Often described as the "backbone of England", the Pennine hills form a more-or-less continuous range stretching northwards from the Peak District in Derbyshire, around the northern and eastern edges of Lancashire and Greater Manchester, through the Yorkshire Dales past the Cumbrian Fells to the Cheviot Hills on the Anglo-Scottish border. North of the Aire Gap, the Pennines' western spur into North Lancashire forms the Bowland Fells, and south of the gap is a spur into east Lancashire, comprising the Rossendale Fells and West Pennine Moors. The Pennines are an important water catchment area with numerous reservoirs in the head streams of the river valleys.
The region is widely considered to be one of the most scenic areas of the United Kingdom. The North Pennines and Nidderdale are designated Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), as are Bowland and Pendle Hill. Parts of the Pennines are incorporated into the Peak District National Park, the Yorkshire Dales National Park and the Northumberland National Park. Britain's oldest long-distance footpath, the Pennine Way, runs along most of the Pennine chain and is 268 miles (429 km) long.
The Cheviot Hills, separated by the Tyne Gap and the Whin Sill, along which run the A69 and Hadrian's Wall, are not part of the Pennines but, perhaps because the Pennine Way crosses them, they are often treated as such. Conversely the southern end of the Pennines is commonly said to be in the High Peak of Derbyshire at Edale, the start of the Pennine Way, although hills continue towards the Stoke-on-Trent area in Staffordshire and into southern parts of Cheshire and Derbyshire.
Origin of the name
The first use of the name "Pennines" to describe the mountain range is in the spurious De Situ Britanniae, first published in 1757:
"This province is divided into two equal parts by a chain of mountains called the Pennine Alps, which rising on the confines of the Iceni and Carnabii, near the River Trivona (River Trent), extend towards the north in a continued series of fifty miles."
The book purported to contain the account of a Roman general preserved in the manuscript of a 14th-century English monk, Richard of Cirencester, and was considered the premier source of information on Roman Britain for more than a century after it was made available in 1749. It was a forgery created by Charles Bertram, an Englishman living in Copenhagen. In 1853, Arthur Hussey listed several names in De Situ Britanniae that he could not trace to an earlier source, including the "Pennine Alps". However, by that time, particularly in the early 19th century, the name "Pennine Chain" or "Pennines" had become widely accepted.
In his 2004 book Names and History: People, Places and Things, George Redmonds provided a modern assessment. He comments on the omission of the etymology of the Pennines in the serious literature regarding the area, including publications on place-name origins of Derbyshire and Lancashire by respected authors. He learned that the origin of the name is from De Situ Britanniae and that "nor do we know any name for the whole range before the 18th century." There follows a discussion of the forgery and that a number of its inventions found their way into the Ordnance Survey maps; and that the true origin of the name was known by serious authors, most of whom simply chose not to speak of it. He noted that the mountains had been called by various names in the past, and there were allusional references to the mountains as "our Apennines" in the 1630s and perhaps before that, so likely Bertram invented a name that was easy for people to accept.
Redmonds also suggests that Bertram may have got the idea for the name from the Elizabethan commentator William Camden, who wrote:
The north part ... riseth up and swelleth somewhat mountainous, with moores and hills, which beginning here runs as an Apenine does in Italie, through the middest of England ... even as far as Scotland, although often they change their name.
The name 'Pennines' may have been readily accepted if it was already related to an earlier name or names of a Cumbric origin, like Pen-y-ghent in Yorkshire. A similar language to Cumbric was once spoken in Northern Italy. The etymology for the Apennines of Italy most frequently repeated is that it derives from the Celtic Penn, 'mountain, summit': which could have been assigned during the Celtic domination of north Italy in the 4th century BC or before. The name originally applied to the north Apennines. However, historical linguists have never found a derivation with which they are universally comfortable. Wilhelm Deecke said: "... is doubtful but some derive it from the Ligurian-Celtish Pen or Ben, which means mountain peak." Ranko Matasović reconstructs a Proto-Celtic root *bando- 'peak, top', which he considers of non-Indo-European origin.
The names of towns and geographical features retain evidence of the Celts who were here before, and after, the Romans: for example the town Penrith, the fell Pen-y-ghent, the River Eden, and the name Cumbria. More commonly, local names result from later Anglo-Saxon and Norse settlements. In Yorkshire and Cumbria many words of Norse origin, not commonly used in standard English, are part of everyday speech: for example, gill (narrow steep valley), beck (brook or stream), fell (hill) and dale (valley).
