Hadrian’s Wall Path

Walked from: Bowness-on-Solway

Walked to: Carlisle 
Distance: 15 miles

Stayed: YHA, Carlisle

Weather: Dry. Apart from that bit where it poured down and I got soaked…

I’ve given myself five days to walk across the country. Admittedly it’s the skinny bit, the equivalent of the neck of Great Britain, but it’s still 85 miles and I’m walking in the footsteps of the Romans the whole way, tracing the line of Hadrian’s Wall. Whoop, etc! 

There weren’t any actual traces of the wall to be seen on today’s walk, but there were some lovely views over to Scotland across the Solway, and the River Eden, and if there was a little too much road walking at points, this flat route made for a quick and quite pretty 15 miles. And as I started at the absurdly early time of 7am, I was finished by noon!

Would love to talk to the ‘gentleman’ in the 4WD who went through a puddle at speed and soaked what little of me wasn’t wet already from the very heavy rain shower I’d misjudged as a spot of light rain. When you’re warm and dry inside a car there’s really no need to act like an arse to those of us who are dealing with the weather on a more interactive basis… 

Photos: The start point of the walk, at Bowness / Approaching Port Carlisle / View over the River Eden to Scotland / Carlisle Castle / Carlisle Cathedral 




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The Pennine Way, Day 17 

Date: Sunday 7 June 2015

Walked from: Windy Gyle, Northumberland

Walked to: Kirk Yetholm, SCOTLAND!!!

Distance: 14 miles (ish) 

Stayed: The Border Hotel 

Weather: Dry, sunny later, great visibility

The final day of our 260 mile walk dawned bright and dry, and having hugged goodbye to Colin and Joyce, the wonderful hosts of Forest View, it was time to set off back up the leg stiffening climb we had walked down in the rain the day before. The wind was still with us, but in positively benign mood compared to the day before, and the rain decided to let us be for the day. 
Today’s walk was fabulous, and a fitting end to my Pennine Way adventure. Picking the trail back up again at Windy Gyle, we walked on the English side of the border for miles, up to the trig point at King’s Seat before hanging a sharp left and heading to Auchope Cairn and the spectacularly beautiful decent down the side of the emerald green hillside of Hen Hole, towards our last refuge hut of the trip. Next came the glorious climb up to The Schil, which – my guidebook states – is said to be the most attractive hill in The Cheviots. How you’re supposed to pick one among so many equals I don’t know, but it was another lovely climb, and on from there were more climbs up White Law and Whitelaw Nick, as we opted for the high route to finish our walk. 

The last stretch saw us dropping down into Kirk Yeltholm, our final destination, via a soft green path strewn with cattle, sheep and their offspring, and then on to a quiet country lane. The Border Hotel suddenly loomed into sight as we came to the village green – our last stop on what has sometimes felt like the UK’s longest pub crawl. And to the pub we went, to claim our free half pint provided to those who complete the Pennine Way (thanks Scottish Borders Brewery) and get our certificate (naff, yet sort of sweet too) for having finished the walk.  

Tonight nine of us dined together, celebrating the end of our walk over food, drinks and a memorable ‘awards’ ceremony, hosted by Colin, which involved the downing of tequila shots and a lot of laughter. I’ve met some great, truly interesting people from all sorts of places and backgrounds on this trip, made new friendships and hopefully cemented some existing ones. Long distance walking throws together such random assortments of people, yet there is something about the sense of humour, desire to achieve and the sheer joy of spending hours outdoors pitting yourself against the challenges that geography and climate throw at you, that pulls us all together. Fellow Pennine Way Farers, it was my honour and my privilege to walk with you, whether for a few hours or days on end. 

Photos: Walking the border / view from   Auchope Cairn / nearing the end / certified!


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The Pennine Way, Day 16

Date: Saturday 6 June 2015

Walked from: Bryness, Northumberland

Walked to: Windy Gyle, Northumberland 

Distance: 13 miles

Stayed: Forest View Walkers Inn 

Weather: Super windy. Heavy rain featured. 

The Met Office weather app warning of 50mph gusts aside, I knew it was going to be a windy walk when someone I only know through Twitter contacted me to warn of the weather and Joyce (see yesterday’s entry) started listing the possible escape routes down from our intended walk. Pah to that – this was the penultimate day of our walk and we were heading on out / movin’ on up, etc.

Fortuitously, while the wind was strong, it was also largely behind us, which meant we pretty much got blown up today’s hills, and along most of the route. Bags were much lighter today, as we were all being picked up by the indomitable Joyce and taken back to Forest View later, which was good in some ways, but did mean I was lacking the ballast my bag usually offers me in such circumstances. I succeeded in not being blown over, but think it was more luck than judgement! 

