In the shadow of WW2, in 1938, Wainwright embarked on a long distance walking expedition from Settle Railway Station to Hadrian’s Wall and back, following a circular and fell-laden route. In 2017 Mrs W & I walked the first half / Eastern side from Settle to Hexham. Family commitments prevented us from completing the route in 2018/19, but in August (2019) we agreed that I should be able to complete the route solo, knowing that our chance to walk it together was not likely to present itself before 2024. By then I will be happy and ready to walk it again.
The second half (of the PJ) was the section I was most looking forward to because of the variety of hill terrains it encompasses including an ambition to carry out a linear walk over the Howgill Fells. I did not stick strictly to the Pennine Journey route, diverting onto the Pennine Way when this seemed more attractive.
Day 1 (31 km) Hadrian’s Wall to Rowfoot
The night stops for the whole six days all hinged on stopping as close to the foot of Cross Fell as possible for that section of the walk, and for this reason my journey commenced from Housestead Fort on Hadrian’s Wall, close to Twice Brewed (entertaining given my new profession)
An 0815 start meant I had the trail to myself for an hour, but after this I found this section of the Hadrian’s Wall Path to be the most popular LDP for actual long distance walkers I’ve ever walked on. I passed a pair of backpackers at least once every 15 minutes. The undulating terrain of this part of Northumberland was both unusual and attractive.
The wall was more distinct in some places than others, but I was never without the it by my side for long. I appeared to be walking in a corridor of sunshine, with rain clearly visible over the hills to the south and the plain to the North.
As soon as I departed from the ‘Wall Path’ onto the Pennine Journey / Way route the number of fellow walkers dropped away to zero and the quality of the ground underfoot went from firm to boggy. I bog-trotted for 3-4 miles before diverting off the path to my pre-arranged night stop in the pub garden of the very helpful and hospitable Wallace Arms. A true local and serving the rather fine Rivet Catcher from the GNEB Company.
I really appreciated this because the inaccuracy of my Garmin Mapping software had meant that I’d covered nineteen miles by the end of the day, not the fifteen miles I’d planned for. That’s a lot of miles with full kit when you are nearer to 50 than 25!
Day 2 (25 km, flat) Rowfoot to Garrigill
Today saw me following the South Tyne river upstream to its source near Garrigill. My starting point in Rowfoot was just 100 m away from the railbed which forms part of the Pennine Cycle way. I was not complaining about having a day on the level after the unexpected length of day one. The South Tyne valley was verdant and the heather on the higher slopes in full flower.
It was odd to walk a section of path which I had cycled back in 2014 . The flat route meant an excellent pace and I reached Alston by lunchtime. It was then just another four miles to Garrigill.
Here I camped behind the village hall, an excellent spot were it not for all the midges which descended that evening. Sadly the George & Dragon is currently closed. Not all was lost though as I had invested in a couple of cans of Adnams ‘Late Hopped Lager’ en route. Back when I lived in Cambridgeshire all of Adnams beers I tried were uninspiring. I wonder if they have taken on a new Head Brewer in the last few years because both this and Ghost Ship are far more characterful than their offerings ca. 15 years ago.
Day 3 (25 km, 970m) Garagill to Dufton
This was the big day which everything had been building to. I was striding out of the village by 0815 and heading up and up on the Pennine Way, which at this point is a grouse shooters track. The day was dry and clear, if rather windy. The views were fabulous.
As it approached 1130 it felt like it was going to rain and the wind had become very strong, in part due to my higher altitude. A review of the map showed that it I pushed on hard I should get to the Bothy called ‘Greg’s Hut’ within 10 minutes, so I upped the pace.
The rain never came, but my hunger came on with a vengeance, so since I had shelter I pulled out my stove and emergency rice sachet and got cooking. This is a good time for an aside to sing the praises of my stove. For the last 18 years I’ve used an MSR petrol stove, but for this trip I just wanted something to make a brew in the mornings. After a really helpful chat with a friend I surfed the Alpkit webshop for a gas stove. Light and simple was the plan. I opted for Koro stove (125 g) and a 650 ml titanium cooking cup (98 g). It’s a fabulous combination, if you want to know more see my review.
The wind had reached Force 7-8 by the time I got to the top of Cross Fell which was exhilarating. I continued on the Pennine Way route rather than drop straight to the Eden Valley, one of the big benefits of being able to pack light is that it is easier to take in more summits. Eventually I dropped into Dufton and with tent pitched, I headed to The Stag to hunt down some dinner. I cannot recommend this village pub more highly, it’s clearly run by someone with imagination and inspired taste. Oakham’s (who claim to be the first UK brewery to have made a single hopped Citra beer) Scarlet Macaw was on the bar and the food menu looked (and was) very good. I felt a deep need to boost my vegetable intake so I opted to start with their roast garlic, sweet potato and red pepper soup. Truly this was the finest soup I’ve ever tasted, up there with Bouillabaisse. To finish the elderflower ice cream was also to die for too. Thanks Chef.
