Pennine Way 2007

Author: George Tod

This walk is illustrated with photographs. Click on small photo to enlarge in situ, or click caption to enlarge into new window.
Part 9 - Bellingham to Kirk Yetholm

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Day 15 - Monday 18th June - 14.7 miles - 1,750 ft ascent

Bellingham to Byrness - GPS 16.6 miles

I had breakfast with Steve at 8.00, choosing from an extensive menu, which is not very common in a B&B. Steve had decided, as the weather was dull, to spend just half a day more cycling and then return home, whereas had it been better he would have stayed another night. My boots had managed to dry a little more, and my socks were fairly dry after warming them around the jug kettle in my room.

The local butcher had been recommended for their his sandwiches, so I called there for some, plus a steak and kidney pie for lunch, then at the bank to top up my cash. It was 9.30 as I set off up the road past the Youth Hostel, which was now closed, then up a farm road which eventually led out onto open, grassy moorland. The weather was cool and overcast, but the walking was fairly gentle and easy. I was rather slow at first, as my feet were still tender from my blisters, but as I got going, I was able to get back into a steady pace. There was nothing special about the scenery, with views of open, rolling moorland, but with the easy walking it was quite pleasant. The grassy moorland gave way to heather moorland higher up and there were a few boggy patches, but not enough to get my feet wet.

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Bellingham with The Cheviot Hotel
Wide views opening up at Deer Play
Deer Play

After a few miles, my feet were telling me that they needed a rest, but there were not many places to sit until I reached a grouse butt on the way to Deer Play. There was a rather chilly breeze blowing, so as soon as I stopped walking, I had to put on my fleece, and I was still quite cool even then. With recent blisters there is always the penalty after stopping for a rest of having to walk them in again until the pain eases off, so I was back to walking fairly slowly for a while until the pain was numbed again. At the top of Deer Play, the whole view opened out, with the Cheviots to the north and wide views across Redesdale to the east. The next two hills on the route could be seen ahead; Whitley Pike being the first, and then Padon Hill with its fine cairn standing out a few hundred yards to the east of the way. The cairn is marked as a currick on the map. I later looked this up online, as it wasnít in my dictionary, and found that it is defined a chambered cairn; these often being built by shepherds as lookout points.

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Currick or chambered cairn on Padon Hill, just off the route
Currick on Padon Hill

Unfortunately for my feet, the path started to get rather rough and uneven for a while, interspersed with some boggy parts and a section of flagstones, some of which was sunken below the water. The cairn, or currick was the place where I had decided to stop for lunch, being about half way to Byrness. Surprisingly, I could see little in the way of a footpath over to the cairn, so I had to walk for much of the way through heather, but this wasnít very difficult as the heather was fairly new and not very thick. The cairn provided shelter from the cool breeze and gave me a good vantage point for looking at the views. I took this opportunity to remove my boots to give my feet an airing. My socks were damp but not wet, so I took off my thick outer socks, leaving my thin socks to dry a little from the warmth of my feet, then put the thick socks back on to do the same.

I had been told by Byrness hostel to ring ahead so that they could defrost a frozen dinner for me, so I called but was told that the ones they have now will cook from frozen in 35 minutes anyway, so I could decide what I wanted when I got there. I had seen no other walkers at all today, and even though I was spending my lunch break off route, I could see all the way along the ridge where the route went. For a while I kept hearing a noise in the distance and then I realised it was machine gun fire, not from an invasion of Scots, but probably from the military firing range north of Byrness.

I set off again just after 14.00 and managed to find a better path back to the Pennine Way this time. From here, the way dropped down a dip and then started to ascend at the edge of the forest up a very boggy slope, then levelling out into another very boggy section. The next couple of miles were spent picking my way round the worst of the bogs trying not to get my boots too wet. It was slow and hard going, so I was heartily glad when finally the path joined a forest road and there was no more bog to contend with. It is amazing that a fortune has been spent on path-work repairs to some parts of the Pennine Way, half of which was not really necessary, whereas up here nothing at all has been done where it is really needed. The difference is that not many people walk the route up here compared with the masses walking around the Peak District and other areas further south, so there is not the same problem with erosion. The main focus of all the money that has been spent is not on saving walkers from the problems of the Pennine Way, but saving the Pennine Way from the problems caused by walkers. Any benefits for walkers are either purely incidental, or a very poor second in priority.

Although this section was along the edge of the forest, any views that were to be had went by the board, as my eyes were on the ground all the way trying to avoid the bogs. Following the forestry road for a way, I was pleased to see that large tracts of forest near to the way had been felled and planted with a wide variety of trees that were more sparsely populated, giving a much more open aspect and allowing better views of the distant hills. The forest road was rather rough and stony, but soon the Pennine Way detoured away on a path, which, although it meandered around a little, was easier on the feet and had a lot of wild flowers for added interest. I then stopped for another rest with about four and a half miles to go.

