Report: Dave Metcalfe
Walk Date: Mar 2012
I had planned to do this walk in 2010 but due to an Achilles tendon injury it was not possible until this year. However, because of other pressures on my time I could only manage a window of 14 days in which to complete the walk. But, I had made some promises to myself, and to others, that I would make amends and do the walk … So with that in mind I crossed the footbridge at Settle railway station on Sunday, 18th March at 9.40 am. Despite attempting the walk very early in the year I was blessed with dry weather - very cool at first but soon warming to become one of the best periods of March weather for many a year.
In my rucksack I carried two books - the original Wainwright book, “A Pennine Journey - the story of a long walk” and the new pictorial guide by David Pitt entitled “A Pennine Journey - from Settle to Hadrian’s Wall in Wainwright’s footsteps”. Both books are superb - the first for the history of the walk and a great insight into Wainwright’s personality and the latter because it is a well researched and a very accurate guide to this long distance walk.
I found the walk to be varied in terrain, rich in flora and fauna, rich in history and quite simply a grand tour of northern (Pennine) England.
I have previously completed the Wainwright “Coast to Coast” walk and in my view this new walk matches that in every way and is destined to become a real classic among British long distance walks. As my fitness, and the weather, improved I was able to meet my already tight schedule and indeed to beat it by a day … completing my Pennine Journey on the Settle railway station footbridge on Friday, 30th March at 3.50 pm.
All in all I walked 262 miles (15 miles further than the guided route) at an average of 20 miles per day. My walking pace varied from 5.4 kms per hour to 6.0 kms per hour, but overall was 5.6 kms per hour (= 3.5 miles per hour). According to my GPS I ascended 10,073 metres(or 31,500 feet) - roughly equal to 6 miles upwards! The weight of my rucksack was around 25 lbs at the start of each day … gradually reducing to around 19 lbs as I ate and drank my daily provisions.
Day 1 - Settle to Buckden
I left Settle Railway Station at 9.40 am on Sunday, 18 March 2012. It was a glorious morning - the church bells were peeling, the birds were singing and the blue skies were beckoning. As I started to climb out of the town along Constitution Hill a local lady tending a horse asked me “Are you going far?”. “To Hadrian’s Wall and back” I proudly replied. “Oh my word!” she said. “But” I reassured her “not all today!”. Over the next few miles I chuckled at the thought of the Settle stationmaster asking me on my return: “Where from?” to which I would proudly reply in the tradition of our famous marine adventurers “Settle, England”. “Oh my word!” he would say, and people would wave flags and snap photos of me and my pack
…. En-route to Horton I decided to bypass the town, and instead take in a little detour to include an ascent of Penyghent. Whilst I have climbed the three peaks before, I reasoned it would be really cool to do them all again during this particular journey. (Note: Whernside and Ingleborough are both included in the guidebook route). It was quite a stiff climb with a full pack, but well worth the effort to have this first of the three peaks“in the bag”. Let’s hope the weather is kind enough for me to make the other two summits later in the journey.
I descended by the normal route, which emerges onto the Horton track not far from Hull Pot. As I came down there were fine hailstones in the air. " Oh no", I thought, it’s going to be a tough journey … little did I know this was going to be the only precipitation for the next 13 days! Despite my previous walks among the three peaks I had never set eyes on Hull Pot - so it was quite startling to see such a vast hole in the ground not far from where I have previously trod. I wouldn’t want todiscover it just too late in a thick fog! Higher Hull Pot was quite disappointing - I couldn’t find it! The rest of the day was straightforward andon reaching Buckden I was pleased to have completed two stages and an ascent of Penyghent - all in my first day.
Day 2 - Buckden to Tan Hill
A big day: approximately 26 miles, and the crossing of two dales. The weather was dry, but a bitterly cold wind blew all day.
The route passed Cray, and its lovely waterfalls, and proceeded along Gilbert Lane before dropping down into Wensleydale. Semer Water looked pretty full - no water shortage here! Lunch in Bainbridge and then to brave the strengthening wind over the top into Swaledale - my favourite of all the dales. The wind over Oxnop Scar was vicious - looking back there are no obstructions to slow the wind down, apart from me - and all the cold howling blast seemed to be aimed right at me!
It was great to walk along the flanks of Kisdon Hill and pass by Crackpot Hall on the opposite side of the river - it is one of my favourite places - and then soon after pause for a photo at East Gill Falls. I had previously recce’d the route from Keld to Tan Hill, so although it was getting late I knew what to expect. And by now the wind had begun to abate a little. Although it did seem a long time before Tan Hill came into view - and by then it was well into dusk. No one seemed surprised as I walked into the bar - they must be used to weary late arrivals.