Geology and physical geography
The Pennines have been carved from a series of geological structures whose overall form is a broad anticline whose axis extends in a north–south direction. The North Pennines are coincident with the Alston Block, whilst the Yorkshire Dales are coincident with the Askrigg Block. In the south the Peak District is essentially a flat-topped dome. Each of these structures consists of Carboniferous limestone overlain with Millstone Grit. The limestone is exposed at the surface in the north of the range, in the North Pennines AONB, and in the south in the Derbyshire Peak District. In the Yorkshire Dales and the White Peak the limestone exposure has led to the formation of large underground cave systems and watercourses. In the Dales the caves or potholes are known as "gills" and "pots" in the Yorkshire dialect, and are prevalent on the eastern side. They include some of the largest caves in England at Gaping Gill, more than 350 ft (107 m) deep and Rowten Pot, 365 ft (111 m) deep. Titan in the Peak District, the deepest shaft known in Britain, is connected to Peak Cavern in Castleton, Derbyshire, the largest cave entrance in the country. Erosion of the limestone has led to some unusual geological formations, such as the limestone pavements at Malham Cove.
Between the northern and southern areas of exposed limestone (between Skipton and the Dark Peak) lies a narrow belt of exposed gritstone. Here the shales and sandstones of the Millstone Grit form high hills occupied by a moorland of bracken, peat, heather and coarse grasses; the higher ground is uncultivable and barely fit for pasture.
The Pennine landscape is characterised by upland areas of high moorland indented by more fertile river valleys.
Rising less than 3,000 feet, the Pennines are often referred to as fells. The highest is Cross Fell in eastern Cumbria, at 2,930 feet (893 m), while other principal peaks include Mickle Fell 2,585 ft (788 m), Whernside 2,415 ft (736 m), Ingleborough 2,372 ft (723 m), High Seat 2,328 ft (710 m) and Wild Boar Fell 2,324 ft (708 m), both in Mallerstang, Pen-y-ghent 2,274 ft (693 m), Kinder Scout in Derbyshire 2,087 ft (636 m) and Black Chew Head in Greater Manchester 1,778 ft (542 m)
The Pennines form the main watershed in northern England, dividing east and west. The rivers Eden, Ribble, Irwell and Mersey flow westwards towards the Irish Sea. On the eastern side of the watershed, the rivers Tyne, Tees, Wear, Swale, Ure, Nidd, Calder, Wharfe, Aire, Don and Trent rise in the region and flow eastwards to the North Sea.
The Pennine climate is generally temperate like the rest of England, but the hills have more precipitation, stronger winds and colder weather than the surrounding areas. Some areas could be described as Oceanic climate verging on Subarctic climate and a small area in Teesdale is classified as subarctic. More snow falls on the Pennines than on surrounding lowland areas due to the elevation and distance from the coast; unlike lowland areas of England, the Pennines can have quite severe winters.
The northwest is amongst the wettest regions of England and much of the rain falls on the Pennines. The eastern side is drier than the west—the rain shadow shields northeast England from rainfall that would otherwise fall there.
Precipitation is important for the area's biodiversity and human population. Many towns and cities are located along rivers flowing from the hills and in northwest England the lack of natural aquifers is compensated for by reservoirs.
Water has carved out gorges, caves and limestone landscapes in the Yorkshire Dales and Peak District. In some areas precipitation has contributed to poor soils, resulting in part in moorland landscapes that characterize much of the range. In other areas where the soil has not been degraded, it has resulted in lush vegetation.
The Pennines are in climate zones 7 and 8: zone 8 is common throughout most of the UK and zone 7 is the UK's coldest climatic zone. The Pennines, Scottish Highlands, Southern Uplands and Snowdonia are the only areas of the UK in zone 7.
|Climate data for Great Dun Fell, North Pennines (848 m) 1981–2010|
|Average high °C (°F)||1.5
|Average low °C (°F)||−2.6
|Source: Met Office|
England has been divided into areas of similar landscape character. Originally called Joint Character Areas, the National Character Areas are a widely recognised national spatial framework, but their boundaries are not precise and should be considered as broad zones of transition.
