My Pennine Journey

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)

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The start…

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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The size of the dam at the foot of Cow Green reservoir took me by surprise.

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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.

Garsdale Station 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.

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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

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

Welsh C2C Cycle Tour

The inspiration for this ride was the Wales in a Day Sportive / Challenge ride. I modified the route a little to take in Builth Wells, which was the town Mrs W was working in when I first met her. This took the total distance up to 210 miles. For me it was not the distance which was the challenge, because I covered the route over 4 ½ days rather than one, it was the 4500 m of height gain. In summary, it was a fabulous route but I’ve no idea how anyone has the combination of speed and stamina to do it all in less than 24 hours.

Day 1 – Chepstow to Gospel Pass :: 43 miles

There did not seem to be an iconic start point for the route, and the most convenient place I could find to start was a Tesco Car Park!

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I delayed the start of the day until the heavy rain had passed and I had only drizzle to contend with, I thus started at 1100. By 1145 the drizzle had stopped and the sun became increasingly evident through the afternoon. The highlight of the day (as expected) was cycling along the Llanthony Valley, flanked by the Black Mountains, and then up Gospel Pass. Just before the big climb I took the opportunity to get a pint of knee oil from the slightly tired looking but very friendly and welcoming Half Moon Inn.  At this point I shared the climb with a retired group of cyclists who passed me each time I stopped for a breather and vice versa. Both in theory and in practice this was the toughest individual climb of the ride. The Sportive runs North to South, I was doing the route in reverse as this seemed to make a lot more sense after looking at the elevation profile. Furthermore that normally puts the wind at your back.

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It was very satisfying to reach the top and once through the saddle the views were extremely rewarding. For me this was to be the end of my day because I had the pleasure of Mrs W and Junior as my support crew in our VW camper who joined me at the car park just below the top.   We’ve stayed in some great wild-camping spots in the past but this surpassed them all.

Day 2 – Gospel Pass to Builth Wells :: 41 miles

Day 2 covered the heart of Mid-Wales and was, despite never reaching great altitudes, the hardest day of the tour. The reward was the scenery and the weather. The day started with a two mile descent to the river Wye.

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The rolling hills of this area are beautiful and covered with quiet roads. Perfect cycling country in many ways but unrelenting ascent and decent. The highlight was the section from Painscastle to Hundred House which reminded me of the hill above Llanddewi i Cwn where my wife-to-be first taught me to ride a horse.  I had hoped to reach Llandrindod Wells by lunchtime, but just two miles out I found that my tank was empty and I simply could not pedal another revolution without stopping for food. I was peddling up yet another hill, saw that it was due to get steeper, saw a lovely view over my right shoulder and simply stopped to sit in a gateway by the road.

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Not a bad lunch spot

Lunch was the equivalent of getting £10 of fuel from an expensive petrol station, just enough to get you to somewhere you are happy to really fill up. I knew there was a great chippy in Llandod and headed there for a second lunch! Now with a full tank I discovered that Mrs W and Junior were enjoying some Fine Dining in the Tesco car park just 0.2 miles from my chippy, so a peddled to join them, say hello and help them eat their strawberries. In distance I was now ¾ of the way through my day (perhaps that’s why I ended up with an empty tank at lunch time?) and the rest of the ride was sadly unremarkable but did lead me to Builth Wells, a welcome pint of knee oil and dinner with some old friends.

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Welsh Black – in the home-town of the Royal Welsh Show

Day 3 – Llandrindod Wells to Bryn Penarth (Nr. Llanfair Caereinion) :: 37 miles

The forecast was for rain for most of the morning and my route looked fairly flat, so I opted to join the family at Mrs W’s old church in Llandod and then fit my shorter (37 mile) day into the afternoon. New Life Church had grown and moved to a new building. Ironically they had converted offices in a former Methodist church back into a church once again. After a quick lunch I set off along the A438 which was to be over half my route today. I was glad it was a Sunday and thus the traffic light. I’d like to say I planned it this way but…  Whilst this section was mostly scenically unspectacular I did enjoy being on shallow gradients and being able to enjoy to get my head down and cycle at a very good speed for the 26 miles to Newtown. I am getting on really well with my new handlebars (link to blog), the aptly titled Crazy Bars from Velo Orange. On the front ‘aero’ position you can be both comfortable and use the combined power of your legs and arms. Both comfortable and very satisfying. This has proved an excellent change which has worked out just as I had hoped. 20 miles out of Llandod there was a beautiful sweeping descent with a truly fabulous view of the low ground stretching to Newtown (on Severn) and the rolling hills beyond.

