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.

A night at the hill station

During colonial times, Brits who found the hot climate of Asia too much built ‘Hill Stations’, places which could be retired to for recreation at temperatures much more like the cooler homeland that folks left behind.  Last weekend was warm, so Junior and I headed to the top of Pendle for the night.  Earlier this year was his first unaided ascent of this local landmark hill and I promised that if he climbed it again without dawdle or complaint that after this we could camp on the top.  Junior can be an unusually good lad, as happy to be bribed with adventure as chocolate cake.

We headed up from the Clitheroe side via the steepest ascent (his choice) and found the plateau to be unusually windless and still 22 Celsius at six o’clock.  With shelter from the prevailing wind direction provided by the Scout Monument (which we were glad of by the morning) we enjoyed dinner, hot chocolate and biscuits.

In the morning he hurtled down to enable me to get to my drumming engagement at church on time.  Impressive for five and three quarters I reckon.  A great boys night indeed.

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A Pennine Journey – Part 2

The story continues

Day 3 – Stalling Busk to Keld (16 miles)

A very pleasant day under blue skies, but little outstanding to make reference to.  Initially the route took us down to Semer Water and it’s outflow, the River Bain which has the unusual accolade of being said to be the shortest river in the UK. One highlight was the salad boxes we bought for lunch in Askrigg from ‘The Humble Pie’ – a mother and daughter enterprise with excellent food and service to match. We enjoyed our salad boxes and the attendant view half way up Askrigg Pasture. The most attractive part of the day was the section between Muker and Keld.

 

View from Muker Footbridge

Our accommodation for the night was to be a little querky and the fulfilment on an ambition: A Ger on the site misnamed as Swaledale Yurts.  It seemed pedantic to point out their error, but having had the great pleasure of two trips to Mongolia over the past ten years we have been instructed in the difference between the Russian curved walled Yurt and the straight walled Ger of Mongolia. We had dinner delivered to our Ger which was excellent and enhanced still further by a roaring wood stove.

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A Yorkshire Ger

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Romantic heating

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Mongolian Gers – the homes of the Steppe

Day 4- Keld to Bowes (12 miles)

Today we really reaped the benefit of being within an extended period of dry weather as our route was to take us across the wet ground (bog!) known as Sleightholme Moor. First of all our route rose gentle up to the highest Inn in England – Tan Hill. Here, the welcome is always warm and the Theakston’s universally good, especially when you know you’ve earned it. Because of the ‘dry going’ across Sleightholme Moor it was really very attractive with views stretching a long way across the flat lands either side of the A66.

Our destination of Bowes has only one place offering accommodation, The Ancient Unicorn. Dinner was distinctly average and the beer disappointing but the room was nice and a walk around Bowes Castle a fun end to a lovely day.

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Many character features, but in need of a little moderisation!

Day 5 Bowes to Middleton-in-Teesdale (12.5 miles)

We took a detour at the start of the day to go and see God’s Bridge. A large slab of rock forming a natural bridge over the Rive Greta.

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The day then consisted of a series of fells and reservoirs culminating with a delightful downhill stretch into Middleton. The day proved a lovely day for me to talk with Mrs W. The chance to be child free and out in glorious countryside in the sunshine was conducive to bringing each other back up to speed with our thoughts on work, church, life, approaches to child care and so much more. People marry for many reasons, but for us we love time in each others company and the chance to talk and really discuss matters of significance. For me the finest view of the day was the collection of isolated pines on the descent into Middleton. A view so iconic of Eastern edge of the North Yorkshire Moors.

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Lonesome Pines

Day 6 – Middleton-in-Teesdale to Westgate (15.75 miles)

The morning of day six introduced us to very different terrain. All morning was spent following the river Tees. At this point the river is at its most attractive and included the chance to see the well known High Force and the lesser known (and secret is in the name) Low Force. The last time we had seen High Force it was from the other side of the Tees on our ‘enhanced’ C2C cycling route in 2011. There is no bridge across the river at this point, so you have no choice of vantage point, but it was clear from the Southern Bank that this was the side to best enjoy it from.