Day 3 - Tan Hill to Middleton in Teesdale
The next morning was very misty giving the moorland crossing to Bowes a typical eerie feel to it. The guide book says follow the white posts - but I could see white sticks everywhere! And, then I realised the small ones are to do with moorland and grouse management, and not for pathway guidance. The bigger more weather worn posts were for the walker.
During the morning the cold wind returned with some force and blew the rest of the day. Before reaching Bowes I decided to detour to see God’s Bridge, and was subsequently rewarded by the nice cinder track along the river to reach Bowes. Here I tried to find a shop to buy some lunch - but after walking up and down the full length of the main street realised there isn’t one. Leaving the town it was interesting to see Dotheboy’s Hall. I hoped things had improved since Dickens’s days!
Across the moors again and passed by Hannah Hauxwell’s old farmhouse - still lived in by a new owner. It wasn’t quite as remote as I had imagined, but must have been a tough life without electricity or running water. Her orchard and meadow looked in good condition - well done Hannah! The nearby reservoirs were quite full. Soon I descended into Middleton-in-Teesdale, although it seemed a long last mile or so - had I got caught in the hillside loop track?
Day 4 - Middleton to Westgate
The cold wind had abated a little, it was still continuing dry and by mid-pm the sun came out and there was real warmth in its rays.
It was a super walk along the Tees riverside … historic bridges, Low Force, sculpture, and of course High Force. I was surprised at how many farm cottagesdotted the Tees hillsides - how could the upper valley support so many families? Or perhaps many of them found work in the rather unsightly quarry up river?
The walk across Black Law to Swinhope Head is not pleasant - no distinct path, lots of large tufted grass - energy sapping. The best way seemed to be to contour at a slightly higher level than the derelict sheepfold seen in middle distance … that way it is possible to cross the gullies relatively easily. I have never been so pleased to reach an electricity pylon (a double one at that!).
The walk down the tarmac road all the way into Westgate is tedious and if you have complaining feet it is very painful. I hobbled into Westgate and expectantly knocked at the door of the Hare and Hounds only to find them closed daytimes. Arrghh! Luckily a local lady pointed out that a nearby farm did B&B and escorted me most of the way … funny how angels appear from nowhere when you most need them.
Day 5 - Westgate to Hexham
Another double-stage day. A surprisingly steep climb out of Westgate - I am not keen on these so early in the day. I missed the turn along the disused railway track, and as I approached an old set of kilns could see two farmer types enjoying my mistake: “Another b***** walker can’t follow a map”! I realised my error and backtracked, luckily the farmers were quite a way off so couldn’t see my red face! “He must be interested in history”, I hoped they were thinking. The walk around Heights Quarry seemed to go on forever - it must be a big hole in the ground.
I enjoyed the climb up from Rookhope to Bolts Law - good to be back on high ground. And, the path was good, the cold wind had all but disappeared and the sun was very warming - perfect walking weather at last In Blanchland if felt almost summer like - people sat outside and tourists were walking around the village. The pub and deli shop both looked inviting, but I was only half way and, being self-sufficient, resisted and pressed on. Lunch finally came at a gate above Pennypie House. Blanchland Moor took some time to cross, and this was followed by a longer than expected session through Slaley Forest - not helped by a simple mistake atthe exit which made me do an extra mile back into the forest … annoyed with myself for that one! Soon I reached Redlead Mill and celebrated the first 100 miles walked with a hot chocolate drink.
The sun was setting as I arrived in Hexham. Despite the tiredness I felt excitement at being only now a short distance away from Hadrian’s Wall.
Day 6 - Hexham to Greenhead
Another double day, and with feet hurting I urgently needed to replenish elastoplast stocks. This would boost the national economy I mused. Hexham has a good shopping centre so after a late breakfast and shopping trip I finally left the town at almost 11 am - with 26 miles ahead of me I wasn’t sure if I was going to make it to Greenhead.
With blisters well covered over, and Hadrian’s Wall ahead, I set off at a good pace only to reach a bit of an impasse at Halfway House - where I encountered several Highland cattle with a few young grazing in the very field I was supposed to cross. I cheated and took a short cut through a neighbour’s property, and having apologised to the owner for my action was told that I was the only person to have avoided the apparent risk to self … maybe I am the only coward to have walked that way! Soon after that I passed an alpaca farm, and was enthralled by these nice looking creatures. They even came to the fence en masse to talk to me!