I can only describe Newtown as an ugly town in a beautiful area. It has suffered from a major expansion in the late 60’s, that low-point of domestic architecture. After a rest stop it was a steep climb out of the Severn Valley and less than an hour to that night’s campsite. We had this view to ourselves.

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Day 4 – Bryn Penarth to Bala :: 41 miles

A gentle morning, through attractively names places such as Llanfihangel brought me to Lake Vyrnwy. Built as a reservoir to serve the people of Liverpool the dam is a wonderful example of Victorian utility architecture. Not only does it serve it’s purpose but it does so with beauty. Today when we build such things the design is purely based on function and a two year payback. The Victorians took pride in what they built. It’s worth remembering that it is down to the positive attitude of the Victorians that we have sewer systems and railways that still serve us to today.

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I decided to supplement my lunch with a hot baguette from the café next to the dam. You never know how this will turn out. What I’d say is that next time I’d try the Old Barn Café around the corner. However I had a nice rest and hid from a shower before setting off along the lake. You don’t get to see much of the lake because of the trees on the shoreline, but the draw-off house is amazing.

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Five miles of level riding meant my legs were warm and ready for the climb out of the valley. It’s an odd road which combines steep sections with gentle gradients in between which enable you to recover. If you decide to pedal this route take heart, the climb gets much easier after the first half mile. The first two steep sections made me fear it would be a killer climb, but with this part behind me it was wholly reasonable and allowed me to enjoy the woods I was passing through, a stream next to the road and then the heather and views higher up. Having got to the top I can say it was a lovely climb overall. At the top you officially enter the Snowdonia National Park and are afforded with a glorious heather clad valley to enjoy. A pleasure for the eyes and a rest for the legs.

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It was then pretty much downhill all the way into Bala. A very memorable day with the perfect balance of challenge, easier sections (to get the miles in) and views. I stumbled into Mrs W in Bala buying Welsh Cakes, which were promised once I’d completed the last three miles to our campsite. Quiet, level, tree lined and friendly, I’d highly recommend the Tyn Cornel campsite.

Day 5 – Bala to Caernarfon (51 miles)

What I expected to be the most difficult day, physically, turned out to be modest in comparison with Day 2. In short I would rate it as one of the top five days riding I’ve ever known in the UK, and top ten anywhere in Europe! Whilst I’d like to say that the cloud was ‘just kissing the top of the peaks’ as you’ll see below, it was more of a full on embrace!

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Whilst the climbs over three passes took me to good heights (around 500 m each time) the gradients were kind. The scenery is what I always dream of cycling though. Narrow roads in good condition bisecting a wild empty landscape. It was a breezy day which offered a tailwind for an hour, before a combination and it and my route found it in my face. I normally stop for a short break every 10 miles, but had to cover 15 miles before I found anywhere which constituted shelter. A small copse of trees next to the road. A small amount more climbing took me to the hills above Penmancho and then sweeping down into Cwm Penmacho and the village itself.

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With only myself for company I toyed with renaming it Pen-Macho – for you would have to be a real man to climb the route in reverse. Once again I was glad to have reviewed the elevation profile and ridden the route South to North. It was then only a short distance to the A5 and the Conwy Falls Café. Now this is a café I’d heartily recommend. For £8 I had a giant fish finger sandwich, salad, chips and a pot of Earl Grey. All this lounging in a sofa, the ideal cycling lunch stop.

The next section along the A5 had little to recommend it, but was an unavoidable and essential link to Capel Curig. Once well outside Betwys Coed the mountainscape came back into view. Turning off onto the A4086 was a blessing and took me down a gorgeous valley with the Glyders to my right and Pen-Y-Pass and Snowdon in front of me (the latter hiding its modesty in the cloud).

