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There and Back Again: Returning to The Pennine Way after 40 years

Last month, our founder, Phil James, retraced his footsteps along the legendary Pennine Way, four decades after his initial life-altering adventure. In a poignant return to the cherished trail, Phil embarked on a pilgrimage to rekindle the memories and emotions that had shaped his very existence.

With a heart filled with anticipation, Phil embarked on this nostalgic expedition, immersing himself in the breathtaking landscapes that had once captivated his youthful spirit. As he traversed the rugged terrain, each step became a portal to the past, evoking a flood of cherished memories and a profound sense of reflection.

I completed the Pennine Way when I was 14. It fundamentally changed my outlook on life and the outdoors.

I joined a school trip during the Summer break of 1983. Summer back then was always spent outside. If we weren't playing in cornfields or quarries, we were making goalposts from jumpers for headers and volleys or melting crisp packets with magnifying glasses. Any kind of adventure we could find, basically, never indoors. We would bundle back home just before

Dinner (or Tea as it was called in Northamptonshire), covered in mud, dust, and sweat, usually with torn clothes. Good times.

Weeks away over rolling hills, rocks, and rivers on the Pennine Way sounded too good to miss. I left with the heaviest aluminium-framed rucksack in the group and some cheap hiking boots from our local market. Although I ruined my feet, gained some big shoulders and legs, and missed my Mum and Dad, I also absolutely loved it.

I brought a cheap plastic camera with me, which turned out to have a faulty winder, so every other photo had a black line through the middle and the quality was awful. This was back when photography had an edge, the magic or crushing disappointment felt when looking through your prints, outside Boots the Chemist. I swore I would go back one day with a better camera; it only took me 40 years.

Setting out on my own this second time felt a bit like coming home.

I spent most of the first day smiling. I had a real Deja vu feeling alongside my excitement to be starting out again.

This time away was also for me to do some quiet thinking, some healing, and to detach from my work. I was diagnosed with Autism and ADHD recently (two-for-one deal) and had been processing this over and over in my head. Weirdly, the diagnosis had also made me think of my school days and explained so much of who I was back then. I think my craving to be outside and away from the crowd seemed obvious now, looking back. I think this is why the Pennine Way had such a profound effect on me the first time.


I loved retracing my childhood steps as an older man. It seemed a very circular, perfect thing to do. Every view made more sense, and I relaxed into the walk like I had never been away. Like the first time, it was also very hard at some points, especially when my feet were ruined for the second time, with expensive boots and all. Every climb, every summit, and every descent was something very special this time.

I also savoured the experience more. I slowed down, I breathed better, I thought differently. Everything seemed a bit brighter. There is nothing like the sleep you get from being physically tired, so I also slept better.

At the end of my time on 'The Way,' I had the same feeling of being changed by it. I also had the same feeling of wanting to come back at some point.

Maybe I won't wait 40 years this time…

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