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After 50 years in business, the Pennine Way's rolling hills speckled with pubs and nature reserves are as worth your time as ever. (Photo: Peer Lawther)

What Should I Know About Hiking England’s Pennine Way?

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The Pennine Way, England’s first national trail, turns 50 this year. Even if it’s literally over the hill, the 268-mile route of rolling terrain is as popular as ever, especially this weekend. July 12 marks the annual National Trails geocache release, during which new coins are released onto the country’s 15 national trails and followed throughout the summer.

Even if you aren’t a geocacher, the Pennine Way is worth a hike. After all, it offers some of the best upland walking in country as it travels from Edale in Derbyshire to Kirk Yetholm in the Scottish Borders region along the Pennines and through the fells, or treeless high ground often used for grazing. It passes through three national parks, the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and two national nature reserves. The trail provides easy rambling with elevations never topping 3,000 feet and pubs about every 20 miles.

Non-Brits may be surprised that even wild areas in the national parks are farmed, says Steven Westwood, Pennine Way trail manager. Some trail sections are more pastoral than rugged, but the passage through the remote Cheviot, traversed during the final two days of the way as it approaches Scotland, features big hills, sweeping vistas, and few people—it’s also Westwood’s favorite place along the path.

Most trekkers complete the trail in 16 to 19 days—a totally realistic goal if you’re in any kind of shape. In 1989, Mike Hartley set the trail record, running its length in 2 days, 17 hours, 20 minutes, and 15 seconds. Hartley forewent sleep but did stop for two 18-minute breaks—once for fish and chips.

For travelers not tackling the whole route, Westwood recommends a weekend hike of the Gargrave to Horton section through the Yorkshire Dales National Park. For weeklong trips, he recommends trekking from Middleton in Teesdale to Hadrian’s Wall, a UNESCO World Heritage Site with preserved Roman forts. The weeklong route features the way’s biggest waterfall, highest point, and best flora.

Primitive, or wild, camping is illegal in England, though there is a tradition of backpackers doing so anyway. A handful of designated campsites and even more B&Bs are along the route, creating a mix of accommodations. If you decide to take the luxury route, services will transfer your gear for you from point to point. Prime hiking season is May to September.

Take note: Biking is forbidden on the Pennine Way, but the Pennine Bridleway is purpose-built for cyclists and equestrians.