Pennine Way marks 50th anniversary

Pennine Way 1965 opening, Peak District Image copyright Ramblers Association archive
Image caption The Pennine Way opened on 24 April, 1965, at Malham in North Yorkshire

Fifty years ago, the UK's first long distance trail, the Pennine Way, was officially opened, stretching from Derbyshire to the Scottish Borders.

It may never have opened at all but for the hard work of journalist Tom Stephenson, a prominent member of the Ramblers Association.

Today the association considers it one of the best trails in the country, crossing three national parks.

Chief executive Benedict Southworth says it remains a "national treasure" five decades on.

Image copyright Ramblers Association
Image caption Kinder Downfall - the tallest waterfall in the Peak District - is one of the early highlights of the trail

"It's just an amazing trail to walk, both if you try to do it in one go, which gives you one type of challenge, or the ability to dip in and out of it," he says.

The traditional start point is Edale in the Derbyshire Peak District, close to Kinder Scout, the location of the famous mass trespass in 1932.

On 24 April - exactly 33 years before the official opening of the Pennine Way - hundreds of ramblers protested there for their right to roam the countryside.

Mr Southworth says for this reason it is one of the most important sections of the entire 268 miles (431km) of the trail.

"It has come to represent the spirit of all those ramblers and what their enthusiasm achieved."

Image copyright Steve Westwood

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In 1935, Tom Stephenson received a letter from two American women on a walking holiday in England enquiring whether there was a similar route to the 2,500-mile (4,020-km) Appalachian Trail.

While the answer was no, it got him thinking. Attitudes towards access to the countryside were changing following the mass trespass, three years earlier.

But it took another 30 years before his campaigning paid off and a UK long distance route came to fruition.

"It was the first - it pioneered the development of those long distance routes which have gone on to make the UK an absolute magnet across the world," Mr Southworth says.

Image copyright Ramblers Association
Image caption Tom Stephenson's vision of a long distance trail for the UK took 30 years to come to fruition

The trail continues north to the Yorkshire Dales where it takes in the majestic peaks of Pen Y Ghent and Fountains Fell and the dramatic limestone of Malham Cove.

"I was born the year it opened - 1965 - and as a kid and a teenager I have walked stretches of it," says Mr Southworth

"It's brought me different things at different stages in my life. The last time I was there was with the Ramblers but I have been there with my teenage daughter.

"There's such a diversity to it, such a range of experiences."

Image copyright Steve Westwood
Image caption Cairns at Fountains Fell, North Yorkshire

But it is not just the breathtaking landscape that draws visitors in.

"There's a wonderful changing landscape but there are also huge cultural icons along the route like Hadrian's Wall," he says.

"You can be in the wilderness but see great culture and heritage along the way."

Image copyright Laurie Lambeth
Image caption Cross Fell is the highest point in England outside the Lake District

The highest point in England outside the Lake District - Cross Fell in Cumbria - is another highlight of the route.

There are now 15 national trails in the UK. They are designated by the government and managed by the local authorities they pass through.

"What's happened since World War Two is we have embraced as a country getting outdoors," says Mr Southworth.

"What the Pennine Way shows is we have a fabulous network in England of routes which bring benefit to those involved and the communities - pubs, bed and breakfasts, and so on - along the trails."

Image copyright Steve Westwood
Image caption Sheep sculptures near Low Force, Teesdale

As the trail reaches County Durham, the sights include the waterfalls of Low Force and High Force in Teesdale.

It moves on into Northumberland before the final stage - 27 miles (43km) without passing through a single human settlement.

Image copyright Steve Westwood
Image caption Chilly conditions at Border Ridge, near Kirk Yetholm

The trail ends just over the Scottish border at Kirk Yetholm.

The "granddaughter of the Pennine Way", says Mr Southworth, will be the England Coastal Path, which is opening in sections around the English coast and will also, perhaps perversely, take in landlocked sections such as the Offa's Dyke path at the Welsh border and along the Scottish border.

"We're working as hard to achieve it as we did with the Pennine Way - the campaigning and the optimism has not gone away," says Mr Southworth.

Work is due to be complete by 2020.

Image copyright Ramblers Association
Image caption Tom Stephenson on the trail with MPs, including Barbara Castle and Arthur Blenkinsop in 1948

Three days of events are planned to celebrate the milestone anniversary, including walks, talks and even a singalong of folk song The Manchester Rambler, about the mass trespass.

Tonight on BBC1 in the North of England explorer Paul Rose continues his journey along the Pennine Way, reaching Teesdale and the North Pennines.

The Pennine Way airs at 19:30 BST on BBC One North East & Cumbria, North West and Yorkshire & Lincolnshire. It is also available nationwide on the iPlayer for 30 days thereafter.

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