There was no easing in to the Pennine Way. By the end of the first three days, I was sore and bruised and blistered and exhausted. I’d already seen hundreds of sheep and climbed over more stiles than I could count; I’d climbed hills with pleasant enough names like Jacob’s Ladder and Kinder Low that had me gasping for breath every 10 steps. I roamed through the moors and picnicked by reservoirs, and wandered off in the wrong direction more than once.
Rain and wind defined my first day; I arrived at my lodgings with wet socks and numb fingers, wondering what in the world I had gotten myself into. My second day dawned clear and bright, the June sun rising strong at 4:30 in the morning, urging me to wake and tackle a new section of the Pennine Way path. By the end of that day I was hobbling to my campsite with a spreading blister on the bottom of my foot.
One blister turned into four over the course of my third day of walking, and after adding on more miles to the walk than my guidebook promised (did I miss a turn? It’s quite possible), I arrived in Hebden Bridge, along with a new friend I’m met earlier in the day.
My fatigue lessened as we turned onto the canal towpath that leads into Hebden Bridge, an artistic town with a true bohemian vibe that’s about a 30-minute walk from the Pennine Way. I was excited to make this short detour and to check out a town with a reputation for an array of independent shops, as well as a vibrant arts and music scene. (Note from the Editor: Hebden Bridge Hostel can be right on the Pennine way if you take the signposted Hebden Bridge Loop. This replaces the walk along an ‘A’ road necessitated by the original route and takes in the historical village of Heptonstall and the town of Hebden Bridge.)
We got our first glimpse as we walked along the towpath, where house boats lined the canal, music played softly, a young man with long hair and bare feet walked by and nodded a greeting. Further along the canal we passed by beautifully landscaped yards and terraces spilling over with bright flowers, and soon enough we were passing through the town.
My destination was Hebden Bridge Hostel, and my friend decided to join me there. The hostel is located on the east end of town and up a hill, but this gave us the advantage of being able to pass by the artisanal shops, sidewalk cafes, and art galleries that lined the streets.
And the hike up to the hostel is worth it: we wound around the side of a building, followed carefully placed signs, and walked into a fun, bright building. Greeting us was a table filled with tea and coffee and fresh water, and adjacent to the entryway was a well-stocked and roomy kitchen, and an ample and comfortable lounge area. The bunk rooms were spacious and had everything I could want: both a shower and toilet in the room (how nice to not have to navigate a series of doors and hallways to find a toilet!), a small desk equipped with a power outlet and information on the town, a bed with a pillow and sheets and a comforter.
Had I been alone, I probably would have stayed in the hostel all night, only leaving to stock up on food at the Co-op grocery store and then back to the hostel to cook a meal in the kitchen. (My feet were tired and the hostel was oh-so comfortable!). But because I was with a friend, we headed back into town, where we strolled the cobblestone streets and eventually found ourselves on the outdoor terrace of a great Greek restaurant, feasting on platters of food that filled every inch of our table.
The town was lively, the evening air was soft and warm, my feet were aching but my spirit was filled. My friend and I strolled back up to the hostel and before bed, made steaming mugs of green tea that we took to the lounge. We split a bag of Malteses and paged through our guidebooks and talked for an hour, maybe more, about the hike and our days and what was ahead.
The hostel provides a simple breakfast and so, in the morning, I helped myself to a mug of coffee and a big bowl of cereal. And then it was on with my pack and back out to take on the rest of the Pennine Way. These first three days were a challenging and humbling and rewarding start, and I couldn’t wait for more