Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Exploring the Hen Hole

kept busy with a few hospital appointments over the last few weeks, I really felt in need of  at least a few days away before another round of minor surgery. Initially I had a few grand ideas, a couple of days good walking. However, heading out from Wooler on the Thursday afternoon, I did not feel that energetic. It was warm and dry but with a strong, blustery wind. My original intention had been to press on toward Hethpool in the College valley and camp nearby. Throwing that plan out of the window, I stopped early. A block of forestry and a patch of ground out of the way of the wind near to Scaldhill. A lazy enough afternoon.

There where a couple of heavy showers early Friday morning which meant a late start. After a hesitant start it turned out be a nice day. However, it remained windy and that saw me abandoning another plan. The original intention had been to head up the College valley having a look at the Hen Hole on the way past. From there the intention was to proceed up to the refuge hut on the saddle and camp on the grassy area near to the shelter. Not such a good idea given the windy conditions. Instead I ambled up the valley and camped fairly high up. Another slack packing day, enjoyable though and I had spent time trying to photo the feral goats that wander the area.
Saturday was where I got a tad ambitious. Having abandoned plans A and B, I was now somewhere around plan C. The intention now was to leave the tent where it was and explore the depths of the Hen Hole. This is a geological feature apparently sculpted out by  glacial action some thousands of years ago. It is a huge gorge or narrow corrie biting deep in to the flank of the Cheviot. Narrow with towering crags, it certainly is impressive. From the mouth of the gorge the way in looks slightly daunting but impressive. A series of waterfalls tumble down over over rocky outcrops. There is some easy scrambling but with care there are no real difficulties.

Working my way up toward the final waterfall, the way ahead looked daunting, however, by keeping to the left a very easy scramble led up and over and in to the inner reaches of the corrie, the back of which opens out to a T shape, flanked all round by steep ground and high ridges.

The water here is low, in wet conditions things obviously would be a wee bit more exciting! More care would be needed too but well worth having a go.

At the top of the gorge I possibly made a mistake. Instead of bearing right and heading up toward the the Auchope cairns, I headed straight up the steep facing slope. That was hard going and it brought me out to some rough and broken ground. Fortunately, due to the recent dry weather, the ground was not too boggy. It was not easy going though as I picked my way over toward the Cheviot. A dark, low lying cloud  brushed the top. With it was a mizzly dampness. Not enough for waterproofs, just enough to make things damp. Turning tail I headed back over to the Auchope cairns and then on to the refuge hut.

A spot of lunch at the hut where I saw my first walkers for the last two days. It was surprising to see so few folk out.

It was a gentle stroll down the Red Cribbs. Apparently this used to be a regular route for the Border Reivers bringing their rustled cattle over the border. It was early when I arrived back at the tent. However, it had been an enjoyable day. Went for a bit of a potter. A lot of native tree planting round about. Early that evening I had visitors. A few snorts and snuffles alerted me, a small group of young bullocks had come wandering up the valley and where now standing in a semi circle staring in rapt fascination at the tent. Like naughty school boys, they jostled each other. Talking to them softly, I herded  them around the tent and took them a bit further up the valley. The one downside was that I was in my bare feet. Tramping through bracken and thistles was not fun!
Sunday morning saw a few showers passing through but it was exceptionally mild. It was now a case of heading back over to Wooler. By now I think I was on plan D? Took a wider sweep around by Coldburn and followed the Lambden burn up. Saw herons, kestrels and buzzards. Forestry extraction around by Coldscleugh had left some hideous scarring on the hillside. Beyond Coldscleugh I had a few map problems. What was on the ground and that which was depicted on the map did not correspond. A few blocks of forestry had been partially cleared and that acerbated the problem. Suspecting that a a section of track had recently been added to an existing one I cast about and found what I hoped was the footpath I wanted.
Crossing moorland that has a plethora of tracks, grouse butts and burnt sections of heather meant a close eye had to be kept on the map. Several burnt areas had even obliterated the path, tedious!
Fortunately I was on track and was glad to see that I was heading for Broadstruther. As I approached the small cottage/bothy I noticed a large group of folk sitting sitting out in the sunshine. A large generator was chugging in a small enclosure. A table was laden with food and drink. The folk where having quite an alfresco picnic. A gent glanced over at me, " Are you lost?" Trying hard not to eye up all the goodies on the table, I assured him I knew precisely where I was. Being polite I asked if this was their club hut. A chap, in a rather supercilious voice, looked me up and down, "oh no, this one of the properties my boss owns, I am allowed to use it whenever I want" Oh my, come the revolution I am going to have guys like him painting the curbstones from John O'Groats to Lands end!  Harbouring dark thoughts about  folks who never even considered offering a drink to a passing stranger, I pressed on. Something I found slightly incongruous was that this was the end of September and I was in a tee shirt and feeling quite warm in that.

