50 things you (probably) didn't know about the Pennine Way

Posted by Hanna Lindon on 23/04/2015
Happy birthday Pennine Way!

Britain’s very first National Trail celebrates its 50th birthday tomorrow. Here’s everything you need to know about this pioneering path…

The history

1. You knew that the Pennine Way was Britain’s first National Trail - but were you aware that there are now 15 trails across England and Wales, amounting to around 4,000 kilometres of walking in total?

2. The original idea for the Pennine Way was first mooted by walker and journalist Tom Stephenson in a 1935 article for the Daily Herald. He famously titled the article ‘Wanted: A Long Green Trail’.

3. Stephenson imagined the Way in that first article as ‘a faint line on the Ordnance Maps, which the feet of grateful pilgrims would, with the passing years, engrave on the face of the land’.

4. His ulterior motive, confided to friends at the time, was the open up moorlands long closed to the public by landowners.

5. According to author Bill Laws, Stephenson was motivated to campaign for wider access across the hills by a conversation he had with a gamekeeper on the summit of Whernside.
‘Dost tha’ know tha’ art trespassing?’ the keeper asked him.
‘Aye, what are you going to do about it, prosecute or shoot?’ said Stephenson.
‘Nay,’ replied the keeper. ‘It’s aw reet as long as tha knows’.

6. It was the Appalachian Way in the US that inspired Stephenson to campaign for an equivalent route in the UK.

7. To publicise his cause, he organised a three-day walk from Middleton-in-Teesdale up to Hadrian’s Wall in 1948. Several prominent MPs attended, including Barbara Castle and Arthur Blenkinsop.

8. Stephenson was one of the founding fathers of the Ramblers and a passionate campaigner for walkers’ rights.

9. The official Pennine Way opening ceremony took place at Malham in the Yorkshire Dales on 24th April 1965, and was attended by hundreds of walkers.

10. During the 1970s and 80s, erosion caused by constant foot traffic meant that walkers on the Way frequently had to wade through deep bogs. Several sections of the trail were completely rebuilt, and regular work is now necessary to keep the Pennine Way accessible.

Fun facts

11. The record for the fastest completion of the Pennine Way was set by Mike Hartley in July 1989. Mike ran the route in 2 days, 17 hours, 20 minutes and 15 seconds without stopping for sleep.

12. On his record-breaking run, Mike rested only twice - one of those was an 18-minute fish and chip break in Alston.

13. Poet Simon Armitage walked the Way as a ‘wandering troubadour’ in 2010, funding his adventure by doing poetry readings in village halls, pubs and homes.

14. Alfred Wainwright offered to buy half a pint of beer for any walker who completed the full trail. The promise apparently cost him nearly £15,000 by his death in 1991.

15. Despite his promise, Wainwright himself wasn’t a fan of the Pennine Way. “You won’t come across me anywhere along the P.W.” he wrote, “I’ve had enough of it.” His attitude might be partly explained by the terrible weather he encountered whenever he ventured onto the route. 

16. The trail is used by 15,000 long distance walkers and more than 250,000 day walkers every year.

17. Some parts of the Way receive up to 2.5 metres of rain per year.

18. The full route navigates 249 stiles, 204 bridges and 287 gates.

19. There are 458 signs marking the route, so you shouldn’t struggle to find your way.

20. Plenty of poets have been inspired by the beauty of the Pennine Way. Yorkshire bard Ian McMillan wrote of the route:

The Pennine Way is a beautiful thing

In summer, autumn, winter, spring.

As the clouds dance across the Pennine sky

And the wild birds wheel past the walker’s eye.

Walking the route

21. Most people walk the Pennine Way from south to north; partly because of the direction of the wind, but mostly because the official guidebook is written in this direction.

22. Only 30% of the route follows bridlepaths, so if you fancy cycling rather than walking then you’ll need to divert onto the equally challenging Pennine Bridleway National Trail.

