After years of mountain walking (with various dogs) in the UK, plus years of backpacking in the high mountains of the USA, I decided it was time to backpack through the British weather. Having also met many people in the States who backpack with their dogs, I came to the conclusion that Dixie was going to be the lucky Boxer to accompany me on the Pennine Way.
Being already a fully grown up, sensible Boxer, I had no worries about how she’d cope but knew I’d need to carry lots of extra stuff for her overnight comfort, so in the half term holiday in the October of 2009 we had a practice trip of 3 days in the Kielder area. We had a great time and I discovered that she not only needed a fleece coat and a cut-down karrimat to keep warm overnight, but that she also fancied her own sleeping bag… one was duly made for her by cutting down and sewing an ultra-light Snugpack one – yes, that dog is spoilt!
Various things then conspired over the next year to stop us doing the PW, but we finally got the opportunity to start in the spring of 2011. The plan was to do some sections over a few weekends, and then to finish the bulk of it off in the Spring Bank Holiday fortnight. Also, since I had already walked every inch of the PW between Edale and Hebden Bridge, over the last 30 years, we started at Hebden Bridge.
Hebden Bridge to Lothersdale
Finally, a very pleasant Saturday morning at the end of March saw Dixie and I being dropped off by hubby (Geoff) and his chocolate labrador (Tilly), in Hebden Bridge. They were to meet us in Lothersdale on the Sunday evening.
By mid-afternoon we were climbing up towards Top Withens, and could look back over the Walshaw reservoirs.
Dixie was very happy!
We finally got to Top Withens at around 4:00pm. I was amazed at how busy it was there and there were still people around at 5:pm. This did surprise me, as by then it was starting to go dusk. (This was the weekend before the clocks went forward.)
Anyway we pitched camp within sight of the ruins and very near to a small water supply among the reeds. I have an absolutely superb water filter/purifier made by First Need, which will render virtually anything other than sea water safe to drink.
Our wild camp at Top Withens – a friend told us we couldn’t camp there as it was too spooky, but it seemed ok to me!
Dixie slept very well, while I actually struggled to keep warm. I had foolishly brought my summer sleeping bag and sleeping mat – next time it will be the winter ones! I ended up sleeping fully clothed, with a lightweight duvet on and snuggled up to Dixie.
The next morning was dry but extremely windy, so breakfast had to be cooked in the porch.
The rest of the day turned to rain for most of the time as we crossed the moors into Cowling
before dropping down to Lothersdale.
Geoff was only slightly late meeting us and in a foul mood because of road works and a diversion…
Lothersdale to Malham Tarn
The next weekend saw us being dropped off in Lothersdale on the Saturday morning. This time though, we weren’t backpacking but meeting up with Geoff and Tilly for Saturday night. They had promised us B&B and an evening meal in our campervan, at a very reasonable rate!
The weather was dry and sunny, and the next part of the journey took us briefly along the Leeds/Liverpool canal.
Some field walking followed before ending up at Gargrave, where our accomodation met us for the night.
Our B&B for the night drove to near Malham Tarn.
The next morning, Geoff and Tilly not only drove us back to Gargrave so that we could set off on the next leg, they also accompanied us for a couple of miles. The weather was almost too warm for the dogs!
Dixie and I then followed the river Aire for most of the day
before finally ending up at a very busy Malham.
The beautiful Watlowes valley was next, before meeting up with the others again at Malham Tarn.
Hardraw to Tan Hill
Now, anyone with any knowledge of the PW will immediately say, ‘What about the section Malham Tarn to Hardraw?’ Well, some slight adjustments had to be made. As aforesaid, we wanted to finish the bulk of the Way over the Spring Bank fortnight, which at this point, was only about 10 days away. In fact if we didn’t get to Kirk Yetholm in that fortnight, the Cheviots were just too far away to finish off over a weekend! And since we hadn’t managed to get in quite as many weekends as we had hoped to before then, I had to reorganise a couple things.
Firstly, I joined some of our planned shorter days together. Unfortunately, this took out some of the nights that we wanted to wild camp but there were still 6 or 7 nights of backpacking to do – it wouldn’t all be B&Bing in the van.
