It’s often very tempting on such a long walk to ‘cheat’ and take the bus over a boring bit, or during bad weather, but realising that even a small ‘help’ would have ruined the whole trip kept me on the straight and narrow all the way. The only exceptions were when I had to leave the route to find accommodation in a nearby town or village. Most of the time these were close enough for me to walk along the road or a connecting path and back again the following day, but in Scotland (such as in Glencoe) the distances were sometimes so far that I had to get a bus; mum and dad even had to come to the rescue a couple of times during the final days in northeast Scotland (when they acted as a back-up), as there wasn’t any public transport at all! Rejoining the route after taking transport to the nearest town became an obsession though, so much so that if I got off the bus in a different point from where I’d got on it the evening before, I found myself backtracking to the exact point where I’d left the walk, just to be sure I tramped every single meter of the route!
Friday 28th July: Day 51
Malham (North Yorkshire): Distance walked to date: 652 Miles
The vagaries of the weather have given me many worries during the course of the trip so far, but never more than during the last week as I approached the start of the Pennine Way, one of the most eagerly anticipated but toughest stages of the entire trip. In the event, the weather has done me proud – not too much sun, plenty of mist, a little light rain and a good blustery wind. In many places this kind of weather would hardly be the best I could hope for, but in the desolate high moorlands of the first two days of the Pennine Way, they gave the route an amazing atmosphere, making days 46 and 47 among the most memorable, unforgettable of the entire trip so far.
I crossed from Buxton to Edale, where the Pennine Way starts, on the 21st July, by way of a network of dales and valleys, of which the first, the narrow and dark Chee Dale was the most spectacular, the cliffs on both sides being several hundred feet high and in one place dropping sheer to the river below, forcing the path onto precarious stepping-stones leading downstream for over a hundred yards. At Edale I installed myself in the huge Youth Hostel, packed with kids on activity breaks, on a bright sunny afternoon. Next morning I woke to begin the Pennine Way on a day of heavy, threatening cloud, with a few spits of rain.
The Pennine moors are truly food for the soul if the weather isn’t too bad. The peat bogs were fairly dry when I crossed them and the vast landscape was stupendous – not a wall, pylon or any man-made object on the horizon. The silence was so intense in some places that not a bird or sheep could be heard, not even the sound of a light breeze. Stopping to catch my breath, the only sound I could hear was that of the blood pulsing furiously through my veins after the effort of climbing, surrounded by swirling mists; it was quite surreal and isolating.
Following two remote days in a lunar landscape of peat bogs, rock and sand, a landscape I’d never before realised existed in England, the walking became a little less isolated, and I felt less vulnerable. Huge expanses of moorland continued, but they were less wild and lonely, and I had the occasional society of my co-walkers with whom I spent each evening in a hostel or pub. The last day has been spent on a gentle stroll over the hills and meadows into Malham, where the southern edge of the Yorkshire Dales is dramatically marked by some fantastic scenery – the 260 foot-high cliff of Malham Cove, and the amazing waterfall gorge of Gordale Scar.
Now spending a day off in Malham, but itching to walk on northwards further into the Yorkshire Dales. It’s hard to believe, but I’ll cross into Scotland in 2 weeks, all being well !!!
Thursday 10th August: Day 64
Uswayford Farm, Northumberland: Total distance to date: 841 miles
The beauty of our wonderful country never ceases to amaze me. The sheer variety of scenery within such a limited area as our island of England, Wales and Scotland is really astounding. I’m writing this in what must be one of the most remote bed and breakfast places in Britain, little Uswayford Farm, set in a steep valley a mile from the England-Scotland border, high in the Cheviot Hills, and 12 miles from the nearest settlement. My guide book tells me the Cheviot Hills are the wildest and remotest hill range in England, and for once it seems the superlatives are justified: the vast, open moorland landscape, a mass of flowering pink heather at the moment, the bold dome-like hills of the Cheviots and the huge, brooding masses of cloud in every shade of grey and white combine to form a quite overwhelming scene of unspoilt wilderness. The almost intimidating loneliness is somehow intensified by the occasional military stealth aircraft skimming noiselessly just above the moorland in the distance, the muffled thunder of its engines arrives only as the craft disappears at incredible speed over the horizon.
During my walk along the Pennine Way there has been no shortage of wilderness country. It’s not uncommon to cross large open tracts of moorland where literally not one stone wall or building can be seen from horizon to horizon. Whether the desolate emptiness depresses or exhilarates depends on the weather and on my mood, but I have been very fortunate with the timing of those miserable rainy days. Yesterday I spent the day walking through wall-to-wall rain over bleak moorland and through huge conifer plantations – it was the kind of day that gives the Pennine Way a bad name – boggy, boring and seemingly never-ending. So what a lift today to walk out onto one of the best parts of the whole route on a sunny day, fit to really appreciate its wonders!
I am forever grateful for the hiker’s walking stick I bought in Buxton before starting the Pennine Way. Not only does it take the strain off suffering knees during the long ups and downs, but it has proved essential survival equipment while walking the Pennine Way. Among the many uses for this versatile metal pole are for testing grassy sods in the middle of peat bogs to see if they are secure or simply floating in the ooze; and for testing the depth of the sodden peat if there is really no alternative but to wade through. The stick can be used to pole vault across a peat pool or boggy ditch, and used to test the heather-clad ground for hidden ditches and holes: it’s a must for all Pennine Way walkers!
Talking to fellow walkers it seems many people do not really appreciate the beauty of the Pennine Way; many say it’s “too lengthy…” true, 260 miles goes on a long time; some think it’s too boggy, muddy and bleak, but to me that is all part of the strange, compelling beauty of this place. I’ve been walking with a number of others for most of the Pennine Way – it makes a change from the company of sheep and cows, to whom I’d began talking in my loneliness.
I spent a day resting with my parents (who are acting as back-up party at a couple of problem points on the route) at the village of Dufton in the north Pennines, and was fortunate enough to choose the right day to see the local bus pass by – “one bus into town and back, once a week” the local post office clerk told us with a significant nod.
Still ignoring the temptation of cheating and taking public transport at all – when available – I’ve walked slowly north and along a stretch of Hadrian’s Wall (built by the Romans to defend England from the ‘barbarians’ in Scotland). The wall takes a fearless course over a series of fearsome switchback hills and crags – it’s exhausting work just following the route of the wall; how the Romans ever got to build it I’ll never know.
Leaving the wall the Pennine Way passes on up through sparsely populated Northumberland, the last stretch of the Pennine Way being an extremely remote trail of 26 miles. Not wanting to walk all 26 miles in one day , I was fortunate enough to get B & B here at this remote farm. There are only a few beds here, and some friends who had not booked a couple of weeks in advance had no alternative but to continue and complete the 26 miles all in one day. Tomorrow I walk the last exhilarating 13 miles of the Pennine Way over the hills and down into Kirk Yetholm and Scotland, to start the last third of my walk.