The rest of the way was quite easy, after the initial pain from my blisters, as it followed the forest road, which in this part had a smoother surface for most of the way, apart from a few bits that had been repaired with large stone chippings. A couple of miles further on the Pennine Way follows the River Rede for the final stretch into Byrness, which is not very large, but boasts a church and a filling station with small shop and cafť. The Byrness, which used to be a hotel with bar and restaurant, now only offers accommodation.

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Byrness Church
Byrness Church

The rest of the village, about half a mile down the road, is an estate of terraced houses originally built to house forestry workers. Two of these houses next door to each other formed the Youth Hostel, which is now privately owned and run as an Enterprise Hostel in a similar way to Greenhead and a number of other hostels. The owners live in the next house along and have extensively refurbished the hostel and maintain it to a very high standard. Although the hostel was self catering only, the owners now provide a partial meals service with frozen meals from a local farm shop plus a salad followed by a microwave pudding for £7, and a breakfast of cereals and toast for £2 with an extra £2 for a bacon butty. Packed lunches are also available for £4 and there is quite a well-stocked shop with an honesty box for payment.

As I was leaving very early in the morning, my bacon butty was left in the fridge so that I could just microwave it in the morning. At first, only Pennine Way walkers tended to stay here, but now they have started to attract other people, so I hope they do well, as they have brought about a big improvement to the place and also saved it from closure. I chose moussaka and salad for my evening meal followed by a chocolate sponge pudding. There were two Australians in as well Ė they were touring Britain by car and heading for Scotland next.

My feet were in a pretty bad way, as I had picked up a few more blisters that had to be burst, so I was not looking forward to a 25 mile plus walk tomorrow, though there was a very good drying room containing an automatic stove burning wood pellets, which meant that I could get everything dry overnight including my boots. I wandered back along the road to the filling station to see what their shop had to offer, but it was closed when I got there and didnít seem to stock very many things. I was hoping that it might sell cans of beer, but it didnít look like it did even if I had got there before it closed. There was a sign by the road advertising a pub five miles away, but I thought that was just a bit too far to walk for a pint, so I returned to the hostel and tried to get as many things as possible done for the morning. My boots were almost dry after sitting on top of the stove, so I even managed to re-waterproof them, hoping that I might be able to keep my feet dry to help with the long walk ahead. I mixed up my Kool-Aid drink and packed as much as I could before going up for a reasonably early night.

I thought it might be a good idea to set up an alarm call on my mobile phone, so that I didnít oversleep in the morning. I have never tried to use this facility before, but was sure there must be a simple facility like that somewhere on the phone that was able to do almost everything else. Having spent quite a while going through all the maze of menu options I could find, nothing as simple as that was to be found, but I have discovered in the past that modern phones have such a range of facilities, 99% of which someone like myself would never ever want to access, that to access even some of the simpler options requires combinations of key presses that I would never even guess at. I gave up and decided I would have to rely on waking up naturally.

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Day 16 - Tuesday 19th June - 25.2 miles - 4,850 ft ascent

Byrness to Kirk Yetholm - GPS 26.8 miles

I awoke from time to time during the night but it was still dark, but then woke again to find it was starting to get light. It was 5.15, so I got up as quietly as possible, trying not to disturb the Australians in the next room, and went down for my breakfast. Everything had been left as promised and I had cereals, my bacon butty with instructions to put it in the microwave oven for 50 seconds, and toast. The bacon butty was just right after the stated time, and it was good to have something hot to start this long dayís walk. My packed lunch consisted of two corned beef rolls with what seemed like a whole tin of corned beef in them, two cartons of fruit juice, some flapjack and a yoghurt. I had wondered whether to take a few things from the shop cupboard, but decided that there was enough to last the day with one or two things I had still left from yesterday.

It was 6.20 when I left the hostel and 6.30 when I rejoined the Pennine Way. I could have saved a little way by going up a service road rather than following the road to the Pennine Way signpost and then having to double back. It was not very far, but every little helps when you have a long way to go. It had been misty when I first got up, but had cleared lower down as I walked along the road, though higher up was still in the clouds. I started the steep climb up through the forest, with midges insisting that it was time for their breakfast, but so long as I kept moving they didnít trouble me too much. I was already into the mist and before long I was up above the forest, over a steep brow and then onto a much gentler slope with visibility of less than 100 yards all the way. The path was good in parts but very boggy in others, so my nice dry boots and socks werenít going to stay that way for very long.

