The Pennine Way National Trail is a 268 mile (431 km) walking route from Edale in Derbyshire to Kirk Yetholm in the Scottish Borders. It crosses some of the finest upland landscapes in England, from the Peak District, through the Yorkshire Dales, across the North Pennines and over Hadrian’s Wall in Northumberland to the Cheviots.
The following description is written by Damian Hall for the Aurum official guidebook, and to our mind pretty much sums it up.
Day 1 Edale to Crowden
Via Kinder Plateau and Bleaklow Head – 16 miles (26 Km)
It would be uncharacteristic and perhaps even a little bit sneaky of the Pennine Way to start you off gently. Instead it charges out of its corner and bops you square on the nose – it wants to see what you are made of.
Day 1 includes the route’s second-longest ascent, one of the most notorious spots for topographical embarrassment – Bleaklow Head – and a section bearing the devil’s name (rarely a good sign, unless your name is Lucifer). That said, in terms of scenery , this ranks in the Way’s Top Five. If the weather is half-decent, you’re in for a panoramic feast.
A gentle amble through fields becomes a steep climb. Up on the plateau, the compelling journey through the savage beauty of the Peak District’s gritstone moors and peat groughs is mostly flat walking – though you’ll need to pay attention to navigation – followed by a long but enjoyable descent into tiny Crowden.
Crowden has no facilities other than a youth hostel and campsite, which do provide food, and there are no lunch options en route either. So stock up in Edale – and perhaps for the next leg too, as Standedge is similarly bereft.
Day 2 Crowden to Standedge
Over Black Hill and across Wessenden Moor – 11 miles (18 Km)
Are you ready for moor? Though it includes the notorious (for Wainwright at least) Black Hill, today is relatively short and undemanding, mostly moorland walking and often on stone flagstones. Not as tough, or as scenic, as yesterday. But in the big skies, melancholy moorland vistas and some invitingly picturesque valleys, the walk has stacks of charm. Those who don’t like reservoirs, however, are about to suffer.
Route-finding is mostly straightforward, but Standage has little in the way of facilities and you may want to think about kipping in nearby Diggle or Marsden. There are almost no options en route for stocking up, though if you’re lucky there’s a snack van on the A635.
Day 3 Standedge to Calder Valley
Via Blackstone Edge, reservoirs and Stoodley Pike – 11 miles (18 Km)
‘The worst part of the journey is behind you,’ says Wainwright, ‘from now on the Pennine Way can be enjoyed.’ In truth, however, today probably isn’t one that will linger long in the memory. This stretch lacks the scenic splendour of the last two days and the sound of ‘civilization’ (i.e. the niggling buzz of traffic) are never far away. However there is still much to enjoy, especially the views approaching the Calder Valley, under the watchful eye of Stoodley Pike, which dominates the second half of the day.
There’s plenty of flat walking and much of this section sticks to the high moors and gritstone edges. By teatime, however, some will be pig sick of all the reservoirs.
Navigation is potentially tricky only along Blackstone Edge in foul weather, but there are cairns and poles to guide you.
Unusually, today there are some tempting lunchtime refreshment options, a pub and (probably) a snack van.
Hebden Bridge has good accommodation options but is 1 mile (1.6km) off route. Blackshaw Head, Jack Bridge and even Colden are alternatives, which add a bit on to today but mean starting the next day from the top of a torturous hill. Staying in Todmorden (Mankinholes) would make it a shorter day.
Day 4 Calder Valley to Ickornshaw
Via Heptonstall Moor, Bronte Country and Ickornshaw Moor – 16 miles (26 Km)
Though there are a few potential route-finding blind spots, today is relatively undemanding and yet attractive. There is all the Bronte stuff to enjoy too of course, and maybe it’s the literary associations or maybe it’s the moors themselves (which came first, etc?), but some of today’s landscapes do seem especially dreamy and ruminative. That said it starts with a cruel climb out of the Calder Valley, even if in spring it’s through joyful pastures full of loony lambs leaping about. There’s a beautiful stretch over wind-whispering, mellow yellow Heptonstall Moor, to the literary landscapes of Bronte country and up again onto the bleaker Ickornshaw Moor. Naturally there are some reservoirs too.
