A paddle up the Pennines 1977
Published June 2012 in Down Your Way as “Jubilee bunting spurs us on for big walk”
To celebrate my fortieth birthday in 1977 I walked the Pennine Way with my late husband David and 12-year old daughter Vanessa.
Sodden sheep lurking without intent behind dry stone walls, life-threatening peat bogs, relentless rain, the camaraderie of fellow walkers and a wonderful sense of achievement and relief at the end. This is part of the cornucopia of memories that leap easily from my subconscious and refuse to go away, even after 35 years.
The physical hardships of completing this 270-mile long-distance footpath, that stretches from Edale in Derbyshire to Kirk Yetholm over the Scottish border, will not have changed and neither will the weather. It terms of stamina it is the daddy of all lengthy plods in the UK. Consequently, for anyone with little or no experience who is considering undertaking the feat, a real test beforehand is to try carrying a rucksack full of Le Creuset pans on a long day’s circular hike over the Three Peaks of Yorkshire from Horton-in-Ribblesdale, with or without the rain.
For many hours whilst walking the Way nothing happens. And then it does it some more. But now and again, just to jolt you back to life, a snorting bull takes exception to sharing the footpath, or peevishly leans against the very gate through which you want to pass. In our case a bull chased us just prior to Ribblehead and we’d no option but to wade across the waist-high River Ribble before it made contact.
We hadn’t used Youth Hostiles for over a couple of decades and it surprised me that the wardens hadn’t noticed I’d grown up. Apart from their authoritarian manner nothing had changed from my angle regarding the YHA’s mandatory duty, given before you left any of their premises, for I was still being singled out to clean the entire self-cookers’ kitchen. School Journey Parties were the bane of every Pennine Wayfarer’s life on that trip. Grunting, spotty, hoarse, frustrated testosterone-charged youths, who didn’t want to walk, talk or look you in the eye. They unfailingly left chaos in their wake after loudly using every single pan, pot and utensil for someone else to wash. In this case me. The advantages, however, were the drying facilities and the low cost of accommodation which on average came to £2.65 for three beds, a loaf and two pints of milk.
After leaving Edale for Crowden many wayfarers without compass skills went off route. Hayfield seemed to be the default destination. The warden at Crowden, used to guests not turning up, did a roaring trade in brown paper and string for those who made it but regretted that their rucksacks were harbouring unnecessary clobber.
From the next stop at Mankinholes the wet trek of 23 miles to a lonely farmhouse in the Lothersdale area was decidedly arduous. All the same I have fond memories of this haven and its hard-working family whose home was already packed to the rafters when we arrived, because in their kindness they turned no-one away. It was 10pm by the time we all sat down to tea, with cats and dogs dashing between our legs under the table. Thankfully we’d booked in advance and whilst we sank between heavenly feather mattresses and satin eiderdowns, with crisp cotton sheets and soft pillows, others were just glad to get horizontal. Two of the lads slept on couches in the lounge whilst a girl slumbered in the dining room, sharing her couch for the night with a collie dog. A couple of late arrivals, who were falling asleep standing up, were thankful to spend the night in a caravan with the family’s lodger.
All along the walk we were greeted intermittently by flags and buntings, fluttering in the breeze or sodden and limp, on account of 1977 being the Silver Jubilee of Her Majesty the Queen. It certainly helped to pretend they were in celebration of the three of us arriving at another staging post. Not surprisingly the Cross Keys at East Marton had a wonderful display. It was the epitome of how a country pub should look and feel, being exceptionally old and quaint with sparkly brasses and polished oak. It also provided substantial soup and coffee at 25p each, with ham sandwiches for 35p.
Many miles involved featureless moors embedded in layers of mud, with sheep that stole butties out of your hand in desperation for an alternative to wet grass. In contrast a large part of the walk passed through the exhilarating scenery of the Yorkshire Dales, especially heading north from Gargrave.
We ate breakfast next to the stream the following morning in the garden of Beck Hall at Malham in glorious sunshine, ending the day at Horton-in-Ribblesdale. The route from here to Hawes lends itself to striding out, particularly along the old Roman Cam Road from Gearstones. From Hawes to Keld was outstanding, except the boring four-mile climb up Great Shunner Fell, and Kisdon Bank takes some beating for a view you can almost taste. Green ways, far-reaching scenes and venerable hamlets emphasise the popularity of walking some of the most glorious acres in the entire country.
Our favourite overnight stop was a delightful small hotel called Rookhurst at Gayle. The cost of bed and breakfast was £3.00 for adults and £2.00 for children and we’d booked in for evening dinner consisting of three courses at £1.75 each. It was a formal affair with a communal table for all the guests, which we shared with two German families. They’d arrived in brand new shiny Mercedes and wore expensive suits and gowns. With our limited choice we donned damp slacks that had been rolled up in our rucksacks – mine being made of crimplene.
During dinner there was a great deal of spirited banter in which they complained about our weak and tasteless English ales, and how they’d yet to meet anyone who spoke the German tongue. After we’d eaten our fill we asked them to join us and our walking companions in Hawes and treat them to pints of Theakston’s Old Pecular – to toast our Queen and prove our point. Another was scored by one of our number, Frank (who had been an interpreter during WW2) conversing with them in fluent German.
Featured Image: Hadrian’s Wall, Pennine Way