Not long after that I could see Planetrees and Hadrian’s Wall, and finally I was there … a really exciting feeling to have made this significant point in the walk (and in history!) … although the next mile on the Hadrian’s Wall Path around Brunton Turret was pretty meaningless. And, the short stretch of roadside walking to Walwick was tedious. Beyond Walwick the wall was simply a delight, and it was great to be separate from the road and to have lovely northern views and to be an active observer of loads of history. Lunch was at “Limestone Corner” - there is bound to be a boulder here that will give you shelter from any direction of cooling wind.
On reaching Housesteads I made a beeline for the Temple of Mithras - it was fascinating, and I really appreciate the various notice boards along the Wall as they really do help you to visualize how things were in Roman times. Despite being a Christian I thought it wouldn’t do any harm to ask the Roman gods to give me good weather for the remainder of my journey. Always good to hedge your bets!
By now it was late afternoon and I had so little time to soak up the history - so I made a pledge to return as a tourist another day - and sped off towards Windshields Crag. Along the way I was buzzed by a double helicopter fly-past; not sure what they were but they looked armed and menacing - a modern border patrol? How things have changed since Roman soldiers patrolled the area. Not long afterwards I met a man with two dogs - one walking alongside and the other perched on top of his daysac!
I got to Windshields Crag as the sun was setting, but still had several miles to go … paying the price for my late start! So - I made a hurried change of plan - I was still to make for Greenhead, but would walk along the Wall only as far as Hole Gapquarry and then exit onto the B6318 and walk along that in the dark to Greenhead. The plan worked, but roadside walking in the dark was a bit uncomfortable.
At Greenhead Hotel - the landlord announced they were full … my face dropped … but, he said, I could stay in the YHA nearby for a cheaper price and eat in the pub … not a bad compromise!
Day 7 - Greenhead to Alston
A cold start today - no heating in YHA (as I was the only occupant!) - and then a hill start to ascend Blenkinsopp Common and Black Hill. A slight misjudgement at Black Hill - went to the OS column and kept going to right but should have been veering left. Cutting back across clumpy grass was not what I wanted this morning!
But I soon recovered and made Batey Shield, and was then able to ratchet up the pace along the South Tyne Trail. Many of these old train tracks can be a touch monotonous, but this was quite enjoyable as it passed along the South Tyne valley. The surroundings were quite tranquil and very green and felt like a mild micro climate - or was it just me experiencing some lovely weather? The viaduct at Lambley was a real surprise, almost hidden among the trees - almost artistic. The following riverside walk near Lintley was lovely - some nice picnic spots here.
At the end of the day as I was within sight of Alston I made another mistake - couldn’t envisage the Roman fort and mistook another hillside feature for the fort, which led me to going too far and had to drop back down the hillside to meet the bridge over Gilderdale Burn.
Day 8 - Alston to Dufton
I was by now on my 14 day schedule but feeling strong, and, not trusting the weather to last, I decided to try and get another day “in the bag”. So today I would walk beyond Milburn, and try to find accommodation at Dufton. Then the next day would see me through Appleby and make it to Kirkby Stephen - giving me a new 13 day schedule.
The main objective today was to ascend most of way up Cross Fell - but not be tempted to climb it fully as I didn’t want to be diverted from my schedule. Climbing Cross Fell would wait for another day.
The walk to Garrigill and the climb up to Greg’s Hut was quite pleasant. Although on passing another walker in opposite direction he was not impressed when I asked if I was far away from “Bob’s Hut”. “Bob’s Hut?, never heard of that but Greg’s Hut is just around the corner!” The descent off Cross Fell was straightforward - provided you can spot the tiny direction boulder! It is though a very long descent, and my knees were certainly complaining by the time I reached the Eden Valley. I passed the hanging walls of Mark Anthony - very green, very clear and quite a surprise they still survive.
The crossing over Crowdundle Beck is easy in dry weather the river was very shallow, and just as easy in the wet - as there is a new bridge (a bit of over engineering in my view). Soon after that I made a mistake - confused gates and stiles - and ended up on the road a bit too far west, so had a bit of tarmacadam to soak up to get back to Milburn. From there I didn’t chance it and continued along the country lane to reach Dufton, a nice B&B, and a hefty meal at the local pub.