Secondly, there were also 2 days worth of walking that I decided to miss out ie Malham Tarn to Horton in Ribblesdale, and Horton to Hardraw. This would then mean that we could start our ‘proper’ continuous walking on the 28th May, at Tan Hill. I didn’t really want to miss this bit out, but didn’t feel too guilty as – having spent half my life walking in this area anyway – I had already walked most of this section at various points in the past.
So, Friday afternoon saw us off to the Hawes area, where we spent the night in the campervan.
Saturday morning was lovely weather – not too hot.
We had a very pleasant chat at the summit with a couple of guys also doing the PW, but they were doing much greater daily mileages than us.
Our original plan had been to wild camp out on Great Shunner Fell and we spotted a superb site for a tent on the way down.
A stony lane led down into Thwaite where we unexpectedly bumped into Geoff and Tilly, who’d come to meet us. Dixie jumped in the van and took up her favourite post-walk position.
Tilly has a favourite spot in the van, too.
The night was spent in the van near Keld. And what a night! Gale force winds, rain and hail, buffeted us all night long. I hardly slept a wink and was convinced the van was about to blow over, while Tilly hid under the bed and Dixie slept fitfully on the bed.
The weather was still dreadful on Sunday morning. Lucky we hadn’t been wild camping out on Great Shunner Fell though. Decided to do a much shorter section today and end up at Tan Hill instead of Bowes. As soon as we set off, the hail started again – much to Dixie’s disgust, as it hurt her ears – and only managed a couple of photos during a brief non-rainy spell.
Geoff met us at Tan Hill and managed a brief sojourn out into the weather to do a photo of the pair of us.
Tan Hill to Middleton
So, this was the start of the continuous walking for a fortnight or so. We were dropped off at Tan Hill to walk to Bowes on the Saturday. As usual up at Tan Hill, it was exceedingly windy! We had a very pleasant day though and it didn’t rain. It was only a short walk and we started by crossing Sleightholme Moor, which was decidedly wet underfoot.
On reaching Frumming Beck the bridge was down so we had to ford the river, but it wasn’t deep.
We then went down the back road into Bowes to meet up with Geoff and Tilly, as lots of people had said that the field route into Bowes wasn’t the most pleasant.
The next morning we set off from Bowes in gale force winds and rain. Crossing Cotherstone Moor it was impossible to try and get the camera out, never mind hold it still, so I didn’t take any photos until we got close to Blackton Reservoir. It was still really windy, but at least the rain had stopped.
In the afternoon the weather was much brighter and we wandered down to Middleton where we met up with Geoff and Tilly again.
Middleton to Dufton
About 10 years ago, Geoff, me, Cleo (previous boxer) and Ragga (Geoff’s previous dog, a border collie), all walked the section of the PW from Middleton to Cauldron Snout, so this was the only other section that I didn’t repeat this year in the interests of possibly being a little short of time. So we spent the night in the campervan at Cow Green reservoir and then set off from there the next morning, to cross over by High Cup Nick and into Dufton.
We started by going past the reservoir dam
and then got a good view of Cauldron Snout.
The walk across the moor to the top of High Cup Nick was 6 miles long.
Coming across High Cup Nick – which suddenly appears – was fantastic. The only down side was that I fell crossing the river at the top and bruised my right hip and bum pretty badly, and then it started to rain!
It was a further 4 miles on to Dufton and as we were walking down the side of the Nick, Geoff and Tilly turned up to meet us.
Geoff had already checked the van in at the campsite in Dufton, which is where we spent the night.
Dufton to Garrigill
This was going to be a 2 day section with us wild camping near Greg’s Hut on Cross Fell. For the first day’s walking the weather was lovely – sunny and dry but not too hot.
Great Dun Fell had to be crossed, with its famous radar globes.
Little Dun Fell also had to be crossed before finally getting on to Cross Fell – the highest point in the Pennines with magnificent views. By the time we had got to Cross Fell though, Dixie had been limping a bit for a couple of hours so I was a bit concerned about her. I couldn’t really tell which leg it was but decided that she was going to have an enforced rest day as soon as possible.
Just dropping off the other side of Cross Fell’s summit, Greg’s Hut comes into view. This hut used to be used by miners many years ago, but is now used as a bothy. It was named after a climber called John Gregory, who died in an accident in the Alps in 1968.
I pitched the tent just outside the hut and we passed a very pleasant evening until bedtime.
Our wild camp at Greg’s Hut.