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Low Force

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High Force

Eventually you cross the river and have to leave it behind, heading up onto the fell side again. This proved a lesser walked part of the route and demanded compass work to get us to the road to Westgate. It was a long trudge on the road, but at least this was rewarded with some lovely limestone outcrops beside the road. Our destination was Hill House East for the night. Whilst all of our accommodation was good, Carol and John were the crème-de-la-crème of hosts. You just cannot beat being greeted with tea and John-made cake on arrival. Their hospitality was without equal. They were even able to provide me with a book explaining the history and chemistry of the local lead mining which really helped us appreciate the ruins we would see over the next two days which had been left from this long dead industry.

That night we ate ‘simple food done well’ at the Hare & Hounds , home to the Wear’d Ale brewery… …work it out! The brewery is in the cellar and the beer truly excellent. It would reason enough to visit Weardale again. A return weekend beacons because the scenery, whilst secondary to the quality of the ale, would offer excellent day walking.

Day 7 – Westgate to Blanchland (10.75 miles)

The scenery from Keld to Middleton may have been simply pleasant, but in Weardale we were back in a Dale every bit as fine as Wharfdale or Littondale.

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Wonderful, not weird!

IMG_7958It was made more interesting still by the remnants of the lead industry. This area had once been the richest source in the world of this famously malleable metal.  Following an abandoned railway line gave an easy route into the Rookhope Valley, home to the one remaining arch of the Rookhope horizontal chimney. This remarkable piece of ancient industry was once the vent stack from a lead smelting works. When it was working, this ingenious horizontal chimney ran for two miles up the hillside to take the fumes away from the works, rather than take the conventional approach of building 100 feet vertically.

After lunch we headed up Bolt’s Law Incline, once the location of the highest standard gauge railway line in the UK.   The remains of the engine house, whose stationary engine pulled carried up the slope can still be found at the summit. Great views were afforded along with a peppering of attractive conventional chimneys left over from the areas industrial past.

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From the fell top we dropped down into the virtually medieval Blanchland. Not wanting to take out a second mortgage to stay at the Lord Crewe Arms Hotel (which did look idyllic) we had arranged for the landlord from a hostelry in the neighbouring village of Edmondbyers to collect us at the end of the day.

Day 8 – Blanchland to Hexham (11.75 miles)

Today was a case of putting in the miles to finish our week of walking. Having been blessed with such good countryside to this point much of this final day was something of an anticlimax. However thanks to the book I was lent by Carol on the Thursday evening I was able to enjoy the full splendour of Dukesfield Smelting Mill. As an industrial chemist, understanding the functionality of these structures brings an extra depth to the pleasure of finding and exploring them. This too had a length of ‘horizontal chimney’ as we had seen in Rookhope, but in this case passing through a chamber which was (when the smelter was operating) packed with brushwood. Today we might use demister pads to condense out liquids from a stack but I can imagine this would have worked almost as well and could be replaced from the local woodland when required. This brushwood and the horizontal section of chimney were so designed to make it easy to collect the condensed lead and silver which with volatilized out from the smelting hearth. And who better to do this job than children, small enough to walk through this confined space. Different times indeed!

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Not a bridge but the support for the vertical flue.

Our journey ended at the splendid Hexham Abbey. Wainwright would have had harsh words with us for stopping at a point just five miles short of what he considered to be the climax and primary goal of this walk, Hadrian’s Wall. He, however, was only half way through his holiday at this point and had the time to walk home. We had to get a train back to Settle to enable us to be at back at work on the Monday.

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Epilogue

Any long distance walk has it’s high-points and also some less fabulous stretches to join some of these together. However enjoyment is more about attitude than opportunity and on the mundane sections Mrs W and I simply enjoyed each others company (free from the pressures of work and fast pace of keeping up with our three year old son) or we revelled in understanding Victorian lead smelters (OK that would be mostly me!), a well earned lunch or an excellent pint of local ale. The walk did fulfil its brief, in that we walked across the whole breadth of the Yorkshire Dales on a route with better views than the Dales Way and (almost) free of the bogs which are the signature of the Pennine Way. Next time we will finally get to see ‘the wall’, walk the whole length of the Howgills and then through Dentdale and out to the splendid Western edge of the North Pennines. Unlike Wainwright I think I am looking forward more to the return journey than his destination, but perhaps ‘the wall’ with enchant us as it did him? However, sadly this will have to wait until 2018 / 19, so watch this space…