Friday, 22 June 2012

Pennine Way - Planning and Preparation


As promised, over the next 18 days I will do what I should've done ages ago, and write up my Pennine Way adventure from 2008. Today, 4 years ago, June 22 2008, was the day before I set off for Kirk Yetholm, so it was the day when I finally had to pack up all my stuff.

It's not as though I have nothing to do at the moment, but I think this will be a fun experience for me to relive a lot of it, and I hope it won't be totally boring to read about either. Certainly, if you are thinking you'd like to do the Pennine Way, you could do a lot worse than read someone's experiences of having done it, and see if you can't learn from some of their mistakes!

As I look out of the window here in New Mills now, the weather reminds me of some of the days on the PW already! It's miserable. I guess it goes to show that our weather is not special this year or any other - on any given June/July day in England it can be lovely and warm and sunny or completely utterly soul-destroyingly miserable like today. Mizzle I think they call it - for mist/drizzle, but could equally be miserable drizzle. There were a couple of days when I walked all day in this, didn't see a thing, but there were also some glorious days where I saw everything and had a thoroughly good time. You can't pick which days they will be, so you have to be lucky. I think on balance I was. There were a couple of days which were fine which would have been an absolute nightmare if the weather had been bad.

The state of my life at the time I did the walk was not perfect - my wife and I had separated and I found myself in the middle of some nonsense at work. It did come at a very good time though, a total break from normal life, just me against myself, the weather and the PW. Some of the reflections about it and the effect it has had on me I'll save for later, but I will say now that I learned an enormous amount about myself by doing it. Rediscovered some things about myself that I'd forgotten. In so many ways it's one of the best things I've ever done.

June 22 2008 - packing my rucksack up.

Planning & Preparation

It's fair to say I'd been planning this expedition for a long time. Maybe ever since my Dad told me about the Pennine Way when I was a kid and how he'd tried it with some mates but given up after 3 days. He gave me his Wainwright (still the de facto guidebook but of limited practical use nowadays) which I read cover to cover and dreamed of seeing these sights with my own eyes, and of being in a position to write about my own experiences like he does. Wainwright makes no bones about the fact that this is a beast of a walk. It was Britain's first national trail and I will bet any money it is still the hardest. When Wainwright went on to design his Coast to Coast, part of his plan was to create an antithesis to the PW, in other words, make it a nice walk. Still, as far as walking challenges go, it is Britain's major one. There are several reasons why and they will become apparent through my own experience with it, but suffice to say do not go into this thinking it will be anything less than an ordeal.  I didn't, so I had planned and prepared well, I think.

I probably spent a year thinking about it seriously, reading the map mostly, trying to put it together into stages that I thought I could execute realistically. I did have some prerequisites for how I wanted to do it. First, alone. I like walking with other people, sometimes, but this was always going to be a solo effort. I didn't know enough about my body and how it would cope over this distance to be able to consider possibly being at someone else's mercy, or they at mine. There are only two people I would ever have considered doing it with - my Dad and David Howe. In any case, I wanted to be able to do things at my own pace, and that included the possibility of changing the plan, whatever that would be, to suit the particular circumstances of the day, be that physical problems or the weather. That meant that while I would definitely have to have a plan, I would not book anything ahead so that I could afford to be flexible. Not booking anything means that you have to have to capability to be completely self-sufficient, so I knew I was going to have to carry camping gear, just in case. That adds a lot of weight, but I decided early on that that was worth it to be able to have maximum flexibility.

I did know that keeping weight to a minimum was also key, so I decided to use a smaller rucksack than you can get. I used a 50 litre North Face bag I got in the States. Normally for these things I think you would use 65 litres. But I decided that trying to use a smaller sack would encourage me not to take anything I didn't absolutely want or need to have. So it worked out. The photo above shows pretty much everything I took, minus food and water of course. The sack was full, but I didn't have anything I didn't need.

Some things to pick out. 

Maps / books. 

You can't take all the maps, they're too bulky. So I made my own map book, spiral bound. I printed OS Explorer maps from Memory-Map software onto special waterproof inkjet paper. This has the additional benefit of being able to annotate with a pen, and it will last forever, a permanent souvenir, something that covered every mile with me. I took my GPS, not really for navigation, but to record the tracks from each day and to tell me statistics about each day like distance, height climbed, etc. I took two books - the Wainwright (compulsory), and a more modern guidebook with phone numbers of YHAs and B&Bs in and so on.

Tent / camping. 

I bought a new tent - quite expensive for what it is, 250 quid, but it weighs less than 1 kg. It was the lightest one man tent money could buy at the time, and possibly still is. I took a Trangia for cooking, and a bottle of fuel. Two water bottles, a flask. A mess tin with some coffee, sugar, matches, a spoon/fork thing. My penknife. A head torch.


I basically took the clothes I was wearing plus one change set, shorts, extra socks and waterproofs. I got a Berghaus Paclite jacket which I still use today and is very light and packs up small. My main coat was a Helly Hansen I'd had since Canada in 1998. I had a waterproof hat, and gloves.


I've had my Brasher boots for ages. They're knackered now, but I'd been using them for years and they're very comfortable. I couldn't have done the PW without them I think. I took flip flops for wearing when I took my boots off - very light and air your feet. Perfect.

That's pretty much it. The rest of the sack I filled up with emergency food, first aid kit, and that left a lot of space for carrying day to day supplies.

The packed up rucksack :)

The Route

The Pennine Way is 275 miles long, between Edale in Derbyshire and Kirk Yetholm in the Scottish Borders. I had read various accounts of the best length of time to tackle it in, and I had settled on 14 days. Oh, and I should've said earlier, I always planned to do it North-South, which is not the usual way of doing it. The main reason for this is that I live about 6 miles from Edale, the official start, so by doing it in the opposite direction I would be walking home. I liked this from a psychological point of view, and also because I wouldn't need to book travel back from Kirk Yetholm and so be on a schedule. It also meant that I wouldn't see many people doing it the same as me and keep passing and getting passed by the same people. Sounds uncharitable, but really, I wanted to do it on my own, my own way. I also knew that I could afford to drop a day or two and it wouldn't matter. As I said above, I had no idea what to expect after a couple of days from my body so needed to be able to make it up as I went along to a certain extent. 

I knew where the tricky points were from an accommodation point of view. I had made a list of all the places on the route and the distances between them. I knew without thinking about it I could do 15-25 miles a day. So I knew at least in principle that the stages would be Kirk Yetholm - Chew Green - Bellingham - Once Brewed - Alston - Dufton - Middleton - Tan Hill - Hawes - Horton - Malham - Lothersdale - Mankinholes - Crowden - Edale. I'd be using a combination of YHA, B&B and camping.

If you know anything about the PW you will know that the traditional last day, Byrness - KY is a long day in the hills that doesn't pass through any places. It's a high-level walk of about 29 miles. This would be my first day. I didn't think starting a 2 week walk with a super long, hard day was a good idea, so I had planned to camp around the area of the Roman fort remains at Chew Green, but I wasn't sure. So, the plan could well change on Day 1!

In the end it did and there were a couple of further enforced deviations from this schedule, which completely vindicated my decision to try to be as flexible as possible in planning.

No comments:

Post a Comment