Thursday, 25 February 2016

Flat and Fast

Tuesday 23 Feb 2016
Kelso to Jedburgh - 20km
The title of this blog entry by no means refers to myself, but I am by no means fat. My accommodation was everything I wanted except the single bed...hrmpf! My Geordie hosts were very welcoming and had suggested a couple of places to eat the night before, I plumped for The Cobbles. It turned out to be just what the doctor ordered, good friendly company, a roaring log fire, good real ale and gorgeous food. I left a very happy bunny and slightly squiffy despite only having drunk one and a half pints.
I had a reasonable night’s sleep and the first lie in since I had started walking five days ago. My breakfast was a leisurely affair and included vegetarian haggis which Lisa had bought especially for me. I did tell her whatever she wanted she could have but ( thankfully ) no request was forthcoming. After a good hour of eating and chatting about all sorts and everything I excused myself and returned to my room for the final pack. By 9.30 and almost one and a half hours later than I would usually start I was walking out of the door. No sooner had I descended the accommodation steps when Lisa shouted me back and as I turned round my gaiters were thrown over to me…
The route from Kelso Abbey took me across the River Tweed and then over the River Teviot which I then followed passing the ruins of Roxburgh Castle. I passed a brave fisherman standing in the river and we bid each other good morning. I never fail to understand the concept why someone would stand over their waist in freezing cold water trying to catch a fish. Myself, and this is my opinion, I don't think it is a fair sport. Picture the scene.... a large healthy salmon or pike standing in waders in the river with rod in hand trying to catch a passing fisherman....now that would be fair.
I continued along the riverbank with the sun shining on my face to Roxburgh before turning left onto Ferry lane. There is no ferry plying people across the river now but all the signs of that existence are still there. I continued along the river once more, passed under a huge viaduct that crossed the river with a quaint suspension bridge slung from stone piers protruding from the viaduct pillars.
The path eventually took me to and along a disused railway line which I followed for some distance past the hamlet of Nesbit before crossing over the Teviot to continue on the opposite bank. I followed the old railway line again having to negotiate a huge crater that had been gouged out of the bank by the recent floods. All around were the detritus left behind including three large gas canisters, the type that home owners use instead of piped gas. They just lay there like big red beached walruses.
The old railway line led me to the main road into Jedburgh but my path took me again along Dere Street before the final few miles along.....you guessed it ..Tarmac. It was only 2 o'clock when I arrived so I headed to the Abbey book shop cafe for a bowl of delicious homemade soup before heading to a different accommodation and definitely not the previous 'Fawlty Towers' experience I had had a few nights earlier.

