After a mild winter so far, with only brief spells of snow, snow and ice has arrived on the tails of Storm Chiara last weekend.
Shetland sheep are a hardy primitive breed but that doesn't mean that they can be completely left to fend for themselves all winter.
We are down to about 8 tups now, as the field will shortly be sold off, with the current plan to get the boys slaughtered for meat once the grass starts growing again. In the meantime, they are overwintered in a sheltered field with a permanent supply of hay and some mineral buckets. They all received a pre-winter vitamin drench which helps them get the most out of any fodder over the winter. The tups we loaned out across the country are all safely home looking none the worse for some solid 'work' to service other people's flocks.
The ewes are a few miles away from the tups. Their fields are more exposed to the prevailing weather, but they have plenty of shelter, ad-lib hay, mineral buckets and helpings of hard feed if they need it. We have been working our way through the flock, checking teeth, body condition and feet, and find it easier to group the sheep by colour for these tasks so we can keep track of who has been 'done'.
The flock had a good annual health check from the vet prior to the winter, and preparation for the visit prompted us to revisit the Flock Health Plan given that we have gained one field but are about to lose another.
Prolonged harsh weather can show as a weak area in the fleeces of the sheep, but good spells of cold weather are also good for keeping down pests in the fields and the garden.
Beal to Holy Island
Earworm of the Day: Ordinary People by Bugzy Malone ft JP Cooper
Slept great! Woke v early and divided up my stuff into things I needed for today, and everything else. Not much I needed today. Had a quick breakfast and was ready for my friend RE arriving at 7.15. Wore The Cowl that I had spent so long knitting.
I was feeling nervous about the walk across the sands - and left to my own devices I might have taken the road causeway across, or even stayed at the B&B til P came to pop us across in the car. BUT RE was here and was adamant that we would walk across the sands to Holy Island. 'This is it. The big finish. You can do this'.
In terms of tide timings, we had worked out the mid-point of the safe road-crossing time 9.45 or thereabouts and the guidebook advised us to be across by then. This meant setting off at 7.30 latest.
The carpark that I remembered down by the causeway has been closed off in recent months - someone mentioned in the bar that the landowner is in dispute with Natural England (or whoever) about unpaid grants. Who knows. Anyway, we had received permission to park in the Bothy Car Park while we walked across, Ken and the couple had evidently set off earlier. No tents evident behind the hedge and it looked as if we were last. No worries, right?
We headed down the footpath to the start of the causeway, then once we were over the South Low (river) we slid a bit inelegantly down off the road and walked across to join the line of 123 marker poles which stretch straight across the sands to Holy Island.
There has been a pole-marked crossing across the sands since earliest times but these were installed in the 1970s I think. I suppose the monks would have come back and forth this way, and on their last journey fleeing Lindisfarne with its relics and with the coffin containing the body of St Cuthbert, on their way to St Cuthbert's Cave that I had passed yesterday.
The ground underfoot was a strange mixture of sand and mud - but fairly firm - and we had elected to keep our boots on for now. We could see footprints in the sand and decided that these were the couple and then Ken slightly separate. It was overcast but fairly light and we couldn't see another soul in front of us or on the road.
I've visited Holy Island many times since moving to Scotland in 1990. For several years it seemed to be the place we went for a birthday day out and we spent a good few dreich February days trying to find something decent to eat and taking the long circular path around the island.
Things have certainly changed in recent years and the island seems a much more inviting place to visit these days. P and I visited in just over a month later and the island was buzzing with life and people. We spent some time in the Gertrude Jekyll's garden:
We wandered the island and then found a grassy spot on the heugh where we lay in the breeze and listened to the sound of the seals singing out on their sandbar in the approaching tide. It's a sound I had only heard once before, on a magical evening at the Brough of Birsay....
and before we left we managed to visit St Mary's Church, with its statue of St Aidan outside and the stunning wooden sculpture by Fenwick Lawson inside. The bronze version stands outside Durham Cathedral where St Cuthbert's body was laid to rest.
