Friday, 23 May 2014

Afterthoughts

The following morning, I made my way through the rain to the local railway station, which was located a little outside of the town. The Carlisle to Settle railway line travels through some of the most spectacular upland countryside in England and I had a long held ambition to travel it. Although this trip would only take in a section of this iconic line, I was looking forward to it very much, so I was hugely disappointed to choose the carriage containing an outrageously drunken Scotsman. This oaf spent the entire journey shouting and swearing loudly and drinking cans of beer while at the same time insulting the English and any walkers entering the carriage at each stop along the way. I mentally detached myself from this disturbance and tried to enjoy the scenery we passed through and as we crossed the Ribblehead Viaduct, which I had last seen through the haze on my walk from Horton in Ribblesdale to Hawes, I could clearly see the Pennine Way as it climbed over the hills in the distance and I found myself wishing I was still there rather than trapped with the drunken idiot at the other end of the carriage. 
Before too long, I arrived in Settle and spent a few hours wandering around the shops, cafes and pubs while awaiting a lift from my uncle. He was coming to collect me from his home in North Wales where I was going to spend the holiday weekend, having not seen him since he had moved there many years earlier. Soon, we were greeting each other in a car park in the centre of town and before long I found myself speeding along motorways to his home where I spent a very pleasant four days being introduced to the highlights of the North Wales scenery, albeit by car. 
Having returned home and spent a few days reflecting, I soon realised that I really shouldn't have undertaken the walk. My health had been adversely affected by the shingles virus and although I wasn't in any pain, my energy levels, and therefore my mood, were both very low. Most of the problems I had encountered along the way I would have dealt with without any great problem had I been in good health. Having 'dumped' most of my camping gear, which to be fair, was quite old, I set about purchasing newer, better quality replacements and began making plans to walk the northern half of the trail. I still cringe at the thought of littering the countryside - one of my pet hates - but my mood at the time was thunderous and all other considerations ended up in the bottom of the hollow with my failing gear. The following year, I did look to see if it was still there with the intention of picking it up and disposing of it properly but of course, it had gone. I hope someone got some use out of it!

Thursday, 22 May 2014

The Pennine Way South - Keld to Kirkby Stephen - 22nd May 2014

Swaledale

I awoke to rain. The long promised 'weather' had finally arrived as if to signal the end of my trip along the Pennine Way and I was now faced with a walk to Kirkby Stephen along the Coast to Coast path to enable me to get transport home. Had the bus service still been running, I would have avoided walking in the rain for the duration of the trip. As it was, I left the guesthouse wearing my waterproofs for the first time and hoped that I could remember the way as I had no maps or guidebook for the Coast to Coast route and I was also faced with having to walk it in the reverse direction. As the section to Kirkby Stephen involved some fairly remote moorland, I was keen to make sure that I didn't stray off of the path. As it turned out, apart from one minor aberration, I managed to keep to the path for the whole trip, which I thoroughly enjoyed. I walked without stopping through heavy rain as I squelched through peat bogs, arriving very wet and bedraggled in Kirkby Stephen in a little under 4.5 hours. I walked to the far end of the town to a guesthouse I had used on the Coast to Coast walk in 1998 and was amazed when the door was answered by the same woman. Unfortunately, she had no rooms available but phoned a friend who soon arrived in her car and drove me to her guesthouse a short distance away. After cleaning up, I called home and later made my way into town for a meal in a local pub. My Pennine Way adventure was over for now at least.   

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

The Pennine Way South - Hawes to Keld - 21st May 2014

Meadow near Hardraw

I'm not a big fan of guesthouses that have a communal breakfast table rather than individual tables for each room. This isn't because I'm particularly unsociable but because you are forced to eat with whomsoever happens to be staying at the guesthouse at the time. Mostly, this is no problem, because the vast majority of people are friendly and sociable but there is always the odd person who just doesn't want to play the game and this was one of those mornings when I drew the short straw. I was sat with two walkers, one of whom was reasonably chatty but his friend was one of those people you wish you hadn't met. He wasn't directly unpleasant but just sat answering questions with a single word and had unfriendly aura that just made me uncomfortable. I ate breakfast quickly, paid my bill and was relieved to be outside in the fresh morning air on another beautiful day. 

River Ure

After a brief walk around the centre of Hawes, I headed out across the River Ure and through meadows carpeted with yellow flowers towards Hardraw, where the main attraction is the Green Dragon pub with it's Hardraw Force waterfall in the 'back garden'. This is a popular attraction that the pub owners charge to visit but as it was early morning and I have an aversion to paying to enjoy natural landscape features, I passed the pub without slowing my pace. Having spurned the 'opportunity' of paying to see the waterfall, I followed a walled lane and began the long five mile climb to the summit of Great Shunner Fell. 

Great Shunner Fell

I had expected this to be a hard climb but in the event, it wasn't, just a fairly long, steady plod with ever widening views back to Wensleydale. As I climbed higher, I could see the Buttertubs Pass over to my right, which from here appeared as nothing more than a loose thread dangling from an item of clothing, reduced as it was to insignificance in the surrounding vast expanse of moorland. This illusion was occasionally shattered by the appearance of a minute vehicle struggling up the impossible gradient. Soon, I became aware of a long, whaleback protuberance on the horizon ahead and realised that this was the summit of Great Shunner Fell, not what I was expecting at all. Towards the right of this frankly unimpressive 'lump' in the surrounding moorland, I could make out what appeared to be the stone wind shelter on the summit and it wasn't long before I had reached it and removed my pack and took advantage of the convenient seat in the shelter. What the summit lacked in aesthetic appeal, it more than made up for in the view from it's top. I had a virtual 360 degree panorama including Fountains Fell and Pen y Ghent, which I had climbed over two days earlier. 

