The Pennine Way was England’s first official national trail, crossing three national parks along its 268 miles (430 km). Starting from Edale in the south, the Pennine Way climbs through the Peak District, continues through the south Pennines to the Yorkshire Dales, the north Pennines and then to the Northumberland national park, ending at Kirk Yethlom.
The Pennine Way has become one of the “must do” trails for any long distance walker or thru-hiker in the UK with its combination of wild and remote sections, picturesque villages and endless moors. As a must do trail I had no doubt I would want to walk it too, and I chose to hike it in sections through the autumn and winter of 2015-2016, walking over the weekend or on short holidays.
The Pennine Way Part 1 – Fast Hiking From Edale to Hebden Bridge
My first section of the Pennine was on an exceptionally warm November weekend, starting from Edale, wild camping near Wessenden Reservoir and finishing at Hebden Bridge. The main feature on this part is the Peak District national park which I have visited many times, including on a very wintery weekend. The good weather on this weekend meant that I had many fellow walkers to meet and share parts of the walk with. It also meant I could practice some ultarlight fast-backpacking.
Day 1 – Edale train station to Wessenden Reservoir
The train ride to Edale is very simple, being served on a very active train line between Sheffield and Manchester. The station is small, simple and devoid of any amenities. From the station you need to go into Edale, walk down and turn left – passing under the bridge if coming from Sheffield. The walk to the actual start of the Pennine is a 500 meters (ish) walk north on the road. As you get to Edale’s town center, look for the turn past the small store and across from the pub, it will be a small gate to your left.
Welcome to the Pennine Way
The trail from here all the way to Kinder Scout is easily recognizable and mostly well signed, the only problem is other trails crossing the Pennine Way and might be a distraction. The trail contours Grindslow Knoll to Upper Booth for 2 km on a clear grassy path that can be very muddy if wet. Through a few gates and around the houses, the trail starts climbing on a paved road that narrows into a 4×4 road and then a wide trail for 2 km until reaching Jacob’s Ladder. Take the right at the fork and lumber up the stairs, remembering to look back at the views; I found them stunning on that sunny morning.
From here I climbed into a cloud that morning, remembering to turn right (north) after 500 meters and climbing the final section to the top of the Kinder Scout peak. From here the trail follows the western edge of Kinder Scout for 2 km until reaching Kinder Downfall and then turning north west for another 2 km until descending to Mill Hill. The good weather meant the trails were busy with many walkers, charity groups and families, not all well prepared for the coming changing weather conditions! The trail is rocky and muddy at times and can be a real hazard in very wet or frozen conditions.
From Mill Hill the weather turned hot and windy – perfect for some thru-hiking and I turned north east at Mill Hill to trace the Pennine Way on what becomes a slab paved trail. Make sure not to mistakenly take the turn north west on to the Snake Path 150 meters before Mill Hill.
From Mill Hill it is a 4 km tip tap on the big slabs all the way to the A57 through the bog. Amazing views on a clear day but can be very dreary if the fog settles. Crossing the A57 carefully, continue north while crossing an old Roman way where the trail slowly turns narrower and less clear. Near Hern Clough the trail might be harder to follow and a keener eye should be kept, especially in bad weather. After a short water refill break I continued on the trail for another one km to reach Bleaklow Head – another “peak” that is marked by a small mountain of stones.
Leaving Bleaklow, the trail is a bit muddy and might be very boggy if wet but it is easily marked as I was descending to Grouse Butt via Far Moss. This is the last point to source water from the stream for another 10km or so (unless using human facilities such as people’s kindness or the camp site at Crowden). From Grouse there is a bit of a tricky up and down that might be a little dangerous if wet, but is picked up easily after that while staying on the edge of the ridge. Down to road B6105 after turning left at the Reaps farm, cross the road straight ahead after crossing the Pennine Journey way.
Follow the signs to the Torside Reservior dam and continue straight up the semi hidden stairs up ahead – I found them bursting with black berries for a quick and refreshing snack. Turn left into this small jam of a wooded section, cross the A628 and join a slightly less nice secondary road for about 600 meters. Keep an eye for the turn left off the road to a grassy path for the ascent to Laddow Moss. 200 meters down the road is the Crowden campsite that has cabins, grassy patches, water and a small store.
Taking the Pennine Way from the road onto an endless meadow of ferns, in the afternoon heat it was swarming with flies so I just moved on, following the clear path the over looks Crowden Brook on the way to Oaken Clough. The climb is not hard, nor steep nor long, but it was hot and I could feel the heat. Reaching the top of the ridge, the wind picked up, drying my sweat as I picked the narrow path heading north along the eastern edge of Laddow Moss and Blackchew Head.
Descending down to Crowden Great Brook, the trail makes a slow climb up to Black Hill (the highest point of the day at 582m!) in a patchwork of boggy trail and slab surfaced sections. At this point the day started cooling down and the wind picked up, forcing me to start layering up. After a little “pick me up” digestive at Black Hill, the trail descends onto a wide path until joining an unnaturally straight section heading straight (I do mean straight) to the A635.