At one point there was a really waterlogged section near a fence and the fence was damaged where people had been hanging on trying to keep out of the mire. In the end, I climbed over the fence to where it was not quite so bad, then back again after the worst was passed. All this did nothing to help my feet stay dry, though the wet hadnít actually come over the top of them as yet. I was getting a little damp from the mist, and it was rather cool, though not cold, so I put on my waterproof jacket, as it would be likely to get worse higher up. There was not much to see other than the patch of ground surrounding me and a few shapes, such as the warning signs for the military area, came looming out of the mist, be visible for a short while and then be left behind the white veil from whence they appeared.

The only thing to do was to just keep plodding steadily onwards to knock off a few miles. My feet were feeling quite a bit better this morning, thank goodness, but this was still early in the day, so I wasnít expecting them to feel like that by the end, though it just meant that I could manage part of the way in relative comfort before they started to give problems. There was no point in stopping anywhere for a rest, as there was nowhere dry to sit, just boggy moorland, so my sights were set on the mountain refuge hut near Lamb Hill for a break. I had intended to miss out the detour round the Roman camps at Chew Green to save a little distance and to avoid losing height that had to be regained, but in the poor visibility I suddenly found that I had reached them anyway, and the climb back up wasnít very much. There wasnít a lot to see of the camps, but a number of nearby mounds stood out in the mist.

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Mountain Refuge Hut near Lamb Hill
Mountain Refuge Hut

At last the hut came into sight at 9.50, and I went in for a good long rest. Taking off my boots revealed that my feet were already quite wet and I was only a third of the way into the walk. After a snack and a drink, writing a note in the visitorsí book and writing up my diary, it was 10.55 and time I was getting on my way. There was no real option but to keep on walking to the next refuge hut, as there is nothing much in the way of shelter in between. Fortunately, my feet were still doing quite well, so it wasnít too bad, though it was still a very dull and tedious walk with nothing to see, and I just spent my time ticking off miles and counting down the remaining distance as I went along. The halfway point was a big boost, and then when I had less than ten miles to go, it was even more so.

I often look with contempt at walkers who have iPods, listening to music as they walk along, and think that it should be enough just to enjoy the walk and the scenery without having a background of constant music, but in conditions like this, I think they might have the right idea. The biggest battle is not so much with the walking, but with the total boredom of mile after mile with nothing to see, so anything that can take the mind off that must be a good thing. Of course, when setting out on a walk, I always have the optimistic view that the weather is going to be reasonably kind to me and that I will not be in this situation, or at least not for such a long period as this, so I never tend to give much thought to taking anything for distraction.

Although route finding was generally easy, even in the mist, I managed to take the wrong path down from Windy Gyle, but soon started to get concerned when the footpath markers had no acorns on them. I had already dropped down quite a way and didnít fancy going back up only to come back down on the correct path, so I decided to skirt round the hillside to join the Pennine Way further along, where it was at roughly the same altitude. Although I could have done this without using my GPS, it gave me a bit more confidence by setting a waymark and heading for it, with the reassurance that it would tell me how much further I had to go. I had to cross rough ground for over half a mile, but most of it was fairly easy apart from a little section towards the end where there was tufty grass.

It was not long before I felt the security of being on the right path again. Now there was no mistaking the route, as there were flagstones for much of the way. There is a lot of very boggy ground over the Cheviots, so the flagstones were needed more so than in some places further south. There was quite a steep climb up to the shoulder of The Cheviot, the highest point of the dayís walk, that is unless a trip to the summit is contemplated, which definitely was not the case for me on this occasion. By taking a few short breathers on the ascent, it wasnít too long before the slope started to level out and I reached the duckboards leading over to Auchope Cairn. These were in remarkably good condition considering that, as a sign indicated, they were put there in 1990 over this very boggy stretch of ground. At that time various different pathway alternatives were being tried, until it was finally decided that the flagstones, though costly to put in place, were more maintenance free and more sympathetic to the landscape.

After about half a mile of duckboards, I reached Auchope Cairn and found that it had grown a twin, or at least a smaller brother, but not quite as well built. The descent from here is very steep, and seemed to go on forever, especially as my feet and legs were now feeling tired. It made matters worse that I couldnít see the bottom, nor could I see my goal of the second refuge hut. The mist was starting to clear a bit near the bottom, but I still couldnít see the hut where I thought I remembered it to be, but then it appeared over the summit of the next hill. When I reached it, I realised it hadnít been moved, it was just my memory playing tricks, as often happens.

When I arrived at the hut there was an elderly couple already in there. They were just finishing the Pennine Way after doing each section as a íthere and backí walk or as part of a circular walk, so it had taken them quite a long time, but this was the way they preferred to do things. The lady had taken her boots off and was wearing a beautifully clean, fresh pair of socks, though she may have just changed into them. I would have liked to have taken off my boots, but the stench of rotting peat bogs that would have been unleashed might have knocked the other two over, so I kept them on until they went and there was only me left to put up with the smell. I reached the hut at 14.45 and departed again at 15.30, the mist having come down again after a brief interlude.

