Thomas P. Ogden

Day 12 - Alston to Greenhead

Pennine Way Day 12, via Whitley Castle and Blenkinsopp Common.

Over breakfast at the hostel, I chatted to a couple on my table who were on a driving and cycling holiday.

‘I did the Pennine Way—well, nearly did it—twenty years ago now. I got to Bellingham and fractured my shin jumping off a stile.’

Ouch! I still had a couple of days walking before Bellingham, so I certainly wouldn’t be jumping off anything before then. I devoured as much breakfast as I could, including three Weetabix, eggs, veggie sausages, mushrooms, beans, hash brown and a whole rack of toast with marmalade.

I’d read that this leg would likely be the dullest of the Pennine Way but, to be quite honest, I’d had quite enough excitement with Cross Fell the day before so I wasn’t too bothered.

The first section followed a road and railway north through the valley of the South Tyne. On the left slope of the valley, I hopped over stiles through farmland. The only item of note was Whitley Castle (A), the remains of a Roman auxiliary fort. I didn’t spy it initially, only realising up close that the narrow undulations near the path were actually the remarkable rhomboid ramparts of this second-century stopover on the Maiden Way, which connected a fort on the York–Carlisle road with Carvoran on Hadrian’s Wall.

Continuing north, the route took me across the road and under the railway into Slaggyford. Leaving the river, I passed under a pleasing arched railway viaduct, through more farms into Knarsdale and joined that old Roman Maiden Way over Lambley Common.

After Lambley, the route left the road I’d followed all morning to head out over desolate moors. Hartleyburn and Blenkinsopp Commons were big, open hills and the hike—mile after mile of slow climbing—was tiring. The vague ramble west eventually brought me to the fence I would follow all the way to to the top of Blenkinsopp (B).

Eventually, I weaved my way through abandoned mine workings to the noisy A69 road linking Carlisle and Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Unfortunately, the quickest way into Greenhead was to walk behind the highway barrier, over the service station fast-food wrappers and cola cans that so many idiots had discarded from their windows; trying not to breathe in too much lorry exhaust.

Greenhead seemed quite uninteresting. Its main preoccupation seemed to be with the big road. It was hardly village-like. I fancied a pint but the hotel didn’t look appealing. A campsite was suggested on the map, so I headed straight for it.

A little old lady, in her seventies or eighties, called from behind me as I walked up the road; she’d seen me walk too far with that big rucksack on. ‘Are you looking for camping?’ she asked, in a lovely half-geordie, half-scottish accent. She led me back to the green lawn behind her pretty house. ‘We’ve not had anyone yet this year, but you’re welcome to stay.’ We had a short chat about where I’d been and where I was off to next. Bellingham was a long way to go in one day, she thought. As she hadn’t mentioned payment yet, I asked how much it was. She frowned as though she didn’t really want to charge. ‘Oh, three pounds it is love. My son looks after the camping usually, but he’s away just now. You’ll need twenty pence pieces for the shower, do you have any?’ I didn’t, so she put four in my hand and tottered back into the porch.

I showered, performed my daily replacement of the plasters holding my feet together and cooked up some couscous as the shadows of tall conifers stretched long across the grass.

Alston to
Greenhead Profile Map.
Day Distance Ascent Duration Lucozade Burped
12 26.6 km 577 m 8 h 2.5 litres