Introduction to The Pennine Way
The complete Pennine Way is a 268 mile walk stretching from Edale in Derbyshire to Kirk Yetholm in the Scottish Borders. This walk was the first ever national trail and its route was devised by Tom Stephenson in the 1930s.
Now, I’d love to describe the full course, which in fairness covers some of the finest scenery in the country, whichever county you are in. However, for the purposes of this article I will cover the best part of the walk; the bit where it graces Yorkshire.
Stage 1- Crowden to Standege – 11 miles
Ok, so we are still in Derbyshire, just, but never mind because it won’t be long before you cross the sacred border into God’s Own County. The first major thing to look out for is “Black Hill.” This stands 1,909ft above sea level and the paved path here means you don’t have to get your feet wet, even in the worst weather. The black peat, a geographical feature of the Peak District is what gives it its name. Black Hill marks the Derbyshire/Yorkshire border and is the highest point in the West Riding. Proceeding northwards and admiring the moorland all around you, Laddow Rocks and the wonderfully named, “Lad’s Leap,” should come into view. Another feature to look out for is “Soldier’s Lump, “ a stone monument at the summit of “Black Hill.” This makes an ideal landmark to stop and look around you. To the south is Derbyshire, to the West is Cheshire, while to the North and East is Yorkshire. Follow the path northwards. The TV mast at Holme Moss should come into view. This was built in 1951 to provide VHF transmission to West Yorkshire, Derbyshire and Manchester. Its signal could even be picked up as far away as the Isle of Man and parts of Ireland.
Below, the Crowden Great Brook snakes its way towards the Torside reservoir in the distance. Up ahead, just over the border is the Chew Reservoir, which helps to provide Manchester with water.
Moving swiftly along, eventually you will cross the A635 and head up to Wessenden Valley. There are four reservoirs in total to spot here, Butterfly, Blakeley Wessenden and Wessenden Head. The latter was built in 1836 and supplied water to the mill owners in the industrial towns such as Huddersfield and Halifax. At its height it is 984ft above sea level.
This particular part of the route straddles the Yorkshire/Lancashire border with Holmfirth to the North East and Oldham to the South West. In fact the rest of this section takes you dangerously close to Manchester. Hurry on to the next stage, which will guide you back into God’s Own County. Go on run and follow the sign below!
Stage 2 – Standege to Hebden Bridge- 11 miles
Don’t let getting too close to Manchester (and the M62) put you off what is another interesting part of the walk. Although not quite as remote as the previous stretch, there is still much to be seen and the path has a more friendly gradient. Yet more distant reservoirs spread out across the landscape, notably Castleshaw and March Haigh.
Looking to the Yorkshire side of the path lies Stonepit Lee Clough, a grassy valley, leading towards Marsden. It contains the source of the River Colne in the shape of Redbrook Clough. Proceeding northwards, eventually you hit Junction 22 of the M62. After trying not to get run over, you will see Rishworth Moor before you. Best known for its constant mentions on the traffic news, Rishworth Moor contains yet another reservoir and the curiously named, “Dick Slack.”
Proceeding on the Pennine way you now enter an area known as Blackstone Edge. Across the path is the remains of what historians believe to be an ancient Roman Road between Littleborough and Ripponden. Look upwards and one of the biggest features on this stretch of the Pennine Way should be in view. Stoodley Pike stands 1300ft high, complete with a 121ft monument at the summit of the hill. This was built in 1856 at the end of the Crimean War and replaced an earlier one built in commemoration of the Napoleonic Wars, which was damaged during a lightning strike in 1854.
The monument is accessible by foot with a seat provided at the top for visitors to admire the views. Stoodley Pike dominates the area surrounding the towns of Todmordon and Hebden Bridge. The Pennine Way passes over it giving excellent views of the area below.
Stage 3 – Hebden Bridge to Ickornshaw
Stride out of Hebden Bridge and follow the path up onto Heptonstall Moor, past Slack (and Slack Bottom). Over the fields to the East look out for Hardcastle Crags. It may be worth (if you wish) taking a slight detour off the Pennine Way to see this feature close up.
The path takes you adjacent to yet another reservoir, this time a large one which has to be split into three, called Walshaw Dean Upper, Middle and Lower.
