Image Credit: Pete Jeff

Pennine Way signposts - the early years

6th March 2018

Signposts along a footpath are something many walkers will take for granted.  You may hardly notice them unless you happen to reach a point or a junction where you are looking for reassurance that you are on the right track!  Signposts don’t, however, come in one size or shape – there are many variations and the Pennine Way certainly has a wealth of interesting signage, the history of which goes back to the 1950’s.


A National Parks Commission (NPC) report to the Minister of Local Government and Planning on the Pennine Way, published in June 1951, included the proposal for 75 new signposts at an average cost of £4 each.  The Commission suggested that they be ‘sparingly used’ and erected ‘only where the walker has a choice of ways’.  They also considered that they should not be used over open moorland where cairns or stakes would be ‘generally more suitable’.  The NPC was anxious that a uniform type of sign should be used along the whole length of the Pennine Way and, as such, consulted with the Associations of the County Councils, Municipal Corporations, Urban Districts and Rural District Councils along the route, before confirming to these bodies what the decision was in a letter dated 12th August 1952.  


The signpost recommended by the NPC was in unpainted oak, with overall dimensions of 25 inches by 3½ inches, manufactured by The Lettering Centre in London, which could be fitted either to a post or a wall.  The signs bore the words “PENNINE WAY” in raised letters (Eric Gills’ Perpetua Bold typeface 1⅝ inches high) and were made in four types ‘to suit local requirements’ viz, having an arrow pointing to the left, to the right, at both ends, or without an arrow (see photograph). 


The progression from the signage decision to placement on the actual route was not, however, immediate as highlighted by an article which appeared, accompanied by a photography of one of the intended signs, in The Times on Thursday 1st April 1954 under the headline ‘The Pennine Way: A signposting problem’.


A letter from the National Parks Commission dated 18th October 1957 indicated that there should be two signposts at Edale; one for the main route leaving Edale in a northerly direction, and one for the bad weather alternative heading in the westerly direction.  A pertinent point in the letter was that there was no overnight accommodation between Edale and Marsden, a distance of 23 miles.  If walkers were to obtain accommodation in either of these places, it was essential that ‘they should make good progress if they are to cover this distance in one day’. Marking the route was, therefore, a priority. Waymarking in Edale generated, however, a lot of discussion.  The design and wording were subject to a number of suggestions including a sign with a metal plate to be located in the square, and a gritstone plinth with metal plaque on the green at the rear of the Nag’s Head Inn.  The agreement of the route out of Edale was subject to negotiation over many years with landowners and it was only when the log bridge route of the Pennine Way at Edale was finally established as a public highway (footpath) by agreement dated 30th June 1961, that it was possible to replace the existing Peak District and Northern Counties Footpath Preservation Society’s permissive path signpost with an official one.  You can take a look at an original 1949 PNF signpost (No. 112) at the Moorland Centre in Edale.


In addition to Pennine Way signs the National Parks Commission wrote, in mid 1964, to the various Councils etc. concerning display boards which would include information about the Pennine Way with 2½″ maps of the local sections of the Way.  These would be sited in towns and villages and at other well-visited places on or near the line of the Way.  Originally, there were to be 20 display boards in total, although by December 1970, this had been increased to 23.  However when the boards were eventually erected, number 24 stood proudly on the green in front of the Border Hotel in Kirk Yetholm.


The Pennine Way was officially opened on 24th April 1965, but later that same year, Tom Stephenson, its creator, produced a lengthy set of notes concerning signposting and waymarking on Ramblers’ Association notepaper (dated 8th October 1965 Ref: D.0278).  He was concerned that in many places it was extremely difficult, and in some places impossible to find the correct line by anyone relying on the OS map; he also added that the Way was often incorrectly shown on the OS 1″ map.  He advocated using a sign less expensive than the NPC oak one, possibly a disc with ‘Pennine Way’ which could be attached to field gates.  He also suggested the use of white-topped marker posts where the route crosses several fields and cairns on the hills.  It is interesting that included in this document he noted that there was a sign (erected by the Peak District and Northern Counties Footpaths Preservation Society) showing the start of the alternative, bad weather route out of Edale (now the main Pennine Way route), but there was nothing to mark the start of the Pennine Way up Grindsbrook! 


Whilst signposts were part of the original plans, a National Parks Commission document dated 17th March 1966 (L/61 - revised) highlighted that walking the Pennine Way is a serious undertaking.  It stated that the Pennine Way is ‘intended for those who can use a compass and read a map and that the walk should not be undertaken without these [skills]’.  It also said that there are many places where, for various reasons, maps cannot show the route clearly and that ‘some physical indication’ on the ground was necessary. Interestingly though, the Commission felt that guide posts etc. should be kept to a minimum and be as unobtrusive as possible as they ‘detract from the beauty of the natural landscape’.  This document also stated that it was the Commission’s intention ‘to adopt a symbol for use on all long distance paths established under the Act’.  The acorn sign, which is now the well recognised symbol for all National Trails in England and Wales, was subsequently agreed in the minutes of the meeting of the Access and Paths Sub-Committee held on 17th January 1969.


Strategically placed signposts have an important function on both National Trails and local footpath networks.  They identify and steer the walker along hard fought for rights of way and, whilst you may not be a signpost addict, the sheer diversity of those on the Pennine Way means that are interesting in their own right!



Chris Sainty

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

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Original 1952 NPC signs
Manchester Corporation Sign Crowden 1956
Start of PW
Sign at Lamb Hill
Map board 24 at Kirk Yetholm
Top Withins signpost