The Pennine Way 1991

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 5 - Dufton to Byrness

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Day 13 - Wednesday 5th June - Dufton to Alston - 19.5 miles - 3070 ft ascent

Accommodation - ALSTON HOSTEL - Dinner 7 p.m., Breakfast 8 a.m. - Good facilities

I asked for breakfast at 7.30 a.m. and got off to an 8 a.m. start on a beautiful day with hardly a cloud in the sky and little wind. At about 1250 ft up I stopped to take off my T-shirt and take a photograph. The day was very clear and the early start meant I didn't have to rush so could take advantage of the good weather. I stopped again for a snack at about 2,000 ft at 9.45 a.m. and put the T-shirt back on, as it was getting cooler at that height. Knock Old Man was reached at 10.15 followed by Great Dun Fell at 11.00. The weather was still very good but with a cool wind, which was hardly surprising at 2,780 ft. I had lunch at 12.00 at the summit of Cross Fell where I met the first person since leaving Dufton - he was just out walking for the day. There a sheep kept pestering for food and became a bit of a nuisance, so I had to get up and shoo it away.

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Knock Fell and Lakeland Mountains from Swindale Beck
Knock Fell and Lakeland Mountains
Greg's Hut - a bothy near the summit of Cross Fell
Greg's Hut on Cross Fell

This section of the Pennine Way is often considered one of the more difficult because of the amount of climbing and the high altitude which, at just under 3000 ft is the highest point of the walk, but in the fine weather it didn't cause any difficulty. The walking was quite firm under foot apart from a few short sections between some of the fells, which were not too bad, although it would be a lot worse in wet weather.

I set off from the summit again at 12.40 and joined the track down. It was not very clear which route to take off the summit even in good weather and would definitely require a compass bearing in mist. The track started off very rough and stony making it hard on the feet. Greg's Hut is a mountain refuge hut just below the summit and could be useful in bad weather. I looked in to see what was there, but didn't stay, as I was not in need of a rest, having just had one at the summit. After a few miles it was possible to walk more at the side of the track where it was softer on the feet. The track went on for mile after mile although it was possible to make good time on the fairly gradual descent and also along the valley from Garrigill to Alston. I reached the youth hostel at Alston at 5 p.m. with feet aching but otherwise O.K.

The hostel was very pleasant and not overcrowded and there were quite a lot of pubs, shops and at least one bank but without a cash machine. In the evening, I called at the Blue Bell, the nearest pub to the hostel, and had a few pints of hand-pulled, along with some of the other walkers.

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Day 14 - Thursday 6th June - Alston to Greenhead - 17 miles - 1780 ft ascent

Accommodation - GREENHEAD HOSTEL - Dinner 7 p.m., Breakfast 8 a.m. - Drying room fair

After the fairly strenuous walk of the previous day, I was feeling a bit weary at first. The weather was rather dull as I started off at 9.00 a.m. The first stop was to buy another film in Alston as I was liable to finish the third 36-exposure slide film before too long. I thought that another 24 exposure one should be just about right. The walking was very steady over farmland along the valley. The scenery was nothing special and the sky grey, but not unpleasant for walking. The path took a bit of finding in places, as is commonplace when walking through farmland, but it would have been easier with the 'Pennine Way North' book which shows more detail than the 1 inch to the mile map that I was now using.

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Gilderdale Burn
Gilderdale Burn

At 3 p.m. hazy sun started to come through and there was a bit of climbing to do, but nothing strenuous. Towards the end, the path was very vague in places and didn't agree with my map. I ended up taking a compass bearing and heading over the rough.

The Pennine Way actually crosses Greenhead Golf Course. There were several stiles over the wall into the golf course, but it was the fourth one, which was clearly marked as the Pennine Way. At the other side of the golf course I joined the road into Greenhead for the third of a mile off-route to the youth hostel, but later found that there was a path by the side of the railway, which I could have used. It is no shorter, but avoids the road walk.

Everyone else seemed to have been suffering that day even though it was not a difficult one for walking, so I think it must have been the follow-on from the previous day's walk.

The hostel was very continental with signs in three languages for all the foreign visitors to Hadrian's Wall. There was no choice for dinner - it was fruit juice, fish with veg. and jacket potatoes, then peaches and ice cream. It was very nicely cooked, however. I received a letter from home - at least some of the mail gets through.

I went for a walk around Greenhead, but found that it consisted of little more than a pub, a church, a filling station which doubled as Post Office and a few houses, so I joined the others in the pub.

