This is Andy Bentham. He’s a Park Ranger in the Peak District National Park and he’s pictured here with his pride and joy. It took him the best part of a week to make this oak gate that’s going to be fitted into a fancy dry stone wall in Edale. The centre panel will have a map engraved onto it and it will be a nice addition to the countryside in the Dark Peak.
But this is more than a gateway to a footpath from any old countryside village. No, this is going to mark the start of the Pennine Way, the famous long-distance footpath that begins in Edale and trudges north for 267 miles until it ends up in Kirk Yetholm, three weeks, two tired legs and one satisfied grin later.
The Pennine Way is 50 years old in April, half a century since the ambitious outdoor mind of Tom Stephenson saw his dream become reality; a winding route through the backbone of England. I visited Edale recently to get photographs for an article on the anniversary and generally to soak up the atmosphere in such an idyllic setting. It was a weekday morning, so I didn’t expect the rush of a summer bank holiday. Even so, the place was fairly busy. There were backpackers heading off to tackle the first stages of the Pennine Way, a TV crew filming a show about the path, a school group from Sheffield who were exploring the famous route and, of course, locals who were proud of the beauty on their doorstep.
There was also Andy Bentham and the team of Park Rangers. Noisily cutting stone for the wall and proudly gazing onto the newly built gate, they were delighted to be providing a focal point for the start of the Pennine Way. It’s not just for those who are embarking on the full route, it’s for everyone. For those who are in awe of the length but wouldn’t tackle it, for those who want to experience part of it, for those attempting to do it in weekend stages.
The Pennine Way may not be the longest path in the world, and it certainly isn’t the toughest. But it has developed a mythical reputation in its short lifetime and is a firm favourite for folk to put on their bucket list. It’s even becoming a well-known brand, with many Pennine Way related goods being available in the local shops. And long may it continue.
Happy Bithday to a Peak District legend.
The full article will appear in Derbyshire Life.