The final marathon to Kirk Yetholm – Day 15

Ok, not quite a marathon but I knew this day was going to be tough and so I was mentally prepared for the long walk ahead. 26 miles of bog trotting over moorland, it was going to take all of my willpower to keep going.

Bryness to Kirk Yetholm (25.75 miles/ 41.2 km)

I set out from Bryness campsite at 6.30am in order to make sure I had plenty of time to do the final leg of the walk and to be able to sit and have lunch (a thing I rarely do) and rest when I needed to (also not common).

From Bryness the Pennine Way heads straight up through the woodland to access the moorland. This is the last view of trees or civilisation I would have for hours as I headed our over the Otterburn Ranges. Much of this area is used as military training ground and so signs keep you from straying from the footpath.

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Heading across the moors I couldn’t yet see the distance or terrain I would be crossing, or even the Roman camp at Chew Green which I was heading for first.

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This cairn marks the only archaeological feature I saw on the whole walk across Chew Green. But after bog trotting and already having damp feet when I saw the sign marking an alternative route to Windy Gyle which was half a mile shorter I took it. So I only looked down on the roman camp (only identifiable from the route by markings in the grass). Having not gone to the small car park I have no idea if there was something worth seeing there. From where I was, it didn’t seem worth the extra half mile to find out.  DSCF6265 DSCF6268

So I trudged on.

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Eventually the route comes to the old Roman Road of Dere Street which linked York and Perthshire and where this section is a scheduled ancient monument. Here the Pennine way skirts around the route to the right of the fence line.

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It wasn’t even mid morning and I was starving so when I reached Yearning Saddle Lamb Hill Mountain refuge I was very happy to have a short break and scoff and entire malt loaf. 10am. I couldn’t even use the excuse it was elevenses. I don’t think I would have wanted to plan to stay at the hut but it was perfectly clean and tidy (I’m comparing to Glen’s Hut a few days earlier, but it was pretty spotless for a hut) and would be perfect if the weather was horrendous or you found yourself benighted.

DSCF6283 DSCF6284Whilst I think paving on peat moorland is a necessary evil to prevent erosion, I don’t enjoy walking on it as it given the knees and feet a bit more of a beating. But after bogs so far I was actually happy to see paving across to Windy Gyle.

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I reached Russell’s Cairn Trig point on Windy Gyle just before 12, a perfect time for a break and a breather. Distance wise I wasn’t even half way yet, which was a challenge mentally rather than physically. Supposedly the site of Lord Francis Russell’s mysterious death in 1585 the cairn is actually thought to be bronze age. At this point in the walk the history washed over me and I was more interested in the chocolate I was scoffing.

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Not long after here I could see my first sight of Cheviot, the huge flat hill did not inspire me and having read the commentary in my 1974 Constable guide to the Pennine way, where Cheviot is described as miles of peat hags and lacking a significant view I had already made my mind up that if it was still like that I wasn’t bothering to make the 2 km addition just to visit the trig point.

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Thankfully the route must have been so bad even across to King’s Seat cairn that much of the Way has recently been paved, which is fantastic, even if my knees where beginning to grumble.

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However I reached the point at where the path splits for the diversion to Cheviot Cairn and the terrain across didn’t fill me with enthusiasm. I decided for the first time in my life that a trig point wasn’t worth the effort, and instead headed through the gate. Even though it means one day I will have to return to ‘bag’ it I still don’t regret it; at that point in the day I would have cursed all the way and been miserable. I was more interested in getting to the next Mountain hut and having a late lunch. (I’ve later read that it is indeed paved now, but still I was too tired to bother at that particular time.)DSCF6303 DSCF6301

So I headed through the gate and off to Auchope cairn where I stopped for a quick snack.

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It was 2pm when I arrived at The Schil mountain refuge and whilst my cheese and onion pasty was well and truly squashed it was the best thing I’d ever eaten.

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The Schil hut sits at the col before you ascend to The Schil summit and as such has a great view across to Cheviot’s better side, of Hen Hole where alpine vegetation remains. The sun had finally made an appearance and so had my smile, (perfect combination of sunshine and cheese!) I also formed the opinion around this point in the day that it was a shame that the huts weren’t like those I’ve been to in the Alps, as I could have murdered a coffee or a strong hot chocolate. But I imagine I was one of only a handful of people (if that) who were likely to walk past here today and its also nice to have the total quiet that emptiness brings.

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From there the route continues over The Schil summit and the splits providing a high a low alternative into Kirk Yetholm. I chose the low route (again not something I would usually do).

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The route has been diverted around Burnhead farm compared to my rather old OS map, but once there I reached tarmac and a long slog down into Kirk Yetholm on the road.

Farm’s often have unsually things lying around, but I think only in Scotland would you find a Tunnock’s container!

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Kirk Yetholm was a great relief when I arrived there 10 hours and 15 minutes after setting off and celebrated with a free pint in the pub (available to all completers!)

