Walk Day 73 – Kelso to Melrose

Wednesday 15th August 2018

14 miles today. 765.81 miles total.

The earliest bus to Kelso leaves Melrose at 7.15am, so that’s the one I caught. My hope had been to find the path along the River Tweed, but it was not to be. The local landowners were not going to make life easy.

All delightfulness was hidden behind high stone walls

and was not for the likes of plebs like me.

So I stuck to the roads and enjoyed the occasional views over the hedges.

These mushrooms looked like huge versions of the ones we buy at the supermarket.

I did get to see the River at the end of my walk just as a heavy shower passed quickly overhead.

As I arrived I met Kevin, an American walking LEJOG. His daily mileage is much higher than mine so I’ll look for his name in the log when I get to John O’Groats.

And now it’s raining again.

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Rest Day in Melrose

Tuesday 14th August 2018

It might seem odd to take a zero day just after arriving, but Monday’s journey from home was quite long, and could have been much longer.

As it was the first train, from Milton Keynes, was delayed by 16 minutes, which meant I missed the connecting train at Birmingham. The next train was 26 minutes later and was already waiting at the platform as we pulled in.

And then the delays really began. My last journey home had been chaotic due to a lightning strike on signalling equipment at York. Lightning never strikes the same place twice? Apparently it does, and by the time we arrived at Berwick on Tweed the train was already an hour late.

Luckily there was a bus at the station about to depart so that part of the journey to Melrose went smoothly.

I arrived and pitched my tent just before the rain started.

After a long day of travelling and meeting my charming tent-neighbours from the Netherlands, Paul and Caroline, I was looking forward to exploring Melrose.

The butcher’s shop mentioned in Harry Potter was closed but I managed to explore the rest of the High Street, and visit Melrose Abbey. The pig playing bagpipes is in the picture below.

I didn’t make it outside to see the stone marking the location of Robert the Bruce’s heart before rain ended all excursions.

At one point a man walked towards me, his face changed and he turned away. A few minutes later he came to explain why. He had been taken aback by my t shirt with the Pancreatic Cancer Research Fund logo and recalled a newly-diagnosed friend, which had upset him. He thanked me for raising awareness.

The afternoon was spent in my tent trying to get rid of a severe headache and I was very glad not to be walking.

Start of Phase 6 – Kelso to Fort William

Monday 13th August 2018

This section starts with me travelling a couple of days earlier than strictly necessary. I won’t get to my campsite at Melrose until at least 9pm tonight, so have factored in a couple of early rest days to ease back into the walk. That should also give me a chance to be a tourist for a day.

My kit updates have only been partially successful. The new tent pole is not the same spec as the original. It is thicker and heavier and Vango tell me that’s what their suppliers send them. Hmmm. Peter kindly bent the bowed pole back and it is a little straighter than it was, so I’ve brought the original with me.

The ‘replacement’ walking trousers were the wrong length when they arrived, so I’ve had to send them back and am walking with the ‘holey’ pair.

My new shoes arrived and I’ll wear them in on the catch up section in September. Meanwhile this will probably be the last section for the pair called Amethyst. They have around 150 to 200 miles left before the uppers disintegrate. Or so I hope! The pair called Tealmark is officially retired hors-de-combat.

Despite extensive research into more modern* rucksacks I haven’t found one that weighs less than my 9 year old Berghaus, so I’ve saved some money by not following fashion. The hip belt rubbed a sore patch into my skin during the hot weather in July, but I think that problem will disappear as the weather changes.

My luxury item last time was an inflatable pillow. That’s at home now and this trip now includes an unnecessary but rather nice silk sleeping bag liner. It means I won’t have nylon next to my skin. Bliss.

The adrenaline has kicked in for this trip and I have no idea why I feel so nervous. It started when the fourth pin badge arrived and I fixed it to my hat. Cornwall (well, they like to think of themselves as a separate country), England, Wales, and now Scotland.

There’s still a very long way to walk, but 12th October at John O’Groats is starting to feel achievable.

* current designs are tall and thin. Mine is like me, short and wide. Which makes it look bigger than it is and also makes manoeuvres in small spaces more hazardous.

