Day One, Edale to Crowden
After enduring a nightmarish overnight bus journey without any sleep, and a chilly pre-dawn walk to Sheffield train station, we were finally ready to start the Pennine Way. The short train journey to Edale on the Trans Pennine railway had built the excitement and nerves as we anticipated a long and arduous first day hiking along one of Britain’s most revered national trails. Four days and three nights in late April were all that could be spared for the first leg of the hike, two of the nights spent camping, the other spent in the relative luxury of a YHA bunk-room. But that was ahead of us, indeed many miles of peaks, valley and moor ahead of us.
We began at the traditional start point by The Old Nag’s Head pub and were quickly shaking off the cobwebs as we passed through Upper Booth. The path took us between two steep ridges of hills and towards Jacob’s Ladder. Our OS map indicated this would be the steepest climb of the day. Taking the bridleway track to the left instead of the stone steps, we groaned as our limbs acclimatised to a day of strain. Pausing near the top of Jacobs Ladder, we turned to a stunning view that made the toil worth it. It was a magnificent valley, enhanced by the spreading of the clouds and beaming sunshine. Proceeding up the hill and past Edale Rocks, we were starting to hit our stride. This stretch of the Pennine Way is incredibly popular with daywalkers, and the small figures of numerous other hikers came into view as the ground began to level out. The path turned eastwards after Kinder Downfall. Pausing to huddle amongst the rocks with a stunning view of Kinder Reservoir, a nutritious and hearty lunch of noodles and green tea was prepared.
After more steady progress and some re-orientating from Lisa, the Way cut back to the northeast and eventually began an initially steady, then very steep way down. At the bottom, we passed a cheery group of students and their animated teacher at the crossroads of another track named Snake Path. Ahead lay a soon to be a familiar sight. Bleak moorland under leaden skies. Thankfully along this part of the route huge slabs of stone had been laid down to provide safe passage across the moor. It was hard to imagine how the hikers of yesteryear had managed to struggle through the soaking and boggy peat that must have resembled quicksand after a heavy burst of rain.
We briefly encountered the real world when crossing the deserted A57, and the first morale-sapping mistake of the trip was made. With spirits high, we grossly overestimated the speed in which we covered the ascent up to Bleaklow Head. Skillfully stepping/clumsily crashing through free-flowing fords, the realisation that we had at least two more hours tough hiking dawned on us when we saw the aforementioned group of students celebrating at the top of what turned out to be Bleaklow Head. Our true location on the map was revealed to be much further back. Wishful thinking in regards to the distance covered is often a problem for me towards the end of a long hike, especially as I had already demolished my allocated snacks for the day. A quick stop for the application of blister plasters and another hot tea gave us a boost before the final stretch.
A momentarily confusing cross over a creek and a small incline through thick heather brought us to the path along Clough Edge. This precarious path brought us perilously close to a steep plunge down into a ravine, so concentration at this stage of the day was essential. The views were incredibly dramatic, and Torside Reservoir came into view to relieve some tension as we negotiated the narrow path. Eventually, a steep descent brought us down from the hills, and following another group of now tired students over a bridge and around the reservoir we finally made it to the campsite at Crowden. We had walked for over eight hours and were relieved to finally be in our tent and sleeping bags.
Day Two, Crowden to Marsden
A new day dawned and after a luxurious shower and a basic breakfast, we were back on the trail. I was not feeling overly refreshed by the previous night’s rest, and the Pennine Way was not in a forgiving mood. After briefly walking back the way we came the path turned north up towards a near mirror image of what we had descended the evening before. The wind began to pick up the higher we rose, viciously channelled towards us by the hills. Despite this and the precarious path, it was essential to turn around and survey the impressive landscape from which we had come the previous day. The battle with the wind and the narrow path eventually ended as the landscape, at last, began to level out and open up to wild moorland, with Black Hill ahead of us. The path crossed many fords and for a time ran alongside a free-flowing stream. We had only seen three other hikers the whole morning, and now another skipped past us, fleet of foot in lightweight shoes and a day pack. Our packs of 15kg had weighed heavily on us throughout the trek, and we eyed the runner enviously as he disappeared into the distance.
Lunch was taken and after reaching the top of Black Hill. Ignoring a path cutting off to the west, we noticed a marked change in the landscape. We were nearing the end of the Peak District and the narrow gorges and dramatic hills where gradually transitioning to the wider expanse of the South Pennines. The mark of mankind was also noticeable here, with small settlements and a distant transmitting station off to our right and a road charging through the rugged landscape to our left. Despite the sunshine, a chill wind re-emerged and we hurried down the hill. After about half an hours descent and a brief dip down into Dean Clough, we were making our way towards Wessenden Reservoir. It was a beautiful landscape with families and dog walkers enjoying the fine weather.