Approaching Swaledale

To the north I could clearly see the brilliant white 'golf ball' of the radar tracking station on Great Dun Fell, which I now would not reach until I returned to complete the walk. After a short rest break, I followed the path from the summit in the direction of Keld and stopped for a while to chat to a very friendly man who was checking out the route for a forthcoming cancer charity walk. He had come from the Tan Hill Inn, which was clearly visible in the distance and after chatting to him for a while I discovered that he had passed Neil in Keld, who had left Hawes earlier than me as he was planning to walk further. 


I myself was stopping at Keld, a place I knew quite well having stayed there before on two previous occasions while doing the Coast to Coast walk. The village is a tiny, remote outpost at the head of Swaledale and as the Pennine Way and the Coast to Coast both pass through, is something of a crossroads. In past years, finding somewhere to sleep and eat could present a problem because of the limited accommodation. This is still an issue but there is at least a small hotel in what used to be the Youth Hostel, so a beer and a meal is now available in the village. I also noticed that the campsite that I and my friend Alan had stayed at in 2011 has now entered the 'glamping' market with three large 'yurts' where tents used to be pitched and also a 'luxury' bunkhouse in what was a basic barn for campers to eat in the when the weather was wet. As I bade the friendly walker 'goodbye' and continued descending, the sun broke through the cloud and magnificent views opened out of Upper Swaledale. 

Upper Swaledale

I descended to the village of Thwaite with a mixture of joy at the scene unfolding in front of me and sadness knowing that my time on the Pennine Way was drawing to a close, at least for now. I had decided to finish at Keld and catch a small local bus that ran twice a day to the town of Richmond, where I would then check out the transport options for returning south. Thwaite was quickly left behind and I climbed from meadows to Kisdon House and then followed an uncomfortable, stone strewed path while trying to enjoy the fantastic view of the River Swale as it made it's way through the narrow, winding valley below. 


Soon, Keld came into view and I made my way to the hotel in the village where I purchased a pint of Black Sheep bitter and enquired about the buses from the barman who informed me that there was no longer any service in the village. Due to the lack of people using it, the service had been terminated the month before so I would now be forced to review my plans once more. For the time being, I wasn't worried though and I took my beer outside into the sunshine and had a friendly conversation with three people also enjoying their drinks in the sun. 



Later, I crossed the road and checked into my room at the Butt House guesthouse and that evening, had another communal meal with numerous friendly and chatty people, who it transpired were from America and Tasmania, making me the only English person in the room. The meal was in stark contrast to how I had started the day and after an interesting conversation and some great food, I retired to my room fairly early as usual to contemplate my options for the following day.   

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

The Pennine Way South - Horton in Ribblesdale to Hawes - 20th May 2014


Heading across the moors to the Cam High Road

The previous evening, after checking in at the Crown Hotel, I had left my room and returned downstairs where I encountered a familiar face who greeted me as I entered the bar. After a moments confusion, I suddenly realised that I had sat close to the person who now introduced himself to me as Neil, days earlier in the Bay Horse pub in Cowling. Although we hadn't spoken at the time, I remembered him because he was also alone and I had wondered at the time if he was a walker. We both ordered a pint and sat at one of the tables in the bar and it turned out that Neil was walking part of the Pennine Way. We sat and chatted for some time and I discovered that he was from Gateshead in the north-east, which from his fantastic accent was not really a surprise. We spent the rest of a convivial evening dining and drinking together in the bar before I decided that I had had enough and retired to my room fairly early. 


The Cam High Road

In the morning, as I paid my bill in the bar, Neil was there and we set off together in the direction of Hawes where we both had rooms booked for the night. Although, according to the guidebook, this leg of the walk was a fourteen mile stretch, because the route followed wide, walled tracks across the moors, it felt shorter and easier than the previous days 'yomp' over Fountains Fell and Pen-y-Ghent. This was partly because it only involved one ascent but it was also because it was a long, gradual climb that was easy underfoot. The weather conditions, although fine, were very 'hazy' and it was difficult to make out much detail in the surrounding landscape. Having said this, the walking was excellent and Neil and myself soon found ourselves high above Horton. As we neared the summit of Jackdaw Hill, my mobile phone suddenly burst into life and I bade a temporary farewell to Neil as I took advantage of the signal to reply to messages. 


A hazy Snaizeholme Valley

Keeping in contact with my wife and family had been one of the frustrations of the walk, particularly in Horton, where there was virtually no signal. I had been advised by the barman in the hotel to try standing on the bridge over the river across from the hotel but this had not worked. Thankfully, there was a public phone in the village and I had used this to 'report in' and let my wife know that I was okay. After sending my messages, I continued in pursuit of Neil who by now was out of sight. The Pennine Way joined the Dales Way for a short distance and I was slightly disappointed that the view from here to the Ribblehead Viaduct, which should have been superb, was less than impressive in the strangely murky conditions. It was along this section, known as the Cam High Road, where I caught up with Neil and we walked together for the rest of the days section to Hawes. 


Entering Hawes

The walking was quite easy as we followed the walled West Cam Road over Dodd Fell and enjoyed occasionally excellent views into the impressive Snaizeholme Valley when the haze cleared a little. It wasn't too much longer before we were in the streets of Hawes, an attractive, busy little town and we headed for the nearest pub and sat outside enjoying a pint in the sun, which had now put in an appearance. Later, after we had checked into our respective guest houses, we met up for a meal in another pub in the town centre before retiring fairly early once again.


