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 10 - Kirk Yetholm to Home and Afterthoughts

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Day 17 - Wednesday 20th June

Kirk Yetholm to Home by Bus and Train

At about 6.00 my roommateís alarm went off, but I think he just took one look at the weather, which was pouring with rain, and went back to sleep. In my tired state last night, I had not checked on my bus times for the morning. I could remember that there was one some time after 7.00, which I didnít intend to catch, and another some time later, so I got up at 7.45 and started getting things ready, thinking I would make myself something for breakfast before setting off. I knew my washing would be soaked, but I could just bundle that in a plastic bag with my boots until I got home. At 8.00, I got around to checking the bus times and realised that my bus left at 8.15, so I had a mad rush around, just bundling everything into my rucksack and dashed downstairs to grab my washing and my boots. When I looked on the line, the washing had gone, presumably because someone had taken it in out of the rain. The warden was nowhere to be seen, but a couple of hostellers in the kitchen said they had seen a note about some washing, but this was addressed to Alan and said that his washing had been put in the tumble drier. I hunted around the hostel and found the drier, but no sign of my washing anywhere around, and time was ticking by with only a couple of minutes until the bus left, so I just grabbed my boots and ran as quickly as I could to where the bus was waiting at the bus stop. I expected my feet to give a howl of protest at this undue haste, but to my surprise they hardly hurt at all.

I was breathless as I climbed aboard and got my ticket, explaining to the driver why I had been in such a rush. In about half an hour, I was in Kelso, where I then had a long wait for my connection to Berwick-upon-Tweed, and a kind lady who was getting off the bus with me pointed out a cafť where I could shelter from the rain whilst I was waiting. Walking along the street, it was obvious that my feet were not quite as good as they at first seemed, but I have had them feeling worse on other long distance walks at times, and still done a full dayís walk on them. It is surprising what a capacity they have for recovery when pushed. I had a very good bacon bap and two pots of tea in the cafť, and I could see outside that the rain had almost stopped, having been at its worst first thing this morning.

As far as my washing was concerned, there were not very many things, just a pair of thick socks, a pair of thin socks, a hankie and some underwear, so it was not enough to be worth worrying about, and not enough to be worth missing the bus for, which might have meant taking a taxi to Kelso instead.

Eventually, the time came for me to go to the Coledale Car Park, which was not too far from the cafť, for the bus to Berwick. One of the unfortunate things about public transport is that connections donít always fit in well together, and this can mean long periods of time being wasted between various parts of the journey. In this case, there was a 70-minute wait because the previous bus to Berwick set off one minute after the Kirk Yetholm bus arrived and the bus stops were a quarter of a mile apart.

By now, the weather was looking a lot better, and my journey to Berwick had quite a bit of sunshine. The countryside around the borders is very nice, with lots of unspoilt villages and historic towns. The roads are not congested, and the people around are warm and friendly. The only problem is that getting to any large town for shopping involves a lengthy journey, though in areas like this you tend to find that the local shops stock a far wider range of goods, even if they are more expensive than in the superstores.

For the first part of the journey, there were good views of the hills around the Cheviots, but nearer to the coast, the landscape is much flatter. I kept on the bus right up to Berwick Railway Station even though it was the best part of two hours before my train departed, but I thought I would then get my bearings and know how far it was to the station should I wander into town. I didnít feel like doing a lot of walking just yet, so I found a quiet spot in some gardens just below the station and spent some time there soaking up the sunshine, which had been in such short supply over the last several days. I needed a snack for lunch, so I walked into town, passing a place in the park, where there was a fine view of the railway viaduct over the River Tweed, before finding a Somerfield supermarket.

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Railway Viaduct over River Tweed at Berwick-upon-Tweed
Viaduct over River Tweed

After picking up some sandwiches, I then decided to have a taste of Scotland to drink in the form of Irn Bru (even though I was now back in England), which the label informed me has been made to a secret recipe for over 100 years. Whenever I have a lot of time to spare, I always end up in a last-minute rush. I had spent a long time in the park writing up my diary, leaving about half an hour for going into town and now found, as I waited for the lady in front of me to finish gossiping to the checkout lady, that the minutes were ticking away, so that I had to make a dash back to the station, running part of the way, to get there just before the train arrived. I actually found that gentle running was easier on my feet than walking, something that I had noticed yesterday at the end of my walk to Kirk Yetholm.

