A Pennine Journey

A Pennine Journey is a 247-mile circular route inspired by a walk the legendary Alfred Wainwright took in 1938 as the clouds of the Second World War were gathering. It is a fine long distance walk, less well known than the Pennine Way and Pennine Bridleway but all the better for it.


Due to the length of the walk it inevitably takes in many different qualities, both in terms of landscape and difficulty. The start and finish through the Yorkshire Dales are well signposted and more popular; as is the section along Hadrian’s Wall where you simply keep the wall to your right! However the Pennines to the north of the Dales are more remote, less walked and therefore do need good navigational skills.

Housesteads Fort on Hadrian’s Wall

Starting in the market town of Settle in North Yorkshire the route heads up the eastern side of the Pennines through the Yorkshire Dales. The journey then takes in stretches of County Durham before arriving at Hadrian’s Wall. This is followed for 21 miles, taking in the best section of the wall, before heading down the western side of the Pennines, travelling down the Eden Valley and then, skirting the Howgill Fells, it arrives back in Settle.

Map of the Route

Maps Required (From South to North) OS Explorer 2, 19, 30, 31, 41, 43, 307

The route is marked on the 1.25,000 O/S map but is not waymarked on the trail itself.

My Journey by Richard Aylwin

Richard Aylwin is the Pennine Journey Public Relations Officer. Official: https://penninejourney.org/

He has split the journey in to 3 sections, the first of which he recently completed. He is hoping to complete the other 2 sections in the coming year.

The words from here are his own and describe his personal journey.

Introducing Myself

My long-distance walking career flourished in the 1980s, went into abeyance in the 1990s while bringing up a family and was resurrected again in the noughties.

I became aware of Alfred Wainwright in those early years when tackling the 190-mile Coast-to-Coast path, created by the great man, and at the time a joy to walk as it was so peaceful. Today, of course, it is hugely popular with 6,000 walkers estimated to be walking the trail each year and in recognition of that popularity has recently been designated with National Trail status.

(L to R) Richard Aylwin, Heather and David Pitt at Settle Station

I came into his orbit once again when meeting Wainwright acolytes David and Heather Pitt on the St Cuthberts Way in 2012. We kept in touch, and they regaled me with details of the route they had created inspired by the solitary walk Wainwright undertook through the Pennines in September 1938. His account of that walk is a wonderful companion to have on the journey (A Pennine Journey – The Story of a Long Walk in 1938 published by The Wainwright Society).

The rest, as it were, is history and on becoming the PR Officer for the Pennine Journey, I determined to undertake this lesser well known, and more peaceful route, than some of its more crowded peers.

Planning the Walk

I decided to do a first seven days stretch from Settle to Westgate in Weardale, a distance of 80 miles and benefitting from public transport at both ends.

For a Londoner, the start of the Pennine Journey route is eminently accessible by train via Leeds to Settle and one can be on the path in the early afternoon with a 10am departure from King’s Cross station.

Organisation of my week-long walk was made easier by putting it in the hands of Brigantes Walking Holidays, a well-run professional company that booked overnight accommodation and arranged luggage transfer each day with military efficiency.

The Pennines near Middleton

The week-long itinerary organised by Brigantes was dependent on where bed and breakfast accommodation was available so distances varied from fairly short days of just 7.5 miles to a moorland romp of over 17 miles from Keld to Cotherstone and another 16-mile section from Middleton in Teesdale to Westgate in Weardale including a delightful section along the lively River Tees. None of the days were too exhausting and should easily be manageable for the average walker.

The bed and breakfast accommodation comprised a mix of pub, hotel and private homes ranging from the comfortable to the downright luxurious at Low Mill Guest House, with the ancient mill-wheel still in place, in Buckden.

Goldstone Hill on Cotherstone Moor

I used the excellent Ordnance Survey App on my smartphone although I had paper maps as back up together with a spare powerful external battery charger. Route finding is easy with the OS app (make sure you have spare batteries) and is mirrored on the ground with good general sign posting helped by the fact that parts of the route are shared with the Pennine Way. Only once was route finding a challenge on the moorland terrain leading to Westgate with plenty of bog-hopping, but the invaluable Pennine Journey guidebook (Edited by David & Heather Pitt and published by Sigma Leisure) wisely advised heading towards a telegraph pole on the distant skyline.