The big climb of today happened within minutes of starting, up Byrness Hill, then undulating climbs and descents along the ridge to Ravens Knowe, Lambs Hill and Mozie Law, and our flirtation with Scotland began, dipping in and out of the border after meeting it for the first time at the appropriately named Coquet Head. Rain mixed itself in with the wind at various junctures today, but was out in full force by the time we reached the trig point at Windy Gyle, where we dropped down (quite literally) two miles off the route to Trows Farm, and our pick up point. 

Waiting in the barn for our lift back to the warm and dry refuge of Forest View were the lovely Joy and Owen, a retired couple from Dorset who we had met the night before. Shivering in our damp clothes we cheered up the 20 minutes it took for our lift to arrive (bang on the 4.30pm pick up time) by turning up the volume on my phone and having an impromptu singalong. I’m not going to comment on Ken’s dancing; suffice to say that he is a dad. And he dances like one…

Another warming and plentiful meal at Forest View, a few more pints of local beer, catching up once more with Peter and Colin, and it was again time to fall into bed ahead of the last walking day of my holibobs. I fell asleep dreaming of the beautiful Cheviot hills, and a fantastic walk, now almost over. 

Photos: Climbing up Byrness Hill, a random mini TV set abandoned on the hillside / three pics of The Cheviots, including one with beautiful Cotton Grass in it! 


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The Pennine Way, Day 15

Date: Friday 5 June 2015

Walked from: Bellingham, Northumberland

Walked to: Byrness, Northumberland 

Distance: 15 miles

Stayed: Forest View Walkers Inn 

Weather: Fair-ish

I’m not sure why exactly, but after 15 days of walking, my legs are starting to feel a bit tired, and for the first time, I’m starting to think how nice it would be to sit down for much of the day instead of walking.

That said it was another good day of exploring stonkingly beautiful countryside. After a lovely breakfast at The Cheviot in Bellingham, served up accompanied by the waitresses brilliantly dry sense of humour, yesterday’s gang of five re-grouped this morning to walk on to Byrness. After various visits to the local bakers, chemist, co-op AND bank (Bellingham is a virtual metropolis in Pennine Way terms) we eventually set off up the road to and into the sheep filled pastures around Blakelaw. Annette and I laughed our way up hill in the boot squelching moorland on the approach to Whitley Moor; wet feet and bogs have become an everyday story on this latter part of the Pennine Way.
After regrouping at the top of Whitley Pike we began the climb near Padon Hill and up Brownrigg Head, where we hopped over a dry stone wall to shelter from the wind and enjoy some lunch in a bit of sunshine for half an hour. More bog followed as we skirted the edge of Redesdale Forest, one of my feet yet again sinking deep into the dark, cold wetness that lay beneath, before we reached the salvation of the forest road that led us through Kiedler Forest Park to that most magical and rare of things… a toilet block, superbly situated in Blakehopeburnhaugh car park, at a moment of dire need. Hurrah! ‘Twas then a mere hop, skip and a tired foot drag to the wonderful Forest View Walkers Inn, which has featured on many a programme on the Pennine Way, including a recent one on BBC, where the owners Colin and Joyce bend over backwards to provide the tired walker with everything they need, from cleaning and drying boots to beer to a decent meal. Feeling very well looked after, it was time for bed. 

Photos: Whitley Pike / Near Paddon Hill / The ‘boys’ on the approach to Redesdale Forest / Kielder Park forest track


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The Pennine Way, Day 14

Date: Thursday 4 June 2015

Walked from: Greenhead, Northumberland

Walked to: Bellingham, Northumberland 

Distance: 21.5 miles

Stayed: Cheviot Hotel

Weather: Glorious!

Odds are that if you walk for long enough, you’re bound to get a sunny day eventually. Well, it’s taken two weeks, but today it finally arrived – just in time for a glorious romp through the stunning Northumberland countryside.

The first seven miles of today’s long walk (all eleven hours of it, including food stops) were all about the Romans, as we walked up and down, and up and down a bit more, heading east along Hadrian’s Wall. A leg stretching start to the day, but a good un’, with a relaxing, sun soaking lunch stop atop a part of the wall that looks down on the pool of Crag Lough, near Once Brewed.

We then struck off northeast, in a yomp through the mixture of open countryside and forest that eventually got us to Bellingham, a village I first rocked up in on a cycling holiday nine years ago, and the last place we’ll see a cash machine for four days! I managed to sink half way up to my right knee in bog at one point, to much general hilarity, but apart from that it was considerably drier underfoot than yesterday. 

