Opened on 24th April 1965, the 268 mile footpath follows the backbone of England, meandering through stunning scenery in the Peak District, Yorkshire Dales, North Pennines and finally, the Cheviots. It’s one of Britain’s toughest trails, but fortunately you don’t have to walk the whole thing in one go, there are plenty of places to take a shorter stroll.
The preferred route is south to north…with the wind, rain and sun at your back. Reverse our guide if a tanned face is what you fancy!
The Pennine Way begins in Edale, a lovely village in the Derbyshire Peak District. A couple of miles out from the start, you’ll begin an ascent which will treat you to sweeping, panoramic views and get you in the mood for tough terrain, from day one. The craggy, flat-topped plateau of Kinder Scout is a famous fell and more than 80 years ago, it was a place of revolution. Here, the British public protested with a mass trespass and demanded the ‘right to roam’. It was against this political backdrop, in 1935, that journalist Tom Stephenson first floated the idea of a long-distance footpath in Britain, inspired by the epic American Appalachian and John Muir trails. After 30 years of route-wrangling, the Pennine Way was born.
A little further on, you’ll find Bleaklow; a high, peat moorland with a history to match its name. In 1948 an American bomber crashed here whilst on a routine flight. A large amount of wreckage is still visible along with a memorial to the 13 servicemen who died.
Around 50 miles north into Yorkshire and the Upper Calder Valley is the market town of Hebden Bridge, a couple of miles off the main footpath. A circular, well-signposted footpath, (just under four miles long) has recently been created. It encourages walkers into the town to get fed and watered, and to visit the ancient village of Heptonstall on the way back. Also nearby is the National Trust’s Hardcastle Crags, including 400 acres of unspoilt woodland and a 19th century mill serving as a visitor centre.
Here, in a new project called Framing the Landscape, artist Ashley Jackson has enhanced the natural landscape with an oversized, free-standing picture frame. The aim is to encourage visitors and children to peer through the aperture and to look more closely; to re-engage with their surroundings and to be inspired to protect Yorkshire heritage for the future.
Malham Moor and Malham Cove
A historically significant and stunningly beautiful stopping-off point on the Yorkshire Dales section of the footpath is Malham Moor. Britain’s first ever National Trail, (aka the Pennine Way) was officially and ceremoniously opened here on April 24th 1965. A spectacular upland and farmland landscape, it makes for a ravishing ramble with far-reaching views. Explore the most quintessential of the Dales’ limestone landscapes and enjoy the majesty of Malham Cove.
The cove itself is a massive amphitheatre of a cliff formation forged from limestone rock and its vertical face towers an awe-inspiring 260ft high. Above the cove lies a large and rare patterned area of limestone pavement – a perfect and photogenic picnic spot on a calm day. Looking out from here, it’s not difficult to understand why Malhamdale has been attracting visitors from near and far, for centuries.
Haworth and The Brontë Parsonage Museum
Further north, and the trail passes close-by to the striking hill-top village of Haworth, the home of the great literary family, the Brontës. Immerse yourself in the captivating lives of any of the sisters’ heroes or heroines whilst visiting the Brontë Parsonage Museum which has the world’s largest collection of their letters, poems and early editions of the famous novels. Sink a pint in the famous Black Bull pub, where Branwell Brontë allegedly began his love affair with alcohol and opium, or avoid temptation with a trip to see the preserved steam engines at the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway.
Back on the Pennine Way itself, you’ll pass by Top Withens, a ruined farmhouse, reputedly set in the location which inspired Emily Brontë to imagine the hauntingly realistic home of the Earnshaws, Wuthering Heights. It’s a bleakly beautiful place, where you’ll feel close to the spirit of Cathy, Heathcliff… and maybe even Kate Bush.
A highlight of North Yorkshire and of the Yorkshire Dales National Park is the peak of Pen-y–Ghent, and the Pennine Way takes you right up it! It’s one of the famous Yorkshire Three Peaks, along with Ingleborough and Whernside, (both of which are visible along the way) and is the scene for many scrambled dashes to complete the Three Peaks Challenge. Hiking the footpath from the village of Horton in Ribblesdale, you’ll climb the distinctively-shaped fell, also known as ‘The Hill of the Winds’ or ‘Hill on the Border’.
It’s a fairly strenuous but scenic ascent, climbing to 2,277ft. The striking ridges that stripe along the sides of Pen-y-Ghent are the result of different layers of rock; grit, shales and half way up a band of familiar Yorkshire limestone.
Leaving the Dales behind and heading into County Durham, the Way wanders into the North Pennines and its hazy, heather covered tops. The crowd draw here is High Force, England’s biggest waterfall. The gorge at High Force has been shaped over thousands of years by water and today it’s a roaring mass of froth where the River Tees crashes 70ft over the hard rock of Whin Sill into a plunge pool below. Spring and summer are wonderful times to visit this area as walkers are treated to a beautiful display of rare wildflowers. Autumn lends further drama to the falls, as the deciduous trees around the riverbank explode in a riot of colour. There are more fabulous falls at Low Force a little further downstream.
High Cup Nick
If you’re walking the Pennine Way from Langdon Beck to Dufton, you’ll pass one of the most impressive and dramatic sights on its whole journey. It’s a challenging hike to get there but High Cup Nick is a geological wonder – a classic U-shaped valley high up in the west of the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. A deep chasm, this famous scar is a jaw-dropping formation at the top of High Cup Gill and overlooks arguably the best example of a glaciated valley in Northern England. You definitely have to see it to appreciate the grandeur of the greyish blue dolerite cliffs, standing as solemn sentinel over the valley in a setting which wouldn’t look out of place in the fantastical landscapes of Game of Thrones.
Whether you’ve been walking for weeks, days or just an afternoon, it’s always satisfying to reach the end of something. The small village of Kirk Yetholm in the Cheviot Hills, on the Scottish Borders is the final destination on the Pennine Way and a resting place for weary walkers. Apparently, if you follow the path all the way to its official conclusion, it will take you to the Border Hotel, where hard-worn hiking boots receive a warm welcome, and there’s local food, and of course, Scotch, on offer. On your way into the village, you can make a short detour up Green Humbleton to see the Iron Age hill fort at its summit, or join St. Cuthbert’s Way, which follows in the footsteps of the Saint who walked from Melrose to the priory at Lindisfarne, via Kirk Yetholm.
If you have any energy left at all, the 470 mile Scottish National Trail which opened in 2012 also begins in this village, and then weaves its way all the way to Cape Wrath! Well, now you’re here…
Find more info on the Pennine Way Association website.