We’re Now Certified Long Distance Hikers!
Yes, we’ve done it! We’ve officially walked 268 miles along the Pennines from England to Scotland! By our reckoning, our actual mileage is closer to 276 with the additional walking to and from campsites, but hey, what’s 8 miles when you get a certificate and free pint at the end! (Courtesy of The Border Hotel, a tradition started and funded by Alfred Wainwright himself).
We’ve braved the English weather (which has been far drier and sunnier than what we expected), beat the blisters (which were less than what we imagined) and have become accustomed to carrying our backpacks (which were far heavier than what we planned!)
Read on as we share the highs and lows of our last 3 days walking the Pennine Way!
Proud long distance hikers with our certificates and ‘free’ pint!
Day 22 – Bellingham to Byrness. (15.7 miles) – Tuesday 15th July 2014 – ‘Are We There Yet?’
Today seemed a long day but with handsome rewards once we reached Byrness. (More of that later). It wasn’t a quick get away from Bellingham as we had omelettes for breakfast and Wayne spent a while chatting to a fellow camper. Wayne found out the guy had spent a couple of years travelling around South America, so there began a mammoth swapping of travel tales. It’s amazing who you meet and the stories you hear along the trail.
With backpacks full to the brim with new goodies, we had one last task on the ‘to do’ list before waving goodbye to Bellingham. We needed to locate a shop that sold gas. Having no luck at the hardware store, we managed to find a canister with a screw top in the garage near to the campsite. The downside – it was the smallest size canister but the most expensive price we’ve paid for gas on the entire Pennine Way! Needs must however. We knew they’d be no other chance to re-supply before reaching the end at Kirk Yetholm.
Leaving Bellingham and getting back on the trail. But which way?
To take the alternative route or not?
Finally on our way, we made a big mistake by opting to take an ‘Alternative Pennine Way Path’. It was at a junction after crossing farmland. The traditional route seemed to veer uphill so we took the alternative as it appeared the better, flatter path. Unfortunately it led us straight into bog, so we had to proceed with wet feet for the remainder of the day. Not cool. We vowed never to be swayed by an ‘alternative’ path again!
Smiling through gritted teeth with wet feet after trudging through bog!
A quick breather as we tried to stay one step ahead of the rain.
After finally getting clear of the bog, the sun had disappeared, with the sky looking very overcast. We were both a bit fed up by now, our morale running low as we just wanted to get there. When, just as if a fairy godmother had appeared, we came upon a poster offering ‘free’ camping at the Forest View Inn. The catch – you had to purchase a two-course meal for £10. Well, hot home-cooked food versus something from a packet with added water. Hmm, it was a no brainer! The campsite fee we would have paid at our original destination would go towards our two courses and with our bellies full we were sure to sleep soundly. Perfect! I dialled the phone number, checked the offer was still available (the price had increased to £12, no big deal) and booked right away!
A clear path over the moors.
Just what we needed!
You’ve never seen two people’s moods change as rapidly as ours. Being so ravenous when hiking, food is a definite motivator. With the thought of a great meal ahead, we continued on with a very noticeable spring in our step!
The rest of our walk was through forest and up a ‘long’ stony road that made the ‘Old Cam Road’ back in the Yorkshire Dales seem positively short in comparison!
Not looking forward to the long road ahead.
More road and more forest leading to Byrness.
I’m sure this road should have been painted yellow!
We passed Border Forest Park Campsite before reaching Byrness. This is where we would have stayed if we’d not seen the poster advertising the Forest View Inn.
When we finally reached Byrness, we turned left at the church (as per instructions) and walked along a footpath to the inn which is situated in the main part of the village. It’s effectively three houses joined together, providing rooms for a Bed & Breakfast, with a huge conservatory on the back where walkers can mingle. It also has an enclosed garden at the back for campers with a separate washroom and drying room facilities. We couldn’t have hoped for anything better – it was just what we needed. The hospitality of the owners, Colin and Joyce, was also first-rate. Having arrived looking slightly weary, we were immediately welcomed and offered a hot drink and comfy seat.
We recommend the Forest View Inn as the best place to stay on the Pennine Way!
Pitching our tent in the enclosed rear garden. Remember camping is free if you buy an evening meal!
We met a lovely American lady staying there, as well as bumping into Andy and Ed, a father and son we had seen twice previously on the trail. There’s a great atmosphere about the place with hikers from all backgrounds, ages and continents mixing and sharing stories and experiences. After a quick shower we moved into ‘The Lounge’ where there’s a small bar with ‘real ales’. We each sampled a pint of the ‘Game Bird’ whilst relaxing on a sofa – a pure novelty after camping for the best part of a month!
