A Beginner's Guide to the Pennines

This week our beginner’s guide series takes us to England to explore the beautiful Pennines. They are a range of mountains and hills which separate North West England from Yorkshire and North East England. They have often been described as the "backbone of England".

Our Top 3 Routes

Cross Fell from Kirkland

We thought we’d start with a good route to take you up to the highest point of the Pennines: Cross Fell Mountain. This walk is 8.54 miles (13.75 km) long and should take roughly about 4 ½ hours to complete.

Begin in the Kirkland car park and follow the farm track path which is basically like a continuation of the road. Follow it through fields towards the foot of the North Pennines, which you will see rising in front of you. As you gain height, the path will begin to get rougher. As you continue, you will pass through a couple of gates, and begin to climb around the north side of High Cap. This will take you to the hummocks and hollows an old abandoned mine. The track soon begins to dwindle to a smaller path which continues in an eastern direction over boggy moorland (don’t forget the waterproofs!) towards the summit of Cross Fell. On a broad shoulder just north of Cross Fell, you will meet the well-trodden and very famous Pennine Way.

Turn right onto the Pennine Way for the climb onto Cross Fell's wide, windy summit plateau. This area is quite marshy, so again, remember to pack your waterproofs. A trig point and a stone walled windbreak mark the highest point of the summit.

Continue in a southeast direction on the Pennine Way. The path is marked by a few tall cairns along the way. Just above the saddle of Tees Head look out for a lesser used path appearing on the right.

This will take you down across Cross Fell's secluded southern flank, giving picturesque views over the Eden Valley to the Lake District. The path does a slight zigzag after a prominent cliff edge called Wildboar Scar, then begins to descend around the flank of Grumply Hill to follow down to the walled pastures of the valley. Here you will finally take a right turn onto a track through Ranbeck farm which will lead you back to Kirkland carpark.

Helm Crag

This route is short and family-friendly at just 5.07 miles (8.16km) and should take about 4 hours to complete. Beginning at Grasmere's Town Head, it explores a beautiful valley and climbs an easy ridge to a classic Lakeland micro-summit.

Follow the road of Town Head in a south-westerly direction towards Helmside for 200m. You can park your car by the farm at Town Head for just a couple of pounds. Take the track which goes northwest and follow it up a hill which takes you past more buildings. Take the obvious Landrover track going northwest, following the wall parallel to the river. Keep going on this track over a foot bridge, staying on the same side of the river. 

Cross over some stepping stones and keep following a path which is sometimes not very well defined in places. Keep moving towards the top of the ridge. Follow the ridge in a south-easterly direction for approximately 2km, passing a series of peaks, before reaching the final summit of Helm Crag which is distinguished by an obvious rocky peak. The highest point of the crag can be reached by a short but exposed and testing grade one scramble to the top of the obvious pinnacle. This is known as The Howitzer. The only way to get off this is to retrace the way you came up so keep this in mind. Now follow the path which descends in a south-easterly direction into the valley.

After about 1km, at the junction with the wall, go through the gate, then take the small gate which is immediately on your left. This is an accommodating path which leads through the gardens of the Lancrigg Hotel. Follow the path out of the hotel drive, and go east onto a track that passes a youth hostel. At the junction with the road, follow it north and this will take you back towards Town Head.

Bowscale Fell via Bowscale Tarn

Start at the houses at Bowscale and take an obvious hill track in a westerly direction, to follow a long rising track across the slopes overlooking a picturesque valley of the River Caldew. Bowscale Tarn was originally used to take Victorian visitors up by pony so as you can imagine, the track is an easy climb. It would also be nice on a bike too.

Take a rough path that continues up a steep grassy hill, through some scattered rocky outcrops, and leads onto the smoother ground of the fell's north ridge. Continue up the cliff edge and then bear right to cross the broad summit which slopes to reach the cairn at the top. From here you will see a great view of Blencathra's Sharp Edge. Now retrace the way you came briefly moving towards the top of Tarn Crags, then bear right to come to a cairn on a minor summit.

Continue down onto the east ridge of the Bowscale Tarn, then take a left turn and head straight for the northeast corner of the tarn. This is a steep and rough descent with no real path to follow. Once you are down by the tarn, follow an obvious trail which leads along the base of the moraine ridge that dams the water. From here you can then rejoin the pony track to make a quick return to Bowscale.

Little Known Facts

  • The Pennines are home to one of Britain’s best known and toughest hikes: The Pennine Way. It stretches for 267 miles (429 km) and takes you through 287 gates, over 249 timber stiles, 183 stone stiles and across 204 bridges!
  • The path was first proposed by the journalist and hiker Tom Stephenson. He was inspired by similar trails in America such as the Appalachian Trail. Stephenson suggested the concept in an article he wrote for the Daily Herald in 1935, and later lobbied Parliament for the creation of an official trail- the first official long distance walking trail in the UK. The final section of the path was opened in a ceremony on 24 April 1965.