Britain’s first national walking trail, The Pennine Way, will celebrate its 50th birthday next month. Reporter Adam Luke follows the success story as it winds through Northumberland and the Scottish borders.
When the Pennine Way marks its 50th anniversary next month, celebrations might be difficult to spot.
Not that the half-century of the long distance walk is unpopular, simply that for most of its route it is some of the most remote and wild countryside in Britain - those being the factors that attract to walk its 268-mile length to this day.
Journalist and walkers’ rights campaigner Tom Stephenson first came up with the idea of a long-distance footpath for the nation in 1935. His article, Wanted: A Long Green Trail, was published in London’s Daily Herald in 1935 and called for “a Pennine Way from the Peak to the Cheviots”, opening up the moorlands to the public.
But it was a full 30 years later, on April 24, 1965, that the final section of the trail would opened.
Today, the Pennine Way winds through three National Parks, two National Nature Reserves and 20 Sites of Special Scientific Interest on its journey from Kirk Yetholm in the Scottish Borders, through Northumberland and County Durham and eventually ending at Edale in Derbyshire.
About 15,000 long-distance walkers and more than 250,000 day walkers use all or part of the trail each year, contributing millions of pounds to the local economy and hundreds of jobs along the way.
The County Durham leg sees walkers wander from Middleton-in-Teesdale along the valley of the River Tees, taking in the cascades of Low Force, the thunderous High Force tumbling down into a wooded vale below, and then onwards towards the 200ft long Cauldron Snout.
Cumbria’s section then enters the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, calling at High Cup Nick, a deep chasm in the Pennine fellside, with High Cup Gill winding hundreds of feet below - known as England’s Grand Canyon.
After a brief respite in the village of Dufton, hikers climb up the 2,930ft Cross Fell, which is the highest point on the entire route.
Once in Northumberland, walkers follow the line of Hadrian’s Wall, taking in Sycamore Gap, which was immortalised in the film Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.
Duncan Wise, visitor development and marketing manager for Northumberland National Park, said the route has helped bring people to the area.
“Over the years, since its introduction, it’s introduced many thousands of people to the beauty of the area,” he said.
“The trail has brought tangible benefits to local businesses in places like Bellingham, a small market town in Northumberland.
“We may not get the same numbers walking end to end anymore, but we are finding that people tend to do it in sections - one weekend walking one section then the next weekend walking another one.
“But there is more competition now. The Pennine Way was the first, but now there are lots of other long distance trails.”
Alan Clark and his wife Judy run Holmhead guesthouse and camping barn near Greenhead, where the Hadrian’s Wall path meets the Pennine Way.
He said: “We get a lot of walkers following both routes and it means we are very busy between March and October every year. We take up to eight in our B&B and 12 in our barn.
“What is becoming more and more popular are guests booking through walking companies that arrange for their baggage to be sent ahead of them and we just wait for their arrival.
“Some people are doing the full Pennine Way in one go, while others split it in two and come to us at the start or end of one trip and then come back a year later.
“We even get a few walkers each year stopping here as they follow the Pennine Way on a Land’s End to John O’Groats trek. We are very happy to be here in such a friendly part of the world.”
Alison Kennedy, who has owned nearby Greenhead Tea Rooms for three years, added: “Although there seems to be more Hadrian’s Wall walkers than Pennine Way walkers, they do still help the business.
“Hopefully the 50th birthday celebrations might give the trail an extra lift and bring more people to the area. We get a wide variety of people here, ranging from keen Pennine Way hikers to family day trips. Everyone is welcome.”
As the northern end of the Pennine Way nears, walkers who have chosen to go from south to north will reach Byrness in the Rede Valley - the last village in England before the climb into the Cheviot Hills to cross Carter Bar into Scotland and the finishing village of Kirk Yetholm.
Joyce and Colin Taylor run Forest View Inn B&B in Byrness Village which for the past five years has been the last place to stay for walkers heading north.
Joyce, who has had the business since 2006, explained: “We live, eat and sleep the Pennine Way - 90% of our clientele between April and October are walking the trail.
“We are now the last B&B on the way north with 27 miles to the finish point. That is quite a way for those who are not as fit and so we are also a bus service too, taking and picking people up from the halfway point.
“When we first came here the numbers of walkers was really bad, having been affected by the new coast-to-coast path and Hadrian’s Wall walk but in recent years the numbers reaching us have gone up.
“It is a challenging, testing walk and perhaps that has attracted some walkers to go back to the original and take on the Pennine Way.”
Most full length walkers allow between 16 to 19 days to walk the entire Way but not Mike Hartley.
In July 1989, the ultra runner completed the route in two days, 17 hours, 20 minutes and 15 seconds - having done two years of research and covered up to 170 miles per week in training. He ran without stopping for sleep and only stopped twice, for 18 minutes each time - once for fish and chips in Alston, Cumbria.
The route also inspired a much-praised book by poet Simon Armitage, who walked it as a “wandering troubador”, stopping in pre-arranged locations each night and doing poetry readings in village halls, pubs and people’s homes in return for donations to cover his expenses.
To find out more about the Pennine Way Trail, visit nationaltrail.co.uk/pennine-way, or for our local stretches visit thisisdurham.com, golakes.co.uk and visitnorthumberland.com.
Writer and walker Tom Stephenson, who is credited with the idea of a national trail, was inspired by trails in the USA including the 2,200-mile Appalachian Trail which links Springer Mountain in Georgia and Mount Katahdin in Maine.
The Pennine Way is not the UK’s longest national trail. This distinction belongs to the 630-mile South West Coast Path.
The walk was originally planned to end at Wooler but it was eventually extended to Kirk Yetholm.
A survey by The National Trails agency found a walker covering the entire length of the trail must navigate 287 gates, 249 timber stiles, 183 stone stiles and 204 bridges.
Public footpaths make up 198 miles, 70 miles are by public bridleways and 20 miles on public highways. The walker is also aided by 458 signs along the way.
A popular guide to the Pennine Way was written by Alfred Wainwright, who offered to buy a half-pint of beer for anyone who completed the entire trail. It is estimated to have cost him up to £15,000 by his death in 1991.
Walkers are advised to walk south to north - they have the wind at their back and the official guide book is written in that direction!