A new walk and a new day - The Borders Abbey Way

Monday 22 Feb 2016
Melrose to Kelso - 30km
A new walk and a new day - The Borders Abbey Way
Melrose is a quaint place, the Abbey however is stupendous! When I arrived the previous evening I went straight to the ticket office and announced to the interested English Heritage employees that I had just completed a brand new walk linking Rievaulx Abbey, North Yorkshire with the daughter abbey Melrose. I believe they were interested, they certainly asked questions but it unfortunately didn't grant me free entry to the abbey, so I took photos outside.
My accommodation last night was comfy, a double bed for a change and it was warm. Once again I settled into the usual routine of washing boots, gaiters and drying sweaty socks and clothes. My room always has a particular odour to it when I leave, but I think I am a good guest in that I always leave the windows wide open to let the fresh air in and the stink out.
After a hearty breakfast of porridge with honey and fresh cream, and a cooked breakfast I waddled out of the door to the start of my walk. From Melrose Abbey I retraced my steps from the previous day's stage to St Boswell and the wooded path above the Tweed before descending down to the suspension bridge across the river to Dryburgh Abbey. Dryburgh was first established in 1150 and belonged to the Premonastratensian Order. There was no possibility of getting photos close and inside without paying and again despite informing staff of what I was doing there was no free entry. Never mind, I did get some really good photos from outside and once I am back in the office at home these photos will be added to this blog.
After nearly an hour of wandering around and snapping pics I returned to the footpath that took me along the banks of the Tweed before ascending a steep track and then my worst enemy......the road. On and on and on it went. There was absolutely no respite at all. Now I don't know about you but my feet do not like the constant pounding of a solid surface ... it seems to draw my feet and before too long the ache set in and it's just a case of mind over matter to get to the end. 
En route I passed a signpost staying "find the lost book you’re looking for". Needless to say unfortunately it was just off my route and the day was long enough without adding more kilometres it. 
Today I was treated to a hot and sunny day making it enjoyable in respect of the weather. Once more as I pounded the road my mind drifted off to la la land and as you might have guessed I missed my footpath and only realised when my gut feeling woke up and shouted at me  'YOU HAVE GONE TOO FAR ! ' 
Ok, I woke up and checked the map, checked my GPS just in case the map was lying, how can a map lie ? never mind my gut feeling was right. I had gone too far, I refused to turn back and instead completed two sides of a triangle to get to the path again. My route thankfully disappeared across fields before returning to tarmac and paths past Kelso race course and along an alleyway in a housing estate. I am always wary when walking through somewhere like that when I don't know the area so my senses were on high alert. The local numptys helped me on my passage through the urban streets ( not ) by turning the Borders Abbey Way signs round. Consequently I had to use intuition and something unfamiliar to my sex, i.e. ask for directions! 
I was guided through the local rugby ground and out the other side before a quick left turn to the town centre and Kelso Abbey. Guess what? It's free to get in! Well to be truthful there is very little of it it left, but what is still standing gives a true sense of the scale of what it may once have looked like. 
After taking full advantage of being able to get into the abbey for free, I asked, yes I said "asked" for directions to my b&b. This turned out to be two minutes away, and was an absolute oasis of loveliness for all the right reasons.

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Chafing

Sunday 21 Feb 2016 
Jedburgh to Melrose 27 km

Well I arrived at my abode ok and it was not quite Fawlty Towers but I only had a small bolt on the inside of my bedroom door, no actual lock. I was conscious that once I had shed all my wet things that all was not quite right, but by then it was too late to re-dress and I was certainly not going to the co-op in my birthday suit!

That said after the usual routine including the now familiar process of washing the mud off my boots and my gaiters in the bathroom sink, I was keen for an early evening meal. I had been told of one place to eat at but I knew there was a wild bunch of semi naked girls on a hen night in there. What's wrong with that I hear you say? Nothing but my personal injuries and general disposition meant that I was very fragile.

I set off instead to the Forresters, nothing really special from the outside, in fact some would say it looks a bit of a dive from the outside but boy o boy the homemade burgers are to die for. Given that I have been christened Bad Tony by my walking friends, yes I said friends, I settled for a Bad Boy Bankok Burger - vegetarian of course. It came with crispy crunchy chips and homemade coleslaw...and it was absolute heaven. I will return to Jedburgh in a few days and will probably head straight back there for another tasty burger.

With my meal consumed it was time to hit the coop for the appropriate solution to my current walking injuries. Now it is at this point that I must warn all readers of this blog that if you have a delicate disposition or are just plain weak, skip the rest of the blog and instead go straight to the next days......you have been warned!!

I do have a little medical knowledge - not quite enough to be able to conduct a heart transplant but it comes close to that so I knew how to alleviate my ailment - chafing. Now before I go on I think it prudent to digress slightly and look at that common sports injury and explore it further......well not that close!

I ask myself why is it that I have read so many reports, articles, advice and reviews about the best walking boots to wear, the best base layers, the best waterproof jacket. Why have I never seen any reviews about what is the best underwear, surely that has to be a given. It could say - Silk is very soft to the skin, highly breathable, washes and dries well, chafe factor between 1 low to 10 oooo that smarts! Or how about - Thong, well you hum it and I'll play it, good breathability, quick to wash and dry but be careful, you know what a cheese wire does to cheese....oooooo!

