I’ve written several posts on my experiences with the Pennine Way. This time, I wanted to talk about the technical details: Where I stayed, the equipment I used, the trade-offs I made, what worked and what didn’t. I’ve also made a few suggestions for shorter routes if thru-hiking isn’t an option.
Note that this is just a record of what I did, not a definitive guide to approaching the Pennine Way. Some of the things here are things that I would change if I were doing it again. And, given at the time of writing it’s already three years since I finished the Pennine Way, I can’t guarantee that everything is still the same. I would love it if this post helped prospective hikers, whether they walk the Pennine Way or not. But caveat emptor definitely applies.
When planning, I used the list of hostels and bunk-rooms from Rambling Man’s Planning your Pennine Way walk, then adjusted it to suit my needs. That led to the following schedule:
|0||London||Edale||Edale YHA |
|1||Edale||Crowdon||Hikers & Bikers B&B, Hadfield |
|2||Crowdon||Standedge||The New Inn, Marsden |
|4||Mankinholes||Ponden||Haworth YHA |
|7||Malham||Horton-in-Ribblesdale||The Golden Lion (bunkroom) |
|8||Horton-in-Ribblesdale||Hardraw||The Green Dragon (bunkroom) |
|9||Hardraw||Tan Hill||Tan Hill Inn (bunkroom)|
|10||Tan Hill||Middleton-in-Teesdale||The Teesdale Hotel|
|11||Middleton-in-Teesdale||Langdon Beck||Langdon Beck YHA|
|12||Langdon Beck||Dufton||Dufton YHA|
|15||Housesteads||Greenhead||Greenhead Hostel |
|16||Once Brewed||Bellingham||Bellingham YHA|
|17||Bellingham||Byrness||Forest View Inn|
|18||Byrness||Windy Gyle||Forest View Inn |
|19||Windy Gyle||Kirk Yetholm||Kirk Yetholm Friends of Nature House|
As above, this is a few years old, and I can’t even guarantee that the accommodation is still there.
Some accommodation was too far off trail: When I started, I was aiming to complete the walk without using any vehicles. This meant in the first week there were quite a few days where I had to go multiple miles off trail, sometimes at both ends of the day. While that sometimes meant better access to food and groceries, it also tended to disrupt my plans for the next day. I think these places are too far to walk to, though it may be possible to access them by taxi or bus.
Bunkroom facilities: I didn’t know what to expect from a bunk-room, and so brought a light sleeping bag with me. The Golden Lion in Horton-in-Ribblesdale was the only place I actually needed that sleeping bag, and I think I would have been better without the extra weight.
The Green Dragon: The main reason I stayed here was because, as a Tolkien fan, I wanted to stay at a place called “The Green Dragon”. And I did find it a comfortable place to stay, with good food and an impressive waterfall out the back. However, Hawes is a mile earlier and has better access to groceries, so it might be a more convenient place to stay.
Hadrian’s Wall transport: In the second half, I started using vehicles where it helped. For the Hadrian’s Wall day I wanted to have a shorter walk and visit both the Roman Army Museum and the Housesteads Fort. For this, the AD 122 bus route came in handy - I stayed in the Greenhead hostel 2 nights, visited the Roman Army museum, took the bus to Housesteads, then in the afternoon walked back to Greenhead with a lighter pack. Next day I took the bus to Once Brewed and continued to Bellingham. Note that the AD 122 bus did stop at the Roman Army Museum - don’t do what I did and leave the museum early enough to get back to Greenhead and catch the bus…
Byrness to Kirk Yetholm: To avoid a 26 mile day, I took advantage of the Forest View Inn’s pick-up and drop-off service to split it into 2 days. This worked really well, and Colin & Joyce were excellent hosts with a lot of knowledge of the area. The main benefit was that I was able to enjoy both days (I think I would have felt too rushed to enjoy a one-day marathon).
At the time I did the Way, I was a fairly experienced day-hiker, but had only done one short and somewhat disastrous overnight hike (largely due to a too heavy pack). As a result, I decided I wouldn’t bring a tent. This mostly worked well, though it did sometimes make me reliant on accommodation way off trail. I also tried to minimise the food I carried: Mostly I just carried food for lunch and snacks, and relied on getting breakfast and dinner at or near my accommodation.
For a guidebook, I used the Trailblazer Pennine Way book, and found it useful. However, I only got it when I reached London, meaning that I’d done much of the planning beforehand. I think it would be more useful reading it as part of the preparation for the trail.
I wondered about using hiking poles, and some hikers told me they were essential for the terrain. However, the few times I’ve used them I haven’t found them helpful, and the guidebook suggested not using them unless I was used to them. I think I did fine without them.
