22nd August – Byrness to Jedburgh

20180821 Blakehopeburnhaugh with the Cheviots on the horizon
Blakehopeburnhaugh with the Cheviots in the background

Wednesday

This was a big day in more ways than one.  It was 31k with 830m of ascent as well as the day that I left the Pennine Way and entered Scotland.

After a bowl of porridge, to celebrate my imminent arrival in Scotland, I left Byrness at 7.10.  It was raining with low cloud but likely to improve during the afternoon.  The initial climb up to Byrness Hill (414m) was steep and slippery.  Once there the walking improved as the weather deteriorated.  Short steep ascents up Houx Hill and Windy Crag were accompanied by strong winds blowing 20-30mph.

20180822 Ravens Knowe Summit 527m appearing in the mist
Poor visibility approaching Ravens Knowe summit

A flagstone path led on across a bog and the path then rose to Ravens Knowe, the high point of the day at 527m.  By now the mist was quite thick and the summit cairn eventually emerged from the gloom.

20180822 The Scottish Border
The Scottish Border

I continued over Ogre Hill and Croquet Head where I crossed into Scotland, only to move back to England almost immediately.  Climbing above Roman Camps I reached Black Halls.

20180822 Leaving the Pennine Way for Dere Street
Leaving the Pennine Way for Dere Street

At this point I left the Pennine Way and England behind to follow Dere Street, an old Roman road down to Jedburgh.  In improving weather the first part of the way was fairly easy as it follows the boundary fence.  The weather then took a turn for the worse just at the point where you leave the fence and strike out across a hillside.  Naturally at this point the track disappeared so it was out with the GPS to find a saddle between Woden Law and Langside Law.  Once there the weather finally began to improve and the track was obvious once again.

20180822 Descending from the Cheviots towards Jedburgh

Coming off of the Cheviots, Dere Street crosses farm and moorland before a road section.  All was going well up to this point.  At a T junction Dere Street goes straight ahead and is a green lane.  Unfortunately this is popular with off-road vehicles.  The result is a muddy quagmire where they have rutted and destroyed the trail.  Trying to pick a route through was difficult with the real possibility of a fall.  In the end I abandoned Dere Street, and used a lane to reach Jedburgh at 5.10 after 10 hours on the trail.

The Royal Hotel is very comfortable and they agreed to do my washing.  After a quick shower and dinner I had an early night as it had been a long and tiring day.

21st August – Bellingham to Byrness

20180820 North Tyne river at Bellingham
North Tyne River at Bellingham

Tuesday

The guidebook describes this as ” A bleak and remote day passing few habitations,” and so it would prove to be.

20180821 The moor near Hareshaw House
The moorland near Hareshaw House

I left Bellingham at 8.20 in reasonable weather and immediately climbed up onto moorland at Blakelaw.  The moorland section was quite pleasant as the path rose and fell over Deer Play, Whitley Pike and Pardon Hill.

20180821 The top of the nightmare ascent near Brownrigg Head
The top of the nightmare ascent near Brownrigg Head

Coming down off of Pardon Hill it started to rain as I neared the forest at Brownrigg Head.  Here the path climbs uphill beside a fence.  To quote the guidebook “The climb is steep and muddy at times and may rank as one of the worst sections of the Pennine Way.”  I can only say that I fully concur. It was a nightmare of mud, greasy rock and a steep slope, to which was added a very narrow gap between the wall and the trees, many of which overhung the trail.  At one point I was on my hands and knees to get under a branch.  Eventually I reached the top and took a well earned rest.  The trail led onwards along the edge of the forest through more bog and felled trees and it was a relief to reach the main forest track.

20180821 The long track through Redesdale Forest
The long track through Redesdale Forest

The remainder of the day was a yomp down the forest track to Byrness where I arrived at 3.30.  The Forest Inn provided tea and an evening meal.  The landlord organises the Spine Race each year.  This takes place in January and ultra marathon runners compete in racing the 265 miles of the Pennine Way, which they must complete in less than a week.

Once again I had a room in the bunkhouse on my own.

20th August – The Sill to Bellingham

20180820 Hadrian's Wall and Peel Crags
Hadrian’s Wall and Peel Crags

Monday

The morning did not start well when the Fire Alarm went off at 5.00am. After a few minutes, when all the hostellers were in the corridors in various states of undress, it was declared a false alarm.

