Friday, 10 July 2015

Kit used on the Pennine Way

The main items of camping gear I used were new to me as I had 'binned' my failing kit on my aborted Pennine Way attempt in 2014, so I had a new tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad and stove. I rarely buy really expensive items of walking or camping gear as I do not backpack in winter conditions and I don't really see the point. I also feel that much of the more expensive brands are over-hyped and tend to look for good quality, middle range kit. The most 'expensive' items were my trail runners made by La Sportiva but these were purchased at sale price so the price wasn't excessive. I'm not going to list every item I took but here are the main items and my views on their effectiveness having used them on the trip. 

Looking Back

As I read back through this blog more than a year after my Pennine Way adventure, I am struck by how pleasant the whole last day looks from the photos. This is because the only photos I took during the day were at the points were it wasn't actually raining, in other words, the beginning, end and the temporary clearance as I approached the second refuge hut. The rest of the day was a battle against the elements, through rain, fog, wind but most of all, the flooded, squelching peat. In complete contrast, the second section of my hike to Cape Wrath couldn't have been more contrasting. I walked for twenty-two days in May 2016 from Kirk Yetholm, where I finished the previous year, to Strathcarron in the Highlands in glorious weather with only a couple of wet days on the West Highland Way. 

Thursday, 9 July 2015

The End of the Beginning

Waiting for the bus in Kirk Yetholm

 I stood outside the Border Hotel for a while in something of a daze. Never had a days walking taken so much out of me and yet I felt physically fine, just mentally exhausted. I took some photos and then went into the hotel to see if they had a room available, even though I knew they didn't as I had phoned ahead from Bellingham but I had hoped that they may have had a cancellation. A very helpful member of staff checked and confirmed what I already knew and I asked if he could recommend a guesthouse, which he did. I followed his directions and knocked on the door of a fine looking building whereupon the door was opened and upon enquiry, I was told that they did indeed have a room and soon I was wallowing in a hot bath, soaking way the trials of the day but still feeling a little shell-shocked.

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

The Pennine Way - 8th July - Byrness to Kirk Yetholm - The Final Frontier

Climbing Byrness Hill

The alarm on my watch went off at 4am. I lay still for a minute or two listening but couldn’t hear much apart from the occasional rustle of a sleeping bag as someone nearby turned over in their sleep. I ran through in my mind what I needed to do before I got out of the tent.

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

The Pennine Way - 7th July 2015 - Bellingham to Byrness - Calm before the Storm

Deer Play

I was awoken by the sound of rain pouring against the bedroom window and was suddenly thankful that the campsite owners had not been at home the previous evening. After an excellent breakfast and a chat with the landlady, I gathered my belongings and set off into the village where I was now pleased to find that the rain had stopped, although the sky was still threatening. I headed out of the village on a steep lane followed by a walker I had passed in the high street who had managed a cursory 'hello' but didn't seem to want to talk beyond that. At the top of a hill, the path veered off of the road along a farm track and out on to the open fellside. Today's section was described in the guidebook as ' a dolly', which was apparently local vernacular for 'easy' and at only fifteen miles, it was certainly shorter than most recent days had been and was what the book suggested was exactly what was required as preparation for the final days test. After crossing the fellside, I passed another farm and the heavens opened and the rain began to fall again. I usually wait a while when rain starts before I put on any waterproof clothing to see if it appears to be setting in for any length of time but this seemed a fairly heavy downpour so I stopped immediately and put on my jacket. The way crossed a road to follow a narrow path through deep heather up onto the summit of Deer Play. From here, the Cheviot Hills, were now clearly visible on the horizon and I wondered what tomorrow had in store for me as I had decided to tackle them in one crossing, a distance of around twenty-six miles, instead of breaking the leg into two days. I passed a walker heading in the opposite direction and headed for the summit of Whitley Pike and could clearly see another walker in the distance, who I seemed to be catching fairly quickly and having noticed that his jacket appeared quite bright, assumed it was Tony. 

Tony on Whitley Pike

It wasn't long before I caught the figure, which did indeed turn out to be Tony, and we stopped to take each others photos on the summit of Whitley Pike as Tony explained about a detour he had been advised to take that avoided an extremely boggy section in Redesdale Forest, after the summit of Padon Hill. Indeed, the guidebook mentioned this section and described it as being 'a horrible stretch, a stiff climb through trees, wet, boggy and thoroughly unpleasant'. The alternative Tony had been advised of was along deserted country lanes and rejoined the Pennine Way on a forestry track the other side of the this section. I didn't need much persuasion and we set off from Whitley Pike and descended to the road and the deserted tarmac, which eventually passed through a gate by a farm and became an unsurfaced track through the forest just before the Pennine Way rejoined from the right. The next few miles followed clear, wide forestry roads that we could see stretching out for miles in front of us and we just ambled along at a reasonable pace knowing that the day was not going to be taxing in any way. Every now and then, the Pennine Way left the main forestry tracks for more grassy, boggy paths through the trees but we ignored these as we knew that the only rejoined the track further along, so it seemed pointless to sacrifice the obvious tracks when we could be saving our energy for the last day on the Cheviot Hills. 

Road through the forest

 After a while, we spotted Gordon and Rowan sitting at the side of the track brewing up a cup of tea and we stopped to chat. They had been unaware of the alternative to the thoroughly unpleasant track and confirmed that it was indeed accurately described. In fact Gordon still hadn't calmed down from squelching through what he described as being probably the worst section of path he had ever encountered and said that if the person responsible for the creation of the Pennine Way route hadn't already have passed on, he would have been only to happy to help him on his way! Tony and I left the two of them to their tea and carried on along the track for a few miles before arriving at a picnic area by a car park where we stopped for a break. We were now less than an hour from Byrness and our overnight stop at the Forest View Walkers Inn, so we relaxed and rested while enjoying the sunshine and as we sat were joined by Rowan and Gordon, who seemed to have calmed down a little. 

