Karl and Harriet's Pennine Way Adventure 2017: Part 1

Karl and Harriet's Pennine Way Adventure 2017: Part 1

Is there life beyond Hawes.... back to the Pennine Way with Harriet

Me and Harriet, armed only with oversized rucksacks and Damian Hall's most excellent Pennine Way survival guide hit the trail tomorrow to do "the bit in the middle" from Horton in Ribblesdale to Haltwhistle. Legs a bit heavy still from this weekends Lakeland 100/50 but its steady pace all the way.

Cracking day 1 today, 30 and a bit miles from Horton to Tan Hill Inn, 4700 foot of ascent including Great Shunner Fell which apparently was below us under the water and in the clag. Every weather possible including an hours sun just as we hit the Swaledale valley near Keld giving amazing views. Rain water everywhere including 300 metes of flooded road between hawes and hardraw which required us walking along the top of the wall next to it. Slow pace on weary legs but a couple of coffee stops (the joy of a flask rediscovered) and a bacon and egg sandwich at hawes saw us though. Tan hill inn fire lit and beer and food soon to follow. Happy days. Light day tomorrow, just 17 to Middleton..... well we are on holiday!

Day 2 was a case of beauty and the beast. Tan Hill inn to middleton in teesdale, at just over 17 miles should have been a walk in the park but very slow going underfoot and cumulative tiredness made it quite hard work. Now me and this stretch have a history as it marked the low point of my Spine Race a few years back with sleep deprivation kicking in and zero energy due to stuff coming out of both ends of me. I remember it as a dark, soul sucking, featureless bog-hell. Today I discovered I was only half right. We had heather strewn wilderness where you felt the fells were yours alone to enjoy, a "mini-malham" as Damian called it in his guide, and Hannah Hauxwell's perfect meadow. It was also not raining. All day. Really. On the other side of the Pennine Wayscales (see what I did there) sleightholme moor out of tan hill was just as rubbish as ever and Harriet has added it to her growing list of things that are trying to kill her on the PW. Then Cotherstone Moor was still dreadful in places, though only calf deep instead of knee deep as it is in winter so I shouldn't grumble. Today's "feckin farmers" count was 3, and today's "national trail.... national disgrace more like" count was 4. So beauty and the beast today. In the end the balance was tipped towards a great day by the still slightly warm fried egg and bacon sandwich we secured at Tan Hill and ate in the Deepdale shelter (for once vacant of bivi-ing German spine racers). To Dufton tomorrow and I hope to finally see High Cup Nick in the daylight despite having travelled it 3 times already.

Day 3: cranked to 11. What a day, in fact what a 24 hours. Picking up where I left off first accolade goes to Middleton in Teesdale, previously in my memory rated as a "run quicker I hear banjos" type place is now highly rated as a proper little market town. First up top marks to The Hill b&b which was immaculate and the owners the friendliest most helpful hosts I've met in a long time. As you may know I'm one to nit-pick but I couldn't fault the whole experience. We ate at the Teesdale Hotel, again great service, surprisingly excellent food, massive choice, marmalade icecream (who know??!) and local Cottersdale cheese. Yum.
Anyway..... Rested and fed to the gills we set off this morning with a spring in our step. The first few riverside miles are a joy, the sun was shining, and the waterfalls a plenty were lovely to look at. We didn't stop as long as we would have liked as the day had expectations of us but there were so many perfect (and I mean perfect) picnic spots we will be back to enjoy at leisure. Apart from a wire snare deathtrap style now on Harriet's list of things on the PW out to kill her, all was easy going. 10 minutes was spent rescuing a suicidal lamb with its head wedged through a wire fence, mini horns preventing it escaping. I tried to manhandle his head out all the while the lamb attempted to get the rest of his body through. In the end I had to take its legs out from under it in order to get its head out. Free once more it then went straight back to trying to eat the grass on the other side of the fence.
Next stop was Cauldron Snout, our coffee (loving the flask) and cold bacon and egg breakfast leftovers stop. The weather was alternating between burning sun and cold windy rain squalls so we didn't stop long before pressing on over the high fell to High Cup. Yes! I have finally seen it in daylight in all its glory. Magnificent sight and a must see if you haven't. Stark angular rock edges contrasted by the sweeping curves of the scree, its a cathedral of geology. We enjoyed a second coffee and choccy biscuit stop with probably the best view on the PW. Enthused we ran (well trundled with our heavy packs) all the way down to the Brow Farm b&b. Stag Inn for tea and there is a real ale festival on. The cherry on the top of our day. Todays FF count 1 (wire snare and cows related), and todays NTND count zero!!! Cross Fell tomorrow.... weather forecast is good so that's us in full waterproofs for the day!

Day 4... Move along, nothing to see here. Dufton to Alston via Cross Fell, and Greg's Hut, 20 miles, 3400 feet of climb.

