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

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