Most places seem to recommend having a map and compass, but I chose not to use them since I didn’t have any experience with them. My main source of truth was my phone with GPS and OSMAnd for offline maps, though I also sometimes took assistance from the sketch maps in the guidebook. Since this made my phone one of my most important possessions, I also made sure I had a waterproof case for it. One of the advantages was that I was much more likely to consult a phone when it was raining and muddy, since I didn’t need to try to get anything out of my pack.
While I had some days with heavy rain and lots of mud, it was summer and I didn’t do too badly. I had waterproof jacket, trousers, gaiters, and boots, which helped a bit (though all of them turned out insufficiently waterproof). Fortunately the drying rooms in hostels en route were mostly fairly efficient. There were also a few days where it was hot and sunny and I preferred using shorts.
One of the things I carried was a small travel laptop. I know, that’s not travelling light, but I needed it for the weeks after completing the Way, and it was also handy for charging my phone and camera when staying somewhere without power.
At first, I used that laptop for keeping a diary. However, since diary-writing came at the end of the day, I sometimes found it difficult to get the motivation and energy to fill it in. Plus the days were full, and I was pretty sure I was forgetting important things that happened to me.
After a week, I decided I would be better to use my phone’s voice recorder to record interesting events as I went. This seemed to work well, and I ended up with several hundred recordings that give me a much better feel for what walking the Way was actually like. Since then, I’ve also done this on day hikes in Switzerland, Australia, and New Zealand, though it may work best for solo hikes.
Finally, as always when hiking, I would have felt lost without my camera ready to hand (a light compact, easily able to fit into a pocket, but with ultra-zoom).
Some worthwhile diversions
For some of the hikers I met, completing the Pennine Way was the only goal: Basically, any step not on the Pennine Way was a step wasted. Which is a perfectly reasonable attitude, but not one that I’ve been able to follow. So I did discover other impressive places near the trail that are worth visiting if you get the chance.
Near Malham, Gordale Scar had been the most impressive landscape feature I saw in my first visit to the UK. Returning there in 2016, I found that it was even better than I remembered. In fact, I think I decided it was slightly better than High Cup Nick, though it’s a real toss-up. So I would definitely recommend making the time to visit.
I also enjoyed climbing down into High Cup Nick and visiting the Cheviot, both described in my last post. The Roman Army Museum and Housesteads were both worth visiting, and I liked the Wall near Housesteads, even though it wasn’t part of the Way (I’ve heard Vindolanda is good, too, but it was too far out of my route).
Studley Pike was worth a climb, while Hardraw Force behind the Green Dragon is well worth a quick visit. On reaching Low Force, I would recommend crossing the bridge, mingling with the crowds, and exploring the rockery rather than just walking straight past. Finally, I enjoyed visiting the Brontë Country around Haworth, though I wouldn’t recommend it as part of the Way because it was too far off the trail.
Basically, though, I think there are worthwhile diversions on the Way that make the experience better. Though of course you want to make sure you’ve got the time and the weather is OK.
If you don’t have time for the full route
If I ever return to the Pennine Way, I think it’s more likely that I’d take a shorter route including most of the highlights. This would definitely mean missing things (after all, there were places I really liked on both the first day and the last day). However, I think it would make the route a lot more achievable.
I haven’t worked all the details out, but I think the section I’d do would start shortly before Malham (Gargrave, maybe?), and finish at Hadrian’s Wall. Depending how it was structured, it would probably take 8 - 10 days. The only major change I’d make from the Pennine Way would be to stick to the South Tyne trail from Alston to near the Wall. The Pennine Way between Alston and Greenhead is notorious for its muddiness, while I felt that 8 miles along Hadrian’s Wall was a few miles too many. On the first day I’d include Gordale Scar, while on the last day I’d want to revisit museums on the Wall, and probably try to visit Vindolanda. And after reaching the Wall I’d want to revisit the two museums as well as visiting Vindolanda.
That’s if I had more than a week. If I only had a few days, there are two sections that stand out to me: The Yorkshire Dales from Malham to Thwaite or Keld, and the waterfalls and fells from Middleton-in-Teesdale to Alston. Each of those sections took me three days of walking, though I don’t know whether there’s available public transport.
Thru-hiking the Pennine Way was an adventure that I definitely haven’t regretted. If you do visit the Pennine Way, I hope you enjoy it, whether it’s a quick day walk or a complete thru-hike.
This post documents the route I took - feel free to draw inspiration from it, and to adjust it as much or as little as you want. If you’ve got any questions, let me know and I’ll try to assist.