Pennine Way Shambling

Published on 30 April 2010 in , ,

As mentioned yesterday, this year I’ve ended up with a plan which will see me complete four UK long distance paths. It seemed a good idea at the time.

Lichen covered signpost

One of those paths will be the Pennine Way which Catherine and myself first started in 2007, walking from Gargrave to Horton-in-Ribblesdale in the spring, before doing Horton to Dufton in the autumn. Then in Spring 2008 we did the start – Edale to Gargrave – leaving just Dufton to Kirk Yetholm to finish off.

Duly looking at our diaries, we decided to do the final stretch at the end of March, finishing off before Easter.

As I didn’t chronicle those earlier trips on this blog, I decided not to do a day by day blog posting on finishing it off (you never know, maybe I’ll do it again – and if I do, I’ll blog it. Promise) however it seemed worth giving a flavour of the trip… Such as it was.

To say it was a bit of a disaster would be a bit of an understatement.

The omens didn’t start well early on when a few weeks before the trip, I started getting problems with my camera – some marks started appearing on certain photos which I think are due to some dust on the inside of the lens casing. My attempts to sort it out came to nothing, and it had to be sent off for repair. Mike, Catherine’s father, helpfully stepped in with the loan of his old one, which was delivered by my dad whilst he was on the way to his company’s office in Slough.

That trauma aside, we headed up to Penrith on the train, then did the compulsory £35 taxi ride from Penrith station to Dufton – a lovely little village. A happy evening in the Stag Inn followed, and the next morning we had a lovely YHA fried breakfast, saw a red squirrel and were on our way.

Red squirrel in the garden of Dufton Youth Hostel

Days 1 to 3 – not bad really…

To be fair, the first day (Thursday) wasn’t particularly fine. We rescued a stuck sheep and the only real problem was damp moorland and that there was no pub to enjoy at the end of our day – the George and Dragon in Garrigill was recently boarded up.

The George and Dragon Inn, Garrigill, Cumbria

Friday – day 2 – was just muddy and very very wet, but at least was a short day so we could have a pub lunch in a pub with some regulars who could easily have a sitcom based around them (there were slurred words, hugging, crawling on the floor to get to the toilets and some old women drinking Smirnoff Ice!)

Then when we got to Slaggyford, we found out that the pub I’d researched and believed to be nearby (thanks to a swift Google for “Slaggyford pub”) was actually two miles away from our B&B… Thankfully we cadged a lift from someone who had been visiting the B&B owners (good news!) who then told us that there had been barely any rain recently… Well until a mere days before we arrived when the heavens opened and barely stopped…

The state of my boots and new gaiters after all that mud

This statement was much in my mind the next day as we spent Saturday walking to Greenhead on water logged moorland where paths had frequently become streams and the areas around stiles became mini-lakes. Oh and cold winds. Lots of them. No major disasters still, but not exactly the best way to spend the day. Indeed if you could find a problem at Greenhead it was that I only found out they had an excellent selection of local bottled ales late on in the evening!

Day 4 – losing time and lunch

Sunday was where the real fun began. It started well. We only had six and a half miles to do along Hadrian’s Wall and so had a lie in. We got up late and decided not to take a packed lunch as there was a pub half way along. We even stopped for a cup of tea.

Walking on Hadrian's Wall

Just before lunch it began to rain big style, but no worry, the Milecastle Inn was in sight. It was half one.

We went in. We ordered a pint. Went to the toilet. All that stuff. And went to order some food.

“The kitchen closes at half past two.”



The clocks had gone forward. It was 2:40.

“We close at three”.

Right. So we have no food to eat and about twenty minutes to sup our pints.

“The nearest place to eat is the Twice Brewed up the road”

Ah. Three miles away near our hostel.

Lunch was a packet of crisps and we spent an uncomfortable half hour whilst everyone else left the pub and all the staff seemed to just watch us drink ours. As we left, the door was bolted so quickly behind us that it was unbelievable. Then to make things worse, Catherine found she’d left her gloves inside. With no doorbells, knockers or any noticeable entrance we had to resort to shouting outside until someone finally noticed. Oh and the rain which had stopped when we entered, started again.

It stopped some time later until we were roughly twenty minutes away from the hostel – in fact just about to turn off the Pennine Way for the hostel. And then it came down big style.

We got to the hostel, sodden and muddy, and had to wait whilst the slowest family in the world checked in; their kids not even budging up so we could get out of our damp waterproofs. When we finally got to check in, the warden seemed most disappointed that we weren’t going to eat in the hostel, but sod that, we were going to the pub. Which I thoroughly expected to have stopped doing food or something, but all we had to contend with was some fighting teenagers.

Day 5 – stomachs, rain, water, mud. And Boddingtons…

Could it get any worse than a day without lunch? Well Catherine started Monday with a dodgy stomach and as soon as we left Hadrian’s Wall it got very damp and very boring – endless moorland with no scenery. Then we went in a bit of forest, came out, spotted a sheltered area and huddled in it for our lunch. It started raining. Back in some more forest, the path was again insanely wet and muddy. At one point I put my foot wrong and nearly went down into my knee. After days of constant wet land and rain, our boots were just sodden, the rain was constant and heavy and the waterlogged moorland just dragged and dragged.

