LEJOG – Stage Four

This leg had me joining the Pennine Way at Hebden Bridge and follow it to Bellingham.

Stage Four

21st July 2016 – Hebden Bridge to Gargrave

I left Paula and Beckys AirBnB place early. I’d had a nice relaxing time and they were lovely hosts with a great home. But the trail was calling.

I didn’t follow the usual Pennine Way route out of Hebden. I took a sweaty climb up a bank on the other side of Hebden before it levelled off and I was under the shade of a forest.

I followed this trail to the nearby reservoir and joined the Pennine Way which took me up to Top Withins. There stand the ruins of an old house thought to be the inspiration in Brontes Wuthering Heights.

It was a slow descent and then another climb to Oakworth Moor and then down again to Icornshaw. Then another climb up to Cowling Hill through fields and back down into Thornton. Hell of a lot of climbs. I was knackered and soaked in sweat.

Thornton was meant to be my scheduled stop but it was early so I kept going and looked for a decent wild camping spot further along. I passed loads but no where with a cleanish water source. I’m used to drinking out of streams but some of these I didn’t trust even with my gravity filter.

I got to Gargrave and passed a campsite so jumped in, pitched up, ate, chatted to a guy called Nigel about ML training and his cycle touring before turning in. I was shattered.

22nd July 2016 – Gargrave to Horton

Another long hard slog today. A lot of ascents and descents. Some slow and steady and some steep. I was hungry and tired all the time. I was drinking & eating loads and getting enough sleep but still felt lethargic.

I was also starting to miss being around people. I wouldn’t talk to anyone all day and, depending if I was stopping on a campsite or hostel, all night as well. I was starting to miss regular human contact.

I’ve never been a people person but the last six months I’ve had to change and now I was missing company. I like my own space but I also like to talk. The odd stay on a campsite or hostel helped, as did podcasts and music, but sometimes I just had to switch off and walk, trying not get in my own head. I can be a deep thinker and analyse all sorts of things so I was looking for any distraction.

The walk to Malham Cove was nice and I loved it there. Some day I’d like to be good enough to attempt some climbing there. Might be a way off though.

It was a hard short walk up and out of the cove up to the Limestone Pavement with a pack on. I had to stop at the top, cool off and catch my breath. Some guy asked if I’d ran up. I pointed to the pack and said “not with that on”. He looked and said “oh, ok”.

It was then a nice walk to Pen-Y-Ghent via Malham Tarn and on to Horton where I stopped in a bunkhouse. 

I met a couple of older guys attempting the Three Peaks. I shared my experience of it and told them to take plenty of water and food. They ordered a pack lunch each but I found out in the morning they’d left them in the bar and couldn’t get to them. 

I had to laugh but felt a bit sorry for them.

23rd July 2016 – Horton to Hawes

I had a good nights sleep even though it was a busy bunkhouse. My planned stop was 15 miles to Hawes at a hostel. I had considered walking on so not to waste half a day but decided to take it easy for a few days.

I was away by 7:30 and Horton was already buzzing with people doing the Yorkshire Three Peaks. 

I walked along a nice track to Old Ing and waved goodbye to the Three Peaks and headed along Cam Fell to Ten End. The trail slowly dropped into Gayle and then Hawes. I was there by 12.

I checked into the hostel, had a shower and got organised before going out for supplies. The next few days I would be without shops so I needed enough to keep me going.

I also met my friends Grif and Laura. They live in Catterick and I hadn’t seen them in years. We had a catch up and they brought me some pasties!!!! Always welcome.

I then relaxed all afternoon and watched a film before sleeping.

24th July 2016 – Hawes to Keld

I had a good nights sleep but woke up covered in bites. I slept with the window open in the hostel so I can only assume it was midges and not bed bugs!!!

I left Hawes pretty early and followed the Pennine Way to Hardraw and up to Great Shunner Fell. It was a slow gradual ascent up a decent enough track and the views were great until it started raining. On came the waterproofs.

It was a slow trek down to Thwaite and then on round Pot Hole Kidson to Keld. This was a horrible slippy rocky track. I went over on this and nearly threw my back out. I swear if I don’t break my ankle on this walk I’ll have considered myself lucky. As it stands the ankle is going to need some physio when I’m done.

I arrived in Keld at 12ish and decided to just pitch my tent on a campsite and wait the rain out. I didn’t see the point in pushing further into tomorrow’s miles and making myself miserable in the rain.

I ate some lunch, went to the local to use the wifi (I was in a mobile black spot) and then had a nap. 

I woke later and cooked food in a cloud of midges before locking myself away in the tent listening to podcasts and the rain tapping on the tent.

25th July 2016 – Keld to Middleton On Teesdale

Had a strange nights sleep. Woke up a few times in a cold sweat. It was a clammy night so I’d slept with the door of the inner tent open, without a t-shirt and halfway in my bag. But I still woke up soaked in sweat. Very weird.

When I eventually got up I ate and packed away a very wet tent (it rained all night) before starting the slow climb out of Keld up Stonesdale Moor and to the Tan Hill Inn. Britains highest pub but at 8:30 in the morning it wasn’t open for business.

I walked passed and followed a boggy trail over Sleightholme Moor that led to a nicer trail down to Gods Bridge and the A66.

There was a sign saying it was the halfway point of the Pennine Way and I knew I was way passed my own halfway point. I could also tell I was getting further north. It was the first time I had to layer up because of the cold.

