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 6 and 7 in September. 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.

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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 at York. This is the only train.

Edited later.

I took the only train on the basis that some progress was better than none and joined several thousand people at Newcastle, all affected by the signalling problems. No electricity meant the signals didn’t work, and electric trains couldn’t run.

Eventually one southbound deisel-engined train arrived and around one thousand of us crammed on it. Others were left on the platform.

The train manager advised staying on the train to Kings Cross because they didn’t know whether they would find another train in the chaos. Some progress is better than none but it was an uncomfortable journey. Luckily most people kept their good humour.

London signals and trains were working, so I walked to Euston, caught a direct train to Milton Keynes and arrived earlier than if I had caught the cancelled train.

Some progress was definitely better than none 🙂

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.

Rest Day – Bellingham

Saturday 21st July 2018

Lots of bicycles were abandoned in Bellingham after the cycle race came through a few years ago. They have been used creatively.

A celebration of the Women’s Suffrage movement.

The town is also full of flowers.

These roses smelled divine.

The return walk from the campsite into Bellingham was around 2.5 miles so I bought the water bottles and supplies that I’ll need for the rest of the week. This is the last food shopping before Kirk Yetholm and I’ll need to carry water for three days after Byrness.

While I was there I discovered St Cuthbert’s well.

Apparently it never runs dry, winter or summer. With the recent dry spell that in itself would make it a blessing.

The nearby church was also fascinating,

“There isn’t any wood in the roof”, said one man. I asked the husband of a flower arranger about it, and he said that border raiders used to come into town, steal everything they could, and set fire to the then-thatched roof. “Eventually the villagers got so fed up with it that they put a stone roof on the church”.

“But then, the walls started to bow under the weight, so they had to reinforce the walls”. It all looks very solid now.

Back at the camp site I once again sorted through my kit, did the washing, recharged the phone and batteries, and caught up on social media.

My Facebook friends will know that I upload all my photographs whenever I get the opportunity. They are unedited but safe. Yes, I know about Dropbox (full after Phase 1) and Google etc.

I’ve been told that the mobile signal, and therefore internet access, is very limited between here and Kirk Yetholm, so have suggested a ‘no panic’ approach to not hearing from me for a few days.

Tomorrow is the start of a long slog to Byrness, and my plan is to break the journey into two sections and wild camp somewhere along the route. Once again it means carrying extra water (= heavier pack) so I’m allowing plenty of time.

Walk Day 66 – Stonehaugh to Bellingham

Friday 20th July 2018

7.08 miles today. 698.58 miles total.

The midges were out in force this morning and I could hear people trying to get away from them and lots of complaints about being bitten, so I made a point of covering up completely, including midge net, before emerging from my tent.

The rain was just starting as I left the campsite for the walk through the forest (lots of flies) and across the moor.

I was carrying the full pack again, but without extra water, and didn’t really notice it at normal weight.

At my lunch stop I tried to photograph a stoat running under the gate. I can only just see it on my phone though…

The walk was only just over 7 miles so was relatively easy.

This is the view from Shitlington Crags.

It’s downhill to Bellingham from here.

On the way I passed Horneystead farm that welcomes walkers in a unique way.

Shelter from the rain, free drinks, snacks etc, donations welcome but not required. Chairs to sit on, shelter, toilet, shower… I’d heard of it but hadn’t expected to find it.

It was fun to see names of other walkers that I recognised on the visitor list

and to say hello to a lovely black dog, and get a snack for the journey. I left a donation and imagine most people do, but what a great idea.

I’m at Bellingham Camping and Caravan Club site, pitched in my own little area

with a decorative tree and a picnic table, and it’s all very clean and comfortable.

This site has good additional facilities for wet backpackers like me.

Tomorrow is a rest day so time to do some more kit maintenance. My shoes are disintegrating – this repair didn’t last long,

and my tent poles are bent!

Walk Day 65 – Haltwhistle to Stonehaugh

Thursday 19th July 2018

12.60 miles today. 691.50 miles total.

Haltwhistle is around an hour from where Leon and Lorna live. So a round trip to collect me yesterday, plus Lorna doing the same today plus a further excursion to drop my pack at the campsite was very generous.

They were also kind enough to reproof my jacket that, although relatively new, didn’t stay waterproof under the heavy rain on Monday. Thank you both.

Walking today reverted to standard Pennine Way. Up then down and repeat.

The first half was east along Hadrian’s Wall, and was accompanied by tourists and holidaymakers of all nationalities, and some splendid scenery.

Then I turned north and swapped the wall for alternating forest and moor.

And my first sight of these pretty cattle.

A final spooky walk through the dark forest brought me to the campsite.

Back to carrying my own pack tomorrow. I’ve enjoyed the two day break.