RE and I chatted about a range of things as we crossed. We're members of the same crafters group and RE is a talented and creative printer who seems to travel far and wide attending classes and workshops. We had been on a few walks together now and I felt comfortable being with her. I wanted to talk about my experiences of the Way but felt muddled and as if I hadn't made sense of it all in my head yet, other than the sore feet.
Occasionally we'd stop, be still and just listen. Other than the distant calling of waders, the only thing we could hear was the wind.
It grew even lighter and cars started to head across the causeway across to our left ; visitors, locals, delivery drivers. We could see a large group nearing the end of the road and a couple heading towards us coming from the island.
Then we reached a barrier. A long stretch of water and deep bog with no way across. We followed Ken's footprints along the side of the water, then back again, went further across to the right. No way across. RE pointed to a solitary wellington boot nearly submerged in the mud. Really?
We took off our boots and socks without falling over and steeped into icy cold water and then almost lifelike , caressing, grabbing soft mud. People pay good money for mud. But we were across what we hoped was the worst bit only to find sharp shell fragments underfoot making me hop and squeal and move as quickly and lightly as I could. Good grief this was horrid - and yet? At least my feet weren't hurting as much. We met the approaching couple. Tough to get across that bit. Ha ha we checked it out yesterday smug giggles. RE muttered and we looked back to see them pacing up and down the edge of the swampy bit. Then they were across.
We walked on for 10 minutes and I realised RE was still muttering to herself about the couple's smugness. I'm supposed to be the angsty one.
We were closer to the road now and I was hoping P would arrive in his car, visible and waiting at the end of this mammoth walk to welcome us onto dry land. There's a bench at the far end - RE has great eyesight. All that time sailing maybe.
And like that we were across. Time for a vaguely celebratory photo-stop. There was a couple sat on the bench. Not yesterday's couple but a French couple and her feet were wrecked. I felt a small glow of comradeship and relief . We chatted about the walk. 'Ah yes! You are the lady with the dog'. RE told them about the Pilgrims Cafe on the Island and you have to hand it to her: she has an almost encyclopedic knowledge of emerging and hipster coffee and cake stops.
As we walked into the village, I realised that was it. The Way was over. I didn't feel loud or celebratory but a little bit sad. I'd spent months planning and getting fit, then mapping the route, booking accommodation and then doing the walk itself. The Way.
Hobbled into the cafe and there they were; the Glasgow ladies, kit, poles and wiry bodies and an air of joy. 'Oh hi - yes the lady with the dog - we saw you yesterday' and RE and I headed upstairs clutching cake and coffee. The French couple was there too. I'd seen Ken loping his long stride back across the causeway as I sat on the bench drying my feet. The pilgrims had converged and were now separating again, like bits of shell on an outgoing tide.
P arrived in the car and the three of us sped back across a causeway that would never seem quite the same again. Back to the world. The tide was coming in fast and already our footprints would be gone.
Had I proved to myself that I could do it? Yes. Had I managed alone? Yes - on the few bits where I was. Had I got lost? Only once outside Wooler and that was a relatively minor mistake caused by lack of attention. Had it been the unalloyed uplifting experience i had occasionally hoped for? Sometimes yes. Often not. Had I thought Great Thoughts? No. No magical cure for lack of capacity on the brain front. But I had reflected, considered, wondered, sung to myself, sung to Hamish, absorbed, listened, wondered, chatted to people I met, and Managed. My earworm - which had bugged me since waking - seemed apt. My subconscious had chosen it. Perhaps we're all far from ordinary people.
And I could definitely do it again.
Wooler to Beal (ish)
Earworm of the Day: One Day Like This (Elbow), Blackbird (Martyn Bennett)
Slept much better! R had transformed the boho-chic caravan until inside, it resembled one huge bed. God what bliss. Slept like a log until the chaffinch roused me again. I would miss him. I would.
Last evening had been thoroughly enjoyable. We had collected another of R's amazing friends on our way home and another great evening had followed - I had no idea what we'd even talked about but time had flown by with a hot bath - much tending to of the feet, then some beautiful food (including a home-made rhubarb cake) and a fair bit of laughing. More wine.