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Day 15 - Friday 7th June - Greenhead to Bellingham - 22 miles - 3100 ft ascent

Accommodation - BELLINGHAM HOSTEL - No meals, but shops and pubs and bank in town - No resident warden

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Walltown Crags - Hadrian's Wall
Walltown Crags, Hadrian's Wall
Milecastle 42 west from Cawfield Crags - Hadrian's Wall
Milecastle 42

Set off at 8.50 a.m. with a bitter north wind and overcast sky. The going was hard by Hadrian's Wall, as there were lots of climbs up and down over steep crags. However, the walk was very interesting with lots of well-preserved sections of wall and fine scenery, which compensated for the hard going. I had lunch at Peel Crags at 12.00 and the weather started to brighten up from the north. I could actually see the Cheviots marking journey's end. Off again at 12.20 to Hotbank where the route appeared to be signposted with yellow arrows to the left through a farm gate. This route lead to nowhere and the correct way was to continue up the hill over Hotbank Crags before turning left, as shown on the map. Through the farm the track turned back on itself and I ended up heading across the rough to crags overlooking Greenlee Lough and had to climb over walls and fences to meet up with the way a mile or two further on. It was actually my own fault for mistaking what was just a normal footpath sign for a Pennine Way sign - the latter being marked by an acorn symbol. However, as the Pennine Way is not waymarked over much of its length, one gets used to following normal footpath signs and it is essential to keep checking the map to make sure where the route actually goes rather than just following what seems to be the best marked path.

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Milecastle 39 from Peel Crags - Hadrian's Wall
Milecastle 39 from Peel Crags
Peel Crags and Crag Lough from Hotbank
Peel Crags and Crag Lough

After leaving Hadrian's Wall the way was much easier going through the forest. I had about 11.5 miles more to go at 2.15 p.m., when I met Keith, Kevin and John in the forest where they had stopped to do more running repairs to the multitude of blisters on Kevin's feet. Later, whilst passing Horneystead, a remote farmhouse, they shouted across to me and invited me to join them for tea and scones etc. They had ordered them from a quaint old lady of about 80 who had lived there for 50 years. She brought it all in a rather unsavoury assortment of pots and mugs with some rather dubious homemade jam for the one who had ordered scones. The whole lot cost 1.70, which was to be put in the tin full of money on the tray.

The afternoon turned beautifully sunny and the walk, though long, was pleasant, without much trouble from the feet. I arrived at Bellingham at 7 p.m. and decided to drop some things at the youth hostel, which has no meals service, before shopping and getting a pub meal. However, I walked about half a mile up the wrong road out of Bellingham before I realised, so by the time I got back into town I decided I had better do my shopping before the Co-op closed at 8 p.m. I met Kevin in the shop and he told me that the others were in the Rose and Crown, so I joined them and had a very good steak pie, chips and veg for 3.50 plus good Ruddles bitter. The Rose and Crown stopped serving meals at about 8.30 p.m., but one of the other pubs served them until later.

I then found the correct road to the youth hostel, which was a wooden hut packed tightly with bunk beds. There was no resident warden, but she lived down the hill and came up from time to time to book people in. She was a little bit perturbed at those of us who arrived rather late as she had been up and down the hill a few times to see if we had arrived, although we were not to know that she was not resident there. It was a bit of a nuisance having to cater for packed lunches and breakfast because of having to buy thing in larger quantities than required. For people who were walking in a group it was easier because they could share things between them. I agreed to share a few things with some of the others and this helped. Also, in hostels such as this there are often things such as bread and milk left by others on a shelf for anyone else to make use of. I carried quite a lot of extra sandwiches having heard that the shop in Byrness had closed down and not knowing whether there would be anywhere else in Byrness to buy things.

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Day 16 - Saturday 8th June - Bellingham to Byrness - 15 miles - 1750 ft ascent

Accommodation - BYRNESS HOSTEL - No meals in hostel and no shop, but pub and cafe

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Byrness and Byrness Hill - start of the Cheviots
Byrness and Byrness Hill

After shopping, packing up, writing a card etc., I got off to a late start at 10 a.m. It was a sunny morning and pleasantly warm for a change. The going was very easy but I was sweating for about the first time so far, as there was no longer the icy cold northerly wind. Stopped for lunch at Deer Play at 11.45 where it started to cloud over and there was a bit more wind. There was nothing exciting in the way of scenery, but it was pleasant walking country and most of the paths were easy going, although a few bits looked as though they could be awkward in the wet. The last several miles were along good forestry roads, which went in and out of the forested areas, which meant that it was not as tedious as it might have been. I felt a bit weary after the long walk of the previous day and I was glad of the gentle walk.

After 90% of the Pennine Way I just started to get a blister on the sole of my right foot. It was not too bad and I decided to look at it later. It gave no more trouble for the rest of the walk and must have been caused either by something in my boot or a crease in my sock.

The Hostel at Byrness is two Council Houses side by side. It was a bit tatty compared with most, but was not crowded and I had a room to myself, as the others wanted to set off early to reach Kirk Yetholm in one day. The pub and cafe at the filling station were about three-quarters of a mile away and the shop near the hostel had closed. In the pub I had chicken and chips for 3.25. The cafe also sold meals, including breakfast, provided you didn't want it too early, and it was possible to buy a few other food items from there.

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