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Woodlands and Moors – Pennine Way day 14

Not the wettest day of the Pennine Way, but certainly not the driest! It was also not a particularly long day, which was good as by the time I arrived at Bryness at just after lunch it started and didn’t stop raining.

Bellingham to Bryness (15 miles/ 24 km)

Leaving Bellingham from the north of the village I could see I was heading for the rain and into the clouds. Unlike the day before when I’d tanned quite nicely whilst bog trotting from Housestead, it was immediately clear that it was never going to get sunny on the way to Bryness.

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Just beyond Blakelaw farm there is an alternative path marked on the map, and while not an official Pennine way diversion (at least on my 15 year old OS map) there was a fairly old signpost suggesting it as a diversion. In hindsight the shortest route is not always the best. The upper route contours around the hill to Hareshaw House, the lower route follows the wall lower down and probably cuts less than 1km from the walk. I’d have preferred to have walked an extra 1km!

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So I chose the alternative route, and waded through and jumped across the bogs to get to the track just below the house. Not worth the diversion at all!

Once I reached the road and donned my waterproof, I crossed and headed into the mist. Despite the route crossing open moorland it is very easy to follow, even in the mist.

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As the path gets near to the woodland at Brownrigg Head its clear that the woodland is in the process of being felled.

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This little chap is the only conversation I had all day, and he was only a fledgling so he was probably a bit startled!

Eventually the path skirt the edge of the woodland and after more damp feet it joins the woodland track and on to terra firma!

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The track is however long and a bit dull to walk down but does take you all the way in to Bryness, so there is no need to take the tiny Pennine Way diversions which loop on and off the track. Why get more wet? Eventually the track comes down to Blakehopeburnhaugh where the path diverts off and follows the river on a lovely woodland path to Bryness.

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Heading ever northwards – Pennine Way day 13

As the Pennine Way heads northwards it drifts from towns to only crossing through small farms and villages. Heading to Bellingham the only conversation I had all day was with the odd sheep!

Housestead to Bellingham (13.5 miles/ 21.5 Km)

I was lucky enough to get dropped off on the road just below Cuddy Crag where the Pennine Way turns off Hadrian’s Wall to head northwards. I could see right away though that it was going to be a day of wet feet.

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The walk is across moorland and through woodlands for much of the way, so when I arrived at civilisation at both Willow Bog farm and Leadgate road, there was a certain amount of relief to standing on firm ground!

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This is an uninteresting photo below, but at this point in the day I was finding it childishly funny that I was looking at Shitlington Hall.

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From here I climbed the small crags to head down into the town of Bellingham.  DSCF6217 DSCF6218

Along Hadrian’s Wall – Pennine Way day 12

A day off from wading through bogs was much appreciated as I headed out over the section of the Pennine Way which overlaps with the Hadrian’s Wall national trail. This section of the route is possibly the best signposted along the whole route, probably due to the popularity and that two national trails link up here.

Greenhead to Housestead (10 miles/16 km)

It was nice to know I only had a few hours of walking today and that I would be able to avoid bog trotting, so it was even nicer to have the sun shining too. Starting at Greenhead the first encounter with Hadrian’s Wall is Thirlwell Castle, which was actually built in the early 14th Century by John Thirlwell as a family home; built from recycled Roman stone. It did however prove to repel attacks during the Anglo-Scottish border raids in the 15th and 16th centuries until it was abandoned in the 17th century. Saved from further dereliction by Northumberland National Park Authority there is an information board highlighting the castle’s history. Despite it being at the start of the walk, it’s worth a look.

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From here the route heads eastwards crossing a few minor roads and former quarry sites, now restored as wildlife habitats. Much of Hadrian’s Wall is a World Heritage site so despite the loss of sections to quarrying and theft of stone for local buildings over the centuries it is still an impressive structure and a fascinating opportunity to get close to Roman history as you walk.

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The path generally follows quite close to the Wall itself, allowing you to see the best of the Wall itself. If you are able to stay in the Haltwistle area and have a free day from walking it is worth visiting some of the large Roman forts in the area which are a few miles from the route.

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At Cawfields I reached another quarry, which has destroyed much of Hadrian’s Wall by removing the face of the Whin Sill. As the sign below notes, “Whinstone is the local name for the hard, fine-grained black rock called dolerite, which here is part of an enormous sheet, forming the Whin Sill. This was valued particularly for the surfacing of roads.”

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I continued on towards Housestead Roman Fort where the route gets particularly busy due to the popularity of the Fort. After today’s walk I’m certainly keen to do Hadrian’s Wall National Trail at some point!

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Following the Roman Road to Hadrian’s Wall – Day 11

I’m not exactly a purist, always happy to get off the beaten track to get to where I’m going. But when tackling the Pennine way the whole point is that you remain on the route as much as possible. Alston to Greenhead was one of the only days on the route that I had wished I’d taken an alternative path to get to where I was going. Ok, that’s a bit unfair as there are some really lovely sections along the route, but there are also some very boggy bits!