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It was an easy ride despite the headwind, and whilst rain threatened it never actually fell. Then came Pen-Y-Pass which was neither steep nor felt as high as I imagined and I was soon at the top and having fond memories of the times I’ve climbed Snowdon.

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Again I was greeted with a beautiful gulley descent, but with something of a mean headwind at the top. Having to peddle to may headway downhill never seems fair. I, however, didn’t mind, as I now had just 12 miles left to complete my Welsh C2C and from what I could see it was very nearly downhill all the way. As I lost altitude I also lost the wind and could enjoy sweeping down the river valley towards the coast. Upon my approach to Caernarfon the castle was clear to see and for a cyclist it was far better to navigate by eye that follow the signs which take you via a short section of elevated dual carriageway. Awaiting me in the car park was my support crew, enjoying tea and biscuits in the van.

I’d crossed Wales and achieved 4500 m of height gain with only one hill (end of Day 3) beating me. I simply cannot imagine how people could ride the whole route in 20 hours. I had underestimated my fitness (how often can you say that!) and think I could have done the route in three days. It is certainly a route I’d recommend and I certainly plan to go back and repeat day five at some point in the future, ideally when the cloud is restraining itself from embracing the mountain tops. I can see a long weekend in Snowdonia coming up in 2019 if my support crew are willing.

My/our day ended well, catching crabs with Junior off of the quay, followed by dinner in the only Italian restaurant* I’ve ever know to offer the option of gluten free pasta which was great news for me, less so for the clams in my sauce.

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*Villa Marina

The McLab burger – a solution to the wrong problem.

So today we learn that we are now able to synthesize enough muscle fibre in the lab to make a beef burger.  A great advance?  Probably, but the right answer to the wrong question surely.  The population of the world is growing and increased wealth and aspiration in places such as China means more people are eating more meat.  Read the press reports and you find instead the real issue, as highlighted by Prof Tara Garnett, the true issue is not population growth or land use it is inequality.  Whilst we have one billion people going to bed hungry each day, we have 1.4 billion people who are obese.  The problem is not a technological one, it is a social  / political one.  Food needs to be more fairly distributed.   I cannot give you a ready answer to this question, but this is the question that should be being addressed.  I am reminded again of the Reith Lectures in 2010 by Martin Rees, President of the Royal Society.  We have the technological means to resolve the  key issues facing our planet – famine, disease, water, food availability and climate change – the challenge is gaining the political momentum to implement them.  Our challenge with food is fair distribution, not new ways to make tasteless processed protein.  If we wanted that, ICI and RHM  brought Quorn to the market in 1985.

…my kingdom for a ready-meal

Richard IIISo we have all seen the headlines – horse meat in Tesco’s burgers, now a trace of beef found in a Findus horse-meat Lasagne!  It’s true that ‘pet’ horses can have Bute (an NSAID drug toxic to humans) in their system so there is an outline risk that this is a health scare, but in reality this whole issue is more of an emotional rather than a practical reaction.  But let’s put that aside – people are concerned about a nice lean bit of horse in their dinner (the Mongolian’s I know would not object) but what they fail to see is the high levels of fat, salt, sugar and artificial preservatives in these meals.  That, I would suggest the the real cause for concern and why people should think twice about living on ‘pierce and ping’ meals.  Together this all shows two major failings in out current view of food:

1.  We want it as cheap as possible, irrespective of quality and the impact on the producer.

2. We no longer know how to cook meals from their basic ingredients.

Never mind having a little bit of Red Rum in your dinner – think about where you source your food (all our meat comes from local butchers, who themselves source locally for example) and learn the pleasure of cooking.  If I’m too busy to cook, I’m afraid what that is saying is that I am too busy to live the final five years of my life – what I save now, I’d lose later on if I have a diet high in salt / fat / sugar and low on quality.

And not only is a ready meal diet not likely to sustain me in the long term, our view of cheap food is not likely to sustain our farming industry either.  It is clearly not sustainable to buy all our food from cheap economies and stop producing our own.  In the same way that a 100% service economy was shown in 2008 not to be a good thing – we need both an industrial and agricultural base  – they are key to the strategic future of any country.