Participants: Pam & Ian Spalding (Easton Royal, Wiltshire),
Margaret Carlyle & John Payne (Maidenhead, Berkshire)
Walk Dates: 12 - 27 August 2014
We had walked a number of long distance paths in both the UK and Europe and were seeking a new challenge in England. Having already experienced the pleasure of Wainwright's excellent C2C, the discovery that David Pitt and his colleagues had complied a re-creation of AW's journey through the Pennines in 1938 seemed to fit the bill exactly. We were not to be disappointed as the walk took us through parts of the country never previously travelled and was not only long and challenging but also immensely enjoyable and interesting.
Planning for the walk began in September 2013 and we concluded that we could complete the journey in 16 stages, the longest of which proved to be 19.5 miles. Our luggage was conveyed from place to place by Brigantes who provided a quite outstanding service and we walked with day packs - we're all in our 60s and probably now past the age of carrying all of our kit over nearly 250 miles! Accommodation was booked direct with each BB/Inn/Guest House; this was an easy if rather time-consuming task although from experience we prefer to choose the night stops personally. All proved to be excellent places to stay with very helpful, friendly and supportive owners or staff.
Our route was generally as laid out in the Guide although a number of minor deviations were made to accommodate issues with our overnight stops. For instance, the pub at Hubberholme does not open on Tuesdays (our start day) and we, therefore, extended our first day's walk to Buckden which proved to be an excellent alternative. We also chose to go over rather than around Pen-y-Ghent given the good weather conditions which prevailed that day. Furthermore, the Inn at Bowes (The Ancient Unicorn) had closed since my earlier booking and we took a taxi from Bowes to Barnard Castle instead with the short return ride the following morning putting us back on track. We also spent two nights at Westgate as accommodation at Blanchland is relatively scarce Finally, we moved beyond Hexham to Warden before travelling up to meet Hadrian's Wall at the Brocolitia Fort thereby missing some of the rather dull roadside parts of the Wall trail which we had already seen some 10 years earlier.
The weather for the walk was pretty good (defying previously gloomy forecasts) with only one really wet day which made the journey to Garrigill from Kellah a little tedious. However, strong winds - on occasions in excess of 40 mph - were a feature of the walk for quite a number of days although they did not manage to detract from our enjoyment which is more than can be said for the luckless cyclist who was blown over while pushing his machine as we sheltered in a shooting butt just below Bolts Law!
We had taken 25000 OS maps but David Pitt's guide was quite excellent and proved to be particularly useful and informative. Furthermore, the "Pennine Journey" way markers were both plentiful and easy to spot as were the other National Trail and footpath signs. We were only once slightly off route and this was due to a navigation error, quickly resolved, rather than through any fault of the guide notes. That said, I would judge OS maps to be essential given the wild and remote parts over which some of the route travels. We also made use of the excellent ViewRanger Satellite Navigation App which invariably fixed our position whatever the situation.
The variety and beauty of the scenery, the solitude of our journey where generally there were very few if any fellow walkers (Hadrian's Wall and the Three Peaks being obvious exceptions) and the opportunity to travel through really remote parts of the Pennines will live long in the memory. In the end, we reckoned that we had travelled a few yards short of 250 miles over a journey which ranks with the very best that we have experienced. To David Pitt and his team, I would simply say a big thank you for bringing together and modernising the essential elements of AW's walk - an excellent achievement which I hope attracts many new walkers to this superb part of the world.