Gordon and Rowan take a break

We left the picnic area together and the four of us walked to the Forest View and although the owners weren't present, they had left the gate open so we went inside and helped ourselves to tea and coffee sitting in the pleasant conservatory overlooking the garden. There then followed an excellent evening as many more walkers turned up followed by the owners Colin and Joyce, whose service, besides offering bed and breakfast, was second to none and included meals, a bar service, snacks and breakfasts. Colin even provided a boot cleaning and sock drying service for free! Campers were also allowed to camp behind the hostel for free as long as they purchased dinner in the restaurant, which is what I did and after dinner, settled down in the bar with a couple of beers talking with Gordon and Rowan. It was quite sad that this would be my last opportunity to speak with them at length as I planned to set off at five o'clock in the morning to complete the trail and they were stopping around the halfway mark, thereby taking an extra day, so I wouldn't be seeing them again. Eventually, knowing that I had a very early start, I retired to my tent to rest before the final test.            

Forest View Walkers Inn, Byrness

Monday, 6 July 2015

The Pennine Way - 6th July 2015 - Greenhead to Bellingham - The Roman Wall

Hadrian's Wall

I arose early and as I finished packing my rucksack, Tony appeared walking up the lane past the house and waited for me to strap on my pack. We set off uphill together for a short distance before I began pulling away from him as the hills steepened. The Pennine Way followed Hadrian's Wall for around eight miles on today's section and I knew that it was going to be a fairly tough start as the route along this iconic Roman landmark followed the hilltops and rose and fell like a roller-coaster along most of the Pennine Way stretch. The weather was fine and sunny, although there was a chill in the air and it felt as though rain was not too far away. I was feeling really good as I headed onto Walltown Crags with the sun sparkling on the lake at Walltown Quarry. 

Walltown Crags

I climbed the first of many steep 'pulls' up onto the wall and I took a moment to stop and look behind me to the south towards the now distant Pennines. Later in the day, I would look north and see the final hurdle of the Cheviot Hills appear as just a grey line in the distance. Today was to prove different, at least initially, as for the first time since the Yorkshire Dales, there were numerous walkers in evidence as the Hadrian's Wall trail is a very popular long distance trail and I felt slightly uncomfortable sharing the path with so many other walkers for the first time in a number of days. At Burnhead, a walker leaving a guest house asked me if I had seen a map along the trail that he had dropped while walking the previous day, I said I hadn't and wished him a 'good walk' and carried on up a steep climb to the remains of milecastle 42. The Romans built turrets, or milecastles, at intervals of one mile along Hadrian's Wall and larger forts at other intervals along it's length. The wall was five metres high with a defensive ditch called 'The Vallum' set between two mounds of earth running along the length of the southern side. The wall took ten years to build and was in use for two hundred years. After the Roman's departed, the wall fell into disuse and the stones were gradually plundered and used to build farms and roads. Thirlwall Castle, which stood above the campsite I had stayed at the previous evening was built using stone from the wall. 

On the Roman Wall

Today, the National Trust, English Heritage and the National Park authorities preserve what remains of the wall. It was while climbing one of the numerous steep inclines from Steel Rigg car park that I noticed a sharp pain in the top of my left foot from my ankle leading into my big toe as well as a slight soreness at the back of the heel on the same foot. I had walked the many miles of the Pennine Way in my trail shoes so far without a hint of foot trouble, so was surprised to now find that I had a problem. As the path descended, I found a comfortable rock to sit on and removed my shoes to find a very small blister developing at the back of my left heel. My socks were slightly wet so I took both of them off and retrieved a dry pair from my rucksack while waiting for my feet to dry thoroughly. This done, I took out a medium sized Compeed plaster from my first-aid kit and warmed it thoroughly in the palms of my hand and moulded it around my heel with my palm until it became almost impossible to distinguish where my foot ended and the plaster began. The pain across the top of my foot felt like a tendon problem, so I swallowed some Ibuprofen tablets and put my shoes back on before heading off up the next steep climb. It took a while for the tablets to take effect but once they did, I took one tablet each morning for the rest of the walk before setting off and had no further problems with either the pain or the blister. 

Sycamore Gap

Crag Lough

I was now approaching Crag Lough, which signalled that my trip along the wall was coming to an end and as I marched along at a fair pace, I met a couple walking in the opposite direction whereupon the male half of the pair greeted me with a 'Hola, que tal?'. His surprise, and particularly that of his partner, who burst out laughing when I responded with 'Muy bien gracias, y tu?', was total. Presumably, I was the only walker that morning to reply to him in his own language. I forged onto Hotbank Crags, the last climb along the wall before descending to Rapishaw Gap, where I crossed the wall and left it as the Pennine Way now headed for Wark Forest. I stopped in the gap between the wall and the forest to look back at the Whin Sill, the escarpment of dolerite that the wall sits on top of and tried to imagine what it must have been like for the Roman soldiers garrisoned here in the wild outpost and even more pertinent, for the tribes approaching from the north. I followed a wide track along the boundary of the forest for a short distance before leaving it for a narrow, grassy and boggy path into the woods. This was a completely new experience along the Pennine Way, as so far, the way had only briefly courted any woodland. 

The Wark Forest is a plantation that many criticize for the uniformity of planting and the strange 'dead' atmosphere that usually pervades such plantations but I found the sudden change a novelty and the way tended to avoid the wide forest roads for more interesting, abeit 'swampy' trails, through the trees. It wasn't long before I was out in the open again crossing Haughton Common and after another forest section I found myself standing at the edge of a river with no obvious way across. I looked up and downstream but could see no sign of a bridge. Checking the map in my guidebook, I could see no mention of this unbridged crossing so in frustration, I simply waded across. Having wet feet was no big deal but it seemed odd that a National Trail would have a river crossing with no bridge. I later found out from another walker that there was indeed a bridge further along the bank of the river. 