The train moved off in an effortless glide, building up gradually to high speed, with fine views of Berwick harbour as we passed over the viaduct. Further along, the Cheviots could be seen free of cloud, which would make it far better for todayís walkers, though the overnight rain would no doubt have added to the collection of surface water. Some of Northumberlandís coastal resorts could be seen along the way and eventually, through Newcastle-upon-Tyne, the famous Tyne Bridge, with a very futuristic building close by, looking like Newcastleís answer to the Sydney Opera House. I didnít know what the building was built for, but later discovered that it is the Sage Gateshead described on its website as ĎA Home for Music and Musical Discoveryí.

I got a little worried when a regular rail traveller commented that we were running a little late, as I had only four minutes to catch my connection to Manchester from York. Fortunately it was only a minute or so late when we arrived in York, and there was an information display next to where I got off, so I was able to find the right platform straight away. Even so, I had to run down the platform and over a footbridge to get there for the scheduled time. I need not have worried too much, as the train did wait for a while to make sure everyone was able to get on, though it could have been difficult for someone old or infirm. The rest of the journey was quite uneventful, with everything running on time. In fact, when I looked at all the information displays on the way, nearly all the trains were running on time, which made a pleasant change from the state of the railway services a few years ago.

I eventually reached Rhyl to be picked up by my daughter and taken back for a good welcome from my wife, but even more so from our dog, who had been missing his daily walks for most of the time that I was away. It was now back to reality again and tackling all the things that had built up whilst I was away, though my wife and daughter had made a very valiant effort to keep on top of the problems in my absence.

My wife was heartily glad that I was back, as it had been quite a strain on her, having to take on some of my jobs as well as her own. Unfortunately, the very next day I came down with a touch of gastric flu, which meant that instead of us going out together for a meal, as planned, I ended up in bed whilst Jean had to look after things on her own. I was sufficiently better by the next day to carry on, though I was not at my best, and also had the problem of a deep seated blister on one foot that left me limping for several days. It is not uncommon to catch some bug or other at the end of a walk, as the systemís defences are weakened by physical stress. There has just been a report published saying that the taking of large doses of vitamin C to ward off colds is, in general, a waste of time, except where a large amount of physical stress is involved such as with a marathon runner, when there can be a 50% improvement. It is probably safe to say that a long distance walker also comes into this category, so perhaps a lot of vitamin C could help.

As far as my plantar fasciitis was concerned, that had virtually disappeared by the end of the walk, rather than getting worse as I had feared. I can only put this down to the extra cushioning and arch supports that I have in my boots, which had more than compensated for the extra amount of pounding that my feet had received during the walk. I have noticed it starting again after being back home for a while, and suspect that it may be from walking the dog in my Wellington boots, which I have been doing for much of the time because of the wet weather, and this also ties in with the time when it first started, which was at the start of winter.

Normally, I lose several pounds on a long distance walk, which is quite handy because it gets rid of any excess that I have gained over the winter months. I stood on the scales when I got back and found that I had lost a total of just one pound, which seemed a bit hard to believe, as I had not been eating or drinking an excessive amount on the walk. In the morning I checked again, but still with the same result. The only thing I can think that may have caused this is that the Pennine Way is not as strenuous as some walks, as most of the ascents are quite gentle, but I did lose weight on previous occasions, though things do change with age.

A week later, I was walking the dog by the river on a path that had been flooded for a while and left with a coating of very slippery silt. My foot slipped and I landed on my backside. The bump was not very hard, as I saved myself to a certain extent with my hands, and I thought nothing of it at the time. As I progressed, my back got more and more uncomfortable, and later in the day, whilst out shopping, I had to return home and lie down. Once again, we were supposed to be going out, but I ended up in bed whilst Jean looked after things. From the symptoms, I had obviously trapped the sciatic nerve, but I was sure that after a nightís rest I would be much better in the morning. When the time came to get up, I was in such pain that I thought I was going to be sick, but I managed to struggle along and help with breakfast. Fortunately, there were not many people in and I was able to go back and lie down after a while, but then spent the next few days gradually recovering with the pain getting less and less each day, but still leaving me with a leg that felt half numb for quite a long time afterwards.

Normally, I try to get out for one or two walks around the mountains shortly after the end of a long distance walk, otherwise there is a tendency for lethargy to set in for a few weeks, but this time, with all my ailments and the very wet weather that ensued, I didnít manage to do this and consequently didnít feel properly fit again for a few weeks. In all, this yearís walk and the aftermath ended up being a bit of a disaster, but then, I have done very well on most of my walks, so there had to come a time when things didnít go so well.