National Character Areas are:
- Border Moors and Forests
- Tyne Gap and Hadrian's Wall
- North Pennines
- Howgill Fells
- Yorkshire Dales
- Bowland Fells the Bowland Fringe and Pendle Hill
- South Pennines, including the West Pennine Moors
- Dark Peak
- White Peak
- South West Peak
Bowland is dominated by a central upland landform of deeply incised gritstone fells covered with tracts of heather-covered peat moorland and blanket bog. The lower slopes of the fells are dotted with stone-built farms and small villages and are criss-crossed by drystone walls enclosing reclaimed moorland pasture. Steep-sided wooded valleys link the upland and lowland landscapes. In the northeast of the area are extensive coniferous plantations and the eastern limestone areas support high-quality species-rich meadows.
The Pennines were controlled by the tribal federation of the Brigantes, made up of mainly small tribes who inhabited the area and cooperated on defence and external affairs. The Brigantes evolved an early form of kingdom. During Roman times, the Brigantes were dominated by the Romans who exploited the Pennines for their natural resources including the wild animals found there.
The Pennines were a major obstacle for Anglo-Saxon expansion westwards, although it appears the Anglo-Saxons travelled through the valleys. During the Dark Ages the Pennines were controlled by Celtic and Anglo-Saxon kingdoms. It is believed that the north Pennines were under the control of the kingdom of Rheged.
During Norse times the Pennines were settled by Viking Danes in the east and Norwegian Vikings in the west. The Vikings influenced place names, culture and genetics. When England was unified the Pennines were incorporated into it. Their mixture of Celtic, Anglo-Saxon and Viking heritage resembled much of the rest of northern England and its culture developed alongside its lowland neighbours in northwest and northeast England. The Pennines were not a distinct political polity, but were divided between neighbouring counties in northeast and northwest England; a major part was in the West Riding of Yorkshire.
The Pennine region is sparsely populated by English standards. There are large population centres in Bradford and Sheffield and a few towns bordering the Peak District, but most of the area is thinly populated. Larger cities such as Leeds and Manchester lie at the foot of the hills.
Gaps that allow west–east communication across the Pennines include the Tyne Gap between the Pennines and the Cheviots, through which the A69 road and Tyne Valley railway link Carlisle and Newcastle upon Tyne. The A66 road, its summit at 1,450 feet (440 m), follows the course of a Roman road from Scotch Corner to Penrith through the Stainmore Gap between the Eden Valley in Cumbria and Teesdale in County Durham. The Aire Gap links Lancashire and Yorkshire via the valleys of the Aire and Ribble. Other high-level roads include Buttertubs Pass, named from limestone potholes near its 1,729-foot (527 m) summit, between Hawes in Wensleydale and Swaledale and the A684 road from Sedburgh to Hawes via Garsdale Head which reaches 1,100 feet (340 m).
Further south the A58 road traverses the Calder Valley between West Yorkshire and Greater Manchester reaching 1,282 feet (391 m) between Littleborough and Ripponden, while the A646 road along the Calder Valley between Burnley and Halifax reaches 764 feet (233 m) following valley floors. In the South Pennines the A628 Woodhead road links the M67 motorway in Greater Manchester with the M1 motorway in South Yorkshire and Holme Moss is crossed by the A6024 road, whose highest point is near Holme Moss transmitting station between Longdendale and Holmfirth.
Three trans-Pennine canals built during the Industrial Revolution cross the range:
- The Huddersfield Narrow Canal connects Huddersfield in the east with Manchester in the west. When it reaches Marsden, it passes underneath the hills through the Standedge Tunnel to Diggle. Fortnightly during the summer season, one can pass through the tunnel on a public narrowboat.
- The Rochdale Canal crosses the Pennines via Rochdale, connecting the market town of Sowerby Bridge with Manchester.
- The Leeds and Liverpool Canal, the longest and most northerly of the three, crosses the Pennines via Skipton, Burnley and Wigan connecting Leeds in the east with Liverpool in the west.
The London and North Western Railway acquired the Huddersfield and Manchester Railway in 1847 and built a single-line tunnel parallel to the canal tunnel at Standedge with a length of 3 miles, 57 yards (4803 m). Today rail services along the Huddersfield line between Huddersfield and Victoria and Piccadilly stations in Manchester are operated by First TransPennine Express and Northern Rail. Between 1869 and 1876 the Midland Railway built the Settle-Carlisle Line through remote, scenic regions of the Pennines from near Settle to Carlisle passing Appleby-in-Westmorland and a number of other settlements, some a distance from their stations. The line has survived, despite difficult times and is operated by Northern Rail.
