St Cuthbert's Way - Day Four
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.
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