The final piece of the jigsaw

4th June 2018

The creation of the Pennine Way as a National Trail could be compared to a jigsaw!  With the trail passing through numerous counties, plus the legal complexities involved with crossing private land, multiple access negotiations were necessary to establish, and link, all of the individual sections. Until all the inherently required rights of way were in place, the trail (i.e. the jigsaw picture!) could not be completed. 

The final ‘jigsaw piece’ in the north was amongst those which proved to be quite tricky to fit.  When Mr Arthur Blenkinsop, MP for Newcastle upon Tyne East, one of the pioneers of the Youth Hostels Association and President of the Northern Ramblers’ Association, walked part of the northern section of the Pennine Way in late March 1959, there remained about 2 miles of the Pennine Way at Edale and about 6 miles in Northumberland still to be established.  

In Northumberland the gap in the right of way network led to considerable discussion about the best route.  A Public Paths Creation Order Local Inquiry was held at Bellingham in March 1964.  Tom Stephenson, Secretary of the Ramblers’ Association, and the creator of the Pennine Way, gave evidence for a preferred route through part of Redesdale, which would keep the trail on the hills away from metalled roads. He quoted the Commission’s own second annual report for the year ending September 1951, paragraph 13 which said:

"The Pennine Way will be a strenuous high-level route through predominantly wild country and it is intended for walkers of some experience.  It will involve a fair element of physical exertion and a willingness to endure rough going.  While the greater part of the Way is across existing well-trodden tracks, the route in places crosses expanses of wild moorland devoid of prominent landmarks and consisting largely of peat, heather, bog, and tussocks of rough grass, and in bad weather they can be safely negotiated only by strong walkers who can steer a course by map and compass...  Indeed, one of the main attractions of the Pennine Way is the opportunity it affords for rough hill-walking".

He also stated that:

"‘if it had been accepted that the Pennine Way should be routed along a road in the absence of a footpath, then the Way could have been completed nearly 30 years ago, without wasting Parliamentary time in providing legislation for the making of new rights of way where they are required for the establishment of a long-distance route".

Later that year, on Tuesday 8th September 1964, the Guardian newspaper reported that ‘The Pennine Way has been completed – but by no means to the satisfaction of the walking fraternity’.  This opinion was as a result of the fact that the Minister of Housing, Sir Keith Joseph, had rejected the Ramblers’ Association’s proposed route in favour of the path suggested by the National Parks Commission.  He had, as such, overruled the recommendation of his own inspector, who after the public inquiry on 17th March 1964 reported in favour of approving both paths.  The route approved is the line of the Pennine Way walked today – Brownrigg Head to Rooken Edge where it joins an existing bridleway to ‘Blakehope Burnhaugh’.  The Ramblers Association route would have passed over Kelly’s Pike and Blackwool Law to Dead Wood, and as Arthur Blenkinsop, president of the Northern Ramblers Association, commented in the report "The right-of-way the Minister has picked is useless because it takes walkers off the moors on to a road through a forest".

 Whatever your views on the route now followed by the Pennine Way, the rights of way were hard fought for, requiring commitment to the cause from the moment of its concept by Tom Stephenson back in 1935.  It took until July 1951 before it was approved, and a further 15 years before it could be officially opened in April 1965 – perhaps a rather extreme example of good things are worth waiting for!


Chris Sainty

Author of: The Pennine Way. A Walker’s Guide


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Pennine Way in Northumberland, Pennine National Trails Partnership
Pennine Way in Northumberland, Pennine National Trails Partnership
Pennine Way in Northumberland, Pennine National Trails Partnership
Redesdale Sign, Chris Sainty