I could have stayed on in the College Valley for ever - perhaps that was how it gained its inhabitants; ensnaring them and never letting them go. R was due to drop me outside Wooler and didn't want to be late. I had a last look round, checked on J's veggie seedlings and said goodbye to the chickens. It looked like today would be wet. The waterproof jacket would get its first outing.
R dropped me just outside Wooler and we said goodbye. Well, we hung about a bit awkwardly before eventually doing so. I hate goodbyes (am a quiet disappearer) and I didn't really want to go. R had been a truly wonderful host and I’d felt like part of the family. She’d made my journey on the Way into something very special. It felt like the best bits of The Way were already behind me and now I was starting to head towards home. I watched her drive off and felt quite alone for the first time in a couple of days.
Except that I wasn't really. Behind me I could see a long string of bright goretex clad humans heading towards me. Perhaps this was the group of Glasgow ladies I'd heard about a lifetime ago. They were definitely going to catch me up even if my foot did feel a bit better this morning.
The Way headed across Weetwood Bridge and I pulled on a hat, grabbed H's lead and headed into the wet.
There aren't too many photo's of today's walk - it never really stopped raining and getting the phone out of its case just became a bit of a hassle.
H and I headed up hill along the lane (there was a fair bit of road walking today) and the hedges dripped over us. We reached West and then East Horton and I stopped to let the crowds over take. Had some tea. I could see back towards Wooler but the cloud covered the Cheviots. The group headed past in twos and threes, and then a couple of other people. Everyone stopped to take photos of the cows in the yard.
Then the Way left the lane and headed north east on a good track, crossing the Devil's Causeway. Definitely need to find out more about that - wondered if it was in one of the Alistair Moffat books.
The rain cleared slightly and i had a last good look back at the Cheviots in the distance.
A tractor headed past, and the track started down hill to cross the Hetton Burn. The map showed a ford and I wondered how that would be to cross. I could see a red Mitsubishi heading down towards the burn on the other side. My foot was starting to hurt again.
As it turned out, the crossing was over a fine wooden bridge and we headed up the hill on the other side. Head down in the rain. Foot sore now - just keep going. Was trying really hard to enjoy this but Hamish also seemed to have lost some of his usual vigour.
The plan was to avoid having a lunch break at St Cuthbert's cave which was reportedly hoaching with ticks, so I planned to have two smaller breaks. I stopped where the track appeared at a road below Old Hazelrigg. Just a couple of cottages, but a real Way Resting Spot, complete with bench and a stunning life-sized (I imagine) wooden statue of the man himself. You'll need to click on the photo to see it properly.
The statue is by Tom Fiddes, a local sculptor and clearly shows St Cuthbert with an otter at his feet. Bede wrote that St Cuthbert used to venture into the sea at night, standing in water up to his neck and then coming out to pray on the sand. A pair of otters would warm his frozen feet with their breath and dry him with their fur.
I ate a sandwich, gave H some biscuits and water and tended to my feet.
Another walker appeared and we chatted for a while. He was from Harrogate and walking the Way solo. He seemed pleasant enough. Hopefully there wasn't anyone left to overtake me now. Some boy racers headed past at great speed in cars (why is everyone so fast?)and I set off.
The Way led uphill on another dripping and leafy lane then off to the left on narrow paths. My foot felt a bit better after being re-socked but I was a bit fed up with the rain. Hamish had a run about and as we neared the woods at Colourheugh highpitched screams of laughter made me jump. The ladies were lunching in the woods. Head down, along the path to some vivid yellow rapeseed fields below Cockenheugh and The Cave.
The Way would lead me up the track between the two fields and then along the bottom of the woods before climbing. As I started up the track the ladies appeared behind me and - as I struggled to the gate at the top, they streamed past, followed by the couple.
The man was sitting in the woods watching the procession, making himself tea over a stove. Hamish and I sat nearby and ate more lunch. Turns out the man was called Ken. Hamish was wet, miserable and filthy and I realised I didn't have a towel for him.