The real highlight of the night however was the home-cooked food. We were invited into ‘The Dining Room’ around 7.30pm, to our own table complete with water jug and candle. It was lovely, but there was no time for etiquette as we proceeded to devour each course that was laid before us! Yes, we upgraded to 3 courses as we couldn’t resist adding a dessert too!
Goat’s cheese tart starter for myself, while Wayne opted for wild boar pate.
I couldn’t resist a bowl of jam crumble and custard for pudding!
With dinner done and dusted, we did a little more socialising, chatting with a couple of lads hiking the Pennine Way in the opposite direction to us. They wanted to pick our brains referring to us as ‘hardcore hikers’! The best advice we could give them is to make sure your backpack is fitted correctly, particularly having the belt strap fastened so that it is sitting on your hips to take the weight off your shoulders, something they were complaining about. We hope they listened as they still had a long way to go.
Then it was time to retire to the tent, satisfied that we were nearly at the end. Tomorrow we would be stepping into Scotland, with only one more night to go!
Day 23 – Byrness to 2nd Mountain Hut. (18 miles) – Wednesday 16th July 2014 – ‘The Hardest Day’
Little did we know when we set off around 7.30am that today was to be our hardest day hiking the Pennine Way. Not only did we have to contend with rain, but there was also a lot of elevation change which we weren’t expecting.
As we set off from Byrness, we found ourselves facing a mammoth uphill trudge through a forest of ferns. The good news was that we managed to avoid the rain all morning and set a good pace over the flat sections of the walk, reaching the first mountain hut by midday.
Steadily making our way uphill out of Byrness.
Wayne gets stuck in a forest of ferns!
A breather at the top…
The first information board we had found about the Pennine Way. We actually weren’t lucky enough to see any of the birds or animals it mentions!
Setting a good pace to reach the first mountain hut by lunch.
We took respite in the hut for an hour, eating our lunch and resting our feet in preparation for the next 9 miles. The hut was our halfway point for the day… So on to the next section.
Our first mountain hut of the day: Yearning Saddle, Lamb Hill.
As we walked higher the inevitable happened. The clouds came in and it started to rain. So out came full waterproofs, only for the third time since starting the Pennine Way back in June. ‘Windy Gyle’ was true to its name as it was blowing a gale down the valley which nearly knocked us off our feet! Despite the rain today, it was much drier across the Cheviots than what we expected. Having heard many horror stories about people getting stuck in bog up to their knees, we found the ground to be remarkably dry, with most of the trail now slabbed across the worst sections. We both wondered how boggy it would have been for the original ‘Pennine Wayers’ way back in 1965?!
A nice slabbed path marks the way. Wayne stood at the border fence separating England from Scotland.
Despite a rainy day, the ground was remarkably dry!
Happy there were no bog hazards here!
Another trig point ticked off!
As there was so much up and down which was hard on the knees, we decided not to make it even harder on ourselves by the addition of walking up the Cheviot peak. It’s an extra mile and a quarter off the Pennine Way route, plus the same to return to the trail. With such bad weather preventing any views from the top, we weren’t desperate to ‘bag another peak’. We’ll save that one for another time.
The option of hiking to the summit of the Cheviot, which we declined.
Enjoying the view as the clouds lift and the weather improves.
Another mountain, another cairn…
Continuing on to the second mountain hut.
The worst part of the day was reaching the point where we could see the second mountain hut on a hill to the left of us – but there was no direct route to it. It was torturous. We still had another two miles of steep ups and downs before we actually got there!
Later in the day – beautiful views across the Cheviots.
If you look carefully, the trail is there that leads to the tiny mountain hut on the hill.
Finally we arrived a little after 6pm as the sun appeared. Thinking we’d be the only guests for the night, we made ourselves at home and got to work on our feet. We’ve started a rigorous foot regime each night whereby we either bathe them (or use baby wipes if there isn’t access to water), dry them with baby powder, then revive them with a ‘cold rub gel’. It’s the opposite to ‘Deep Heat’, but when massaged into the feet it really gets rid of aches and pains. Bliss after a hard day’s walking.
We found a message left for us in the ‘Visitor Book’ from Andy, Ed and Helen (mum joining them for the last section), which made us feel quite special. If you’re reading this, thanks for your encouraging words! The mountain hut was definitely a welcome relief!
Reaching the second mountain hut – our home for the night!