Hawes street scene


Monday, 19 May 2014

The Pennine Way South - Malham to Horton in Ribblesdale - May 19th 2014

Malham Cove

Despite my sudden release from the failures of my camping equipment and the reduction in weight caused by the 'burial ceremony', I now had a new set of problems. Without the tent, I knew that my budget would not extend to using guesthouses for the whole route and this, coupled with the knowledge that a bank holiday was looming meant that I was forced to re-evaluate my plans. Many guesthouses in the UK are unwilling to take bookings of less than two nights at weekends and with the approaching weekend being a holiday weekend, this would mean that most, if not all in the Yorkshire Dales National Park would require bookings of three days minimum, and this was always assuming that they had a room free anyway. I knew that Bowes was around the halfway point so I decided that if I could get there before the bank holiday, I would end my trip there and return at a later date to complete the northern half of the walk. I turned these thoughts over in my mind as I walked out of Malham towards Malham Cove and decided that despite the disappointment of not finishing the walk, this was now probably the best option. The weather was still fine, the rain that had long been forecast still had not materialised and I began the steep climb up the path alongside the impressive limestone cliffs of the cove. 


Limestone pavement, Malham Cove


Malham Cove

Once on top, I crossed the equally impressive limestone pavement as I made my way to the edge and peered over the dizzying drop to the path below. It was at this point that I became aware of a birdwatcher on the opposite side of the cove sitting with a tripod and a very long telephoto lens and as I stood loooking in his direction, I saw what I took to be a peregrine falcon plummet out of the sky in an incredibly fast dive before pulling up at the last minute and disappearing into a crevice in the cliffs. It was clear that the 'twitcher' was watching the falcons aerobatic displays but he seemed to be unhappy with my presence as I could feel him staring at me constantly while I took in the views from the top of the cove. Reminding myself that I had as much right as him to be there, I took plenty of photos before turning round and heading off along the narrow, rocky defile of Watlowes Valley. 


Watlowes

My guide book describe the day as ' a sensational day's walk' and so it proved. Soon, I was skirting around the attractive Malham Tarn before heading off on a long haul up to the summit of Fountain's Fell. This, as the book suggested, was 'real' walking country and I had the whole place to myself for the climb to the summit, which I reached and then stopped to stare in admiration at the superb view of Pen-y-Ghent, one of the Yorkshire Three Peaks and the next objective on the walk. Unencumbered by the pack, I was making quick progress and as I descended, I passed two walkers, the first 'real' walkers I had seen all morning but I soon had the place to myself again. I knew this was set to change once I reached Pen-y-Ghent but for now I revelled in the solitude and the fantastic scenery. Leaving the road along valley floor, I headed off on a track towards the now imposing summit of Pen y Ghent, that now I was down on the floor of the valley, had taken on almost 'Himalayan' proportions. I decided I would have a break before the start of the climb to the summit at the point where an alternative path branched off to Horton in Ribblesdale, thereby avoiding the climb to the summit. Much as the thought of arriving at my destination without the effort involved in the climb appealed, I had no intention of taking the easy option, despite having climbed Pen y Ghent before. 



Pen y Ghent

As I sat in the shelter of a dry stone wall at the path junction for a breather, I smiled as I recalled that previous ascent many years before. Myself and a friend had driven from the south of England and started walking from Horton along this alternative path to start the climb to the summit. As it had been quite a long drive, we both had a sudden need to relieve ourselves but the countryside provided no cover so, after checking that there was no-one around, both took the advantage of the solitude and relieved ourselves by the side of the path. We were therefore a little embarrassed to discover as we climbed up to the path junction where I now sat that there was a group of people sheltering by the wall who judging by the grins on their faces as we approached had 'enjoyed' a grandstand view. Oh well, when you've got to go etc..... After a short break reminiscing, I shouldered my now lightweight pack and began to climb. Although steep, the climb did indeed take me 'only fifteen minutes of panting' as my guidebook suggested. Once on the summit, I enjoyed stunning views and had a short conversation with a walker enquiring about the virtues of walking with two poles. I gave him my thoughts on the subject and then jogged down the steep grassy path that ran parallel to the far more difficult looking rocky 'main path' using the poles to almost 'vault' down the hill. As the path levelled out somewhat, I slowed down and enjoyed a leisurely stroll into Horton in Ribblesdale. 


Heading into Horton in Ribblesdale

As I arrived at the road in the village and marvelled at my good fortune with the weather, I felt spots of rain fall on my head. Amazed at the coincidence, I looked up to see a large black cloud overhead and jogged through the village to my hotel just as the heavens opened. These were the first spots of rain that I had experienced on the walk so far and proved to be the last on the Pennine Way.

Sunday, 18 May 2014

The Pennine Way South - Cowling to Malham - 18th May 2014

Lothersdale

The previous evening, after leaving the pub, I had returned to my tent in the field at the back of the guesthouse and soon fell asleep under the influence of a few pints of beer. However, the effects of the alcohol soon wore off and I awoke at around 1.30am to the realisation that the road passing the guesthouse was continually busy with traffic that showed no sign of abating. To make matters worse, what I hadn't realised when pitching the tent was that the tall trees on the opposite side of the field obscured a church tower whose bells tolled every fifteen minutes. I tossed and turned in a vain attempt to get back to sleep but everytime I was about to drop off, I would be rudely awoken by either a loud vehicle passing by or the tolling of the church bells. And as if this wasn't bad enough, I was still cold and I had to put on virtually all of my normal daytime clothing in an attempt to get warm and hopefully induce sleep. The final straw however was the fact that despite having looked flat on arrival, my pitch was very slightly sloping to one side and I felt as though I was constantly rolling downhill. I spent the rest of an infuriating, tiring night fighting with one or another impediment that combined to prevent me from getting anymore sleep and by the time I finally got up, I calculated that I had had only three hours sleep all night and I was in a terrible mood. To cap it all, I discovered that my second gas canister was now empty and I realised that my stove must be the problem, which meant that I couldn't even enjoy a coffee before I started walking. I packed up and headed off to the nearby village of Ickornshaw and began climbing some fairly steep fields to the beautifully situated village of Lothersdale. Much as the countryside was idyllic, my mood was fixed for the day (or so I thought) and I struggled up the hills with my rucksack, stopping frequently as my tiredness dictated. I consoled myself with the fact that there was a cafe at East Marton on the Leeds - Liverpool canal and I promised myself that I would stop and enjoy lunch to make up for my discomfort the previous night. 