Approaching Shitlington Crags

I crossed farmland to the unlikely named Shitlington Crags where I had to fend off the unthreatening but boisterous attentions of two dogs that had bounded away from their owner, who came puffing her way along the track running parallel to the crags, loudly calling for her dogs to return. By the time she reached them I was already on top of the crags and heading for the path that descended steeply through fields to the road just outside Bellingham. I followed the road to the village campsite but there didn't appear to be anyone to book in with, just a sign asking for campers to call into the cottage across the road, which I did, but annoyingly, there was another sign on the door saying that the owners were out and would be back at five o'clock. I was in two minds if I should set up the tent anyway or look for a room, and after wandering around the village for a short time, called at a guesthouse where the owner asked for an exorbitant sum for a double room. When I baulked at the amount and said I would try elsewhere, the owner laughingly replied that she 'would not be offended' by my doing so. I walked around the corner and found a room for half the price and enjoyed a wonderful stay, the owners were two of the friendliest, most helpful I met on the entire journey and accused the other guesthouse owner of being 'greedy'. Later, having used far too much hot water cleaning myself and my gear, I walked down the road to the hotel for dinner and once again, had another convivial evening with Tony, Rowan and Gordon.

Sunday, 5 July 2015

The Pennine Way - 5th July 2016 - Garrigill to Greenhead - Beyond the Pennines

River South Tyne

After an excellent night's sleep, I awoke to the luxury of an electric kettle to boil the water for my morning coffee and as all I had to eat for breakfast was some flapjack and I had no tent to pack away, I was ready in double quick time and slipped out of the slumbering village quietly after posting the bunkhouse key in the warden's letterbox. The guidebook says of the four mile section to Alston that 'this section may well get on your wick', but I found it a delightful stroll in the sunshine along the banks of the River South Tyne. The 'overgrown paths, numerous stiles and sprung gates' either failed to materialise or just didn't register with me as I ambled along enjoying the peace of the early morning riverside setting. It was along this section that it finally dawned on me that I had now left the Pennines for the last time and would be following the South Tyne Valley during today's hike to Hadrian's Wall. First, I had the short but enjoyable hike to Alston, which seemed to be over quickly and it wasn't long before I reached the road just outside the market town. I turned right into the town and headed for a cash-point before returning back along the road to the service station, which I had noticed had a fairly large shop attached to it. I was overjoyed to discover, as I stocked up with snacks and drinks for the day ahead, that it also sold hot food and purchased a hot bacon, sausage and egg roll for my breakfast.


I stumbled outside carrying my purchases and having stowed them safely in my rucksack, walked the short distance to the war memorial where I had noticed a bench. Here, I sat and enjoyed one of only a handful of hot breakfasts of the trip before shouldering the rucksack and heading off across fields and out of town. I passed the remains of Whitley Castle, an old Roman Fort, of which, all that remained were a few grassy ridges in the middle of a field. The information board suggested that it was 'the most complex defensive earthworks of any known fort in the Roman Empire, with multiple banks and ditches outside the usual stone ramparts. The fort appears to have been sited to control and protect lead mining in the area as well as to support the border defences of Hadrian's Wall'.

The grassed over remains of Whitley Castle/Epiacum

A short while later, as I followed a field edge, I noticed an elderly couple on the far side as they exited the field through a gate and headed off into trees in the direction I was following. Passing through the gate, I began descending through the trees and noticed a movement at the bottom of the path in the undergrowth to my right right and realised to my horror, that it was the old lady squatting by the side of the path in the bushes. I knew that if I took another step or two in her direction she would become aware of my presence but also, had I made any sudden move backwards, this would also probably alert her with all of the resulting embarrassment on both sides. I stood momentarily frozen to the spot before very slowly stepping backwards a couple of paces and side-stepping into the bushes. I waited a few moments before stepping back out onto the path to see the tops of the old couples heads disappearing through some extremely tall plants that covered the path in the next field. These resembled rhubarb plants and were indeed taller then me, so I was glad it was a dry day as, had I needed to push my way through in the wet, I would certainly have emerged soaking wet on the opposite side of the field.

The huge 'Rhubarb plants' The old lady can be seen to the left of the telegraph pole

I soon caught the old couple and had a pleasant chat with them, the old lady totally oblivious to our earlier 'close encounter' and as I left them, I reached the road just outside the unfortunately named village of Slaggyford. Here, like many before me, I abandoned the Pennine Way temporarily to follow the South Tyne Trail, which is the course of an old railway and apparently avoided some tricky navigation through houses at the quaintly named 'Merry Knowe'. The flat railway bed allowed me to maintain a good pace to Burnstones where I left the trail and picked up the Pennine Way once again. The next few miles were fairly unremarkable, this day being something of a 'transition day' between the Pennine Hills and Hadrian's Wall but despite the lack of drama in the scenery, the walking was pleasant and easy in remote countryside and I was enjoying the feeling of having neither a timetable nor any navigational issues to worry about for the time being. I reached Blenkinsopp Common, which the guidebook described as being 'boggy, and for some, among the worst sections of the PW' but I must have been lucky, as although it was a little rough and wet at times it was certainly nothing to worry about and I was soon passing by the summit of Black Hill, the second hill on the Pennine Way to bear the name.