I'll move on because I think you get the general idea. So I found myself in the Coop, and there are many other good retail stores out there too, to find some Vaseline. Now I am not saying that I am old, but in my day Vaseline came in a pot and there was just one kind. When I got to the right shelf I was met with a plethora of flavours, Cherry, Cola, Rasberry, Mint, all I wanted to do was apply it not eat the darn thing! I settled after much thought and dithering with Hello Vera 'cos I heard she was kind and gentle and good for the skin. Purchase complete I went back to the hotel, applied and stayed awake most of the night.....single beditus...again!

After breakfast my route took me from Jedburgh along the river bank and to Dere street once more. In January hurricane Jonas had caused a lot of problems and flooding in Jedburgh and as I walked along Dere street it soon came apparent just how bad it had been. Dere street descended down to the main road and on some parts of it it the rainwater a gouged out huge deep channels along the street. It was a very sorry sight to see.

From Dere street my route returned to the river Jed Water before joining the River Teviot. Once again the extent of the huge floods that had recently happened were evident with all manner of detritus littering the fields. Pushchairs, children's toys, parking cones and general rubbish hanging from trees and bushes.

I crossed the river using a very narrow suspension bridge which was very wobbly and swingy, yes you guessed it, I took full advantage of its swingyness like the boy I am. Once safely on the other side my journey continued through woods past Monteviot House before rejoining Dere Street. This time it was a pleasure to be walking its length. Before me it stretched and unfurled like a green wide carpet with just the faintest hint of a footpath meandering along it. I have to confess once again I drifted off into la la land dreaming and soaking in the experience of walking in the footsteps of history. 

The street took me past the battle of Ancrum moor, now thankfully over, and then past the Lilliards Stone. A myth relates to "Fair Mistress Lilliards" from the battle and is penned in verse - "Fair Maid Lilliard lies under this stane little was her stature but muckle was her fame upon the English loons she laid monie thumps and when her legs were cuttit off she fought upon her stumps. AD 1544". 

I pressed on to the natural end of the Street, then to the village of Maxton and past the village church that was reputedly built as an apology for burning down Dryburgh Abbey.  I dropped down to the woods by the River Tweed before having to take a detour due to a land slip to arrive at St Boswells. As I followed the detour through the side streets I came across a woman dressed with a tight headscarf dragging a branch of a fir tree slowly behind her. My immediate thoughts were is she a witch? I let her get ahead of me for fear of being turned to stone. 

From St Boswell the path took me through woods but this time high above the banks of the Tweed. I was very conscious that a slip to the right would have meant a very early bath, fortunately I reached urbanisation safely. The final leg of the journey was along a disused road past the Roman signal station high up on the hill to my left and then along into Melrose to the Abbey and the end of the day.

Monday, 22 February 2016

No Roman around today it's a long 'un!