The Trans Pennine Trail, a long-distance route for cyclists, horse riders and walkers, runs west–east alongside rivers and canals, along disused railway tracks and through historic towns and cities from Southport to Hornsea (207 miles/333 km). It crosses the north–south Pennine Way (268 miles/431 km) at Crowden-in-Longdendale.
National Parks and AONBs
Considerable areas of Pennine landscape are protected as UK national parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs): Northumberland National Park (9), Yorkshire Dales National Park (7) and the Peak District National Park (1) and the North Pennines AONB. Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty are afforded much the same protection as National Parks.
The North Pennines AONB just north of the Yorkshire Dales rivals the National Park in size and includes some of the Pennines' highest peaks and some of its most isolated and sparsely populated areas. Nidderdale is an AONB east of the Yorkshire Dales National Park, and the Bowland Fells, including Pendle Hill, is an AONB west of the Yorkshire Dales.
The language used in pre-Roman and Roman times was British. During the Early Middle Ages, the Cumbric language developed. However, little evidence of Cumbric remains, so it is difficult to ascertain whether or not it was a language in its own right or simply a dialect of Old Welsh. The extent of the region in which Cumbric was spoken is also unknown.
During Anglo-Saxon times the area was settled by Anglian peoples of Mercia and Northumbria, rather than the Saxon people of Southern England. Celtic speech remained in most areas of the Pennines longer than it did in the surrounding areas of England. Eventually, the Celtic tongue of the Pennines was replaced by early English as Anglo-Saxons and Vikings settled the area and assimilated the Celts.
In Norse times, Viking settlers brought their languages of Old Norse, Old Danish (mainly in the Yorkshire Dales and parts of the Peak District) and Old Norwegian (mainly in the western Pennines). With the eventual consolidation of England by the Saxon kingdom of Wessex, the pure Norse speech died out in England, though it survived in the Pennines longer than in most areas. However, the fusion of Norse and Old English was important in the formation of Middle English and hence Modern English, and many individual words of Norse descent remain in use in local dialects, such as that of Yorkshire, and in local place names.
Folklore and customs
The folklore and customs are mostly based on Celtic, Anglo-Saxon and Viking customs and folklore. Many customs and stories have their origin in Christianised pagan traditions. In the Peak District, a notable custom is well dressing, which has its origin in pagan traditions that became Christianised.
Flora in the Pennines is adapted to moorland and subarctic landscapes and climates. The flora found there can be found in other areas of moorland in Northern Europe and some species are also found in areas of tundra.
In the Pennine millstone grit areas above an altitude of 900 feet (270 m) the topsoil is so acidic, pH 2 to 4, that it can grow only bracken, heather, sphagnum, and coarse grasses such as cottongrass, purple moor grass and heath rush.
As the Ice age glacial sheets retreated c. 11,500 BC trees returned and archaeological palynology can identify their species. The first trees to settle were willow, birch and juniper, followed later by alder and pine. By 6500 BC temperatures were warmer and woodlands covered 90% of the dales with mostly pine, elm, lime and oak. On the limestone soils the oak was slower to colonize and pine and birch predominated. Around 3000 BC a noticeable decline in tree pollen indicates that neolithic farmers were clearing woodland to increase grazing for domestic livestock, and studies at Linton Mires and Eshton Tarn find an increase in grassland species.
On poorly drained impermeable areas of millstone grit, shale or clays the topsoil gets waterlogged in winter and spring. Here tree suppression combined with the heavier rainfall results in blanket bog up to 7 ft (2 m) thick. The erosion of peat still exposes stumps of ancient trees.
"In digging it away they frequently find vast fir trees, perfectly sound, and some oaks ..."
Fauna in the Pennines is similar to the rest of England and Wales, but the area hosts some specialised species. Deer are found throughout the Pennines and some species of animals that are rare elsewhere in England can be found here. Arctic Hares, which were common in Britain during the Ice Age and retreated to the cooler, more tundra-like uplands once the climate warmed up, were introduced to the Dark Peak area of the Peak District in the 19th century.
Large areas of heather moorland in the Pennines are managed for driven shooting of wild Red Grouse. The related and declining Black Grouse is still found in northern parts of the Pennines. Other birds whose English breeding strongholds are in the Pennines include Golden Plover, Snipe, Curlew, Dunlin, Merlin, Short-eared Owl, Ring Ouzel and Twite, though many of these are at the southern limit of their distributions and are commoner in Scotland.
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- Geology of the United Kingdom
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