Blog

Hills, Hospitality & Hadrian's Wall - Walking the Northern Pennine Way

The 257 mile long Pennine Way is well known in the walking community for two things. Firstly, for being the first long-distance National Trail, and secondly, for being the most challenging.

I set out to discover the northern section of this famous trail - a 64 mile stretch from Greenhead to Kirk Yetholm - and found some of the most diverse and rewarding walking I have experienced.

The Pennine Way - North runs in three clear-cut sections:

1) The Ridge of Hadrian’s Wall
2) Moors, Farm and Woodland
3) The Cheviot Hills

By the end, you feel like you have completed three walks instead of one!

The walk’s reputation as a challenge was confirmed on day one as we chatted to the attendant at The Sill Landscape Discovery Centre in Once Brewed. "The Pennine Way!" she exclaimed, "now that’s real walking!".

But a challenge is exactly what I look forward to in a walking trail, and the chance to earn the guilt-free eating and drinking and the deep, fresh air-fuelled sleep that come from "real walking".

The weather in Northumberland National Park is unpredictable and the walk may be a challenge, but what can be guaranteed is a hearty meal at the end of each day in a new Northumbrian village, a great night’s sleep, and incredibly varied scenery.

Hadrian’s Wall Country

The Pennine Way - North begins in the quaint village of Greenhead in the heart of Hadrian’s Wall Country. The Hadrian’s Wall Path and the Pennine Way connect in a stunning ridge walk along Hadrian’s Wall with views out to both sides.

As the first day is only 6.5 miles you have the opportunity to explore some of the attractions around Hadrian’s Wall. The walk itself takes you past one of the best-preserved sections of the wall at Cawfields Crags.

I would highly recommend visiting the fascinating Roman forts at Vindolanda and Housesteads. We went straight to Vindolanda, the most extensive fort along Hadrian’s Wall, which archaeologists are still excavating today. The museum hosts many impressive artefacts including items belonging to the Roman citizens of Vindolanda, and the Vindolanda writing tablets which offer an insight into the everyday lives of people who lived here 2,000 years ago.

The next day of walking to Bellingham (pronounced 'Bell-in-jam') takes you further along Hadrian’s Wall Path, passing the iconic Sycamore Gap. We were ahead of the many tourists that follow later in the day and so had a moment all to ourselves. Cue tripod and a few wide angle shots.

Variation

Beautiful green farmland, hills, rivers, horses, seas of purple moorland, sheep, ridge walking and forest stretch for miles.

The myriad of landscapes across the following two days of walking towards Byrness is truly unique and - now far from the crowds of Hadrian’s Wall - we felt in a wilderness that was all ours.

Northumberland Hospitality

The warm hospitality at each B&B, restaurant and pub was truly overwhelming and we came to expect and look forward to it after just a few days of walking. A large advantage of English walking trails is how well England does pubs and inns!

Many local craft beers were on offer along the trail and, although we were walking just 15 miles a day, a different Northumberland beer was available each night. Some of my favourites included the Vindolanda IPA at Once Brewed, and Black Moss at Byrness.

The Last 27 miles in the Cheviots

Some people choose to do the last 27 miles of the Pennine Way from Byrness to Kirk Yetholm in one incredibly long 12 hour day through the Cheviots, a stretch that has nothing bar two mountain refuge huts and a lot of wilderness.

Absolute Escapes prefer to break this section up into two days of hill walking which allowed us to appreciate the stunning views, and also gave time to detour up The Cheviot - the highest peak in the region at 815m. The last two days are spent crossing from hilltop to hilltop along well-made flagstone paths that are easy to follow and allow you to dedicate your time to admiring the surroundings.

Tom Stephenson, the countryside correspondent for the Daily Herald who fought to establish the Pennine Way, described the "soul-satisfying gift of high and lonely places" calling them "physically and spiritually uplifting". This section epitomises that gift which he hoped would draw more of the UK outdoors.

The walk follows the long-disputed border fence between Scotland and England, in a once turbulent area where Scottish raiders were known to roam. As we crossed into Scotland for the first time, we experienced the only rain of the day!

Later, as we summited Windy Gyle, we had begun in England and finished at Russell’s Cairn in Scotland.

Ending in Kirk Yetholm, the picturesque village is like something from a storybook, welcoming Pennine Way finishers and those walking the St Cuthbert’s Way alike.

With its immaculate lawns and the enticing Border Hotel, this is where you can collect a completion certificate for the whole Pennine Way.

The Past and The Future

There is so much history on this old trail that it makes you feel very small and insignificant, drowned in the shadows of everyone from the Romans to the walkers of the mid 20th century who campaigned for 30 years to open the Pennine Way.

Despite the history and the footprints of those before, you will feel like you have conquered it alone, as you explore the wilderness without another soul in sight.

As we look to the future, the trail is under continuous improvement and regeneration, making it more accessible without losing the challenge of crossing some of the most remote areas of the UK.

The oldest National Trail arrived at a time when walking was just becoming popular, and the TLC the Pennine Way was due has been happening over the last five years, with the way-marking coming forward leaps and bounds.

The length of the Pennine Way might seem overwhelming but the walk can be easily broken down into smaller sections and completed over time.

If you are looking for a taste of the Pennine Way, I highly recommend the North which fits nicely into 5 of the most varied walking days you could experience. The Pennine Way - North is my kind of real walking!

Caitlin Rush
P.S. Absolute Escapes offer award-winning self-guided walking holidays in the UK & Ireland. We offer three packages on the Pennine Way - the South, Central, and North sections - including carefully-selected accommodation, bag transfers, guidebook/map, and everything you need to enjoy an unforgettable walking holiday on this legendary long-distance trail.

comments powered by Disqus