End of Phase 5

Sunday 29th July 2018

It’s hard to get a mental picture of the 750 miles that I’ve walked so far. But my disintegrating shoes and bowed tent poles, and the hole in my trousers are evidence that something has been happening. Perhaps surprisingly it’s taken until now to feel that my body is adapting to the workload, but I feel stronger than in April. The flip side is that I tried running today and my body seems to have forgotten how to do it. Never mind, I’ll catch up.

On this section, mostly the second half of the Pennine Way, I’ve planned food and water much better, but the very hot conditions have reminded me that electrolytes are also important. So they’re are being added to my pack for Phase 6.

I’ve ordered a replacement main pole for my tent, and a new pair of shoes. Hopefully I can also replace the foam/foil windscreen cover that I use as a sleep mat; the last one has worn a bit thin. And I’ve also got a bulk order of wash-in waterproofing on the way to treat my tent as well as the waterproofs. The sun won’t keep shining until October. I may need to order more socks, but I think they can wait until Phase 6.

Following Jan’s good advice I’m planning to bridge the one gap in my journey by walking from Cow Green Reservoir to Alston, probably during the gap between Phase 5 and 6. I want to get to John O’Groats with every step completed rather than have an outstanding section nagging at me.

The next section starts at Kelso and goes through to Fort William. I’m looking forward to every aspect of it except for the midges.

Walk Day 72 – Kirk Yetholm to Kelso

Friday 27th July 2018

10 miles today. 751.81 miles total.

How come the signposts say it is seven miles to Kelso?

Part of the gap is between Kirk Yetholm hostel and the junction in Town Yetholm. Also I’d marked my bus stop as being one mile on the opposite side of Kelso. It wasn’t and then, when I got there, I had to walk a mile back in hot sunshine to find the bus stop with ten minutes to spare. Ho hum.

I crept out of the hostel early this morning and set off on a brisk tarmac march between the towns.

Some of the countryside wouldn’t have been out of place in the Home Counties.

Other parts were very different. We don’t have many dry stone walls or forestry logging around my home.

A small red deer (might this be a Red Deer?) bounced over a fence into the road in front of me, then gracefully leapt the fence on the other side of the road into a corn field. All I could see then were two ears sticking up above the corn as it watched me.

Kelso looks as if it was/is quite prosperous, and there were lots of photo opportunities.

This man was standing in the shallow river fly-fishing.

After my grand tour of Kelso I caught the bus to Berwick on Tweed to discover chaos on the rail system due to lightning strikes that have affected signalling equipment. This is the only train.

Walk Day 71 – Auchope to Kirk Yetholm

Thursday 26th July 2018

7.15 miles today. 741.81 miles total.

Phew, that was another hot one. This is the English/Scottish border.

Over Great Schil,

and then I made a poor choice.

There are two routes down to Kirk Yetholm.

Andrea and Brooke chose the high route and appear in the picture below on the horizon. We waved to each other.

The high route has reputedly better views, 150 metres more climbing and is around half a mile longer than the low route.

I chose the low route which was not very interesting and didn’t have the benefit of the breezes at the top.

I was glad to finally get to the Border Hotel and rehydrate.

After food and drink my two companions caught the bus for the next part of their journeys.

An hour or so after they left Pietro, a lone Italian walker, came in followed another hour later by two men, presumably Fred and Russ who were reputed to be behind us.

I felt quite envious that they had family waiting to greet them.

That made six PW finishers in one day, which seemed a lot considering how few people I saw on the trail. The trail grapevine is excellent though and news of other walkers is shared at each stop.

Tonight I’ve booked into the Friends of Nature Hostel here.

Amazingly tomorrow is my last walking day of this Phase. I’m in Scotland folks!

Around 500 miles or less to John O’Groats.

Walk Day 70 – Yearning Saddle, Lamb Hill to Auchope

Wednesday 25th July 2018

9.53 miles today. 734.66 miles total.

My night in the Mountain Refuge Hut was uneventful and suitably refreshed I set out on the wrong direction, twice.

Eventually it dawned on me that the path continued along the east side of the fence and I used the same unofficial border crossing point as the many before me whose path I had been following.

Lamb Hill, Beefstand Hill, Mozie Law, up to Windy Gyle and Russell’s Cairn. Russell’s Cairn supposedly marks the place where Lord Francis Russell died in 1585. Or not. Depending on which history you read. The pile of stones under the cairn is from the Bronze Age and I like the idea of thousands of feet through the centuries treading the same paths.

