A very British challenge

A very British challenge

A group of staff and veterans from Help for Heroes Phoenix House Recovery Centre and The Beacon in Catterick Garrison made a tough challenge even harder by vowing to complete the Pennine Way in just 14 days.

The National Trail is a 268 mile walking route from Edale in Derbyshire to Kirk Yetholm in the Scottish Borders. Most walkers allow between 16 to 19 days to walk the Pennine Way. Our team averaged 18 miles walking per day.

The group, from as far as Salisbury, Manchester and Catterick, quickly gelled together to support each other for the challenge.

Led by staff from Phoenix House, the walk began with a classic climb called Jacob’s Ladder at the head of the Edale Valley.

“That took everybody’s breath away,” said Mark Airey, the Centre’s strength and conditioning coordinator. “The first person got the team’s first blister there too.”

Soon Mark found he was holding a regular blister clinic each morning to repair sore feet and get them fit for another day’s walking.

After the first day, the team stopped for a well-deserved dinner at the Top Brink Inn between Hebden Bridge and Todmorden.

Double Cumberland

“We all had the Double Cumberland. It was huge and everyone struggled to finish it but it was very worthwhile,” said Mark.

Other highlights on the walk including trekking across the infamous Saddleworth Moor with high winds and climbing up the spiral staircase inside the Stoodley Pike Monument – although the weather was so dreary the team couldn’t see much of the countryside around them.

Big Sky Country

The group was battered by all sorts of weather from pouring rain to even a hail storm but when the sun did come out, it lifted the spirits and showed the scenery of the Pennine Way at its most spectacular.

“When we reached Upper Teesdale, we found a real gem. There was an incredible waterfall that wasn’t even named on the map.  It was one of those unexpected treats,” Mark said.

Rapid Progress

But when the team walked across the highest point of the Pennines at Crossfell, the weather was hideous with 40mph winds.

“The fog came in and people were beginning to shiver  so we made the decision to get off asap and make for a mountain refuge hut called Greg’s Hut,” Mark said.

It gave the team a much-needed reprieve, allowing them to eat their lunch, where upon the sun came out.

Despite a variety of injuries from bad blisters to knee problems, everyone kept going and was delighted on day 14 when they saw a sign saying ‘Kirk Yetholm – 4 miles’.

“When we got to Kirk Yetholm there was just a sign saying Pennine Way but then, as if by magic, one of the team pulled out a bottle of champagne and gave a short speech,” said Mark.


The whole team felt a great sense of accomplishment at completing the challenge, Mark said.

He said: “It was very emotional and for some, it was the biggest achievement of their life. It raised their feeling of self-worth that they can achieve this, despite what they have been through.”

Anyone who served in the Army, Navy or Royal Air Force who needs the help of Phoenix House Recovery Centre can self-refer by calling 01748 834148.