The Pennine Way 1991

Author: George Tod

This walk is illustrated with photographs. Click on small photo to enlarge in situ, or click caption to enlarge into new window.
Part 1 - Preparation and Training

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Background to the Walk

The concept of such a long distance walk was first put forward by Tom Stephenson, in an article in the Daily Herald in 1935. Nothing happened immediately and it was laid to rest until after the war. Eventually, in 1951 it received ministerial approval, which was just the start of a lengthy series of negotiations with landowners to open up many new footpaths. Although much of the route was along existing rights of way, there were still some 70 miles, which required new access. In 1965, this was finally completed and there was a grand opening attended by many keen walkers.

The idea of the walk was to follow the Pennines along most of their length, taking in many of the beauty spots along the way. There was also an attempt to keep to the high ground and avoid public roads and built up areas as much as possible. The route runs from the Nag's Head in Edale, Derbyshire to the Border Hotel in Kirk Yetholm in Scotland involving over 250 miles of walking, although it is considerably less as the crow flies. A number of minor changes to the route have been carried out in recent years to cope with the problems of erosion along the more popular sections, but the overall walk is much the same as it was at the outset. Also because of the soil erosion, particularly over the peat moorland, many paths have been reinforced by various means. Several different methods have been tried including duck boards and wooden palings laid flat on the ground. There is even one short stretch where the palings have been 'floated' over the boggy ground on polystyrene slabs. However, the most popular method, at present, is the use of large stone flags, which are more durable and should eventually blend better with the landscape.

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The Opportunity

As we had decided not to have a family holiday abroad, my wife Jean suggested that I could take a week's walking holiday instead. As time went by, she sensed my desire to walk the Pennine Way, so she suggested that I should go ahead and do it. I didn't take her up on the offer right away, but over Easter she mentioned it again, so I asked if she were really serious. I don't think she realised quite how long it would take, when she confirmed that she really meant it, and I took her up on the offer.

The first stage of planning was to decide on the form of overnight accommodation to use. The options were:-

Youth Hostels - which provide a warm, dry bed, meals, drying facilities with less weight to carry and the security, from Jean's point of view, of knowing that I had arrived safely each night. On the negative side was the extra cost and the fact that the stages would have to be fixed by the locations of the hostels which are not necessarily at the points one might want them to be.

Camping - which gives more flexibility as to walking distance and is cheaper, but has the disadvantage of requiring a much heavier pack to be carried and the problem of keeping dry in wet weather.

The matter was decided by the fact that Jean would not feel happy if she did not know if I had arrived safely at the end of each day, which could not be guaranteed if I were camping, so that meant staying in hostels. However, this still left the question of what to do on some of the stretches where the hostels were not very well placed. The starting date was also decided as Friday 24th May to fit in with other commitments, even though this meant being away on Jean's birthday. The advantages of that time of year are the long daylight hours and the probability of drier but not too hot weather.

It was suggested that it would be a good idea to get sponsorship for the walk for a local charity, Kirk Smeaton Church Organ Restoration Fund. This had the advantage of setting the arrangements in concrete and ensuring that everything possible was done to make sure that the walk went ahead. The total amount of sponsorship finally came to 236.

I decided to do the walk on my own, because of the difficulty of finding anyone else who was both interested and able to do the walk at the same time as me. Another reason for doing it on my own was because I thought that it would put me much more in control of the pace I found most suitable. I also wanted to take photographs on the way and it is often difficult, when walking with others, to take the necessary time to get the best viewpoint and lighting conditions for some of them. On my own I could easily wait for quarter of an hour for the sun to break through, but walking with others I would have been inclined to take a hurried shot and then carry on. The disadvantage of walking alone is that there is nobody to give moral support if things get difficult, nor to chat with and help to pass the time on the less interesting sections.

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Training and Planning

Sunday 7th April 1991

I started walking with an old frame rucksack, which I had picked up some time ago at the Church Fayre for 1. For ballast, I filled it with potatoes making a weight of 23 lbs. and did a 9-mile walk along the Went Valley, part of which is Brockadale Nature Reserve and is just a few minutes walk from my doorstep. I suffered a lot of pain from my shoulders and also found that the metal fasteners holding the shoulder straps to the frame were cutting into my back whenever I pushed my shoulders back. This was rectified by a slight modification to the fasteners to fit them facing backwards and bending them round the frame tube.

Monday 8th April

I decided that the only way to guarantee being able to do regular walks was to get up early in the morning, so I arose at 6 a.m. with the dawn chorus and had a 5 mile walk around the Went Valley. This still gave me a lot of pain in my right shoulder from carrying the rucksack.

Tuesday 9th April

After another 5 mile walk the pain in my shoulder started coming to the surface as spots. Massaging with Deep Heat Rub helped a bit, but it started to worry me, as things seemed to be getting worse rather than better.

Wednesday 10th April

I did the same walk without the rucksack to give my shoulder a rest. The walk was much easier and took 15 minutes less.

Thursday 11th April

Walked with the rucksack again and realised that I was tensing up my muscles to lift the weight of the pack. By trying to relax the muscles, I suffered less, but it was still giving some pain.

Friday 12th April

By now, my feet and legs were adjusted to the extra load; if only I could say the same about my shoulder.

I bought the National Trail Guide 'Pennine Way South' book which is based on 1:25,000 map sections, and sent off for the YHA Pennine Way Information Pack for 1.50. Others at work advised me to buy a good pair of boots - I didn't think that my old ones would stand up to the 400 miles or so which would be involved in training and walking the Pennine Way itself.

Saturday 13th April

After the usual 5-mile walk I started the shopping, buying boots, socks, shorts, compass, emergency blanket etc. - the expense was mounting and there were still several more things to buy.

