On 24th September 1938, Alfred Wainwright, then a clerk in the Treasurer’s Department at Blackburn Town Hall, left Settle railway station on an expedition that he had been planning for some time. That expedition had as its primary objective Hadrian’s Wall – something that had fascinated him for years – and to get there he had chosen to walk on the eastern flanks of the Pennines and to return to Settle on the western flanks.
After walking along the central part of Hadrian’s Wall his planned return journey southward was to involve a climb over Cross Fell (the highest point of the Pennines), the delights of the Eden and Rawthey valleys and Dentdale before rounding Whernside and Ingleborough to arrive back at Settle. Inclement weather brought about enforced changes but his journey totalled around 211 miles.
His journey northward would involve him in ascents and descents into the successive valleys of, from the initial Ribblesdale, Littondale, Wharfedale, Wensleydale, Swaledale, the River Greta, Teesdale, Weardale, Rookhope Burn and the River Derwent.
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 on one side. In the 1980’s he became somewhat of a celebrity following the publication of his Lakeland Fell Pictorial Guides, his Pennine Way Companion and his Coast to Coast Walk Pictorial Guide and he featured in TV programmes.
Several ‘coffee table’ books were published during these years of TV fame by his then publisher Michael Joseph. It was during the discussions on one of them that AW mentioned to his editor, Jenny Dereham, that he written a narrative describing his 1938 walk to Hadrian’s Wall. She saw its potential and 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.
In late 1991 David and Heather Pitt were contemplating what was to be their next long distance walk. David had become an enthusiast of long distance footpath walking following his initial 1978 walk along AW’s Coast to Coast Walk and he was reminded of a comment in the introduction to the walk’s pictorial guide urging people to ‘devise with the aid of maps their own cross-country marathons’. As David had recently read, and been fascinated by A Pennine Journey, this seemed to be the logical basis for their first marathon. Preliminary work was done but then the project was put on hold for several years whilst they digested a move to the Lakes but kept their annual long distance walks going with shorter local ones. 1997/1998 saw them return to the postponed project and in September 1998 they set off from AW’s starting point at Settle railway station and returned there on 24th September – by an unplanned coincidence this was the 60th anniversary of AW’s start to his journey.
After an early attempt to interest a publisher in a guide to their walk came to nothing, they moved on to other LDP’s and their project would probably, like AW’s on which it was based, have lain dormant. However the formation in 2002 of the Wainwright Society prompted its resurrection. At the first annual general meeting they asked whether the Society would be interested in utilizing their project as the basis for a members’ collective project.
This was agreed, volunteer members were readily forthcoming to walk and then test walk each of the 18 stages of a slightly revised route from the 1998 route, writing and revising appropriate route descriptions. One member, Colin Bywater, offered to do black and white drawings to illustrate the guide and another member, Ron Scholes, offered to do detailed route maps for the whole 247 miles.
A guide book to the ‘new’ Pennine Journey was published in spring 2010 by Frances Lincoln, and this ran to 3 re-prints. Since 2015 publication of the Pennine Journey Guidebook has been undertaken by Sigma Press.
Following a decision by the Wainwright Society’s committee to ‘stand aside’ from the Pennine Journey project a ‘Pennine Journey Supporters Club’ was established. The PJSC was inaugurated on 31st March 2012 and the Charity Commission’s ‘Small Charity Constitution’ adopted.
At the inaugural PJSC meeting it was agreed that the Club will initially concentrate entirely on its core purpose of promoting and supporting the Pennine Journey route so that this tribute to AW becomes permanent. The PJSC is now recognised by the appropriate highway authorities as the ‘Responsible Organisation’ for the Pennine Journey.