Day 9 - Dufton to Kirkby Stephen
It was just 4 miles to Appleby but instead of going the “easy, but slow” route described in the guide and possibly making my early morning route finding mistake I decided to use the country lane once more and go the “fast, but painful” route.
I bought a sandwich to carry for lunch in Appleby, but as it was being made by the man in the back I noticed the hygiene of the shop-come-café left a bit to be desired and the “use by dates” on some milky drinks in his fridge were long gone … but it was too late I had ordered. Suffice to say I did enjoy the lunch, and lived to tell the tale! I glanced into the place of Lady Anne’s Almshouses and Chapel - what a lovely serene setting for spinsters to spend their time. This was then followed by a really enjoyable riverside walk, sadly too early in the year for the bluebells, so had to use my imagination.
In between Great Ormside and Sandford the path leaves the river and passes a couple of farms - at Terry’s farm the cedar tree is indeed magnificent. As I approached Sandford Bridge along a farm track I could see a lone young cow charging across the bridge and turning right towards me! Luckily, there was a small bridge over a stream with a handrail so I tucked in behind that, and the cow happily kept on charging up the track. Just as I took its photo for the record, the farmer’s wife appeared and I hurriedly made hand signals to tell her where the cow had come from (and hopefully she didn’t think it was me leaving a gate open that had caused the escape). She seemed to understand.
I pushed on, keeping an eye out for more escapees, and reached Musgrave Bridge for my picnic lunch by the river. I sat on a bench seat, not far from St Theobald’s Church, and soaked up the midday sun in a delightful setting. As I ate my lunch a male duck swam up and down the river looking into each little inlet, and “quacking” all the way. He then flew off over a couple of fields, and came back to repeat the process, finally swimming back down river. I can only guess that he was looking for his lost mate - and I hoped that nothing untoward had happened to her. I wished him well as I set off again.
I soon reached Church Brough, and at first was confused by an early underpass signed “Park House”. After a few yards and a farm gate falling painfully onto my foot, I realised this was too early and found the correct underpass at the very end of the village. From then on it was a reasonably easy walk into Kirkby Stephen and Frank’s Bridge brought back memories of my Coast to Coast three years earlier. It also felt significant because this was the second time I had crossed the CtoC path (see Day 2), and I had therefore “closed” one part of the Pennine Journey loop.
That evening I ate with some friends in the same pub, and at the same table, as three years earlier - a creature of habit!
Day 10 - Kirkby Stephen to Garsdale Head
The hard work done I was now up on my own tough schedule by a day, so I could relax a little, and enjoy each of the four remaining guidebook days. Also, today was significant because I would pass the 200 mile mark - and felt quite proud to be getting there on just my tenth day of walking. I remembered that Wainwright was having atrocious weather at this stage in his journey and I had a slight feeling of guilt that mine had gone so well.
The walk along the Upper Eden valley was great, passing two old and interesting castles - Lammerside and Pendragon - in fact it was a surprise to find them in this area. Perhaps this was a trade route in the distant past, and their purpose was to protect or prevent movement along the valley.
The sculpture called “Water Cut” is very impressive, I really liked the simplicity yet artistic shape and in such a grand location. Great lunch spot, and was difficult to re-energise tired limbs. But the 200 mile mark beckoned, and on reaching it I had a celebratory hot chocolate drink. A repeat celebration was had soon after with a pint of local beer at the Moorcock Inn.
Day 11 - Garsdale Head to Sedbergh
After a lovely evening at Garsdale Head I set out for Sedbergh, with some concern about the crossing over Holmes Moss. And, the day didn’t start too well when I almost came to grief on a broken stile immediately after crossing the Settle-Carlisle railway line.
I was soon climbing up onto the wild moorland, and due to the dry conditions the going was relatively easy. Although I did make a slight mistake and veered too close to Rawthey Gill, enforcing another clumpy grass recovery to finally meet the proper path near to Uldale House. It would have been much better to stay high from Flust until you can see the conifers at Uldale (weather permitting the clear visibility). In fact the latter point did make me think how quite a few sections of the Pennine Journey have navigational as well as physical challenges - so it is not a walk to be taken too lightly.
I crossed the A683 road, and found the zigzag path very steep, but soon the angle eased and the walk along the hillside all the way to Sedbergh was quite pleasurable. I didn’t pause (as Wainwright had done in later years) at the Cross Keys … maybe next time! Instead I did take a few photos of the impressive Cautley Spout.
