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Celebrating 50 years of the Pennine Way

PUBLISHED: 16:24 07 May 2015 | UPDATED: 16:24 07 May 2015

Guiding the way  Photo: Peter Naldrett

Guiding the way Photo: Peter Naldrett

Peter Naldrett

The Pennine Way has hit its 50th birthday. Peter Naldrett went to the start of the trail to celebrate

Edale's church and a cottage with the imposing backdrop of Kinder Scout  Photo: Mike SmithEdale's church and a cottage with the imposing backdrop of Kinder Scout Photo: Mike Smith

I’ve spent many a happy time in Edale, enjoying beer festivals, camping trips, train journeys and the cracking walks up to Kinder Scout along the Pennine Way. But rather than stepping out on the trail again for this anniversary article, I wanted to see what kind of effect the long distance footpath had on Edale, the legendary start of this famous bucket-list trip. What kind of people did it attract? Is it something that the village relishes?

So I took myself off to Edale for the morning. And sat down. Positioning myself on the bench next to the telephone kiosk and the post box, I waited to see Edale life go by, just metres from the official start of the Pennine Way.

First to pass me was an elderly local lady on her way back from fetching her newspaper. She stopped to have a look at the notice board behind my bench and then told me Edale would always have been popular without the Pennine Way because of the nearby hills. But the footpath did add to the appeal, she reckoned.

I’d say so. And the villagers know it. There is no tacky commercialism here to pull in tourist pounds, but there are signs and information boards letting people know that the classic walk to Scotland starts here. Or ends here, depending which way you are walking it. But the standard belief is that you should walk ‘up’ the country, with Edale to your back.

Jacob's Ladder en route to Kinder Downfall  Photo: www.nationaltrail.co.ukJacob's Ladder en route to Kinder Downfall Photo: www.nationaltrail.co.uk

A train must have arrived in the station, 700 metres down the road at the entrance to the village. I knew this because there was a steady stream of pedestrian traffic, including plenty of walkers with backpacks. Some I spoke to were not intending to walk on the Pennine Way at all. But Eric Jackson was. And had a sizable backpack to prove it.

‘It is an iconic path,’ he told me. ‘It’s legendary. I’m not walking it all the way, but we’re going to camp out and hopefully spend three days on it.’ His experience of the path mirrors my own. I’ve completed sections of it, usually on weekend bursts. Starting at Edale, we have so far got up to the Tan Hill Inn.

Moments later a class full of boot-cladded primary school children traipsed through the village behind their teacher having got off the train from Sheffield, all smiles and enthusiasm. Just before turning to walk along the first section of the Pennine Way, their teacher gave them a talk as they huddled round in a group. It was inspirational stuff. They listened as he told them how this path led all the way to Scotland, some 267 miles and over two weeks strenuous walk to the north.

As I rounded the corner to have a look at the symbolic start of the long distance trail, weatherman-turned-outdoors expert Jon Mitchell was chatting to park rangers about the 50th anniversary while his cameraman filmed shots of them cutting stone. It was for a Breath of Fresh Air programme about the famous footpath.

The Moorland Centre  Photo: Mike SmithThe Moorland Centre Photo: Mike Smith

Across the road from the first Pennine Way footpath sits The Old Nags Head pub, one of two public houses in Edale – the other being The Rambler Inn near the train station. Both benefit financially from the many walkers that need feeding once they’ve had their energetic ramble.

The Rambler has a sign outside declaring ‘Muddy boots welcome’, but it’s the Old Nags Head that has become synonymous with the start of the Pennine Way because of its proximity to the opening footpath. The sign outside that pub needs some TLC, but it announces the beginning of the classic trek and so has become part of the legend that the Pennine Way creates.

Sitting on the bench that Thursday morning, an ensemble of noise greeted my ears. There are at least two dozen blackbirds occupying a couple of nearby trees, the wonderful chorus of children playing at the idyllically rural primary school across the road and a whirring of machinery coming from the start of the Pennine Way. When I check this noise out, I find it’s source is a team of National Park Rangers who are cutting more stone to make a new symbolic opening to the path. A kind of 50th birthday present to one of the stars of the Peak District.

Andy Bentham was one of the National Park Rangers I found building a new dry stone wall and getting ready to install the celebratory gate that marks the start of this much-loved long distance footpath. In fact, it was Andy who had spent a week crafting the oak gate and he looked proudly at the thick centre panel that was going to be engraved.

Founder of the Pennine Way Tom Stephenson on a log bridge in Edale, 1976  Photo: Roly SmithFounder of the Pennine Way Tom Stephenson on a log bridge in Edale, 1976 Photo: Roly Smith

He told me: ‘We’re putting in this special gate to mark the beginning of the Pennine Way as this is the point that really is the start of the path. We thought it would be a good idea to have a map on the panel and we are going to put some of the key places on it. There’ll be Edale at the start and Kirk Yetholm at the end, with places like the Tan Hill Inn and Cheviot in between.’

There are plenty of ways that you can join in the 50th year celebrations. There will be special TV programmes on both BBC and ITV, as well as art exhibitions and walks that are planned. For a full programme of events up and down the length of the Pennine Way, visit the National Trails website www.nationaltrail.co.uk

Before leaving Edale, I called in to the National Park Visitor Centre, where you’ll also find one of the village’s campsites. Inside, a display about the Pennine Way occupied one of the walls, confirming its status a key reason for a visit to Edale. But there was also a special display area of the shop allocated to the Pennine Way, rammed with products that have pretty much turned this long distance path into a brand. There were Pennine Way Ordnance Survey mugs, books, clothes, pencil cases, pens and maps. Many companies are getting involved with the Pennine Way because it’s a trusted, well-known and popular name that will be able to sell products.

For me, though, there’s only one way you should be allowed to take a Pennine Way souvenir home. That’s by saying you have put on your waterproofs and tackled the first few miles on this legendary, challenging footpath.

National Park Ranger Andy Bentham  Photo: Peter NaldrettNational Park Ranger Andy Bentham Photo: Peter Naldrett

The Pennine Way

• Journalist/rambler Tom Stephenson first launched the idea in 1935

• The first National Trail, it was declared open at Malham in April, 1965

The final watering place for walkers before they set off... or the end of an epic journey  Photo: Peter NaldrettThe final watering place for walkers before they set off... or the end of an epic journey Photo: Peter Naldrett

• The highest point is Cross Fell at 893 metres

• The path is 268 miles long

• It passes through three national parks

For a summary of activities being organised to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Pennine Way go to www.nationaltrail.co.uk/pennine-way/blog/happy-birthday-pennine-way. National Trails are the best long distance walking routes in England and Wales and are supported by Natural England and Natural Resources Wales, and promoted by Walk Unlimited. There are 15 existing trails and the newest National Trail is the England Coast Path which is being opened in stages around the entire coastline.

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