Pennine Way Route Description

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Damian Hall

Outdoor Journalist, author of the Official Pennine Way Guidebook and Two-Time MONTANE® Spine® Race Finisher

The Pennine Way National Trail is a 268-mile (429km) route from Edale in Derbyshire to Kirk Yetholm, Scotland, tracing the backbone of England. It crosses some of the finest upland landscapes in the country, from the Peak District, through the Yorkshire Dales, across the North Pennines and over World Heritage-listed Hadrian’s Wall, on to the remote Cheviot Hills and, finally, that elusive village of Kirk Yetholm.

 

Start (Village Hall, Edale) to CP1 (Hebden Hey Scout Centre), 74km, 2,442m ascent

CP1 Cutoff 24hrs


Leaving cosy Edale, it’s not long before an undulating trail through fields becomes a steep climb. Jacob’s Ladder is the route’s second-longest ascent, taking you up onto the Peak District’s savagely beautiful moorland plateaus.


Kinder Scout, the gritstone moors and peat groughs are fairly flat going, though you may have to duck out of the way of Kinder Downfall if the wind is blowing in an unhelpful direction. Keep an eye on nav on Kinder too.


Bleaklow Head is one of the most notorious spots for topographical embarrassment – it pays to linger and double-check the map to get off it in the right direction – followed by a long but enjoyable descent to tiny Crowden.


Crowden to Standedge, via Black Hill and across Wessenden Moor is a relatively undemanding section, mostly moorland and often on stone flagstones, but in bad weather there’s nowhere to hide. Route-finding is mostly straightforward and if your luck’s in, there’ll be a snack van on the A635 (but don’t count on it).


Navigation along Blackstone Edge need attention in the dark, but there are cairns and poles to guide you. (The pub just after the Blackstone Edge Moor, the White House Inn, doesn’t welcome Spiners.) Stay alert alongside the reservoirs so as not to miss a key turn. After Stoodley Pike and a descent into the Calderdale, keep alert to the twists and turns climbing back up the other side of the valley. 
Eventually you’ll find official race markers directing you right, off the official Pennine Way to the first major check point, at Hebden Hey Scout Centre. Take care going down the steps to the CP, as they can be muddy and slippery.

CP1 (Hebden Hey Scout Centre) to Spine Challenger finish (Hardraw Bunkhouse), 100km, 3,212m ascent

CP1 (Hebden Hey Scout Centre) to CP2 (YHA Hawes), 98km, 3,195m ascent

CP2 SPINE CUTOFF TIME/CHALLENGER FINISH CUTOFF: 60 hours


From CP1, retrace your steps back up to the road, and turn right, to rejoin the Pennine Way. Next up is a beautiful stretch over wind-whispered, mellow yellow Heptonstall Moor (route-finding could be testing in unfriendly conditions). But as it’ll probably be dark, you’ll miss all that. After a short section of road there are a couple more reservoirs, a short climb then you’re into the literary landscapes of Brontë country and soon passing Top Withens (possible inspiration for Emily Brontë’s Earnshaw family house in her novel Wuthering Heights).
Good trail and road take you past the Ponden Reservoir and up on to bleak Ickornshaw Moor, then down to Cowling and neighbouring Ickornshaw. Trails, road and farmland take you to friendly little Lothersdale (which has a Spine-friendly pub on route). After a short climb to Pinhaw Beacon it’s mostly downhill to Thornton-in-Craven. Fields, the Leeds and Liverpool Canal towpath and more fields take you to Gargrave – and, if you’ve timed it right, the unspeakably magnificent sight of the Dalesman Cafe.


The next stretch won’t be many people’s favourite. It’s mostly fields and farmland, can be fiddly at times and almost definitely muddy. You pass through Airton and little Hanlith and will finally spy Malham and the glory of Limestone Country ahead. Malham has cafes (one only just off route to the left as you cross a stream and enter the village) and pubs. It’s still another 6km (60-90mins) to the Malham Tarn CP.


Take the steps to the left of majestic Malham Cove. Be really careful at the top as the limestone pavement could easily end a race – go slightly north, rather than on the pavement itself, for a safer passage. A spectacular short section of limestone brings you to Malham Tarn. CP1.5 is in the woods on the other side (Malham Tarn Field Centre; maximum stay 30 minutes; CUTOFF TIME: 48 hours).


