A Dad, his Son – and the Pennine Way

It looks fairly easy on the map...

It looks fairly easy on the map…

It may be the stupidest thing I’ve ever done.

Or it might just be the best…

I’ve invited Ben out for a walk. Quite a long walk…

Ben, I texted, can you come downstairs when you’re ready. I want to put an idea to you.

Let me explain. I need to do something physical. I want a challenge. And I want to do it before my right knee decides the only thing it’s good for is a waiting list.

So I’ve had an idea…

A walk, with my son. After all, we have our best conversations when we’re out walking the dog.

But I’m planning something a little longer. Five days on the Pennine Way. Maybe 80 miles. Sometime in the summer holidays…

Yes, of course I have doubts. I used to be really fit. But that was 20 years ago. The occasional glass of Shiraz and slice of Stilton have passed my lips since then. The furthest I’ve walked is about five miles. At walking the dog pace.

But my worries are nothing to the outright scepticism I’ll face from the family. I can hear it now…

“Dad, every time you try to do something physical you get injured.”

“No, I don’t.”

“Yes, you do. You fell down that bank in the woods. And what about the time you tried to race Jessica up those sand-dunes?”

“Tore his hamstring.” My beloved will tick off the gory details…

“Or that time you tried to show off at football?”

“Tore his ankle ligaments.”

“Damn it, you can put your back out emptying the dishwasher.”

“That’s not strictly accurate, darling. Your Dad can put his back out by sneezing as well. Or doing something really dangerous like putting his socks on.”

Someone was coming downstairs. Ben. “Any pudding?”

“Just put your stomach on hold for five minutes. I want to ask you something. You and your Mum.

…So I have this plan,” I explained. “I want to do a physical challenge. Before I’m too old. And something with Ben. Before the last of my children leaves home.”

“Spit it out, Dad.”

“I’d like to go for a walk. On the Pennine Way. Five days. Maybe eighty miles. And I’d like you to come with me.”

Five days alone with his dad. Just what every 17 year old boy has at the top of his wish list.

Jane and Ben looked at me. Here it came…

“That’s great,” my son said. “Let’s do it.”

“Brilliant,” my wife said. “Go for it.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah. I like walking with you, Dad,”

As simple as that. And the die is cast. Some time in August my son and I are going to lace up our walking boots. Jane will drive us to Middleton-in-Teesdale. We’ll head south towards the Tan Hill Inn, Hawes, Malham and Gargrave. Five days, five packs of blister plasters and 81 miles later we’ll reach Thornton in Craven.

I have no idea if I can do it. But I’ve made a commitment to my son – and to my ego – and I’ve five months to get myself fit. It’ll mean saying goodbye to a few old friends. No red wine between Monday and Friday. And no cheese – sadly between Monday and Monday.

But there’ll be compensations. I’ll be reunited with several pairs of jeans whose sole purpose at the moment is to mock me.

Not that I’ll be walking in jeans. No way. We’re going to do this properly. “I’ll need some of those Bear Grylls survival trousers.”

“Darling, you’re walking through North Yorkshire. Not the Borneo jungle.”

My wife was right. I crossed ‘machete’ off the list…

Thanks for reading this post. If you enjoyed it – and you’d like something light and “very, very funny” to read – you can buy the ‘Best Dad I Can Be’ sample book with 27 of my favourite posts covering all the years I’ve been writing: it’s all of 99p on your Kindle. Alternatively the first chronological book, ‘Half Dad Half Fish’ which covers the time when the children were 9, 7 and 4 is available here


  1. suzanne3childrenandit says:

    Fantastic idea! You’ve got to stick to the promise now though. Perhaps time to get your hiking legs on?!

    • Yep – a few months to get fit, Suzanne. And in many ways that was the reason for writing about it: the support for the idea has been so overwhelmingly positive that there’s no way I can back out now. Seem to find myself Googling ‘walking boots’ a lot…

  2. Good luck! …and who knows, it might become a regular summer fixture. Pembrokeshire coastal path or the West Highland way next year…..

    • Thanks, Mary. That would be lovely wouldn’t it? (I’ve just had to Google West Highland Way – looks stunning & I love Scotland.) But I’ll take it one year at a time – and concentrate on getting fit for this one!

  3. That touches a nerve (in a good way, I think) for many of us, once active mums & dads. Look forward to hearing all about it – and the preparations.

