High Cup Nick, created by a higher power with a massive ice-cream scoop. Presumably.
Welcome to Britain’s oldest official National Trail – and it’s an absolute monster! A quick search online of people’s experiences along the Pennine Way will give you a flavour of what awaits those who dare to pit themselves against the most savage of all the long-distance trails.
Stories of knackered dogs and fathomless bogs. Of overly curious – and often furious – livestock. Tales that recount walking in storm, hail, sleet and snow. And of trekkers who give up, cowed and crushed by exhaustion, heatstroke, injury, illness and blisters the size of saucers.
As the great Alfred Wainwright himself said:
“I finished the Pennine Way with relief, the Coast to Coast Walk with regret. That’s the difference.”
And I won’t lie to you: There is no trail that will test you more than this one. Because if you’re going to drag your sorry carcass from Derbyshire to Scotland then you’ll need calves of steel and an iron will – for this is a trail that will truly test your mettle.
It’s a path that will conduct a thorough audit of your fitness. That will examine your endurance and study your stamina. That will scrutinise your skills at navigation and orienteering, and pick away at your prowess for planning. Fail in any one of these areas, and you’ll fail to reach the end of the trail. Or at least, you’ll have a highly unpleasant time getting there.
So why, given all the hardships that you may have to endure just to complete this trek, would anyone want to attempt it?
Well, because, in our opinion, the oldest National Trail in England and Wales is also the best national trail. No question.
Why do I think that? Well, maybe it’s just because I was lucky when I finally got to walk the walk in 2018. Where many people talk about the appalling weather they suffered on their hike, myself and Daisy were fortunate enough to walk in a heatwave, when nearby Saddleworth Moor was ablaze and the mercury regularly tickled the thirty-degree mark.
I was also lucky enough to walk outside of the summer holidays (I hiked in late June), when the path is that much quieter. And there’s no doubt, too, that the path has been much improved since its inception in 1965, and many of the boggiest parts now have paving slabs across them. These not only prevent further erosion of these delicate landscapes, but also ensure that trekkers don’t step into treacherous mud, and, moreover, are able to keep to the correct path.
So I am happy to admit that I was very fortunate when I walked the Way. It was one of those treks when every thing just clicked and came together.
But I have a feeling that, even if it didn’t, and the rain lashed down and myself and Daisy spent the entire time being chased by cattle, going hungry and sleeping rough, I’d still have enjoyed it. Because the Pennine Way is such an adventure.
That adventure begins in Edale. This place is something of a pilgrimage for British trekkers, as the nearby Kinder Scout – the first serious climb on the trail – is famous as the place where, in the 1930s, a group of local ramblers gathered to take part in what later became known as the ‘Kinder Mass Trespass’ to protest against being denied access to areas of open country.
Once you’ve reached the summit, you leave the crowds behind and the adventure truly begins. Passing through Derbyshire, Lancashire, Yorkshire, Cumbria, County Durham and Northumbria, you’ll spend the next two or three weeks negotiating the various vertebrae of England’s backbone. In doing so, you pass through no less than three national parks – Peak District, Yorkshire Dales and Northumberland – as well as the Cheviot Hills in Scotland.
Manage to complete it all and, according to Wikipedia, you’ll have negotiated 287 gates, 249 timber stiles, 183 stone stiles and 204 bridges. You’ll also have walked alongside, and then crossed, a very decent slice of Hadrian’s Wall too.
All of which is very impressive, but it’s the stuff that hasn’t been made by man that is most impressive. The dramatic cliffs at Malham, where falcons dive headfirst – at speeds that no other living creature can muster – for their supper. Or the wonderful High Cup, the most perfect glaciated valley in northern England. There are also the mighty waterfalls of Hardraw Force and High Force (stand alongside either of these, take in their power and fury, and you’ll fully appreciate why the locals christen them ‘forces’.)
Plus, of course, there is the mile after mile of bleak but breathtaking moorland and fell which make up the majority of the trail.
It truly is the finest walk in England, and one that encapsulates pretty much everything that is great about trekking in this country. And I urge you to try it for yourself. Just make sure you attempt some easier paths first. Because this is not the place to start your life on the trail.