(Pennine Way) Crag Lough on the Pennine Way North
PENNINE WAY    19 stages, 2 rest days . 22 nights . Northern England    Sounds perfect? View our trip!

The Pennine Way: A guide to the trek

Walking guides - see all our background pages

Bare facts

The Pennine Way is a walking trail running for 429km (270 miles) along the central mountains of England: the Pennines and the Cheviots. It starts at Edale in the Peak District and ends at Kirk Yetholm in the Borders, just inside Scotland.

The highest point reached by the standard route is 893m at the summit of Cross Fell. The terrain passed through is a mix of upland moors, mountains and low-lying farmland.

Trekkers completing the whole Pennine Way take typically three weeks. The route also lends itself to shorter trips.

The Pennine Way at Wessenden, near Standedge
Valley and moor at Wessenden

Best bits

Spectacular sights
Sights along the Pennine Way add much to the charm and the interest of the trek. A list of the famous places is not dissimilar from a list of the top natural sights in the North of England outside the Lake District: Kinder Scout, Malham Cove, Pen-y-ghent, Hardraw Force, Swaledale, High Force, Cauldron Snout, High Cup Nick, Cross Fell and more. As well as these natural sights are man-made ones, such as the remote Tan Hill Inn and the splendid Hadrian's Wall.

Most enjoyable stages
The walk from Malham to Horton-in-Ribblesdale is full of interest. It climbs Fountains Fell and then Pen-y-ghent, perhaps the most exciting hill on the whole Pennine Way. For lovers of higher mountains the traverse of Cross Fell between Dufton and Alston will be a highlight whatever the weather. The final section on the ridge of the Cheviots makes a fitting end to the walk.

When you're into the swing of a trek, it can happen that the most enjoyble stages are not necessarily those that have the biggest roll-call of sights but those on which you move through the terrain in a satisfying way. Stages such as that from Bowes to Middleton-in-Teesdale lack the big features but instead they cross moors to link up valleys such as Baldersdale and Lunedale. Reaching civilisation can also be a big satisfaction! Stages ending at bigger villages and small towns such as Hebden Bridge, Haworth, Hawes, Middleton, Alston and Bellingham have this added attraction.

Photos from trips: Pennine Way

The Pennine Way relative to other walks

The Pennine Way is the longest mountainous trail in the UK. Of course, it can also be walked over several trips.

Compared to the West Highland Way, which is the week-long trek from Glasgow to Fort William, the Pennine Way has slightly longer distances between accommodation, more climbing and more walking on high exposed ground. The big difference is the Pennine Way's rough and sometimes wet ground, in place of the West Highland Way's solid tracks.

Compared to the Coast to Coast, which is the fortnight-long path from St Bees to Robin Hood's Bay, the Pennine Way is similar in some respects. The Lake District stages on the Coast to Coast are sharper and steeper but the Pennine stages are similar. The Pennine Way spends more time on high, wild ground, and is overall tougher and more remote.

Wilderness punctuated by a footbridge, between Langdon Beck and Dufton and North of Mickle Fell
The new bridge over Maize Beck

Is it for me?

Long distance paths
The UK has a wealth of long distance paths: trails on which your multi-day walk becomes your personal mission for the duration. The Pennine Way can give this sense of achievement in completing a famous route.

Can I manage it?
The Pennine Way is manageable for normal fit hillwalkers who are happy to walk for between roughly 5h and 8h 30m per day along a long-distance trail. Some of the days are very long - longer in distance than hillwalkers might normally plan - and some of the terrain underfoot can be arduous. However, the raw figures of daily distance and ascent can in many cases mislead; the miles pass quickly on the sections of walled track or of smooth open moor. In any case it will greatly help your enjoyment of the walk to arrive fit at the start, used to days of similar distance and height gain to those that you are about to face.

For those wary of walking the Pennine Way in one go, a few towns and villages along the route are suitable for rest days. The larger and better connected towns include Hebden Bridge, Haworth, Hawes, Middleton-in-Teesdale, Alston and Bellingham. Take a day trip to a town nearby - Skipton, Settle, Richmond, Barnard Castle, Jedburgh, Carlisle - or explore the local area.