Sat 20th Feb 2016
Byrness to Jedburgh - 28km
No Roman around today it's a long 'un!
My accommodation in Bryness was a strange but very nice affair. Given that its name was Forest View Inn I expected just that, an Inn. But as I walked through the small hamlet of what was originally for forest workers' houses, my accommodation turned out to be just that. Two forest worker houses side by side with an authentic Inn sign swinging in the breeze. When I arrived I was immediately bustled through into the conservatory and plied with a hot cup of tea. While I recovered, my boots and all manner of wet things were kindly taken away and put in the drying room. Oh and the boots were even stuffed with paper, how's that for service?
I settled into my room and continued with my usual routine until it was time for me to order my evening meal at 5.30pm. Once ordered I returned to reading my iPad book, keeping an eye on the battery level as I had foolishly left my charger at my mums. I blame that error on her forcing me to drink whisky until I got squiffy!
At 7pm dinner was served, a steaming bowl of vegetable curry ontop of which I put two boiled eggs for extra protein. The hard boiled eggs had been carried from Bellingham, an emergency ration I often carry. My main course was followed by plum crumble and custard and I couldn't help but reminisce of the apple crumble or pie my nana would always have ready for me when I went to see her. My nana is never far away from my thoughts, I really miss her.
Now the Inn had another peculiarity. Not only did it have a fully stocked bar in the lounge of one of the houses, it was also open to the public. Just before 9pm a group of the locals wandered in like they owned the joint, well I guess that's what you do when you go down to the pub! They promptly ordered drinks and once in hand proceeded to chat away to my hosts. I managed to understand some of what was being said, hoos, noo, yer ken etc, all new words to me.
I bid everyone goodnight and retired at 9.30pm and had another restless nights sleep. I don't know about you, but I find it really hard to sleep in a single bed nowadays, surely they're for children? I like to spread out from corner to corner like a big beached star!
I had cheekily asked for an earlier breakfast the previous day and the response was, well we don't usually serve until 8am but I will as you want to get off earlier. Now I was the only guest and I really would prefer my hosts to just say yes or no when I ask for breakfast outside the allocated times, because any more information just leaves me racked with guilt. By 8.30am and with the rain falling I was once more in waterproofs and heading out of the door.
There really were not many routes to choose from to reach Jedburgh so I decided to take the most direct one, straight over the top. Within two minutes of me starting the long day I was huffing and puffing like the three little piggies and slipping and sliding like Bambi on ice, straight up through the woods. There were two very brief flat bits as I crossed the forest tracks but aside from that I just kept climbing and climbing, at one point I thought I saw some pearly gates but it was just my eyes deceiving me. The final leg up the uphill struggle was over a craggy outcrop of boulders that meant either some serious concentration or a certain long tumble backwards and more than likely something hurty!
As my head crested the top it was nearly blown off and as the rest of me followed I too nearly got blown off my feet. Now I thought the previous day was windy but today I was very likely to get blown off my feet or into the next continent. I strapped everything down tight on my bag, gloves on, hood up and continued along the ridge line thankful that the tank range down the other side of the valley bottom was not in use this morning. The first time I had heard it go off the previous day I nearly jumped out of my skin and that was when it was about ten miles away.
As I ambled along I was buffeted continuously from the left side, grateful that it was not a head on wind. The route was isolated, boggy and very bleak, every now and then I had the feeling I was being followed but when I turned round there was no one there. I guess it must have been a Roman soldier from one of the many camps and the hill fort nearby keeping me safe.
I followed the Pennine Way past the large Roman hillside fort of Chew Green. These days there is nothing but large mounds of earth that depict the outline of previous buildings. I would not have liked to have lived up there or for that matter walked in the clothes the Romans once wore. The wind must have fair whistled round and up their uniforms. Brave men indeed..........or very very foolish.
From the hill fort I joined the Roman road of Dere Street once again, but again here there was very little to see except for a faint outline. The road continued to climb once more before disappearing only to reappear more formally with a gated entrance, a warning notice to motored vehicles, and swampy green swathe of grass ahead. Again I was buffeted by the wind, with the hillside falling away steeply to my left and the ridge line of Mid Hill and Gaisty Law again dusted with snow. 
I had been advised that the previous day there had been knee deep snow up here so I was pleased to see that the previous night’s rain had got rid of most of it.....Gott Sei Dank! After a brief section of Dere Street, once again it disappeared. My path took me left along a faint path and down a very steep hillside to rejoin Dere Street. By now all around me were beautiful hills dotted around like pimples sticking out of the valleys.
After being nearly blown of my feet and drowned in a bog once more I was relieved to reach a road and some safe passage. Ha ha, that was soon short lived as at the top of the road after passing a Roman encampment, minus the Romans, I rejoined Dere Street . Again there was notification that motorised vehicles were unauthorised as it was out of season.......out of season, formidabla! I walked through Italy last year along all manor of Roman roads that just looked as if they had been freshly laid. Here Dere street in places was a swampy, rutted, travesty of modern civilisation. If one considers when these roads were made, then view how long we have had mechanised transport it does not take much maths to work out how little time modern man has raped, vandalised and destroyed this historical creation. Am I mad.....no I am absolutely fuming!
Rant over, no! I continued on my merry way and was nearly mowed down by a farmers hand on a quad bike with a young giggly female on board! Then with hounds barking in the distance I knew that either a hunt was around or the dogs were out. The former rather than the latter was the case. I observed the local toffs all clad in black or red tearing across the hillside led by a quad bike,  and with further quad bikes bringing up the rear.
OMG, they reached Dere street and turned right straight towards me. Bounding and charging along tearing yet more of the road up. ‘What oh smelly walker' I am sure they wanted to utter as they charged left and right of me. 'What oh you upper class vandal monied toff' I wanted to shout, followed by 'I hope you fall off your horse and get eaten by a carnivorous sheep’ ! Rant over......NO, And then the cavalry came charging along on their quad bikes tearing more of the road up, ‘ I hope you hit a rut, and get thrown off I wanted to scream '! But I just nodded like the coward I am. RANT OVER.......yes.....meow!
I carried on my way spitting and snarling at the state of this ancient monument and once more was grateful for a brief interlude of a Tarmac track that was still Dere street. From the road my journey continued back onto a deeply rutted, horse trampled, vehicle rutted, vandalised, swampy Roman road. I passed numerous more Roman encampments minus the Romans. The former camps were just green fields interspersed with mole hills. Look, look, LOOK, even the moles are at it....hrmpf!
Thankfully after four more miles of this road I decided enough was enough. I am not a person to walk the same path twice and I had decided that the St Aelred's Way would not go almost all the way to the Borders Abbey Way to Jedburgh. Instead I had decided to take a more direct line and avoid two sides of a triangle, and so at the second country road I decided to turn left and take a straight route into town. I headed straight to Jedburgh Abbey to complete the stage and despite still wearing waterproofs and sweating like a sweaty thing, I was a now a happy bunny once more. Journey complete!