23. The full route passes through three national parks: the Peak District, the Yorkshire Dales and Northumberland.

24. There are four bothies along the route: at Top Withens, on the north flank of Cross Fell, close to Lamb Hill and south of the Schil.

25. The first Pennine Way guidebook was published in 1969 and written by Tom Stephenson.

26. According to the Pennine Way Association, there have been 49 books published on the Way to date.

27. Half the Way meanders over open moorland or through pastures - only a tenth is forest, woodland or river bank.

28. The route forms part of a European long distance path called the E2.

29. A walker completing the full route will climb a total of 12,000 metres.

30. The length of the trail is down in the official guide book at 256 miles (or 268 miles according to other sources), but most walkers do more than this by diverting to overnight accommodation.

Along the Way…

31. The Way’s hillwalking highlights include Kinder Scout, Stoodley Pike, Top Withins, Malham Cove, Pen-y-ghent, Tan Hill, High Force, Cauldron Snout, High Cup Nick, Cross Fell, Hadrian’s Wall and The Cheviot.

32. Just before reaching the halfway point at Baldersdale, you’ll pass a pub that claims to be the highest in Britain - Tan Hill Inn.

33. At 893 metres, Cross Fell is the highest point of the Way.

34. The Way passes High Force in County Durham, the largest waterfall in England. In 1880, two men were trapped in a rock in the middle of the falls and one died during a failed rescue attempt. 

35. Top Withens, a ruined farmhouse visited by the Pennine Way, is said to have been the inspiration for the Earnshaw family house in Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights.

36. The limestone pavement above Malham Cove is one of the highlights of the route. It appeared in both Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and the Steve Coogan series The Trip.

37. Malham Cove isn’t the only part of the Pennine Way to have featured in a famous movie. Part of Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves was filmed at Sycamore Gap on Hadrian’s Wall. 

38. Another famous long-distance route, Wainwright’s Coast to Coast, crosses the Pennine Way at Keld.

39. Below Cross Fell, the Way joins an old corpse road that was once used to ferry bodies between the hamlet of Garrigill and Kirkland in the Eden Valley.

40. Unusual wildlife to watch out for along the route includes feral goats in the Cheviot Hills, fell ponies in the North Pennines, black grouse, lapwings, otters and rare newts.

Celebrating the anniversary

41. On 25th April, National Trails is staging a mass walking event called Walk the Way in a Day to celebrate the Pennine Way’s 50th birthday. The organisation has mapped 50 circular walks that between them cover the full length of the trail.

42. If you can’t join the walk then the BBC is broadcasting a four-part documentary on the Pennine Way this month. The next episode airs on Friday 24th April and the previous installments are available on iPlayer.

43. Highline Art Exhibition at the South Square Gallery (01274 834747) features artists’ perspective of memorable experiences on the Pennine Way and will be open until 24th May.

44. Can’t make it to the South Square Gallery? Contact Simon@northpenninesaonb.org.uk to see an online exhibition featuring 50 sketches and paintings of the Pennine Way.

45. April 24th will see the inauguration of the Hebden Bridge Route - a diversion of the Way through Hebden Bridge and Heptonstall.

46. Edale is set to host a range of activities on the weekend of 25th April to celebrate the anniversary. Check out the Peak District National Park website for more details.

47. The Dales Countryside Museum at Hawes is currently hosting a Pennine Way-themed exhibition.

48. Fancy a walk on the Way this weekend? The North Pennines AONB is organising a circular stroll from Langdon Beck youth hostel on Sunday 26th. See their website for more details.

49. According to the Pennine Way Association, Radio 4 has programmed a three-part series on 7th, 14th and 21st of May, which will feature musicians, poets and storytellers associated with the Pennine Way.

50. In five years time, we could be celebrating the inauguration of another National Trail - the England Coast Path, which at 4,500 kilometres will be the longest LDP in the UK. Stephenson would have been proud…

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