At the A635 the trail splits to either going straight on a path I couldn’t find or heading up Wessenden Head Road for 200 meters and then turning left on a gravel road. Passing Wessenden Head Reservoir, I met a local cyclist and asked for advice about a nice local spot for a wild camp with accessible water and after some discussion concluded that the best place will be Leyzing Clough, on the wide path above the Pennine Way trail that was used to lay electric lines.
I set camp at 19:30 in the dying light and enjoyed a glorious sunset, basic dinner and a good sleep after more than 40km – bliss.
Day 2 – Wessenden Reservoir to Hebden Bridge train station
After a quiet and peaceful night, I woke up to a humid morning. Quickly packing up while sipping coffee and eating biscuits, I was quickly down the 5 meters to the trail. Here, the Pennine Way is a clear 4×4 trail leading to Wessenden Reservoir and Lodge, until it eventually turns left (south-west) 300 meters after the reservoir.
Descending on a steep trail into Wessenden Brook and the remains of old coal moving canals, the trail immidiately climbs back up to Black Moss, following Blakely Clough and the remains of an old building. On the moor the trail becomes boggy and muddy, at times it is back to tapping on slabs, until it reaches Black Moss Reservoir. At this point I was back in a wet fog, giving the moor an eery feel of “the end of the world”. Flanking the reservoir from the east, I continued down the moor towards a meeting point with Standedge Trail. Turning left at the trail intersection just above Redbrook Reservoir leads to a short walk to meet the A62.
At the parking lot, cross the road and join wide 4×4 that is shared with the Pennine Bridleway. This short section is not pariculary nice, with litter, dirt roads and deserted quarries around. Quickly passing this section, leave the Pennine Bridleway after 50 meters and climb to Standenge to a nice path on the edge of the ridge. This rocky and slippery section joins Oldham Way on Northern Rotcher. Leaving the ridge the trail heads north east on a boggy section that ends up in a small climb to Little Moss and then descends to the A640 and a small parking place.
A quick cross and it is a straightforward climb to White hill and down to the crossing of the A672 and the M62. The trail here is nice and clear, well marked but very wet. After meeting a couple of fellow walkers, I resorted to some foot maintenence after so much time in wet shoes and socks. Reaching White Hill (another pile of rocks that describes a “peak”), the weather cleared a little and the sun came out to join the light wind, making for the perfect hiking weather. Despite the good weather the trail turned into the mess that comes with being very accessible – muddy path leading to a filthy parking place next to the A672 that was very littered.
Passing the parking place it is another uninviting section that makes the 500 meters to the foot bridge over the M62, with its huge cellphone tower. After passing the bridge over the M62, the Pennine Way is back to wild moors: Black Moor and then to White Isles (great names!), the trails winds through them for a couple km until reaching the impressive rock formation around Blackstone Edge. A short walk past the potentially slippery rocks and it is en route to join Blackstone Edge Moor; here you can stay on the wider trail that contours west of the moor or just head straight north to reach the pub the A58 (The White House Pub). The area is a disused quarry and many of the original parts are around, including the canals that were used to move the stones down to the canal systems and off to the bigger cities.
From The A58 it is a simple matter of heading up to the Reservoir wall (Blackstone Reservoir) and turning left off the road, heading north west. The Pennine Way turns into a wide and easy 4×4 road that is perfect for some fast walking, enjoying the view over the reservoirs (3 of them). When I was passing on a Sunday afternoon, it was busy with families as the wind was picking up. After Warland Reservoir, continue on to the Warland Drain for about a km until leaving it and head north on a slab made trail. Winding up to Coldwell Hill, the wind was picking up, making the walk challenging to the thighs and core muscles.
From here it is straight to the impressive Stoodley Pike Monument while looking over on the busy life around the Rochdale Canal. After admiring the monument I walked slowly (I got some nasty blisters from my new boots) down the hill due east to Swillington and then to Hebden Bridge. This area is a mix of farms, walled fields and roads, so finding the trail might be tricky, but signs are around. After passing a couple of fields, I left the Pennine Way just out of Hebden Bridge and made my way into this surprising little town. The walk was a little windy but I made my way to the high street that proved to be bustling, vibrant and full of energy – just in time to buy a great and fresh sandwich for lunch. After just over 30km it was time to catch the train and begin the long way back to London.
Concluding the first section
The wild and beatiful Peak district should be visited many times, but the Pennine Way manages to catch some of the highlights of the northern part of the National Park. The south Pennines are a mixture of vast and quiet moors with the constant presence of the many reservoirs that have been watering the area. Seeing the reservoirs in their wild locations is really amazing, and the sections of solitude in this walk really do give a sense of remoteness, even if it is just for 3-4km.
I managed to practice some great fast hiking, especially in such great weather!