Leeds-Liverpool Canal

I passed through the neat houses of Thornton-in-Craven before descending to the canal where I left it for a road leading downhill to the cafe. As I descended the tarmac, mentally choosing items from the imaginary menu, I was suddenly passed by around two dozen lycra clad cyclists who fizzed past me downhill in the direction of the cafe. With a growing sense of unease, I realised that they were probably heading for the same cafe so I increased my pace but it was all to no avail. I reached the tiny cafe to find that it had been invaded by these 'lycra louts' and a large queue had formed that led out of the door and into the seating area in the garden. I would normally have walked straight past but I had been so looking forward to a pleasant, relaxing lunch and wasn't about to be denied so I joined the queue and made no concessions to the fact that my large rucksack was taking up huge amounts of space in the tiny cafe. If my mood had been black before, it was now thunderous and I took great delight in swinging the pack off of my shoulder when it came time for me to pay for my food and pot of tea. As I passed the queue on the way out of the cafe to try and secure a table outside, the 'lycra-louts' made no attempts to give me any room to pass with my large pack so I just pushed past them using the pack as a battering ram to get by. A woman just about to enter the cafe through the tiny doorway, thought better of it and backed out as she could see I was in no mood to take prisoners and in any case, I had nowhere to go, such was the lack of space. The fact is though that I would have happily trampled over her if she had tried to push by me! I found a table after depositing my pack against a nearby wall and was soon joined by numerous cyclists, including one particularly 'screechy' woman who insisted on giving the whole cafe the benefit of her dietetical knowledge as she squawked on about 'carbs' and 'calories' and how 'fat intake restricts the absorbtion of carbohydrate'. If I hadn't had already ordered, I would have left immediately but I waited patiently (almost) until my food arrived, minus the tea! That was it, I pushed the sandwich into my mouth, picked up my pack and left without waiting for the tea and headed off into the sanctuary of the nearby fields as the Pennine Way departed from the canal and headed off again into the countryside. 

Gargrave

My mood was now at an all time low and it was at this point where the whole walk changed. Crossing a field towards some large trees, I pulled out my guidebook and found the number of a guesthouse in Malham and rang to enquire after a room for the night. I was overjoyed to find that they had a vacancy, which I duly booked, brightening my mood immediately. I thought back to the previous nights trials and as I entered the small knot of trees, I made a decision. My tent, sleeping bag and stove had all let me down so they were now going to pay the price. In the trees, I found a deep hollow off to the side of the path and unbuckling my pack, I retrieved my camping gear and threw it over the side in a cathartic cleansing ceremony. I was overjoyed! I no longer had the weight to carry. I no longer had the worry of the tent leaking if and when it did start raining, and I no longer had to endure cold nights trying not to roll downhill. 

River Aire

I bounded along like a new born gazelle, chuckling as I pictured my gear tumbling down the side of the hollow. The tent, despite being a good quality purchase fifteen years earlier had obviously suffered from being neglected, squashed into a stuff-sack for most of it's life and the sleeping bag had never been up to the job. Suddenly, I was free, released to do what I love best, walking! I had now joined the ranks of the slackpackers! The walk soon linked up with the River Aire and I enjoyed a stroll through meadows and fields to enter the Yorkshire Dales National Park, eventually arriving at a very busy Malham village as it sweltered in the mid-afternoon sun. The guesthouse was actually on the Way and I was soon unpacking what possessions I had left in my room and enjoying a hot shower. Later, as the afternoon turned to evening, the skies clouded and it began to rain and I wondered if this marked the turn in the weather that the forecasters had been predicting ever since I had set off from Edale. Thankfully, at least for now anyway, it appeared to be a just a late afternoon shower and once it had passed I made my way to the Lister Arms pub for a meal and contacted my wife through the wonders of a free wi-fi connection that actually worked.         

Saturday, 17 May 2014

The Pennine Way South - Hebden Bridge to Cowling - 17th May 2014

Gorple Reservoir

Breakfast meant going upstairs into the owners part of the house and once up the stairs I found myself in the kitchen where all of the breakfast paraphernalia was set out in neat readiness, although I noticed that there were two place settings on the table. The owner (I never did find out her name) was efficient and polite but gave no sign that she was interested in conversing with me at all, other than providing me with the correct way to tackle the breakfast I had paid for. I imagined that after I had eaten she would 'shoo' me out of the door to enable her to eradicate any trace of me ever having been in her world. The reason for the second place setting soon became apparent as another guest arrived and was given his 'instructions' and though initially as taciturn as the landlady, soon loosened up as we had a conversation about the Pennine Way before I learned that he was in Hebden Bridge for a 24 hour running race. This surprised me as he didn't look like a particularly athletic type and certainly wasn't a youngster, although depressingly, as is becoming more common, I noted he was younger than me! I finished breakfast and returned to my room and was soon outside the front door sitting on the bench provided for putting on walking boots, this being a task that was forbidden in the house. I wondered what happened when it was pouring with rain! 

Top Withins

Returning to the Pennine Way normally involved a trudge back along the canal towpath before enduring a steep climb out of the Calder Valley but the landlady's husband - who I assumed was no longer with us - had written out directions from the guesthouse back onto the Way without having to endure any back-tracking and each guest attempting the walk was furnished with a slip of paper detailing this alternative short cut. I guess that some purist walkers would baulk at the thought of missing a mile or so of the route but I had no such problems and gratefully accepted the route details. I soon found myself walking along a beautiful leafy lane above Colden Water where I eventually rejoined the Pennine Way as it crossed the lane from the left and descended to the river, which it crossed by a bridge in the idyllic surroundings of Hebble Hole. As I climbed steeply up from the river, I looked back and saw the two walkers in the distance that I had last bumped into at The White House pub the day before and I gave them a wave. Apart from a couple of glimpses of them off in the distance throughout the first part of the days walk, I never saw them again and I guess that as they were only planning to go as far as Horton in Ribblesdale, they were in no hurry. 