Route-finding could be testing on both moors in unfriendly conditions. Likewise, the twists and turns climbing up the Calder Valley need close attention.
For facilities, there’s a legendary little shop and pub en route, as well as Haworth, a little off route, but where some may chose to stay overnight as it has a good range of facilities. Cowling and neighbouring Ickornshaw don’t have many accommodation options, so if you’re heading there book ahead, though there is a campsite that will always find space for Pennine Way walkers.
Day 5 Ickornshaw to Malham
Via the Aire Gap, Thornton in Craven and Gargrave – 17 miles (27 Km)
‘Mostly muck and manure’ is how the ever-joyful Wainwright described the first part of this section. Today probably won’t rank in many people’s Pennine Way Top 10, but there’s a pot of gold at its end: Malham and the dramatic start of Limestone Country. ‘Malham’s the place where the highlights start to appear,’ wrote Wainwright.
You’re also saying hello – and, more enjoyably, goodbye – to the Aire Gap, the lowlands which form a geographical corridor between the South Pennines and Yorkshire Dales, or between millstone grit moors and limestone. The Romans built a road through it, but Bronze Age traders had long since used the route to travel between Ireland and Scandinavia. Elsewhere it’s rolling pastures and flat riverside walking. Barge and bridge fans may love the section along the Leeds to Liverpool Canal, while there are fine views from Pinhaw Beacon and Scaleber Hill.
The Way passes through an unusual number of villages, meaning lots of facilities, including a couple of top notch cafes and a chance to carry a lighter pack.
With all the villages and zigzagging through undulating fields where the path can be vague, it’s a fiddly day for path-finding.
This stage could easily be shortened a little, by stopping at Gargrave, or a lot, by staying in just-off-route Earby.
Day 6 Malham to Horton in Ribblesdale
Around Malham Tarn, over Fountains Fell and Pen-y-ghent – 14.5 miles (23 Km)
This is a special day. Wainwright thought the limestone country around Malham ‘the best walking territory so far encountered along the Pennine way’ and few would disagree. You’re treated to majestic Malham Cove, Malham Tarn and plenty of limestone splendour, before the daunting but curious-looking lump of Pen-y-Ghent, the highest point on the Way so far.
It’s a challenging day, with two stiff sustained climbs, in the deceptively tough Fountains Fell and not-as-tough-as-it-looks Pen-y-Ghent. The latter is certainly worth it for the views, the former is fondly remembered by few. Wainwright described the descent to Horton in Ribblesdale as ‘very, very good’, but some will find it mildly torturous and interminable.
Route-finding is straightforward, though you wouldn’t want to be caught out on Pen-y-Ghent in rough weather. Likewise, you wouldn’t want to get lost on Fountains Fell, as there are sinkholes and mineshafts lurking, but the path’s good.
Be warned that the Yorkshire Three Peaks crowds can make Horton a surprisingly noisy night stop at weekends and there aren’t any facilities en route today.
Day 7 Horton in Ribblesdale to Hawes
Over Cam Fell and Dodd Fell – 14 miles (23 Km)
Though there may not be any obvious highlights today, this is a very enjoyable section of the Way. It’s not too testing physically, route-finding is mostly easy and the views are plain wonderful. Though you follow old packhorse routes and Roman roads, you’ll see few signs of contemporary civilisation, instead mainly endless hills with grass swishing in the wind as a long, gentle ascent takes you over the Dales to a more abrupt drop into charming Hawes, the pot of gold at the day’s end.
Some may find it lonely and exposed, but the big skies, empty trails and wide-angled views are blissful, especially after the bustle of Malham and Horton in Ribblesdale.
