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270-Mile Trek Crosses Highlands, Moors : Britain's Pennine Way Lures Hikers

September 20, 1987|MICHAEL WEST | Associated Press

KIRK YETHOLM, Scotland — There's a reward after walking all 270 miles of the Pennine Way, the trail running up Britain's high northern backbone: You get to sign the "Lunatics' Book" at the Border Hotel.

That's what hotel owner Peter MacDonald calls the register he keeps of walkers who complete the trek from south to north, which is the way most do it in order to take advantage of prevailing winds. Last year 1,631 signed, 358 more than 1985.

His register is the only record of Pennine Way walkers, and since his hotel is the northern terminus, no one has recorded the number of those who walk from north to south.

The marvels of this exhilarating walk are recorded in "Pennine Way Companion," the best-selling book written by Alfred Wainwright, 80-year-old godfather of long-distance walkers.

"When you reach Kirk Yetholm . . . you will be tired and hungry and travel-stained. But you will feel great, just great," he says in the book.

The Border Hotel is at Kirk Yetholm, just across the border from England.

Walkers say they usually do feel great, albeit with aching muscles, ravenous appetites and sodden clothes stained dark brown to the knees through immersion in the moorland peat bogs.

Named after northern England's Pennine uplands, the Pennine Way starts at the village of Edale in Derbyshire and runs north along the high moorland spine of England and across the Cheviot Hills on the Scottish border before descending to Kirk Yetholm.

It covers some of the wildest, loneliest country in Britain. Food and lodging for those without tents must be sought by going to farmhouses, inns and youth hostels in the valleys.

Wainwright calls it "a tough, bruising walk" and bad weather is a regular hazard.

Cross Fell, at 2,930 feet, is the highest point on the route. A fierce wind and stinging rain lashed the boulder-strewn summit during a recent trek in June, while low, scudding clouds cut visibility to 20 yards.

On the southern sector, Wainwright warns that lives have been lost on Bleaklow Moor in bad weather. But in good weather, the sense of space and freedom under huge, open skies brings exhilaration.

The Pennine Way, the creation of life-long socialist Tom Stephenson, was officially opened April 24, 1965, at a rally by 2,000 walkers on Malham Moor in Yorkshire.

Stephenson, who died March 1 at the age of 94, was a laborer in the textile industry in grimy, industrial Lancashire when at the age of 13 he began walking on the nearby open moorlands.

His boyhood coincided with the first ramblers' clubs, mostly run by men from the same background as himself. He championed the "right to roam" and never forgot early encounters with hostile gamekeepers guarding huge moorland grouse-shooting estates for wealthy landowners.

"I could never understand how anyone could own a mountain. It was surely there for everybody," he once declared.

In 1932, about 400 ramblers demanding right of access battled police and gamekeepers at a mass trespass on private moorland at Kinder Scout, now part of the Pennine Way. Five ringleaders were jailed.

Stephenson got a researcher's job with the socialist Labor Party but later went into journalism. In 1935, his article, "Wanted: A Long, Green Trail," first proposed the idea of a Pennine trail.

He was press officer at the Town and Country Planning Ministry in the Labor government formed in 1945 and pressed the case of the Ramblers' Assn., becoming its secretary in 1948. He thereby had a hand in the 1949 National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act. This set up the National Parks Commission, which ultimately gained government approval for the Pennine Way, leading to negotiation of rights of way to turn it into reality.

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