As I dropped down to Gorple Reservoir, I noticed that the Pennine Way signs and the guidebook diverged so I continued to follow the signs thus avoiding a descent into a small valley where the book showed the Way crossing Graining Water. I arrived at a road and stopped for a chat with a couple, the male half of which reminisced with me about his walk along the route some years before. The walk now followed the road for a while before turning off across the dam of the Walshaw Dean Lower Reservoir. It was here, as I opened the gate to the reservoir wall that I caught my finger in the gate latch and turned the air blue with expletives before trying to 'suck' the pain away. A walker coming towards me in the opposite direction sympathised and told me he had done the same but it didn't ease the pain any. I have to say that of all the irritations I encountered along the way, opening and closing gates while holding two hiking poles was probably the most annoying! 

Ponden Reservoir

For some reason, I had decided that I would finish the day at Ponden, where there was a campsite and I was just setting off after a brief rest break when a walker with no pack caught me up and I stopped to let him go by but he engaged me in conversation about the PW. He told me he was walking to Haworth where there was a forties festival and we walked together over the moors to Top Withins. He turned out to be excellent company and after being mostly alone for a few days,it made a nice change to be able to chat to someone as I trudged up the hills with my heavy rucksack. We reached the ruin of Top Withins, which is a bit of a tourist attraction as it is said to have inspired Emily Bronte when writing Wuthering Heights. There is a plaque affixed to the ruin and an information board but the most remarkable thing about it for me was that some of the signs hereabouts are written in Japanese as they are apparently fascinated with the book and visit Top Withins in large numbers. It was here that I parted company with my newly acquired friend who peeled off on a path to Haworth while I continued along the PW to Ponden. It soon became clear that I was going to arrive in Ponden far too early to stop for the day and I skirted around Ponden reservoir before crossing a road and climbing a very steep field and continued without incident into Cowling, which I had decided would be my revised halt for the night. Here, I secured a pitch for the tent in a field at the back of the Winterhouse Barn B&B for the night and having pitched the tent, proceeded to spray it with the waterproof spray I had purchased the previous day in Hebden Bridge. Later, I walked along the road to the Bay Horse pub for a meal, which I ate in the very busy bar watching Arsenal beat Hull City in the FA cup final. I returned to the tent after the food and a couple of beers and was soon asleep but unfortunately, this wasn't to last long and events during the night caused me to alter my plans for the rest of the walk.   


Friday, 16 May 2014

The Pennine Way South - Standedge to Hebden Bridge - 16th May 2014

Stoodley Pike

 After a great night's rest, I set off in good spirits and good weather as I retraced my steps to join up with the Pennine Way where I had left it the day before. This section of the way was described in the book as 'not the greatest day's walking on the Pennine Way'. The author complained of the abundance of reservoirs and the fact that 'the Lancashire and Yorkshire conurbations press in too close to the Pennine Way and almost smother it'. Because of this, I wasn't expecting much out of the day but in the end, I thoroughly enjoyed myself.

View from Millstone Edge

Although there were towns and villages in view most of the day, and a number of roads to cross, including the M62, which is achieved by a narrow footbridge suspended above the six lanes of traffic, I found the scenery more than made up for any perceived shortcomings. It was also nice to have a relatively flat day to give the legs a rest and I thoroughly enjoyed striding out along the gritstone of Millstone Edge and Blackstone Edge before arriving around midday at the White House pub, situated on the Rochdale to Halifax road. As I approached the pub I recognised the two walkers I had spoken to on Kinder Scout on the first day, sitting outside the pub enjoying a pint and I joined them for a chat after purchasing a drink from the bar. Because of my very early start the previous day I had not seen them at all and we talked about various aspects of the walk so far including our good fortune with the weather. 

Rock formation on Millstone Edge

The forecast was still predicting rain but so far this hadn't materialised but it was still a concern nagging at the back of my mind as memories of the rain penetrating my tent's flysheet on the day before the walk returned. I knew that I had to resolve the problem if I was to have a chance of finishing the walk and I had decided to try and purchase some waterproofing spray from the camping shop in Hebden Bridge, when I arrived later in the day. The two walkers finished their drink before me and set off again leaving me to sit quietly and contemplate the walk so far and it wasn't long before I too set off along a fairly long, flat section alongside a number of reservoirs. I soon caught the two walkers who had stopped for another rest, with one stretched out in the grass at the side of the path with his hat covering his face. I made a joke about having too much to drink at the pub and carried on, it was the last time I was to speak to them, although I did see them in the distance behind me the following day. 

Approaching Stoodley Pike

Before long, the tall obelisk of Stoodley Pike came into view in the distance but it wasn't too long before I was climbing up to the foot of the 120ft tall tower, which marks a change in the terrain, with peat moorland giving way to limestone country. After a relatively pastoral section, I arrived at the Rochdale canal and left the Pennine Way to walk along the tow-path into Hebden Bridge where I located the camping shop and purchased a large spray can of waterproofing spray for the tent and a new gas canister, as mine seem to have mysteriously emptied despite having used it only two or three times. I walked along the main road out of the centre of town and as I reached the turn off for my guesthouse, was intrigued to see a sign in someone's front window which said 'Keep Hebden Local', a rather ominous greeting for a visiting stranger.