Sunday, 21 February 2016

Bellingham to Byrness

Friday 19 Feb 2016

I resumed walking the St Aelreds Way following being blown off course some three weeks ago by hurricane Jonas. I had a leisurely journey the previous day to my re-starting location albeit with a bit of a hangover after being forced to consume 40 year old whiskey by my mother. Shouldn't they know best? Well I though so, so I did not refuse.

My accommodation last night was the YHA bunk barn which I shared with a family with three well behaved young boys. I had been warned by my fellow residents that the barn was cold when they arrived, and despite a roaring log fire burning in the lounge, it was a cold building. I spent a fitful night’s sleep due to being cold myself despite having an extra duvet on the bed and sleeping in my thermal walking top. Needless to say I awoke feeling tired, not just due to the early start.


The day's walk ahead was across bleak moors following the Pennine Way to Byrness, pronounced Burness. It was to be an isolated walk, with little emergency break off points so I was pleased that the sun was showing itself as I set off. My route took me up out of the village on the road before leaving it to head across fields and the start of the moor. Ahead of me all around was a carpet of brown heather, and way in the distance were hills dusted with snow like icing sugar on a cake.

As I crossed the first section of the moor I was thankful that there was a decent track to follow. I had initially surmised that that there would be little or no path to follow at all, as had been the case on previous parts of the Pennine Way. The path was very boggy due to the previous rains and the wind was cutting across me, which is always preferable to it being in your face and pushing you two steps back for every one taken forward.

Little did I know but the worst was still to come. My first break off point came and went, and I was feeling a bit more confident but I have to confess that there was an air of trepidation in the back of my mind. I soon moved on to the second section and by far the longest part of the moor. Initially there was no indication of my direction presented by the two paths in front of me. I checked the map and headed right, fortunately it was the right choice.