20180820 Milecastle 39 and Crag Lough
Milecastle 39 and Crag Lough

Returning to bed but not really sleeping I left at 8.10.  Today’s walk really broke down into 3 sections, the Wall, the Forest and finally moors and farmland.  For once it was not raining, and it was enjoyable just to get by with a T shirt.  The Hadrian’s Wall section was dramatic with fine cliffs at Steel Rigg and Hotbank Crags.  There were plenty of ups and downs with lots of steps before I left the wall at Rapishaw Gap.

20180820 Broomlea Lough and Hadrian's Wall
Broomlee Lough

Turning north from the wall the path crosses an area of moorland before entering forest.  One section of forest leads to moorland at Hawk Side before more forest is encountered and eventually you reach a small road near Ladyhill.

20180820 Boggy path through the forest
Boggy path through the forest

From here the path descends into a deep valley to cross Warks Burn and then rises steeply to the farm at Horneystead.  Someone should nominate the owners for a medal.  They offer shelter, toilets, refreshments, which included tea or coffee, soft drinks, beer, Waggon Wheels, crisps, sweets etc.  All were offered free, donations were appreciated, but not mandatory.  I stopped for tea and a late lunch.

20180820 The Mast at Ealingham Rigg
The mast at Ealingham Rigg

Much refreshed, I crossed more farmland before descending to cross Houxty Burn, immediately followed by a climb up past Shitlington Crags, to the tall mast at Ealingham Rigg.  From there it was a short walk down rough pasture to Bellingham.

20180820 Coming down to Bellingham
Heading down to Bellingham

This is yet another ex-YHA hostel, now operated by a local farmer.  I arrived around 4.20 just as the rain set in.  A trip to the local Co-op sorted out supplies, and I am self-catering to avoid having to go out in the rain.

There does not seem to be a fire alarm, so I am hoping for a better night.

19th August – Greenhead to The Sill at Once Brewed

20180819 Hadrian's Wall shrouded in mist
Hadrian’s Wall, shrouded in mist

Sunday

The torrential rain during the night gave way to a light drizzle by morning. Knowing that the weather was due to improve I arranged breakfast for 8.30 and it was 9.50 before I left Greenhead.

20180819 Hadrian's Wall near Walltown
The Wall near Walltown

Kitted our in full rain gear I set off for one of the highlights of the trip, Hadrian’s Wall. The trail passes Thirlwall Castle leading on to an old whinstone quarry and rising to the wall. Unfortunately for most of the rest of the day the views, which are extensive, were obscured by thick mist and rain. It is also disappointing that most of the information boards are indecipherable and need replacing.

20180819 Milecastle 42 near Cawfields
Milecastle 42 near Cawfields

With little incentive to dawdle I passed Turret 45A and Milestone 45.  Large forts were built at intervals, with mile-castles each mile.  A Roman mile is 1481m.  The wall follows the crest of Whin Sill and is a bit of a roller coaster with steep ups and downs.  Passing Cockmount Hill, Great Chesters, Cawfields, Shield in the Walk, I reached the viewpoint on Winshields Crag in driving rain and mist.  I therefore missed seeing Scotland for the first time on the trip.

20180819 View north from Winshields Crag
The view north from Winshields Crag

Shortly after leaving the high point of the wall I reached a minor road at Peel and could descend to the new YHA hostel called the Sill. I arrived at 2.30 and persuaded the warden to open the drying room before booking in time at 3.00.

20180819 The Sill Hostel
The Sill Hostel

As I write this at 5.30 the rain has stopped. Tomorrow I head for Bellingham and a last chance to stock up before two days crossing remote moorland and the Cheviots.

18th August – Alston to Greenhead

20180818 It was very windy
It was a very windy day

Saturday

After an interesting conversation with a Dutchman at breakfast and getting his view on Brexit, “We think you are all crazy”, I left at 9.10.

The official Pennine Way wanders up and down the slopes of South Tyne, the only purpose of which seems to be to visit a Roman Fort at Whitely Castle. As this made no impression on me last time I took an easier option and walked the South Tyne Trail through Slaggyford to Burnside, where the two trails meet. This had the additional advantage of a tea stop at a buffet car at Slaggyford station and the chance to see a steam train.

