Nearly forty years ago three woman navigated ancient packhorse routes between Northumberland and Derbyshire on horse back.
The one surviving member of that group, Dawn Baly (pictured, centre), has described the adventure as “magic, total magic”.
She was speaking at a celebration of the 10th anniversary of the official opening of the Pennine Bridleway National Trail, held in June at the Fat Lamb Inn in Ravenstonedale in the Cumbrian part of the Yorkshire Dales National Park.
The 205-mile trail, which ends at the Fat Lamb, resulted from the ride she undertook in 1986. A 123-mile ‘northern extension’ to Byrness in Northumberland, however, remains uncompleted.
Also at the event was Cosima Towneley, currently the Mayor of Burnley, whose mother Mary Towneley led the 1986 ride and became the driving force behind the Pennine Bridleway.
In a speech Miss Towneley said: “How extraordinary to think my mother’s legacy of the Mary Towneley loop and the Pennine Bridleway are respectively 20 and 10 years old.
“The raison d’etre for this magnificent route was three-fold. One – to reclaim the ancient highways deemed redundant to modern forms of recreation and reopen them for a new generation. Two – to support and succour that hardy but dwindling breed of upland farming communities by encouraging people to stop and stay. Three – to place the horse at the centre of a strategy when all others failed to acknowledge its existence.
“To this Mary was to dedicate 40 years of her life. In fact it became her life. One memorable event consisted of my mother dashing to the bed of an older sister in the throes of childbirth. Between each rising stage of excitement my mother was busy marking up maps on the hospital floor.
“It took two years of research to prepare for the ’86 ride – and 10 days to complete. My mother threw herself into the campaign to get the route acknowledged and funded and great friends carried this forward. This is a bittersweet moment because today the northern extension still languishes uncompleted.”
Her audience was a gathering of people who had campaigned to establish the trail as well as representatives from Natural England, which funds the maintenance and promotion of National Trails, the British Horse Society, Cycling UK, and the staff of the Pennine Trails National Partnership, which is administered by the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority.
The 1986 ride participant Dawn Baly, who lives in Shropshire, also gave a short speech. She said: “I did the first journey down the route from Hexham to Ashbourne with Mary Towneley. I was a novice. It was so exciting. The freedom of it, looking through the ponies’ ears and riding to the horizon and beyond – magic, total magic.”
Mark Weston, director of access at the British Horse Society, which has 118,000 members, attended the celebration. He said: “The Pennine Bridleway has particular importance for horse riders. It’s a prime example of how the need to get horse riders off the road and for them to have safe access can be achieved. The development of the Pennine Bridleway National Trail also encourages smaller loops to be developed, that join on to it, and so it acts as a catalyst for more route creation.”
Routes linking the Pennine Bridleway to the Eden Valley Loops have recently been improved. People attending the celebration walked from the Fat Lamb Inn to a section where work has been carried out, funded by the Westmorland Dales Landscape Partnership Scheme.
Businesswoman Alison Muir of the nearby Stonetrail Riding Centre said she was booked up for the rest of the summer, such was the growing popularity of horse riding for recreation. She said: “When the Pennine Bridleway opened ten years ago I remember Martin Clunes saying at the opening, ‘It means you can go on a journey – and everyone wants to go on a journey’. The bridleway network we have now, there is nowhere else like it in the world. The bit people are seeing today linking the Pennine Bridleway and the Eden Valley Loops used to be pitted and slippery. I used to have to tell people ‘watch where you go’. Now it is good to ride on.”
Sara Schultz, who is Northern National Trails Manager at Natural England, said she was keen to take part in the celebration: “Natural England is very proud of the lengths that the lead partner – the Yorkshire Dales – has taken in leading the new Pennine National Trails Partnership forward to really promote the Pennine Bridleway as a multi-user route particularly for horse riders, cyclists and walkers. A lot has happened in ten years. It resonates with us that National Trails are important. We continue to fund them and will do into the future I hope.”
Adam Peters, who was the Cycling UK representative at the celebration event, said: “Cycling UK is enthusiastic about long distance trails. Two-thirds of the population is too scared to cycle on the road. So this is the kind of route that at least the fitter members can tackle. We think there’s a lot of potential for cycle touring on the route. We think it’s a great resource and we’d really like to see the northern extension completed.”
Mark Allum, the volunteer Chair of the Pennine National Trails Partnership, said: “The Pennine Bridleway was unique in the way it was conceived and came about. And also it is unique in the breadth of users who can enjoy it. It’s a very special National Trail.
“One of the main objectives of the partnership is to continue the National Trail northwards from what is – at the moment – the official end point here at the Fat Lamb. We’ve got a way to go until we get to Byrness but it’s still very much the ambition of the partnership.”
Officially opened on 12 June 2012 by Martin Clunes as President of the British Horse Society, the Pennine Bridleway is one of two National Trails through the Yorkshire Dales National Park. The other is the 268 mile Pennine Way, the first National Trail to be created in 1965.