham. This would have the the partially intended benefit of me crossing in the Cheviot Hills into Scotland in a cold but clear forecast towards the end of the week.
Pennine Way Day 13. Nov 26. Greenhead to Bellingham. 38 km. 11 Hours. 1240m up. 1260m down. The helpful Greenhead Hotel made me a packed breakfast and a packed lunch too, so I could leave at 0700. It was dark once I left the hamlet and wandered up the lane to the historic ruins of Thirlwall Castle. In the early dawn it had a sinister Transylvanian atmosphere. With my torch still on I stumbled up some short slopes until I reached Hadrian’s Wall.
For the next 13-14 km the route followed Hadrian’s Wall. It was a magnificent section of the walk. The Pennine Way seemed to run along the crest of a natural fault with a steep drop down to the north side and easy grassy slopes down the south side of the crest. It was easy to see why the Romans thought this would be the best place to build a wall. The wall itself was once 4-5 metres high with frequent milecastles, or small fortified towers. However, now it was just a metre high at the most as stones had fallen away or been taken for building projects. The stump of the wall was about a metre wide. In many places it had been repaired with lime mortar, but there were places in the centre of the wall where it looked like the original Roman lime mortar was still in place.
The path went along the crest of this natural ridge as it undulated from peak to saddle. In some of the saddle there were small roads to cross and in another was the famous and much photographed Sycamore Gap, where the single tree grew right beside the metre high wall. There were frequent natural lakes at the base of the natural ridge. It was too far to see what types but there was plenty of wildfowl on these lakes. Time flew by and after so 4 hours of walking, I reached the point where I would leave the wall and turn north, but it had not felt like 4 hours as there was some interest over every peak.
So just before Housesteads Fort, the best preserved Roman Fort on the entire wall I bade goodbye to it and started across the soggy fields which were so covered in rushes it felt I was on the moorland. It was drizzling now and I past a herd of hardy cattle eeking some sustenance from this bleak land. I passed a lonely farm on the edge of the moor and then went into the forest where I hoped to find somewhere to eat my lunch. The luxury forestry track I was on veered to the NW but I had to go to the NE on a dreadful footpath. It was a narrow soggy slot between trees which had been pummeled by walkers so that in many places it was knee deep bog. It was very slow going to pick a route avoiding the deeper bogs.
I found some shelter from the rain under trees in the spruce forest to pause. I have been going for 6 hours non stop and was surprised at how untired I was. After lunch the horrific path continued as I hopped from tuft to tuft, occasionally dragging myself through black slime which stuck to my shoes and gaiters like tar. It took an hour before I was back on a hard surface again following a series of forestry tracks, some grassing over, but all firm underfoot. After a good hour of them I got to Ladyhill which was a remote a house as one gets and it seemed to be a falconry centre.
The path soon left the confines on the spruce forest and crossed wet moorland going over a shallow ridge and descending down to the delightful Warks Burn which was a large stream lined with deciduous trees like beech and alder. It climbed again past Ash Farm and then dropped down to a lonely cluster of a few houses at Low Stead. Dusk was well underway now and I would have put my torch on were it not I had to follow an asphalt lane for 2 km which went east and then north. After 2 km the Pennine Way continued north while the lane veered NE. It was dark now at 1630 and I had to get the torch out. I looked at the map and saw I had a dilemma. I could either follow the Pennine Way in the dark and see nothing as I crossed fields and moorland in difficult conditions or follow the lane for perhaps just an extra km and have it easy underfoot. Being the purist, I followed the Pennine Way.
I went down across the field to the Houxty Burn which was 40 cm deep and 5 metres across. I could not see a bridge and the path seemed to ford the river. I scoured the burn upstream and downstream. My feet were already wet and still covered in boggy slime so I waded the burn, thereby washing most of it off. I climbed up a soggy path to a muddy farmhouse where the lights were on. From the map I could see it was aptly named Shitlington Hall.
For the next hour I was in a small bubble of light with illuminated raindrops falling in front of it. I followed the preset route on my GPS watch never really knowing where I was, or even the landscape I was passing through as I climbed up a series of fields to a mast and then sloshed down the saturated Ealinghamrigg moorland on the north side until I got to the B6320 road. I was almost there. All I had to do was follow the road north for half an hour until I crossed the bridge over the North Tyne River. There were a few cars and I was wary of them spotting me so retreated well onto the grassy verge as they approached, but I was pleased to see than even in the heavy rain they spotted my reflective items and head torch.
