The Pennine Way

Walked in August - September 2007

Day 11 – Tuesday 4th September

Winshields (Once Brewed) - Bellingham
Pennine Way Distance: 15 miles. Cumulative: 215 miles

It was a cold morning, and noisy too. Sheep were bleating like mad in the field over the road making we wonder if someone had released wolves into their enclosure, and the crows in the trees next to us were joining in the cacophony to avoid feeling left out. Because we’d missed a decent meal last night, we were keen to get a proper breakfast inside us, so after dressing we wandered over to the farmhouse where Tom said we’d be able to buy food. Thankfully the farmer’s wife was around so we knocked on the back door and asked for two egg and bacon baps for breakfast, and two bacon baps to eat on the walk. I also bought two chocolate bars, and would have bought more if there had been any left. We took our grub back to our tents, feeling a little guilty as we passed the other hungry campers, worried that we’d monopolised the farmer’s wife and her stove.

Tom was up and frying eggs as we sat and ate our breakfast. He shared some of it with us, and smiled when he saw his friend the robin return to say good morning. After eating we packed everything away and got going, saying goodbye to Tom and the robin and looking up at what appeared to be a promisingly clear sky. To rejoin the way, we walked back to the road, turned right, then walked parallel to the farm, back up to Hadrian’s Wall. The climb was refreshingly short, though the blisters were ensuring that we didn’t have too good a time of things.

Winshields Farm (campsite is on the other side next to the road)
Winshields Farm (campsite is on the other side next to the road)

There were also plenty of ups and downs again, aggravating my pulled muscle and blisters, and making both of us pray for a release from the wall and a return to flatter ground. I’d heavily padded the huge blister on my right foot, a big mistake, but at the time it seemed the only thing to do. It felt like a shard of glass had been pushed into the base of my big toe, and it screamed bloody murder every time I took a step.

The Whin Sill really is a remarkable feature, made more impressive when you add the remains of the great wall. It’s like a rippling, bony spine, stretching out into the distance and curving around from right to left. We tried to imagine what it would have looked like when the wall was at its full height. It’s hard to believe that anyone in their right mind would have attempted to scale it, as it would have been immense, fearsome and near impossible to climb. And that’s not factoring in the inevitably angry and battle-ready Romans waiting for you on the other side.

Hotbank Crags
Hotbank Crags

Despite the respect we had for the wall, we were ecstatic to finally turn off just past Hotbank Crags. We’d rested a couple of times before this point to ease the strain on our feet, but were looking forward to a bigger rest somewhere off the wall, perhaps in Wark Forest, which would be the first proper forest of the trip.

Once down a short slope and over a stile, we were heading over marshy ground and the heather-ridden Ridley Common. The path was becoming a little hard to follow, so we just pointed ourselves in the direction of the vast forest looming ahead of us. While walking along the wall we’d seen a couple of military helicopters flying around, presumably on routine exercises, and as we approached Wark Forest a jet flew over, surprisingly low.

We reached the forest and entered its cool embrace, refreshing after the warm, mid-morning sun. It was quiet inside and there didn’t seem to be anyone else around. We glanced into the gloom of the trees as we walked through, looking for animals of any kind, but seeing none. Passing through this first section of the forest, we soon came to Haughton Common, a wide expanse of moorland which is unusually peaceful and still, save for the odd jet flying over. We passed a single copse of trees towards the far end of the common which was like a tiny oasis, and looked like the perfect spot to take a break, but we fancied continuing on into the next section of forest before stopping.

Once into the trees again we found a nice spot by the path to stop and rest our feet. While Darryl found somewhere to take a toilet break, I got the bacon sandwiches out and had a drink of water. On my own, briefly, I began to appreciate the peace and comfort of being out in the wild with none of the stresses of everyday life and no one to answer to, nowhere to rush off to. When Darryl returned we ate and were beginning to pack up when we heard footsteps back along the trail. Someone, a lone walker by the sound of it, was approaching at a fair old pace. Seconds later we were surprised to see a face we recognised.

Magnus looked happy as he marched along the trail, looking up and stopping when he heard us ahead. We said hello and asked what he’d been up to since we’d last seen him on top of Green Fell. He told us he’d stayed at Garrigill that night, then pressed on all the way to the Once Brewed Youth Hostel the day after. He’d only set out a couple of hours earlier, some time after us, stopping at the National Park Visitor’s Centre where he’d stood at the back of a room full of elderly people, eating an iced lolly and watching the information video on Hadrian’s Wall and the Roman remains. As the three of us set off again along the path, Magnus told us that he was a tree surgeon and had taken a year off to think about a new career and to walk from Land’s End to John O’ Groats for charity. He said he enjoyed being on the road on his own, and that the whole experience so far had been incredible. When he began his walk he’d only managed three weeks before his blisters had started causing him serious problems. The owner of a Bed and Breakfast he’d been staying at used to be a nurse and she strongly suggested he stop or his feet would only get worse, so he’d taken a break from the walk and had continued when his feet had healed. His confidence and positive demeanour were infectious. It was obvious he was used to solo-walking, but he seemed genuinely interested in what we were doing and was glad to have some company.

