I love the Pennine Way because… It’s England’s oldest and toughest National Trail
When it comes to the UK’s long-distance trails, the Pennine Way is the original, the classic, the daddy, the oldest, roughest and toughest of them all. Okay, it's no longer the longest, but it’s generally agreed to be the most demanding partly because of the small matter of 268 miles, which takes most people more than two weeks. But also those broad Pennine summits, as opposed to the sharper up-and-downs in say the Lake District, mean if the clouds start crying you’re kind of stuck up there. It’s also a bit boggy in places (though not nearly a bad as its unfair reputation) and topographical befuddlement isn’t entirely unknown. The Pennine Way is a proper challenge, a quintessential British adventure, right in the middle of the country – yet it can feel miles from anywhere.
I love the Pennine Way because… Alfred Wainwright hated it
I won't be taking parenting tips from him, but I've nothing against Wainwright. After all, we have so much in common: he loved the outdoors and wrote some peerless, popular guidebooks. I love the outdoors and have written some averagely selling guidebooks with mixed reviews. Any road, you can’t help but chuckle at the pounding the Pennine Way gave him – he was particularly unlucky with the weather. “You won’t come across me anywhere along the Pennine Way,” writes Wainwright at the end of 1968's /Pennine Way Companion/. “I’ve had enough of it.” His misadventures included being rescued from sinking into a bog on Black Hill, a lot of rain and a gale that, “so shrivelled some of the body organs necessary for a full and enjoyable life that I feared they were perish forever”. He adds: “I hope you enjoy it, I really do. In a way I feel sorry for you.”
He was however in good enough spirits to shout a half pint of ale in Kirk Yetholm’s Border Hotel to any Wayfarer who completed the trail in one go, which cost him around £15,000. Thankfully the pub still offers gratis halves.
I love the Pennine Way because… Of its heady sense of history
The footpath's formation is directly linked to 1932’s Mass Trespass – this country's greatest ever show of Gandhi-inspired civil disobedience – on Kinder Scout, a summit appropriately traversed within the first few hours.
Inspired by a 1935 letter from two American girls wondering if Britain and anything like the Appalachian Trail, journalist and future Ramblers secretary Tom Stephenson saw the “lonely entrancing” Pennines as the ideal place for the country’s first long-distance trail. It’s hard to imagine now, but many upland areas were legally out of bounds to us outdoor types, despite being public land. A groundswell of frustration had led to the Mass Trespass and Stephenson hoped to use the Pennine Way idea to crowbar open the moorlands of the Peak District and South Pennines. The Pennine Way was officially opened on 24 April 1965 and two thousand walkers gathered on Malham Moor for the occasion. That was 50 years ago this April – look out for a four-part BBC documentary this spring.
I love the Pennine Way because… Of all the moors
It was only while living far away in a much hotter country that I realised how uniquely British moors are. And I missed them. We have 75 per cent of the world’s heather moorland here. It’s not strictly a natural landscape – the pesky Neolithics cut down all the trees (though they’re hardly alone in that) and altered the ecosystem forever – but it’s still very much a part of our eco-cultural heritage. I love the pastel hues, the amorphous shapes, the sense of wildness, the big skies full of melodrama and that vague, indiscernible sense of foreboding, but also untamable wildness, that moors have.
I love the Pennine Way because… Of the greatest view in England
High Cup is the greatest view in England. Okay, I’m a bit biased, but the apocalyptic chasm is criminally underrated. If it wasn’t directly opposite the Lake District it would be considerably more famous – which, as its free of hyperbole and crowds, makes it all the more of a treat for Wayfarers. I don’t want to hype it any further because it might ruin the surprise. Put simply, everyone must experience it.
I love the Pennine Way because… Of The Cheviots
Talking of which. The Cheviots are scandalously underrated too – chiefly because they’re not really near anything. They’re big, remote hills, wild enough to be home to feral goats and refuge huts. You’ll hardly see anyone else up here. Blustery bliss.
I love the Pennine Way because… Of Hadrian's Wall
It's a bit greedy of the Pennine Way to include Hadrian's Wall, what with it having its own National Trail and all. More cheekily still, the eight miles of calf-screeching, World Heritage-listed ancient architecture it includes, is the very best of the Wall. The Romans built their masterpiece of military engineering along the crest of the epic Whin Sill outcrop and it's one of the finest Roman remnants in Europe.
I love the Pennine Way because… Of Malham
“I won’t know for sure if Malhamdale is the finest place there is until I have died and seen heaven,” wrote mega-popular author Bill Bryson, a former Dales resident, “but until that days comes it will certainly do.” As well as the nearby Gordale Scar, clearly sculpted by a Norse god in a very foul mood, Malham Cove is a natural, 80-metre, limestone wall reaching up behind the village like a tsunami. Above both the Cove and the Scar is the best example of limestone pavement you're ever likely to see. In fact you may have already seen it in Harry Potter flick /The Deathly Hallows Part 1/, if you’re into that kind of thing.
I love the Pennine Way because... Of Greg’s Hut
Cross Fell is rightly notorious. It’s the highest point in England outside the Lake District and the coldest place in the country, according to the Met Office. Even its name hints you're not welcome – a cross was once erected here by St Augustine to drive away devils (which doesn’t seem to have worked). Thank goodness then for the sanctuary of Greg's Hut, not far from the summit and a welcome place to rest, luncheon or stay the night – I’ve done all three. Named after John Gregory, a mountaineer who died in the Alps in 1968, this bothy is a Pennine Way institution.
I love the Pennine Way because… Of all these things too
Adorable villages and small towns such as Hawes, Dufton, Thwaite and others you’ve probably never heard of but may never want to leave. Tan Hill Inn (the highest pub in the country), dashing Swaledale, redoubtable Pen-y-ghent, wild-flower strewn meadows, Brontë Country and four spectacular waterfalls, including England’s highest above ground (Hardraw Force), plus High Force and Low Force and snarling Cauldron Snout. The fact so many authors – the Brontës, William Wordsworth, Charles Dickens and Charles Kingsley – have been inspired by parts of the route. And, lastly, the Border Hotel, Kirk Yetholm. I guarantee that half pint will be the best you’ve ever tasted.
I love the Pennine Way because… It’s not as popular as it was
Lured, presumably, by newer, fancier-sounding (but inevitably more crowded and less wild) walking trails, the Pennine Way isn’t as popular as it once was. In its heyday there were no other National Trails of course. But ironically – and perhaps simply because some of the crowds have moved on – it’s in better shape than ever. New flagstones (not too many, only over the soggiest bits) mean the Way isn’t the bog-fest it was in Wainwright’s day. Signposting is better than ever, too. Which is all excellent news for the rest of us. Now is /the best/ time to walk the Pennine Way. Its 50th birthday is also its second heyday.