The path swept up through the heather and the mud got stickier and stinkier as I battled along with only a foot’s width of path. I felt like a ballerina as I gracefully lumbered along, slipping and sliding away. I continued to climb. There was a brief respite and then another gradual climb. All the time I was being blown this way and that, and as I reached the highest point I was more certain than ever that I had made the right decision not to continue walking earlier in the month as hurricane Jonas unleashed its force.

At the highest point of the moors I was in the middle of nowhere. In every direction as far as the eye could see was moorland, interspersed with hills peppered with snow. I pressed on and descended onto the stone slabs that had been laid by the army of volunteers who maintain the footpaths. I was grateful for this pavement of stone as without them I would certainly have disappeared into the boggy waters, never to be seen again.

I reached another point where an escape was a possibility but like a brave soldier, I pressed on back onto the moorland. I knew that at some point I would reach a forest but there was no sign of it yet. By now the wet weather had closed in. Walking in full waterproofs is never my favourite thing, but then neither was the option of arriving like a drowned rat at my accommodation. I donned my waterproofs and pressed on. The path didn't improve, if anything it got worse. Eventually the forest came into view but it had the last laugh. My route continued down into a small cutting before ascending rather steeply up the other side. Due to the incessant rain of previous weeks I was now walking up a narrow, slippery stream as it rushed past me to the bottom of the cutting. I was glad to reach the top, but then again I wasn’t ! 

I was now walking in snow and it soon became clear to me that I was about to enter the mother of all bogs. There was no discernible path so I picked my way gingerly across the swampy soupy snow ( or snog - snow / bog ). In the distance I saw something move - a fox looking at me…ha ha he was probably saying – another victim for the swampy soupy snow, I'll just duck out of cover and watch him meet his certain end ! I followed the fox’s footsteps through the snow and soon came to a swimming pool of bog ( a swog  )! A tree gave me some relief as I hugged its trunk to help me past. The tree shook me off, it was probably in cahoots with the fox. Soon I was heading the wrong way, inertia got in the way again, my left foot went straight in the bog up to my knee and I was propelled forwards. Next, my left foot gave way and I managed to reach some solid land but landed on my knee on smelly water. I kept going forwards. Fortunately I put my hands out to brace my fall and a certain face plant. Now I was up to my wrists in water, I am sure I could hear both the fox and the tree laughing. I managed to break free and cleaned myself as much as possible and it was then that I realised that I was mere metres away from the forest track and safety.

My journey continued uneventfully through the safety of the woods and the forest track, and before I knew it I was approaching the village of Byrness and the end of a seventeen mile stage.

Sunday, 31 January 2016

No Roman around today!

Sunday 24th January 2016.  31km 

I was home alone last night as Rachel and her parents attended a Burn’s Night supper. In some respects it was nice to have somewhere very familiar to just paddle around in and have a quiet night to myself. My evening meal consisted of more curry from the night before…….one can never have enough curry sometimes! Once my appetite was replete it was down to preparing the next days walk, highlighting the route and ensuring that my bag was packed ready for an early morning departure. 

The alarm went of again before 7am and I slowly dragged my body out a nice warm bed. Within twenty minutes breakfast was over and I was completing my finally packing to include food supplies needed for the day. After the previous days walk and only carrying a day bag I was keen to off load as much from what I had previously been carrying in my larger bag. Surprise, surprise I am sure I got rid of about 4 kilos of weight, it might not seem a lot, but over rough undulating terrain even 1 kilo can really make a difference. 

By 8am I was in the car and heading out of the driveway to be dropped off at Hexham Abbey. Once again Rachel was dropping me off before heading home, so when we arrived at Hexham Abbey Rachel was being a bit clingy, I don’t think she wanted me to go…… but a man must do what a man must do, and work was calling me. After a lengthy farewell and much hugging and kissing later ( sorry I should have added a warning declaration to readers of this blog ) I turned the corner and we were both out of each other's site. 

