Carved out in 1963, the Pennine Way is the oldest of the designated national trails in England. Many hikers consider the Pennine Way to be the UK’s most physically and mentally challenging trek.
Despite this, about 15,000 long-distance hikers walk the trail every year. If you are thinking about becoming a part of this statistic and taking on this massive challenge, here’s what you need to know.
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The Pennine Way is a 268-mile trail that runs along the backbone of England. It starts in Edale, Derbyshire, and ends in Kirk Yetholm in the Scottish Borders. Over the whole route, you will cross over 200 bridges, climb over 240 stiles, and open and close over 280 gates.
The Summit of Cross Fell is the highest point of the trail (2930 ft). The terrain along the trail is a mix of low-lying farmland, mountains, and upland moors.
Can I Manage It?
If you are reasonably fit, you should be able to complete the trail in two weeks. However, many walkers choose to cover shorter daily distances and complete the trail in three weeks. This allows them to fully enjoy the beauties of the English countryside.
Whether you opt for a shorter or longer itinerary, you need to be able to hike between 5 to 8 hours a day.
Do know that some of the terrain underfoot can be quite strenuous, so some days on the trail might be longer in distance than you planned. In many cases, the raw figures (ascent, daily distance, etc.) can be misleading.
Make sure to arrive fit at the start; it will make the whole experience much more enjoyable.
If you are not sure whether you will be able to walk the entire trail in one go, do know that there are a quite few lovely villages and towns along the Pennine Way that are great for rest days.
Some of the more popular ones include Alston, Bellingham, Hawes, Haworth, and Hebden Bridge. Carlisle, Jedburgh, Barnard Castle, Richmond, Settle and Skipton are not quite part of the trail, but each of these places makes for an excellent day trip.
Naturally, you can also tackle the trail over more than one trip. For instance, you can break the Pennine Way into three manageable holidays.
What’s It Like Underfoot?
Although it is still a challenging walk, the Pennine Way is much more easy-going than it used to be.
There are no more endless slogs across boggy moors. Most of the worst patches of the trail are now covered with stone flags. However, there are still some boggy sections along the Northern Stages.
As mentioned, gates and stiles are common on the trail. There are quite a few walled tracks on the trail as well. They give hikers a chance to enjoy the scenery to the fullest.
Is the Trail Well-Marked?
Even though there are over 450 signs along the Pennine Way, the trail is far from foolproof.
It can be hard to find a discernible path over the sections of high moorland and mountains. On the higher sections and at key points, signposts have a habit of disappearing.
Navigation skills are essential on the Pennine Way. On top of a map, compass, and GPS device, it’s a good idea to bring a guidebook.
When Is the Best Time to Walk the Trail?
You can’t have any guarantees of nice weather, no matter when you choose to walk the Pennine Way. This is Great Britain after all. Make sure to bring high-quality waterproofs.
That being said, the best time to walk the Pennine Way is between May and September. Weather-wise, June provides the best walking experience.
Do know that the trail can get very busy in the summer, so it’s a good idea to book accommodation well in advance.
If simply completing the Pennine Way isn’t a big enough challenge for you, you can walk the trail in winter. But, unless you are no stranger to harsh winter hikes, you shouldn’t attempt to do this.
It’s also important to note that many hotel and B&B owners like to take time off in late autum and winter, so it’s more difficult to find suitable accommodation during this time of year. The same goes for shops.
The Pennine Way Compared to Other Long-Distance Walks in the UK
The Pennine Way is most often compared to the Coast to Coast Walk and the West Highland Way. Overall, the Pennine Way is tougher and more remote than the Coast to Coast Walk.
If you choose to walk the Pennine Way instead of the Coast to Coast Walk, you will spend more time on high, wild ground. However, the Coast to Coast walk has steeper and sharper stages than the Pennine Way.
If you think that you are not ready to take on the Pennine Way, consider walking the West Highland Way. There is less climbing on the WHW, and the distances between accommodation are generally shorter.
Can I Bike the Pennine Way?
No. Biking is not allowed on the trail. If you are into cycling or horseback riding, check out the Pennine Bridleway.
I love hiking. From the Camino de Santiago to the West Highland Way in Scotland or simply a great day hike on the weekend. Hiking refreshes me, my mind, and keeps my body reasonably fit. So far I have walked three Camino routes and many other long distance hikes in the UK, Canada, and around the rest of Europe. One of the best was my hike up Ben Nevis.