AWs 1938 Route

AWs 1938 Route

The first, and most important, factor in AW’s route in 1938 was the relative absence on country roads of vehicles, which made it possible for safe walking and, as a consequence, enabled good distances to be covered relatively quickly. So, his route from Settle took the Horton in Ribblesdale road up the Ribble valley along the road via Langcliffe and Stainforth to Horton in Ribblesdale – a place that was to feature in his 1968 Pennine Way Companion.

Here AW forsook the road and took a green lane leading to Foxup Moor and passing the ‘deep chasm‘ of Hull Pot. This is one of the few sections of the modern Pennine Journey that shares the route of the 1938 Pennine Journey, which it does for the next nine miles.

Littondale was reached at Halton Gill from where the route climbed to the top of the Horse Head Pass before dropping down to Langstrothdale and along the road past Hubberholme, with its typical Dales church, to Buckden. 

A self-portrait at Thornton Force in 1938
A self-portrait at Thornton Force in 1938

AW returned to Hubberholme to see the ‘famous church‘ (that he had passed the previous evening in the dark) before making his way through Cray to the top of the Kidstones Pass. From here he took an inviting green lane – ‘a walkers’ way par excellence‘ – which took him over Stake Moss towards Raydale, Stalling Busk, Semer Water and on to Bainbridge with its ‘spacious village green’. Stopping only for a drink he walked on to Askrigg from where he commenced the steep ascent to Askrigg Common heading left at the top for Muker passing Oxnop Scar as he descended into a Swaledale that was ‘unfolding a little more of its beauty‘ with each step he took.

Soon after leaving Muker AW passed Ramps Holme Bridge over which comes the modern Pennine Journey and which, from there to Keld, takes the same route close to the Swale joining, just before Keld, the Pennine Way. 

Crossing the Swale here is the route of AW’s Coast to Coast Walk and at nearby East Gill Force there is now a bench seat to commemorate these three AW related long-distance walks. AW took the minor road to the Tan Hill Inn and on to Sleightholme to reach Bowes. After visiting the ‘remarkable ruin’ of Bowes Castle, which he left at five o’clock and with 10 miles to go to his planned destination of Middleton, he took a minor road through Cotherstone to Romaldkirk.

AW left Romaldkirk early and was soon passing through Middleton-in-Teesdale on the minor road up the Tees valley which he left at Newbiggin for another lonely road that climbs up to Swinhope Head from where the 1938 and modern journeys meet to descend to Westgate in Weardale. More lonely minor roads followed as he journeyed northwards over Scarsike Head to Lintzgarth by Rookhope Burn before arriving at Baybridge in the Derwent valley. From here a delightful 10 minute walk along the valley road by the infant River Derwent brought him to Blanchland. From Blanchland to Hexham was the shortest of AW’s days on his 1938 journey; planned so that he would arrive at Hadrian’s Wall ‘in early morning, not at dusk when I was tired’.

AW on Little Dun Fell
AW on Little Dun Fell - copyright Richard Else

Then followed the day for which the whole journey had been undertaken – the day when he would reach ‘the Wall’ and ‘see something that was as old as the Gospels‘. Cilurnum (Chesters) was but ‘three minutes‘ away and was followed by Limestone Corner, close by the road, built on top of the Wall by General Wade in the 18th century, on which he was walking. At Borcovicium he left the road to look around the impressive ruins of Housesteads fort and saw the Wall ‘in all its imposing majesty’. Tearing himself away he walked along the Wall passing Cuddys Crags and then Crag Lough before, in the gloom, dropping down to the road to make for Haltwhistle having ‘never been so elated’.

AW rejoined the Wall north of Haltwhistle and continued west along it over the Nicks of Thirlwall where he tarried before dropping down to Greenhead. From there his route was along the valley of the South Tyne to Alston some 14 miles away. He followed, as best as he could, an ancient track – an old Roman road called the Maiden Way which runs from the fort at Carvoran to Appleby. After passing through Knarsdale he was pleased to be able to get a ‘splendid meal’ in Slaggyford before setting out on the final 5 miles to Alston.