I took my first break here, sitting in warm sun on soft grass listening to the bees in the heather. It was tempting to go to sleep, enjoy the sunshine and forget the walk but I have a journey to complete.

The clear weather meant I had excellent views all day, and could marvel at the strange lumpy Cheviot hills that look so different from the surrounding landscape.

The next section seemed like an endless trek on flagstones through heather-covered moors, uphill.

There is always another hill. And always something small to notice too. This prompted the earworm, “Green and Yellow.”

When I stopped for lunch a walker approached from a distance. It was Kerry, who as expected, was walking alone. He strode off ahead of me and stopped for his lunch at Auchope Cairn.

When I caught up with him he was just taking a call from Adam, now safely in Kirk Yetholm. Apparently Adam asked if Kerry had seen me. I don’t think he expected the answer, “She’s standing right next to me.”

For the first time in two days I had brief access to a mobile signal, but it vanished as soon as I began the precipitous and toe-bashing descent towards the second Mountain Refuge Hut, my planned stop for the night.

Again the visitor’s book makes amusing reading. I particularly liked the rant about the condition of the en-suite facilities, WiFi and room service. Many of the comments underline how well used and valued these shelters are.

I’ve collected some rubbish to take away, but that has been rare on the PW, it has been generally very clean.

An afternoon visitor was a bearded man called Nick, (aka Dumbledore) walking twenty-five miles a day. He seemed to think this is quite normal and I later discovered that he had left Byrness at 4.30am. He took his break and then marched on.

I went to sleep quite early and was woken at dusk by someone knocking on the door. Two women had walked the eighteen miles from Byrness.

Andrea is German and has been walking some of the well-known trails of Great Britain including the West Highland Way and The Great Glen Way.

Brooke is from Texas and is spending the first three weeks of her work break walking the Pennine Way. She has previously hiked the Appalachian Trail, also no mean feat. The women started as solo travellers, met on the train and have walked the whole route together. They were glad to hear that Adam is safe.

Incidentally, when I mentioned the most common question I’m asked about feeling safe as a lone traveller they laughed and added the phrase, “as a female”. It was good to meet someone else who has heard the same question and a similar attitude. Thanks ladies 🙂

The sunset was special.

Walk Day 69 – Byrness to Yearning Saddle, Lamb Hill

Tuesday 24th July 2018

9.39 miles today. 725.13 miles total.

When I came down to breakfast this morning it was to see a row of boots all ready for the day.

Colin had taken each pair at the front door as we arrived, packed them with paper and put them in the drying room overnight. They reappeared in the morning with each pair numbered.

One pair wouldn’t be used. Kerry and Adam are two friends who were walking the PW on the twentieth anniversary of their last trip. Adam’s ankle injury has ruled him out of the last part of the walk.

On the other hand Clive and Lyndsey were still fresh and eager to start their last day. Thank you Clive for your on-line donation to PCRF.

Breakfast at Forest Inn was as substantial as any walker might want and I recommend Forest Inn. Substantial food, a genial host, and comfortable clean facilities. They deliver and collect walkers from Trow Farm, which is a good place to split the last section, and they are part of the background team when people need rescuing. They’ve seen a lot of injured ankles and know the area well. Joyce’s instructions to Kerry made me smile, “When you get to Russell’s Cairn put away your map, compass, GPS, Satnav, crystal ball and anything else you’ve been using to navigate. There are paths on the ground that are not on the map, and paths on the map that are not on the ground. Follow these instructions only or you’ll end up having to back track a mile”

I was still smiling when I set off, and if it weren’t for a black cocker spaniel I would have arrived ten minutes earlier. She was zealously barking to warn her owner of strangers, and remind me to stay my side of the fence. I miss my dog, so stopped for a chat.

Byrness Hill started off as a hill, then got steeper, and for the final section I had to take my pack off and push it up the rocks in front of me as I scrambled after it.

The views from the top were unexpectedly wide.

MOD Danger Area signs appeared on a regular basis after that. The area is used for military training.

Saughy Crag, Houx Hill, Ravens Knows… The names are fascinating, and in a normal year it looks as if this part of the route would be bog central.

