Day 1. 4 miles
It is of course with the good old benefit of hindsight when I profess that to walk the Pennine Way, in it’s entirety, you probably have to be some kind of lunatic. Do you enjoying inflicting pain on yourself, day after day, for over a fortnight? Yes? Well, then step this way! Head on over to the Nags Head Pub in Edale, sling an over-sized rucksack on your back and off you go. Sitting mightily above the village is Kinder Scout. You might well enjoy a pint and a hearty plate of food in the pub to set you on your way, but then you’ll be heading to the mountain. There are a gentle couple of miles to begin with through the fields and tracks which soon lead to the start of Jacobs Ladder where you’ll most likely turn yourself into a sweaty, panting mess by the time you’ve reached the top and then a further climb leads eventually to the trig point on Kinder Low. There are few evident paths up there, so keep your eye out for the cairns that lead you onwards and hope that, even in summer, you won’t have thick fog to navigate through. It’s a good idea to ensure you have a basic understanding of maps and compass bearings. Or, at least acquire yourself a decent guidebook. If you’re camping it’s a good idea to fill your bag to the brim with provisions as you’ll not see a single shop for another forty odd miles and though there are copious opportunities to obtain water you’ll need a filter to make sure you don’t spend the first couple of days vomiting. Don’t worry about the yellow tint to it though, it’s just from the peat bogs. Oh, about the peat… There are mountains and hills, rocks and stones, mud, bogs, hot weather, wet weather, unpredictable weather. There are cows and midges, annoying flies and thousands of skittish sheep. There are good paths, bad paths and very often no paths. And, definitely, several occasions when you’re standing in a deserted field or moor or mountain and simply wonder “where the bloody hell am I? And where the hell is the Pennine Way?”
Despite all this, the virtues of the trail by far outweigh the negatives and all the blood, sweat and tears is more than worth it when you find yourself at the Border Inn at Kirk Yetholm at the end of the walk. There is a strange addiction to the trail that I have personally not experienced with any other. I first walked the trail in 2016/17 in seventeen days across six stages, culminating in the final marathon slog from Byrness to Kirk Yetholm in one day. As soon as I had walked into that last village, soaked to the bone, shivering and practically unable to put one foot in front of the other, I knew I wanted to walk the whole trail again. But next time, in one go. And I wanted to camp the vast majority of it. From a practical point of view more flexibility is gained. If you feel like it, you just carry on walking until you drop. There is a nice bit of land, let’s just pitch up there. It brings you closer to the elements and closer to the trail. Camping on Kinder Scout, at Black Hill, on Fountains Fell, is a true and authentic Pennine experience. You can walk at dawn and walk into a sunset, you can eat your breakfast whilst staring into a view - there is generally always a view - and have your dinner when the sun is disappearing. You can feel like the only person in the whole world. When after the fourteen days I’d taken to walk to Scotland, it wasn’t just the scenery I’d missed, it was the adventure that I’d enjoyed, of waking up at dawn in the middle of nowhere and not having a clue most days where I’d end up that night.
If we think the Pennine Way is hard now, it probably is a walk in the park compared to years gone by. The only guides available in the mid-sixties were leaflets with a line of the route. No GPS’s or OS maps with the route marked out, or shiny guidebooks. The first Pennine Way walkers had to rely on map and compass skills and without obvious paths to follow in many areas like there are now with footprints left behind by fifty years of Pennine Wayfarers. As the years rolled by and the trail became ever more popular, the moorland, certainly in the Dark Peaks sections and West Yorkshire like Kinder Scout, Bleaklow and Black Hill, were complete mud baths. The land, heavily eroded, caused many an unfortunate walker to be sucked in and with any luck, have the fortune to be pulled out by fellow hikers. Many gave up before they’d barely begun. The Pennine Way, even now, isn’t just a physical test, your mental fortitude is examined to the limit.