My mind drifted back to the summit of the first 'Black Hill' and the large gathering on the summit and I wondered what Alan was up to and how far Patrick was ahead of me as he forged his way towards John O'Groats. So much had happened in the intervening days of the walk since that gathering on the second day that it now seemed to have occurred on a different trip altogether. The Black Hill I was now passing wasn't anything like as sociable a summit as the previous one and had nothing to cause me to linger and it wasn't long before I was descending through fields and around a golf course to the road at Greenhead. Here, I crossed the road and headed for Holmhead Guesthouse and camping barn in the shadow of Thirlwall Castle and Hadrian's Wall. As I approached the gate to the guesthouse, a woman inside cleaning the windows saw me entering and promptly turned away and walked off, ignoring me. I walked up to the door and rang the bell whereupon she returned and opened the door. After enquiring if it was okay to camp, she directed me to a garden at the rear of the house and told me to wait for her husband, who soon appeared, told me where to pitch, pointed at the shower and toilet, relieved me of seven pounds and promptly disappeared. As I began unpacking my gear on the picnic table in the garden, I was joined by an attractive but surly looking young girl in very tight, very short, shorts and a top that probably revealed a little too much cleavage. I said hello as she sat at the table with a coffee but I got very little in response and it quickly became clear that I was 'in the way', so I moved my gear over to the garden wall where I pitched the tent and started organising myself for the night. The girl had now been joined by two others and Ms.Surly and one of her friends began playing badminton on the lawn and I had to frequently throw the shuttlecock back to them as it landed in among my camping gear with monotonous regularity.

When I had finished setting up the tent, I escaped from the amateur badminton players by heading for the shower, which turned out to be something of a joke. Having entered and locked the door, I realised that 'the shower' was nothing more than a single toilet cubicle with a shower head fixed to the wall and a hole in the floor for the water to drain away. There was no space to get changed or to stow your clothes to stop them getting wet while you showered. The whole toilet cubicle would be soaked while you showered. I was confused, surely this wasn't right but after a while I realised that this indeed was 'the shower'. I looked at the 'interesting' pipework supplying water to the shower and taking the shower head out of it's holder and aiming it into the sink bolted onto the wall underneath, switched on to check out how hot it was. Well, it wasn't! It was cold! I decided that there was no way I was going to shower in cold water standing in a toilet cubicle, so I had a wash in the tiny sink and changed my clothes. When I emerged, Rowan and Gordon had arrived and begun setting up the tent and I appraised them of the shower situation. Ms.Surly was now posing by laying stretched out on the lawn, practising for her next photo-shoot before realising that no-one was taking any notice of her and flouncing off into the bunkhouse. Later, I headed into the village to the Greenhead Hotel for dinner where I met up with Tony for the first time since leaving him on the Corpse Road below Cross Fell. He joined me for dinner and I discovered that he was a sports reporter for a local newspaper and also heavily involved with Oldham Athletic football club where, among other things, he wrote items for their programme. He turned out to be a really nice guy and I enjoyed his company as we ate. Later, we were joined by Rowan and Gordon and had a pleasant evening before we headed back to the 'campsite' leaving Tony to cross the road to the hostel where he was staying.      

Saturday, 4 July 2015

The Pennine Way - 4th July 2015 - Dufton to Garrigill - Calm after the Storm

Dufton Pike

The predictions had been correct as for the second time on the trip, I spent the night in the tent with a thunder storm for company, only this time, there was a fairly strong wind as well. The storm seemed to go on most of the night, although I’m not sure when it started exactly, I just remember being woken in the night by the tent flapping in the wind and the sound of the thunder and the flashes of lightening. In the back of my mind I was making contingency plans for the next day as the route would be crossing the highest point of the trail over Cross Fell at around 3,000ft above sea level,a mountain notorious for bad weather. In fact, the summit of Cross Fell is the only place in the country that has a named wind, the Helm Wind, which if it is blowing makes the summit a place to avoid at all costs. I had already decided that if the storm hadn’t blown itself out by morning I would have a rest day, the first since setting out from Edale, which now seemed like a lifetime ago. At some point, I must have drifted back off to sleep and when I woke again at around six am, the storm was still very much alive, the thunder and lightening accompanied by strong winds blowing through trees in a nearby copse accentuating the ferocity of the storm. I poked my head out of the tent to see if Rowan and Gordon were packing up only to find that they had already left! I couldn’t believe that they had set off so early in such bad weather on today of all days! I certainly did not envy them being up on the highest fells of the walk in a thunderstorm. I wrapped my sleeping bag around me as the storm howled and wondered what I would do in Dufton for a whole day as apart from the campsite, the only other facilities were a cafe and a pub. I decided that I would stay in the tent in the morning if the conditions didn’t improve before going to the cafe for lunch and then go to the pub for dinner in the evening. In between, it would be reading and listening to music. I decided to wait until 10am before making a final decision and I dozed fitfully as the thunder crashed around the tent. At around 08.00 I woke again to the sound of calm and left the tent to visit the toilet block. The storm had gone! The sky was a featureless, flat grey colour and it was still a bit breezy but it was clear that the worst had passed. I washed and returned to the tent and began packing up and was packed up and on my way by 09.30am, which was probably the latest start of the whole walk but I was just grateful to be underway. I left the pretty village via tracks and paths that skirted fields initially, with the conical shape of Dufton Pike adding some interest to the landscape while off in the distance, on the track ahead, I could see a group of four walkers heading up toward the summits, which were invisible in their shroud of clouds. I have something of an aversion to meeting other walkers when I am walking alone and will often take action to avoid meeting them if at all possible. It isn’t that I am particularly anti-social but when I am hiking alone, I inhabit a sort of ‘bubble’ of my own creation by trying to turn off any internal dialogue and simply try to ‘absorb’ my surroundings. I like to try and become a part of what I am walking through and meeting other walkers inevitably means conversation, which destroys this. 

Knock Old Man

I noted that the four walkers were a long way up ahead so I wasn’t concerned about catching them as I climbed up towards Knock Fell but as the walk progressed, it became obvious that I was reigning them in fairly quickly. I crossed a stream and climbed up the far bank and the four were now clearly in sight and it was obvious that I would soon catch them. I had noticed since the start of the walk that I had been feeling stronger as the days progressed and my walking pace had increased naturally. This was something that Alan had commented on and indeed neither the weight of the rucksack nor the steepness of the hills seemed to have much effect on me. I had put this down to the amount of training I had done in Tenerife where I had hiked with a rucksack roughly equivalent to that I had expected to carry on the Pennine Way. Also, because I had managed to lose a substantial amount of body weight, I had taken up trail running once or twice a week in the hills above the village where I live. Tenerife is a very steep island so carrying the rucksack and running in the hills obviously gave me a great advantage when I started the trek. As the trail steepened and began to disappear into the mist on the climb onto Knock Fell, the walker bringing up the rear of the group stopped and turned to see me approaching. He stood aside with another walker, who I took to be his wife and said, ‘You may as well go by as you are walking much faster than us’. I stopped for a while and had a chat with them and discovered that they were doing the Pennine Way in sections and this particular stretch was a section that they need to do to ‘fill a gap’ they had missed in the past. I wished them well on their walk and left them to join their two friends who had stopped for a rest and headed off into the mist. 