Of course, the Pennine Way can be tackled over two or more trips. We suggest a way to break it into three manageable holidays: our Pennine Way South trip from Edale to Malham, our Pennine Way Central trip from Malham to Alston, and our Pennine Way North trip from Alston to Kirk Yetholm. We have clients who are steadily completing the route with us in smaller chunks. We can also book you in for a weekend, a half-trip, or any length of time.

What's it like underfoot?
Underfoot, the Pennine Way gives generally easy going. Gone are the days of endless slogs across boggy moors. Lines of stone flags have been laid in recent years across most of the worst patches. (It's worth noting that the Northern stages from Alston to the start of the Cheviots retain some boggy sections.) In the valleys expect to walk on grassy paths in fields. Walled tracks are often seen; these can be a delight, giving a chance to enjoy the scenery and the fresh air to the full as the miles pass by. Stiles and gates are very common over some stretches, less so on the open moor.

Descending to the village of Garrigill, near Alston, on the Pennine Way after the traverse of Cross Fell
Walking into Garrigill near Alston

Is the route obvious?
The Pennine Way is generally easy to follow on the ground. However, it is far from foolproof. Over sections of high mountain and moorland there is often a discernable path on the ground, but not always. Map and compass skills are essential. In clear weather the route might be obvious but if the clouds close in then some navigation will be needed. Many sections of the route follow tracks and field paths; in many places these sections are well signposted with the typical wooden posts saying 'Pennine Way' or the acorn symbol denoting a National Trail. However, signposts have a habit of disappearing or being unclear at crucial points and on the higher sections.

Is it technically difficult?
The Pennine Way is a long walk where the emphasis is on the distance travelled rather than the rockiness or technical difficulty of the terrain. Most ascents are gentle gradients up grassy moorland. However, in a small number of places the route takes you up steeper ground. For example, the ascent of Pen-y-ghent involves two short steep rocky sections. The route to Cauldron Snout crosses two short boulder fields beside the River Tees and then climbs steeply up the rocks beside the waterfall. These sections should be no problem for regular walkers and they add interest to their respective stages. The Pennine Way does not suit walkers who want completely smooth paths - typically tracks have stones of varying sizes underfoot.

When to go?
UK Exploratory's Pennine Way season runs from the start of April to the end of October. We set this period to avoid the worst of the winter weather. Of course, it's possible to enjoy brilliant days along the Pennine Way in the heart of winter, whatever the weather's doing. We've experienced winter days in the Pennines with full winter conditions of snow and white-outs, and equally days that feel more like summer with warm termperatures and with no snow on the ground. The difficulty of predicting the winter season in advance means that we have to err on the side of caution. From Easter to the Autumn you have a very good chance of decent walking weather. Rain is very likely to happen at some point during your trip, of course. For the warmest temperatures choose the high summer months of June, July and August. Earlier in the year, in the Spring, there can be spells of wonderfully warm and dry weather, but as this is the British Isles there are never any guarantees!

Where to stay

The charming and exciting places to stay along the route are a major attraction of the Pennine Way. Each night offers something different. One evening might be spent as a guest in a family home in a tiny hamlet, tractors and sheep passing the window; the next night you could be in a small hotel looking out onto the busy square of a market town. We are very happy to have got to know some friendly and welcoming places and we book your schedule to include a good variety.

If you have any preferences about accommodation, whether for luxurious or basic or anything else, please just let us know and we'll adjust your schedule accordingly.

The route

Here we describe the route over all its sections from Edale to Kirk Yetholm.

Edale to Torside
The Peak District village of Edale is a fitting start point, easily reached and with hills all around. The first feature of the Way is Kinder Scout's extensive plateau; the route passes Kinder Downfall, a huge spray of water in wet weather. Less well known but equally formidable is Bleaklow Head (also 633m), a second moorland crossing and the barrier to Crowden to the North. Arrive at Torside Reservoir just before Crowden.

Torside to Standedge
Black Hill (582m) is the main event today. The long ascent from Crowden is gentle and made easier by slabs underfoot across the wet moor. The route crosses the road at Wessenden and follows reservoir tracks and then paths over the open moor to Black Moss Reservoir. Lastly it drops down to Standedge cutting above Standedge itself.

