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.
After my bath, I rinsed as much peat and mud out of my trail shoes as I could in the used bath water before squeezing them as dry as possible. After watching Wimbledon on television for a while, I returned to the hotel where I received my free drink and completion certificate before reserving a table and advising the staff that I would probably be joined by another diner later in the evening. I wondered how Tony had coped with the conditions and looked forward to his arrival in the hotel bar, where I felt sure he would head when he finally arrived. As I stood at the bar, half listening to the conversations of the local drinkers, Tony came in and I welcomed him with a handshake of congratulation. We took our drinks to our table and ordered dinner and as we chatted, I discovered that he had taken thirteen hours to get to the end compared to my ten and a half hours, but he had not been alone as he had enjoyed the company of one of the other walkers from the Forest View Walkers Inn. Being the first from the Forest View to arrive at the finish, I had been the one walker to cross the Cheviots alone, so perhaps I was the disadvantaged one. Having said that, I love walking alone, at my own pace and perversely, I really enjoyed my last day on the Pennine Way, however much of an ordeal it turned into. This is what long distance hiking is for me, to cope with whatever is thrown at you, regardless. As we ate dinner, we were joined by the walker from the Forest View that Tony had crossed the Cheviots with, who it turned out was a seventy four year old (I can't remember his name) walking from Lands End to John O'Groats, which sort of put my trek into perspective. After a few celebratory beers, I walked back to my guesthouse and after a good nights rest and a full English breakfast, found myself the next morning at the bus stop with Tony, taking pictures of each other standing beneath the 'End of the Pennine Way' sign on the hotel wall as we waited for the bus to Kelso. We were joined by Matt, another walker from the Forest View and were soon on our way to Kelso, where Matt and I had a two hour wait for the connecting bus to Berwick upon Tweed. Tony, who was going home by a different route as he lived in the Manchester area, was soon leaving Kelso on his bus and after we had waved him off, we found a cafe where we sat drinking coffee waiting for our connection to Berwick. I said goodbye to Matt at Berwick station and eventually settled into a seat on the train for the long journey back to Luton. As the train pulled out and followed the coast from Berwick, I could see the Cheviot Hills to the west, now calm and bathed in sunshine and as the journey progressed, my mind drifted onto the thorny subject of my next trip when I suddenly hit upon the perfect idea. I would return to the end of the Pennine Way and walk across Scotland on the Scottish National Trail, which has Kirk Yetholm as it's starting point. I settled into my seat to listen to some music, content now that the journey wasn't over, it was only just beginning.      

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