Sometimes the urge to get away for a few days on the hill is like a continuous itch that refuses to go away. Cash wise it was hardly practical. Fitness wise probably I would be pushing things a tad?. However, the possibility of further surgery gave the need for a trip away a sense of urgency. Trouble too with a greedy, obstreperous, money grabbing internet server was getting to me as well. Their perfidious actions have left me angry and agitated. A few days afoot hopefully would help preserve what little sanity I may have?
A search of the long term weather forecast indicated mixed conditions; some sunshine and showers, more prolonged heavy rain, high winds and low visibility on the hills. Quite normal for the area and time of the year really! Ah well, am carrying my winter sleeping bag, a book and a good supply of tea bags.
It was a a bit of a prolonged journey up; London to Leeds Leeds to Carlisle and from there on to Haltwhistle. Arrived in Haltwhistle early afternoon; there was a quick dash in to a shop for a soft drink and bar of chocolate for lunch.The trail was easy enough to find. It is the old railway bed that ran down to Alston. It has been described as boring, personally I would not go that far. It is one of those trails though that you can switch off and just bimble along, brain in neutral and your mind taking flights of fancy wheresoever it pleases you. The day was fairly mild and dry and I was content to just coast along.
After careful checking of the map, it was obvious wild camping in this area would not be easy. However, I had a couple of places in mind. my second choice turned out to be alright for a stealthy camp, close to a stream and on the edge of a wood. (OS map OL43 GR677556) It was just about last light when I stopped and I was discreetly tucked away
Overnight camp OS map OL31. GR674413.
Night noises in the woods, the bark of the dog fox, the scream of the vixen. Owls close by, the snort of roe deer; rustling in the leaf litter. Natural sounds and I am comfortable with them. The stream just behind me chuckles and gurgles, a splashing, tumbling baby riveret. The early morning calm and still, the tent has been left wide open overnight and in the first stirrings of the day the kettle is on. Tea brewed and I am content to savour the moment. Too soon though I must be on the move and by nine I am packed up and on my way.Once more it is easy walking. The track has been hard surfaced all the way to Slaggyford. Oddly, just beyond Slaggyford there is a very overgrown boggy stretch. That though is only a small section and it is not long before I am walking along side the narrow gauge railway that runs up from Alston. It is being extended another couple of miles and a diesel engine was bringing up equipment and workmen for another day's work.
Coming in to Alston I suffered a mental aberration and found myself sitting in a cafe with a plate of egg and chips and a pot of tea in front of me. Very enjoyable it was too and needed. Somewhere I had read that the distance from Haltwhistle to Alston via the track was fifteen miles. A guy in the cafe though had cycled it a few times and he said it measured nearer eighteen miles. Leaving town I was well aware that the day's easy walking was over. There was some uphill work ahead. Making my way up past 'The Raise', on to Nether Park. A track continued onward and up, following the contours of the hill. A study of the map indicated the possibility of another track leading of the one I was following. Sure enough, it was there. My hope was that I may find the footpath marked on the map, shown as part of the Maiden Way. Also, I was on the lookout for a possible camp spot. It was not to be, all I found was bog and all pervading wetness. To follow the general direction the foot path went would have involved some serious bog hopping, mucky and time consuming. It meant backtracking down to the original track way. Down to the main road, the A686. A dogleg detour at leadgate gill to cut out a small bit of main road.Eventually though I had to join it by little Dow hill. By now I was getting tired and cars whizzing close to my left ear as I clung to a very narrow grass verge made me a tad grumpy.It was on a a straight stretch that I saw a car speeding toward me hugging the verge.It was not his fault, another car was overtaking him at speed and leaving him nowhere to go.Unfortunately I too had nowhere to go and I could only flatten myself against the bank and hope for the best. The car missed me but oh my, it was close, too darned close for comfort.With my nerves somewhat rattled I pushed on at a quicker pace than was comfortable; anxious to be off this road as quickly as possible.Finally I found the turn off for the Maiden Way. The rapid yomp up the road had made my legs wobbly, like jelly. There was only one intention now and that was to find somewhere to camp. A drop down to the river and after a bit of faffing and casting around, the tent is up. A rising wind is chivying the tent but it is well pegged down. My fitness levels are awful and I am tired this evening. It is bliss to just lay back and sip at a mug of tea. The day has been quite mild but the evening temperatures drop quite rapidly.
