Bellingham to Byrness
What can I say about the Cheviot Hotel in Bellingham? Well, I guess the first thing I should point out is although it’s got “hotel” in its name, a hotel it certainly didn’t feel like.
To start with, when I arrived I had to ring on a buzzer intercom thing and then wait a few minutes while someone came down to let me in – never done that in a hotel before. The pub part of the “hotel” didn’t open until 7pm so clearly that’s when the front door is open to anyone else wishing to check in?
Yes it had rooms, which all hotels clearly must have, but the shoe-box single room I was put in, all stuffy and drab, wasn’t the worst room I’d had on this walk so far but it was getting close. They did have biscuits with the tea and coffee things so that was a plus point; I’ve become quite the biscuit hoarder on this walk, putting them in my pack for the next day’s walk.
The food was ok but upon arriving I noticed the “Free House” sign outside the pub and was hopeful for a lovely pint. No. Tetleys was all they did. Yes it was refreshing after a hard day’s walking but not really what I would call proper beer. Shame.
Things weren’t looking good for the Cheviot and this morning at breakfast things weren’t really helped. It was an ok breakfast, again not the worst I’ve had on this walk, but it wasn’t that good. I ate as much as I could and went to get ready for the off.
One question: when you’ve ordered a cooked breakfast and you’ve only just started to eat it, why oh why do they bring the toast out then? By the time you’ve eaten your cooked breakfast the damn stuff’s cold! I like my toast hot when I eat it thank you very much!
That feels better to get that off my chest. Back to today’s fun and games.
I wasn’t in too much of a rush to get out the door this morning seeing as it was just under fifteen miles today, compared with yesterday’s nineteen miles. I eventually hit the road at 9:10am not too concerned about the time as I couldn’t get in to the hostel at Byrness until 4pm at the earliest.
I followed the road out of Bellingham and up the hill to pick up the path properly. As I caught my breath at the top two ladies – Ann and Wendy – I’d met in the bar at the Cumberland in Alston walked up behind me. I said hello and they remembered where we’d met previously and, seeing as we were walking the same route, we decided to walk together. Company for another day would make a nice change.
We walked and talked and it wasn’t long before we reached the point where the Pennine Way has two routes you can take: over or around Highstead Hill. The route I’d plotted took me round the easier of the two paths, i.e. around the hill, so my walking companions decided to tag along – they were both Pennine Way routes so it’s not like they were cheating or anything.
We followed the path, meeting up with the other route a mile and a half up the track. At this point there was a Pennine Way post but there was also an arrow on it for another footpath. Both Ann and Wendy reckoned that they’d followed all the arrows closets to the acorn sign for the Pennine Way so we did that. It wasn’t too many paces along the track when my GPS told me we were wrong. I checked it as we weren’t too sure which of the paths to take and it’s a good job I did. We’d have ended up at a road and either a long walk round to pick up the path again or a walk back up the hill to pick up the path. I knew there was a reason I spent the money getting the GPS and all the maps!
On the correct path we pressed on in the now ridiculous heat. There wasn’t much of a breeze either. And shade? Forget it. We were out in the open with no prospect of any shade for some considerable time.
We sat and had a rest at the cairn at the top of Whitley Pike where I checked to see if I had a signal on my phone, which I did. I spoke to Matt briefly on the phone and then we were off again. These two ladies – Ann 60 in a few days and Wendy 65 – were keeping a very good pace and I’ll admit that in the heat, I was just about hanging on in there with them.
We made our way over Padon Hill – the final big climb for the day – and finally hit the edge of the Redesdale Forest, the final leg of today’s walk, hoping that we’d get some shade from the heat of the sun.
Before we entered the forest proper we initially had to cut up the side of it for a bit. This turned out to be more of a rock climb than gentle stroll. The Pennine Way path pretty much disappeared in the boggy reeds and the only option we had to make up way up the hill – yes, there’s always a bloody hill to make things difficult – was to walk/climb along the remains of a dry stone wall. Interesting at the best of times, even more so carrying the pack I was carrying!