The evening started off really pleasant, but later on gale force winds suddenly appeared from nowhere. The tent felt wonderfully stable (a Terra Nova Superlite Voyager), but the noise was beginning to get to me. At around 2:00am, when I still hadn’t fallen asleep, I decided to move into the bothy to see if it was quieter. No chance! We spent the rest of the night in there, but the wind sounded like it was trying to blow the roof off and Dixie also found it a bit colder in the stone building rather than in the tent. Plus, I did start to think about ‘haunted bothy’ stories once I’d moved indoors and made sure I left a night-light (my emergency torch) on, just to take the edge off the darkness! Altogether I only got about 2 hours sleep that night.
So, we were up and off early the next morning. The wind still hadn’t improved and taking the tent down in those conditions was a nightmare, so I shut Dixie in the hut while I wrestled with it to make it a touch easier. Visibility was also right down.
We had originally planned to walk on to Alston this day, but I cut it short due to Dixie having been limping the day before and we met Geoff and Tilly in the beautiful little village of Garrigill instead. Luckily Dixie wasn’t actually limping this morning, but I didn’t want to take any chances.
When Geoff finally picked us up, Dixie decided she wanted to sit on the same seat as Tilly – much to Tilly’s digust!
Alston to Haltwhistle
So, the weather the next day couldn’t have been more different. Hot and sunny! Dixie was on her enforced rest day to make sure all her legs were recovering properly, so Geoff allowed me to take Tilly on this section. He dropped us off at Alston and we decided to give the PW a by-pass today and went along the old railway line instead. It goes in a slightly different direction to the PW, but I understand a lot of walkers are doing this route – not just me. To start with, the path follows a section of the line where there is a tourist train still running.
I don’t think Tilly was particularly impressed by it though.
After only a couple of miles, the tourist line stops and the track becomes extremely peaceful.
Now unlike Dixie – who is a fully grown up, sensible, 9 and a 1/2 year old boxer – Tilly is still a manic 2 and a 1/2 year old ‘pup’, incredibly strong and into everything. Luckily, I found a gate to tie her to at lunch time so that I didn’t have to do battle with my sandwiches.
We followed the line all the way to a campsite near Haltwhistle where Geoff and Dixie had booked into – about 12 miles in all. (We did have to do a slight detour at Lambley viaduct mind, as it’s blocked at the south end so you can’t get on to it. We went round the road for a couple of miles and picked the trail up again on the other side.)
Dixie had had a restful day and was pleased to see us. She then had a 2nd rest as the next day had always been planned for us to have a break, so we all spent that day lazing around the site – it was too hot to do anything anyway – and took the dogs for a play in the river in the afternoon.
Hadrian’s Wall to Bellingham
This was a 2-day leg with Dixie and I having a wild camp at one of the Kielder Forestry Commision backpacking sites. Geoff and Tilly dropped us off at Great Chester’s car park on Hadrian’s Wall and we walked along the wall for quite some miles, before leaving it to go north and spend the night near Green Lee Lough.
I have to admit that the wall wasn’t my favourite section of the PW. It was very busy with several coachloads of people joining it at various points, and it had an awful lot of sharp, steep, up-and-down bits! Still, it was interesting to see.
The weather was nowhere near as hot as yesterday – in fact it was decidedly chilly at times.
The Forestry Commision backpacking site was in the corner of a field, next to a stream where I could get water from. It was marked by the usual ‘post’.
The only problem with the site was that there was a horse in the field, which was obviously a bit spooked by both the tent and Dixie. It was a little disconcerting to be woken up in the middle of the night by the sound of galloping hooves as the horse charged around the field! Still, we passed a pleasant evening, slept reasonably well and had a leisurely breakfast before setting off again the next morning. I have to say that Dixie is so well behaved in the tent and really sensible at sitting in it while I cook in the porch.
Our wild camp at Greenlee:
The next day’s walk was a lonely 12 miles on to Bellingham.
The day started off dry but very dull and Dixie was off the lead for ages as we were going through the Kielder area and there were no sheep around. I know this picture is blurred, but it gives an idea of the speed Dixie was going with her ‘off the lead’ freedom!