Staying on the official route, the path leads to a local beauty spot named “Hebble Hole,” next to a stream. Following the path further brings you to Top Withens Farmhouse. This abandoned building, which nowadays has no roof does have major significance in Yorkshire Literature. Although it has not been occupied since 1926, it was the ficticious residency of the Earnshaw family in Emily Bronte’s “Wuthering Heights.” Although it bears no resemblance to the building described in the book, it is thought that the farm’s location was used as a description. The farmhouse is visited by Bronte’ fans every year. You have now officially entered Bronte’ country. Proper Yorkshire. The Japanese writing on the signs are for the tourists from this country who flock here each year. Proceeding on and another landmark comes into site. The Old Bess Stone was once part of an ancient set of six boundary stones, dividing Yorkshire and Lancashire.
Further up the path the Wolf stones form a greater boundary. These marked the point where several ancient wapentakes, Skyrack and Staincliffe met. It was also the site where a Lammas fair would take place, until 1870.Lammas day means “Wheat festival” and is a now forgotten celebration held on 1st August.
Moving onwards to Ickornshaw Moor, walking over the paving slabs laid down to avoid the heather clad bogs which lay beneath. Pass all the derelict farms on the moor and head into the village of Ikornshaw or Cowling, whichever you prefer.
Stage 4 – Ickornshaw to Malham
Re-joining the route between Ickornshaw and Cowling, proceed northwards past the Stubbings and Low wind hill. Looking back the green pastures of Cowling and surrounding area can be seen. Make sure you keep following the Pennine Way signs, as there are several trails which run through here. The rugged moorland turns into more friendlier green hills in this area as you proceed northwards towards Lothersdale. This is a small village with a population of just 200 people with a charming old mill and stream. More grassy landscape greets you leaving Lothersdale, as you proceed up the side of Stansfield Beck, past two farms called Hewitt’s and Kirk’s Sykes. You are now entering Pinhaw Moor and at its summit, Pinhaw Beacon. This was installed in the early 1800s to help warn against potential attacks from the Napoleonic forces from France. Local men were enlisted to look after the beacon and a memorial stone to its chief, Robert Wilson is buried on the moor not far away. In 1805 there was a hut 30m away from the beacon. Wilson and one of his workers were trapped there during heavy snow. The chief beacon keeper tried to walk to a nearby farm for supplies, which were running low. He was found dead not long after setting off and a stone marks the spot where he was found. Elslack Moor carries on for several miles, until its end where you find the village of Thornton in Craven. Nearby is the Craven Roman fort and road, built here to keep order in the area against the native Brigantes.
Leaving Thornton in Craven go north for a few miles. Here you encounter part of the Leeds-Liverpool canal as it sweeps over the Pennines on the Yorkshire/Lancashire border. By the canal at East Marton is the double arched bridge, which is a rare sight indeed. The reason for the top arch was so a road could be built over the top for motorised transport. The path eventually leaves the canalside and heads as the crow flies to the town of Gargrave. It goes through this town and goes upwards into the limestone hills of Malham dale. Follow the course of the still embryonic River Aire, past the villages of Airton, Kirby Malham and Hanlith until you get to Malham. This village lends itself well to visitors and is famous for its cove. Conveniently this is also on the Pennine Way, so it is a chance to observe this natural wonder at close quaters. You can read more about Malham Cove and tarn here. The Limestone pavement and stunning views looking back over the village are well worth stopping a-while to view.
Stage 5 – Malham to Horton in Ribblesdale
The path then goes around the banks of Malham tarn and past the source of the River Aire. The next landmark to roll into view is Fountain’s Fell, which stands at 668ft above sea level. This is a mere warm-up before the mountains just around the corner, but it is still fairly impressive all the same. The landscape is pock-marked with sink holes. These are formed when water erodes soft boulder clay down gaps in the limestone rock. The landscape used to be a big mining area too and there are plenty of diused mineshafts to be aware of, so it is important to stay on the path.
Around the corner, an unmistakable shape looms on the horizon. This is Pen-y-ghent, one of the three largest peaks in Yorkshire. The Pennine Way takes you right to the very top, so you can see what it is like to be on the roof of Yorkshire.
There is a nice ascent down into the village of Horton in Ribblesdale for a well earned rest. On the way, do stop and gape at the Hull Pot, which is said to be the largest pot-hole in the Britain at 91 meters long and 18m deep. The feature has an accompanying waterfall in wet weather.