After crossing the bridge, I turned west and after 200 metres came to the Riverdale Hotel. I had been on the go for 11 hours but could have done more. The hotel was sedate with perhaps 10 guests and I was easily the youngest. They show me a large comfortable room, cheap in this midweek offseason and I settled it. Then the tiredness hit my and my legs especially which felt wooden. The only hitch was that there was no heating or hot water as the fickle wood pellet boiler had automatically switched off and no one had noticed. I could not have a shower. The apologies were half hearted so I went into the formal dining room with linen tablecloths in my muddy boots, shorts and stinking trekking vest and shirt. The boiler was fixed later but the water did not heat up so I had a dirty dive.
Nov 27. Bellingham Weather and Rest Day. In the morning the water was piping hot so I showered and washed a few clothes. I was still tired from yesterday so after a splendid breakfast went back to my room overlooking the cricket ground and the North Tyne river and had a snooze until midday.
In the afternoon I wandered the half km into the town. It was a small rural town with a few hotels around the square. There was a small co-op, some other shops, garages and a town hall with a lovely clock tower. There were also 2 churches. It was perhaps closer to a village than a town. In the summer tourists must fill the hotels but now in November the main street was full of the mud splattered pickups and landrovers of farmers. Indeed while I had a sandwich at the cafe I overheard two conversations about sheep. I bought some sandwiches for tomorrow and returned to the hotel as the forecast rain started.
Pennine Way Day 14. Nov 28. Bellingham to Byrness. 26 km. 7 hours. 680m up. 650m down. As the accommodating hotel allowed me an early breakfast I was way by 0745. It was supposed to be raining heavily in the morning but there was none, not even drizzle, and a patchy atmospheric mist hing over sections of the river. I walked up to the town where some 50 teenagers in uniform were gathering for the bus to arrive to whisk them off to school, probably in Hexham. I left the square, dropped down a minor road to the east, crossed a small stream on a old stone bridge and then walked up the road for nearly a km to the farm track I would eventually take. 2 people stopped and chatted with me and many more said good morning with an contagious smile. I left Bellingham with some affection due to the friendliness of the place.
Once off the minor road I followed a farm track for another km to Blakelaw farm and then climbed onto the soggy moorland. It had obviously rained a lot as the rivulets were full and the surface of the moorland awash. I headed north for a good 3 km across this dull, and now familiar, undulating landscape towards the green fields around the grey Hareshaw House farm buildings nestled among a windbreak of conifers. I was not sure if the house was lived in or not but it was maintained. In the fields were flocks of sheep and a collection of 5 horses, all of different size and pedigree.
After Hareshaw Farm the route crossed a few more fields to reach the minor B6320 road before it gently climbed back onto the moors again. This moorland, Troughend Common was largely heather clad and slightly drier than its rush covered relative earlier in the day. There were many grouse and I also flushed out a few snipe as I walked across it on a narrow path with the overhanging heather scraping my gaiters. I was surprised to see so many spruce saplings which must have self seeded from the enormous Kielder Forest to the north and west. The path was small and slow underfoot as it crossed this moor, dropped down into a small damp valley and then climbed up into the Kielder Forest. As I crossed the moor showers of cold rain, almost sleet, swept in from the east like a lace curtain in a breeze. I could notice the temperature was dropping. However there were also some bright patches and snippets of blue sky. The forecast stable weather was perhaps just starting to make inroads.
Once in the forest I continued NW along wide, hard forestry tracks with spruce and larch plantations on each side. It was easy to stride out in the forest, covering distance twice as quickly as sloshing across the soggy moorland. Occasionally there was some birdsong but it was very difficult to see where it was coming from. There was about 6-7 km of this easy walking along the tracks in the woods before a gradual descent brought me down to the Rede Valley. The River Rede was swollen and in spate from last night’s rain. It was not only rushing down the riverbed but through the boles of the alders and willows which lined the river bank. There was a lovely easy path up beside the river for 2 km which crossed and recrossed on bridges until I got to a small church, a single story chapel really, beside the A68.