Saturday. Camped OS Map OL31 GR 657372
The wind continued all night, a steady westerly.Nipping out in the early hours it was obvious the weather was on the change. Brewing up at first light I noticed the build up of banks of dark clouds scudding along driven before the wind. Not being in a hurry, I was taking my time in packing up. Just as I was lacing up my boots and noting the stiffness in my thighs, I heard engines close by. Horrors, there was a convoy of four wheel drive vehicles coming down the track from the road.They all stopped a short distance away as a quad was unloaded from a trailer. Lots of cheery chatter drifted across to me as I studiously pretended I was not there.Three of the off roaders forded the rivers; it was obviously a a group of guns out on a Saturday shoot somewhere on the moor. A friendly toot of the horn and a wave as they drove past. Amazing, I was quite expecting someone to come striding across and give me a ticking off for camping. The guy driving the quad also gave me a wave and yelled 'good morning' as he followed the vehicles up the track.Well, I was quite taken aback! Fantasmagorical, decent folk for a change!The first part of the track is all hard packed and obviously driveable. As it ascends the track veers off to the left and the MaidenWay continues onward and upward. It proved to be wet and boggy, also, possibly because I was tired and feeling the pace, it seemed a long plod up the hill. Soon I had to stop and hustle in to wet weather gear.Things where deteriorating rapidly. As I ascended so the cloud base was descending to meet me. Tendrils of rain sodden cloud swirled around me and the wind was on the rise, Coming up to the large cairn on the shoulder of the hill a large gust almost threw me off balance. The rain was now head on. My plan of using the dry stone wall as a hand rail, following it over Brown hill and around was scrapped. Noticing a patch of ground by the dry stone wall that looked sort of tent sized and offering a potential spot for the tent; decided me. Ok, it would be a fairly high camp, but the wall offered some protection from the rising gale. Bliss, tent up, wet gear hanging in the porch, a pot of tea, cosy sleeping bag and a book to read; contentment! By the late afternoon the wind was a steady roar, rain beat a relentless staccato tattoo on the taut fly which thrummed in the maelstrom.
Sunday, same spot.The storm eased overnight but looking out of the tent early, the morning was dreich, dank dripping, grayness was all that could be seen. It was an easy call and a day off was decided upon. Decision made, I did what most hill walkers would do, put the kettle on, have a brew and snuggle down in the sleeping bag. By late morning the weather had eased and there was even some visibility. Went for a stroll and pottered over toward Brown Hill. What intrigued me where the proliferation of cairns that where dotted all over the place. Not the ordinary pile of stones randomly piled up. Some of these cairn had been carefully constructed by someone who was familiar with the fine art of dry stone walling.Possibly they where a form of boundary markers? It is easy to think of these moorland places as empty and a wee bit isolated; however they have long been a working area. Old sheepfolds bear witness to the hill farmers who worked these high places. Industry too has been part of this environment. The remains of old quarries, mine workings and shafts are scattered far and wide. It begs the question of how men worked in these places? Little remains today, but it is obvious the work must have been extremely hard and dangerous. Once again the weather was closing in as the wind began to rise, dark clouds filled the horizon and tendrils of mist, like tattered lace curtains, began to swirl around me.
Monday. Another storm bringing a wet and windy night. Looking out this morning, everything was wet and dripping, no visibility and although the wind had eased it was still blustery.A little mind worm had been niggling at me, was it back the clocks where meant to go or forward? My watch had been put back and hour and I was certain this was right but there was a slight doubt! A cold, shivery strip wash in the tent and I was soon packing up and ready to get moving. With no visibility and thick wet cloud enveloping the hill, care and concentration where needed as I descended. Oh my though, the hill was running with water and conditions underfoot where greasy and I was slip sliding around like a skittish drunken ballerina trying to tap dance on ice! Odd as it may seem, despite the given conditions, there was something exhilarating about it all. Mad, utterly away with the fairies, I know, but still? Coming down out of the murk conditions where less wild, a spot of drizzly rain but nothing to worry about. Mind, trying to negotiate a footpath near Kirland had me muttering under my breath a tad. Cattle had poached the ground in to a quagmire. Some of it was just wet and sloppy stuff, a distinctive red colour. Some of the mud though was of a paler hue and had the consistency of well made, cold congealed porridge. In places I sank in deep and had to struggle a bit to get myself out. By the time I got across the field my over trousers where well slathered in mud. That cured me of any idea of trying any more footpaths. Road walking was now the order of the day.A signpost indicated Appleby was twelve miles away. A tidy step and a steady pace would be needed. The alternative that I had noticed on the map was Langwathby at six miles distance. That was the easiest option and that was the direction I would head for. Walking in waterproofs is never a favourite of mine and I was glad to get out of them. At this lower level the weather was not bad, a bit of drizzle, the odd spot of rain but nothing to worrage about. Fortunately the roads where quiet and I was able to shuffle along at a steady amble. As road walking goes it was not an unpleasant walk out and I arrived at the railway station in plenty of time for the train. Overall, to put it in the broad Scots vernacular, 'It wasnae a bad wee daunder!'