We quickly found ourselves out of our comfort zone and frankly out of our depth. Despite years of experience we were hopelessly unprepared for that and it came down to our survival instinct kicking in. The Dufton Real Ale festival was messy. Grown men staggering around clutching cloakroom ticket beer tokens and their commemorative glass. Weary barmaids trying to explain, again, the labyrinthine pricing system to punters who could barely count the fingers on their hands. Me and Harriet cowered in the corner, with only a lager shandy and half a Guinness as our camouflage. We sat, we watched, we raised eyebrows as only us middle aged types can, we ate (good food surprisingly under the circumstances.... gingerbread ice cream, who knew!!?) and we left to get an early night. We were staying at Brow Farm b&b (basic but OK... the landlady really got behind her calling "well its a thankless task but all the others in the village have closed due to death or divorce".... that's the spirit) and our 1/4 mile stroll back was lovely with a clear blue evening sky and Cross Fell clear in the distance.

Up and at it by 8, we gobbled up first the breakfast, then the climb. Visibility dropped quickly to next to nothing as we approached knock old man and I manfully took the opportunity to show Harriet how easy it was to cock up ones navigation under such circumstances. Purely educational of course. Hardened NYMoors types would recognise the combos of cheeky climbs and wet, often submerged flags, but it was all plain sailing to Great Dun Fell. Visibility was the tip of my nose (dripping) wind was a howl. The radar station finally loomed SciFi style out of the mist. Why there is no refuge hut there I know not.... quick someone, start a petition. More slabs, more climb, and on to Little Fun Fell where the wind was having a blow you over party. We sheltered for a few mins in the shelter on the summit for coffee (did I mention how I love the flask) and biscuits. Amazing how a few rocks stacked into a wind shelter cut all the ferocious wind. It was looking like Cross Fell would be a case of southerners stay indoors, northerners you may need your coat. I popped an extra layer on. We headed on with Harriet on point so I could grab her if she blew away. In the end it was quieter on Cross Fell than the preceding hill and we were even treated to 60 seconds if visibility just as we approached the impressive summit shelter. A bit of careful nav off and we landed at Greg's Hut (a little mountain refuge) just as a group of 8 arrived from the corpse road heading up. We broke bread with them in the hut before speeding off down the endless lane to Garrigill.

Today was a double reminder for me of the Tyne Trail Ultra. First, I had a full on sense of humour failure that Garigill had no teashop, hence no tea (and cake). What sort of chuffing village on the Pennine Way has an art studio (open) but no sodding teashop. I could buy a 3*2 foot print of the fells but not a slice of Victoria sponge. I have had tea-denied strops before and today was a repeat. (The second unwelcome reminder of Tyne Trail Ultra was the unsolicited return of the inanely grinning Daft as a Brush logo on the signposts). The lack of tea and cake was counteracted by my first tasting of chia charges peanut butter flapjack from my In Case Of Emergency (it was) kit. Wow! Tim Taylor you are a wizard, its fantastic! Yum. Strop averted we struck on for Alston and our pub b&b for the night. Tomorrow is our last day :-( and its "The Shit Bit", though I'm already planning a detour to avoid Isaacs Feckin Tea Trail. We don't need that in our lives.

Day 5, the end of days. :-(

The reputation of the Alston to Greenhead leg is not good and its a reputation that is richly deserved. Whoever Isaac is and whatever his Tea Trail was intended to be I hope he is deeply ashamed of himself. In the race its a mandatory needless suffering bit there to keep traditionalists happy, the stretch been long since superseded in every way by the south Tyne railway nature trail running alongside the renovated narrow gauge railway. Outside the bounds of the race we don't need Isaacs brand of suffering in our lives so an accidental forgetting to set the alarm and second breakfast saw us detouring along the south Tyne trail to Slaggyford before rejoining the PW. Isaac (and locating Sarah Fuller's lost will to live) will have to wait until January. Its still there Sarah as indicated by the rainbow we saw over it!

A few quick miles and then we literally reached the end of the tracks. Much like the Spine race, the south Tyne railway is literally a road to nowhere. 2 minutes after rejoining the PW our feet were wet and remained so until we hit Greenhead. I won't start ranting about it, what's the point, but the video shows a good bit where it was safe to video. Just a few inches of water on the "path". Elsewhere swamp would be a better description. This combined with a few comedy farmer induced mud and cow incidents make this a hugely disappointing section in places and unbefitting the title of national trail. Then Harriet got stung by a wasp.... summed things up really! We regrouped with coffee and biscuits and started the circumnavigation of Greenhead. The cafe was calling us but it was looking tight on our Haltwhistle train (its becoming a habit Robert!!) so we needed to get a wiggle on. A cheeky orangeade at the visitors centre and we powered over the first few miles of Hadrian's wall. Magnificent views and weather and bar the repetitive squelch of our feet the previous bit could almost be forgotten.

We hit tarmac at roman camps picnic spot north of Haltwhistle. 2.5 miles to the station according to the sign, 30 mins to the train, full packs. We ran the way in and made it with a whole 2 minutes to spare fuelled only on adrenaline and the thought of a meal and a shower.

Sat happy and sad on the train. An amazing 5 days we have loved (almost) every minute of it both on the hills and off. Back to reality now, and a few days rest before the Hardmoors Rosedale Marathon on Sunday.

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