Pennine Way. Epic Fail.

I will write this like one of those films where you get the ending first, then we go back to the start to see how we ended up there.

So, I didn't finish the Pennine Way. I stopped at Horton-in-Ribblesdale yesterday morning. Since getting home I have made good progress... I can now get up from chairs on my own, and no longer have to crawl down the stairs on my backside!

Wednesday 15th:
Got the train to Berwick-on-Tweed, then a taxi to Town Yetholm. Set up at the campsite, made some food and settled down for an early night at about 9pm. Forgot that I am actually in Scotland, hence midges! Nice campsite though.
The night before
Thursday 16th:
Set the alarm for 4am, tent packed away and ready to go by about half past (having fought with more midges) then wandered across the river to Kirk Yetholm and the start of the Pennine Way at 4:45.
At the start - the "already bedraggled" look is deliberate
So off I went, out of Yetholm in some slight drizzle and off on the 25 mile leg to Byrness. I was going north to south, so this is traditionally quite a hard last day for the walkers, most of whom have walked 13 - 16 days before this. The first leg was some good fell terrain, including a climb up and over the Schil, and as I passed the mountain refuge hut at 9km I sort of wished I had decided to come up this far the night before (decided it was a bit risky without knowing the state of the hut but it was posh!).
Chilling at the Schil

The weather improved as the day went on but it was very wet underfoot and my feet were quickly soaked. From Byrness to Bellingham the terrain was flatter but my feet suffered a bit on the hard tracks through Keilder Forst (lots of trees here) - not ideal on the first day, but apart from that I felt good and was enjoying myself. After Bellingham I continued south for a bit then hit the Hadrian's Wall path and turned West, this brought back loads of memories from my run across the path in 2008. The weather improved and everything was quite lovely for a while. I was starting to get tired by now and decided Greenhead was the place to call it a day.

I slowed down towards the end, and by the time I got to Greenhead (62 miles from the start) was definately ready for some food and sleep. Unfortunately my (otherwise really good) Harvey's map was made in 2005, since when one campsite has closed and the other has become a residential caravan park... Then the youth hostel was full, and the hotel too expensive... However the barman told me about a bunkbarn a mile or so back north, and at half 11 I finally had a bed for the night. A quick look at my feet was not a positive experience but I decided everything could wait till the morning and set the alarm for 4.
Bunkbarn at Greenhead. £2 per hour

Friday 17th:
Day 2 started with some serious podiatry, then at half four I carried on south. It had been a cold night but the morning was clear and warm and things felt ok as I set off, so it was a good morning. Out of Greenhead I headed south roughly following the River Tyne to Alston then Garrigill, then up towards Cross Fell. On the way up out of Garrigill I stopped and had another foot session (getting boring now I know!) and discovered the blisters across the tops of my toes, caused by the seams on the socks. At this point I realised that two pairs of socks for a wet 4-5 day adventure is not really enough.
From Cross Fell
Anyway, up and and over Cross Fell and Great Dun Fell with the huge "Golf Ball" antenna on top, then down into Dufton. After Dufton I again turned West, round the spectacular High Cup Nick then started following the Tees towards Middleton-in-Teesdale.
High Cup Nick
It was a nice evening, and some of the farms out here felt properly isolated, running off generators and the only access being along a rocky 5km track. In places it was a slow route though, with no marked path through the rocks alongside the river. By 11pm I was done for the night, and at Low Force waterfall I stopped for the night in a grassy visitor area thingy, after about 58 miles.

Saturday 18th:
I had considered continuing through the night, but to be honest I didn't want to end up in a Cow-infested field in the middle of the night, so I decided to stop while it was dark then crack on. So at 2:30 I woke up, and at 3 left Low Force heading for Middleton. It was now raining at a sort of medium-heavy drizzle level. About 20 miles later I reached the A66 Bowes Moor crossing, where there is a Pennine Way underpass. I was feeling a bit sleepy by now so decided to have a 3 minute nap under the bridge, which worked surprisingly well and I actually felt awake for the rest of the day! This was also the halfway point, according to what someone had carved into a post just after the bridge.

Not too long after Bowes Moor I reached Tan Hill Inn. By this point I had run out of food and water, so was glad to see the place, not least as it they had just lit the fire and had an excellent selection of chocolate bars... And best of all, crisps! If you have ever experienced the joy of a packet of crisps after two days of sugar you will know what I mean...
Tan Hill. Warm and delicious
I left Tan Hill at about midday and, predictably, continued south. Tan Hill also represents the border of the Dales National Park and I was excited to be there. Keld was the next target, 4-5 miles on, then another three or so to Thwaite. On the Keld - Thwaite section I messed up the navigation a bit and did not contour round the hill properly, resulting in a short steep climb, but eventually set off towards Great Shunner Fell. I had planned to meet my girlfriend at Horton-in-Ribblesdale at the end of the day, so after about 33 miles to Thwaite I had 14 to Hawes, then 12 to Horton. The first section went pretty well and in Hawes I was feeling ok, although I was actually going stronger uphill than downhill due to my feet and pain which had started in my shins.

There were some pretty boring sections between Hawes and Horton, long stony tracks which seemed to go on forever in strainght line with only trees to look at. I did a fair bit of talking to myself as I hobbled along these tracks, and was looking forward to having a real person to talk to again!

Eventually I got to Horton. I would've been there before dark, but another navigational mistake lost me probably half an hour within the last couple of miles. When I got there I had sausages, cheese, bread, crisps, and lots of other food I had been dreaming of for a while. My feet felt alright and I was ready to carry on in the morning.

Sunday 19th:
I didn't wake up on sunday as I had never gone to sleep. Once I laid down my right shin was incredibly painful and I couldn't sleep. I started to wonder if perhaps I wouldn't be able to carry on. It was 90 miles to go, I had planned a 50 mile day then a 40 mile day into Edale on Monday.

At 6am I set off from Horton, up Pen-y-Ghent. The plan was to aim for Malham, 15 miles away. I needed to get there by 11 to be doing 3 miles per hour, and stand a chance of getting to Edale within two days. Unfortunately, it took me two hours or so to get up Pen-y-Ghent, which being three miles was not enough. Time to go home. I turned around and after a painful hobble back down to Horton phoned Lorna to request rescue!
Pen-y-Ghent. Looking hot.
So, I didn't finish the Pennine Way. Yesterday (sunday) afternoon I literally couldn't walk and had to crawl around the house, so I would've had to stop at some point, so perhaps when I did was safer. This is a little worrying with the Big Alps Run in mind, but I think day length is an important factor, and the Pennine Way days were about twice as long.

Wet feet are also an important thing to avoid, and I think the three days is about my limit for being solo. I did do quite a lot of chattering away to "other people" through myself on the last day so I think having someone to talk to sometimes is good. And whatever happened to my shin I need to avoid in the future. Maybe there will be something under there when the swelling goes down...

Thanks to the people who sponsored me, I have learnt a lot from this little adventure and WILL finish the Big Alps Run. It's a good challenge too, someone slightly better prepared than me should have no problem finishing in a reasonable time!


  1. Well, I suppose it is a fail :-( but a gloriously strong effort! well done indeed. Be interested to hear how the shin thing developed? Also, made a Note of the requirement for many pairs of dry socks on such a trip!! (One single day of a 50 would be enough for me I fear, without a lot more training). Congrats on a brave effort


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