    Inspired by the father & older brother of one of his friends, no.2 son has been talking up the idea of us cycling coast-to-coast. I’ve supported the notion, but also pointed out that neither of us has a bike.

    • I think that’s a brilliant idea, Chris. And if your son has suggested it, I think the answer has to be “yes.” And you’re right – ‘once active’ just about sums me up. Yes, I’ll absolutely keep writing about it – want it to be part travel blog, part father/son reflection. All the best – hope you and the family are well.

  4. That’ll be an awesome experience that you’ll both remember forever and the time spent is so precious. You can’t make enough memories 🙂

    • Thanks for the comment, Jenny: you’re absolutely right. I’m looking forward to this – no-one has a bad word to say about the idea. Just need to get myself fit…

  5. Well done you, it sounds awesome!

    • Thanks – hope all is good with you. And let me use this comment just to say a general ‘thank you’ to everyone who’s been so supportive. There’s no backing out now is there?

  6. I love this! Good luck to you both. It’s great that your son is happy to walk with you. It will be a brilliant bonding experience for you both. My husband and son are ‘doing’ Ben Nevis in the spring. I want them both to get fit for it, but neither of them will bother! They’ve both been lucky in the past and not got injured climbing Snowdon or doing ridiculously long walks (my son did 30 miles in a day!).

    • Ah, Sarah, you’ve hit the nail right on the head.
      “The bloke I spoke to said we’d go at about 2mph.”
      “No, Dad, we can go way faster than that.”
      “I think maybe we should aim for 15 miles a day.”
      “No, Dad, we’ve got all day. We can easily do 25…”
      Looks like my ageing body vs. 17 year old machismo. And yes, I’m trying to get fit – walk on the beach at 5:00 but what a wind-chill. Assume Yorkshire in August will be warmer…

  7. What a brilliant idea. Like you, I used to be reasonably fit but the advancement of the years, the arrival of the kids and a ripped-up left knee that is increasingly causing me trouble have slowed me down considerably. And, also like you, I’m suitably inpsired by having a Fitbit now to encourage me to make small improvements. But I love this idea of having a big goal and sharing it with your son. Some of my favourite memories from our pre-kids life include long walks in the wilds (well, as wild as established tourist trails get) of New Zealand. I’d love to do something similar again. Maybe I’ll start small though …

    • Tim – some of my happiest moments as a Dad have been walking with Ben. We just talk and talk. Quite how many subjects we’ll cover in five days Heaven only knows: we did the plot of Spectre yesterday & compared it to The Night Manager. hope your Fitbit is going as well as mine. 10k steps every day in Feb. Deeply envious re New Zealand – always wanted to go there. Sigh…

  8. Superb plan, as a 16 year old I walked the Ridgeway with friends. Not sure my 17 year could do that, the lead on his PS4 controller isn’t long enough. Enjoy.

    • Wife read your comment, Barry. “Well he’s quite funny,” she said. No higher compliment. On the other hand, mate, she is a psychologist…

  9. Sounds brilliant. Good luck!

  10. Yep! This is a brilliant idea. You’re going to love it!
    I love hiking or shall we say rambling, but every year I do something active with our young and most beloved son. And walking in the country. Any countryside. Always works. He then talks to me. Really talks to me. He whinges and whines a lot too. He once sang that we were were lost and going to be eaten by wild animals. In Wales! But still.

    He also goes to the Boy Scouts of America (even though we’re British), but living in Germany n’ all that, so there’s camping and sailing, etc. I don’t particularly like the camping and neither does my husband! He had enough of the tough love at National Service, in the Germany Army. He’s a musician you see….!

    Now that our son is a young teenager these moments are ever more important. We’re going to the Cheshire Peak District, Portugal and Spain in a few weeks. Time to get my hiking shoes out!

    • Thanks, Victoria – that’s exactly what I feel. This summer is probably my last chance before he’s off travelling with friends and then on to university. As he’s my youngest I’m acutely conscious of how precious the time is. The conversation is brilliant isn’t it? We range over politics, philosophy, religion: the only subject he won’t discuss with me is girls!

      • Aaah! Eeek! My 13 year old son goes red, mumbles and runs away from me! Nevertheless, we’ve talked about sexuality in general, just so that he knows that we would be supportive either way!

        • Soon be time for this conversation…
          – I’m going out
          – Where?
          – Nowhere special, just out
          – Who with?
          – No-one special
          – Does she have a name, this “no-one special?”
          Conversation ends…

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