Alston to Greenhead (16 Miles/26 km)

So be warned, look at the map carefully and decide if you really want to bog trot over moors or head along the South Tyne trail for part of the way, which uses the old train line and runs along the valley bottom. Its possible to take this route as far as Lambley before picking up the Pennine Way again. You could go all the way to Haltwistle if you wished, but then you’d be missing out the day walking along Hadrian’s Wall which would be a shame.

Alston is only a small market town but boasts the fame of being the highest in England.

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From Alston the path briefly follows the river before crossing the A689 and heading up onto the fells. The route becomes immediately boggy as it heads across the moorland, crossing Gilderdale Burn and back across the A689.DSCF6111 DSCF6118DSCF6119

As the route crosses under the old railway line there are some fantastic viaducts and wild garlic growing by the river. (Its a good job I’m a solo walker!)

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From Burnstone the path then follows the old Roman road towards Greenhead and Hadrian’s Wall, across more moorland and eventually farmland. If you want to head for Greenhead village then you can’t escape this bit of the route, its very beautiful but pretty boggy!

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Up and Over Cross Fell – Pennine Way Day 10

I have to admit to being a bit excited about the prospect of finally finishing the Pennine Way over a final week of walking after having started this route 8 years ago. So taking a week off work and roping in my parents as willing sherpas I headed out on the fells.

Dufton to Alston (18.75 Miles/ 30 Km)

Heading out I had a skip in my step, eager to get on the fells. I did however have a minor hangover from a great night in the Stag Inn, the fantastic pub in the village (which does excellent meals). Despite being in sunshine in Dufton I could already see that Great Dun Fell and Cross Fell were shroud in mist.

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From Knock Old Man trig I trudged on into the mist, double checking my bearing to make sure I was definitely heading towards Great Dun Fell. The path is actually easy to follow once you head off Knock Old Man and is even paved in parts. Battling through the wind and fog I was grateful to not find myself in the Helm Wind which rages across the Fell top for much of the year.

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It was a bit of a surprise to find a tarmac road leading to the mast on Great Dun Fell but even more surprising were the 25 young army lads coming towards my as I descended its summit!

Despite being the highest point in the Pennines and the highest point in England outside of the Lake District, Cross Fell summit was a bit of a let down. A relatively flat summit with a trig point and a low shelter, made worse by the lack of a view.

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I headed directly off the summit, bearing off towards Greg’s hut to avoid missing the track to it.

Greg’s Hut was also a surprise as I had pictured a wooden hut in my head, so it was interesting to find a real building complete with guest book, chairs, candles and a portrait of the man it was dedicated to.

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The track from Greg’s hut to Garrigill is long and an uninteresting plod; it may have been a nicer walk had I had a view.

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Once in Garrigill I picked up the path along the river and followed it to Alston, my stop for the day. The woodland river walk made a nice contrast to the earlier slog across the moors.

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20 miles, 3 waterfalls and one epic river walk – Pennine Way day 9

“A wonderful place to be a walker”

I was grateful for cloud when I rose this morning, although its still quite warm and humid. I trudge on, nursing two huge blisters from racing yesterday section in the blazing hot sunshine in inadequately thin socks, I’m indifferent to the prospect of walking over the moors in the mist. Anything is better than the baking sunshine of yesterday. However, it would be nice to have a view of High Cup Nick when I get there.

Day 9 – Middleton in Teesdale to Dufton – 20.6 miles/ 32.8km

The walk along the River Tees is beautiful, through fields of wildflower meadows and through Upper Teesdale National Nature Reserve, the largest in England.

The walk today is long and most people break this leg in two, but its worth doing as one to see the changes in the landscape from the wildflower meadows, to well managed farmland in the National Nature Reserve, to a river walk up the valley which reminds me of the long walk ins to munros in Scotland, to finally reach an 8 mile walk over the moors to reach the geological feature of High Cup Nick. I don’t recall any leg so far on the Pennine Way having such changes in the landscape type.

Its worth a walk to Low and High Force waterfalls in their own right and I’d certainly explore this valley again.

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As you approach Holwick Head Farm the valley opens up to reveal the walk ahead, heading up the valley and around Cronkley Scar. In the humidity this felt like a long trek to reach Cauldron’s Snout waterfall, lots of midges and horseflies. And I was desperate to reach the waterfall as a spot for lunch.

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There is a steep scramble up Cauldrons Snout which I can’t imagine doing with a trekking pack but then maybe I’m just knackered after being loaded with sugary sweets and walking 11 miles. I’m grateful of the weir at the top to sit and have lunch.

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From Cow Green Reservoir dam the route heads West passing Birkdale Farm and a sign letting you know that Dufton is 8 miles away. Walking across the moorland  the route reaches Maize Beck, which you then follow, crossing a large bridge built by the Pennine Way Association as a memorial to their former chair.

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Finally, after more moorland in the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) you reach High Cup Nick, a great climax to the day’s walk. The Pennine Way heads around the northern rim of the steep valley side and provides a great way to view the amazing geology of this area.

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Dufton lies around the bottom of the valley to the right of the valley. After 20 miles in just short of 9 hours, I’m dying for a cold bucket for my feet and a cold beer!