Day 1. Settle to Horton 5.5 Miles

My companion and I arrived in Settle in the early afternoon and were treated like royalty, being met at the station by Pennine Journey founders David and Heather Pitt, there to see us off and to have our picture taken standing beside the Wainwright blue plaque in the station waiting room.

It was a relief to be heading off into the hills echoing the words of Wainwright who described how “he was in chains, body and mind as Europe sunk into crisis”, and perhaps provides something of a parallel with the current atrocities taking place in the Ukraine. However, as he headed out of Horton-in-Ribblesdale Wainwright’s mood changed and he commented: “I was a free man on the hills again”. A sentiment that my companion and I could fully appreciate.

The day was pleasant with sunny spells. We eased ourselves into the walk with a 5.5-mile short leg up the Ribble Valley through the peaceful villages of Stainforth and Langcliffe  that afforded regular regular sightings of the trains on the iconic Settle to Carlisle railway line passing by in the valley below.

Our first night’s bed & breakfast was at Middle Studfold Farm a short way off the path near Horton-in-Ribblesdale.

Day 2. Horton to Buckden 11.9 miles


Our first dilemma was whether to stick strictly to the route or to divert over Pen-Y-Ghent, one of the Yorkshire three peaks that, veiled in low-hanging cloud, looked threatening in the distance. It meant missing out on the dramatic collapsed cavern of Hull Pot but having never done The Three Peaks we decided to tick off at least one of them. The ascent of the nose from the south, while not exactly a proper climb required a scramble over rocks half-way up and although there was no rewarding view at the summit (694 metres) we felt a great sense of an achievement.

The stroll along the hump-backed ridge took us down a steep descent once over Plover Hill into Foxup Moor and on to Halton Gill, looking down Littondale. There we had a welcome cup of tea at the Brigantes offices and saw their new litter of sheep dog pups. This is sheep farming country after all and proprietor Annette Hirst’s family are long term farmers in the area.

The next part of the walk led over Horse Head Moor on a well-marked track and down into Yockenthwaite where we joined a path beside the River Wharfe and I had the rewarding experience of seeing my first ever Kingfisher flashing past us down stream. Our second night’s stay was at the comfortable Romany Cottage on the village green in Buckden that was conveniently placed only a few paces from the Buck Inn for our evening meal.

Day 3. Buckden to Bainbridge 9.8 miles

Day Three beckoned drizzly and wet and threatened to  immobilise the OS app on my phone – touch phones don’t like the damp –  but by the time we had ascended and crossed over Cragdale Moor and were heading into the hamlet of Stalling Busk with its striking Grade II Arts & Crafts church of St Matthew, the clouds had lifted.

If one blinked one might almost miss the hamlet which would be a shame as it played an important part in opening up the countryside for ramblers.

In 2017 Vice President of the Ramblers Association Janet Street Porter unveiled a blue plaque on a cottage there to mark the Stalling Busk Conference of 1996. This formulated a prototype access bill that would lay the foundations of the Labour Government’s Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000, giving walkers extended rights to roam certain areas of mountain, moorland, common land and heaths in England and Wales.

Stalling Busk

And if that wasn’t inspiration enough a short while later our path took us alongside Semer Water, the second largest natural lake in North Yorkshire, where we passed a presentation board commemorating the spot where JMW Turner the “painter of light” sat to make a sketch of Semer Water, for his painting, Simmer Lake, in 1816.

Our night’s rest at Bainbridge in Wensleydale was at the extremely comfortable Lower Mill B&B next to the River Ure where we were let into the secret that the Governor of The Bank of England, Andrew Bailey, had holidayed there a year before.

Day 4. Bainbridge to Keld 12.7 miles

The Pennine Journey route heads across Wensledale and up through the picturesque village of Askrigg with its appealing looking King’s Arms and Crown Inn pubs. There then followed a long and steep climb via quiet lane up onto Askrigg Common, but bathed in glorious October sunshine it hardly seemed a chore at all and with precious little traffic we really felt we were walking in Wainwright’s footsteps. As he said: “And finally, there we were at the highest point on the moor looking down on perhaps one of the most picturesque valleys in all of North Yorkshire, Swaledale…., unfolding a little more of its beauty with every step I took”. After passing through a silent Gunnerside with the one café in the village shut for no obvious reason, we had almost five miles to walk alongside the River Swale to Keld.