Was in Wooler fairly early, somewhere around four thirty. Picked up a few bits of food for supper and headed up to the youth hostel. Just a few days out, not a lot done but pleasant. For some reason or another I have been feeling awfully tired, annoying!
Monday, sitting in the sunshine in Berwick waiting for the train, I was getting sunburned, most odd!

Monday, 1 September 2014

St Cuthberts Way

One of the problems I find in advancing years is maintaining a decent level of fitness. Minor surgery under general anaesthetic and the subsequent recovery period saw any fitness I had rapidly going down the plughole.
Despite some niggling doubts, I really wanted to give this long distance trail a go. It was one I had been looking at for a while. After the normal background research, things clicked up a gear. Dates and times where were worked out. Train tickets booked and a bed reserved in Berwick on Tweed Youth hostel.
Travelled up to Berwick on Tweed on the Saturday, (23rd August). From there it was by bus on to Melrose. Arriving, I felt a tad wobbly, a bit lightheaded, possibly my blood pressure was a bit high?
The campsite was quite expensive. Oddly, it seems there where two charges one for the tent pitch and one for the person using it. Explicit instructions on pitching, re, pitch central to designated marker. Mind there was a separated tent pitch area away from the caravans and motor homes. Foregoing much in the way of supper, it was an early night.
A heavy overnight dew saw a soaking tent come Sunday morning. Fortunately I carry a small pack towel specifically for wiping the tent down.

It was a dry but blustery morning with the wind coming in from the east. Away by around eight, I was soon heading out of town. This involved a steady climb up and over the Eildon Hills. An Irish chappy came puffing up the steep steps behind. He also was doing S.C.W. but travelling light, using B&B along the way. There was a temptation to do the two tops. It has been many years since I last visited. However, still not feeling a hundred per cent I felt it prudent to stick to the trail.

Some pleasant walking led on to the lovely village of Bowden. The only downside where areas that had been heavily used by horse riders, the ground had been churned to a  gloopy morass.
A short section of road walking on to Newtown St Boswells. Not a bad bit as road walking goes. Busy though, two horses one car and one cat!

At St Boswells I picked up a cheese sandwich and a soft drink for lunch.. Still not feeling right, I only managed half the sandwich. This was had alongside the local golf course. Quite a nice one, as golf courses go! The way on followed the river Tweed. Surprisingly the path undulated up and down sections of wooden stairs, some of them steeply climbing hillsides above the river.

All around was the sound of machinery as farmers worked to bring in the harvest. The thrumming hum of combine harvesters, the deep throated throbbing of tractors hurrying back and forth with trailer loads of grain. The bass drumbeat of bailers bailing straw.
Beyond Maxton and just before the A68 the way turns on to Deer Street, the old Roman road. There is nothing to see of it now.