There has been a church on the site of Hexham Abbey for over 1300 years since Etheldreda, Queen of Northumbria made a grant of lands to Wifrids, Bishop of York c.674. Wilfrids Benedictine Abbey was constructed from the remains of Roman stone from the area. It is a wonderful peaceful place and I would recommend popping in if you are in the area. 

My route took me directly to the railway line and along Cycle route 72 before following the river. Unfortunately due to the height of the recent floods the footpath had fallen victim and I was forced to continue on the road through Fourstones and Newborough. Newbrough and Fourstones are on the Stanegate Roman road, built in A.D. 71, which runs from the east to the west of England and formed the original northern frontier before the building of Hadrian’s wall. Newbrough’s church stands on the site of one of the line of forts along this road. 

Soon I was leaving the tarmac behind as I headed across the moor to the Roman Military road. There was no sign of a footpath and once again I had to take a grid bearing, identify a point to aim for in the distance and just walk in a straight line irrespective of what lay ahead of me. Once more I bog hopped my way through squelchy, smelly muddy water. Just before reaching the end of the section the weather finally let me down and a windy squall of horizontal fine rain increased in persistence forcing me stop and put my waterproofs on. I had been walking for about ten minutes when my sixth sense kicked in, something was wrong, the Feng Shui did not feel write. I stopped and collected myself, thought long deep and hard……a rare experience for me nowadays! Agh….walking pole, where was my walking pole I thought? I retraced my steps hoping it was close at hand, maybe I had left at the gate I had to open, maybe it was at the stile before that. All sorts of dramas and scenarios were going through my head. Fortunately at the first stile, there is was patiently waiting for me to return. I am sure it smiled when it was in my hand once more….. 

Once on the Military road I played dodge the very fast 'are walkers supposed be treated like bowling pins ?' crazy car drivers.  I was now following the line of Hadrian’s Wall passing the fort called Brocolitia, and the site of the 3rd century Temple of Mithras. Thankfully, after bounding from road to grass verge, road to grass verge repeatedly like a demented bunny I turned right and once more followed a direct line Again the path faded from an ancient byway to nothingness. Fortunately the Gods were looking favourably upon me and I was able to take advantage of walking on top of a derelict stone wall that was nothing but very very lumpy grass, hard to walk on but far easier than being swallowed by a bog. Several times I encountered huge pools of deep water that had congregated within the confines of a closed gateway that required precision foot placing to avoid drowning. These were missed opportunities of seeing me triple salchow and pirouette on sods of earth or wobbly stones as I wrestled to open and close gates without mishap. There were also a couple of bridges over burns that had to be crossed and once more my athletic graces were brought to the fore as I slipped and slid along the wet, greasy wooden boards like Bambi on ice. I have never encountered such a plethora of obstacles along a path for some time and I was glad when I finally reached a tarmac surface. I was in such euphoria that I had to sit down and have a sandwich to celebrate. 

It was well after midday and I had only completed half the distance, so after a quick respite I set off once more. Hadrian’s wall was behind me now and I was in what used to be the Border Reivers territory. I had avoided being TWOC’d in Middlesbrough and now had the thought of whether I would be safe crossing through this land that was once home to the lawless gang of horsemen, or would I encounter a group lost in time? I constantly gazed around, kept watch and listened out for the whinny of a horse that might give them away. 

The fine mizzle of rain had eased off but I kept my waterproofs on and increased my pace along the road trying to make up the time I had lost crossing the boggy wastelands. I left the road and turned onto another ancient Byway before reaching the Pennine Way, a 267 mile path from Edale in the Peak District to Kirk Yetholme in Scotland. I was only following it to Bellingham today. 

I was starting to feel the exertion of the day by late afternoon and I was starting to wish the end would come soon. By now I was starting to climb and this was only increasing my sense of fatigue. My legs were tired from having never really been able to go in a straight line what with all the slipping and sliding around I had endured and I was a sweaty uncomfortable mess inside my waterproofs. 