The sense of being one of a crowd was odd. But it gave one a feeling of pilgrimage - of this small river of people converging on one spot at one time - no matter when we had started or how fast we had walked. Of course we were all aiming for the same gap in the tides for crossing to Holy Island tomorrow.
We left Ken to his cuppa and walked into the rain. Along the bottom of the wood through a gate and to St Cuthbert's Cave on the right. It was much bigger than I had thought - a huge space under some rocks and the couple had pulled out some camping chairs. I crept away and headed up the side of the woods.
Broken eggs littered the path at this point - dropped by a crow or larger raptor perhaps and I reached the crest of the hill. Ahead were some very green fields full of sheep and I could l see the last of the ladies stopped at the top of the hill across the way. I checked the phone GPS and then worked out where the gate was in the field at the bottom.
After climbing up the other side I realised why the ladies had stopped. I stopped too.
The sea didn't really slant like that; that's not why people were staring.
All of a sudden, we were back in The World. Wide views and noise. A train whistled as it raced across one of the level crossings on the East Coast Main Line below us, and you could hear the murmer of cars on the A1. Holy Island was there - almost within touching distance. I messaged my friend who was meeting me the next morning, what'sapp'd P at work and sent a message to the world via Facebook. Emergence into the outside world meant social media.
The path followed a track down into some woods and by now my foot was incredibly sore. I slowed down. Ken overtook me again and the woods grew darker.
Hamish loved it. He loves woodland walks. All those smells. He seemed to have endless amounts of energy. I was limping.
The path came out of the woods and hugged the edge between wood and fields. Everything dropped wet. The World seemed very close now but we were still hidden away in a woodland on the edge of it. Some lambs were sheltering from the rain,
and I passed close to them. The Way finally left the woods at a cottage called Blawearie, and I found a bench at the top of the hill down to Fenwick and the A1.
I felt exhausted and my foot hurt like never before. I could see Holy Island, and across to Beal and even the B&B. Looking at the map I realised I was better to leave the Way and to head north out of Fenwick and cross the A1 by the pub at West Mains. To be honest, I wasn't convinced I had the capacity to sprint across the A1 if a burst of speed was required.
I phoned the B&B to enquire about towels and a means of washing down Hamish while we waited for P to pick him up. They offered to collect me in Fenwick, and it was all I could do to stumble down the hill (I counted the telephone poles along the way and ticked them off as I passed them) to the car.
Mr BrockmillB&B was nothing but kindness and brought me a pile of towels and directed me to the garden hose.
I have never hosed H down with cold water before and he was horrified and upset. I could see his point. He had walked the St Cuthbert's way without any prior warning (in fact he hadn't even finished his breakfast the day we'd set off), and hauled me bodily up every hill we had come to. And I was hosing him down like some criminal in a film. Eventually he gave in to his fate (which was more horrid to see) and cowered until the ordeal was over.
I had a fantastic shower (hot, long, soapy) while H glared at me from the bathroom door. Then I wrapped him up carefully and we cuddled up together with Beowulf and a fresh cup of tea until P arrived.
We ate in the Bothy at Beal, picking our way through a shared seafoood platter, overlooking Lindisfarne, and I drank more gin. P had brought more compeed. Yay!
Ken was in the bar along with a couple I thought I hadn't seen before. They had seen me somewhere en route and it turned out they were the couple with the chairs at the cave. 'Ah, the lady with the dog'. We had a mutual friend in Gifford, and it turns out they’d got engaged at the start of their walk - and - had been trying to complete a house purchase by phone whenever signal strength allowed. We joined them and swapped stories of The Way.
P left with Hamish and all of a sudden I really missed him. Hamish that is.
Southernknowe to Wooler (and back to Southernknowe)
Earworm of the Day: Love & Hate by Michael Kiwanuka
Slept badly again. Hamish and I had elected to sleep on a single bench seat in the caravan which was cosy but very very uncomfortable. My hip ached all night and I was pinned against the wall by my canine companion who curled up behind my knees and wouldn't move. Other than a bad night's sleep I loved being at Southernknowe, and woke at the crack of dawn-chorus as a chaffinch sang its heart out somewhere above the metal roof.