Half way through the day though, guess what – it started to rain! By the time we had walked around 7 miles we were both feeling pretty wet and miserable, but we kept seeing signs advertising tea and stickies at a farm that we were coming up to. When we got there, we found that there was a shed in the farmyard that had a kettle, tea, coffee, home-made scones, chocolate biscuits, a fridge with butter, milk and jam etc plus an honesty box that you could leave some money in. Shelter and tea! Magnificent! I even bought a scone for Dixie. The farm was called Horneystead Farm and I am very grateful to the people there for thinking of PW walkers.
While we were in there another walker arrived. He was called Iain and was walking from Land’s End to John O’Groats. We then walked the last 5 miles into Bellinghamn together – a real treat to have someone to chat to for a while! Dixie and I met up with Geoff and Tilly in Bellingham and then spent the night in the Forest area. The next 2 days were going to be another wild camp for the two of us, so that night Dixie helped me pack the rucsac up again.
Bellingham to Byrness
This was another 2-day stretch with Dixie and I having a wild camp at another Kielder Forestry Commision backpackers site. After several holidays in the Kielder area in the past, I’ve definitely got a soft spot for it, so once again we deviated somewhat from the PW and walked to Byrness through Kielder rather than round the edge. Yet again we saw nobody all day
but Dixie did find some good sticks.
Stopping for lunch, we got a minor taste of things to come – midges! I hadn’t thought about it, but all our previous trips to Kielder have been in October and February.
We reached our campsite by about 3:00 ish, and set up the tent. The afternoon was very pleasant, but when I went to filter water from the stream my water filter totally clogged up. Luckily I’d already managed to do about 3 litres, so would have enough to manage for the evening and the next day, but obviously couldn’t filter any more so had to be a bit frugal. (I always carry emergency purification tablets just in case, but don’t like using them as the water still ends up with ‘bits’ in it.) I was a bit fed up about this though, as I knew my spare replacement canister for the filter was at home, not in the van.
Our wild camp pitch at Ridley Shiel, Kielder:
Still, worse was yet to happen. Around dusk the midges came out in force. They were swarming every bit as badly as I’ve even seen in the north of Scotland in the summer. We became prisoners in the tent until after it had gone dark. Even worse, I woke in the morning at around 6:00, desperate to go to the loo and had no choice but to leave the tent when they were swarming manically again. Of course this then meant that the tent was full of the nasty blighters….Poor Dixie didn’t even want to go back in the tent. There followed an absolutely crazy 45 minutes when I put my head net and repellent on (I had to put repellent on poor Dixie too), while I packed everything away and we set off walking. We were on the go again by 7:00, without having had any breakfast or a hot drink.
Half an hour into the day’s walking we tried stopping for a quick bite to eat, but they were still too much to stop for any longer than 5 minutes. So despite the beauty of the scenery (I’m one of those people who actually like the forest!), I hit a very low point today. Once again we saw nobody all day and this just seemed to compound how bad I was feeling, even though solitude doesn’t normally bother me.
As we’d set off so early as well, this meant that we arrived in Byrness about 2-3 hours early and had a long wait for Geoff and Tilly. And guess what – it started raining while we were waiting.
A mile out of Byrness, near the entrance to the Kielder Forest Drive:
Waiting by the main road in Byrness:
Thank goodness we’d planned a rest for the next day! Geoff and Tilly turned up mid afternoon and took us to Jedburgh campsite to chill out.
Byrness to Kirk Yetholm
Finally, the last stretch. I’d always planned to do this bit as a 3 day backpack section, but had reluctantly come to the conclusion over the past 10 days or so, that I wasn’t sure if this was the best thing to do. I’d decided that backpacking with Dixie is absolutely lovely – but only if weather/conditions etc are spot on. Having Dixie with you is a bit like having a toddler along – she can’t look after herself and you have to make sure she’s safe, warm, comfortable, well fed etc and while this is part of the general enjoyment, it becomes quite difficult as soon as the wind, rain, midges etc come along, especially if you’re on your own. Knowing what the weather can be like in the Cheviots, coupled with the fact that there’s not always a lot of water about, and knowing that my water filter had given up the ghost for the time being, the sensible decision seemed to be to leave Dixie behind if I was to backpack this section.
However, any dog owners out there will understand that I didn’t want to do the final bit without Dixie. She’d gamely put her trust in me and stuck by me the whole way (apart from her one enforced rest day for health reasons), through all the various weather conditions that had been thrown at us. She didn’t deserve to be left behind.
