England’s Longest Line

England’s longest linear line without crossing a road (as defined by the Ordnance Survey)

The general concept of ‘straight lining’ first came to my attention when we watched the film The Longest Line  about Calum Maclean and Jenny Graham who hike, climb, scramble and wade their way across 78.55km of Cairngorm wilderness to be the first people to complete the longest linear line without crossing a road in Great Britain. I thoroughly enjoyed the film and could see they’d had a great adventure but it was my husband, Andy Blackett, who’s imagination it really captured and he went away and found the following blog post on the OS website, originally posted in 2019. 

OS Blog – GB Longest Line

The blogpost details the longest lines in Scotland, Wales and England and describes the line we followed as For England, the longest straight walk without encountering a road is in the North Pennines to the east of the Lake District. The straight line is 29.874km long (29874.438016m). The northernmost point of this line is at 369365, 543355 at a classified unnumbered minor road that comes off of the A686 and leads to Leadgate. The southernmost point is on the B6276 heading east from Market Brough/Brough, the coordinates being 381007, 515840.’

Image from www.ordnancesurvey.co.uk

As the line is pretty much on our doorstep it seemed rude not to have an attempt and Andy began making plans, his research hasn’t turned up any prior attempts at this route so a date was set for an attempt at the first crossing of England’s Longest Line. He first had a go back at the beginning of March with a friend, Martin Wilson, from our running club (Durham Fell Runners). Unfortunately, they were hampered by snow and the attempt was binned off before it started as the car shuttle over Hartside Pass was not possible. They had a look at the northern end anyway and given it took them three hours to cover about 7km it seems likely that even if they had got a car over Hartside Pass their chances of success would have been slim. 

As the route goes through an MOD exclusion zone, there are only certain weekends of the year when you have access. The next such weekend was 30/31st March. This was a few weeks out from a key race for Martin so he had his excuse for not going again … It seemed that most of the running club were ‘busy’ with something else on Saturday 30th March. 

The concept of the challenge was appealing to me and like I said earlier, I had really enjoyed the film of the successful completion of the GB line in Cairngorm. However, 30km across the roughest, boggiest ground of the North Pennines with zero of the route being anywhere near a path had been enough for me to be more than happy for this to be an Andy project. When it became clear that Andy would either have to go solo, which he wasn’t keen on doing at all, or postpone I suggested seeing if my mum was free to look after our two boys. Fortuitously, she was (which is rare, we normally need to make arrangements far in advance!). It was a sign. It was on! 

Normally, before a challenge I have spent time reccying the route, or at least studying the map. Firstly, I only decided this was on 8 days out and didn’t have time. But also, even if I’d had the luxury of time, there wasn’t a route to learn. We would be setting the compasses to a bearing and following it. And it probably made sense to not look too closely at what I would be covering. Ignorance would be bliss.

The weekend arrived and with the children safely handed over to their Granny for 24 hours, we set off on phase 1 – vehicle shuttling. This involved driving both the car and the van to the finish in the North before then driving the van back round to the start near Brough. A mission that took over an hour and a half! Safely parked up near to the start we headed for an early night with an early alarm call set.

Breakfast and coffee at 445am. Coffee always goes down no problem but I struggled to eat my breakfast at this time.

The forecast had been good and as we set off it was a beautiful morning. In fact the weather all day was fabulous. If there had been more challenging weather conditions, I am really not sure if I would have stuck it out.

The initial kilometres were exciting with gullies, river crossings and woodland all making the act of going in a straight line challenging.

Steep gullies to negotiate
Topping out after a spicy climb out of a gully

Once we got out onto the open fell then following the straight line became easier. There was possibly more wildlife than we expected. We enjoyed seeing 3, possible 4 owls. There were two geese that circled overhead for what felt like a very long time. Not to mention endless grouse shooting out with their annoying call at regular intervals. One came out right under my feet and I gave such a scream Andy thought I had broken a leg. However, with less to think about it also became more monotonous. Endless kilometres of rough ground. And you have to concentrate so hard on the compass bearing to avoid drifting off to the left or right. When you were higher up and could pick a feature to aim for it was easier but on the climbs or in deep peat grough terrain you really had to be looking at the compass all the time. Every now and again there would be a call to one another ‘left a bit’ or ‘you’re off the line’ and the other person would duly check and correct.

Have I mentioned how tough the terrain was?!

Despite the monotonous drag of the heather, bogs and peat there were little moments of beauty or interest.

Although the bogs were endless, I found the shade of these green ones really quite startling and beautiful in contrast to the browns of the heather and peat.

Andy always enjoys a Currick and this one seemed incredibly well constructed considering its remote location.

This curious structure looked a lot like a grave or tombstone but any etchings that may have been made in the rock had been eroded away.

Andy declared to me that he had found a really beautiful bit of bog. We were recording sound bites throughout the day for our friend Charlie Baker’s podcast, On the Back Foot. This was actually a really great thing to do and I have enjoyed listening back to the snippets. Some of them are Andy talking for 5 minutes about the food he has been eating. One of them is just the geese circling overhead. Another is me, probably at my lowest moment declaring how s**t it all is! This one however, is Andy explaining just why this bit of bog is so beautiful.

Reaching the second crossing of the Pennine Way was a great landmark to have reached. After this, the terrain did ease slightly with a traverse along a hillside that allowed us to pick up the pace slightly. The sun was still shining and it was clear we were going to get this thing done. The last climb up onto the shoulder of Staneshaw Rigg brought into sight the car! This was a great moment. Although the car was still 4km away over more rough terrain we could see our goal, fixed our sights on the finish point and headed on our line straight for it.

And then, we were there, stood back on tarmac with the sound of traffic whizzing up and down to and from Hartside Pass. Job done. Mission accomplished. What a silly day!

Andy had been talking to a colleague at work about his Easter weekend plans, his colleague’s response had been ‘well you’ve got to find your adventures somewhere’. This tickled us both. You do, indeed, have to find your adventures somewhere. And on Saturday 30th March, this is where we found ours. We believe we are the first people silly enough to do this, if we are wrong do let us know. It was a true adventure through the very heart of wild, remote upper moorland that challenged our mental resolve but ultimately has left us with a real love and respect for this landscape which can look and feel so desolate, but in which we found little gems of beauty or curiosity that will stay with us forever.