My first view of the Pennine Way from Mill Hill
In a couple of weeks, I resume my walk to John O'Groats from Hay-on Wye, where I finished eight months ago. In the lead up to this, I have been looking back to my early walking days and remembering how it felt taking those first steps into the 'wilds' of the British countryside.
The Canada Goose is a big bird. The ungainly shape first entered my consciousness as I drove to work and began slowing down on my approach to the thirty mile an hour speed limit sign on the outskirts of a village. I hadn’t really given it much thought as it came flying low across the fields to my left until just before the impact when I casually thought to myself, ‘that’s flying a bit low’. A split second later, I suddenly became more alert as I realised that I was in danger of increasing my ornithological knowledge of the Canada Goose by one hundred percent but by this time, it was too late. The huge bird thudded into the windscreen in front of the passenger seat with a sickening thump leaving a crystallised indentation spreading out across the glass like an ornate spiders web. I stopped the car and sat momentarily stunned before getting out to check the damage as the corpse of the dead goose stared blankly up at me from the road. I wanted to wake it up and give it a piece of my mind as I mentally processed the aggravation I now had to go through to rectify the damage. As I re-started the car and set off once again to work, I briefly wondered if I was breaking the law by driving with a half-smashed windscreen but in my irritated state, dismissed this as irrelevant and drove to the office in an agitated state of annoyance. Later in the day, as I watched the operative skilfully replacing my windscreen, I discovered we shared a common interest in walking. That’s walking as in hiking, not a scientific interest in the mechanics of perambulation but an interest in lacing up boots, donning a rucksack and some suitably silly outdoor apparel and tramping across hills and mountains in all kinds of weather. I was a relative newcomer to this often derided activity but had already had my imagination fired by the thought of following some of the country’s long-distance trails through remote countryside.
‘Have you done the Pennine Way?, asked the windscreen repair man as he skilfully slotted the new,
‘untouched by Canada goose’ glass in place.
I had to admit that not only had I not done it but I knew very little about it. At this early stage in my
walking ‘career’, the Pennine Way was one of those mythical names that existed only on the periphery
of my imagination and was only ever walked by serious outdoor types who usually wore big beards and
even bigger rucksacks with various items of proper walking gear hanging from them. I was a
novice who didn’t even have any proper walking boots or clothing and usually set off on a walk with
nothing more than plenty of cigarettes, a lighter and money to buy crisps and drinks from any shop
that I happened to be passing. I tried to hide my inexperience by listing some of the areas that I had
walked on day walks but the windscreen man seemed unimpressed.
‘You’ve got to do the Pennine Way, ‘It’s the toughest walk in the country’ he boasted.
‘What’s it like’, I asked intrigued by mental images of rugged mountains and moors spreading in every
‘Oh, it’s the best, you must do it’, he said, finishing up his work on my now resplendent, shiny new
‘Do yourself a favour, and just go for it, you won’t regret it’ he said, and off he drove leaving me with a
new windscreen and a new ambition.
As my walking career progressed, I became more experienced and even bought a pair of walking boots and other paraphernalia associated with squelching around the soggy hills of Great Britain. Being from the south of England, most of my walking was done in the lowlands, which often involved a lot of mud and climbing over stiles but I was thoroughly enjoying my new pastime as I learned how to find my way around using a map and compass. I still felt extremely self-conscious as I ambled around in my serious walking garb and would often hide my map case when other walkers passed by to discourage any awkward navigational questions that I might not know the answer to but gradually, I became more confident as I realised that not only was I quite good at finding my way around, I was often much fitter than many of the other walkers around me and suffered none of the hesitancy they displayed on tricky terrain. My first real hill-walk came when I ventured in a state of high anticipation into the 'proper' walking
country of the Peak District village of Hayfield with my wife, who was my enthusiastic walking partner.
The village is an historically significant location in the history of English hiking as it was from here in the
1930’s that a group of ramblers met for a mass-trespass onto Kinder Scout. Much of upland England in
those days was off-limits to the average person as the moors were jealously guarded by wealthy
landowners who employed gamekeepers to keep the general public off of their land. As the group
approached their objective, their progress was halted by gamekeepers and a scuffle broke out. A
number of the group’s leaders were arrested and spent time in jail for their ‘crime’ but the die was cast
and eventually, the countryside was opened up for everyone to enjoy.
Of course, on this walk, I knew nothing of this and probably wouldn’t have been interested at the time
as my mind was reeling from these new, stunning landscapes on view. I had never seen anything like it.
The south of England had nothing like this! We climbed up onto Kinder Scout from Hayfield
Reservoir with the vast bulk of the Kinder plateau lurking like a brooding beast to our right. I was like a
child in a toy-shop. As we climbed, in whichever direction I turned I had views of beautiful hills
contrasting with darker, brooding moorland which in turn was threaded with streams and waterfalls
of strange, darkly coloured water, tumbling like spilt beer down the rocky hillsides. Reaching the edge of
the Kinder Plateau, I stopped and took in the scene. Across the plateau’s centre lay a weird, barren
landscape of dark, chocolate coloured soil, riven with channels eroded by the effects of rain. Below,
green hills rolled into the distance, seemingly forever. I was hooked! There was no turning back now, I
had found what I had always wanted, something that was mine and I had to explore it and immerse
myself in it completely. As I stood on it, I now understood what the windscreen man meant when he
had enthused over the Pennine Way. I stood in silent wonder on England’s first long-distance path as it
wound its way around the edge of the vast peaty plateau and I knew that at some point in the future, I
would have to walk it in its entirety.