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It was interesting to come back to the Pennine Way after 13 years, as it was always one of my favourite walks, but I was never quite sure whether this was because of the sentimentality associated with it being my first ever long distance walk, or whether the walk really did merit this opinion. After all these years, and with several more walks under my belt, I was now in a better position to have a more objective opinion.

On the one hand, the Pennine Way offers a wide variety of scenery, which is always an important factor, and it has some very spectacular highlights such as Kinder Scout, Malham, Penyghent, Upper Swaledale, Teesdale, High Cup Nick, Hadrianís Wall and the Cheviots as well as many more places where the scenery is of a very high standard and the walking is enjoyable. On the downside, however, there are a lot of long, tedious sections over uninteresting moorland, which are fine in small doses, but can be wearing when they go on for too long.

The other issue is that of the peat bogs, for which the Pennine Way has quite a reputation. I have mixed feelings about these, as they have resulted in remedial action in the form of long sections of stone paths that, in a lot of ways, have detracted from the character of the walk and have made it much harder on the feet than the boggy paths they replaced. However, they do save a lot of tramping through and skirting around soggy peat, which can be quite tiring on the leg muscles and also generally results in boots and socks getting much wetter and dirtier. I found myself cursing these flagstone paths when they were there, but cursing their absence where they werenít. In my earlier walking days, most of which was spent around the Peak District, I just got used to the fact that walking involved a lot of peat bogs, so accepted it as a normal part of the walk when I encountered these on the Pennine Way. In more recent years, I have spent most of my time walking on firmer ground, and now notice the difference when confronted with peat bogs, which I find much more of a nuisance than I used to.

The best ways in which the Pennine Way has been improved over the years, is where route changes have been made to avoid boggy or uninteresting sections and replace them with routes on firmer paths and with more interesting scenery. Some of this happened about twenty years ago, when the present route around Kinder Scout became the official route instead of the alternative route, and the same thing happened with the Wessenden alternative route. In more recent times, there have not been as many changes, although I did find one notable instance north of Tan Hill Inn. Of course, in many places there are no such alternatives to be found, so other options have had to be taken.

Much of oneís impression of a walk is tempered by the weather conditions at the time and can make the difference between loving or hating a walk, but having done this walk three times now, I have experienced both good and bad weather on most sections of the walk, so am able to view the whole thing in a broader light. For instance, the Cheviots, which on this occasion I could be forgiven for hating, are actually a very beautiful range of hills and valleys that have given me great pleasure on many occasions in the past, although they do have the drawback of having a lot of peat bogs to contend with. As far as walking the whole of the Cheviots in one day, now that I have done this as well as splitting the walk into two days, I would definitely recommend the latter, which allows the walk to be enjoyed rather than being an ordeal of endurance.

To those who were doing the Three Peaks Challenge Walk and struggling to finish in time, I would say try doing it when still weary from about 230 miles of continuous walking, with feet already sore and blistered, with boots and socks soaked after the first few miles of peat bogs, with a pack full of all the needs for two or three weeks walking, with all the food and drink for the whole day without any convenient water stations to call at along the way, and over terrain that is much more boggy and harder going for much of the way. This is what many Pennine Way walkers do without the convenience of minibuses to pick them up if they are flagging and decide to opt out.

To compare the two walks, both have roughly the same amount of ascent, though that of the Cheviots consists of more numerous smaller ascents rather than the three main ones of the Three Peaks. Both are of a similar distance, with the Cheviots being, if anything, slightly longer. The paths on the Three Peaks walk are mostly firm and good, though there are a few parts that can get boggy in wet weather, whereas the Cheviots have much more boggy and difficult terrain as well as parts with flagstone paths that are hard on the feet.

Most of my walking is done for the pleasure of enjoying the scenery, but when the length of a walk is excessive, this starts to detract from the enjoyment, as there is an ever constant need to press on as well as the discomfort of sore or aching feet. Of course, in some parts it is necessary to press on a little further than is ideal because of the lack of accommodation in certain places, but when reasonable alternatives are available, such long days are best avoided.

To summarise my overall feelings about the Pennine Way now, I would say that it is not quite as good as my romantic memories of the first time I completed it, but it still ranks quite highly when compared with many other walks, particularly because it does try to maintain a high level route wherever possible, and avoids road walking probably more than any other walk I can think of. In fine weather, when there has been not very much rain for a while, the peat bogs present much less of a problem, though in this case it is likely to be the long stretches of flagstones that are more of a nuisance than the parts where no path work has been undertaken.

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