I crossed the road and went up to The Byrness where I had pre booked. It was once a small hotel, but now was just doing bed and breakfast. Catherine let me in to the solid Victorian villa and showed me a room upstairs. I then had a coffee in the kitchen with her and we chatted for a good hour. After my shower we chatted again in the kitchen while she made a great jackfruit curry. She was a well read and practical lady who had raised a family here and conservation was easy. After my meal I wrote and then watched some television. The forecast cold, clear, crisp weather was arriving outside so for the next two days the Cheviots await and I will have to find somewhere to camp among them. I had previously posted all my camping gear and 2 days food to Bellingham.
Pennine Way Day 15. Nov 29. Byrness to Windy Gyle Camp. 21 km. 7 hours. 900m up. 600m down. Catherine at Bryness kindly made an early breakfast for me so I could get away by 0730. It was cold outside, perhaps -5 or -6, but it was completely still and clear, with just the brightest stars still visible in the unfolding dawn. My first task was to climb Byrness Hill, up a slippery gap between the trees. The route was very churned up and it looked like a few feral scrambler bikes had contributed to this. It took half an hour to emerge from the trees and gain the bare rocky summit to watch the orange hue of sunrise unfold over the hills, which were covered in frost.
From this top I turned north and followed the whale back of a gentle undulating ridge for some 5-6 km. At last I had a view and could look down to the spruce forests surrounding the Catcleugh Reservoir on my west side, and the lonely Cottonshope Valley on the east side. Along the crest of the shallow ridge plenty of self-seeded spruce were growing giving the landscape a “big country” feel. Most of the boggy sections here were quite hard with ice and I could walk with ease across the landscape, only occasionally sinking in. I could feel water leaking into my boots however which did not bode well for tonight.
At the source of the River Coquet the in a saddle called Coquet Heat the path turned east and went towards Chew Green. Here ridges in the close cropped pasture were tell-tale signs of what was once an old Roman Fort. Even the entrance and some of the internal structures were evident. I was surprised that the Romans would have built a fort in such an inhospitable, place but it did allow easy access to the flatter Border lands of today.
From Chew Green the path veered north again, crossed Dere Street, the ancient Roman Road between York and Scotland, as it wove along the crest of the ridge for another 5km. The walking was tedious underfoot and would have been very wet if not partially frozen but the views to the north across the plains and ridges of the Scottish Borders were sensational. In this light the low lying land was opaque or even misty while row upon row of small ridges were dark against the hazy valleys. The Eildon Hills in particular stood tall and proud. I came across a small herd of feral goats here with some of the venerable males goat having nearly 50 cm horns and shaggy beards.
Just after the goats I came to the emergency refuge at Yearning Saddle. I went it and was surprised how warm it was inside. There were benches around the perimeter and enough space on the floor for 3-4 people to sleep. I had only been going for about 4 hours and had wanted to get much further, so I just stopped here for lunch before moving on towards Windy Gyle or even beyond.
As I walked though I realized I wanted to set up the tent and collect water before darkness fell. So after crossing Beefstand Hill and casting my gaze up Windy Gyle in front of me it seemed prudent to camp somewhere in the saddle between the two. On the south side of the saddle a small ridge formed between two ravines, which I was sure would each have water. I walked down to the saddle and then some 5 minutes down the ridge to find a flat grassy shoulder where I could put up the tent. It was soon up, so I went down to the ravine and got 2 litres of water and crawled into the tent at 1630 as it was getting dark.
The temperature was plummeting as I put all my clothes on, 5 layers on top alone, changed into dry socks and crawled into my barely adequate sleeping bag. My hands were cold so the blog would get postponed. If fact it got so cold in the tent I did not even bother having my freeze dried dinner but opted for some cereal bars instead. I retreated into my sleeping bag fully by 1730 to try and preserve the heat and intended to fall asleep but dozed for the next 5 hours until I finally fell asleep for the night. The cold was stinging my face and I could feel it creeping through the sleeping bag. I reckoned it was at least minus 5 outside.