Enjoying the Views

I was highly amused by the sign which reminded me of a UK black comedy series called The League of Gentlemen, where the owners of the 'local' shop in the fictional town of Royston Vasey enquire of their customers 'are you local?, and upon being told that they are not, the customers mysteriously disappear and items of their clothing and personal belongings later seen burning on a bonfire outside the shop. I took a photo of the sign to send to a friend of mine who likes the programme and approached the guesthouse and as I raised my hand to press the doorbell, was surprised when the door opened and a woman's face appeared before I had a chance to press the bell. This was becoming strange! Registering my surprise, the woman explained that she had seen me walking up the road towards her house and had tried to attract my attention because the entrance to my 'room' was via a gate at the bottom of her garden, which I had passed before reaching her front door. I walked back down the road a short distance and entered the garden and the entrance to my 'room', which as it turned out, was a separate, lower part of the house. After being given a number of 'rules' to follow by the rather fussy proprietor, I set about sorting my gear and showering before I returned to the town to look for a pub with wifi access, as the signal in my part of the guesthouse was very weak. This I did after walking around the town a couple of times and I managed to send messages to my wife and parents before my very mediocre meal arrived at my table.  

Thursday, 15 May 2014

The Pennine Way South - Crowden to Standedge - 15th May 2014


Laddow Rocks

  I awoke early at around 4am after 7 to 7.5 hours of sleep. After my walk around the campsite the previous evening I had retired to my tent with the intention of reading and listening to music but had fallen asleep almost immediately and not woken until the light started penetrating the gloom in the tent and the birds started their usual cacophony. I lay for a while preparing to make a mental inventory of the various aches and pains I had expected from the previous day's exertions but was surprised to note that I felt in pretty good shape after an uninterrupted nights sleep. I lay for a while longer trying to go back to sleep but after a while gave up and made myself a coffee before making my way to the shower block. The campsite was totally still and silent apart from the birds and one caravan owner standing at his door smoking a cigarette as I returned. He bade me a very softly spoken 'good morning' but it was far too early for conversation and I just nodded and made my way back to the tent. 

Climbing above Crowden Great Brook

After I had eaten, I decided I may as well begin packing up the tent, which was soon done and I was ready to start walking by 6.30am. I quietly and slowly walked back along the steep access road leading from the campsite, allowing my muscles to warm up gently and soon reached the turn off for the Pennine Way. Part of me wanted to continue along the campsite access road to the main road and catch a bus back to 'civilisation' but as I climbed into the valley with Crowden Brook forming a thin silvery thread along the valley floor, I relaxed and began to enjoy the scenery and solitude and the further I walked, the more I became enchanted by it's beauty in the early morning sunshine. The walk between Crowden campsite and Black Hill was one of the most memorable sections of the trail as I walked in silent solitude, stopping frequently as I climbed to the summit of Laddow Rocks to look back into the valley below and admire the surrounding hills as they stood sentinel over the river running at their feet. 

Crowden Brook, The Pennine Way

Leaving the summit of Laddow Rocks the way descended to Crowden Great Brook and followed it for a short distance before reaching a slabbed section that passed through a boggy area, the scenery now taking on a more typically moor-like character as the way headed towards Black Hill. Black Hill marked the end of the solitude for the day as the spell was broken by a woman walking her dogs who greeted me as I descended to a road via steep defile carrying a small stream and hauled myself up to the road, where my guidebook had mentioned the possibility of a roadside snack van. I had mentally prepared myself for disappointment but after 3.5 hours of walking, the thought of a hot snack and drink had spurred me on but sadly, my preparation proved to be time well invested as there were only a couple of cars in the layby with no sign of the snack van. 

Wessenden reservoir

I crossed the road and carried on into the Wessenden Valley on an easy track descending to the reservoir and watched a group of walkers climbing an impossibly steep hill across the valley as I sat for a break before suddenly realising that the path they were on was my onward route and I would soon have to negotiate the almost vertical slope myself. I consoled myself with the thought that I didn't have too far to go as I was only walking around eleven miles with far less ascent than yesterday's leg and I was also toying with the idea of taking a room at a pub once I reached Standedge. My tent's lack of waterproofing was still nagging away at the back of my mind as was the fact that my sleeping bag wasn't keeping me warm and after two nights camping, a proper bed sounded like an almost irresistible attraction. I decided to wait until I arrived at Standedge to make my decision as the pub also had a campsite so I could delay my decision-making until the last minute. Whatever happened, I had decided I would book a room in Hebden Bridge the following day regardless. 

Wessenden Valley

I set off once again and climbed the path I had observed the walking group climbing, which did indeed prove to be steep but thankfully short and in the event didn't prove much of a problem. I soon passed the walkers as they sat having a rest break near Black Moss reservoir and before long, Redbrook Reservoir came into view, which signalled that the end of the days walk was near. Soon, I left the Pennine Way and veered off on a path towards Marsden, before leaving it for a smaller path as it headed towards the Carriage House Inn where I planned to spend the night. Because of my very early start, it was only 1 pm when I arrived at the pub so I was not very happy to discover that the establishment didn't open until 5.30pm, a fact not mentioned in the guidebook. I thought about continuing the walk but the next realistic halt was Hebden Bridge which, at 14 miles, was too far to contemplate as an afternoon walk. The only other alternatives were to either walk into Marsden, which was around 2 miles away or wait until the pub opened. I decided I would wait and headed up the road to another pub which thankfully was open and I removed my boots and rucksack before entering the bar as requested. I ordered a beer and asked the woman serving if they had rooms but as I suspected, they didn't. I stayed for lunch and with my next beer, ordered a beef baguette, which came complete with gravy poured over the beef, something I hadn't expected and certainly wouldn't have received had I been in a pub in the south closer to my hometown. Despite my reservations, it proved to be delicious and I found myself wishing that I was staying at the pub as the staff could not have been friendlier. 

