Dark Peak

No pussyfooting about, the Pennine Way gets immediately in its stride with a crossing of the Dark Peak north of Edale.

Going northwards, the Dark Peak is England’s first true hard country since Dartmoor far to the south-west, a vast tract of unimproved land (albeit large bits managed as grouse moor) where the unwary traveller can easily lose sense of time and direction.

The boundary between Dark and White Peak is marked by the Hope and Noe valleys, in the latter of which Edale lies – the Manchester-Sheffield rail line passes through to give superb access.

White Peak: limestone-based, softer, drains well, around 1500ft.

Dark Peak: gritstone-based, rougher, clags into peat morass, around 2000ft.

The Pennine Way sees no limestone for many miles, well into the Dales.

But there has been some chickening out since my early days – in this case, the sweltering (even by 21st century standards) summer of 1976. The original route set off uncompromisingly, up Grindsbrook Clough, and straight over the Kinder plateau to Kinder Downfall. A wimpier alternative by Jacob’s Ladder was given as a bad weather alternative, but ignored by most. Now, though still a right of way, the plateau route has been stripped of its PW status, no doubt to relieve erosion. The plateau, beset by coarse heather and deep peat hags, is no place for the inexperienced walker, and there are plenty of those on day one of the Pennine Way.

Saturday 7 August 1976: travel to Edale

Mentioned only to name-check the Jolly Rambler Inn, still there though without the Jolly, and to note that on this trip I made no advance bookings whatsoever – something I would never contemplate now, partly because age demands comfort and certainty, and partly because of Llanidloes, which experience is written up on my Glyndŵr’s Way pages. Jolly Rambler cost £4.50 for B&B, and I hoped never to pay so much again.

Sunday 8 August 1976 and Saturday 26 April 2014: Edale to Crowden, 16 miles

In 1976 I took the plateau route, natch. I knew the area well, having been walking there regularly for three years, usually helping to lead parties from the school where I taught. The afore-mentioned hot weather had dried out the peat, making the bog-trotter’s paradise into a simple long walk, if you knew where you were headed. After Kinder Downfall, the route tracks over to the Snake Pass, the highest point of the A57 road, and then to the Dark Peak’s second 2000-footer, Bleaklow, before dropping down to the Crowden valley. The descent above Torside Clough was the first new ground I had broken. The 2014 walk will be described in detail on my cross-England pages.


The Kinder massif from Ashop Head

In 1976 my overnight accommodation, Crowden hostel, was run by the Peak Park Planning Board; these days, such state enterprise is discouraged. The hostel was decanted to the tender care of the YHA, who peremptorily dumped it in about 2012. I paid £2.40 in 1976; in 2014, £4.50 to pitch my tent at Crowden campsite, so inflation is not too serious if you don’t mind losing a few creature comforts.

Monday 9 August 1976 and Tuesday 27 April 2014: Crowden to the White House, 18 miles (1976) / Reap Hill Clough, 6 miles (2014)

If Kinder and Bleaklow have a bad reputation for clag, that of the Black Hill – the first climb of this day – was once even worse. Remember, this was well before helicopter parties dropped and set flagstones; generations of walkers had spread out, making the clag-width wider and wider. I read recently that the flagging has enabled the top to regain something of its old ecology – proof that an apparently un-natural intrusion can work to the good, even if it makes the walking less challenging.

Looking back to Crowden

Looking back to Crowden

Black Hill

Black Hill

From Black Hill, my 1976 PW took an uncompromising line to the A62 summit at Standedge, with a ‘bad weather alternative’ down by Wessenden reservoir; here, as on Kinder, the easier route has become the official. Now, the official route itself has a diversion, should Dean Clough be in spate. (In 2014, I split off just after, to head towards Meltham and my sister’s house.) From the A62, the PW crosses a succession of trans-Pennine roads, with one very big one – the M62 – having appeared on the scene since I was there. My 1976 day ended at the White House pub, high on the A58, which I was sure would have rooms, but then as now it did not. It did however have a bus service, and a friendly landlord who must have been used to this, recommending the (now closed) New Inn at Ripponden. £2.50 B&B.

Tuesday 10 August 1976: the White House to Ponden Hall, 19 miles

The New Inn gave me a lift back. Of the few miles that remain in the Dark Peak, there are reservoirs to be walked beside, and a fine edge above the Calder, leading to the magnificent monument of Stoodley Pike before descent to the river – the first ‘lowland’ since Crowden. Strictly now we’re out of the Dark Peak and on to the West Yorkshire moors. And even these have farmland at first, then some little reservoirs set among moors, before higher moorland with the original Wuthering Heights, or Top Withens, just below the summit. Descending, Haworth is only two miles to the east, but the PW turns away. It would be some miles before the next village directly on the Way, so I took Wainwright’s advice and stayed over at Ponden Hall, another Wuthering Heights location. £2.50 B&B. (Ponden Hall no longer takes B&B though accommodation is available nearby.)

The Yorkshire Dales

The Yorkshire Dales National Park is the second of the three national parks on the PW, and probably my favourite.

The Pennine Way seeks out many of the highspots of the Dales, but it can’t take them all! This page recounts my 1973 and 1976 walks, though I’ve been back many times since.

On the former, I met up with Dave Travers and Mike Chant at Gargrave, and we continued to Middleton-in-Teesdale on the next section. In 1976, I walked solo through this whole section, except for a bus ride from Gargrave to Malham, on the grounds that it was a simple section already completed.