I walked over Cotherstone Moor and took shelter in a hut to eat. I read the messages that covered the walls and left my own.

From here I dropped down and passed various reservoirs before getting to Middleton. I grabbed some food and found somewhere to stick my tent up. I then slept.

I hadn’t seen a soul all day. It was odd and just added to the weirdness I was feeling on my own.

26th July 2016 – Middleton to Dufton

I’m finding it hard to get up some days and this was one of those days. I set off at 9 (which is late for me) and followed the river Tees for a few hours. I stopped at Low Force and High Force waterfalls, nothing better than sitting by fast flowing water to relax.

I continued up stream and met Margaret and Keith. We chatted about my walk, The Youth Adventure Trust and the charity work their kids had done in India and Borneo. They donated some money and I took a quick selfie once Keith took off his neck brace. I never did ask about that.

We said our goodbyes and I made my way to Cauldron Snout. This was an impressive waterfall and I realised I’d been here before. As a kid with school I was a member of an outdoor club and we had walked through this way on a weekend wild camping trip.

I scrambled up the side of the waterfall and made my way along the trail. Then it decided to rain. I stuck my waterproofs on and plodded on. 

Thankfully it stopped as I approached High Cup Nick. The last time I was here was with my Dad when I was maybe 13-14. I don’t think I appreciated the beauty then but I sat down for 20 minutes just taking it all in. 

A massive U-shaped valley carved into the landscape with high craggy cliffs on either side. I can’t recommend a visit enough. It truly is awe-inspiring and I hope to return to wild camp there some time.

I left High Cup and walked down into Dufton where I had a bed booked in the Youth Hostel.

27th July 2016 – Dufton to Alston

I slept ok but woke up at 6. Problem with sleeping early is I wake up early and can’t get back to sleep. I showered, ate and left by 7.

I made my way out of Dufton and looked up to the hills. It had rained all night and the tops were covered in mist.

I followed the track up and it changed to rain sodden streams and the bigger streams were now small rivers.

I climbed into the mist and reached Knock Fell. I couldn’t see 10 metres in front of me but could make out the trail so followed it down and up to Great Dun Fell, the masts shrouded in mist were a great clue.

It was then down and up Little Dun Fell before making my way to Cross Fell. I’d heard the views were great but today was not my day.

I left and made my way down, passing Gregs Hut, over wet muddy trails into Garrigil. Typically, as I stopped to eat, I looked back and the mist was clearing.

I followed the South Tyne river to Alston where I got some food, pitched my tent and slept.

28th July 2016 – Alston to Winshields

I woke up to an overcast sky. The weather forecast telling me it would be dry with some showers in the afternoon. I’d decided to detour off the Pennine Way and follow the South Tyne Trail to Haltwhistle. There was nothing in Greenhead (my scheduled stop) and the Pennine Way was taking me round the houses on this stage.

I left pretty early, followed the old train track that linked Alston to Haltwhistle, and after 30 minutes it started raining. I’m now 99% sure the forecasters are making it all up now. On went the waterproofs (for what they’re worth) and I marched on.

The track itself was your typical cycle path, clear and flat. I came across a sign saying it was closed and to divert to the Pennine Way. Bollocks to that so I kept on it and couldn’t find any evidence why. 

Apart from seeing an Apache gunship (too quick for me to snap a pic) and passing over a few viaducts it was uneventful all the way to Haltwhistle. 

I picked up some supplies from the “centre of Britain” and carried on to Hadrians Wall. I got as far as Once Brewed and came down to pitch up at a campsite I’d been coming to on and off for years.

After sorting my gear out and putting my boots and waterproofs in the dry room I went to the local. The Twice Brewed Inn is a homely friendly place and I chatted with the locals for a bit before returning to eat and catch up on a few things. 

I fell asleep pretty quickly again. 

29th July 2016 – Winshields to Bellingham

I fell asleep to the sound of rain and woke up to he sound of crows. Apparently they have no concept of time so it seemed reasonable to them to wake me at 6am.

I ate and packed away a soggy tent, leaving around 7:30. I was back on Hadrians Wall and there wasn’t a soul about. I followed the wall to the point where the Pennine Way splits off and made my way to Wark Country Park.

The tracks were awful because of last nights rain. Ankle deep in bog and marsh. I trudged through and after an hour I came out the other side.

The fields down to Bellingham were kinder and I was finished by 13:30. 

My Dad picked me up and I had planned on a rest day in Newcastle to see family before starting again on Sunday.

Final Thoughts

The Pennine Way can have periods of great beauty and periods of tedious long moors. Some days are hard and some easy. I can see the appeal but I don’t think, having walked most of it, that I would consider walking the whole thing. There are highlights I would come back too though. High Cup Nick, Cross Fell and Cauldrons Snout all being things I could cover in a weekend of wild camping on a nice long summers weekend.

For some reason the long tedious days found me contemplating more on this leg. I missed company and talking to people. This isnt normally like me but over the last 6 months I’ve found myself opening up more to strangers and just talking. Striking up conversations out of nothing.

I know I could pick up the phone and talk to friends and family but they have lives and aren’t there as my personal therapists. One of the points of this walk was to see how I was on my own. Generally I’ve been fine but on some stretches of this leg I felt it.

Overall I feel great mentally and physically. I’ve lost weight, I’m tired and know Scotland is going to be tough. I have no illusions of it being easy. It’s a different beast to the last 6 weeks. But it’s a challenge I’ve been looking forward to from the start.

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