How to survive the Pennine Way!
4 things not to do on a long distance walk
The Pennine Way, a black, boggy and wet 270 miles from Edale in Derbyshire to Kirk Yetholm in the Scottish Borders. Why on earth would anyone want to walk that?!
Well, every Pennine Wayfarer has their reasons - mine was to raise money to help the earthquake victims in Nepal as well as to connect with God by spending time in his wonderful creation.
And actually, it's gorgeous. So erase that black, boggy, wet impression from your mind now!
I learned a lot from the experience so here are some tips. Read on for 4 things NOT to do when walking the Pennine Way:
1. Carry everything including the kitchen sink!
Ok, so I didn't actually carry the kitchen sink, or even a mini camping one. But if you want to make it up Jacobs Ladder (that's about three miles in) then I suggest carrying a bag that's as light as light can be.
As you can see from my rucksack it's not the size that's so important (though if you want to fit through kissing gates it's worth considering), but the weight. I suggest packing, repacking and packing again. At home I thought I was sorted but my friend made me remove loads of stuff, then half way round I ditched some more. You can actually manage without a towel - a spare T-shirt does the job just fine!
Just think. What do I need? What can I manage without? What will I be able to get en route? I met with friends at various points which helped minimise my load as they most helpfully brought new supplies of toiletries etc.
Food was my biggest worry. I'm so used to taking all the food I could possibly need for a complete walk that getting into my head that places do exist to get food on the way was really hard. But it's true. Just make sure you check the guidebook for where you can obtain tasty morsels, have enough snacks for the day plus a bit extra for emergencies and you'll be fine.
And because of my super-lightweight load I was able to swiftly outrun some scary dive-bombing lapwing mums, ducking and weaving nimbly between angry wings and beaks (well sort of), all while kitted out in full walking gear and rucksack!
Benefits of a lightweight pack:
- Conserves energy (more left to run from scary wildlife...)
- More room for food, yum!
- Really easy to find stuff (I like simplicity)
2. Cram in Loads of Miles each day
Remember, this is supposed to be fun.
Take time to soak in the views (literally if it rains, heh heh...), breathe in the fresh air, talk to people you meet, relax with a picnic by the stream, frequent the various hostelries and tea shops en route. Just generally slow down. You've probably taken time out of a hectic life to do this so make the most of it.
Now I say all of that, but did I do it? Well, I tried. The thing is when you've planned to walk a certain distance each day and have a bed booked for the night you really have to do the miles. In hindsight I would say plan your walk better than I did! A 15 mile daily average seems pretty doable for a fit person. But less is also good. Not days of 25 miles!! Hmm... see point 3 below.
When I planned my walk, I didn't want to end up getting to places too early and was trying to cut costs by doing fewer days (which is a consideration), but actually, if it's nice weather just amble a bit. If it's grim, as long as you've got a good book for the evening what's the problem with turning up earlier than intended? You'll likely meet fellow Pennine Way-ers to pass the time with in the pub anyway.
Certainly the days I enjoyed the most were those where I slowed down. It's rather pleasant having an afternoon snooze behind a Yorkshire dales wall, sun on your face, belly full of bread pudding!
Benefits of planning a walk with a relaxed pace:
- You have time to enjoy the people, places, scenery etc (ice cream's good too...)
- You'll actually feel more relaxed without the stress of rushing to your destination before dark
3. Miscalculate the distance!
As i said before, plan well. Hmm... I thought I had until...
Day two, a long one at over 20 miles; I wanted to get this section over with as walking over the M62 is not my idea of a scenic stroll! Unfortunately I'd missed a page in my map book and it turned out to be 25 miles!! Oopsie. Thank goodness for that magnificent curry at the pub.
A map book. This is a really good thing for a long thin walking route as it removes the need to carry loads of bulky OS maps. And yes you do need a map as well as a phone/GPS. Always carry a map and compass. I won't rant about this here but remember, phones do break or run out of power sometimes and there are places on the Pennine Way where you'll need to do proper navigating if the mist comes down.
Just don't get two pages stuck together when route planning!
Unfortunately the result of this day was being totally worn out and grumpy, and the next day walking on ouchy knees and blisters. Nice! And all this right near the start! Fortunately every cloud has a silver lining (as they say) - or a golden one in this case. After a dull day, the sun showed her face while we were scoffing our curry, and it turned into the most glorious evening. Golden shafts of light spilled across the moors, twinkling on the deep blue reservoirs. And the sky was transformed into a brilliant turquoise hue.
Benefits of good route planning:
- You won't end up walking 25 miles in a day!
- You won't become a grumpy-pants zombie with painful knees and blisters!
- You can relax knowing that you've plenty of time to reach your destination
4. Ignore rubbing toes and feet
Don't ignore any rubbing on your feet. If you do, you'll get blisters! And who wants those when you're walking miles?
I made the mistake of ignoring slight pressure half way through day two and by the time I sat down and applied compeed - yes take lots of compeed - it was too late. Mind you, blister plasters applied too late still help. A lot. But prevention is always better than cure so get the compeed out at the first little niggle. Or if you know you always get blisters in a certain place bung 'em on before you even start.
I'm going on about compeed because I really think it's the best blister plaster around. And believe me I've tried a lot. Compeed doesn't peel off at the first sign of movement or sweating like many others; you might even be hard pushed to get it off in the shower after several weeks of walking! Here's the link to their site: https://www.compeed.co.uk/
But what if you do get blisters?
Well, taking a lightweight pair of trainers as spare shoes was the best thing I did. I walked in them for the next couple of days before popping the blisters and putting boots back on. Yes I did say popping the blisters. When blisters get too big they create extra pressure against the boot and hurt like billy-o. So, as long as you make sure you sterilise the needle first, squidge all that liquid out before putting on a nice new shiny compeed -you'll have happy feet again! Please note I am not a doctor and they might disagree with me. But they'd probably also tell you to stop walking so... the choice is yours.
And why not use rubbing feet as an opportunity? An opportunity to sit down, relax, take in the view, eat a yummy snack. Believe me, getting those feet out of sweaty boots once in a while is pure bliss. Feel the wind between your toes, let your skin breathe. Then, when your feet are freezing off, its truly wonderful pulling on those snuggly socks. Ahh... the small pleasures.
Benefits of dealing with sore feet quickly:
- You'll actually be able to enjoy the walk rather than being in pain all day
- It's an opportunity to sit down, admire the view and scoff food!
IF I survived You can too!
So, if I survived my walk with a smile on my face, so can you!
And I really really did enjoy the experience.
From the breathtaking scenery and immersion in a countryside way of life, to soaking up the warm hospitality from local people and having 'interesting' encounters with other walkers, I can honestly say that the Pennine Way far exceeded my expectations. I finished the route healthier and happier than I had been in a long while, felt refreshed to my core and continue to joyfully re-experience the walk with others through the memories etched in my mind. Perhaps the man who was walking the route for the 16th time is not quite as mad as he first seemed.
So, if you do decide to walk this most noble of routes remember...
...slow down, relax, drink in the experience and let it permeate your soul.
Allow Creation to work in you and be refreshed.
Happy walking folks xx