I spent much of the day muttering about wanting a lemonade, and took some time to share my thoughts on the best brands available to the British consumer, which I’m sure were welcomed by my walking companions (Annette, Ken, Chris and a new Pennine Way buddy Paul, who has been section walking the Way for the past seven years and started on his last part today). So imagine my sheer, unadulterated joy to come across the place of miracles that calls itself Horneystead Farm. The lovely farmers there have a small outbuilding with comfy chairs, a loo, cake, sweeties, hot drinks and a fridge full of cold drinks… including my very favourite lemonade (Waitrose traditional cloudy, since you ask…). The sugar we consumed there got me through the last five miles or so, as we picked up the pace to get to the Cheviot Hotel (also a pub) in time for a rather late dinner. Anonymous farmers of Horneystead Farm, I thank thee from the bottom of my lemonade addicted heart. And Northumberland, you are even more beautiful than I remembered. 
Photos: Views to the north (barbarian country) from Hadrian’s Wall / Ken showing off his balancing skills on the approach to Wark Forest / the fridge of miracles / the view from Ealingham Rigg


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The Pennine Way, Day 13

Date: Wednesday 3 June 2015

Walked from: Alston, Cumbria 

Walked to: Greenhead, Northumberland

Distance: 16.5 miles

Stayed: Greenhead Hotel

Weather: Quite nice actually

What a difference a day makes! After the less than accommodating weather of yesterday, today’s 16.5 miles was dry above my head if not underfoot, and the wind dropped to boot. Hurrah!

Annette and I started the day by bumping into Ken as we were leaving Alston, and although we walked the first half of the day – through the farmland to the north of Alston and via the brilliantly named hamlet of Slaggyford – without him, we caught up over lunch at the Kirkstyle Inn at Knarsdale and walked the rest of the way to Greenhead together.

The highlight of my day was being immensely pleased with myself for navigating my way across the vast expanse of Blenkinsopp Common without getting lost, although sinking ankle deep in big and feeling the water pour in over the top of my boots seemed to be an unavoidable experience…

Thanks go to the friendly golfers of Haltwhistle Golf Club, who were very nice about the fact that we went slightly the wrong way across their greens at the end of what had been a pretty long day.


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The Pennine Way, Day 12

Date: Tuesday 2 June 2015

Walked from: Dufton, Cumbria 

Walked to: Alston

Distance: 19.5 miles

Stayed: Alston House Hotel

Weather: Bit of sun, lot of wind, rain

Today was all about the highest point on the Pennines – 893 meter high Cross Fell – and tackling what is described in my guidebook as ‘a serious mountain walk… it should not be undertaken lightly’. Throw in  some high winds that were pummelling the UK today and the bad weather was about to close in and take away the visibility, and you have all the ingredients of an exciting day of walking!

Annette and I walked with Chris today, and without his knowledge of the Fell and the GPS mapping he was using, it would have been easy to get horribly lost on the way down – as some other people did. The bad weather was coming, so we set off as early as breakfast timings allowed, and had an initially sunny climb up to Knock Fell. Things started to get seriously blustery on the approach to Great Dunton Fell, where all additional layers of clothing and waterproofs (they help with the wind too!) were donned. We had fabulous views from that Fell, which allowed us to see the weather was closing in on us fast, and although Cross Fell was no distance at all, by the time we got to it the visibility was all but gone (with the exception of a glorious and momentary parting of the clouds) and we were walking in clag and rain as well as pretty full on wind. 

Chris navigated us to to the charmingly named ‘Corpse Road’, a clear track that runs for miles back down the Fell all the way to Garrigill. Easy going one you’re on it, but in poor visibility not all all easy to find. First stop once on the track was lunch at Greg’s Hut, a two roomed mountain bothy that is named and maintained in honour of a mountaineer called John Gregory who died in a climbing accident in the late 1960s. For us today the bothy was welcome respite and a chance to eat our lunch out of the wind and the rain, but for others it’s often been a lifesaver in poor weather conditions – as attested to be the comments in the visitors book they keep there. We also caught up briefly with our friends Peter and Colin at the bothy, but unfortunately I was too cold to wait for them, so off we went. 

Garrigill’s pub provided welcome respite from the wind and the rain, and then it was an easy few miles through fields and along the river to Alston, to dry out, soak in a long, hot bath and have dinner and a well-earned bed for the night! 

Photos: leaving Dufton / slabs ready to lay on approach to Knock Fell / clouds parting at the top of Cross Fell / Drying out my boots at the pub in Garragill





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