The Pennine Way

Walked in August - September 2007

Day 12 – Wednesday 5th September

Bellingham - Byrness
Pennine Way Distance: 16 miles. Cumulative: 231 miles

We woke to a warm morning. It was about a quarter to seven when I poked my head out of the tent and looked around. The Sun was already bright, and the colours of the landscape around us were growing more and more vibrant and vivid. Last night, even walking to the shower block and back had been agony, but this morning my feet felt slightly better and I gave my blister a lighter dressing hoping his would alleviate more pressure. We managed to get ready to leave the campsite at seven, and took a steady walk into the town where Darryl bought a newspaper and a couple of coffees, and I bought a flapjack and treacle tart for our breaks later on. As we stood outside the shop sipping our coffees, a large group of noisy schoolchildren boarded a coach. It was a reminder of normality, that life was still going on without us, and again I think we felt a little like outsiders, interlopers, intruding on a society where we didn’t belong. We watched the coach go and turned to walk first down a hill, then up a steeper one. As we walked a young man doing some building work on a house made a remark concerning the attractiveness (or rather lack of) of the female folk in Byrness. We weren’t sure what to say so we just laughed and nodded. Did he think we were going to Byrness looking for women with those huge packs on our backs? Surely it was obvious that we were walking rather than on the pull. Besides, I don’t think either of us would have had the energy.

We climbed White Hill to Blakelaw, finding a farmer who waved at us and assured us that his barking dog wasn’t going to savage us horribly. We waved back and passed through the farmyard and straight up a grassy hillside. Although the ground wasn’t much softer than the day before, the going felt easier, probably because we had nothing like the Whin Sill to contend with first thing in the morning. We kept our heads down and pushed on all the way to Padon Hill, where we stopped near the prominent Pennine Way signpost to ‘use the facilities’ and take a break.

As we were enjoying our rest, a figure appeared in the distance, heading toward us from the direction we’d just come. We had a feeling we already knew who it was, and sure enough as the figure got closer and closer we recognized our new friend Magnus. Again he’d started out later than us, but because he didn’t hang around he’d managed to catch up. He stopped to talk for while then we all pressed on, getting very close now to the Kielder forest, which is actually a man-made plantation, not difficult to guess since the trees are unnaturally uniform in their arrangement. The route kept to the right of the forest and after we’d dropped down to just below Brownrigg Head, we found we had a rather steep hill to climb, and a particularly boggy one too. We all had a bit of a struggle getting up it. Our boots would sometimes stick in the thick mud, and midges and flies were constantly buzzing around hoping we’d be stuck long enough for them to eat us alive. Magnus had obviously had a lot of practice at this, as he managed to get to the top of the hill long before us and continued on. When we finally got ourselves off the boggy slope we intended to take a quick rest to get our breath back, but because the flies were still angry with us for not standing still, we had to keep moving to get away from them. We followed the path as it gradually curved around to the left to meet the plantation, finding Magnus sitting on a grassy hump eating an orange halfway along, assuring us he’d catch up later.

We entered the forest proper at Rookengate, finding the path through it wide and firm underfoot. Although the forest wasn’t a natural feature, it was, like Wark Forest the day before, a nice change of scenery from the endless moor, marshes and fells of the first week or so of the walk.

Having a quiet break in the Kielder Forest
Having a quiet break in the Kielder Forest

After a mile or so we turned right off the main path and sat on a large log to have some lunch of bread, cheese and bananas. A few minutes later Magnus once again walked into view and came over to us to say goodbye for good. He had a much longer day than us. Instead of stopping at Byrness, he was continuing over part of the Cheviots, then walking down to the valley where he’d be met by a friend who was letting him stay the night. He would be taking a day off walking, so we wouldn’t see him again. We said goodbye and wished him the best of luck for the rest of his walk. He still had a long way to go that day. No wonder he wasn’t hanging around.

Once we were fit and ready to go, we strapped our packs back on and walked back to the trail, finding now that the path was sloping gradually downwards and offering sunkist views of the green pastures of Redesdale below. A couple were also walking through the forest and they, like Magnus would take turns with us to stop, then catch up and overtake. We never had a chance to talk to them but presumed they too were walking the Pennine Way. In some places we had to force our way past branches and bracken as we continued down the hill, but when we finally made it out of the plantation we were treated to even better, wider views, and the promise of another forest section ahead.

Just before we reached this new forest section, we heard the sound of hard objects hitting metal, followed by mooing and loud cries of ‘shut up!’ As we passed what appeared to be a farmyard on the left, we could see, some way down a muddy track, the sight of what must have been the farmer, hurtling stones toward a barn full of cows in an advanced state of frustration. Quite why he needed them be quiet I don’t know, but they weren’t cooperating, and him throwing things at them and shouting wasn’t helping. He was seriously in the wrong job.
Inside the forest again we stopped at a small picnic area and had another break. The couple who had passed us earlier were lying down on the grass not far away, also enjoying their surroundings. We sat at a picnic table, not far from a brook and watched birds hop about on the grass nearby. We only had a mile or two to go to Byrness and were taking our time now. We were off again soon though, and once through another section of forest, we crossed a small bridge and walked along a river for a mile or so, until we began to catch sight of buildings through the trees.

Byrness looks like a small suburb that someone has lifted from a city and transplanted into the wilderness. It’s just a few rows of semi-detached houses, a sewage works and a church, but it’s a charming, welcoming sight, especially if you’ve been walking most of the day to get there. Our youth hostel was one of these houses that had been converted, and we knocked on the door of the house next to it where the owners lived. The lady who ran the hostel with her husband showed us our room and the facilities. Once again we had a room all to ourselves, and although more people turned up later on, there seemed to be separate rooms for everybody. Downstairs, near the kitchen was an ‘Honesty Cupboard.’ This was full of all kinds of food and drink, like an over-stocked pantry. The idea was to take what you wanted, write down each item on a sheet and leave money for it all according to the price list. It was a terrific idea and made things so much easier for guests and staff alike… Provided everyone was honest obviously.

We had a nice cup of tea and a couple of snacks from the Honesty Cupboard, then read and wrote up notes for a while, just relaxing on our beds and enjoying the opportunity of a proper rest. Later on, I went down to make us some dinner, choosing a tin of boiled potatoes, some beans and corned beef from the cupboard. I was a bit bemused to find that the corned beef didn’t have one of those little keys on it, and proceeded to completely wreck the tin (and nearly my hands) in trying to get it open. Luckily a young woman and her mother came to the rescue with a Swiss Army Knife, and after taking another keyless tin from the cupboard, the three of us succeeded in getting to the precious meat. Darryl came downstairs and we both chatted to the pair who were out enjoying a weekend driving around the wilderness, and was a bit concerned when they said they had to go and find a petrol station so they could draw out some cash to pay for their room. I had no doubt that there was a garage somewhere nearby, but whether it had a cash-point was a completely different matter. I wished them luck though, and watched them leave as it started to get dark and the microwave beeped announcing the beans were cooked.
We ate our delicious dinner in the kitchen, then went back upstairs, looking forward to a good night’s sleep and the last day of the walk. We genuinely had mixed feelings. We wanted an end to all the walking as our feet and other parts of our bodies were suffering, but the adventure and exploration side of the trip was going to be a hard thing to ‘walk’ away from. The feeling of being in a proper bed, in a house, in a quiet community felt odd, but comforting, and somehow appropriate, as though we were being reintroduced to society in anticipation of the end of the walk. I took a couple of paracetamol and lay thinking, waiting for sleep, my tired body feeling like it was already switched off. 


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