We passed a couple of charming farms, wishing there had been orchards so that we could have done a bit of scrumping. Magnus said he had scrumped like a trooper from Land’s End, taking any opportunity for extra sustenance when it presented itself. There were no apples here though, and our water supply was dwindling too, the heat making us extra thirsty, and the beer we’d had the night before contributing to our dehydration. We walked on, and our water did in fact run out, but we were too polite to ask Magnus for some, especially as he too was probably running low. He told us he had taken water from sheep troughs on a couple of occasions. He said they were designed to refill the trough with fresh water when the level dropped, so by moving the stop-cock you could get some fresh water out, provided you didn’t get attacked by angry sheep in the process. We passed a few more farms and houses, some of which looked beautiful in their surroundings, scanning each field we passed through for a sheep trough or apple tree, but finding neither. Darryl had trouble keeping up with Magnus and I for a lot of the way because although he’d popped and covered all his blisters, his little toes were growing more and more swollen, cold and off-colour due, he thought, to his toes pushing to the end of his trainers on the steep downhill sections. We kept our pace steady so Darryl didn’t have to hurt himself to keep up. I felt guilty for moaning about just one blister, even though it was a monster.

Magnus was keen to push on, so he said he’d maybe meet us in Bellingham for a drink later on if we could find the guesthouse he was staying at, then quickened his pace while we stopped for a breather and watched him disappear around a bend. I had one last polo mint left that I’d found in the deep, dark recesses of one of my jacket pockets. I found the idea of breaking it two and sharing it an act of depressing despair, so I just put it in my mouth and hoped Darryl wouldn’t hold it against me. It was disheartening when he told me there were still three or four miles to go to Bellingham, especially considering how dry my mouth was, but the only way to get there and find water was to keep walking, so we pressed on, heading down a hill, across a footbridge over a brook and on up more fields and roads until, tired and thirsty we stood on the verge of a hill (and collapse), looking down to the town of Bellingham, no more that a quarter of a mile away.

We staggered down like soldiers returning injured from a war, panting, trying to suck moisture from the air, eventually reaching a road which we followed all the way to the Bellingham Camping and Caravanning Club. What an immense, joyous relief it was to find that place, and what a great place it was. The shower block we saw on the way to the office was huge, and we saw there were also facilities for washing and drying our clothes. It was about five o’clock, so we booked in, bought orange juice, water and lots of other goodies, then pitched our tents in a copse of trees at the far end of the site. While at the office one of the owners of the site told us that the next day’s walk to Byrness would be over some pretty boggy ground. So more good news then.

Best campsite so far at Bellingham (pronounced Bellin-Jum)
Best campsite so far at Bellingham (pronounced Bellin-Jum)

We seemed to be the only campers, as everywhere we looked were caravans or motor-homes. It was a lovely area and a lot warmer than Winshields had been the night before, debunking my theory that the weather would grow colder the further North we went. We dumped a load of clothes in one of the washing machines, then headed into the town to buy some more food and find somewhere to get a good meal. It was a fair old walk down the road, over the bridge and along the main road into the town of Bellingham, but our eyes lit up when we saw the Co-op. We decided to pop into the Rose and Crown Pub nearby first, to have a couple of drinks and a meal, before returning to do some shopping on our way back to the campsite.

As it was a Tuesday, The Rose and Crown wasn’t very busy, so Darryl had a beer and I had a pint of cider (something I’d been craving for the last few hours after my intense thirst and the many references to apples). We sat down at a table near a window and just chatted about the walk, particularly the last two days left ahead of us. The next day would be another fairly short one and hopefully easier since there didn’t seem to be any considerable climbing involved. We hoped our feet would be in good enough condition to tackle the final twenty-six mile day from Byrness to Kirk Yetholm straight across the Cheviots. Not wanting to dwell on this potential ordeal too much, we picked up a menu and ordered some food. I chose a huge chicken curry while Darryl went for Chilli Con Carne. I was surprised, yet strangely impressed to find Broccoli in the curry when it came. The meal was delicious and filling, and when we’d finished we ordered two more drinks and even had a couple of games of pool before leaving to re-visit the Co-op and stock up on groceries including more malt loaf, biscuits, bread and mineral water.

We took a leisurely stroll back to the campsite, seeing an alarming amount of crows in one tree making a horrendous racket right next to a small row of semi-detached houses. Maybe they’d followed us from Winshields. We sauntered into the campsite as it started to get dark, retrieving our clothes from the washing machine and bundling them into the drier. Once we ourselves were washed and had retrieved the dried clothes and got ourselves ready for bed, we climbed gratefully into sleeping bags, but not quite before I took a hilarious photograph of Darryl emerging from his tent to ask where the liquorice allsorts were (I think).

‘Sorry bro, did the flash surprise you? They’re in your right hand by the way.’
‘Sorry bro, did the flash surprise you? They’re in your right hand by the way.’

It was the perfect temperature inside my tent, and it was peaceful at the campsite. As I lay in my bag I couldn’t help but wonder what the last two days would bring, and how we would feel when we finally reached the Border Inn at Kirk Yetholm, journey’s end.

 

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