The Pennine Way
John "Obie" Thornton, Neil Spencer, Pete Stott
25th August to 6th September 1963


Ladybower Reservoir - 24th August 1963
Left to right: John "Obie" Thornton, Neil Spencer, Pete Stott

Saturday 24th August 1963

The morning of Saturday 24th August found Number 2, Leeds Road, Otley, in a state of turmoil. Last minute checks were being carried out on our long-suffering van, and such vital items as food and drink were being stored inside. The weather was cool, and a few showers fell from the broken cloud.

At 10.00h Obie appeared, looking quite fresh for such an early hour. We all went inside and had a cup of tea and spent about fifty minutes discussing the route, its problems, and what had happened to Neil. At 10.50h Neil proved that all the accidents we thought he might have had, had not happened after all, by arriving. He was staggering under the weight of a heavy rucksack and was chewing a horrible-looking pipe.

At about 11.00h we piled into the van after grabbing the crib board (a last minute thought by Neil) and we set off for Edale. We stopped for dinner just outside Sheffield, and at 13.45h we arrived at the monument commemorating the opening of Ladybower Reservoir, or as Dad called it, Ladyglossop Lake. This was on the road over the Snake Pass between Sheffield and Glossop.

After we had had our photos taken, we set off around the dam of the reservoir. Shortly after reaching the other side, we ran into some of our usual hiking weather – rain. This didn’t spoil our walk, though, and at 14.50h we stopped at the head of the reservoir’s western arm.

After a check to establish our exact position, and five minutes’ rest, we set off over the hill to Edale. We climbed up through the wood on the steep sides of the valley, and when we reached the top of the wood, fifteen minutes later, we had a fine view of the reservoir and the wooded slopes of the valley which, with the hills in the background, reminded us of the Lake District.

We checked our position again with the map, and this time with the compass too, and set off down the hill to Edale on a well-trodden footpath. At about 15.50h we read a sign which informed us of the grouse shooting in the area. We found, however, that we were quite safe as there was no shooting on the following day, when we would be on the moors.

It then started raining, and we went into a roadside shop after which we pressed on to Edale village. We arrived at Edale at 16.30h in very heavy rain. There was a coach load of hikers who seemed very quiet and well-behaved – not at all like our Youth Club. We found a good pub, and when the rain stopped we set off again for the Youth Hostel about one and a half miles away. We took a muddy path through fields, as this was the most direct route, and we wanted to be sure of our route to the village, as when we came through later it would be dark.

It started raining again, and when we arrived at the Youth Hostel at 1705h we were soaked. My heel was giving me a bit of trouble, as recently it had been injured somehow, and this was not a very promising sign for the next thirteen days. We signed in and got changed, and when we had made our beds we went to the Common Room, where we discussed the route for the next day, played table-tennis on a short table, and talked until supper was ready.

The weather had by now improved, and the evening was fine and sunny. After supper we washed up in record time and went to the pub. On the way we met three misguided youths who were wearing pumps. When they asked the quickest way to the village we told them to follow us across the fields. We soon lost them, however, in the third bog, I think. We returned to the hostel at 21.55h and played cards for half an hour, before going to bed.

The hostel was originally a country mansion, and is now the second biggest hostel in the Peak District, with the largest and best equipped self-cookers’ kitchen in the country.

Sunday 25th August 1963

At 07.40h we saw people around us all getting dressed, so we thought that breakfast must be at 0800h. This was a mistake which we made several times during our tour. Breakfast was not ready until 08.30h, but we did have a chance to clean our boots before setting off on the Pennine Way. We packed our rucksacks after this, and all we had to do after breakfast was to collect our packed lunches and membership cards.

Breakfast was lousy. Instead of porridge we were given puffed wheat, then bacon, egg and tomatoes, a bit of bread and marmalade, and tea. This wasn’t much good when you consider we had a long way to walk, so I asked for some more bread, and we took about half a loaf in my rucksack, in case the packed lunches were as bad as the breakfast had been.

While I was packing the bread in my rucksack, Neil and Obie were discussing the route. One of the blokes on our table overheard them, and said he was going the same way as us as far as Keld. We invited him to come with us, thinking he would be able to buy a round for us the following night. His name was Peter New, and he came from Stainby, near Northallerton.