Wind shelter on Cross Fell

The path now climbed steeply through the mist alongside a stream and part of me was glad that the conditions, despite the views being obscured, were at least calm and dry while part of me was ruing the fact that if the weather stayed like this I would not see any of the scenery from the highest peaks of the walk. Knock Old Man and Knock Fell are the first of a series of peaks in a ridge walk culminating in the infamous Cross Fell, which at a little under 3,000ft is not only the highest summit on the Pennine Way but the highest outside of the Lake District. In fact, it is only a couple of hundred feet lower than Scafell Pike, which is the highest peak in England. A large shape loomed out of the mist and resolved itself into the shape of a very large cairn off of the side of the path which signified that I was on Knock Old Man. This was soon followed by a smaller, scrappier cairn on the top of Knock Fell. As I squelched around on the summit the path momentarily disappeared and I drifted slightly off course, which I soon rectified with my GPS unit, which I had switched on when I entered the mist. It wasn’t long before I was back on the trail again and picking my way along in the silent, opaque world when I became aware of a shape in the gloom ahead of me. Having assumed it was another rocky cairn I surprised when I realised that it was wearing a rucksack and after a few more paces saw that it was a walker wearing a bright yellow jacket standing reading a guidebook and looking confused and lost. Suddenly, he heard me approaching and in what seemed to me a tone of relief said’ ‘Are you all alright?’. I assured him that I was and he admitted to a certain amount of uncertainty regarding the route and having seen my GPS unit, asked if it was okay to follow me, which I of course agreed to. He didn’t seem to have any other maps than those in the book, which of course neither did I, but I had taken the precaution of loading the whole route onto my GPS unit for just such an eventuality as this as I didn’t want to rely on the maps in the book alone. These maps were perfect for fine conditions but in whiteout conditions on a mountain top were not sufficient for navigating. Besides the guidebook and GPS, I had a conventional compass, an electronic compass on my watch, which also boasted an altimeter. Of course, the GPS unit has all of this and more so I wasn’t too worried about getting lost. In fact, during the whole 260 odd miles of the Pennine Way, I never strayed more than a few metres off course and this was usually when I wasn’t paying much attention. Once I discovered that I was not on the way, it took only a few minutes to switch on the unit and find my way back onto the correct route. We followed the GPS track until we reached the tarmac access road to the radar station on the summit of Great Dun Fell whereupon we both agreed to follow it to the top instead of leaving the road to follow the Pennine Way, which veered off right across moorland a few metres further along. By now, the wind had picked up and was blowing cold and strong across the tops as we approached the radar station and passed through the gate into the compound. I quickly realised that we should have turned right just before the gate and I was marvelling that we were standing right next to the large white ‘golfball’ radar dome that Alan and I had first seen days before from the summit of Great Shunner Fell but I could now not even see it's outline in the whiteout. We descended from the station and by now the wind was so strong that I had to stop and put on an extra layer as I was cold and we continued steeply up onto the summit of Little Dun Fell. From the summit cairn, we continued through our empty, white world as the way climbed comfortably along the top of Cross Fell to the impressively restored, cross shaped, summit wind shelter. The mountain was originally called 'Fiends Fell' and had a fearsome reputation for dense fog and strong winds accompanied by the howling noise of the Helm Wind. The mountain was blessed by St. Augustine and renamed Cross Fell. The barman in the hotel in Middleton in Teesdale had told me a story of a young female hiker caught in a fierce thunderstorm on the summit who was so terrified that she hid in a ditch for over an hour to let it pass. I can imagine in conditions such as those it would indeed be a pretty awful place to be but apart from the fog and an 'ordinary' wind, we reached the impressive reconstructed shelter with ease. 

On Cross Fell

As we began to descend, I was partly celebrating that the summits had been crossed without major incident but this was tinged with regret that I had missed out on some of the best views of the walk. As we gently descended to the Corpse Road that would take us all of the way into the village of Garrigill, we suddenly dropped out of the clouds and the whole northern terminus of the Pennine range spread out ahead of us. The hills rolled away seemingly forever to the horizon, totally empty and devoid of any signs of man but this was in reality the last display that the Pennines would be among the last views of the Pennines as because of access problems, the Way didn't follow the final hills of the range but instead veered away to the South Tyne Valley as the walk left the hills behind for good. I silently marvelled at the fact that I had walked the entire range since starting from Edale what now seemed a lifetime ago and as I quietly congratulated myself, my footing went from under me as I stepped in a soggy patch of peat and although I nearly regained my equilibrium, I finally landed in the soggy, gooey mess on my right side. Because I had landed in peat, I wasn't hurt but I was now covered down one side in the black, sticky, mud-like goo, as was my rucksack and guidebook. I swore loudly as Tony helped me up and I tried to wipe as much of the peat off before we stopped briefly to have our photos taken by a cairn just above the Corpse Road on the slopes of Cross Fell with the wilderness of the far northern Pennines stretching out behind us. We reached the Corpse Road, which I could see stretching out in an apparently endless ‘ribbon’ across the moors as it made it’s way to Garrigill, seven miles away. The surface of the old road is notorious for its roughness and is known for taking it’s toll on walkers as they make their way along it.