Our final destination that evening was Marsden and not Stanedge, a more common location for Pennine Way walkers. We ignored a path climbing steeply up to our left and instead followed the Kirklees Way alongside the reservoir. The signage here is minimal so you must keep an eye on your map during this section. The pleasant ramble and aesthetic views were somewhat tainted by a bizarre sight along the path. At this stage, the path resembled a smooth road, and dozens of squished frogs had to be avoided. We lost count of the number of dead frogs, completely mystified as to how and why they had ignored an oncoming vehicle.
Another reservoir was passed as we reached the small settlement of Netherley. Surrounded by impressive hills and in the face of a chill wind, an early season village cricket match was taking place. It was a beautiful location for a game, but I did not envy the stationary members of the fielding side as we stopped to put on a warm layer of clothing. A relatively steep but straight forward road was followed away from the village, and after about 45 minutes we reached the Carriage Horse pub, on whose grounds we would be camping for the night. Thoughts of cooking up a boring meal at our tent were quickly forgotten as the windows of the pub revealed its inhabitants enjoying large roast dinners. Lacking self-discipline we rushed inside.
Day Three, Marsden to Mankinholes
The wind had not relented overnight, and due to the high and exposed nature of our camp, we had to wrestle our tent into submission before packing up and leaving at the leisurely time of 9:30. We initially headed off down the main road, and within ten minutes turned off just before another pub, and began following the Standedge Trail and then the Oldham Way. This small section overlapped where one OS map ended and the other began. The path soon merged with the Pennine Way, and after an hours slow progress, we reached the top of White Hill. After the gradual descent from White Hill, the next hour or so is somewhat dominated by the M62, the highest motorway in Britain. Here, the constant sound of traffic is a great motivation to pick up the pace and return once again to the wild of the moors. With the sounds of traffic slowly fading away as we climbed gradually up towards Blackstone Edge. Manchester was visible to our left, and bleak moorland ahead of us.
Along the path, we stopped for a chat with four retirees who were having a well-earned rest and a cup of tea. The friendliness of discussions with fellow hikers is always a pleasure, and this one was no different. One of the group had moved up from East Anglia for the lifestyle and friendship offered by hiking in the Pennines. Waving the group a cheery goodbye, we progressed to the crest of a hill and made our way through a rocky and boulder-strewn area that was a welcome change to the monotonous trudge of most of the day. I was eager to see the old Roman road and Medieval waymarker named the Aiggin Stone on this remote stretch of the Way. Your imagination is able to run wild trying to comprehend what a Roman soldier hundreds of miles from home would have been feeling marching through these rugged and desolate hills.
Once again I had powered through my snacks with still half a days walking remaining, so the sight of a road and pub was a welcome one. After a quick lunch and restocking of supplies e.g.chocolate bars and we were off again. An easy going stretch of several miles was all that stood between us and the intriguingly named settlement of Mankinholes, our destination for the night. Passing even more reservoirs, the novelty of walking on a well maintained and flat path was a welcome one. The path at this stage takes a sharp turn to the east, and our first sight of Stoodley Pike monument drove us onwards. It was now a lovely afternoon, warm and clear with wide-ranging views. From our high vantage point, we had a stunning view. The looming presence of Stoodley Pike ahead of us, and the hamlets of Mankinholes and Lumbutts looking resplendent down in the valley. It was a magnificent climax to a day of largely featureless landscapes. With the sun shining we made our way steeply down to our hostel for the night. The volunteer-run YHA at Mankinholes was an absolute treat, a great place to stop for hikers and cyclist after a long day exploring the hills.
Day Four, Mankinholes to Hebden Bridge
We awoke to the sun shining, lambs bleating and birds singing. The valley in which we were in was a great shelter from the wind and rain. It didn’t take long for us to feel reinvigorated again as the steep path back up to the ridgeline and along to Stoodley Pike was a challenging one. Built to commemorate the conclusion of the Napoleonic Wars, Stoodley Pike is a stirring monument to the courage of the everyday man who served in such a devastating conflict. It also serves as a fitting metaphor of the defiance and determination of generations of people who have lived and worked here in the face of unforgiving and tough conditions. This is a landscape that has been worked, mined, dammed and farmed, yet is still absolutely beautiful. Signs that this stunning viewpoint wasn’t just used for the wholesome pursuit of fresh air and exercise came in the unfortunate form of discarded beer cans and cigarettes.
After a good look around we began the gradual descent down from the hills, first skirting well maintained and ordered farmland and paddocks, then strolling through pleasant woods. Bold mountain bikers occasionally raced past us as we neared the foot of the hill. A pleasant and short days walk ended along the canal in Hebden Bridge. Our first stage of the Pennine Way was over. We had been left under no illusions of the mental fortitude required to complete it in its entirety. Despite this the four days had provided us with some moments of immense pleasure. One day we will return, and begin again the long path to Kirk Yetholm.