The Pennine Way Revisited - 1994

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 Travel to Start

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Preparation and Planning

Having walked the Pennine Way in 1991, the Coast to Coast walk in 1992 and the Westmorland Heritage walk in 1993, it came to deciding what walk to do next. Although the last two walks both gave a great deal of enjoyment, there was not the same magical spell about them as the first walk of the Pennine Way. I was still not quite sure whether this love of the Pennine Way came because it was my first such walk, or whether the walk itself produced this feeling. Whatever the reason, when it came to deciding what walk to do in 1994, I could see no other walk that appealed to me more than the prospect of walking the Pennine Way again.

To add a little bit of variety I decided to walk from north to south, which is the opposite way from that which most people take. This can sometimes cause problems when following guide books, as most of them, including the ones I had already got from the previous walk, are written with directions for walking south to north. However, having done the walk before, I didn't think that this would be much of a problem as I would be helped considerably by remembering a lot of the landmarks and, with the aid of the maps in the guide books, I thought that I would be able to find my way as well, if not better than before. I knew that there would be a lot less people walking the same way as myself, but I would meet a lot of walkers coming the other way and also at overnight stops.

Having now done three long walks without major mishap I had every confidence that I would be able to complete this one so long as no accident or injury occurred. All the excitement and anticipation of planning the first walk had gone, but there was still some work to do in deciding what schedule to undertake. First time round I took what seemed the easiest option of booking everything through the Pennine Way Bureau which centres around Youth Hostel accommodation, filling in with bed and breakfast where hostels do not exist or are full or closed. This meant that I booked into a few hostels which were off the route by as much as four miles and meant walking a considerable amount of extra mileage. This time I decided that I would cut out the two hostels which were furthest off route, namely Haworth and Stainforth and stick to alternative accommodation closer by. In the case of Stainforth, which is about three and a half miles from Horton-in-Ribblesdale, I decided to use a Dales Bunk House Barn at Dub Cotes Farm which is about a mile off route. These barns offer similar accommodation to a simple youth hostel, in that they have no meals service, but have all the facilities for self-catering. Instead of staying at Haworth, I decided that if I found a bed and breakfast about halfway between Malham and Mankinholes, I would be able to fit into two days what took three last time. The nearest place to the halfway point is Ickornshaw, so I settled on staying there.

Having decided on the schedule I wanted, I decided to book the youth hostels and bunk houses using the Pennine Way Bureau and to book the bed and breakfast accommodation myself using the Pennine Way Accommodation Guide. The only exception to this being bed and breakfast at Uswayford Farm in the Cheviots which is included on the standard Pennine Way Bureau booking form. On checking opening days at youth hostels it became apparent that in June at least one hostel would have a closing day no matter what day of the week I started out. By starting on Sunday, after travelling up to Kirk Yetholm on Saturday, it meant that Baldersdale hostel would be the one I couldn't use. The accommodation guide showed a bed and breakfast at Grassholme Farm, about three miles from Baldersdale, with the Pennine Way running right through the farmyard, so that filled the bill nicely.

The total walking distance, including detours for accommodation, worked out at about 270 miles measured as a line on the map. There are varying distances quoted for the Pennine Way, from 250 miles to 270, depending on whether any allowance is made for ups and downs and zigzagging of paths. However, as it is easier to work by measurements on the map, that is the method I have used, even though it tends to underestimate the actual walking distance somewhat. For the 17 days this works out at an average of just under 16 miles with the longest day's walk being a bit more than 22 miles and the shortest one just over 11 miles. Days with 20 miles or over need some consideration: it is best if there is no deadline for an evening meal, as this can mean having to press on and on to get there in time. In the case of my longest day I had only booked bed and breakfast and was planning on a meal in the pub, so there would be no particular rush. Oddly enough, short days' walks can sometimes cause problems as well. It is no problem in good weather as it is possible to take long breaks to admire the scenery and amble along in a very leisurely fashion. If the weather is cold or wet, however, there is a tendency just to keep on walking and it is then a problem as to how to kill time whilst waiting for a hostel to open.