Greg's Hut

'Golf Ball' on Great Dun Fell

 We passed a bothy, a walker’s shelter known as Greg’s Hut soon after joining the road and it quickly became obvious that I walked at a completely different pace to Tony who was soon lagging behind me. As I deliberated telling him that I was going to make my own way now that we were out of the fog and the way was obvious, the decision was taken out of my hands when Tony said that I may as well go on ahead as he said he was a ‘plodder’ and wouldn’t be able to keep up with me. Relieved, I said ‘goodbye’, and off I sped, feeling extremely energetic as I skipped over the rough surface of the road. I was feeling jubilant, my idea of laying in my tent for the storm to pass had paid dividends and although I hadn’t had any views on the mountaintops, the passage over them had been fairly straightforward and I now felt like a greyhound released at the start of a race and although I wasn’t in any particular hurry, the simple act of moving quickly along the Corpse Road was extremely liberating and I sped on, pausing briefly to chat with three female walkers, before continuing on my way. The surrounding countryside felt lonelier and emptier than any on the walk to date and feelings of solitude washed over me from every direction. I knew that from here on, the terrain, the eight miles or so along Hadrian’s Wall apart, would be lonely and empty until the finish at Kirk Yetholm. 

The Corpse Road to Garrigill

The appearance of the tiny village of Garrigill in the valley below signalled the end of the long descent along the Corpse Road and I stopped for a while to chat to a couple resting at the side of the road who were very interested in the hike and asked me numerous questions about equipment and the weight I was carrying. They had walked parts of the Southern Upland Way in Scotland, a long distance coast to coast walk I had completed in 1999 and were impressed that they had finally met someone who had walked the whole trail as despite being one of Scotland’s National Trails, it is very underwalked. I bade them goodbye and headed down into the village where I called into the pub to see if they had any rooms for the night but one of the drinkers at the bar informed me that the pub did not provide bed and breakfast but if I followed him across the road, would show me where I could enquire about staying in the bunkhouse. We arrived at the house to discover that the woman in charge of the bunkhouse was out horse riding but the man got the key from her husband and I was soon settling into the bunkhouse above the village hall. There were eight bunks in all but I seemed to have the place to myself and downstairs I had full facilities including a kitchen and showers. I spent some time sorting out my gear including washing off the peat from my clothes and rucksack and charging all my electrical gear, making full use of all of the electric sockets in the building. Later, I returned to the pub for dinner, which for the first time since setting off, I ate alone, which is always a little dispiriting in a pub full of people but the food was good and the landlady friendly and I returned to the bunkhouse for a comfortable night’s sleep having made my choice from the eight available beds.

Friday, 3 July 2015

The Pennine Way - 3rd July 2015 - Middleton in Teesdale to Dufton - The Jewels in the Crown

River Tees

Alan’s decision to pull out of the walk, while sad, was not a total surprise to me in some ways. I had felt a discontent building up during the previous few days and although I don’t believe he would have pulled out had it not been for the injury, he seemed to be becoming more unhappy as the walk progressed. One of his main issues was the midge bites, from which he suffered terribly. Whereas I could feel them nibbling away at me and would develop small red spots on my skin, their bites never really had much effect on me whereas Alan would break out in a rash of lumps and bumps that would drive him mad with itching. Inevitably, the scratching caused the bites to break and bleed, which only made the situation worse. From my point of view, his dissatisfaction with the walk had begun on the day from Malham to Horton in Ribblesdale, where he had seemed to struggle on the hills but I had put this down to general tiredness. The day from Horton to Hawes had passed without incident but this was not surprising as it is a fairly easy day and we were finished at lunchtime. The following day from Hawes to Keld over Great Shunner Fell, I had noticed little things in Alan’s mood, odd things such as negative comments about the scenery and the amount of ascent whenever we encountered a hill. The incident that turned everything on it’s head was the night in the campsite at Keld. It had started well as we arrived from Hawes in the tiny village at the head of the Swaledale valley and headed for the campsite cafe where we purchased drinks and sat outside in the sunshine on the lawn. We chatted amicably with a couple on a nearby table who were interested in our walk before returning to the shop to buy more snacks and some cans of beer. The night in the campsite was a fraught one, not only did we have to endure a spectacular thunderstorm and a campsite full of teenage schoolchildren but the midges were legion. I combatted this by staying in my tent but Alan got out of his to visit the toilet block and was immediately savaged. Worse still, when he returned to his tent, hundreds followed him in so he spent the next hour trying to kill them by swatting them with a teeshirt. At some point, I somehow in amongst all of this dozed off to sleep and apart from a brief interruption in the early hours when some of the schoolchildren passed the tents talking quite loudly, slept through until morning. Had Alan, after the awful encounter with the midges retired from the walk in the morning, I would not have been surprised. 
We rose early in the hotel and I packed my rucksack and readied myself for the day ahead. We had breakfast, which had been laid out in the kitchen for us because of the early start and were soon out on the street heading for the newsagents where I needed to pick up some snacks and drinks for the day ahead. Soon, it was time for going our separate ways and we said our farewells before I headed back out of the town to the river and Alan headed back to the hotel to prepare for his trip back home. It was sad in many ways that it was over for Alan as we had spent a lot of time looking forward to the trip and we had walked over halfway together, but as in the previous year, I was once again alone on the trail.

