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 7 - After the Walk

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Enjoyment of Walk and Fitness

The level of enjoyment, or otherwise, on the walk depends almost equally on the weather, the scenery and the state of feet, legs etc. If the weather is fine and the scenery interesting then the miles melt away even if the feet are aching a bit, but if the weather is bad and the scenery dull the miles seem to drag and aches and pains are far more apparent.

I have some doubts as to the best form of training for a walk like the Pennine Way. Too much training can mean that you are suffering from fatigue right from the start, rather than having it start to come on as the walk progresses. The feet do not always benefit from training, in fact I attribute a lot of the problems with my ankle to training, particularly by walking too briskly which puts much more strain on the feet and ankles than the more leisurely pace of the actual walk. My ankle was getting worse during training, but gradually improved along the Pennine Way. In addition, my feet started to ache during training so that when I set off I did not feel in the peak of condition and would have probably felt better for having more rest in the week or two before the walk. However, some level of training is obviously necessary and beneficial. It is definitely worth doing some walking with a full pack to adjust to carrying the extra weight. It is also a great advantage to have achieved a reasonable level of fitness and to have hardened the skin on the feet. However, I feel that too much training can do more harm than good and is best restricted to a few longish walks at intervals rather than too much daily walking.

Most of the problems that I had with pains in my shoulders from carrying the rucksack could have been averted by the use of a more modern one with a waistband, which relieves much of the load from the shoulders. The old-fashioned one I was using required all the weight to be taken on the shoulders. Sometimes it is false economy to use old equipment, although I didn't realise what a difference it could make at the time. However, on the walk itself, I didn't suffer too much, as there was generally enough time to have rests when it became uncomfortable.

For me there was a gradual build up of fatigue and soreness of the feet throughout the walk, although a good night's rest generally set me up again for the next day's walking. At the end I expected that, after a couple of days' rest, I would feel fighting fit but, in fact, I felt tired and my feet were still aching somewhat for two or three weeks afterwards.

It is difficult to say whether there is a need for rest days to be planned in any schedule, as it depends so much on each individual, the state of any aches, pains and injuries, and whether there is anything to do in the chosen places. With a schedule that is fully booked in advance it is difficult to know most of these factors so it is quite probable that, whatever decision is taken, there will be some misgivings. The only other way to arrive at a schedule that is most suited to the feelings at the time is to book day by day along the way. Some people were doing this with the aid of the YHA book and a book of B&B addresses and telephone numbers. To minimise the risks they booked two nights ahead, which meant that there was more chance of getting in and, if any last minute changes had to be made, there were only one or two places to cancel. This seemed to work quite well provided that they didn't mind staying in a few B&Bs where hostels were full.

Most people lose weight on the way with the possible exception of some that stay in B&B accommodation, where the size of meals is generally enormous. The amount of weight loss varies from a few pounds to as much as one and a half stones, in the case of one of the people I met. At the end of the walk the body is geared up to expecting large quantities of food, so it is very easy to over-eat in the following week or two and end up putting back on all the weight that has been lost. I made a conscious effort not to do this, but it was difficult to avoid completely, so I put a few pounds back on again within a month.


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Accommodation and Facilities

The YHA provide, in general, a very good service for the walker, providing you are not expecting a 4 star hotel. The main criticism is that some of the dormitories are overcrowded, leaving very little room for rucksacks and equipment. The meals are not cordon bleu, but are generally filling, which is the main requirement after a day's walk. Packed lunches are not very substantial and may need a few extras to supplement them, as there seems to be a constant need for food along the way.

In the early stages of the walk, in particular, there are a number of hostels requiring a considerable detour from the route. It is somewhat frustrating to see on the map that you have done say 60 miles when, in fact you have walked over 80 miles. This would not be so noticeable later on but can be disheartening in the early stages. One way that some of this can be avoided is to use two nights of B&B accommodation instead of three nights of YHA accommodation. Instead of staying at Mankinholes it is an easy walk down to B&B at Hebden Bridge. From there it is possible to walk to Lothersdale and then to Malham. The mileage each day is not increased very much and the cost is actually less because of the saving of a day's accommodation cost.

Money, or the lack of it, can present a few problems along the way. Very few places have banks, and even in those that do there is a distinct lack of "hole in the wall" machines. Bernard, the 69 year old had never needed to obtain cash anywhere other than in his local town - he was known by everyone around, so his cheques would always be accepted without a banker's card. When he decided to walk the Pennine Way he went to see the bank manager for advice on how best to obtain cash en route. The manager convinced him that the answer to all his cash problems was a cash card, which would get him cash ANYWHERE. Unfortunately, he didn't take the trouble to find out just how many cash machines, or even banks there are along the Pennine Way and Bernard was left with a distinct cash problem.

Hostels will sometimes cash small cheques, but this cannot be relied upon. The best way to avoid having to carry too much cash from the start is to pay for as many thing as possible in advance, such as by using the Pennine Way Bureau to book and pay for all the hostels and hostel meals. This then leaves the B&B accommodation, which could also be pre-paid if required, and the rest is then only for drinks and a few bar meals where hostels have no meals service.