Booking, as I was, three months in advance, I expected to have no problems in getting in to most places, but that was where I was wrong. It turned out that three hostels were fully booked on the dates I wanted, by school parties. I thought that this was a bit much as one would expect hostels not to allocate their total capacity to such block bookings, but to reserve a small proportion of the beds for individual members. This meant I had to book three additional bed and breakfasts at Greenhead, Langdon Beck and Hawes as well as the ones I had already planned. The other problem I encountered was that many of them charged extra because of single occupancy of a room, so that all helped to put up the cost. However, I had little option but to accept as there were not many alternatives in some of the remote places. Eventually I got everything booked and deposits paid, so that one aspect of the planning was safely out of the way.

The next thing to be considered was how to get to the start and from the finish. Last time I had had a lift to Edale and returned from Kirk Yetholm by bus and train. This time I thought I would see if I could find a cheaper method than using the train as I had all day Saturday to get there. Enquiring of National Express, I found that I could get a coach from Leeds to Berwick-on-Tweed for 17 single if I booked three weeks in advance, although I was advised to check nearer the time as the timetable changed in May. The rest could be accomplished by using service buses. As for Edale, that is on the Manchester to Sheffield line, so I should be able to get to Sheffield, Doncaster and home; it all seemed like plain sailing.

As far as training for the walk was concerned, having tried in the past, both intensive training and no training at all, I decided that the latter did me just as well, if not better than the former. This is not to say that it is wise to attempt such a walk unprepared, but I have ensured over the past few years that I never go for more than three or four weeks without doing a walk of between 15 and 20 miles, generally in the Peak District, so my level of fitness is kept up and I can manage without any more intensive training. The only thing which takes a little getting used to is the extra weight on my back, but this only takes a few days and, provided the first few days of the walk are not too strenuous, it does not present a problem.

Again, as for equipment and clothing, having done such walks before, I have a list of items that have served me adequately in the past. I didn't, therefore, have to spend hours agonising over what I should take and what I should leave behind, as was the case on the first walk.

Everything seemed to be settled so I then waited until a little over three weeks from the start and went to book the coach to Berwick. At that point I drew a complete blank as I was told that there was no coach to Berwick. After a few telephone calls, it turned out that in May the east coast service to Edinburgh had been discontinued in favour of a route via Carlisle and Glasgow, so it threw my plans into disarray. I knew that I still had the fallback option of the train, but I was determined to try to find an alternative. My wife, Jean, then hit on an idea; she had sometimes seen day trips to the Metro Centre in Gateshead advertised from Pontefract. On enquiry it turned out that they just happened to be running one on the Saturday in question for a mere 6.25, so it was booked by telephone giving a credit card number with the promise of the ticket being sent in the post. When it had not arrived after a week or so, a further telephone call revealed that the woman dealing with it had had to rush off to Spain in a hurry, but that it would be dealt with straight away, but still no ticket arrived. Yet another call revealed that they had not had a very good response to this particular trip and were wondering whether it would have to be cancelled, which was the real reason why the ticket had not been sent; the credit card transaction had not been made either. Sure enough, the trip was cancelled two days before I was due to go. I ended up booking a National Express coach from Leeds to Newcastle for 15 single, without the benefit of the early booking discount, and would then have to take either a bus or the train to Berwick.

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Start of the Walk

Day 0 - Saturday June 11th - Travelling to Kirk Yetholm

Accommodation: Kirk Yetholm Y.H.A. 5.05 bed only ( no meals service )