River Tees

Low Force

 Ironically, the weather was the best since the first day out of Edale and I mentally prepared myself for another 20 plus miles as I enjoyed the stroll along the park-like path alongside the River Tees. I settled into a fairly brisk rhythm with the hiking poles helping me maintain the pace as I enjoyed the scenery on the gentle introduction to the day’s march. Of all of the days on the Pennine Way I had looked forward to, this was the one I had anticipated most and had prayed for good weather and it appeared my prayers had been answered. I fell into a short conversation with a woman from a nearby outdoor centre out walking her dog before leaving her behind and entering a field of long, wet grass, which immediately soaked my socks. I suddenly realised that I was on the wrong side of a wall to my right and I removed and lowered my rucksack over to the other side before climbing it and following the path running through the trees alongside the river. The River Tees is quite a wide, shallow river that looked splendid with the morning sun dancing on it and I was already enjoying myself in the warmth of the early morning. One of the things I had enjoyed most about the walk so far was the early starts, which are easy to attain when camping as the dawn and early birdsong ensure that you wake around five o’clock, making it quite easy to be on the trail by seven o’clock. This enabled me to get a good five hours of walking before midday giving me a feeling of control that I found really empowering. I would often have ten or eleven miles under my belt by midday so even if the walk was twenty miles or more, I felt I could easily complete them and still have time for carrying out tasks such as showering and washing clothes when I reached the campsite before heading out to get a meal and a beer in a relaxed mood. As I proceeded along the riverbank, I looked around at the Teesdale Valley, which looked really attractive in the bright sunshine and it wasn't long before the sound of Low Force, the first of a series of waterfalls on today's route came within earshot. I crossed to the centre of a bridge over the river to get some photos of the falls before continuing along the riverbank towards High Force. I had anticipated a superb day’s walking and so it proved with the scenery becoming more remote and wild the further into Upper Teedale I progressed. Soon, I could hear the thundering sound of High Force and I left the trail to a viewpoint looking to this mighty waterfall. I enjoyed having the whole place to myself and spent quite a long time exploring different vantage points of the falls and taking pictures from different angles. This was proving to be a fantastic day but for me, the best was yet to come. 

High Force

Leaving High Force, I followed the route as it climbed away from the river quite steeply before descending past a farm to Cronkley Bridge. Here, the river had taken on a much more remote feel and as the way followed the right hand riverbank, it briefly left the Tees to follow Langdon Beck for a short distance before crossing another bridge back over the river and meeting up with the Tees once again. Here, I found a handily placed bench on the riverbank and I stopped for a break. The scenery here had a beautiful, haunting quality and I sat for some time drying my socks in the sun and having a snack and a drink while I took numerous photographs of the broad, sun dappled river and surrounding crags of Cronkley Scar. I reluctantly left the bench on the riverbank and headed north following the river, passing two fly fishermen standing in the river, tempting the fish with their hypnotic casting action. 

River Tees, near to the junction with Langdon Beck

Wheysike House (abandoned)

The path began to deteriorate, becoming peppered with embedded rocks protruding at various angles from the path below the crags of Falcon Clints, making the walking difficult, and the path was so narrow and tricky that there were times when I was almost stepping into the water to get around larger rocks blocking the way. The river entered a more enclosed area as the rocks underfoot gave way to mud and the valley narrowed and it was here that I passed a handful of walkers out enjoying the sunshine, the first I had seen since the woman walking her dog near the start in Middleton. Approaching a bend in the path, I became aware of a loud, roaring noise and rounded a corner to be faced by the most spectacular scene of the day so far, the Cauldron Snout waterfall. I stood for a moment looking in awe at the power of the water thundering into the river and as I gazed higher, I could see the top of the falls high above the rock face with dam of the Cow Green reservoir beyond. This really was an awesome sight of nature in the raw and I stood silently absorbing the sights and sounds for a while before tackling the next section of the walk. This proved to be quite tricky as there was no real path, just a scramble up the rocks alongside the falls, which required the use of hands as well as feet in places, which I found quite difficult carrying my two trekking poles. I stopped halfway up to take more photos before I eventually arrived at the top of this magnificent scene. Behind the falls loomed the dam wall of the Cow Green Reservoir, from where the Tees issued forth before tumbling down the rocky cliff face and I wondered how much the damming of the river had affected the flow of this wonderful cascade. 

Cauldron Snout

On top of Cauldron Snout

River Tees, near Cronkley Scar

Reluctantly, I left the top of the falls and headed along a track, which afforded superb retrospective views of the Tees winding through the valley I had just traversed. After Birkdale Farm, I joined a track, that looked as though it had recently been surfaced with a layer of large, rough, stone chippings and this turned out to be one of my least favourite sections of the entire walk. The uphill slog on this awful surface seemed interminable and it was with a feeling of immense relief that I left it for the more pleasant walking alongside Maize Beck, where I crossed it via a high bridge and climbed steadily across the moor to the days last highlight and probably the best of the entire walk. For anyone lucky enough to approach High Cup with no prior knowledge of it, this must be an astounding sight, simply because there is no prior warning of it’s arrival. One minute you are walking over fairly unremarkable moorland and the next, the ground just falls away in front of you in the form of a vast, U-shaped glacial valley.

Looking back to Falcon Clints

Even though I was expecting it, it’s arrival ahead of me was still a jaw-dropping moment. I stood for a while before finding somewhere to sit and drink in this awesome spectacle and as I sat, I was joined by a walker I had passed earlier on the path. We chatted as we sat looking at the view and he told me that he often climbed up and spent the night camping in the vicinity and enjoyed the night sky as light pollution in the area was minimal and the sight of the stars and the Milky Way were something to behold. After we had chatted for a while, he said goodbye and told me he was off to find a spot for a nap and sure enough, he walked a little further along before dropping down off of the path into a more sheltered hollow, zipped up his fleece jacket before laying down in the grass. I continued to enjoy the scene for a little longer before I too climbed back on my feet and spent sometime taking numerous photographs.

High Cup

Slowly, with many glances behind, I passed a group of wild horses before beginning the descent to Dufton, the fells of the Lake District off in the distance creating a fine background and the prominent pyramid of Dufton Pike adding interest in the foreground. The track descended to a road, which I followed into the village where I met up Rowan and Gordon and we pitched our tents next to each other in the campsite. After a dinner of soup and pasta outside my tent, I met up with them in the nearby pub where we had a few drinks as the sky grew cloudy and the wind increased. It looked as though the day’s superb weather had passed and more unsettled conditions loomed as according to one person in the pub there was a storm on it’s way.

