The Pennine Way was conceived by journalist Tom Stephenson back in 1935. But it was another three decades before the walk came to fruition. It was Britain’s first long-distance footpath and changed the British countryside forever. Many Pennine Way guidebooks had been published up to this point, but Tom wrote the first official guidebook, published shortly after the Pennine Way officially opened on the 24th April 1965.
Although being the brainchild of Tom Stephenson, the Pennine Way is synonymous with Alfred Wainwright through his excellent 1968 Pennine Way Companion, and the promise of a free pint at the end of the walk. He had a love hate relationship with the trail, and I think most of that stems from his personal life at that time. He wasn’t in a good place, and that definitely came out in his writing.
Along with the Coast to Coast walk, the Pennine Way is one of my favourite trails. It was my first real introduction to the world of Wainwright and has a special place in my heart. Despite a lull a few years ago, the popularity of the Pennine Way is increasing once again, with more weary travellers arriving daily at the Border Hotel in Kirk Yetholm. If you want to experience real solitude for three weeks, I highly recommend it.
Presented here are a few articles about the Pennine Way back in its heyday, which focus on the free pint offered to all completers.
During the mid-1970s, the trail was at its peak popularity, with thousands of walkers taking up the challenge to receive their reward. The completers were costing Wainwright a fortune. At one point he even considered withdrawing his offer, but he was a man of his word and kept up the tradition he started way back in 1968.
A few years later, Wainwright’s funds were running low. He had already paid thousands of pounds to the Border Hotel over the past 10 years. In 1979, inflation forced him to drop the pint to a half. For the book nerds, this change happened in the 65th impression, with a small edit at the rear of the guide.
Did Wainwright misjudge just how many people would undertake this mammoth task? It’s human nature to accept a challenge, so maybe a free beer was the deciding factor for some to walk the whole 268 miles? Ronald Faux from The Times seems to think so.
When Wainwright died in 1991, it was estimated that his generosity cost him £15,000. Going forward, the tab was picked up by book publisher Michael Joseph.
In 2004, the Border Hotel Licensees, Philip and Margaret kept the free half pint going with a sponsorship deal with Carlsberg. Later it was changed to Broughton Brewery as they wanted to use a local microbrewery who could supply a good quality real ale, and help with the design of the certificates to give each Walker. In 2013, the Border Hotel was bought by Michael McGuigan, partnered by Kelso farmers, Douglas, and Helen Scott-Watson. The hotel has since gone from strength to strength. The current half pint sponsor is Hadrian Border Brewery.
With special thanks to Julie Wilson, the House Manager at the Border Hotel who provided detailed information and photos of the Pennine Way registers.Back to top of page