Finally, Saturday June 11th came round and off I went at 8.a.m., after saying my farewells, to catch the 8.25 a.m. bus to Leeds from the other end of the village. The weather was quite warm and humid, so I started to sweat a little even on this little walk of about a mile. For 1.50 the bus got me to Leeds in plenty of time and, after the walk across the city to the coach station, I still had over half an hour to spare for the 10.30 a.m. coach to Newcastle. It was a little galling to see a large sign on the bus saying Leeds to Newcastle return from 12.50 when I had paid 15 single, but the return is only a little dearer than the single and the 12.50 includes the discount for booking three weeks in advance. From Newcastle there was a service bus to Berwick at 2.30 p.m. for 3.40 arriving in plenty of time to catch the 5.15 p.m. bus to Kelso. The next stage had me worried a little as I had been told that the bus arrived at Kelso at 6.19 p.m. with the Kirk Yetholm bus departing at 6.20 p.m., which was cutting it fine to say the least. However, it turned out not to be a problem, as it was possible to get off in the market square before the terminus, at the same bus stop as the Kirk Yetholm bus used about five minutes later. A couple of young chaps with rucksacks changed buses with me at Kelso. They were just intending to do the stretch of the Pennine Way as far as Bellingham, staying overnight in mountain refuge huts. I finally arrived at Kirk Yetholm at about 7 p.m. and booked into the Youth Hostel.

The journey up was quite tedious but it was improved by the fact that it was quite bright and sunny most of the time. There was also a little entertainment thrown in on the journey from Leeds to Newcastle, as a group of nurses in their mid twenties were conversing behind me in rather loud voices. The most vocal of them was proclaiming, in a rather strong Scottish accent, her intentions for the night. The first was to get stoned, so she was not going to eat much for tea, as that would slow down the intoxication process. The second was to find a fellow, preferably with lots of money, and after that she didn't intend to be sleeping in her own bed for the night.

At Kirk Yetholm youth hostel I was greeted by the warden's wife who was from Malta, but had lived over here for 42 years. She was almost as broad as she was tall and was very officious, although I don't think she intended to be unpleasant; it just came across that way. The warden was the exact opposite, being very mild-mannered and easy going. During the conversation later on it came out that he was paid 80 a week for this job, but was expecting to get an increase to 85 soon. This seems a very small wage, but he is not a resident warden, so only has to see to booking people in and out in the evenings and the mornings.

The Scottish hostels do not include the hire of sheet sleeping bags in the price of the bed, as the English ones now do, but I had my own with me for use in bunk houses, so I didn't need to hire one.

I had picked up a pasty, a couple of sausage rolls and a chocolate eclair on my way through Newcastle, so I ate these at the hostel with a cup of the instant tea which I had brought with me. The instant tea has whitener already added and surprised me by being a lot better than I expected. Afterwards, as it was a very pleasant evening, I took a walk up the hill overlooking Kirk Yetholm on one side and the foothills of the Cheviots, where the Pennine Way starts its climb, on the other. On the way back I went via the bright lights of Town Yetholm which boasts a pub, a mini-supermarket and a petrol station, before making my way back to the Border Hotel in Kirk Yetholm, the official end of the Pennine Way, or the start in my case. I had a couple of pints in there and saw two couples who looked like they had just finished the Pennine Way, although I didn't enter into conversation with any of them. One couple turned out to be Swedish, so I am not sure whether they had actually walked the Pennine Way, or whether they had brought their sun tans with them. The landlord was just breaking in his new wig and was having to endure a lot of ribbing from the locals, although he was taking it all in good part.

Back at the hostel I met up with a fairly elderly chap who had finished the Pennine Way a few days previously. He had done it in 21 days in a group of eight including the leader, organised by the Holiday Fellowship. They had paid 700 each for this, with the exception of the leader who went for nothing. They had stayed mainly in hostels and had been bussed to one or two of them where they were not at convenient points on the route, or where other hostels were either closed or full. Even with the leader, who was supposed to be experienced, they got lost a couple of times in the first two days in poor visibility, and ended up doing quite a bit of extra walking to get back onto the right path.

Another chap in the hostel had the rather unusual hobby of visiting church services all over Scotland. He had been to nearly every church in Scotland, including many on the Scottish islands. His routine was to pick on a church that he hadn't been to before, find out the times of the services and then hitch hike there in time for a service, staying in somewhere like a youth hostel, then hitch back again. He was single and unemployed and in his time has travelled the world over.

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