Day 4 (21 km, 570 m) Dufton to Teesdale (Langdon Beck)
I had chance to study the map in detail the night before and saw that my hastily planned route for the day (continuing along the PJ to Brough) was not very inspiring. I was due to rendezvous with Mrs W at the end of Day 4 so I had some flexibility to be impulsive. So I figured that going up High Cup Nick and across to Teesdale would be more fun than a valley walk. This is the big beauty of walking with all your kit and having nothing booked, you are free to be spontaneous. It was raining as I woke and a check of the forecast suggested the heaviest of rain should pass by 0900 so it would make sense to get some more sleep and start a little later. With no schedule to meet and a committee of one to convince, why not. The cloud was covering the tops, but I got up to around 500 m before being enveloped.
Sadly I did not get to see High Cup Nick, but I did not have to descend too far down the other side before I got views again. The Upper Tees Valley is very bleak but there was majesty in the river which was running in spate.
The size of the dam at the foot of Cow Green reservoir took me by surprise.
A nice open fire greeted me at the Langdon Beck Hotel where I waited for Mrs W & Junior who bought me some truly excellent Fish and Chips in Middleton then ferried us back over the Pennines to Garsdale ready for me to start day five. We wild camped in the van in the station overflow car park, the only station I’ve ever known to have resident donkeys.
Day 5 (19 km / 1010 m) Garsdale to Calders Summit (Howgill Fells)
The morning was uninspiring and provided challenging navigation. It tracked over almost featureless open hillside which was being used for grazing. I commiserated with the sheep for their poor quality grazing and very wet feet. I like to think I’m a good map-reader but it was invaluable to have a GPS for this section. It took until lunchtime to get to drier ground and I found a welcome barn to shelter in for lunch and treated myself to a brew. Brewing up is so easy with the new stove and it is easy to dig out from a lightly packed bag. Benefits begetting benefits. At this point I should confessed for a prayed for the clouds to lift, because an anticipated highlight of this walk was to walk over the tops of the Howgill’s without having to turn around. As I rounded the hillside and was within sight of Cautley Spout, and my decision point between the high and low routes into Sedbergh, the sun burned through, the temperature rose and the clouds lifted. It was now five pm. With a smile in my face and thankfulness in my heart I motored up the side of Cautley Spout heading for The Calf.
As I reached the final ascent to The Calf then cloud came, went and then returned. At this point I decided to take advantage of the freedom of having all my kit with me, no firm plans to have to comply with and having the casting vote in my committee of one when it came to route. I found a spring on the col between The Calf and Calders, filled my water bottles and pitched my tent on the summit of Calders. From here I sat and enjoyed the view between brief spells of cloud cover and the freedom of being away from ‘civilisation’ in such a quiet and glorious location
Day 6 (32 km, 800m) Calders Summit to Chapel le Dale
It was fabulous to wake to a summit free of people, noise and cloud. I was woken by the sunrise
But then grabbed another hours sleep before getting up. Because of my impromptu stop I had already eaten my breakfast and lunch for that day as a substitute for the previous days dinner. This seemed an excellent reason to decamp to a cafe in Sedbergh for breakfast. I can certainly recommend the breakfast rolls in Smatt’s Duo Cafe. It proved big enough to supply all the fuel I needed for both breakfast and lunch. By 1000 I was heading out of Sedbergh to Dent, the route mostly following the river Dee. I arrived in Dent to find it buzzing with tourists and the temperature in the high 20’s. It had been good to be in dappled shade for the morning. I pondered lunch over a pint of Wantsum 1381 and decided a further half of the same would work well for weary feet. In 1381 the peasants may have been revolting, but the beer itself was very good! Then it was time to brave the heat, I’m not complaining really, and I climbed out of Deepdale and up onto the end of Whernside. I was retracing my route from January 2018, but without the snow this time. The Pennine Journey route goes straight up the Northern ridge rather than around it to the tourist path. I’d not noticed before that there are tarns on this side of the fell. With the Dales being based on Limestone, tarns are unusual. I enjoyed a break next to one before heading for the summit.
The views from Whernside were great with it being so warm and clear. By this point I was tired though. It came back to me that the last time I walked multi-day with full kit I’d had a rest day every five days. I can now see why.
The path down has been ‘improved’ by the National Park authority and is now truly dreadful. Totally out of character with the local geography and very hard on the feet. It led me to have one of my regular chunters about the ‘Three Peak’s Brigade’ and the groove and litter they leave behind them.
It had been a great six days, wonderful to think that my new job gave me all the fitness I needed to walk good distances with kit that I would have struggled with even 20 years ago. I was really pleased with the kit I’ve gathered on the past 5-6 years and how I’d managed to knock 7 kg off my pack weight. The irony that modern materials had facilitating the escape from the complexity and intensity of the modern world did not escape me. I was also left inspired with the idea of planning a similar trip North from Hadrian’s Wall and into the Cheviots for 2020.