The Christmas / New Year break is often the time of year when we give up in the face of limited daylight and bad weather, turn our back on the outside world, eat too much and drink too much and end up feeling rubbish. In 2008 we decided to do it differently. We knew a bit about the Pennine Way, we'd seen lots of wooden footpath signs for it, and had some friends who'd had a hard time on it. But we wanted to see for ourselves. So after finishing work on 19th December, we picked up our huge heavy rucksacks, took a train to Manchester and another to Edale, and pitched our tent on an empty campsite.
Following an accidental alpine start (I'd just come back from a work trip to France, and had forgotten to put my watch back onto UK time), we set off from the campsite at 6.30a.m. in the dark. The moon was up, giving a magical feel to the start of our journey as we walked through fields and farms by its light. By the time the sun rose, we were up Jacob's Ladder and heading for bleak open moorland with gritstone outcrops. In fact we found that starting in the dark worked fine for us, so we did this whenever we could for the rest of the trip. At least it meant that we were navigating in the dark at the start of the day when we were fresh and alert, rather than at the end of the day when we were tired.
Sorting out a blister at the top of the Kinder Downfall. The sun had long since disappeared behind dark grey clouds, and it was very cold - my hands were numb by the time I got my boots on again.
Neil on a section of footpath near Snake Pass which had been surfaced with flagstones. Much easier going than the peaty bogs which the Pennine Way used to be notorious for, but still hard on the feet! Flagstones like these were often reclaimed from derelict factories and mills.
Near the top of Black Hill - very happy to have the raised flagstone path to follow!
"Roman road" on Blackstone Edge - in fact probably an old packhorse route across the moors.
View towards Heptonstall from Pry Hill, in a rare burst of sunshine. For most of the first week we had dark cloud with occasional drizzle, rain and fog.
High moors and reservoirs above Haworth. The cloud cleared and the wind picked up, making it bitterly cold - we felt really sorry for a model in a strapless red evening dress doing a photo-shoot at Top Withins, the supposed inspiration for Wuthering Heights.
Fog, a Pennine Way sign, an advert for a B&B and a "What the hell are we doing this for" kind of a smile. Somewhere near Lothersdale, where fortunately there was a nice warm pub serving decent beer and good hot food.
The flagstone path led up to the edge of this pool of water and started again on the other side. Not so good.
Some nice easy walking and a double arched bridge on the Leeds and Liverpool Canal.
Oof, only 70 miles done! Outside the Dalesman Cafe, Gargrave, where much tea was drunk - another very cold day with lots of muddy footpaths. The walk would have been truly miserable without all the cafes and pubs along the way.
"Stone men" on top of Fountains Fell, on Christmas Eve.
Pen-y-Ghent with Ingleborough behind, from Fountains Fell.
Sunbeams over Pendle Hill in Lancashire from Cam End on Christmas Day.
A sign requesting Santa to stop near Cam Houses - just in case he happened to be hiking the Pennine Way too ...
Boxing Day sunshine in Swaledale.
Being a National Trail, the Pennine Way is very well signposted, at least in the valleys. Heading up from Thwaite in Swaledale.
Swinner Gill from Kisdon, near Muker in Swaledale.
Old hawthorns in West Stones Dale, between Swaledale and Tan Hill.
Field barn, West Stones Dale.
The Tan Hill Inn, where we spent Boxing Day night - the highest pub in England at 528m above sea level. There was a hard frost that night, which provided a perfect excuse to give up on camping and stay in the pub! We camped for five out of the first eight nights; the tally for the rest of the walk was two hotels, two B&Bs, three bunkhouses, two youth hostels, a caving hut, a camping barn and a mountain refuge hut.
Setting off early the next morning across Sleightholme Moor. It's usually very wet and boggy but that morning it was mostly frozen so not too bad at all.
God's Bridge, the half way point on the Pennine Way. It was our ninth day and it felt like we'd been walking for ever!
High Force on the River Tees.
High Cup Nick in Cumbria. After crossing high, featureless moorland from Teesdale, the ground suddenly dropped away and we got this wonderful view down to the Eden valley.
View of Cross Fell, the highest point on the Pennine Way and the highest mountain in England outside the Lake District.
It was a long plod up from Dufton to Cross Fell in the snow and frost.
We met up with my colleague Kav from Lyon Equipment on Knock Fell - he very kindly brought us mince pies which were much appreciated!
Cross Fell. Pretty chilly up there ...
Some easier walking through fields along the South Tyne valley. Neil shared Wainwright's disappointment that the route doesn't follow the watershed for this section - maybe an idea for a pedantic purist's version of the Pennine Way?
Hadrian's Wall in freezing fog. We ate at the Twice Brewed pub on Hadrian's Wall on New Year's Eve, but were tucked up in bed in the camping barn by 10pm - we were shattered!
Even forestry plantations had things to see - lichen-covered sign in Wark Forest, Northumberland.
Empty moorland north of Bellingham.
Brockenspectre!!! We were so excited we spent ages taking photos of this phenomenon, and got thoroughly cold. Having skinny gloves for performing tasks like taking photos was a lesson we hadn't learned yet.
The Cheviot Hills. Near the journey's end and colder than ever.
The small mountain refuge hut on Auchope Rig where we spent the night - we arrived as it was getting dark at 4pm, cooked dinner, and were settling down by 5.30pm. It was a long, freezing cold night on a narrow wooden bench, before finally getting up and getting going at about 7am - it was a relief to be moving and generating some heat again! We met up with our friend John Hollingworth from the mountaineering club the next day, who joined us for the final section then very kindly drove us home.
Trig point on top of the Cheviot (815 metres).
Downhill on the way to Kirk Yetholm, following the fence which marks the Scottish / English border.
The end at last! The Border Hotel in Kirk Yetholm, where we claimed our free half pints and Pennine Way certificates on 4th January. The first finishers of the Pennine Way in 2009 according to the landlady!