The Scottish Borders are steeped in history. Much of it very bloody. At one time this was lawless bandit country. Lilliard's Stone is a small monument to a woman, who according to local legend, fought bravely in a battle on Ancrum Moor in 1545. according to the legend, after her lover was slain by the invading English, she took up his sword and set about the marauders, fighting on even after her legs had been cut from under her.
The way on was through rolling countryside along the edge of mature woodland with farmland and extensive fields on the other side. The Waterloo monument stood high on Peniel Haugh. One problem I was facing was water, or rather, the lack of it. Streams marked on the map turned out to be wet and boggy areas but lacking in actual water. By late afternoon I was tiring and needing to stop soon. Water finally found I opted for a spot on the edge of a wood, quietly out of the way. It was not that far from Ancrum and Harestanes visitor centre The day had been a long one, having been on the go for some ten hours.

With boots off aching feet and a mug of tea in my hand, I suddenly became aware of movement around me. Pheasants, hen pheasants, I was being surrounded by them, legions of birds eyeing me up. They have the most strange calls, somewhat like creaky, rusty machinery or clockwork toys. As dusk drew in suddenly a new sound shattered the evening. Howling, not dogs barking, this was a full on howling and by a pack of animals. Possibly the nearby estate had wolves? Certainly it was unusual to hear this type of howling, spooky! As the light faded the pheasants settled down to roost and did so with much commotion.
Owls took over the night shift. Three different types calling back and forward. Something disturbed the pheasants during the night causing an almighty commotion. A fox or just a pheasant having a bad dream?
By the early light of the breaking dawn, thick mist was swirling through the trees. There was promise of a good Monday in the air. The pheasants where once more on the move, scurrying every which way. Suddenly the howling started once more.  And then there where the wood pigeons, their cooing echoing through the wood. All very atmospheric.
The Woodside Gardens had signs out offering tea and bacon baps. Unfortunately they did not open until nine and I was not prepared to hang around for an another hour or so. Thus pushed on through mist enclosed woodland.

The way leads over Jedfoot bridge and then, leaving the valley, it starts to climb. The Way then turns on to a bridleway leading through woodland. With the mist thinning, glimpse of the valley below could be seen. The S.CW cuts across the grain of the land, this does involve a few steep drops down in to valleys and a subsequent climb back out. Good walking though.

Gradually the thick mist began to clear and wonderful views where to be had in all directions.

Coldhough Bank was especially steep in places. The reward though was well worth the effort. A ridgeline walk following a bridleway through a wood with mature trees and views out over the valley below. Splendid spots for a discreet wild camp. Water would have to be carried in though.
From Brownrigg the landscape gave way to high,  extensive upland fields. The majority given over to growing cereal crops. There was a chilly wind, scudding clouds and sunny periods. Buzzards where constant companions, their mewling cries  adding to the atmosphere of the walk.
Unfortunately from Cessford to Morebattle  it was a long, foot hurting trudge on tarmac. Not a pleasant piece of walking.

The village shop in In Morebattle was closed. Opening times now restricted to mornings only. From the sign on the door it was obvious the shop was struggling to stay in business. Needing to top up on fluids I went in to the pub. A bowl of soup and a toasted sandwich went down well. A couple bars of 'just in case' bars of chocolate added to the nibbles bag.

Another stretch of tarmac and then it was upward once more. A long slow plod up by Grubbit Law. Fantastic high level walking. The one snag was that by now I was tired. Lack of water drove me on. A strong wind buffeted me as I came over Wideopen Hill. Brilliant country, fine places to camp but alas no water was to be had. Finally I headed in to the campsite at Town Yetholm. It had been a cracking days walking but the miles where a tad too many. My balance and coordination where distinctly wobbly when I stopped. Two long days in a row, more than I have done for a while.

Tuesday had started off dry and overcast but was still fairly warm. The long pull out of Kirk Yetholm warmed things up. A drop down to the Halter Burn, cows and calves in profusion, spoke gently to them as I eased my way through. It was then a long slow uphill ascent, branching off and away from the Pennine Way. A signpost indicated the actual border and then it is a descent down through bracken and boggy sections to a forestry plantation.