Navigationally, most of the day could be sleepwalked. But there’s an awkward part coming off the moors down Rottestone Hill into Hawes, where the path is a bit vague. There are no facilities till Hawes, which has everything you could wish for and more. Though if you’d rather stay somewhere quieter, perhaps push on to Hardraw.
Day 8 Hawes to Tan Hill
Over Great Shunner Fell and along Swaledale – 16.5 miles (27 Km)
There’s no two ways about it: today is a Pennine Way classic, stating a convincing case for getting into that prestigious shortlist of Pennine Way Top Five days.
After the finest waterfall on the Way, a gradual but thrilling climb takes you onto the moors and over Great Shunner Fell, the highest point on the walk so far. (In a rare moment of good humour, Wainwright said he could climb Great Shunner ‘nonstop’ despite being ‘senile and getting as fat as a pig’). Up here, more than ever before, it can feel like you’re walking along the backbone of England. The Way leads down to cute little Thwaite and along the dashing cleft of Swaledale and to Keld, via some waterfalls, where the Way crosses its rival, the Coast to Coast Walk. A steep but short ascent takes you back onto the moor, to end with a night to remember in one of the Way’s most legendary pubs.
Attention needs to be paid between Thwaite and Keld to avoid a wrong turn: the last leg on the moors could be troublesome in bad weather and Great Shunner is an exposed place in rough weather.
Sustenance stops are tempting in Thwaite and Keld (only a few minutes off route), where the day could be shortened.
Day 9 Tan Hill to Middleton-in-Teesdale
Via the Stainmore Gap – 17miles (27 Km)
Is it heartening or disheartening to know that today finally marks the halfway point of the Pennine Way? Likewise, this is the sort of day that divides opinion. Some will begrudge the trudging over endless, often squelchy, moorland, most likely with soggy feet. Others will relish the heather, the views and the mood changes of the unceasing stretches of peat and purple heather.
There are several picturesque pieces of countryside along the way, including verdant valleys, a Bronze Age burial site – traders from that era used the Stainmore Gap as they did the Aire Gap, Romans too – and a castle (sort of). A lot of wall following, a great navigation aid, can feel like a rehearsal for the stretch on Hadrian’s Wall.
Similar to coming down into Hawes, the route of the day’s final leg around and down Harter Fell isn’t always clear, but in most weathers it would be hard to get properly lost. Though the harder ascent, over Lunedale has been meanly saved for the latter end of the day.
There aren’t any lunching options, but the day could be made shorter by detouring to Bowes. In fact the Bowes Loop, an official variant from Trough Heads farm, exists for those wanting to stop there, or to cut the Way in half and return (with dry feet) to finish it off another time.
Day 10 Middleton-in-Teesdale to Dufton
Past High Force, Cauldron Snout and High Cup – 21 miles (34Km)
There’s no two ways about it: today is Pennine Way gold. The sort of day that lives long in the memory after the walk is done.
Are you in the mood for waterfalls? The suddenly generous Way has three fine specimens for you. And if you’re not fussed about falling walls of wet stuff, this leg includes High Cup as its magnificent climax, arguably the best sight along the entire Pennine Way. Actually there’s no arguably about it.
It’s an unusually flat day: in fact there is more descent than ascent. For a welcome change, the Way starts with a lovely, leisurely amble through pretty, flower dotted meadows and beside the chorusing River Tees. ‘A walk of near perfection,’ said Wainwright. Upper Teesdale ushers you through a picturesque valley before a testing scramble by Cauldron Snout. The stretch before that, too, is a time to watch your step, as it’s rocky and sometimes slippy. Then it’s over the moors and, the only tricky bit of navigation, to your long overdue appointment with Nick. It’s a long day, but a great one.