The next section has some challenging terrain, not least a slog up deceptively tough Fountains Fell (watch out for sinkholes and mineshafts lurking near the path), followed by the compelling Pen-y-Ghent (‘Hill of Winds’ – it often lives up to its name), which involves some scrambling. From the summit it’s mostly downhill all the way to the legendary Pen-y-ghent Cafe in Horton-in-Ribblesdale (not an official CP, but a welcome sight and a producer of hot teas and good cheer 24 hours a day during the race).


The route to Hawes is mostly good trails and straightforward navigation and a climb up to Cam Fell, though it can be pretty exposed in bad weather and navigation can be vague coming off the moors down Rottestone Hill into Hawes. About 1.5km after Dodd Fell, it can be easy to miss a right fork too. Fields and lanes have to be navigated on the edge of Hawes, then (for full Spiners) a sprint down the high street, west, towards CP2 at the YHA.


Spine Challengers have another 2km to the finish in Hardraw. Cross the high street and follow markers on some short road sections and through fields, to the race finish in tiny Hardraw.

CP2 (YHA Hawes) to CP3 (Kingsway Adventure Centre, Middleton in Teesdale), 54km, 1,871m ascent


CP3 CUTOFF TIME: 84 hours


Retrace your steps back along the Hawes high street, take a road going left after Barclays bank and follow PW markers through fields and short road sections, to tiny Hardraw. After the Green Dragon pub and a tea room, turn right and brace yourself for a climb.


Great Shunner Fell is the highest point on the Way so far and a 6km slog. But it’s classic Pennine Way and really feels like you’re walking the backbone of England. There’s a decent wind shelter (albeit sans roof) at the top.


Then you tumble down to little Thwaite (cafe likely to be closed) and climb up (slightly fiddly nav around farm buildings) and onto the dashing cleft of Swaledale. 
The route dips down to cross over then heads up onto a bleak bit of moor on the other side, where in unfriendly conditions you’d need to be on top of nav again. About 7km from Swaledale is the Pennine Way’s most legendary pub and the highest in England, the Tan Hill Inn – also CP2.5. It may //CHECK// be open for hot food and drinks.
Get some in you, because as you head over the border from Yorkshire to Durham, the next stretch of moor – the dreaded Sleightholme – is one of the most notorious on the route. It’s always super-squelchy and nav can be vague (look for little white poles).


The terrain improves and nav should be mostly uneventful (don’t follow signs towards Bowes, a PW loop/detour). It becomes irritatingly fiddly again however in farmland as you approach Middleton in Teesdale. But you’ll be cheered to know that the road bridge over Grassholme in Lundale marks the exact halfway point of Pennine Way.


On the outskirts of Middleton in Teesdale, ignore a PW sign sending you left and instead go over the road bridge into town. Keep following the B6277 round to the left (over another bridge) and look for race signs. You’ll go into a housing estate and it feels wrong, but is the right way to CP3 at the Kingsway Adventure Centre, warm food and beds.

 

CP3 (Kingsway Adventure Centre, Middleton in Teesdale) to CP4 (Alston Adventure Centre), 63km, 2,002m ascent

CP3 CUTOFF TIME: 84 HOURS


This is one of the toughest but most spectacular sections of the Pennine Way (oddly, you’re also heading south-west for some of it). Retrace your steps/shuffles to the edge of town and take a right by the PW waymarker you ignored on your way in. A long mostly flat section invites some faster running and hopefully uneventful nav as the Way allows the River Tees for some time, passing the Low Force and High Force waterfalls and a small climb up Bracken Rigg. It can be seriously treacherous however, with slippery, ankle-snapping technical terrain, in Falcon Clints before Cauldron Snout. A scramble up beside the angry waterfall needs care too. This is also a comms blackspot. 


Back on the moors, between the ruined mine of Moss Shop and returning to Maize Beck, the path can be vague. Not long after is High Cup, not just one of the greatest views on the Pennine Way, but one of England’s finest. Follow its more northerly edge, which becomes a decent trail, carrying you down to charming little Dufton and CP3.5 (maximum stay 30 mins) at the Village Hall. To reach it, ignore for now a PW way marker to your right, directing you between two houses and follow the road round a right-hand corner to the village green. The welcoming Stag Inn is across it on your right, the Village Hall a little further ahead then slightly left.