Stoodley Pike above Mankinholes and Hebden Bridge on the Pennine Way
The approach to Stoodley Pike

Standedge to Hebden Bridge
Here's a stage of high and varied views. From Standedge, three moorland crossings lead to Blackstone Edge and its dark rocks above Littleborough. The M62 motorway is crossed on a footbridge well known to motorists. A series of gentle reservoir tracks and moorland paths brings you to the stone beacon of Stoodley Pike. Lastly, down in the Calder Valley you reach the vibrant town of Hebden Bridge along the canal towpath.

Hebden Bridge to Haworth
Leave Hebden Bridge for the stiff climb up to the moors. Two crossings lie on the route to Haworth, with a gentle walk around the remote Gorple and Walshaw Dean reservoirs in the middle. The second crossing brings you into Bronte country at Top Withins. Break off from the Pennine Way route for the easy diversion to Haworth. The famous parsonage and steep cobbled street are big draws.

Haworth to Lothersdale
Back on the Pennine Way at Ponden, a gentle walk from Haworth, the route climbs over the moorland ridge near Wolfstones. It then drops to the valley in Ickornshaw. On this stretch you pass an old shooting hut with a surprisingly remote feel. A mix of fields and tracks then takes you to Lothersdale, a secluded and quiet vilage in a fold of hills.

Lothersdale to Malham
Pinhaw Beacon (388m) is the highest point of the day and soon reached across fields from Lothersdale. Cross moors to Thornton-in-Craven and then fields to Gargrave. Here the River Aire, the Leeds & Liverpool Canal, the Settle to Carlisle railway line and the road from Skipton to Kendal all converge. Malham is reached after a stretch of riverside walking, at the foot of the Yorkshire Dales.

Malham to Horton-in-Ribblesdale
This is a stage full of features. A gentle walk leads from Malham to Malham Cove, a huge curving cliff face with limestone pavement on top. Continue through two valleys lined with crags to Malham Tarn. Beyond lies Fountains Fell (668m). This is the first of two hills to be crossed today; the second, Pen-y-ghent (694m) comes before the final descent along a walled track to Horton-in-Ribblesdale.

Horton-in-Ribblesdale to Hawes
Set off from Horton for this wild and rugged stage to Hawes. Ling Gill Bridge is a pleasant spot on the edge of the moors before the Pennine Way meets the Cam High Road. This is an old Roman Road, also used by the Dales Way, that runs in a straight course all the way to Dodd Fell. Now in Wensleydale, drop down field paths to the quiet hamlet of Gayle and beyond it the bustling little town of Hawes.

Hawes to Keld
The highlight of today's stage is Great Shunner Fell (716m), the highest point yet reached by the Pennine Way. The route crosses fields to Hardraw before the long, gentle ascent. The descent is into Swaledale, one of the prettiest of Yorkshire valleys with its many old stone barns. Reach Thwaite and then, via the side of Kisdon Hill high above the River Swale, the hamlet of Keld in its fold of hills.

Dropping into Dufton on easy tracks, from High Cup Nick
Easy tracks lead to Dufton

Keld to Bowes
Today is a day of moorland walking and one with subtle attractions instead of spectacular sights. Leave Keld to the North, taking to the open moor and reaching the Tan Hill Inn in its wild setting, the highest pub in Britain. The afternoon will be spent crossing Bowes Moor, later crossing fields to the quiet village of Bowes. Bowes has a small ruined castle which is open to all.

Bowes to Middleton-in-Teesdale
From Bowes head North over the moors and drop down into Baldersdale, the first of two wide valleys crossed on this unspectacular but enjoyable stage of the Pennine Way. The other valley is Lunedale, to come after another section of pleasant moorland walking. Both valleys hold a number of reservoirs and scattered farms. After another moorland stretch, drop to the small town of Middleton-in-Teedale.

Middleton-in-Teesdale to Dufton
The walk from Middleton to Dufton is long. A first section runs beside the River Tees and passes High Force and Cauldron Snout, two powerful waterfalls. The key to the stage is now the wild moorland crossing to High Cup, taking you to the Western side of the Pennines. High Cup is about the most awesome sight on the Pennine Way, a vast glacial ampitheatre. Drop to Dufton where sandstone houses frame the village green.

