St Cuthbert's Way - Day Six
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.
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