Stage 6 – Horton in Ribblesdale to Hawes
The Pennine Way leaves Horton in Ribblesdale by the side of the River of the same name. Looking back you can see all three peaks, Whernside, Pen –y-Ghent and Ingleborough which dominate the skyline ahead. Sell Gill Holes are a popular destination for cavers seeking to explore the expansive cave systems underground. Proceeding henceforth, a long stretch of moorland stretch out before you leading to the exposed but beautiful Birkwith Moor. To the right is an upland forest, called Cam woodlands which sits on a fell of the same name. Here you will come across Ling Gill Bridge, which dates back to the 17th Century. According to walker extraordinaire, Alfred Wainwright the bridge also marks the boundary between limestone and peat moorlands. In the very distance and on a clear day lies the Ribblehead viaduct. Completed in 1894 famously by the navvies who lived in shanty towns around the structure, it is an important part of the rail network, linking Cumbria to Yorkshire. In the 1980s a campaign to save the viaduct was successful, after years of decline and station closures in the area.
The Path eventually crosses a junction with another long distance path, The Dales Way at Cam End. Proceeding on the Pennine Way and Whernside, the highest peak in Yorkshire should come into view. Notice that you are predominantly walking in a straight line at this moment. because this is the course of the Roman Cam High Road. The hills of Upper Wensleydale should adorn the horizon and its capital, Hawes should come into view down the valley. Proceed onwards, through the village of Gayle. This is an attractive Yorkshire hamlet which has two distinctive features. Its 19th Century sawmill contains the world’s oldest water powered turbine. It is still a working mill and tourist attraction. The wonderfully named Gayle Force is a waterfall which flows into Gayle Beck at the side of the road to Hawes.
Hawes is Britain’s highest market town and the home of Wensleydale cheese. It also has the Dales Country Museum and National Park centre at its old railway station. This place is well worth stopping a while to look round and grab a well-earned rest.
Stage 7 – Hawes to Tan Hill
Progressing out of Hawes, via a thin kissing gate and the banks of the winding River Ure, leads you to another great Yorkshire natural wonder. Hardraw Force is a 100 foot waterfall, which is one of the longest unbroken single drop water features in the country. One of the best bits about it is you have to go to a pub to see it! It is behind the Green Dragon in the tiny hamlet of Hardraw. The site of the waterfall is also the venue for an annual brass band competition, along with other musical events. Hardraw force was used in a scene in Robin Hood Prince of Thieves.” To see the waterfall (but not Kevin Costner) it will cost you £2.00 at the Green Dragon bar.
Moving along, and it is time to climb the third highest point in Yorkshire, known as Great Shunner Hill, which stands at 716m above sea level. The climb is more of a gradual thing, but once at the top the views on a clear day are amazing from the stone shelter built on the summit.
On the way you may encounter a large number of “cairns!” or piles of stones, which have been created as a landmark to help guide the way. There are also a lot of disused mines in this area, so be careful!
Eventually after a few miles of moorland, dry stone walls, cairns, beacons, disused mines, some of the most fantastic scenery you could ever wish for and sheep, you re-enter civilisation momentarily at the tiny village of Thwaite.
This was once home to Richard and Cherry Kearton, who were pioneers in wildlife photography in the late 19th Century. It is also thought to be the setting of Misselthwaite Manor in the novel, “The Secret Garden,” by Frances Hodgson Burnett.
The next place of significance is the Dales village of Keld, which is named after a spring and well known brand of water. In walking circles, Keld is a significant landmark in that it marks the point where the Pennine Way crosses the Coast to Coast walk. The 18th Century remains of the wonderfully named “Crackpot Hall” was abandoned in the 1950s due to subsidence. It is still preserved inside with some of its original features still in tact.
Keld is home to four waterfalls, named Kisdon Force, Cartrake Force, East Gill Force and Wain Wath Force, which power down the River Swale.
There is a pub here to stop off at, or if you want to get ahead, there’s another one four miles along the path. Stonesdale Moor was a heavy coal mining area during the 17th and 18th Centuries. After a hard day’s work, the miners would walk up the hill for a drink at the Tan Hill pub, which in those days was also surrounded by miner’s cottages. The last cottages were knocked down in the 1920s, leaving the pub isolated once more. This lead to a spell of closure, until someone realised that Tan Hill was the highest pub in Britain. Nowadays, the Tan Hill pub is popular with tourists, campers and walkers alike and during the summer months is a hive of activity once more.
Proceeding northwards on the Pennine Way takes you out of Yorkshire and into foreign territory known as Cumbria.
Please note that many of the areas described are steep and/or can be wet especially during periods of inclement weather. Please make sure you take enough supplies and stay safe.