Dufton with its curious fountain and a view beyond the houses to the hills of the Pennine Way
Dufton, a quiet Pennine village

Dufton to Alston
From Dufton a bold and long walk over the North Pennines takes you to Alston, one of the most useful of Pennine Way towns. The small matter of Cross Fell (893m), highest point on the PW, lies in between. Knock Fell, Great Dun Fell and Little Dun Fell are climbed on the way. A good track leads off the moor to Garrigill with its village green, heralding a final section along the River South Tyne to Alston.

Alston to Greenhead
This stage of fields and low moorland links Alston, a centre of the North Pennines, with the start of the Pennine Way's dalliance with Hadrian's Wall. The walking is among the least dramatic of the whole route, and this is still a strenuous section with rough ground underfoot in the later miles. The route arrives in the small village of Greenhead ready to explore the Wall.

Greenhead to Once Brewed
A short stage gives much opportunity for exploration and diversion around Hadrian's Wall. From Greenhead the route heads Eastwards never far from the escarpment used by the Wall. Windshields Crag is the day's high point, being a good vantage point Northwards into the badlands from which tribes were to be repelled. Once Brewed is a small but useful settlement on the old Roman road just down from the Wall.

Once Brewed to Bellingham
The clearly preserved Roman fort at Housesteads is a diversion from the PW after an easy few miles past Crag Lough. From the Wall, the Pennine Way strikes off to the North to cross Wark Forest and moorland to the Cheviots, still many miles off. There are tricky crossings of low moorland and rough fields before the final climb to Shitlington Crags and final drop to Bellingham.

Bellingham to Byrness
Bellingham is a crucial place on the route, it being the last place to buy supplies before the final push. The day's route is another mixed one, like yesterday, with moorland ascents (including Padon Hill with its big stone monument) and some boggy stretches. Redesdale Forest gives miles of easy walking down to Byrness at the foot of the Cheviot Hills. Not long to go!

Byrness to Clenell Street
The route strikes up through forest onto the ridge of the Cheviots. It is not quite as simple as following the ridge all the way to Kirk Yetholm, but this is certainly the theme. The day's high point is Windy Gyle (619m). The whole section is too long for all but the very fittest walkers, so this means a break at Clenell Street for this old route off the ridge, to either Uswayford in one direction or Cocklawfoot in t'other.

Clenell Street to Kirk Yetholm
Rejoining the ridge, the way ahead is now clear to Kirk Yetholm. There remains much climbing and descent. With good weather you will forget the slog, the wet feet, the mist and the bleakness of the last three weeks... this is superb hillwalking to finish the Pennine Way. The Cheviot (815m) is a possible detour. Kirk Yetholm has the feel of a haven at the Northern tip of so many hills; a quite appropriate end point.

Trek the Pennine Way with Alpine Exploratory

Self-guided holidays
UK Exploratory offers four self-guided trekking holidays on the Pennine Way, covering the whole route plus the South, Central and North thirds, each one week long.

Our self-guided holidays set you up for a successful trek under your own steam. We book and pay for your accommodation along the route and we send you our well-received info packs including routecards for all the walking, the maps, emergency cards with essential info for accidents, and detailed notes about the local transport.

Guided and self-guided holidays - see our full range

Research 2019

Rob Gale at Alpine ExploratoryAlpine Exploratory's 2019 research on the Pennine Way will be led by:
Rob Gale in April and May

Recces 2019

Trips 2019

Alpine Exploratory offers the following holidays based on our Pennine Way research:

Pennine Way
Pennine Way North
Pennine Way Central
Pennine Way South

Map showing the route of UK Exploratory's Pennine Way Self-Guided walking holiday

Happy clients

"Some fantastic scenery mixed with desolate moorlands.

"The sudden view of the ice-age made High Cup is world-heritage class.

"Great communications all the way along from first enquiry."

B Munton, UK
(Pennine Way Central)

Happy clients

"Had a great time - excellent weather, varied walking/scenery... good welcome from everyone."

'Forever walking', UK
(Pennine Way Central)

Happy clients

[Routecards easy to follow?] "Really helpful! Even when the cards are not being followed line by line, if there is any doubt about location, it is very simple to zero in as to location with the cards."

Robert, UK
(Pennine Way North)

Alpine Exploratory
Alpine Exploratory is a system of knowledge on the best mountain trekking in our areas, giving clients superb holidays based on this exploration.
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