20180818 Sheltering in an old barn
Sheltering in an old barn

Leaving Burnside the trail climbs up onto Hartleyburn Common along an old Roman road, the Maiden Way. By now the wind was getting up and I was glad of a hat and jacket it was also beginning to spit with rain. The trail descends to Glendue Burn before climbing over a watershed and dropping down to the A689 and Hartley Burn. It then climbs to the wilds of Blenkinsopp Common. Thank heaven for a long dry summer as the bogs were bad enough but could have been a nightmare. Eventually passing the trig point at Wain Rigg I dropped down to the busy A69. Taking my life in my hands, I crossed and wandered down to Greenhead via pastures and the golf course arriving 4.00.

20180818 Heather moorland near Greenhead
Heather moorland near Greenhead

The Greenhead Hotel was open and welcoming. The owners now run the bunkhouse, having taken it over when the YHA wanted to close it. Once again I had an 8 bed room to myself. Dinner at the hotel was substantial and they also offered breakfast for tomorrow.

The forecast for Sunday is rain gradually easing and I am glad that I have a short day.

17th August – Day off in Alston

20180817 Alston marketplace
Alston marketplace

Friday

After a quiet night and substantial breakfast I went to explore Alston.  This did not take long, but I was able to replenish my food and pick up a paperback in a charity shop.  Returning to the hostel, I was hoping to get a photo of the red squirrel that was playing around at breakfast, but unfortunately it proved elusive.

I spent the morning booking accommodation up to Jedburgh, and sorting out some washing.  I was then able to relax for the rest of the day.

16th August – Dufton to Alston

20180816 Looking back at Cross Fell
Cross Fell

Thursday

Today was a big day, over 20 miles and 1070m of ascent, to get over Cross Fell, at 893m the highest point on the Pennine Way.  Yesterday walkers had turned back because of the high winds.  Luckily, thanks to Alan and Katy providing up to date weather forecasts, I found that there was a window of opportunity between 10-12 before 40 mph winds and rain arrived.

I left Dufton at 7.10 and almost immediately began the first climb of the day.  I crossed Great Rundale Beck, via a clapper footbridge and came upon a large black bull which took rather too much notice of my progress, but eventually decided he would let me pass unmolested.

20180816 Swindale Beck
Swindale Beck

The way continued up to cross Swindale Beck, before arriving at Green Fell (794m).

20180816 Looking west from Green Fell
Looking west from Green Fell

From here the path crossed a bog, before reaching a flagged path leading to the road to the radar station on Great Dun Fell.  By this time the wind was getting up and storm clouds were racing in from the west.

20180816 Approaching radar station on Great Dun Fell
Approaching the radar station on Great Dun Fell

I had left Dufton following an Australian lady, and we had swapped places throughout the morning, as one or other of us stopped for a rest.  She led over Great Dun Fell (848m), and having crossed a col, stopped at the shelter on Little Dun Fell.

20180816 Little Dun Fell with Cross Fell on skyline
Little Dun Fell with Cross Fell on the skyline behind it

By now it was raining so we donned our waterproof trousers and decided that it would be sensible to keep one another in sight until we reached the track, leading to Greg’s Hut bothy, on the other side of Cross Fell.

Heading up into the mist we reached the intermediate cairn and followed a bearing to find the summit cairn.  Another quick bearing led us safely out of the murk and the crossing was complete.  In truth it had been quite easy.  I have to confess that this is the first time I have climbed Cross Fell.  10 years ago I could not find the summit, in much worse conditions, and must have traversed round until I picked up the path down.

 

20180816 Moors beyond Greg's Hut Bothy
The moors beyond Greg’s Hut bothy

I stopped for a while at the bothy and then walked down the track to Carrigill. The track was being remade, to allow vehicles to access the moor for shooting, and the walk out was long and tiring.  At Carrigill my colleague and I were looking forward to some tea, so it was a disappointment that the pub was closed.

A quick look at the map enabled us to follow a parallel track and we arrived at Alston at 4.45.

20180816 Dufton
Alston

Once again I was the only person in a dormitory for eight.  After a shower and sorting out all of the wet kit, I went to the Cumberland Hotel which provided a substantial meal.  Then I had an early night.