Wainwright's Pennine Journey
Start/finish: Settle railway station, North Yorkshire.
Distance: 399k 248 miles
Time: Between 14 – 20 days
Summary: One of Britain’s newest long distance paths which follows a route along the east side of the Pennines to Hadrian’s Wall and returns to Settle back down the west.
Guide book: ed David Pitt “A Pennine Journey: From Settle to Hadrian’s Wall in Wainwright’s footsteps.”
Map by kind permission of the Blackpool Gazette
75 years ago this month Europe was preoccupied over the Czechoslovakian Question and the possibility of another devastating war. The German Chancellor Adolf Hitler was demanding the annexation of the Sudetenland an a German speaking area of Czechoslovakia, a nation formed in the settlement after World War One. As the crisis came to a head urgent talks were arranged in Munich where the British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain made a deal with Hitler to avert the calamity of another war. His sincere efforts to bring about "peace in our time" did not calculate for the ruthless cynicism of the Nazi leadership. In less than a year Germany invaded Poland and the 2nd World War started in earnest.
Against the background of the Munich Crisis a young local government clerk from Blackburn set out on a walking tour from Settle, then in the West Riding of Yorkshire. For his two week holiday he had a simple aim - to walk up to Hadrian's Wall and back on a route of his own devising. He kept a journal which after his return he used as the basis of a book about his experiences. He then put the manuscript aside and forgot about it for almost 50 years.
During that time Alfred Wainwright forged a career in local government and after taking a position in Kendal worked himself up to the position of Borough Treasurer - not bad for a lad from his humble beginnings. More remarkably Wainwright had achieved national prominence as the author of "The Pictorial Guide to the Lakeland Fells". This project done in his spare time over a period of 13 years from 1952 described the hills of Lakeland in a way that made them accessible to the keen walker.
After 1965 he published other guides and sketch books. Radio and television features followed. He had turned into a publishing phenomenon - the public could not get enough. Encouraged by this success he returned to his account of the 1938 walking tour. Characteristically with no revision ("It is printed exactly as I penned it…") he published it as "A Pennine Journey" in 1986. It is one of the most remarkable books about walking ever published.
To begin with Wainwright wrote it at a time when there was not one long distance path in the UK. The idea of the Pennine Way had been raised by Tom Stephenson in the Daily Herald in 1935 but it was not until 30 years later that the trail was open. Wainwright's Pennine journey anticipated it by 27 years.
Then consider the matter of walking gear. Wainwright walked in jacket, shirt, flannel trousers and hobnail boots. For a waterproof he took a cyclist's cape. Compared to a present day walker he would have looked woefully unprepared for the challenge he had set himself. Aside from his rucksack and his beloved maps he carried a few items of spare clothing and little else apart from his cigarettes.
Another striking difference between then and now is that he did not pre-book any of his accommodation - not that there was a great deal of choice by today's standards. Quite often he would stay in the private home of someone prepared to take him in for the night.
"A Pennine Journey" then transports the reader back in time as well as through the landscape of the Pennines. And it is in writing about the landscape that Wainwright reveals the most extra-ordinary aspect of the book.
Three quarters of a century later and with ten million more people living in these isles much of the route Wainwright took is as unspoilt as when he saw it in 1938.
Little wonder then that the Wainwright Society has developed a long distance path that follows much of Wainwright's route as a celebration of the author's immense contribution to our appreciation of the countryside - especially in the north of England.
If you would like to do this walk averaging at 15 miles a day, it will take you 16 days. Unsurprisingly there is a website that will help you plan your journey. (www.penninejourney.co.uk )