I'd arrived at Southernknowe to find my friend R not home yet and I sat in the garden on a bench, basking in the sun, boots off and feeling nothing but contentment and relief. Along with Lilliard's Edge, the stretch from Yetholm into the College Valley was the bit of the walk I'd looked forward to most. And it had been all that I wanted it to be. Joyous, silent, warm, spacious.
Ros provided gin and a hot bath in that order and I spent a lovely evening chatting to her and her partner, a shepherd who had spent some of his youth about a mile from where I live so we knew lots of people and places in common. Much wine was drunk (I think) and that along with a lovely meal and a post dinner dog-walk, was enough to have me ready for bed just after 9pm.
I loved the caravan at the bottom of the garden, among the chickens which raced to the door in the hope of food every time I appeared. I miss my hens!
This morning, reality set in again. Is there anyway I could get out of doing the rest of this walk? My foot was a total mess and it looked as if my blisters might have other blisters inside them or something. I had popped them, drained them, cleaned them and re-compeeded but they had re-filled and I wasn't sure what to do. I've never really had bad blisters before.
I lay in bed chanting away quietly to myself - I really don't want to do this I really don't want to do this I really don't want to ...
R had made a stunning breakfast, porridge and toast and lots of tea and we planned the day ahead. R was coming along for part of the walk and it looked like it would be a late start as we waited for another friend to join us. I was so relaxed here - it was like a separate world where neither neither looming political melt-down or the rest of The Way existed. I went back to the caravan to listen to music and re-pack my rucksack. I would not need everything today as I was returning to the caravan that evening.
The College Valley had fascinated me for a while - tucked into the very top corner of Northumberland - with the ridges along to the north forming the boundary with Scotland. Again, people led border lives, and lives which were not 'neither one nor the other' but instead were 'both'. My friends were Scottish but lived two miles from a border which was nothing more than sheep wire and wooden gates. How was any form of hard border workable here?
The Valley is owned by the Sir James Knott Trust - a grant-making charity which seeks to 'improve the conditions of people living and working in the North East of England' - which bought the estate in 1953. The Valley is now managed by a separate company under a Board of Directors. Cars are only permitted as far as the car park at Hethpool unless you have bought a permit from Savill's in Wooler.
We were ready to set off at the end of the morning, three of us and two dogs and parked up at Hethpool. Although I had been looking to spend time walking solo - it was great to have company, particularly from two brilliant local women who knew the walk.
Both are involved in a project to raise awareness of the plight of refugees and to raise funds. The programme of activities includes a walk from the holy island of Iona to the holy island of Lindisfarne in April 2020 - and we discussed various ways in which themes of exile and sanctuary could be picked up along the route. I told them the story of King Loth of the Votadini, and his daughter Princess Thenew, the mother of St Mungo.
It's a major fundraising and awareness-raising goal and I wish them much much luck.
We left Hethpool with its beautiful cottages and headed downstream along the other side of the College Burn - this stunning clear burn flowed between banks of vivid gorse and would soon join the River Glen as it headed to join the River Till. The Till itself would join the Tweed next to the ruins of St Cuthbert's Chapel. Another place to check out another time.
We meandered about among bluebells and stretches of rock - but the ticks were out in force that day. Hamish didn't get too badly bitten but the wee beasties were everywhere. Not sure even St Cuthbert would have had much time for them. The Valley's wild goats were about too, grazing in front of us and only moving away slowly. A reminder of my childhood home where a herd of wild goats roams the Valley of the Rocks.
We parted company at Torleehouse - I didn't want anyone watching me puff my way up the main climb of the day. But I missed the company when they had gone. Skirting the buildings and passing through some curious sheep, I started the climb up alongside Yeavering Bell and decided to take a look.
More goats grazed the slopes, but once we were clear of these, Hamish could spend some rare time off lead before we reached the open moorland. And do you know what? The hill wasn't too bad. Maybe the exercise was starting to have an effect.
