Seventy years ago, the writer Alfred Wainwright set off from Settle for Hadrian's Wall. Roger Ratcliffe reports on plans to recreate his famous 'Pennine Journey' as a long-distance path.
The walk seems super-human now, but then Wainwright never tackled anything the easy way.
He arrived in Settle on a gloriously sun-lit autumn day in 1938, having travelled from his home in Blackburn feeling the symptoms of flu "and its attendant abomination, a runny nose".
Then after a wander round the market town's streets he set off for his intended first overnight stop at Buckden, a mere 16 miles away and requiring a hike over two far-flung dales.
Wainwright had, of course, meticulously planned every last detail of his route, and so could entertain no thoughts of failure in reaching his intended destination on the first stretch of an 11-day walk to Hadrian's Wall and back.
He had left behind in Lancashire a marriage which he clearly felt imprisoned by, and which was to eventually break down. "I was free," he would later write of his walk. "For months I had been in chains, body, mind and soul."
In addition he had also begun to feel in the grip of a looming "crisis". Setting off on 24 September, 1938, that crisis was, of course, the rise of Hitler. In London people were rushing out to obtain gas masks, fearing that an attack by Germany was imminent. Wainwright had been trying to escape from all of that too, although the latest news kept doggedly greeting him at his overnight guest houses.
Two days later in Muker, for example, his host gathered everyone round the wireless to listen to a broadcast about Hitler threatening war unless the Sudetenland region of Czechoslovakia was handed over to Germany.
"We had four days to live," Wainwright wrote, perhaps a touch histrionically, given that he was in one of the remotest corners of England.
By the time he reached Hadrian's Wall, the news of the deal Britain had struck with Germany at Munich had caught up with him.
"Good old Mr Chamberlain," wrote Wainwright of the then-Prime Minister. "Good old Mr Hitler: he was not a bad sort after all."
This dramatic prelude to World War Two provided a fascinating backcloth to his route north through the Pennines, and made the book he wrote about his holiday, A Pennine Journey, all the more captivating when it was finally published in 1986 after lying forgotten in his drawer for almost
half a century.
And to this day, Wainwright's 1938 walking holiday is seen as a perfect piece of escapism. A reviewer of Pennine Journey on Amazon writes: "If anyone feels overworked or stressed out by the demands of modern life then this is the book for you."
It was perhaps inevitable, therefore, that someone would have the idea of turning Wainwright's walk into a properly mapped-out footpath so that others could follow his example and flee the world's problems.
Thus the Wainwright Society, formed in 2004 to honour the late writer's memory, is putting together a route based on Pennine Journey and expects to publish a guidebook next spring. Meanwhile, a second book is planned, this one sticking more closely to the author's original route even though it involves a considerable amount of
The official Wainwright Society book is being compiled by two members, David and Heather Pitt, who as veteran long-distance footpath walkers have clocked up several thousand miles together over the last 25 years.
Their version of the Pennine Journey began taking shape in the early 1990s when they decided to try and work
out a route based on Wainwright's holiday.
David says: "I went over it and wrote down where I think he walked, although it was mostly on roads because he was trying to cover the ground in the most direct manner possible. But quite quickly I realised that road-walking wasn't a good idea, so we started to put down a rough outline of a route using public footpaths where possible, and deviating away from Wainwright's original course in some places."
But a house-move ended work on the project. It was another five years before it was resurrected, and they walked their initial 230-mile route in 1998. However, an approach to a publisher of walking guides proved unsuccessful, because of worries about infringing the Wainwright estate's copyright.
That problem was overcome when it received not only the blessing of the newly formed Wainwright Society but also interest from the guidebook author's publishers, Frances Lincoln. And so work began in earnest, involving a large team of the Society's "foot-soldiers" who were prepared to go out and test various stages of the proposed path.
The route description is now complete, and Wainwright-style maps and drawings have been by provided respectively by Society members Ron Scholes and Colin Bywater. The next task is to persuade local authorities to put up signposts along the footpath.
A second book being prepared sticks more faithfully to the original Pennine Journey route. The author, Andrew Lambert of Ilkley, once completed a purist version of Wainwright's route but found walking it wasn't an enjoyable experience.
"Take the first day out from Settle, for instance," he says. "Okay, he walked up the road to Horton-in-Ribblesdale, but these days I don't recommend that to anybody unless, that is, they want running over. It's far too busy now."
His book is less of a traditional walking guide, and more of a portrait of what life was like in the places Wainwright visited on his 1938 holiday.
"So in Buckden, at the top of Wharfedale, you find there are no longer any farms in the village, yet there were six farms there when Wainwright spent the night. That would have given the place an entirely different feel."
Of course, when Alfred Wainwright got back home to Blackburn he discovered that peace with Germany was not to last long. He "found solace in memories of my escape to the hills" as he wrote his book, and inspired Britain's latest long-distance footpath.
Details of the Wainwright Society can be found at www.wainwright.org.uk while Andrew Lambert's personal website devoted to the walk is at www.penninejourney.
Wainwright's Pennine journey
Beginning at Settle, Alfred Wainwright took the motor road north through Langcliffe and Stainforth to Horton-in-Ribblesdale, then headed east on the green road that runs across Foxup Moor, at the side of Penyghent, to the hamlet of Halton Gill in Littondale. From there he walked over Horsehead Moor to find his first night's accommodation at Buckden.
Next day, his route followed the road north via Cray and the Roman road past Semerwater to Bainbridge in Wensleydale, then passed through Askrigg and climbed over to Swaledale, spending his second night at Muker.
Day three involved a walk up to the remote hamlet of Keld then across the moors past Tan Hill Inn – England's highest pub – and down to Bowes in the Greta Valley and onwards to Teesdale for a night at Ronaldkirk.
A long stretch next: from Middleton-in-Teesdale over Newbiggin Common to Swinhope Head and down into Weardale then up to Blanchland in Northumberland.
Next day he walked over Blanchland Moor to Hexham, overnighted there and reached the walk's objective – Hadrian's Wall – before following it west and briefly turning south to find a room Haltwhistle.
North again to the Wall, then south to overnight in Alston. From there his route homeward took in Gamblesby, Appleby, Soulby, Sedbergh and his last overnight stop at Dent.
The 11th and final day's walk took him out of Dentdale to Kingsdale and Ingleton, then along the back-road over Newby Common to Clapham and beneath Giggleswick Scar to return to his starting point at Settle.
n A Pennine Journey: The Story of a Long Walk in 1938 is published by Frances Lincoln, price 7.99.