Redbrook Reservoir

As the pub closed at 3pm, I made my way outside and wandered around Redbrook reservoir before finding a comfortable spot to sit in the sunshine with my back against the wall overlooking the water and dozed for a while. Later, I headed back to the pub to await the arrival of the owner who duly turned up just after 5pm and confirmed that they did indeed have a room, all thoughts of camping having now been erased from my mind. The room proved to be excellent, having recently been refurbished and I was overjoyed to see that the bathroom also had a bath tub, which I filled nearly to the top and wallowed in it until the water began to cool, my aching muscles now soothed by the hot water. Later, I headed into the bar for a meal and a few pints of real ale before retiring fairly early after a much easier second day.

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

The Pennine Way South - Edale to Crowden - May 14th 2014

Camping at Cooper's Campsite, Edale

As is usual when camping, I was awake very early. Having lived in Tenerife for 6.5 years, I had forgotten how ridiculously early the dawn is in the UK at this time of year and it was somewhere between 4 and 5am when the birds started their infernal racket - sorry, 'dawn chorus'- and the sun began to chase away the darkness. The other thing I noticed was how cold I was. I had experienced this problem on my Coast to Coast hike in 2011 and realising that my sleeping bag was not man enough for the job, had purchased a fleece liner before the trip in the hope that it would solve the problem, but obviously it hadn't. This was another problem I had with camping gear that was to bug me during the early part of the walk. I lay for a while hoping that I might drift off to sleep again but soon realised that this wasn't going to happen so decided to fire up the stove and make a cup of coffee. After breakfast, I made my way to the shower block and it was then I realised just how cold it was. It felt to me that it would only take a drop of a couple of degrees before I would be scraping frost off of the tent but perhaps my years of living in Tenerife had made me soft, it certainly felt too cold for the middle of May anyway.

Edale at the start of the Pennine way


After breakfast,I began packing up and was soon ready for the start of a walk that I had been planning in my head for the best part of a year. I made my way out to the road without seeing a soul and took a 'selfie' of me in front of the first Pennine Way signpost opposite the Old Nag's Head, where I had spent a pleasant, if solitary evening the day before. There was no-one there to wave me off, so I opened the gate to the start of the path and started my adventure. Although the weather was fine with only a few puffs of cloud scudding across the sky, there was a cold blustery wind blowing and as I followed the flagstones through the sheep, I debated if I should put on my fleece jacket as I felt quite chilly in my T shirt but I decided to wait and see if the walking would warm me up. The first section was memorable for the ease of walking through the fields on the flagstoned path but more so for the stunning views of the Vale of Edale, which opened up slowly as I gently climbed. These flagstones proved to be a blessing as much of the original start of the Pennine Way had passed through peat bogs causing many to abandon the walk after the first day. Now the start of the walk takes an easier route and much of the boggier sections are paved in this way. I passed through the tiny settlement of Upper Booth and followed a lane above a river to the stone bridge that signalled the start of the first climb on the walk known as Jacob's Ladder.


Bridge at the start of Jacob's Ladder

This is a steep, stony climb to Kinder Low on the Kinder Scout plateau and although I had to occasionally stop to catch my breath, it didn't cause me any real problems and I was quietly encouraged by the fact that I had hauled my full backpack up to the top without due concern. I passed the imposing bulk of Edale Rocks and soon arrived at Kinder Low without any problems. 


I was using the 'Trailblazer' guidebook, which utilises an unusual method of describing the route. This comprises 135 hand drawn maps, maps drawn by walkers, with all of the route directions written on the map instead of a separate block of text, thus avoiding the necessity of trying to locate your place in the text while switching between it and the map. Once I got used to using the book, I loved it, which is just as well because I had decided to carry no other maps. Much as I love using OS maps, on a walk of this length, the bulk and weight involved in carrying so many made them non-viable. I had therefore decided that the guidebook had enough detail, coupled with the signposting of what is after all a National Trail to negate the need of carrying a library of maps around. As a back-up, I had stored the whole route on my Garmin GPS which I had downloaded from the Trailblazer website. In the event, I only switched the GPS on once on the last day to help me locate the way out of a grassy meadow, although things may have been different had I encountered bad weather with reduced visibility. As it turned out, despite the forecast threatening rain for most of the trip, I walked in fantastic weather for the whole of my walk on the Pennine Way. From Kinder Low, I easily located the path around the edge of Kinder Scout and stopped for a chat with a walker out doing the 8 mile circuit from Hayfield. I remembered this walk vividly as it had been the first serious hillwalk I had ever done many years earlier with my wife. I well remember climbing up William Clough and feeling like an imposter as I greeted other walkers that passed us, worried that they would start asking questions and discover my inexperience. 

Kinder Reservoir from Kinder Scout

As the walker bid me good luck and I carried on around the edge of the plateau, I was struck by a wave of nostalgia as I remembered that walk and felt suddenly very alone. I normally love being out on the hills with only myself for company but today I felt it would be wonderful to have my wife along. After a while, the feeling passed but as I approached Kinder Downfall, a narrow thread of water tumbling over the edge of the Kinder Plateau, I stopped for a breather and took out my mobile phone. I was happy to note that I had a signal and as I sat and ate, I sent a text message to my wife and to my parents to let them know all was well. As I sat, two walkers passed by and I bade them good day and they carried on their way but I was to bump into them numerous times over the following two or three days. Continuing my walk, I soon caught them up as they sat for a break and I discovered that they were going as far as Horton-in-Ribblesdale, over 90 miles into the walk. The descent from Kinder Scout was quite steep and I recalled many years earlier walking to the edge of the plateau to this point with my brother in a whiteout and being surprised to see clusters of small horizontal icicles attached to the wires of a chain-link fence. Luckily, the conditions today were far more benign and I soon turned right at Mill Hill onto a featureless moor called Featherbed Moss. This part of the walk was all slabbed and made for easy walking and as I crossed it, I looked across to the Kinder plateau and the hills ahead and wondered what this section would be like in driving wind and rain as it felt fairly inhospitable even in fine weather. After crossing the Snake Pass road, I walked a little further before stopping for another break at the side of the path as the two walkers passed me again, only to stop a little further along allowing me to regain the 'lead' when I started walking. 