We stopped for lunch at the highest point and all was quiet:
I hadn't known much about Yeavering Bell before the walk prep - other than that it is the name of a range of soft mohair/Wensleydale blend yarn produced by the lovely Alice at Whistlebare Yarns somewhere close by. For those who are not woolly-minded, Yeavering Bell is also the site of an ancient and large Iron Age fort but also contains a neolothic burial cairn. It was a tribal centre for the Votadini, those early Celtic people who had populated East Lothian, Dun Edin (now Edinburgh) and down as far as the Tyne (the Newcastle one not the Haddington one).
What a strong people they must have been to control and make lives in such a huge area - and what factors had led history to forge a national border across what had once been the landholding of one tribe?
Were those people I had met leading border lives, heirs of the Votadini in the way that they moved back and forth across a landscape which stretched across a geographical as well as historical canvas? Not for the first time, I wondered what the Votadini had called themselves. Note to self to visit the exhibition on the Traprain Hoard while it is in Haddington.
Looking back over the Cheviots I could still see Scotland, but as I headed away from Yeavering Bell, the views homeward disappeared for the last time. We passed the smallest signpost I've ever seen (Hamish next to it for scale):
and, with Tom Tallon's Crag to our left, reached the open moorland which stretched ahead between us and Wooler. We headed for a small plantation and some cattle glared at us and then we were at the top end of The Trows. In all my staring at the map that morning, worrying about hills, I hadn't appreciated that this might be boggy. And it was.
I stepped from tussock to tussock - I haven't had to make my way across a bog for a long time but perhaps the technique never leaves you. About a third of the way across it seemed that this bog was a metaphor for a journey through life, especially a life edged with depression and anxiety. The really tough bits make it hard to raise your head up and see where you are going; you remain close-focused in fear each step will let you fall. I was going to end up as submerged as Carver Doone.
Every tussock of grass successfully reached is a major achievement, and it's tempting to just stay where you are perched. Lightness of step and quickness of movement are key to success but that's not always possible when you are weighed down. Sometimes when you look ahead it seems you haven't really achieved much.
Making the effort to look up, I saw that Hamish had had enough of all the floundering about and skipped across to the side of the bog, where a raised bank allowed a dry-footed if precarious route around the side of the bog. Yep - enough floundering for me too. I followed the dog.
As we left the bog behind, the views opened up to the south and I decided to have a cup of tea as a reward for the successful passage through the Slough of Carver Doone:
My foot had started to hurt quite badly and I stripped down to bare skin and re-socked. It does help - for a while - but this walk seemed to be a slow one and I couldn't really work out how much longer it would take. The path itself now was not hard at all - well trodden and part of a wider network I thought.
I looked across to the east and saw two of the points I would reach the next day: The woods containing St Cuthbert's Cave, and the collection of woods above Fenwick. The path ahead was a joy to look at:
... grassy and smooth....
and walking along it was like being back in the Lammermuirs. Green, brown, big views, skylarks and grouse muttering away in the longer patches of heather. I could see Wooler down below and ahead.
The earworm kept me going for a while (thanks Michael) and a striking rock formation came into view - running alongside the top of Humbleton Hill. Another fort. More signs of early living at the edge of these hills.
I spent a while lost in thought and worry. It was now a good bit after 5 and I really did need the chemist for more Compeed plasters. I hoped it closed at half-past. And I spent a while lost in thoughts of my aching foot which caused me to miss the next important Way marker.
I found myself on a beautifully sheltered old green lane where I could let Hamish run on ahead a bit and hobbled along. I heard Hamish barking out of view ahead and found him greeting a fell-runner, the first person we had seen all day. Soon we reached a noticebaord about the people who had lived on Humbleton Hill and came to a junction with a road at a very pretty hamlet indeed. Not where I was supposed to be.
I dug out the phone and hoped the GPS might correct itself in a few seconds but I was Off The Way and in Humbleton. It was a stunning wee place, but it meant I had further to go and it would take more time. A very nice local pointed me to a shortcut across a field.
One thing about England is that the countryside bristles with little footpaths, stiles and wooden signs. It's a real surprise. But then, what you gain in added signage you lose in general rights of access across most countryside and inland water.