Ahead lay Shitlington Crag and by now the light was starting to change as the end of the daylight approached. I bravely battled on and at the top I was nearly blown off my feet. I ducked behind a wall to recover and as I continued the fine wet mizzley rain started again. At last I was back on a decent track but the was short lived as the path turned left I was greeted with one final boggy, smelly waterlogged stretch of moor to end the day on. Again there was no sign of a path and I slowly criss crossed my way to the road before turning left again and my hotel in Bellingham. I am often surprised by accommodation givers different approaches to wet, smelly, muddy walkers and tonight was no exception. I took advantage of getting as much mud off my boots outside and I peeled my soggy waterproof trousers off and bundled them into a position where I would not drip mud everywhere. At reception I was met with a cheery Geordie greeting, and once checked-in  was shown to my room. As asked if I needed to take my muddy boots off and received the response…Na bother! 

My room was a Palace, the bed was huge, it was not raining inside and it was warm ….I was a very tired Happy Bunny! 



Thursday, 28 January 2016

Rested and raring to go!

Saturday 23rd January 2016.  Consett to Hexham - 30km

The previous evening saw me staying at my in-laws only 30 minutes away. After a hot bath to warm my cockles, a curry and really good nights sleep I was fully recharged and almost running out of the door for the start of that day's walk. One added advantage of staying over at the same place for 2 nights was the fact that I could swap carrying everything, to managing with a day bag. It really was a nice feeling to carry only the essentials for a days walk. 

I was dropped off at the start by Rachel and after a quick stop at the local supermarket for supplies for the day, I was soon heading downhill out of Blackhills, Consett. Today was going to be a long undulating day as I made my way through the Northumbrian hills. 

Initially I started alongside the river and then was directed across two fields, right across the middle of them. I confirmed
alternatives with a dog walker and elected to take the more direct route by using the edges of the fields. This initially was a sound idea but the local horsey population had had the same idea and the path was heavy going and almost as badly churned up as the field. 

I was soon on terra ferma, and after passing the wonderful sounding village of Unthank I slowly climbed out of one valley into the next. I have been known to take a detour every now and then and today was no exception. I chose to do this merely to make the day more exciting and to keep myself on my toes! 

My planned route was to take me along the appropriately named Coal Road through the Slaley Estate and Slaley Hall but my head was in la la land. As I walked along the road, bidding good morning to the various cyclists that whizzed past me I came across the local hunt that were in full whato and phaw phaw mode, as they sat on their steeds that were whinnying and stamping their feet. They were sprawled and spread eagled across the side of the road as if they owned the place…….well maybe they did! What I failed to notice was that they were in actual fact totally blocking the road I should have taken and I only became aware of this when my inbred sixth sense told me something was not quite right. As I checked my map, I realised far too late to turn back that I’d missed my turn. Once more I gave my self a severe and good telling off but as the road took me in the same direction I carried on, and at the last moment cut left across fields to join my intended path. 

By the time I had reached the village of Slaley and mile eleven, I was ready for a break. There were no cafes to be found although there was a pub which was now owned by the community. I felt that if I went in I was in danger of not coming out. I paused for fifteen minutes and a bite to eat in the covered entrance to the local church. It was a welcome spot with a small platform to sit on and suitable shelter from the cold, biting wind. 

With the impending dark night looming, I packed my bag back up, retrieved the next map and was off again. Once more my route continued along the roadside and again I had to play 'dodge the cars' as they flew past me at an alarming rate, virtually eating up the verge that I was walking on. 

After several near death experiences I was relieved to leave the road and once again head up a hill before descending to and crossing a river. My path went right, but to the left was a large bungalow in landscaped grounds with the owner ( or one of his minions ) cutting the grass. It’s January no-one should be cutting the grass at this time of year! 

I passed through the woods and the Hamlet of Ordley, back into civilisation following the Pennine Way. The final stage of the day involved a slow steady climb before reaching a point where Hexham was revealed below with the Abbey the central focus. I descended down into the town, through the pedestrian street and into the Abbey to finish the day.