Discover 300 miles of waymarked walking, mountain biking and horse riding across wild and wonderful Yorkshire landscapes. Read what David Else, coordinating author of Lonely Planet's Walking in Britain guide, has to say about Yorkshire National Trails »

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Walking Yorkshire's Pennine Way
David Else

The Pennine Way is the grand-daddy of the National Trail network - it's Britain's oldest and second-longest - a classic walk along the central spine of mountains and upland areas that form the backbone of northern England.

The Trail's entire length, from Edale in the Peak District to Kirk Yetholm in Scotland, is around 270 miles, but you certainly don't have to do the whole thing; the well-waymarked section through Yorkshire is an excellent five-day trip, ideal for new or occasional walkers (as well as the super-keen). It's also great for combining a sense of wilderness with easy access; you can sometimes walk all day and only see a few other people on the route, despite never being more than a few hours from a town or village, many with handy pubic transport.

A great place to start the Yorkshire section of the Pennine Way is the thriving little town of Hebden Bridge. There are plenty of accommodation options, and it's very easy to reach by train from Manchester or Leeds.

From Hebden Bridge the trail leads north, between the deep blue reservoirs of Walshaw Dean, then across wild and empty moors to Top Withins - a tumbledown building thought to have inspired descriptions of Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights. The town of Haworth, home of the Brontes, is two miles off the trail and a possible overnight stop. A little farther along the trail, there's a couple more B&B options near Pondon.

Beyond Ponden the trail strides confidently across wide expanses of moorland, eventually dropping down to the village of Ickornshaw, then follows a mix of country lanes and field-paths into the picturesque little mill-town of Lothersdale. A couple of miles away is Earby Youth Hostel, and further again is a B&B at East Marton.

The route from Lothersdale runs across surprisingly high and open moors, then drops to wind through green and pleasant farmland. On this day you cross the historic Leeds & Liverpool Canal, and follow a delightful path beside the River Aire, before dropping down into the busy tourist village of Malham, with lots of places to stay and eat.

Pennine Way mapThe next day is a beautiful walk through the heart of the Yorkshire Dales National Park, with the trail climbing steeply beside the rocky amphitheatre of Malham Cove, then edging across the top of the cliffs - a textbook stretch of limestone pavement with wonderful views. This is geography field-trip country, and you'll probably see groups of students eagerly taking notes in this unique landscape.

Leaving green fields for darker moors, the trail leads up to Fountains Fell and over a series of ridges, but the focus of today's stage is the long hump of Pen-y-ghent, one of Yorkshire's famous Three Peaks. It's a stiff climb, but the views from the summit are worth it, and in under an hour you're down in the busy little village of Horton-in-Ribblesdale, offering a range of accommodation and the legendary Penyghent Cafe, one of the Pennine Way's most popular refuelling points. It's also possible to leave the trail here, with regular trains back to Leeds on the celebrated Settle-Carlisle Line, a highlight of Britain's rich industrial heritage.

But if you want more of the Pennine Way's delights (and who wouldn't?) the next stage is another wonderfully wild Yorkshire Dales day, through country riddled with limestone caves. It's great fun for pot-holers, but with such wonderful scenery to enjoy, Pennine Way walkers won't regret staying above ground. The trail follows the Cam High Road, an old Roman road, then edges around Dodd Fell overlooking the deep valley of Widdale, a popular spot for paragliders. Easy paths lead downhill through fields and farms, to reach the bustling little market town of Hawes. As well as a wide choice of places sleep, and a Wensleydale cheese factory, there's a bus service to Northallerton on the mainline railway. There also a fine selection of cafes and pubs where you can celebrate ending your walk along Yorkshire's section of the Pennine Way - truly a most dramatic and venerable National Trail.
David Else is the coordinating author of the Lonely Planet guide Walking in Britain.