Pennine Way Day 16. Nov 30. Windy Gyle Camp to Kirk Yetholm. 22 km. 7 hours. 840m up. 1190m down. I woke early at about 0600. The tent was covered in frost, inside and out. Even my thin liner socks which were just a trifle damp last night were completely stiff and my boots were solid. I put them in a plastic bag and brought them into the sleeping bag to try and thaw them out. It felt as cold as anything I had camped in earlier this year in Nepal. I decided I would not get up until the sun hit the tent in a couple of hours by which time my boots might have thawed a bit. Eventually I got up at 0900, put on my still frozen boots, shook as much frost off the tent as possible and set off at 1000. My water container, a 2 litre platypus was just about frozen solid which was irritating as I would have to carry nearly 2 extra kg today. In retrospect I would have been far better staying in the Yearning Refuge Hut as it was just 1½-2 hours behind me and I could have got an earlier start from the comfort of the hut.
There was a large herd of feral goats grazing on the frost covered grass on the slopes up to Windy Gyle with about 100 animals. Most had wandered up the slope to catch the early morning sun but a few still grazed in the shade. I passed close enough to smell their pungent,rancid feta odour before starting up the gentle slope to Windy Gyle. On the summit was a large cairn where I stopped to shed some clothing as I still had my trousers and 5 layers on top on.
Again there were some great views to the NW into the Scottish Borders and SE down across the rolling hilltops and valleys in Northumberland. It took a couple of hours to walk across this glorious ridge in the windstill sunny midday and then climb up to the shoulder on the west side of the Cheviot. Here, there was the option to climb up the wallowing whale back of a gentle lump to the summit of the Cheviot, which was not part of the Pennine Way as it was a couple of km off the Border ridge on the English side. It would take at least an hour and the view was said to be poor due to the flat plateau, so as it was nearly 1400 and I still had 13-14 km to go I decided to skip it.
I turned NW and sauntered along the very frosty ridge towards Auchope Cairn and then descended more steeply above the deep corrie to the north call Hen Hole, a steep west facing glacial gouge in the ancient volcanic rock which was the head of the College Valley. At the bottom of the descent I reached Auchope Refuge Hut which was very similar to yesterday’s at Yearning Saddle. I Stopped here to have a late lunch which was just a packet of peanuts. The platypus container was still frozen with over a litre of ice.
From the hut I started on the final section up a larger knoll which stood proud on the ridge called The Schil. It was an easy climb up the line of the border fence to the summit. By the time I got there an orange hue was starting to cover the landscape as the sun neared the horizon. Just down the slopes to the NW of The Schil the Pennine Way split into two, with a high route and a low route. As it would be getting dark soon I decided on the low route into the Halterburn Valley. I contoured round the side of Black Hag to a saddle and then dropped into the head of the Halterburn Valley. I could see someone running behind me. He soon caught me up and we chatted a bit about the Spine Race he was training for, before he sped off hoping to beat the dusk.
I gently lumbered on down the head of the valley as the sun was setting both on the day and my Pennine Way. It did not take long to get to the isolated green fields at Old Halterburn where I met a track. From there I fumbled on without a torch with icy patches on the track reflecting in the moonlight. I had to detour around a farm on a path where I finally got my head torch out before reaching the tarmac lane. I had just started down the lane when an otter ran across the road bridge in front of me. I was surprised to see it so close in the torch light. It dived back into the small burn on the other side of the bridge. It must have lived off frogs as surely there were no fish in this small burn.
From the otter I walked the rest of the remaining 3 km to Kirk Yetholm in the dark down the lane. I passed one small hamlet where a few lights were on but generally I was in a deserted dark solitude in a bubble of light from my torch. There were patches of ice on the road and I took a few slides but never fell. It would be ironic to fall in the last metres and I was wary, especially on the descent to Kirk Yetholm. I walked into the street light of the village green and there on the far side were the welcoming lights of The Border Hotel. It was now early evening and I went in to enquire about a room. Within 15 minutes I was soaking my weary bones in a hot bath and then went down for dinner. I was tired after last night but went over and chatted to Raymond, who had run past me a couple of hours ago, and his wife, who were also staying.
The Pennine Way had been a good walk, not a classic in my opinion as the landscape was quite similar from day to day and the moors were really quite tedious. It was the the pastoral cultural landscape which I found most interesting and there was plenty of that to offset the moors. It was a harder walk than I imagined and I think much of that was the pressure to get away early and try and get to the next B&B before dusk. I am sure it would be much more pleasant in June, but I needed a walk in November and this seemed suitable, which it was. If I had to camp rather than use the often quaint B&Bs it would have been a real challenge.