Then we feasted on soup and super noodles for dinner – our final food rations. We were shattered from the days events so we settled down ready to sleep around 8.30pm when there was a sudden knock at the door! Another couple had reached the hut seeking refuge after walking 28 miles that day! We moved around to make space for them, then found they left at 4.30am. Now that really is hardcore!
Wayne measures out water in preparation for boiling super noodles!
Getting as snug as possible on a narrow wooden bench!
Day 24 – 2nd Mountain Hut to Kirk Yetholm. (7.5 miles) – Thursday 17th July 2014 – ‘268 Miles, Job Done!’
So we were back on our own for breakfast, which consisted of a cup of hot chocolate with half a Mars bar melted in it. Today was the day we’d finally cross into Scotland. We could see it yesterday, having walked alongside it for the best part of the day. But there was a fence creating a barrier the entire time. It seemed strange. The fence topped with barbed wire on some sections was either keeping the English out or not letting the Scots in! Whereas it was dull and miserable for us, it seemed much brighter on the Scottish side as the sun was trying to break through. (It made me think of the ‘Hunger Games’ as it seemed like there was a force-field at the border fence preventing us from stepping into this new place!)
Still on the English side, the fence and trail continue…
It’s a long way to Scotland!
Yipee! A stile letting us cross over the border at last. Only 4.5 miles to Kirk Yetholm!
Finally there was a stile giving us access over the wall! We had entered Scotland at last. Wayne was surprised at the accent change which seemed immediate from crossing the border. Breaking our own rules, we chose the alternative ‘low’ Pennine Way route today, which on our way to Kirk Yetholm saved us half a mile and lots of ups and downs.
All smiles as we cross into Scotland!
Taking the ‘low’ route – thankfully cleared of fern obstructions.
And we’re almost there…
Probably the biggest Tunnock’s Caramel biscuit ever!
The final mile…
Kirk Yetholm is in sight!
Surprisingly, we reached Kirk Yetholm at 11am. Despite looking for one, we didn’t find a village name sign for a piccie. We also didn’t find an official ‘End of the Pennine Way’ trail sign. (Please let us know if we missed it!) The only sign we discovered signalling we had reached the end was on the wall of the Border Hotel. Cue tripod photograph!
The road to the main village green.
The very posh Border Hotel.
The official end of the Pennine Way!
We made it!!!
Very much looking forward to a cold drink we headed to the ‘Bar Entrance’ to find that the pub was actually closed. Opening time was 11:30am. So we sat outside for half an hour and rested the feet until we could order some drinks.
We’d been told along the way that The Border no longer stands a free pint for Pennine Wayers at the finish so we were surprised that we were presented with both a certificate and a ‘free’ pint when we mentioned we’d completed it!
Resting outside The Border whilst we waited for the bar to open.
Wayne on the phone to his ‘bestie’ Nigel, re-living the last 268 miles of the Pennine Way!
But we couldn’t rest at the pub for long. We had a bus to catch. Or rather 3 buses – from Kirk Yetholm to Kelso – Kelso to Hawick – then Hawick to Carlisle, before catching a train from Carlisle to St Bees on the west coast of England. All in preparation for embarking on the second leg of our ‘Summer 700’ – Alfred Wainwright’s Coast to Coast Path.
It almost ended in disaster as we inadvertently left Wayne’s camera bag including camera (yes, his NEW camera) on the Carlisle bus. Thankfully, as Wayne furiously chased the bus down the road, it had to stop at a red light, so Wayne was able to catch up, make the driver aware and retrieve it! I wonder if that is ‘good’ karma coming our way after all that sheep saving in the Dales. Whatever it was, I think we were extremely lucky!
After all that excitement, it was an uneventful train journey to St Bees, where the camera bag never left our sight! More of St Bees to come in our next post, as we embark on the Coast to Coast.
Enjoying the patch of grass in Carlisle train station.
Waiting for our train to St Bees.
Walking the Pennine Way means we’ve completed a third of our ‘Summer 700’. We can’t quite believe what we’ve accomplished – actually walking to Scotland! That deserves a wow! I remember a time when I’d take the car to the local shop. Maybe we are even ‘hardcore’. After all, we have done the Pennine Way whilst camping most of the time. In fact, over 23 nights we’ve done 3 wild camps, stayed inside 1 mountain hut, slept for 19 nights at various campsites along the route, whilst only treating ourselves to 1 B&B for Wayne’s birthday! (With yet more camping to come on the C2C and JMT!)
Camping is actually one of the best things about this entire adventure. We just love to be in the great outdoors!