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Other Walkers

It might be expected that the majority of Pennine Way walkers would be under 30 or so, but the average of the people I met up with was over 40 (though the younger ones were more likely to be camping, which could explain not meeting up with many of them). The older walkers tend to spend longer on the walk, partly because of the physical exertion required, but more so from the fact that they want to enjoy the scenery along the way. The younger ones tend to do the walk as a challenge and are more concerned about clocking up miles along the dotted line than admiring the landscape.

One of the pleasant things about a venture such as walking the Pennine Way is the people who you meet up with on the way who are mostly very friendly. A great camaraderie builds up along the way as one meets up with many of the same people over and over again, and everyone is interested in how others are getting on. One instance of the good-heartedness that prevails was experienced by Bernard at Langdon Beck. At the time, Bernard was suffering from a shortage of cash, as he had obviously missed all the Barclay's cash dispensers that are liberally scattered across the moors, and he was awaiting a visit from his nephew who was going to meet up with him. Without any questions a chap at Langdon Beck offered to lend Bernard 50. He also asked him how he intended to get back to Hayfield, where he lived, after the walk. Bernard said that he would find his way by public transport, but the chap insisted that Bernard should give him a ring when he had finished and he would drive up and take Bernard all the way back home. This was not just an idle promise as he kept on ringing hostels to check on Bernard's progress and insisted on carrying out his promise when Bernard finally arrived at Kirk Yetholm.

Bernard had had a previous attempt at the Pennine Way a year or two previously when a friend of his, who was about 20 years younger than him, persuaded him to accompany him, as he was walking to raise money for charity. They got as far as Malham, when the friend had a problem with his leg and couldn't manage the next day's walk, so he told Bernard to go ahead and he would get to the next night's stop by bus. This went on for a couple of days until Bernard said to him that he couldn't carry on all the way to Kirk Yetholm like that. His friend replied that there was over two thousand pounds in sponsorship money at stake and that so long as he had a fully stamped up youth hostel card it would be alright. Eventually Bernard persuaded him that it just wasn't on to do that and they dropped out. This time Bernard went on his own, as he wanted to complete the walk and didn't want to take a chance on anyone else letting him down again.

Amongst others who were on the walk, was a young artist who was sketching as he went along as well as taking photographs so that he could then do his paintings from them when he got back. He was unemployed and the last we saw of him was near High Cup as he was taking a detour from Dufton to Appleby (about three miles off-route) to sign on and claim his unemployment benefit.

Another group, Kevin, Keith and John worked for British Rail and had the route mapped out by way of all the pubs on or near the way. They even went to the trouble of carrying packs of beer to places such as Baldersdale where there was no pub to be found. John had done the walk before, so was well versed on the whereabouts of wayside inns. Kevin was the one who suffered badly with his feet. Despite having done a lot of walking to try to break in his boots, and standing in baths of warm water with them on, he still ended up with blister after blister. He carried all the latest in blister treatments plus a plentiful supply of Neurofen to kill the pain. Every few miles he had to stop to treat his blisters and took double the recommended quantity of Neurofen. This must have taken a lot of the pleasure out of the walk for him, but he still pressed on to the end.

Of the people I met on the way, the only one I know of who dropped out was Roger, at Gargrave, although it is possible that others I met in passing may not have made it. Several people suffered minor injuries to feet, ankles or knees but still managed to carry on despite of them. The difference with Roger was in his mind. He started off with an over ambitious schedule, found he couldn't keep it up even on the first day and from then on he became more and more disillusioned with the whole thing. He wasn't sure if he could take enough extra leave to finish the walk by changing to a less exacting schedule and he was suffering with blisters. Once the seeds were sown it didn't take long for him to head for home. By all accounts, most people who are going to drop out do so within the first four or five days. After that, it generally takes something fairly serious to cause people to abandon the walk, as in the case of Mike and Edna, on one of their many walks when Edna broke her ankle after falling on the slippery rocks at Falcon Clints in Teesdale. There was one other time when they abandoned the walk after getting as far as Greenhead. They had battled along day after day through pouring rain and it just got to the point where they had had enough. Having done the walk a number of times before, they didn't have anything to prove so, as they had ceased to enjoy it, they called it a day and headed home.


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Costs (1991 prices)

The cost of my walk was made up as follows:

Item

15 nights YHA accommodation including 11 with full meals service

166.30

3 nights B&B including 2 with full meals

47.50

4 bar meals

15.10

Food from shops and hostels (approximate)

15.00

Return Fares

33.60


Total


277.50

In addition to this money was spent on drinks and other incidentals, which must have been in the region of 50 and that was with a very modest level of drinking. Phone calls, postcards and postage added about 25 to the bill. Extra equipment bought prior to the walk cost well over 100, although a lot of this had additional use afterwards, and slide film for the camera cost about 26. This brings the total to over 475, which could have bought a lot more luxury in a package holiday, but I doubt whether it would have given as much personal satisfaction.


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