Gunnerside in Swaledale

This little village might be described as the Spaghetti Junction of long-distance footpaths where the Pennine Journey, the Pennine Way, the Coast-to-Coast and the Herriot Way converge on each other. It is little surprise then that the Keld Lodge – once a youth hostel – is now the meeting point for numerous walkers from all over the world who gather over pints of beer and hearty meals to relate stories of their hiking adventures. The overnight stop is made all the more enjoyable by the entertaining and wry sense of humour of front-of-house man, and joint owner, David Gray, who is an experienced long distance walker and happy to impart his knowledge of the routes that criss-cross the Pennines.

Day 5. Keld to Cotherstone 17.3 miles

Was change over day for my walking partners with one arriving on the Little White Bus from Richmond and the other heading out the same way.

Tan Hill Inn, the highest pub in Britain

As if Keld wasn’t walker’s paradise enough then before long, after tramping over Stonesdale Moor in deteroriating weather, yet another iconic walker’s landmark appeared in the mist. The Tan Hill Inn, might in other circumstances be described as the Nashville of Country Music, the Bayreuth of Wagner operas  or the Seville of Flamenco dancing, but for generations of walkers it is the Pennine holy grail. Many a tale is told of hikers holed up in the Inn seeking shelter from winter snow storms so it would have been churlish to pass it by without stopping for a warming ale.

But while its warm and welcoming interior wraps its tentacles around one the call of the wild drives us on. The next stage is as bleak as one can imagine heading out and down onto mile after mile of boggy moorland where a hop, skip and a jump is the only form of perambulation that has any chance, pointless as it turns out, of keeping one’s feet dry. Still, if all one can see as far as the horizon is moorland, the regularly placed painted poles ensured that we headed in the right direction across Stainmore Forest – a misnoma as it turns out as there is no sign whatsoever of any tree cover. Eventually we became aware of the din of motor traffic heading across the Pennines on the busy A66 while heading towards the ruined tower of Bowes Castle.

Bowes Castle

Once across the A66 we headed out over an almost cloudless  Cotherstone Moor, except for one long thin cloud streak crossing the horizon above Goldsborough Hill that could have easily been mistaken for the fumes of a steam train crossing the relentless prairie plains of the USA.

After a 16-mile day of relentless walking, Brigantes had arranged for us to be picked up at Clove Lodge beside Blackton Reservoir, by the friendly landlady of the Fox & Hounds in nearby Cotherstone, our resting place for the night. This saved us a further 5 miles to walk by road to the pub and yet again, we were treated to good food and beers.

Day 6. Cotherstone to Middleton 7.5 miles

As it was only 7.5 miles to our next stop at Middleton in Teesdale we decided to walk from the pub back up to the Pennine Journey path via an abandoned railway line and country lane passing Hurly, Blackton and Grassholme Reservoirs that was made more strenuous walking into a strong headwind. Nevertheless, the weather was relatively kind until passing by the summit near Harter Fell we were chased down into Middleton-in-Teesdale by a squall heading in from the Western Pennines that held off until we were safely installed in a café entering the town.

Middleton in Teesdale

Middleton came into its own from the early 19th Century when the London Lead Company moved its main headquarters there. It was responsible for many of the buildings. In September 1877, an elaborate fountain was unveiled to honour Robert Walton Bainbridge, superintendent of the London Lead Mining Company. (7.5 miles or 11.5 miles if walking from Cotherstone).

Day 7. Middleton to Westgate 16.2 miles

This was a day of varying delights walking along the banks of the lively River Tees for seven miles to be confronted along the way by the geological fault lines of Low Force and High Force, the latter creating a spectacular waterfall of some 70 feet. On reaching Forest in Teesdale the Pennine Journey leaves the river and doubles back heading north east while the Pennine Way, whose route we had shared since Middleton, headed west towards spectacular Highcup Gill. This is true Pennine country surrounded by fells with white-washed farms and farming cottages dotting the valleys in between.

River Tees

We were nearly at our journey’s end but a final moorland dash before hitting Swinhope Head and the descent into Westgate in Weardale for our final night was the most strenuous of the week with no clear path to follow and an unending expanse of uneven boggy ground to negotiate.

So, it was a relief to hit the lane at the summit of Swinhope Head and to finish the 3.75 miles down into Westgate on a firm surface.

And so our first section of the Pennine Journey was complete after seven days of very enjoyable and varied walking that I can’t recommend highly enough for other long distance walkers with the added bonus that we were walking in the footsteps of Alfred Wainwright.