Have a good feed and sort your feet if necessary, because you’re about to get intimate with notorious Cross Fell. It’s the highest point on route, the highest point in England outside the Lake District and officially the coldest place in England. The weather up here is rarely friendly and it needs sharp nav. But first, follow the road back to the edge of Dufton and take the waymarker you ignored. A section of muddy farmland has to be negotiated, then a broad trail starts the trudge up the Pennine Way’s longest climb. Green Fell, the curious giant golf ball of Great Dun Fell, Little Dun Fell, then the appropriately named Cross Fell must all be conquered.


It’s vital to leave the summit of Cross Fell in the right direction and if you do, perhaps the greatest treat in the race awaits: the legendary Greg’s Hut, or Britain’s highest noodle bar (and, yes, that really is Father Christmas). Take care on the way as shake holes abound.


From here, the ominously named Corpse Road makes navigation easy and semi-fast running possible all the way to Garrigill (which has a Post Office shop sometimes open, though it’s only about 5km to the Alston CP). Following the South Tyne towards Alston can be muddy. Be alert for the turning uphill to CP4, the Alston Adventure Centre.

CP4 (Alston Adventure Centre) to CP5 (Brown Rigg Lodges, Bellingham), 64km, 1,674m

CP3 CUTOFF TIME: 110 HOURS


The bad news is this will be most people’s least favourite section of the Pennine Way. The good news? Um… You’re still over halfway, right? The trail is mostly low-lying fields, farmland and old railway lines, likely to be muddy and route-finding is fiddly at times. The soggy wilderness of Blenkinsopp Common is no one’s favourite place (the path can be vague here). But at least arriving at Greenhead (which has a cafe and pub; off route) means the start of the inspiring, World Heritage-listed Hadrian’s Wall. Nav is straightforward (just follow the wall), but your calfs are in for a shock.


After 8 glorious if painful miles (12.8km) on the wall, at Rapishaw Gap you turn and head north again, towards the probably bogy Ridley Common, silent Wark Forest (stay alert for the right paths). Never count on it, but in previous years the excellently named Horneystead Farm has welcoming Spiners with hot drinks and food. It’s mostly (probably squelchy) farmland and a little bit of moor from here to Bellingham. 


CP5 (Brownrigg Lodges) is up a drive on the left, before you get into the village.

 

CP5 (Brown Rigg Lodges, Bellingham) to the finish (Border Hotel, Kirk Yetholm), 67.5km, 2,146m ascent

CP5 CUTOFF TIME (BROWNRIGG LODGES, BELLINGHAM): 136 hours

CP5.5 CUTOFF TIME (Forest View, Byrness): 148 hours


Be alert to spot PW signs out of Bellingham and you’re soon up on those squelchy, heathery moors again. Brownrigg Head is another notoriously boggy section, though you might miss the softer stuff after a few miles of hard forest trails that follow. But they should mean faster going, to the CP5.5 at Byrness’ Forest View. Don’t cross the A68, instead head left down a track running alongside the main road, to reach Forest View. Other than two small emergency huts up in the big, remote Cheviots, this is your last chance of a hot feed and to sort kit and grumpy feet. The last 28 miles are likely to take at least 10 hours and could easily be plenty more. There’s plenty of gradient. It’s likely bogy in places and fully exposed to the elements.


After a slippery climb up to Byrness Hill, route-finding is mostly straightforward up the Cheviots as you’re often following flagstones, duckboards of a fence (marking the border between England and Scotland), though there a couple of key moments where you can go (badly) wrong – double-check all forks in the path. The first emergency hut arrives before Lamb Hill and it’s a long way till the next one. You’ll probably twig why Windy Gyle got its name. When the PW swings left/northwest on Cairn Hill (there’s not need to head up The Cheviot itself, though some Spiners like to), the final stretch has begun. Though the second emergency hut could now be in sight there’s a sting in the tail, with a big climb up the (cursed) Schil behind it. Not long after there’s a route choice – the low-level route is quicker if less scenic. Then it’s down, through farm land, joining a road (it’s traditional to sprint up that harp little hill – yes, that one) into Kirk Yetholm, which hides from you till the last moment. All that’s left is a sprightly gambol across the village green to kiss the wall of the Border Hotel ahead. Hopefully you got there before last orders. Congratulations!

For more information on the Pennine Way visit www.nationaltrail.co.uk/pennine-way