Malham Cove

Malham Cove, 1976

Wednesday 11 August 1976: Ponden Hall to Gargrave, 17 miles

I woke, breakfasted, packed, and noted that my Wainwright (with times dutifully logged) was gone. I reported it to the kind owners, who were most distressed, and explained that it may have been taken as a souvenir – the only other guests were a group from a desperate Leeds estate on a scheme holiday. Being a left-wing sort of person, I accepted this as understandable redistribution (no, really) and anyway the owners had a spare copy which they insisted I have. It has stayed with me ever since.

Leeds & Liverpool Canal

Leeds & Liverpool Canal, 1976

On to the walk. A slab of moor, then the first villages proper since Edale, Cowling and Lothersdale. Soon, a third, Thornton in Craven – you wait days far a village then three come at once – and a short canal-side stretch before fields to Gargrave. This village has the first rail station since Edale directly on the Way and so is an important place when considering the logisitics of walking the Way in stages. I took the bus to Malham and splashed out on the Buck Inn: £4.75 B&B, even more than the Jolly Rambler at Edale! 2009 price, £50 … there was a pretty constant 1:10 inflation ratio over the three decades.

Tuesday 3 April 1973: Earby to Malham, 13 miles

A few years before, Dave Travers, Mike Chant and I had met up at Earby Hostel. The day before, I had failed my first-ever interview for a proper job, as a teacher near Hull. Perhaps it was because I attended in fell-walking kit plus rucksack. My notes record that I was selected for another interview in Cornwall in a few days’ time; clearly, I thought better of it.

On this first day, we joined the PW at Thornton, had a pint in Gargrave (‘beer as cheap as it deserved to be’, my notes record), strangely had difficulty finding the PW immediately thereafter, but had no problems once we joined the River Aire. This is limestone country – the first on the Way – and at Aire Head there is a great view of Malham Cove and Gordale Scar, representatives of the Craven Fault which trainee geologists study to this day. We stayed at the Youth Hostel, and moaned that it was full of ‘a group of schoolkids some of which [sic] are distressingly pseudy’. Yes, we three wanted to be teachers.

Diverting to Horton

Diverting to Horton, 1973

Wednesday 4 April 1973, 12 August 1976: Malham to Horton, 15 miles

How different can two days be. ’73, and the last remnants of a cold northern winter; ’76, a foretaste of hot summers to come. We’d noticed the snow on the fells the day before, and after lunch by a snow-girt Malham Tarn, decided to skip the hills for lanes and tracks into the Ribble Valley. Given our inexperience, very likely a wise decision. We still had flooded lanes to circumnavigate though. It wasn’t wall-to-wall sunshine that day in ’76, but a glorious afternoon led past Malham Cove, over Fountains Fell and Pen-y-Ghent, the latter hill being one of the great scenic highlights of the Way; as Wainwright records, “A real mountain, at last”.

For the ’73 walk, we were booked at the Crown Hotel, whereas in ’76 I economised at Mrs Claughton’s B&B (£2.50). At the Crown, we found that my father had arranged to pay for the meal for all three of us, including the wine and brandy he had pre-arranged, for it was my 22nd birthday; alas, in ’76 I was barely out of grieving, for he had died four months before. But thank you, dad, for nigh-on 25 years, and the vision that has inspired me ever since.


Pen-y-Ghent, 1973

Friday 6 April 1973: Horton to Hawes, 15 miles

What happened to 5 April? You may well ask. We hung around in the morning, started diffidently for Pen-y-Ghent in the afternoon, nearly turned back for snow showers, but got ourselves to the top and back again. Then I went down with the runs, but Dave had it far worse than me overnight and was in no shape to walk the following day, though this being the 1970s he was up for hitching, while Mike and me took the PW. My notes record a snowline and some drifting across the Way, with driving hail below Dodd Fell. Dave’s hitch went well and his stomach was recovered enough to have eaten gammon and chips before we got there. We stayed at Hawes Youth Hostel and were most impressed. In 1976 I skipped this stage – it’s perfectly good but pretty straightforward – I think I must have hitched from Horton but can’t remember. I stayed at the then Stonecroft B&B (£2.50).

Saturday 7 April 1973: Hawes to Keld, 13 miles; Sunday 8 April 1973: Keld to Bowes, 13 miles; Saturday 14 August 1976: Hawes to Bowes, 26 miles

Great Shunner Fell is the sprawling hill that forms such a landmark when viewed from the picture windows of Hawes hostel. In ’73 it found out my stamina, as I trailed unusually behind my colleagues, thinking the top would never come; in ’76, buoyed by an easy day before, I hopped over it as if it were not there. Indeed I was on my way to something of a personal record, mostly bare-chested I recall (thankfully no photographs were taken), gulping a quick sandwich at Thwaite, two instant pints of shandy at the Tan Hill Inn, knocking off miles while only late in the day setting the goal of Bowes. The Tan Hill Inn back then had no mains electricity, and the juke box played Jimmy Osmond tone-depressed by the ailing generator.

Back in ’73, there’s hail to contend with coming down from Great Shunner, and messy conditions underfoot, but time for a proper lunch in Thwaite, and to savour the view over Swaledale, before an early finish at the Youth Hostel in Keld. “What a dump”, I wrote. “Conditions are worsened by two dozen Cumberland schoolkids” – that instinctive feel for the teaching profession showing itself once more. It closed as a hostel in 2006, and is now the rather more upmarket Keld Lodge, “a comfortable hotel and restaurant”. It started to snow quite heavily beside Frumming Beck, and my notes show us diverting to road, presumably the lane from Sleighthome Farm.

In ’76 I stayed at Clint Farm, just north of the village, £3 including meal; un-named guest house in ’73, ham salad. Note that both times I took the Bowes loop, an official PW diversion into the village. The main route of the Way takes a direct line about three miles to the west, through bleak country without habitation.

Forward to the High Pennines and Cheviot