At 09.10h we left the hostel and walked through the fields to Edale village. The weather was overcast and cool. There was a light drizzle and a blanket of mist on the hills.

At 09.45h we reached the bridge spanning the Grindsbrook, which marks the start of the Pennine Way. This bridge is nothing more than a fallen tree with a handrail fastened to it – almost as primitive as the Way itself. After Neil and Peter had taken photos we set off up the path beside Grindsbrook. As we walked up it, we were reminded of the path up Greenup Edge in the Lakes, except that this valley was narrower. We were walking quite fast, and the atmosphere was close.

At 10.05h we took a few minutes’ rest beside the stream, and fifteen minutes later we stopped to check our position, and found we were just below the plateau summit of Kinder Scout, 2088 feet above sea level. We pressed on up the steep stream bed (locally called a grough – editorial note) and onto the summit. We were in thick mist which occasionally broke for a moment to reveal a waste of peat hags.

The peat on the summit varied from eight to fifteen feet in thickness, and, as it is so soft, streams are formed with their beds on the gritstone below. The sides are steep, and the peat is very soggy and sticky, and the courses of the streams do not run in straight lines.

We made the mistake of following one such stream. There are thousands of these streams with their steep, sticky sides, and they must be negotiated. The peat came over our boots, and when we tried to climb the other side it crumbled under our feet. It was not unusual to be unable to walk ten yards without negotiating one of these streams. The grass between them was tussocky and this also made difficult walking, and my heel was giving me a lot of trouble.

We thought we were heading northwest towards Kinder Downfall, but we soon found out we were in fact heading southwest. We discovered this when we arrived at Kinder Low, on which there is a trig point. We actually thought we had arrived on Mill Hill until we saw a reservoir which should not have been there. The time was 11.30h and we still had over twenty miles to walk before 19.30h [evening meal time – editorial note].

We set off again towards Kinder Downfall, a waterfall on the edge of Kinder Scout. When we got there the wind was whipping the water back onto the plateau. Neil took a photo, and we ate some of our dry bread from Edale.

Descending from Kinder to the Snake Path, crossing it, and heading for the Snake Road, was a stretch of very difficult tussocky grass, and my heel was playing me up quite a lot. Eventually, at 13.45h, we crossed a deep ravine and had dinner beside the Snake Road. Climbing up the side of this ravine showed us just how tired we were.

The packed lunches were as bad as we had expected, and we were even glad of the dry bread. At 14.00h we set off across the peat to Bleaklow Head. The mist was even thicker now, and we had to rely on compass bearings alone.

Bleaklow Head is nothing but a maze of peat hags, but luckily our navigation was ‘spot-on’ and we traversed Bleaklow, 2060 feet above sea level, without any path. We are all of the opinion that Bleaklow Head, at which we arrived at 15.10h in pouring rain, is the most miserable, desolate and wettest place in the world.

Through the mist we could make out stakes which marked a parish boundary we were to follow. We had to decide which way to go from the map, decide on its compass bearing, then I walked behind with the compass, directing the others ‘a bit to the left’ or ‘a bit to the right’.

We continued towards Torside down gentle slopes which were often interrupted by peat hags. We saw the scattered remains of an aeroplane (who’d want to land an aeroplane on Bleaklow?)

At 16.30h we reached the road over Woodhead. We saw that it was impossible to reach the Youth Hostel by 19.30h if we stuck to the route, so we decided to deviate slightly from it by following the road over Holme Moss. At 17.15h we tried to telephone the Warden to tell him that dinner would be ready before we were there so could he save some for us. We could not get through, however, and so we continued up the steep road, slowly becoming wetter and wetter.

At 18.05h we stopped at a roadside ‘pull-in’ for a few minutes’ rest. We were all tired, and my heel was hurting, so I summoned up all my cheek and went to ask a motorist if he could take us to Holmfirth to the Youth Hostel. For once it worked! This man and his wife and baby took me and Neil and all four rucksacks to the hostel. Meanwhile Obie and Peter set off walking and thumbing.

Neil and I arrived at the hostel at 18.30h, and when we had booked in we got washed and made our beds. Just as we were saying we hoped they got a lift, Peter and Obie walked in. They had got two successive lifts to the hostel.

After supper we washed up and went down the road to the pub. When we came back at about 21.45h, the Warden’s wife made us coffee. We played cards for a while and then went to bed.

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