Sunday 14th April

Went for 11-mile walk in the new boots and, apart from the folding of the boot over my right toes and some rubbing on the left ankle they did quite well. The shoulder still gave quite a bit of pain, but was helped by massaging at intervals of a few miles.

Training now dropped down to alternate mornings during the week with longer walks at weekends. The shoulder pains were helped somewhat when I realised that the muscles would be better if they were working and pumping blood through them rather than just being tensed up. By flexing my shoulders whenever they started to hurt I managed to go for much longer without too much trouble and with fewer rests. The boots were causing some pain on the toes of the right foot, but some padding and slackening of the lower part of the laces relieved this.

At work, I met Brian Prunell, a colleague who had walked the Pennine Way, and picked his brains. He told me not to take on too much in the first few days, but after that the system gets used to walking and it is possible to take on more.

The training received a setback when I realised that the family had robbed some of the potatoes from my pack and the 23 lbs. I thought I was carrying was in fact only 17 lbs. A further setback came when I realised that the potatoes were sweating and sprouting, so I had to find an alternative and turned to newspapers, bringing the pack back up to 23 lbs. which I thought would be about the weight I would need to carry on the real walk.

Having received the YHA information pack, I decided on an 18-day walk, splitting the final 27-mile stage with a B&B at Uswayford. There is some confusion as to the mileage on some section of the Pennine Way, as some sources quote from Wainwright, who increased the figures by some factor depending on the difficulty of the terrain. Other sources, such as the Ordnance Survey guide books, measure exactly along the map, which gives a somewhat lower figure. Using the lower figures, this made the longest day's walks about twenty one and a half miles and twenty and a half miles, with an average of about fifteen miles a day. I sent off my booking form to the Pennine Way Bureau in Horton-in-Ribblesdale, and found by phoning that the Earby hostel was already full, but that they would arrange B&B instead. When the booking form came back it also appeared that the Dufton hostel was full as well and they booked B&B there. It actually turned out that Dufton closes on Tuesdays, at that time of year, which the bureau did not seem to be aware of at first. Instead of Earby Hostel, which was full because of a Christian crusade "March of a Thousand Men", the bureau booked me into B&B at Lothersdale. Despite these minor problems the service from the Pennine Way Bureau is very good and saves the effort writing to every hostel individually to make bookings.

I bought most of the remaining items that I needed - sleeping bag liner, 'Pennine Way North' book, water bottles, water purification tablets, blister pack, whistle, small torch etc. and started to weigh out everything and to work out just what things I really needed to take.

Saturday 27th April

Did the Bleaklow end-to-end walk from the Flouch Inn to the car park near Crowden; a distance of about 16 miles and very similar to the first day of the Pennine Way. Carrying a pack of 18 lbs plus food and drink I managed quite well without much trouble from my shoulders and I felt quite fit at the end of it. The big question to ask was whether I could get up the next day feeling fit enough to do another walk - the answer was "YES".

The training continued as before and I was still having problems with my shoulders. Oddly enough, I had less shoulder problems on the Bleaklow walk than on lesser walks around the valley.

Another setback to the training occurred when I took out the newspapers from the rucksack in order to sew on some new closure straps. The newspapers were taken off for recycling and I had to look for something else to carry. I tried a 12 pack of Tetley's bitter, but it was rather uncomfortable and not very well balanced, and ran the risk of becoming depleted in training! I therefore, reverted to carrying some 'A' Level physics books which somebody was throwing out - just the thing for a bit of light reading en route!

Friday 3rd May & Sunday 5th May

On holiday in Northumberland, so walked up Cheviot from Kirk Yetholm and down the next valley - about 21 miles - with a light rucksack. The weather had been dry and the summit of Cheviot was easy to walk over.

The next walk over Cheviot from Langleeford two days later, after heavy rain was the complete opposite; the peat near the summit was diabolical, and would definitely be worth missing out in these conditions. I walked via Uswayford to see where the B&B was and found it to be in a beautiful, remote valley.

I continued the normal level of training during the following week and found that, although I still suffered some problems from pains in my shoulders, they were manageable.

Monday 13th May

Towards the end of a brisk 5-mile walk around the valley, my left anklebone started to hurt more than usual where the boot was rubbing. It wasn't helped by the fact that I also twisted my left ankle.

Wednesday 15th May

I made some padding to fit in my left boot in the hope of protecting my anklebone. However, it was very painful after 5 miles, and to make matters worse, I again twisted my ankle.

I started to get worried at this point, as I had suffered similar problems with my right ankle with my old boots and it took a very long time to recover, even doing about one 5 mile walk a week. I was now facing 18 days of continuous walking with no hope of the ankle recovering in time. The only hope was to pad the boot sufficiently to protect the anklebone and hope for the best. Without padding I now found that I was in agony walking even a few yards, and even with padding I was having considerable difficulty. I experimented with various different materials and finally came up with a piece of hall carpet with a cut out for the anklebone. Even that did not work completely well and the finally modified version was not tried out until the start of the Pennine Way. Needless to say I was having grave misgivings about setting off. Before this problem, I couldn't wait to get started, but now I was wishing that there was more time for recovery. However, everything was booked and to cancel at this stage would have meant a lot of reorganisation and maybe not doing the walk at all this year, so I decided that there was no alternative but to set off and see how it worked out.

At Easter, when I first decided to walk the Pennine Way, my weight was just over 12 stones. I decided that it would be a great help if I could lose about half of the weight of the pack I would be carrying. During training I, therefore, also cut down on food by missing out lunch most weekdays and in this way I achieved my aim. At the start of the Pennine Way I weighed 11 stone 3 and by the end, after eating everything that I could lay my hands on, I weighed 10 stone 13.

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