If it seems greedy to squeeze so much into one day, you could break it up in Forest-in-Teesdale or Langdon Beck , which are just off route, though to some they’ll come too early. Both have limited accommodation choices and you could lunch at the Langden Beck Hotel.
Two more things worth knowing: after sticking fairly doggedly to the east side of the Pennines, today finally deposits you on the western side; in doing so, however, because you’ve travelled west-south-west you’ll be further from Kirk Yetholm than when you started out this morning. But the detour is well worth it.
Day 11 Dufton to Alston
Via Great Dun Fell, Cross Fell and Garrigill – 20 miles (32km)
There’s no gentle way to break it to you: today is the toughest day on the Pennine Way. It’s the longest leg, it includes the highest point and more than 3,000 feet (1,000 metres) of ascent, up to the loftiest ground in England outside the Lake District. Plus route-finding can be tricky and some sections are exposed. Today may well be a thorough test of equipment (waterproofs and working compass essential), fitness, navigation skills and your outdoor mentality. It’s the sort of day where, if the weather forecast is foul (and talking of weather, England’s coldest temperature and strongest wind gust were recorded here) a rest day wouldn’t be too cowardly an idea.
If neither time nor weather is on your side, you could take the road up to Great Dun Fell, skipping Knock Fell and a section of difficult moorland. In good weather, however, it’s a day of stunning views and a classic Way experience. Either way, it’s likely this section will be first on the reminiscence list in Kirk Yetholm’s Border Hotel. This is how you earn your Wayfarers spurs.
A long climb gets you to the high fells, then continues over three summits, including the notorious Cross Fell, where navigation requires alertness even in friendly weather. The long descent to Garrigill, down the endless Corpse Road miners’ track, is almost as notorious as Cross Fell, but at least navigation is simple. Some may wish to call it a day in Garrigill; otherwise you follow the South Tyne into Alston. It’s mostly flat walking and route-finding is sometimes fiddly through fields.
There are no facilities between Dufton and Garrigill, though Greg’s Hut, an excellent walkers’ bothy and a Way institution, offers shelter and the potential for an overnight stop.
As the fells here were mined, straying far from the path could be dangerous. In less ominous news, you’ll also notice you’re now in the land of burns, not becks.
Day 12 Alston to Greenhead
Through Slaggyford and over Blenkinsopp Common – 16.5 miles (26 Km)
Today is unlikely to be in anyone’s Pennine way Top Five. Or Top Ten. Or even Fifteen. In fact, it could be your least favourite day.
Wainwright labelled the section after the B6292 tedious, dull and complicated. ‘If the remainder of the Pennine Way was like this (happily it isn’t), here would be the place to pack it in and go home.’ It’s not genuinely awful, just a bit, well, boring, really. Plus route-finding is fiddly. But then we have been rather spoilt recently.
Sadly, today marks the end of the Pennines, at Round Hill and Wain Rigg. The day starts off following a former railway line (now the South Tyne Trail), ducking under viaducts, before joining the Maiden Way, going over Hartley Burn Floodplain and the soggy wilderness of Blenkinsopp Common. The Way zigzags between fields, farms, walls, bridges and bogs.
The day’s prominent noise will be squelching, and if you meet a Wayfarer with dry feet in Greenhead you’ll know they cheated and caught a cab.
However, today does end at the stirring Hadrian’s Wall and the next few days have many treats in store; it just requires this linking section to get there. And you are in the great outdoors – things could be worse.
Day 13 Greenhead to Bellingham
Via Hadrian’s Wall, Wark Forest and Shitlington Crag – 22 miles (35 Km)
While today your eyes are in for a visual treat and your mind’s in for a historical treat, your calves are in for … the opposite of treat. There are lots of ups and downs today along Hadrian’s Wall – the third most ascent of a Pennine Way day (after Cross fell and the first day). On the plus side your toes mightn’t get wet until the afternoon.