We walked past a caravan park and out onto a road into Wooler reaching a deserted main street. The chemist had its lights on and I tapped on the door making some general are you open? gesture and then a can I bring my dog in? one. Yes to both. Open until 6pm folks.
I resisted the temptation to buy All the Compeed and bought a pack of large and a pack of mixed. And some shocking pink nail varnish for my toes which might be on display if I had to take my boots off on Friday. I liked the glittery green but thought it might all look a bit fungal. The pinker the better in this case.
I passed a couple of bars with men hanging around outside smoking and then found another - the Number 1 Hotel and Wine Lounge. It looked a bit well-to-do but I breezily hirpled in and spent five minutes (maybe more) selecting a gin. The staff were lovely - despite the fact that a scruffy oik and dog had just limped in they brought a huge gin for me and a bowl of water for Hamish (and made a fuss of him too).
I phoned R to come and collect me - she'd been worried about where I was - and then realised I couldn't even remember the name of the gin. I was shattered. I left the pub (which I would definitely recommend - the pub, not the leaving of it) and headed up to the Co-op to meet R. A group of teenage girls were occupying the bench outside the Co-op and I squeezed in.
They soon moved off and I enjoyed the view. Two men headed towards me under a copse of cherry trees and a whirl of breeze had them showered in cherry blossom as if for a newly wed couple. They realised and laughed. The late sun made Wooler look glorious and I could see where i needed to go tomorrow.
Kirk Yetholm to Southernknowe:
Earworm of the day: Life of Riley by The Lightning Seeds, Bonaparte's Retreat (trad)
I didn't sleep well - never do when away from home. I had to let Hamish dog out at one point in the night, and then I was worried I would oversleep despite the alarm on my phone. I'd actually set two alarms. I took H for his morning necessaries and he had a quick run, before we headed back for a truly fantastic breakfast. Granola, yoghurt, fruit, and scrambled eggs on toast. Lots of tea.
There was another guest and she was with a large group of women who were also Way walkers, but they were all staying next door. She had been driving, and walking parts of the route. They sounded very fit, covering lots of miles each day, and she said some slower members from the year before had been 'left behind' this year. Crikey - what would they think of me and my strolling? I was starting to get a bit fed up of super-fit people - just jealousy you understand - it was hard enough seeing photos on Facebook where people describe a 'wee wander' up exhausting peaks. I would be dragging my overweight, and unfit body slowly and methodically along this walk and trying to enjoy what I saw and where I was. It's the only way i can do it. Perhaps I could subtitle my blog 'Fat Lass Takes A Long Walk'?
I calculated that they would overtake me in a couple of days as I would be pootling about in the Cheviots while they caught up. By pootling I mean sitting around drinking tea and wine. She said there was a couple doing the route. I hadn't seen any other Way pilgrims so far, and I kind of liked it, that way.
After breakfast, I tried packing my rucksack. This was the first time so far that I would have to carry everything I needed including dog food and dog bedding. The pack was heavy, yes but once it was on my shoulders - and definitely once the waist straps were fastened it wasn't too bad. And do you know what? It made me feel like the real deal.
I said a 'good luck with the move' to the B&B owners and headed out into the heat.
Kirk Yetholm is a pretty village indeed, and has had long association with the gypsies, including an old Gypsy Palace; now a holiday home. I wondered what Queen Esther would have made of that.
I also stopped to chat to another gardener who offered me a clump of flowering plant to take away with me - I loved the vivid, jumpy acid green of it, but had to admit it might die before I got home.
The village is also of course where the Pennine Way ends, and St Cuthbert's Way would be on part of that route today. Felt like Proper Walking. Me! On The Pennine Way! It was unlikely someone would mistake me for a Pennine Way-ist but one could hope.
I was tempted to hang around for a bit. I knew I had a shortish day's walking ahead but wasn't sure how I would cope with the general hilliness of it. So I decided to push on and do any resting and loafing about at the top of the Cheviots.
The Ways take you uphill out of Kirk Yetholm and H wasn't happy. He kept trying to pull us back to the village as if to remind me that we had last seen P there. We've lost dad! You've left him behind in that village! We have to go back! We hugged the shade and I hauled him up the hill. It is supposed to be the other way round, but the hill wasn't too bad, and the views along the Bowmont Valley to the east opened up as we climbed past paddocks of fat ponies.
