Saturday, 20 May 2017

686 The Pennine Challenge

First  viewed : 18  September  1984

This  was  first  shown  earlier  in  the  year  on  BBC  North  but  got  a  national  airing  on  BBC  Two  over  four  nights  in  September. The  series  was  made  by  potholing  film-maker  Sid  Perou which  accounts  for  the  high  quality  cinematography  on  show.

The  film  followed  four  intrepid  walkers,  three  of  them  around  the  same  age  as  me , as  they  walked  the  Pennine  Way  in  the  summer  of  1983. They  were  doing  it  the  hard  way  as  well, carrying  a  full  pack  and  camping  all  the  way. This  was  before  baggage  transfer  services  became  popular. The  two  lads,  Jonathan  and  David  from  Derbyshire ,  had  been  selected  as  a  pair  but  otherwise  the  quartet  were  strangers  when  they  set  out. The  girls  were  Sue, a  student  at  Leeds  but  I  never  met  her  nor  do  I  recall  any  mention  of  her  exploits  in  Leeds  Student , and  17  year  old  Sarah  who  was  still  at  school,  doing  her  A-Levels. Neither  of  them  were oil  paintings  but  they  looked  OK  in  shorts.

Sid  has  kindly  put  the  whole  series  up  on  his  YouTube  channel  for  which  I'm  very  grateful  as  I  feel  I'm  guilty  of  an  injustice  towards  the  series. Just  after  it  finished,  I  was  producing  the  latest  edition  of  the  Littleborough  Civic  Trust  Newsletter  and  as  the  organisation  was  wilting  under  the  distracted  chairmanship  of  Keith  Parry  whose  interests  lay  elsewhere, I  was  having  to  write  an  increasing  proportion  of  the  content  myself. I  filled  one  and  three  quarter  pages   with  a  review  of    recent  TV  programmes  with  a  Northern  flavour. Here's  what  I  had  to  say  about  The  Pennine  Challenge.

"BBC  North's  "The  Pennine  Challenge" about  4  youngsters  walking  the  Pennine  Way  had  some  brilliant  photography  ( c/o  Sid  Perou )  and  a  well  versed  if  rather  patronising   narrator. Where  the  programme  failed  was  when  the  film  crew  turned  their  rifle  microphones  to  the  participants'  conversations. As  these  consisted  almost  entitrely  of  banalities  such  as  "Oh  look,  the  sun's  coming  out "  or  "It's  a  bit  steep  up  here  isn't  it  ?," it  didn't  do  much  for  the  walker's  image"

Having  watched  it  again, I'm  a  bit  embarrassed by  the  criticism. It  now  seems  astonishingly  refreshing, a  reality  series  with  genuinely  real  people,  not  one  trick ( being  generous ) pony  "personalities"  hoping  for  a  TV  break.  I  don't  recall  the  introverted  Sarah  casting  a single  glance  towards  the  camera. OK   the  four  teenagers  weren't  as  erudite  as  the  teachers  and  small  businessmen  I  went  walking  with  but  on  the  other  hand,  they  weren't  relying  on  people  more  than  twice  their  age  for  company  ( a  factor  that  might  have  influenced  my  piece ).

Well , enough   of  the  self -flagellation ; it  is  an  excellent  series  which  captures  all  the  scenic  highlights  brilliantly. That  is  the  main  aim  of  the  programme. Narrator  Peter  Allen  hints  at  some  personal  conflict  along  the  way  but  there's  no  footage  of  it.   in   stark  contrast  to  every  other  "reality"  show  you  could  consider. Instead  the  quartet  battle  against  blisters, illness , bogs , bad  weather  and  navigational  errors  with  admirable  fortitude . Sarah  obviously  hadn't  broken  in  her  boots  beforehand  and  had  blisters  forming  by  noon  on  the  first  day. She contemplated  dropping  out  but  decided  to  switch  to  trainers  and  was  able  to  complete  the  route. David  caught  a  lurgy  which  put  their  schedule  out  but  he  too  pulled  through  and  they  all  made  it  to  the  end.

The section that  falls  in  Littleborough  was  briefly  featured. with  the  walkers  crossing  the  M62  on  the  Pennine  Way  footbridge  and  then  descending  the  Roman  Road  on  Blackstone  Edge  with  narrator  Peter  Allen  sarkily  noting "the  legionaries  were  heading  for  a  camp  north  of  Rochdale - probably  not  the  most  popular  posting".

The  programme  captured  something  of  the  bittersweet  feeling  that  comes  with  successfully    concluding  such  a  venture  with  the  quartet looking   pensive  as  they  sat  with  their  drinks  outside  the  Border  Hotel  in  Kirk  Yetholm  and  contemplated  their  imminent  return  to  normal  life. Allen's  comment  that  David  was  worried  about  redundancy  at  his  engineering  works  is  a  poignant  reminder  of  the  times. One  hopes  they're  OK  now  ; all  four  are well  "off  the  grid" , none  ever  attempting  to  capitalise  on  their  brief  moment  in  the  sun. If  things  haven't  gone  so  well,  they've  still  got  a  shared  achievement  that  can't  be  taken  away  from  them.

In  one  important  respect  the  programme  is  very  dated. The  Pennine  Way  is  no  longer  as  popular  as  it  was  and  has  largely  dropped  out  of  the  national  consciousness  as  a  challenge . Even  among  serious  ramblers,  it's  become  less  popular  than  the  Coast  To  Coast  Walk  or  Scotland's  West  Highland  Way. In  part  that's  been  a  matter  of  policy. From  the  late  eighties  onwards,  the  National  Park  and  local  authorities  sanctioned  the  use  of  flag  stones  and  hardcore  to  protect  the  peat  from  further  erosion  on  the  moorland  parts  of  the  route.  Major   diversions  have  been  made  in  the  Peak  District  so  that  what  were  bad  weather  alternatives  have  become  the  official  route  .This  work  has  been  done  with   worthy  objectives  but  it's  fundamentally  altered  the  nature  of  the  walk; you  literally  cannot  walk  in  Wainwright's   boggy  footsteps  any  more. Part  of  the  Littleborough   section   across  Redmires  Moss,  used  to  be  a   challenging  morass ; now  it's  a  stroll  in  the  park. It  simply  doesn't  attract  the  serious  mountaineer  any  more  and  yet  it's  still  too  long  for  many  with  limited  holiday entitlement.


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