Bleaklow Head

I splashed in and out of the Hern Clough stream a few times as I followed it to my next objective, Bleaklow Head and continued across the peat to Wildboar Grain and began my descent. I was fairly tired by now and was becoming slightly irritated by the hip-belt on my rucksack, which seemed to slacken off considerably every few minutes, necessitating a sharp pull to retighten it. It wasn't a big deal but it was probably that I was tired that I began to find it annoying. The Longdendale Valley and Torside reservoir was now in view and as I descended very steeply now, I fell into conversation with one of a group of three walkers from Huddersfield out walking a circuit in the Longdendale Valley. 

Longdendale Valley

It was nice to chat to someone after spending most of the day alone and it was with a little regret that I said goodbye to them as our routes parted company by the road alongside the reservoir. I'm not sure if it was tiredness or that I had psychologically finished walking for the day after the descent but I found the walk from Torside Reservoir to Crowden campsite extremely tiring and irritating. I had to wait an age to cross the busy road on the far side of the reservoir and to cap it all, the access road to the campsite proved to be much steeper than I anticipated. 

Torside Reservoir 

By the time I reached the camp, I was swearing out loud to the sheep, who ignored me and carried on with the important task of munching grass. I arrived at the campsite reception and shop and was booked in by a friendly guy who said that I looked in pretty good condition for someone who had just completed the first day. Apparently, he said, many arrive barely able to stand. I purchased numerous snacks for the following days walk and pitched my tent, after which I showered and prepared dinner on my tiny stove. Later, as the sun began to slowly sink in the sky, I went for a wander around the immaculate campsite, which was full of very neat looking caravans with only my small tent disturbing the orderly lines and soon retired to my tent where I was very quickly asleep. I had been walking for 8.75 hours and my body demanded I rest.   

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

The Pennine Way South 2014

Camping in Edale at the start of the Pennine Way

In 2011, I walked the Coast to Coast walk in England with a friend and we had a great trip, although the last three days were very poor weather-wise, considering we were walking in July. We had torrential rain, drifting fog and at times, strong winds. Since that hike, I felt that I needed to begin planning another long distance hike and after a lot of thought, I decided on the Pennine Way. This hike has been on my 'bucket list' for many years and as I approach my sixtieth year, I thought it was time to cross another name off of my list while I'm still fit enough. I contacted the friend I had walked the Coast to Coast with to see if he was interested in accompanying me on the walk and was pleased when he agreed. However, after a number of e-mails where I sensed that he was cooling towards the idea, he eventually pulled out of the walk saying that he didn't feel fit enough to complete what is a fairly strenuous slog up the spine of England. Although I was initially disappointed that I would not have him along for company, I eventually realised that this was an opportunity to take on the walk as a solo challenge, making it even more of an adventure. So, on May 10th 2014 I flew to the UK and my hometown of Luton before travelling north to start the walk on Wednesday 14th May. Having decided to undertake the walk alone, I found that I was excited and slightly apprehensive at the same time. Suddenly, the walk had taken on a new life, my friends withdrawal having thrown it into sharper focus. I had walked England's Coast to Coast alone many years earlier in 1998 but this felt different. This is partly because when I walked the CTC alone, I pre-booked accommodation before setting off so I had a fixed destination each day but also, the PW simply felt more of a challenge. This was not just because of its greater length and the fact that I planned to camp as much as possible, but also because it sounded more lonely and remote than the CTC. This wasn't just something in my imagination either, the CTC is easily in the top two of the UK's most walked trails and it's common for people to meet up each evening in a pub at each overnight stop along the way as a sort of 'travelling community' is formed. Having read various accounts of the PW it was clear that this sort of thing is far less common.  
The trip from my hometown of Luton to Edale was fairly uneventful. I caught the National Express bus from Luton Railway station to Sheffield, with a fifty minute wait in Milton Keynes while I waited for the Sheffield bus. The railway station in Sheffield is just across the road from the bus station and I had a wait of over an hour for the train to Edale. This part of the trip was much more interesting, albeit shorter. I spent most of the journey trying to identify hills in the Peak District, without much success I have to say, until the train reached the Hope Valley, where I could clearly identify the Great Ridge and Mam Tor. This very enjoyable part of the trip was over all too quickly and I alighted from the train and walked into Edale village where I checked into Cooper's campsite, which is right at the start of the Way and also conveniently sited across the road from the Old Nag's Head pub. 


Setting off from Edale on the Pennine Way

Not long after pitching the tent, a fairly heavy shower blew in and I retreated into the tent while it passed over. It was during the shower that I discovered something that came to affect the whole trip and cause me to change my plans for the walk. As the rain fell on the tent, I happened to glance out of the inner tent into the outer and discovered that rain was penetrating the flysheet and wetting the inner. I had also noticed when pitching the tent that the groundsheet of the inner, which is black, was criss-crossed with white crease marks, something that I hadn't remembered seeing the last time I had used it on the Coast to Coast walk in 2011. Since that walk, I had not used the tent and it had spent the intervening time in it's stuff sack in the garage, where it had spent most of it's 14 years of life since I had purchased it. The tent, a Vango TBS micro, was fairly expensive at the time of purchase and had always been totally reliable so I was a little perturbed at this development. This feeling was further exacerbated by the discovery that the tape on the seams of the flysheet appeared to be peeling off. I had decided I would have to camp around two out of every three nights as the cost of using guesthouses was prohibitive and my budget wouldn't stretch to using them for close on three weeks. Eventually, the shower passed over and I retired to the Old Nag's Head where I had a few pints of real ale and a meal while I wrestled with the pubs wi-fi as I tried to contact my wife on my tablet. Later, I returned to the tent where I had quite a good nights sleep, although the problems with the tent were still nagging away in the back of my mind.   

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