Today is another Pennine Way classic. It follows the wall for 8 glorious miles (12.8km), including its most dramatic stretches. It’s thrilling to walk in the footsteps of Roman soldiers and there are magnificent views to match. Wainwright thought the Pennine Way should end here, with Hadrian’s Wall providing a wonderful climax.
This is a long day and feels it. Plus there’s the culture shock of suddenly walking with lots of people, some of them wearing clean clothes, as the Way briefly teams up with Hadrian’s Wall Path.
At Rapishaw Gap you break from the stones and crowds towards the silent Wark Forest, then farmland and a little bit of moor. The day’s finale, along the road to Bellingham, is tortuous and will be a favourite for the Worst End To a Day’s Walk on the Way award.
The first half is a doddle for route-finding. Later the fields and farms can be fiddly, but at least they lack the incessant ups and downs.
The only facilities involve a detour to the wonderfully named Once Brewed, which is really only a pub and a youth hostel, or a stop at a friendly farm late on.
You could treat yourself to a shorter day here, leisurely enjoying the Wall and staying at Once Brewed. Indeed the most famous Hadrian’s Wall view, towards Cuddy’s Crags, and the finest excavated fort, at Housesteads, are about 1 mile (1.6km) off route.
Day 14 Bellingham to Byrness
Via Whitley Pike and Brownrigg Head – 15 miles (24 Km)
At ‘only’ 15 miles (24km) this is a comparatively easy day to reach the demanding but glorious Cheviots. The section is split into two clear stages: heathery moor with wonderful views but bog hopping skills required; and forests which have no bogs but few views either.
The moors come first and include some enchanting stretches of purple heather in September, but time and again you’ll see your foot disappear into that squelchy, murky underworld we call bog. So the dramatic change to stony forest track roads is welcome, at first. But the monotonous pounding takes its toll and may even have you hankering after the soft, comfortable swamps before long.
In the forests route-finding is a cinch, and although there are one or two blind spots on the moors, there’s usually something semi-obvious to aim for.
Unsurprisingly there is nowhere to buy lunch and Byrness is barely a village. While some of the accommodation options supply packed lunches, meals and alcohol, there’s little else here.
Day 15 Byrness to Windy Gyle
Past Chew Green and over Beefstand Hill – 14 miles (22 Km)
Around 27 miles (43km), along the top of the loneliest hills in the least-populated part of England, is all that stands between you and graduation to a Pennine Wayfarer.
In a nutshell, today is brilliant; tomorrow is even better.
Route-finding is surprisingly easy. The path often follows the fence that marks the border between England and Scotland – pretty much the only human-made item you’ll see. There are bogs, of course, and up here they’re of the ‘where’s my walking pole gone?’ variety. It can be exposed too, and this is also a military training area (blank firing only), so don’t touch anything strange, metal or bomb shaped.
Some attempt to walk to Kirk Yetholm in one madcap dash from here, but it’s a shame to be too knackered to take in the wonderful views. Though there are no facilities in the Cheviots other than two emergency refuges, there are several convenient ways of splitting the traverse in two.
Day 16 Windy Gyle to Kirk Yetholm
Past the Cheviot and over The Schill – 13 miles (21 Km)
All that stands between you and Pennine Way immortality is… a lot more big hills, some very strong winds and a few hungry bogs.
Today is much like yesterday, only marginally superior for scenery, less boggy and with a spectacular, long and possibly quite emotional descent at the end. In fair weather, it’s the sort of day you wish would go on forever. But sadly your walk is nearly at its end. You’ve got some choices to make: firstly whether to detour to the top of the Cheviot and back, and secondly whether to take the higher or lower routes for the final descent.
There are no services along the Way and route-finding is easier than yesterday. So make the most of it.
Finishing the Pennine Way should be a triumphant and deeply satisfying experience. But don’t expect cheering crowds or autograph hunters in Kirk Yetholm. The good people of this tiny Border town see Wayfarers finish all the time. Nevertheless, you have done great things. You know it and I know it.