Two ladies, also doing the Way, passed me. Both travelling light with day packs. They where making use of a luggage forwarding scheme. We where to pass each other a few times during the course of the day.
Unusually the path went through the dense forestry. It was dark and gloomy and very eased to get disorientated. One had to keep an eye open for the little yellow marker signs. Glad to get out of the plantation, I stopped for a quick break. A fox passed close by, heading across the field. It was a spot more of road walking down to Hethpool. Righted a sheep that was flat on its back, on the way.
The cottages at the tiny village look unusual. Apparently they where designed in the Arts and Crafts style in nineteen twenty six. Once past Torleehouse farm, things started to head uphill once more. Oh my, the rewards where worth the climb. This area really deserves a few days to explore. There are large hill forts, bronze age cairns and geographical features. It was fantastic walking across open, heather covered moorland. Beehives where dotted across the area and the air resonated with the industrious hum of bees.

Quite deliberately I was intending to head in to Wooler. Three long days on the go deserved a wee treat. There was a big smile on my face when, high on the moor, I could see the sea shimmering in the distance. Wooler hostel was my destination for the night. Fortunately it was not that busy. A nice shower and a quick wash of a few bits of clothes and settled down for a lazy evening.
Wednesday morning I was away a little later. There was not so much distance to cover. Heading out of town once more involved a steady climb up to  Weetwood Moor. Fantastic panoramic views all around.

Steady walking across the moor, it was not to be rushed, led to a descent to the Tilt Valley and Weetwood bridge.

From the bridge much of the walking would be on road and track. This was farming country, fields full of healthy looking beasts, rich fields of crops.

The two ladies caught up with me, as did the Irish guy. With folk bunching up a bit and forming a small group, I dropped back, anti social maybe! but I felt happier trundling along on my own. St Cuthbert's Cave was duly visited. It makes a grand houf? Mind, English Nature would not approve!.

A little prior knowledge came in handy just beyond where the Way joined the Northumberland Coast Path. There was a nature reserve with a large pond. It also had a hut and with it came an outside tap. Stream water maybe, but it was clean. Water collected, I searched around for a camp spot out of the way. A little grassy area on the edge of the forestry served the purpose well.. That put me around two and half miles from Fenwick, giving me somewhere in the region of nine miles to Lindisfarne in the morning. One problem over the last few days have been flies. Masses of them, stop for a moment and they would appear. Not harmful, but a bothersome nuisance.

It was raining Thursday morning but I needed to make an early start. It is not often one carries tide times on a backpacking trip. However I needed it for the Holy island crossing. Away by around six and despite the rain I made good time down to Fenwick. Crossing a field I put up a hare. My timing down to the island causeway was about spot on. The first cars where just starting to cross. Unfortunately the pilgrims route would have meant another hour before it was safe to cross. Having had some prior warning that things could get busy on the island I went for the road route.

What followed was a long foot slogging yomp to the village of Lindisfarne. Thankfully it had stopped raining and I was able to get out of waterproofs. The masses where already gathering, the coffee shops and tea rooms already doing a roaring trade. The place was heaving with folk. Crowds are something I find difficult to handle. Thus it was I picked up a few bits in the village shop, filled the water containers and fled. A pity, maybe in the winter months I shall return to explore the island more fully?

The long slog back was something I was not looking forward to. The pilgrims path across the mud was by now clear. It bothered me a tad though. My pack now had some three litres of fluid on board. It was heavy and I felt uncertain about chancing it. In the end I just gritted my teeth, put my head down and headed back over the causeway.
Wandered up the coast a short way in the direction of Goswick and camped in the dunes. A short day but it was good  to just sit back with a cuppa and have a read. Rain during the night but by Friday morning it was just damp. It looked as if I was on the edge of a weather system. As I packed up there where dark clouds in the distance and inland it appeared to be raining but I only got a touch of dampness.
An easy walk up to Berwick on Tweed. According to the guidebook, with the addition of Lindisfarne to Berwick the mileage comes out at seventy nine miles.

Two for Alan R.