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.
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.