From the hut, the way leads along to the next hill along the ridge, The Schil, which is quite steep for this stage of the walk. It is one of those hills that have false summits all the way up, especially in the mist, so just when you think that you are on the final climb, another ridge appears ahead. I just kept taking a few short rests on the way until finally, the real summit came into view. The Schil is different from most of the hills around the Cheviots, in that it has quite a number of rocky outcrops instead of the bare, peaty summits elsewhere.

From the Schil, I had to make a decision as to whether I should take the high or the low level route to Kirk Yetholm. The low level route drops down into the valley and joins a minor road for the rest of the way, whereas the high level route follows the ridge for as far as possible before dropping down. The low level route is about a quarter of a mile longer, but somewhat easier. Reading my guidebook, it was implied that, except in extreme weather conditions, the low level route was only for wimps and that no self-respecting walker would contemplate it taking it in any other circumstances. It was a long time since I was last here, so I couldnít quite remember what the ridge walk involved and decided to do as the book said. I was also starting to get a view at long last, so that was another reason for staying higher up to make the most of it.

The ridge walk was quite easy for a while, generally dropping down as I made my way along. My feet were getting quite sore by this time, and I found that on the gentle downhill slope, it was easier on my feet if I went at a slow running pace with my legs slightly bent at the knees. This way my feet hit the ground more gently than when walking downhill, with the added bonus that it was quicker and hastened the time when I could finally put my feet up. As I made my way along, I noticed quite a large hill ahead and assumed that the route dropped down before then. The detail on my map was largely obscured by the broad markings of the boundary between England and Scotland, so I couldnít see the contours very well, but I soon realised that the hill ahead was White Law and that I had to go over it. This was a daunting prospect at this stage of the walk, but like most of these things, it is just a matter of pressing onwards, taking a few short rests and before long the summit is in sight and it is all over.

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Looking North from Whitelaw Nick - some hazy views at last!
N from Whitelaw Nick
The Last Hill - on the road into Kirk Yetholm
The Last Hill
The Border, Kirk Yetholm - End of the Pennine Way
End of the Pennine Way

After White Law, there was another smaller hill, and I was just psyching myself up to climbing that when I saw a Pennine Way signpost pointing down into the valley, which was a great relief. I had a good signal on my mobile at this point, so phoned home to let Jean know that I was not far from the finish, in case I lost the signal lower down. It was a relatively easy walk for the rest of the way, though it was still not downhill all the way, as there is a final hill on the road into Kirk Yetholm. I arrived at the Border Hotel, now just called The Border, at 18.20, exactly twelve hours after leaving Byrness Youth Hostel. Though the prospect of a pint was very tempting, all I could think about was taking off my boots, so I checked into the Youth Hostel, where a very pleasant and helpful young lady warden greeted me and showed me where everything was.

When I removed my boots I was again greeted with the overwhelming stench of rotting peat bog, so after having a shower, I had no real option but to try and wash out my socks and my boots, as well as a few items of clothing that were also rather rank. I couldnít find a drying room, so was pointed to a washing line outside, which I didnít think would do much in the cool damp weather, but I hung them on there anyhow. I then hobbled very slowly to the pub to get a much-needed drink and something to eat. Surprisingly, I only seemed to have picked up one or two more blisters today, even though my feet had been soaking for most of the day. The main problem was the aching from the soles of my feet.

I had a couple of pints of Jenningís bitter and a very nice game casserole with perfectly cooked new potatoes in melted butter, courgette and tomato, and swede. No matter how I positioned my feet they were giving me a lot of discomfort and I was also feeling very tired, having got up at 5.15 and had a very strenuous dayís walk, so I didnít stay for another pint and just headed back to bed. Before leaving, I looked around the bar to see if I could find any postcards of the pub or anything at all connected with the Pennine Way, but they had nothing, though they had a few pictures on the wall of Wainwright and one or two other items of Pennine Way memorabilia. This was just another sign that the Pennine Way has declined in popularity in recent years. There seem to be more cyclists around than walkers these days.

The Border had a fire last year, started when work was being done near the thatched roof of one part of the buildings after a period of very hot, dry weather. The rebuilt building was almost completed and actually now in use, with just the final touches being made to the thatched roof. Despite the obvious fire risk I assume that there must have been a requirement to rebuild in the same style.

After a painfully slow hobble back to the hostel, I was able to take off my trainers and socks and get some relief for my feet, as any pressure at all made them hurt. I settled down in bed and slept well without too much trouble from my feet, so long as I got them in the right position.

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