We headed down to the car park at the start of the hill-walk. We'd visited here a couple of weeks prior, to scope out a bit of the Way that I was nervous about. Here was the same farmer, revving his same quad bike round the field of ewes and lambs, shouting at his dogs. Perhaps he had to shout every day? After that though, things were beautifully quiet and empty.
The way ahead looked perfect:
So. This was it. Off into the hills alone.
The path was narrow, and hot and I stopped to dig out the sunhat and then again to take off and re-lace my boots. We were both going to need a lot of water today. A car appeared in the car park below with two bouncing collies.
I passed the high point of our previous walk and kept going slowly. The one man and his dogs overtook me and bounded on ahead. No pack. Amateur, right?
Eventually St Cuthbert's Way headed off to the left towards Hethpool and I kept following the Pennine Way.
Finally reached what I had thought was the ridge, but it wasn't. A cruel deception but so so beautiful ahead where the land dipped then swooped steeply to another ridge. More climbing was to come. Eventually the border fence appeared from our left and we followed it, down and then up to White Law.
It's not much of a border fence to be fair; a run of post and wire fence with occasional gates in it. And although it says Please Close The Gate, you can take that to read Please Come Through (and Close the Gate).
We followed the fence down again then a long and very slow walk up Steer Rig. This was the ridge and I absolutely loved it. There is something so exhilarating about being on top like this - with even a slight breeze to cool things down. It was a landscape I wanted to absorb myself in - be part of - rounded and warm and high and silent. We found a spot on the Scottish side of the fence, ate some early lunch and H fell asleep immediately.
Here was a solid geological border, overlain with a flimsy political one. The Cheviots were evidence of the fact that Scotland and England had once been two separate landmasses of continents, crossing a wide ocean to collide around 400 million years ago. The resulting volcanoes had been weathered and rounded. Geology is brilliant and I love the way it can explain so many things from international geo-politics down to the voting patterns of East Lothian.
I wondered if England was still being subducted under Scotland somewhere below my feet.
I spend a lot of time immersed in Scottish politics, and - as well as being that visible edge of the world as viewed from the Lammermuirs - the Cheviots - and this fence - were a border between two very different worlds.
It could be easy to view 'Here' as Us (even including me, now) and 'There' as Them. Here as Land Reform and Access Rights and Responsibilities; There as Private Property Keep Out No Camping. Here as inclusion and Remain; There as scared, enraged, spittle-flecked Brexityness.
On top of that, all those centuries of fighting, kings and queens killing each other until they ran out of heirs, and then smoothing the way to political union and rewarding the subsequently rich and further-titled, whose grand houses and grounds we had been marshalled round the edges of in recent days.
Of course, the reality begs to differ. In Kirk Yetholm as we sat out side the pub, there had been a real sense of people living lives which were neither definitely Here or There, but border lives. Flowing between political entities and across geological continents to socialise, shop and make homes.
I messaged P who was stuck in a meeting in Edinburgh. Collie guy dashed back past me heading down the hill. Time to move on.
I had left the St Cuthbert's Way a while back, and I was staying with a friend at Southernknowe, further up the College Valley and at the foot of The Cheviot itself. I left the Pennine Way (it had felt rather good) and dropped down towards Mounthooly; a walk which was utterly steep, battered my knees and hip and left me hobbling on my blistered foot. Hard to feel at one with the world around you when every step hurts.
A stretch of road walking brought me down to this wonderful memorial, the Cheviot Memorial, set inside a drystone sheep stell.
It seemed that the Cheviots had claimed more than a small number of casualties during the second world war, and the tablet commemorated each plane (British, US and German) and each individual life lost. It was very moving. The bench is dedicated to the shepherd and his dog Sheila who located many survivors of one crash. And a more recent crash had happened in 1988.
I sat for a while and rested my feet, then heading to Southernknowe in the hope of a cup of tea, or a gin, where I could just soak up the views of where I had been.