Meet Sarah Elton – this year’s festival organiser

This year’s North Pennines Walking Festival couldn’t be in better hands. It turns out that Friends of the North Pennines trustee Sarah Elton comes from a long line of walkers. Her great grandfather was a vicar who ministered to various parishes in Cumberland and Westmorland during his lifetime. Wherever his family was based, he and his daughter, Sarah’s grandmother, discovered the local area on foot.  “In her youth, Granny lived in Ravenstonedale and Eskdale, surrounded by spectacular upland walking. She passed the love of the outdoors onto her children and grandchildren” says Sarah. “Granny and I would walk together regularly when I was a teenager – and when we went up Wild Boar Fell, overlooking her childhood home, she announced that it had been 70 years since she last climbed it!”

On that first ascent, Sarah’s granny had walked across the notoriously boggy plateau barefoot. “She said it was much easier going and felt lovely,” recalls Sarah. In later years, albeit shod, Sarah’s granny continued to explore the North Pennines and Lake District. “She had a school friend who visited her every year – they scrambled up Jack’s Rake in Langdale when they were in their 80s,” says Sarah. “I put it down to the wartime diet. It made them tough. I hope I can continue to hill walk into my old age. ”

Sarah herself has ranged right across the North Pennines and drops names like Cross Fell and High Cup Nick as if talking about old friends. She is planning to walk the Pennine Way this summer. You might think that this distinguished pedigree is how she came to be leading the 2018 Walking Festival. You’d be wrong. “I was away skiing in January and missed the regular monthly trustee meeting. I came back to an e mail asking if I’d like to organise the Festival!”

In collaboration with staff at the North Pennines AONB Partnership and Middleton in Teesdale’s brand-new Walkers are Welcome group, Sarah has put together a varied programme with different themes to suit a range of tastes and abilities. The first walk of the Festival (Saturday 30 June) starts along the Pennine Way, discovering the glacial history of the Kirkcarrion area. The Botany and Bees walk (Saturday 7 July), around the Bowlees Visitor Centre, will introduce families to the plant and insect life found in the AONB. Other Festival events give walkers chance to explore diverse areas of the AONB, including Talkin (Tuesday 3rd July) and Renwick/Kirkoswald (Sunday 1 July). Those keen for a taste of Isaac’s Tea Trail in the Allen Valleys can sample it on Tuesday 10 July, and later that week (Saturday 14 July) Festival-goers have exclusive access to the normally private Little Fell. On the same day, the last of the Festival, the Pennine Way settlement of Middleton in Teesdale celebrates its launch as a ‘Walkers are Welcome’ town with a walk up Snaisgill.

If you’d like to join the Friends of the North Pennines on one of these walks, further details of the programme plus booking links can be found on their website at: http://friendsofthenorthpennines.org.uk/north-pennines-walking-festival/Sarah Elton - organiser of the 2018 Walking Festival