So, Geoff and I got together and devised a route across the Cheviots that could be done as three day walks. Having the campervan with us was certainly a major factor in being able to do this. It meant that we could drop off the ridge on the east side one evening to meet up with Geoff and the van on the Upper Coquetdale road, and on another evening we could drop off the ridge onto the Scottish side on the Cocklawfoot road and each morning could walk back up on to the ridge again.
This actually worked very well and I have to say that the Upper Coquetdale valley is worth a trip in its own right. There were major military manoeuvres going on on the MOD land for the three days too – again, we found this very interesting and saw several Merlin and Apache helicopters.
The first 2 days of walking were in beautiful weather but the third and final day was horrendous rain. What a surprise.
It’s nice to feel the wind in your ears:
Chew Green – the site of a Roman Camp:
Geoff and Tilly visited the Roman Camp with us:
The message on this sign was clear and to the point!
The van in the Upper Coquetdale valley:
The weather was so bad on the last day that I hardly took any photos. This is looking towards the junction where the original and alternative PW split off before dropping down to Kirk Yetholm: (We took the alternative way.)
Approaching Kirk Yetholm:
And finally, the obligatory photo in front of the sign.
Malham Tarn to Horton in Ribblesdale
Well, a few weekends later we had nothing else on and the weather didn’t look too bad, so we decided to go back and pick up the couple of days-worth we’d missed out earlier in the year due to having run out of available weekends. Geoff and Tilly drove us up to Malham Tarn on the Friday afternoon, where we passed a pleasant night, awakening to a warm and dry Saturday morning.
Dixie and I set off around 10:00am and picked up the PW near the tarn:
The climb up to Fountains Fell was very pleasant, but in comparison to our experiences much further north on the PW, very busy. (I know there’s nobody in the photos – I deliberately took them when no-one was around.)
As we crested Fountains Fell, Pen y Ghent suddenly loomed into the picture and dominated the skyline:
We stopped for lunch down on the road between Fountains Fell and Pen y Ghent, next to a lovely little stream where I filtered another litre of water. The route then proceeded to get busier and busier the nearer we got to Pen y Ghent, and finally scrambling up the nose it was just ridiculous how many people were around. I have to confess to feeling a little irritated – not only by the sheer numbers, but also by the fact that people seemed to keep stopping in front of us at the most awkward points on the climb, meaning that we had to work around them. I’ve climbed this mountain 5 or 6 times in the past, but the last time was about 15 years ago and I was also amazed at how much erosion had happened over the years. I was so preoccupied then at this point, that I forgot all about taking photos for a while.
Anyway, Geoff and Tilly were on the top waiting for us. They’d come up from Horton to meet us and walk down together. I took a couple of photos of them on the way down, when it was slightly less manic.
We spent the night in the van on a quiet road on the outskirts of Horton, and the plan for the Sunday had been for Dixie and I to walk the next 13 miles into Hawes, but unfortunately I awoke on the Sunday morning with a bit of a migraine. It wasn’t as bad as it could be, but enough to make me reconsider the day’s plans, so we just had a little wander with the others and then tootled off home. Hopefully we’ll get that stretch done another time.
Horton in Ribblesdale to Hawes
So, another couple of weekends later and we tidied up our final loose end on the PW. After a night in the van at Malham Tarn again on the Friday, Geoff and Tilly dropped us off at Horton in the morning. As seems to be the norm these days, there was a 3 Peaks event on, so we kept bumping into groups of people until we were well past the supposed 3 Peaks route. We did, however, help a nice couple who were ‘temporarily misplaced’ and couldn’t quite work out where they were.
It was a lovely morning for walking – not too hot with a lively breeze.
First lunch break:
All was then really peaceful and quiet for a few miles, until after lunch when we hit Cam High Road. Here, we were continually ‘against the traffic’ of some other event, which turned out to be the ‘Boots and Beer’ weekend organised by a Masham Brewery. There was also a Trails Bike event taking place up on the moors, although to be fair, they were hardly noticeable.
Second lunch break:
The last few miles were just about photo-less, as we were variously bombarded with horizontal wind, rain and hail!
However, I did snap the doggies in the First Class Sleeper Seats (as usual) on the way back down the A1 on the Sunday morning.
And with the Pennine Way now properly under her paws, Dixie is trying her best to persuade Geoff and Tilly to act as support to us in Dumfries and Galloway at October half-term, and give us a chance to make bit of a start on the Southern Upland Way……