AW’s plan for the day was to go over Cross Fell, the highest point of the Pennines, en route for the Eden valley and Appleby 23 miles away. However increasing wind and rain soon made him realise ‘the madness of attempting the crossing into Westmorland by way of the fell‘. The only alternative was a 5 mile ascent to Hartside Cross at a height of nearly 2,000 feet but on reaching the top he was exposed to the full force of an increasing storm. He detoured to Gamblesby where he was greeted by a ‘hurricane‘ with a ‘deluge of icy rain’.

The next day was ruined by atrocious weather and he ‘raced the rain into Appleby‘ where he ‘sought temporary refuge in a café‘. There he had some doubts and ‘finally gave up the ghost‘ – but not for long. At three o’ clock he set off for Kirkby Stephen in the rain but and he only got as far as Soulby where, on encountering a flooded lane on the outskirts of the village he ‘splashed along in great glee‘.

AWs map of his 1938 Pennine Journey
AWs map of his 1938 Pennine Journey

AW awoke to less rain but the same gale force wind; again he had doubts about completing his mission and wrote a postcard to a friend about ‘a retreat with honour‘. Around ten o’ clock he set off to walk to Kirkby Stephen station at Waitby to catch the train to Settle but then had a change of mind and at Waitby pressed on down the Rawthey valley. He bypassed Sedbergh going through Millthrop and ‘a maze of narrow, muddy lanes‘ to Dentdale and finally Dent.

He set off early on the last day of his Pennine Journey and his route was to take him by the sprawling mass of Whernside, along the minor road that climbs up Deepdale and then down Kingsdale to Ingleton. He entered Ingleton by the Ingleton Falls path and spent ‘the best part of an hour‘ setting up a self-portrait at Thornton Force which is featured on the dust cover of the first edition of A Pennine Journey. From Ingleton he took minor roads through Clapham and the remote Clapham station before finally reaching Settle ‘unkempt and dirty‘, but ‘as a giant‘.

AW on Pen-y-ghent
AW on Penyghent - copyright Richard Else

He had successfully undertaken a solo walk of around 211 miles in 11 days in, at times, appalling weather. In the months following his return to Blackburn he wrote a description of his journey – initially calling it his Pennine Campaign – and after showing it to colleagues in his office set the manuscript to one side. In the 1980’s he became somewhat of a celebrity following the publication of his Lakeland Fell guides, his Pennine Way Companion and his Coast to Coast Walk and he featured in TV programmes. Several ‘coffee table’ books were published by his then publisher Michael Joseph and around this time AW gave them the narrative he had written about his walk to Hadrian’s Wall. In 1986 it was published as A Pennine Journey – The Story of a Long Walk in 1938 exactly as it was written all those years earlier.

Day 1:
Settle to Buckden
Distance: 17.50 miles
Ascent: 2,982 feet

Day 2:
Buckden to Muker
Distance: 18.5 miles
Ascent: 2,694 ft

Day 3:
Muker to Romaldkirk
Distance: 22.25 miles
Ascent: 2,648 ft

Day 4:
Romaldkirk to Blanchland
Distance: 24.75 miles
Ascent: 3,625 ft

Day 5:
Blanchland to Hexham
Distance: 10.25 miles
Ascent: 961 ft

Day 6:
Hexham to Haltwhistle
Distance: 20.75 miles
Ascent: 2,362 ft

Day 7:
Haltwhistle to Alston
Distance: 20.5 miles
Ascent: 3,064 ft

Day 8:
Alston to Gamblesby
Distance: 10 miles
Ascent: 1,168 ft

Day 9:
Gamblesby to Soulsby
Distance: 22.75 miles
Ascent: 2,982 ft

Day 10:
Soulsby to Dent
Distance: 20.75 miles
Ascent: 1,877 ft

Day 11:
Dent to Settle
Distance: 23 miles
Ascent: 3,333 ft

Total Distance: 211 miles
Total Ascent: 26,342 ft

"Around eleven o’clock on the morning of September the thirtieth, I really lived. I shed everything that thirty years had clothed me with: restraint and staidness vanished into the sparkling air. I was alive, alert, eager; I was a little boy awakening on Christmas morning. The sun was shining. Life was good. Existence at last had a meaning. I came to the Wall as I knew I would, half running."

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