Thursday, 2 July 2015

The Pennine Way - 2nd July 2015 - Keld to Middleton in Teesdale - A Walk of Two Halves

East Gill Waterfall

We set off from Keld and climbed into the mist across Stonesdale Moor, an area that didn’t meet with Alan’s approval, before eventually arriving at the Tan Hill Inn, where we were greeted by Rowan and Gordon who had taken a room for the night in the pub and were standing out on the pub's terrace drinking tea. We stopped and had a chat while watching a lone walker setting off from the pub along a moorland road that paralleled the Pennine Way. According to Gordon and Rowan, the walker was following the Pennine Way but had been frightened off of following it across Sleightholme Moor by someone in the pub who had told him a story of a young girl walker falling into a sinkhole that had opened up in the path. 

Leaving Keld

We bade Gordon and Rowan farewell and set off across the moor, ignoring any scare stories. The moor in bad weather would certainly be difficult to navigate, although there are white marker poles at intervals to help. As we yomped along following Frumming Beck, we could see the solo walker along the road ahead off to our right and we hadn’t been walking long when he suddenly stopped before turning off of the tarmac to cross rough ground towards the route proper. I remarked to Alan that it seemed odd he had been frightened off of an official route like the Pennine Way because of a story heard in a pub that warned of sinkholes but was prepared to risk crossing rough ground in the same area. Probably more by luck than judgement, he managed to safely negotiate the rough ground and intercepted us on the path. In fact, I suspected that he had looked back and seen us and decided that as we hadn’t come to any harm, it was safe for him to return to the route proper. Also, walking with others would give him the confidence to cope with any obstacles encountered on along the way. 

Stonesdale Moor

Tan Hill Inn

He introduced himself as Gordon and we chatted for a while as we walked and we were bemused by the fact that despite it being dry and quite warm, he was wearing full waterproofs, including leggings and gaiters, which must have made him very hot. It was after crossing the moor that the route crossed into County Durham and almost immediately, it became noticeable that the signposts became few and far between. At one point, as we climbed a low ridge, it became necessary to switch on the GPS to locate the path, which was no big deal but after the luxury of having plenty of signage to follow, I now had to keep checking the route more carefully to avoid straying. Gordon was fully equipped with map and map case, GPS and all of the route and waymarks written on the map, so it was quite amusing that virtually every route decision he made turned out to be incorrect. 

On God's Bridge

After we had stopped for a break on God’s Bridge, a natural limestone crossing over the River Greta, Gordon set off in a completely different direction only to realise after a few yards that he had gone the wrong way whereupon he turned to follow us. This happened again just after crossing the A66 and it wasn’t long after this that we realised that Gordon walked much more slowly than us so we told him we were going to ‘crack on’ and soon left him behind. As he was only walking the one day from Tan Hill to Middleton in Teesdale, this being the one section he had missed when he walked the Pennine Way sometime earlier, he was in no rush but even so, it did feel slightly mean to carry on without him but trying to walk at someone else's pace is very tiring. As it happened, we never saw him again. We crossed Bowes Moor at a good pace and soon the reservoirs came into view ahead in the Baldersdale valley, which signified that we had reached the halfway point in the whole trek. Descending, we approached the road at Blackton Reservoir and as we stepped onto the road, Alan felt something ‘give’ in his knee and this incident was to change the whole walk for both of us. Alan had recently recovered from a knee ligament injury from exercising at the gym, which physiotherapy had repaired in time for the start of the trek. It now appeared that the problem had resurfaced. We hoped that he would be able to ‘walk it off’ and continued around the reservoir, passing Hannah’s Meadow, which had featured in a television documentary many years earlier telling the story of a woman living a very hard, lonely life in the area without the luxury of electricity or running water. We ploughed on over numerous ups and downs towards Lunedale and as we climbed onto Harter Fell, it became clear that Alan wasn’t going to walk off his injury as I could hear him wincing in pain as we climbed stiles and descended steep inclines. The prominent wooded hilltop of Kirkcarrion came into view, indicating that we were close to the town of Middleton in Teesdale, which came into view in the Tees Valley below. 

Grassholme Reservoir

The last two miles or so were slow progress as Alan struggled downhill trying not to put too much pressure on his injured knee and eventually he limped down to the road just outside the town, close to the campsite. After a short walk we reached the reception office only to find it closed, as was the bar, where Alan had hoped to get a drink as he had run out of water some time earlier and was quite dehydrated. After the midge ‘nightmare’ Alan had suffered the night before in Keld, I pointed out that as the River Tees ran close to the campsite, we would probably have the same problem with midges here. We sat on the seats outside the bar to deliberate our options and it was here that the whole walk changed as Alan announced that he would be unable to continue the following day with his injured knee. This meant that I would be walking on alone as I had decided before we had started that if for any reason Alan pulled out that I would continue with the walk. After a brief discussion, we decided to walk the short distance into town where at least Alan would be able to get something to drink and we could also look at the option of obtaining a room for the night. 


As we reached the main road in the town, Alan crossed the road to a shop to buy a drink and I went to see if I could find a room. I called in at the most likely looking place but they only had double rooms, which they weren’t prepared to drop in price for single occupancy. This is a strange strategy I always think, when bearing in mind that it was late afternoon and the likelihood of anyone else coming along was very slim, so it would surely be better to be making some money than none at all if, as was likely, the rooms would stand empty for the night. I returned back to the street and found Alan limping along the road and we both went into a nearby hotel where we were pleased to find they had a twin room for a reasonable rate. The receptionist couldn’t have been more helpful and we were soon in the room making tea and watching Wimbledon on the television. We attended to the usual daily routines of showering and washing clothes but everything had now changed with my decision to continue on alone and a mixture of excitement and apprehension now dominated my thoughts. After we had finished attending to our various chores, we headed down into the hotel bar for dinner and enjoyed a good meal and a few beers, which would now be the last we would enjoy together on the trek. 

Middleton in Teesdale