There’s few reasons to get out of bed at 7.30am on Sunday morning, but having the opportunity to go for a decent hike with friends is definitely one of them. In the depths of winter I would much rather be tucked up in bed unless I have a Mountain Rescue training exercise to get to, and even then I drag myself out of bed disgruntled.
Sunday started with dense fog too, as I drove over Holme Moss wondering why I had bothered to get out of my nice warm bed to spend the day in cloud. I could barely see beyond 50m as I headed over the summit. Thankfully as I headed over the Snake Pass it was clear that the fog wasn’t quite as dense the further south in the Peak District so I was relieved.
After a bit of joking about how we’d hoped for the remains of snow but were going to instead spend the day bog trotting, we headed out from the Snake Pass Inn car park and up Ashop Clough track, to where it meets the Pennine Way.
I should have gone cycling on Saturday in training for my next big trip. But I’m not a cyclist at heart, so when a friend asked if I wanted to go hill walking it didn’t take long for me to say yes. Especially when I saw the forecast was going to be sunny. I’d never been up Bleaklow in the sunshine before.
Bleaklow, in the Peak District, is about 30 minutes drive over country lanes from my house. The typical weather I endure is dense fog and rain, but instead on Saturday I had glorious sunshine, although it was cold and windy.
We parked at the car park at Torside Reservoir, next to the Longdendale Trail. This is a section of the longer Trans-Pennine Trail, which is a fantastic long distance route for cyclists and walkers. Our route for the day was to head up Wildboar Clough to check out a mini scramble up the river before heading across the fell top to the summit cairn. From the Trans-Pennine Trail track we clambered over a couple of rickety stiles and through the woodland on a path that is clearly little used.
Ok, not quite a marathon but I knew this day was going to be tough and so I was mentally prepared for the long walk ahead. 26 miles of bog trotting over moorland, it was going to take all of my willpower to keep going.
Bryness to Kirk Yetholm (25.75 miles/ 41.2 km)
I set out from Bryness campsite at 6.30am in order to make sure I had plenty of time to do the final leg of the walk and to be able to sit and have lunch (a thing I rarely do) and rest when I needed to (also not common).
From Bryness the Pennine Way heads straight up through the woodland to access the moorland. This is the last view of trees or civilisation I would have for hours as I headed our over the Otterburn Ranges. Much of this area is used as military training ground and so signs keep you from straying from the footpath.
Not the wettest day of the Pennine Way, but certainly not the driest! It was also not a particularly long day, which was good as by the time I arrived at Bryness at just after lunch it started and didn’t stop raining.
Bellingham to Bryness (15 miles/ 24 km)
Leaving Bellingham from the north of the village I could see I was heading for the rain and into the clouds. Unlike the day before when I’d tanned quite nicely whilst bog trotting from Housestead, it was immediately clear that it was never going to get sunny on the way to Bryness.
As the Pennine Way heads northwards it drifts from towns to only crossing through small farms and villages. Heading to Bellingham the only conversation I had all day was with the odd sheep!
Housestead to Bellingham (13.5 miles/ 21.5 Km)
I was lucky enough to get dropped off on the road just below Cuddy Crag where the Pennine Way turns off Hadrian’s Wall to head northwards. I could see right away though that it was going to be a day of wet feet.
A day off from wading through bogs was much appreciated as I headed out over the section of the Pennine Way which overlaps with the Hadrian’s Wall national trail. This section of the route is possibly the best signposted along the whole route, probably due to the popularity and that two national trails link up here.
Greenhead to Housestead (10 miles/16 km)
It was nice to know I only had a few hours of walking today and that I would be able to avoid bog trotting, so it was even nicer to have the sun shining too. Starting at Greenhead the first encounter with Hadrian’s Wall is Thirlwell Castle, which was actually built in the early 14th Century by John Thirlwell as a family home; built from recycled Roman stone. It did however prove to repel attacks during the Anglo-Scottish border raids in the 15th and 16th centuries until it was abandoned in the 17th century. Saved from further dereliction by Northumberland National Park Authority there is an information board highlighting the castle’s history. Despite it being at the start of the walk, it’s worth a look.
I’m not exactly a purist, always happy to get off the beaten track to get to where I’m going. But when tackling the Pennine way the whole point is that you remain on the route as much as possible. Alston to Greenhead was one of the only days on the route that I had wished I’d taken an alternative path to get to where I was going. Ok, that’s a bit unfair as there are some really lovely sections along the route, but there are also some very boggy bits!
Alston to Greenhead (16 Miles/26 km)
So be warned, look at the map carefully and decide if you really want to bog trot over moors or head along the South Tyne trail for part of the way, which uses the old train line and runs along the valley bottom. Its possible to take this route as far as Lambley before picking up the Pennine Way again. You could go all the way to Haltwistle if you wished, but then you’d be missing out the day walking along Hadrian’s Wall which would be a shame.
Alston is only a small market town but boasts the fame of being the highest in England.
I have to admit to being a bit excited about the prospect of finally finishing the Pennine Way over a final week of walking after having started this route 8 years ago. So taking a week off work and roping in my parents as willing sherpas I headed out on the fells.
Dufton to Alston (18.75 Miles/ 30 Km)
Heading out I had a skip in my step, eager to get on the fells. I did however have a minor hangover from a great night in the Stag Inn, the fantastic pub in the village (which does excellent meals). Despite being in sunshine in Dufton I could already see that Great Dun Fell and Cross Fell were shroud in mist.
Having found myself with only a couple of hours to really enjoy the fantastic September sunshine I managed to squeeze in a walk. It wasn’t an epic romp but it doesn’t always need to be to make me smile.
Having already seen 4 of the 6 Stanza Stones scattered around the South Pennines, I decided to head up to the Rain stone today.
The Stanza Stones were completed in 2012 and are 6 poems by Simon Armitage which have been carved on stones, each dotted about the uplands of the South Pennine landscape. There is a great trail guide you can download on this website – here – but frankly the walks are far to short for my liking so in the past I have turned them into longer circular walks.
I was grateful for cloud when I rose this morning, although its still quite warm and humid. I trudge on, nursing two huge blisters from racing yesterday section in the blazing hot sunshine in inadequately thin socks, I’m indifferent to the prospect of walking over the moors in the mist. Anything is better than the baking sunshine of yesterday. However, it would be nice to have a view of High Cup Nick when I get there.