Not today. The weather was hot, the ground was dry and the views were wide and glorious.

For much of the day I was following the border fence between Scotland and England.

That felt quite special.

Three days supply of water made my pack much heavier, and carrying a full pack in hot sunshine means I drink more water…

Rather than risk running out of precious water I took the little diversion down to the River Coquet which runs next to the Roman fort at Chew Green. I’d already drunk one litre of water so refilled the bottles using my water filter. It’s the last running water before Kirk Yetholm.

On my way back on the trail it seemed odd to be using bridges, flagstones and boardwalk to stride across dry ground, but it is an exceptional year and I don’t mind not having swampy shoes for a day.

My day stopped at the Mountain Refuge Hut on Lamb Hill.

It was clean and recently swept out. Part of the PW tradition is to sign the various visitor’s books en-route and I enjoyed reading that two previous end-to-enders had stayed there before me.

I have swallows for company.

Walk Day 68 – Redesdale Forest to Byrness

Monday 23rd July 2018

6.77 miles today, 715.74 miles total.

After a night with high temperatures I was quite surprised to find the tent wet with dew. I was packed and on my way before 5am enjoying the relative cool of the morning.

Far from being the only person on the trail – more pine trees and Forestry Commission roads – I encountered an early morning runner powering his way up the hill. Then a few minutes later another walker who had wild camped around a quarter of a mile from my spot. I didn’t see any evidence of his camp and I hope the same was true in reverse.

Eventually the road came out at a picnic area with toilets.

They were closed due to low water in the spring that fed the facilities.

I chose the main road route away from there as I wanted to see the camp site and hotel further on.

Hmmm. The camp site that had been one of my options for tonight has been turned into an exclusively caravan park, and now hosts holiday chalets and park homes. The ‘tent’ sign has been painted over. Good job I chose the only alternative.

Walking on I decided that as I was now going to arrive far to early at my next stop I would find the hotel marked on the map and wait there with a cup of tea.

Hmmm again. As is often the case the hotel had long since been repurposed as a private house. Even the Filling Station opposite was closed and boarded up.

Instead I went into the tiny church for a while and discovered that the local area lost more people – men, women and children – during the building of a local reservoir than they did during both World Wars. Health and Safety legislation was much needed.

After a break there I then arrived six hours before check-in time at the Forest View Walkers Inn.

Colin and Joyce have made me welcome anyway, but with the predicted lack of mobile signal it may be a couple of days before I can post this blog.

Walk Day 67 – Bellingham to Redesdale Forest

Sunday 22nd July 2018

10.39 miles today. 708.97 miles total.

It was a much later start than I’d hoped for, mainly due to making sure that both the phone and the battery pack were topped up, and also to double-checking the weight distribution in my rucksack. Each extra litre of water is a kilogram of weight to add and I didn’t want to carry a lopsided pack.

The walk out through Bellingham was the same route I’d followed yesterday, then uphill and back onto the Pennine Way for a long sweep across the moors.

Some of the ground was still a bit damp and squishy despite the drought and I was glad not to have encountered it during a wet spell.

The path ‘on the ground’ varies from the map in places, and there are sheep tracks galore to confuse the unwary.

I became one of the unwary when I crossed the B6320 heading for Padon Hill, followed the most prominent track and wondered why I wasn’t going uphill.

I then had a chance to practice the exact same skill – following a bearing for a defined distance – that I had needed last Monday. This time, in daylight and dry weather, it worked perfectly, and after forty metres a path through the heather that I still couldn’t see from two metres away suddenly appeared.

That was a nice confidence boost.

After the moorland I encountered forest. The boundary path was overgrown, steep and fly-ridden, so despite the heat of the day I climbed up wearing long sleeves and a midge net.

The day became very warm and much of the area I’d expected to find as forest had been felled and was at the ugly stage of redevelopment.

Then the paths became rocky Forestry Commission roads, great for Land Rovers, logging lorries and farm vehicles, not so much fun to walk on.

By this time I’d passed my planned camp spot and eventually settled for a dip on the side of the road.

It was very hot and the flies bouncing between the inner tent and flysheet sounded like raindrops all night. Luckily not one made it inside with me so I had a relatively peaceful night.

You would have to be very fond of pine trees to really appreciate this part of the PW. I prefer them at Christmas.