Day 12 - Sedbergh to Ingleton
I hadn’t been looking forward to the walk from Sedbergh to Dent, as I had in my mind that it would cross and re-cross the road and I would get bogged down in wet ground along the river. On the contrary it was a delight - initially along the hillside, then down a quiet country lane, before finally along the river bank. All the time there are great views of Dentdale.
Not long after Dent the route begins the climb up Whernside, time for an early lunch to reduce the pack weight. After that it was non-stop to the summit, and for once was able to take photos without the camera blowing over. The descent off Whernside is fairly steep and certainly tough on old knees, followed by a long walk across the lower slopes on Kirkby Gate. I have to admit at being amused by the guidebook mentioning a standing stone as I could see several in every direction - which one is the right one? I never did find it - but when I mentioned itto a couple of walkers in the pub that evening they said “Oh yes the standing stone it’s famous”! Not to worry I could clearly see the “nick” in the skyline and aimed for that - and was well.
The final section down the Doe Valley passing Ingleton Falls was really nice - my vote goes to the Snow Falls. But, it was surprisingly tough on the knees for the second time today - a good night of rest was sorely needed!
Day 13 - Ingleton to Settle
Yesterday was forecast to have been the last good day, and now a change was imminent. So there was no surprise when I looked out of the B&B window and could only see across the road but not much further. Having done two of the Three Peaks I did not want to miss out on the third. Breakfast became a little leisurely as I waited for the clouds to lift - and it seemed they might but perhaps too slowly for my liking.
I set out apprehensively at 10.00am, and remained in the clouds all the way through Crina Bottom. I started to plan my compass bearing off the summit plateau as I did not want to come down n the wrong valley on my last day (that would be tiring and a touch embarrassing!).
There are no route finding problems going up Ingleborough from Ingleton - it is a very well trodden path. But the mist remained until the final few feet onto the summit plateau, and suddenly all was sunlit and a beautiful blue sky above - I had finally broken through the cloud level. Magnificent! And, so pleased to have completed the three Yorkshire peaks - even though it took me 13 days – a ouch slower than my previous three peaks round! I paused for a few photos, chatted to another couple of walkers also enjoying the conditions, then checked my GPS and set course east for the cairn which indicates correct path down.
I met two other walkers - with expensive looking camera equipment - so I asked them is this the track that takes me down to Little Ingleborough and onto Gaping Gill. “Yes that way, and keep right” they answered confidently. Off I went, at first recognising the track (or so I thought) but later thinking whatever happened to Little Ingleborough! I was now back in the mist with only glimpses of Ingleborough. Over to my left was another fell, which I didn’t want to climb back up and anyway assumed it was Simon Fell … so I kept going on a good track.
I had descended quite a way when two walkers coming uphill informed me that I was on the Horton track. “Oh no!” - I had made an embarrassing mistake! And certainly didn’t want to go to Horton as I knew from there it was another 7 miles back to Settle. And, I didn’t want to climb all the way back up Ingleborough … my knees were already complaining. A quick look at the map revealed that I could descend a little more into the limestone pavement of Sulber and from there turn southwards to contour around lower slopes of Ingleborough meeting up with my intended track well below Gaping Gill. In fact I followed a good track all the way down to Crummack Lane and rejoined the correct route at Austwick - having only added a mile at most - lucky!
From Austwick the walk is straightforward and easy passing over the clapper bridge at Flascoe, through Feizor, and eventually to within sight of Settle. Soon I was walking the last mile - a great feeling, but also a strange feeling of not wanting it to pass too quickly - rather to savour the moment. When I reached Settle the noise of traffic and buzz of people going about to the absolute quiet of walking in the clouds.
As I approached the railway station to complete the journey the clouds seemed to melt away and the sun came through as if to reward me at the end of the day, and the end of the journey. I had certainly been blessed with good weather for this time of year, and now I was clearly being reminded of that.
Well, I had completed 247 miles (plus a bit) through the Northern Pennines, along Hadrian’s Wall, and back. What do I do now? The Body says let’s have a rest, the Heart wants to find another challenge and keep going, but the Head is very clear “let’s celebrate!”.
Having taken a few photos on the railway footbridge I then walked down into the ticket office to look for the Wainwright plaque. As I entered a voice from behind the counter said “Whence from”, without thinking I replied “Settle, England”. To which the voice said “No need to be clever here sir. Do you want to buy a ticket?” “Oh, errh, ok then - can I have a return to Carlisle please”. And so, my day off was spent on the Settle - Carlisle train. What a journey - very impressive views, cuttings, tunnels and of course the viaducts. But, in truth, not a patch on the journey I had just done.