Mud, mud, glorious mud

When we did finally get to Bellingham, the B&B landlady asked us if we’d mind having breakfast at 6:45 as she had to run her husband to hospital the next morning for a check up (how can you refuse) and the first pub we went into proclaimed the only food they were doing was chicken curry. The second pub had at least some vegetarian option, however the handpull was empty and we had to resort to drinking keg Boddingtons. Still, the B&B had an excellent cupboard for drying boots…

Day 6 – the worst path on the whole of the Pennine Way?

The next day saw more of the same, but this time with plenty of cloud up on the hills as well. We barely saw anything beyond a few metres in front of us. It was raining (again) and wet.

Forest up ahead

Then we came up towards a forest. I’d hoped the forest would offer salvation – at least somewhere to shelter from the rain for lunch. But instead we had to scramble up a steep muddy path that was so muddy and slippery that it made every other path look bone dry. At one point I ended up trying to walk on the ruins of a wet wall. The path then proceeded to take us through some of the worst waterlogged paths possible on a huge detour around the forest, only to then come alongside the forest and struggle along some paths that were even more waterlogged.

Dreams of walking along nice forest stone paths were not fulfilled for some time until we finally left the land owned by a commercial forestry company and entered some land owned by the Forestry Commission. Wide stone logging tracks were at least easy to walk along and at half two we sheltered near some trees to finally eat a wet lunch.

After that the walk to Byrness was at least pretty fast as we stormed through the forest as fast as we could, although the final entry into the village required a riverside walk which was just the icing on the cake in floodness terms. We arrived at the youth hostel once more sodden and fed up.

We were at least cheered by one thing. Byrness may have no pub and no shop but the hostel (an independent called Forest View, and affiliated to the YHA) has one of the largest ale ranges you’ll find in any youth hostel anywhere in the world!

Day 7 – snowed in. In March…

The cheer was short-lived when we woke up the following morning and found the area deep in snow, and snow coming down heavily. Of all things this was the true disaster of the holiday. The village was pretty deep in snow – we knew the hills would be even worse. Even before the snow, a woman at the hostel told Catherine she’d been where we were going and had ended up up to her waist in bog. Add snow on to that and it could be treacherous.

Forest View in the Snow

With great regret, we abandoned our plans. As our fellow residents left in their cars, we had little choice but to sit it out in the hostel until the next day when the hostel owners thought the roads should be fine to take us to a nearby town – at least 16 miles away.

A boring day was spent going through the hostel’s limited collection of games until the snow finally began to ease mid afternoon and we could take a walk out. The camera batteries then failed as I tried to take photographs, and our trip to the excitement of the petrol station floundered when it appeared closed for the day (apparently it closed down in January.)

So near, but so far...

We went back, raided the hostel food cupboard and made packet pasta and had some more beer. (The hostel does do great evening meals, however we felt given we’d done nothing all day, we probably should make our own.)

Day 8 – beautiful weather! But no chance of walking… Oh and everything was closed…

As if to taunt us, the next day (April 1st) the sky was bright blue. There were few clouds. It was the best weather for ages – the best hiking weather we would have all trip. Unfortunately we just couldn’t do anything. We had two days hiking left, the hills were full of snow and we were due to meet a load of family in the pub at the end that evening. We got our lift to Kelso – thirty miles away – and wandered round the town. I thought we could see the castle. It was closed. I thought we could admire the ruined abbey. It was closed.

On the banks of the River Tweed

We ended up doing a self-guided walking tour called “Walter Scott’s Kelso” which included the highlight of a plaque at the land near where Scott had once seen a tree that wasn’t there any more.

After a cup of tea and a scone, we got the bus to Kirk Yetholm. Arriving at the end of the Pennine Way by bus was fundamentally wrong. We walked up the Way a bit to see what we missed and got a stunning view of the Cheviots in the sun. We ambled down to the hostel and went to the Border Hotel where we had beers and a fantastic meal and some lovely beer.

Looking wistfully at the hills

It wasn’t the ending we’d hoped it would be. Indeed it wasn’t even really an ending for the Pennine Way. But it was a lesson. The lesson is, it’s perhaps fair to say, don’t do the Pennine Way in March…

And the journey home too…

Thankfully for this tale doesn’t end on that highlight. No. The hostel had no heating so the room was cold, and the next day I felt travel sick on the hour long bus ride to Berwick, where our train finally arrived after endless delays and lack of information, about 70 minutes late. Still, to end on a bit of a high, it was so late, East Coast Trains were giving out free tea and coffee.

Frankly I should have known it would be a disaster the minute that camera went wrong… Still, like all people say when things have been terrible… at least we’ll remember it…

You can see more photos of mud, no views and snow in my Pennine Way photoset on flickr.