Day one, if starting from Edale on a south to north Pennine Way, is commonly referred to as one of the, if not the hardest sections there is on the trail. Personally, I love the first day both for reasons of scenery and of tranquillity, but also the excitement of knowing a whole ribbon of Pennine Way stretches out in front of you - all 253 odd miles of it. Some days later on, as we will discover, are infinitely less than enjoyable. Leaving Edale and the pub, granted, it’s a nice couple of miles across the fields to Upper Booth Farm and then along a flat track but gradually you are squeezed in by the mountains on either side as the approach to Kinder Scout becomes that bit nearer. And then to reach it means a climb up Jacobs Ladder, an old packhorse trail, now simply a series of uneven and rocky steps that for a few minutes, wind their way up a steep incline that provides the first test on the trail. It also, on clear days, leaves a beautiful view back down the last mile you have walked through Edale Valley. It's worth it to take a break, and stop at the top and make the most of it.
And so it was that in the spirit of wanting to make the most of the views from Jacobs Ladder and then Kinder Low, that I decided to spend my first night up there. Kinder is a wild old mountain, and when I first found myself up there back on the inaugural Pennine walk in 2016, it was somewhat intimidating, too. As I recall it, I was with friends at Edale Rocks on what was, thankfully, a nice sunny autumnal morning, but freaking out at the fact that there in front of us were no evident paths, no footprints and no signs. Just rocks and boulders everywhere. We hadn’t a clue where to go, didn’t know what a cairn represented (a little tip is that on the Pennine, when slightly unsure of ones current location, seeing a pile of stones of any kind of size or height is a huge sense of reassurance). Back on that October morning, it was simply only making sure to head in a mostly northerly direction keeping to the west of the mountain and with Kinder reservoir below constantly on our left all the way to Kinder Downfall, which confirmed we were on the right track. However, since then the mountain has been my go-to place when spending days and weekends in the Dark Peaks and having got to know it a lot better, we are on much friendlier terms.
But back to the present, and to a sunny and warm Wednesday evening in July. It was a most peculiar feeling as I stumbled out of the Nags Head, commonly known as the start of the walk, to tentatively begin a walk to the Scottish Borders. I say stumbled, this is nothing to do with alcohol, not a drop had touched my lips. I’d enjoyed a sausage and mash dinner to avoid having to cook on my first night and give me a little energy boost for the first three miles or so. Simply the weight of my bag was already literally weighing me down, though having spoke to other wayfarers during the subsequent weeks, I quickly realised how light my bag was in comparison. A German lady, I learnt and who I gather had given up quite early on, was carrying just shy of twenty kilos, with no less than three guidebooks taking up no doubt a good chunk of that weight. I myself had tried to pack the bare minimum but the first couple of miles up to and beyond Upper Booth Farm were not uncomfortable, but I sure as hell knew that I had a full sixty five litre bag on my back and I admit to wondering that if I was feeling tentative now, how the hell would I walk eighteen miles a day and scale the Kinder’s and Pen Y Ghent’s and Cross Fells of this world? A mile in I got talking to a couple of day walkers heading back to Edale and during our five minute chat, Chris (I believe his name was) informed me of a hiker on the Appalachian Trail in the States who was producing live web chats every evening and who was carrying just the four kilos. This staggered me, a quarter of my weight for ten times the distance. Incredible. And yet, Chris’ genuine and heartfelt well wishes and handshake as we parted company, and his encouragement, gave me a shot in the arm and the subsequent couple of miles or so flew by as I reached Jacobs Ladder.
The thinking behind starting the Pennine late in the day was a conscious decision I’d made during the planning, to get the two opening climbs out the way and both ease myself into the walk (with the added consideration of a heavy rucksack), and to enable me to camp at around Black Hill on Day Two. I also wanted another excuse, if ever one were needed, to wild camp up on Kinder. The original plan was to camp just off the trail on the western ridge overlooking Kinder reservoir and, hoping for a clear night, with views over towards Manchester. This however was overlooked in favour of a camp around the Woolpacks, a mile or so from the trail and further east. This was for two reasons. One, with the heavy westerly winds heading over I would have been blown to bits, and secondly, after a wet and foggy wild camp several weeks prior to the main event, I’d left a couple of tent pegs in the ground whilst hurriedly packing up in torrential rain at five in the morning, and I wanted to retrieve them. It was typical of my luck that when I eventually found the same spot at around 8:00 on a sunny and calm evening, the pegs were nowhere to be seen, but the cheap set of spares I’d brought along were more than adequate, and so it was that I pitched up and got a tea on the go with a cool breeze beginning to manifest itself, but the four miles I'd already gotten under my belt were a good way to kick the adventure off.