Walking along the Pennines isn't everyone's cup of tea, and I'm one of those who likes his brew a little sweeter than this. If you enjoy desolate landscapes and soggy bog, then the Peak District and the moors of Yorkshire and Northumberland are heaven, but personally I wasn't that thrilled with the Pennine Way. Still, there are some stunning highlights, from the lovely Yorkshire Dales to the brown bubbles of the River Tees, and the cheery grit of the locals more than makes up for the desolation. You don't know whether you'll like it until you've tried it, and I'm damn glad I gave it a go. Just don't expect me to rush back any time soon...
I team up with a man I meet in the hostel; David is a complete novice at the Pennine Way, and together we climb over Kinder Scout and across the bleak moors of Bleaklow. It's a depressing part of the world and David struggles with nasty blisters towards the end of the day, but we finally reach Crowden and enjoy an evening in the pub with a group of David's relatives, who turn up on a surprise visit.
I again walk with David, whose blisters are getting worse and worse. I wonder at the appeal of boggy moors (or, for me, the lack of appeal), and I write about the confusion over county borders in this part of the world, quoting from local poet Ammon Wrigley as we reach the pub in Standedge.
After a welcome rest day in Standedge I set off on an incredibly boring day's walk, alone again. I pass a bacon butty van that's been selling butties since 1961, and after more walking I reach Hebden Bridge, which I fall in love with. The B&B I'm staying in, however, is surreal; there are 'no smoking' signs plastered absolutely everywhere, and I document them in all their gory yellow laminated detail.
The rain kicks in again and I have to cross a lonely, wind-swept moor, which leads to more ruminating on how much I hate moorland. I pass the farmhouse that purportedly inspired Wuthering Heights, and I recount the sad story of the Brontë sisters.
After a very windy morning struggling against the elements, I reach the beautiful Yorkshire Dales and much prettier walking. I soon arrive in Kirkby Malham, where I find a lovely pub and meet the local kids, who think I'm a bit silly in the head.
At last the walking becomes top notch, and after catching one of the pub staff drinking Bacardi at 8am, I set off to the natural cliffs of Malham Cove, the stately charm of Malham Tarn, the bleak moor of Fountains Fell and the huge climb up Pen-y-Ghent. This excellent day's walk ends with me discovering that the hotel that my girlfriend has booked in Horton isn't actually booked, so we scramble to find a room in nearby Settle for our weekend together.
I'm finally on the section of the Pennine Way I tried to do in 2000, and despite the incredibly strong winds, I enjoy retracing my footsteps though the dales. I also enjoy exploring Hawes, but find that the pubs are simply appalling, especially the one playing bad covers of ABBA songs.
I climb to the top of Great Shunner Fell, from where I can see the golf ball on top of Great Dun Fell, the place where things started to go wrong in 2000. Descending into Thwaite (the halfway point on my End-to-End route) I get hassled by the local chickens and make a friend in fellow Pennine walker Matt, with whom I team up to get to the tiny village of Keld.
Passing the highest pub in Britain at Tan Hill, I hop across the spongy moors and A-roads of this desolate part of the world, wondering what on earth people see in desolate bog. Luckily it's a short day...
My short walk is considerably livened up by bumping into Matt, who tells me about the worst hotel on the planet, where he's just spent a terrible night. He develops a problem with his hip and considers quitting the Way, so we spend the afternoon exploring beautiful Barnard Castle, home to some mind-bending audio tours. The evening ends with a dismal pub experience in Middleton.
Matt and I team up to wander along the beautiful River Tees, passing the waterfall of High Force and beating the approaching storm clouds to get to Langdon Beck. On the way we get attacked by midges, and I describe my solution: Dettol and baby oil.
A long slog across military firing ranges gets us to High Cup Nick, where the plains of the west open up in front of us. However I'm more interested in getting a mobile phone signal, a strange side effect of spending such a long time on the trail.
We tackle Cross Fell, the highest point of the Pennine Way and the place where I came a cropper in 2000. I talk about the golf ball radar station at the top (the one I spotted on 24 June) and yet again I fail to understand what the appeal of desolate moorland can possibly be. Luckily we find an open pub in Garrigill and get to Alston without mishap, where I bump into good old Barry once again while enjoying another rest day.
I've pretty much had enough of the Pennine Way, so I strike out on the South Tyne Trail for a day, getting to Haltwhistle along another flat ex-railway track. The rain is torrential all day, but when I discover that Haltwhistle is the Centre of Britain, it makes me feel a lot better; it feels good to have walked from Land's End to the centre of the country.
I cross Hadrian's Wall and head off into Northumberland, picking up a dog on the way who nearly gets me killed in a nearby cow's field. I get lacerated by midges in Kielder Forest and spend ages plodding through yet more farmland. It's not my favourite section.
Yet another pointless walk across tedious countryside, I spend most of the day brooding over the way the Countryside Agency sells the Pennine Way, portraying it as a two-week jaunt through the best the country has to offer, when it's nothing of the sort. Thankfully, tomorrow I leave the Way for good when I cross into Scotland...