Pennine Journey

Landscape view with hills and sheep 

Last year was the 80th anniversary of the Pennine Journey – a lesser known route devised by Alfred Wainwright and subsequently turned into an official 247-mile circular route from Settle in North Yorkshire thanks to the efforts of two passionate long-distance walkers.

In September 1938, Alfred Wainwright, now well known for his Pictorial Guides to the Lakeland Fells in Cumbria, England, made a solitary walk through the Pennines as the storm clouds were gathering over Europe.

‘There seemed no escape from the atmosphere of gloom and despondency… Things were getting worse day by day. But I was fortunate in having a fortnight’s holiday due, and I fled the familiar scene.’ wrote Wainwright in a 1939 narrative description of his walk. Other travellers in Britain, going back many years, had written about their journeys but his idea of a long-distance walk could be considered the seed that has led to the growth of the wonderful variety of walking routes in Britain.

Black and white photo of a man sitting in front of a lakeHe had taken a break from his job as a clerk at Blackburn Town Hall and headed to Settle in North Yorkshire for his walk: ‘…Which should take me by way of the Yorkshire Dales and Durham along the eastern flanks of the Pennines as far as Tynedale, from which faraway valley I planned to return along the western slopes of the range.’ During the walk he sent back postcards on which were probably his first landscape sketches. He also took a ‘selfie’ - humorously described in his A Pennine Journey narrative which he showed to some colleagues before putting the manuscript away in a drawer for nearly 48 years.

The allure of a long walk

Perhaps here I should mention my introduction to long-distance footpath walking. Being already familiar with Wainwright’s pictorial guides through my father who had retired to the Lake District, I came across Wainwright’s A Coast to Coast Walk guide in the mid-1970s. The 190-mile walk – from St Bees, Cumbria, to Robin Hoods Bay, North Yorkshire - is now one of the world’s most popular walks and happens to pass 200 yards from where I live.

In 1978 I was approaching my own ‘retirement’ from the Round Table movement and had been considering how to mark this event. Could I get myself fit and, if so, could the Coast to Coast Walk be the answer? What emerged was a ‘final fellowship fling’ with late convivial hospitality at the end of each stage. Not surprisingly I arrived at Robin Hood’s Bay totally exhausted with the firm resolve never to get involved in any similar venture. However, when the fatigue and blisters were no more, I remember experiencing a warm glow of satisfaction on my achievement.  Next year my father, then aged 77 and doing his only long-distance walk, joined me along the 84-mile Dales Way: thus began a sequence of annual long-distance walks that has continued to this day.

My wife, Heather, was introduced to the fells and long-distance walks soon after we met and in 1986 we learnt of the publication of A Pennine Journey - the Story of a Long Walk in 1938. This had arisen when, whilst working with Wainwright on the Pennine Way book, his editor learned about its existence and arranged for its publication. However I have since learned that the groundwork seems to have been done a little earlier when Wainwright showed it to Richard Else, the director of his 1980s BBC TV series who liked it and told Wainwright he should have it published.

By the time it was published in 1986, we had completed our first Wainwright ‘round’ of the Lakeland fells and were firm Wainwright admirers and long-distance footpath walkers. Among our achievements, we’ve completed the 630-mile South West Way in five stages from Poole to Minehead, and we walked the South Downs Way from Eastbourne to Winchester Cathedral, before setting out on a mixture of the North Downs Way and the Pilgrims Way to Canterbury Cathedral.

After retiring from my work as a bank manager in 1991, Heather and I were debating what was to be our next walk and I remembered the following words from Wainwright’s A Coast to Coast Walk guide advising walkers to: ‘…Devise with the aid of maps their own cross-country marathons and not be merely followers of other people’s routes’. Wainwright’s A Pennine Journey came to mind, so we read it and started to plan that winter, but did not complete the walk until 1998 following a move from the Wirral to the Lake District - our  own cross-country marathon.

Drawn map of the Pennine Way route

Making of the modern journey

We devised a route that would take us to as many of the places Wainwright mentioned in his book as possible, using public rights of way but avoiding the country roads that he used in 1938 when they doubtlessly presented very little danger from traffic. The walk takes in sections of other paths such as the Pennine Way, Ribble Way, Dales Way, and the Hadrian's Wall Walk as well as Wainwright’s ‘Walks in Limestone Country’. At Keld on its way north and at Kirkby Stephen on its way south it crosses the route of Wainwright’s Coast to Coast Walk.

Book cover

So the modern Pennine Journey was born but the next chapter in the story had to wait until the founding of the Wainwright Society. At its first AGM in 2004 I suggested that our 1998 walk could be a participatory venture for members of the Society. So during the following year, we began revising our original route into 18 daily stages and members were sought to walk and test each stage and provide route descriptions. The original project was enhanced when two members tendered their services in two very specific areas. Colin Bywater offered to provide black and white sketches and Ron Scholes offered to draw detailed route maps at 2½ inches to the mile.

A new ‘pictorial’ tribute

The varying route descriptions were edited into a common format and merged with the illustrations and route maps into what the publishers Frances Lincoln described as a ‘pictorial guide’ – an accolade that delighted Heather and I as this description had hitherto only been used for Wainwright’s guides. Over 40 members and friends were present at Settle station for its launch on a perfect day for walking in April 2010.

To complete this tangible tribute to Wainwright, we created a website with, importantly, an accommodation register so that walkers could plan their own Pennine Journey. Soon Brigantes Walking Holidays set up a baggage courier service, funds were raised from guide book sales, the endorsement of all the highway agencies along the route was obtained and by the 75th anniversary of Wainwright’s 1938 walk, the entire route had been waymarked.

Mapping the route

The next step was to get the route onto Ordnance Survey maps. Wainwright loved the work of the Ordnance Survey: ‘I admire their work immensely, being lost in admiration of all their work. Their maps are, as ever, my favourite reading.’ By February 2016 the route was plotted on all relevant Explorer and Landranger maps and to a large degree this tribute to Alfred Wainwright could be said to be complete.

Wainwright’s careful planning 80 years ago means that it traverses some of the most delightful walking terrain in northern England. Walkers will be able to savour delightful river valleys, high fells and wide expanses of moorland; be fascinated by the historic places on its route, with the World Heritage Site of Hadrian’s Wall pre-eminent; and enjoy the hospitality of the towns and villages along the way.

Walk it

The Pennine Journey [] is a challenging 247-mile circular route, passing through the wonderful variety of terrain and scenery that the north of England offers and touching on all the major rivers in the region. The walk is divided into 18 daily stages of varying length and offers a choice of possibilities. It can be undertaken as one continuous walk; split at Housesteads on Hadrian’s Wall (Wainwright’s primary objective) into two stages of roughly 120 miles each; or divided into three stages – eastern, northern and western – of around 80 miles each.

Magazine of the Ramblers