This article is from Signpost 52, Autumn 2016
This book gives you far more than an account of one man’s 268-mile trek from Edale to Kirk Yetholm. As you’d expect, there’s the scenery he saw, the places he stayed, the people he met along the way. But these observations grow into conversations on the history, geology, ecology and philosophy of the Pennine Way, so you feel you are getting to know the path in all its moods and meanings: it becomes your travelling companion as well as your trail.
We meet notable personalities of the Pennine Way, including its creator Tom Stephenson and its early chronicler Alfred Wainwright. From the start, Stephenson saw the Pennine Way as more than a long green path: besides promoting ‘the physical and spiritual wellbeing of the Youth of Britain’ it was part of the campaign for access to mountains and moorland. Even so, planning and securing the route took nearly 30 vexatious years.
These days the main challenges to the path include the need for ongoing maintenance. Whether you see Pennine peat bogs as a symbol of the wild, a challenge to your stamina or an endless slough of despond, they are an endangered environment. Peat has vital ecological importance as a carbon store, but overuse erodes its surface and destroys vegetation. Mr McCloy argues that paving the wettest stretches with recycled stone slabs may offend purists, but proves a sustainable way to protect fragile moorland while enabling walkers to enjoy it.
People walk the Pennine Way for different reasons, as the author discovered from talking to fellow-travellers. Some take it on chiefly as a challenge – physical and mental. Others seek solitude and time for contemplation. Some see it as a once-in-a-lifetime pilgrimage; a few return again and again, finding new delights each time. Mr McCloy sees it also as testament to ‘our basic need to have access to natural and uncluttered spaces where we can be challenged like this’. ndoubtedly it has encouraged thousands to explore and appreciate the northern hills, and has fostered a network of walking trails, hostels, B&Bs and teashops.
In the final miles, we return to Tom Stephenson in the setting he loved best, the Cheviot Hills, to honour ‘a lifetime spent campaigning for the public’s right to access the hills and the protection of wild places’.
Thoughtful, thought provoking and compellingly readable, this book reveals the Pennine Way in many lights. ‘The Pennine Way story is tightly bound up with the long fight for access and landscape, the National Parks Act 1949 and all that went with it. It chronicles our outdoor heritage, the protection of special landscapes, and above all how common people asserted the right to walk among their own hills.’
And in personal terms: Andrew McCloy completed his journey with sore knees but a warm sense of fulfilment: ‘the Pennine hills were mine, because I had walked over them, and they were now part of me and nothing could ever take that away.’
Next: Signpost Report
|Page title:||TThe Pennine Way: The path, the people, the journey by Andrew McCloy (Cicerone Press, 2016)|
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