The northumberland stretch of The Pennine Way (plus a bit) - part 1, Alston to Greenhead


Having started The Pennine Way about four times from the end, with the intention of hiking it the wrong way round for the Northumberland stretch of the long distance trail, and never having made it beyond the Schil (because the last leg is so good I've just wanted to do it again and again!), I decided that I needed to do it the right way round after all, as otherwise I'd never do it.


So, with a week's leave in the Lakes cancelled due to the rising R rate as the virus takes hold again, I decided to use my week off to start again, but this time heading from south to north, starting from just over the border at the pretty market town of Alston.


As I was driving to Alston, though, the signpost for Lambley Viaduct winked at me - so I actually started there instead. My Pennine Way journey is probably going to be one of the scrappiest PW undertakings of the trail - but that really doesn't matter, I'm in no hurry and am just going to enjoy exploring the trail by doing lots of circular day walks. I'm enjoying it so much, though, that I suspect that one day I'll try and do the whole thing from south to north in one continuous journey - if I can ever get that organised - when being organised is your day job you kind of want to just wing it in your spare time!


Anyhow, day 1 (Saturday 3rd October 2020) - from Lambley Viaduct to Burnstones along the South Tyne Trail to cross the viaduct, onto the Pennine Way near Lambley village, along the PW to Burnstones, then back to Lambley Viaduct and my car via the South Tyne Trail. About 7.5 miles in total, just a couple of which were on the Pennine Way. And it was absolutely chucking it down! But I loved it! Here's a video for fun (I wasn't very well-prepared!) from day 1, and a collection of photos from that day. I took my 100mm macro lens and also my 24-70mm, but the rain was non-stop so I didn't switch lenses and stuck with using my 100mm all day. This led me to decide to just use my 100mm for the whole trail, so I can travel light and it'll be fun to just have one lens - and the 100mm macro is a very handy and versatile lens!


Before I forget, a handy resource tip: For anyone looking to do all or parts of The Pennine Way, this website is a fantastic resource and includes lots of downloadable circular walks and an interactive map with distance calculator https://www.nationaltrail.co.uk/en_GB/trails/pennine-way/trail-information/ .

Day 2 (Monday 5th October 2020) - having taken a day off to re-proof my coat, trousers and boots, I headed for where I'd intended to start on day 1, Alston, and parked up on the edge of the town then joined The Pennine Way next to where friends used to live (and stopped to say hello to the rescued turkeys in the woods there) then followed The Way north along the trail to Slaggyford, where I then headed back south to Alston via the very easy going South Tyne Trail. The forecast had been for a mixed bag of rain and sun, but luckily it was mostly sunny, although I have to say I enjoyed the drama of the rain the day before more - but I wouldn't say that if I'd been having to climb across the high and desolate parts of the trail for 14 mile + hike days! I didn't take that many photos on day 2 as I wanted to at least get 10 miles under my boots - ended up doing about 12 so a nice little leg-stretch day. Highlights were:

  • talking to the turkeys and, completely surprisingly, getting a reply! I've since been called Dr Doolittle and a Turkey Whisperer :-D.

  • remembering a friends tiny country wedding here (I passed the church where they were married, and we caught the little steam train to and from their wedding too!).

  • spooking a sparrow hawk when I sneezed - he'd been sat in a tree just metres away from me, I'd not have seen him if I hadn't sneezed and spooked him.

  • chatting with a salmon fisherman who was out fishing with his grandsons while I sat and ate my lunch on the banks of the beautiful River South Tyne.

  • a fleeting rain shower catching the sunlight making the air sparkle at a farmstead near Kirkhaugh - I've processed it in a gritty way to try and make it a bit atmospheric, in reality it was actually really pretty but I fancied making the picture moody (it's the black and white shot below).

Day 3 (Wednesday 7th October 2020) - I'd taken another day off as, while day 2 had been mostly sunny, the ground was very muddy and boggy from the rain earlier in the week, and my boots were sodden again, so I popped to Whitley Bay to buy a new pair of boots from excellent independent retailer https://www.walkoutdoors.com/. So for day 3 I just wanted to do a very short easy stretch of The Way to test out and break in my new boots. Luckily I had a 1 mile-ish stretch of The Way to mop up between Burnstones and Slaggyford, so that's where I headed. I parked up at Burnstones, walked along the South Tyne Trail to Slaggyford and then took The Pennine Way back to Burnstones. I met and briefly walked with a proper Pennine Way hiker, who was doing the whole thing in one go and was on his 14th day. On my day 1 when it had been chucking it down, he'd hiked from Dufton over the tops in the cloud and rain and through the bogs to Alston - when I met him his boots were still soaking but he was smiling and looking forward to doing the last stretch of his journey through Northumberland - hats off to him, what an achievement, I'd definitely like to do it properly one day, but maybe in the summer time! Anyhow, here are a couple of pics from day 3, not many as I didn't walk very far. My Scarpa boots fitted like a glove as it happened, so I could have walked much further - plenty of time for that in the months to come.

Day 4 (Sunday 11th October 2020) - snuck in another day up on The Pennine Way as the forecast was too good not to go over for another leg stretch along The Way. Parked up at Greenhead then walked to Lambley and back to Greenhead across, for the most part, a great big bog. Bog hopping is tiring work as you are constantly concentrating on not stepping in the wrong place and potentially losing a foot (or worse!) to the bog. Happily no feet or legs were eaten by the bog on this occasion so all was well and it was a very enjoyable walk, especially now I'm home having had a soaky bath, a plate of chips and a bottle of beer - perfect Sunday and a lovely end to my week off from everything. Here are some pics from today, and a little video from the middle of the bog. Highlights included:

  • not sinking into the bog! I actually really like bog-land, all the colourful mosses and grasses, interesting shapes and fantastic textures, and it's a fascinating habitat of great environmental and biodiversity value.

  • looking ahead to the next stretch and the distinctive shape of Hadrian's Wall coming up - exciting!

  • seeing hundreds of mouse or probably vole? holes in the tussocks all across the bog, including one little mouse/vole as it scarpered into it's hole.

  • seeing loads of owl poop pellets (I think) - feasting on the mice/voles no doubt, good to know they're here even if all I saw was their poop.

  • great weather and loads of space and fresh air.

That's it for this week, not very far, it's been a gentle "getting to know The Way" type of week, with time spent getting my gear in a better state for what lies ahead. I've just walked about 16.5 miles along The Pennine Way and about 34 miles in total, it's been a nice little start. I've loved combining walking along the rugged moorland paths of The Way with the gentle, tree-lined paths along the railway line that the South Tyne Trail follows. Next stretch is from Greenhead up to join the route of Hadrian's Wall national trail for some more dramatic landscapes!