We all made it up ok and back on something more path-like we bumped into an old guy walking in the opposite direction. He was walking from John O’Groats to Land’s End, having already done the journey the other way round last year. I thought I was mad but that’s just plain crazy!
Ann, Wendy and I continued on, hitting a little more moor land as the Pennine Way meandered away from the trees along a wall. A little way up the path we spotted some rocks that looked like they’d make suitable seating for lunch, even if they weren’t in any shade.
Sat on the rocks with my boots and pack off was heaven! We sat there chatting for quite some time and as we were another guy walked up the path and came over and joined us. This was a longer lunch than I’d normally take on my own – 20 minutes is enough on an average day – but an hour later we were just getting ourselves together to carry on walking. It didn’t matter though as there weren’t too many more miles to go and the break, even if it was in the sun, did its job and we all felt better for it.
Ahead of us was a five mile walk through the forest, most of which was on a gravel track which does a wonderful job of ruining my feet…joy! I was hoping, seeing as we were going to be surrounded by trees, that this section of the walk would be nice and shaded but other than the odd bit here and there we were still at the mercy of the sun, which by now was doing a proper number on me, making my pack feel twice as heavy as it actually was!
One thing of note as we were our way along the track was that we came across an adder sunning itself in the sun on the hot gravel. It didn’t hang around long when it heard us coming and Wendy and I just about managed to grab a glimpse of it as it shot off into the long grass. Haven’t seen one of those since I was a kid out catching lizards.
We trudged along the track chatting for the most part until we came across a picnic site near a little river. We were tantalisingly close to the end of the day’s walk but I certainly needed to stop due to the heat so we took a little break there.
Sat at the table catching up on a bit of sugar a little chaffinch flew down to the other end of the table and pecked at some seeds that were on there. Before Ann and I could get our cameras out the bird was off, but we got the cameras ready in case he came back again…which he did. Other than pigeons and seagulls I’ve not been sat like that and had a wild bird come so close.
Rested and only a mile and a half to go we headed off through the trees – shade at last! – following the river to Byrness. As ever the final part of the day’s walk was a mental battle between giving up and falling to the ground where I stood and forcing one foot to move in front of the other. We made it to the A68 though and Ann, Wendy and I said goodbye as their hotel was on the other side of the road. I’d got a room at the hostel just up the road so my walk wasn’t quite over yet.
I hobbled along a track to the hostel and when I got there and checked in I found out I was the only one in the male shared dorm…brilliant! No snoring to keep me awake tonight like the other hostel a few days ago.
I sorted myself out, got cleaned up and changed and had dinner: chilli con carne followed by jam sponge and custard, washed down with a bottle of Tyneside Blonde beer which incidentally, so I was told by Joyce (the lady who runs the hostel) gets delivered to a pub and then shipped to the hostel as they won’t deliver directly! Clearly her and her husband are beer lovers as there was a very good selection of bottled beers to choose from, and I’m glad I chose that one as it was very nice indeed.
I spoke to the girls on the phone, Alice telling me about her trip to Broadstairs with the school which sounded fun. They clearly weren’t in a very talkative mood as the call seemed to last no time at all. Roll on getting proper wifi with a decent signal so that I can do a video call with them again. It seems like a long time ago now we did that. Not good.
My next job was to wash up and put away all my dinner bits and I then headed to my room to write up the day’s events and speak on the phone for a bit. Val, Russ, thanks for the chats…it’s good to talk!
One thing I forgot to mention about the hostel that I noticed when I arrived and that’s the abundance of notices. Notices to tell you, well, pretty much everything: mop up the floor after your shower, clean the shower after you’ve used it, clean the toilet after you’ve used it, use both sheets on the bed when you make it, put the dirty linen in the linen basket when you leave and so on and so on. It did make me smile that’s for sure.
Another long day ahead of me tomorrow, this one hitting another major milestone so soon after Hadrian’s Wall: Scotland! Tomorrow I finally head across the border and leave the Pennine Way behind. To think that I’ve walked the entire length of England is an astonishing thought and one that I’m very proud of indeed. Bring it on!