A lone Woman’s Journey from Shropshire to Knoydart in Style
A journey on foot by a woman in her late forties from the back door of her small home in Shropshire to Knoydart on the West Coast of Scotland, sleeping rough, eating pemmican, and generally doing it the hard way…..PART TWO
It was my aim to complete the English leg of the journey, having stopped in the Yorkshire Dales on the first leg. The Northern section of the Pennine Way stretches across Northumberland and ends on the Scottish border, and I had 151 miles remaining. But I had only nine days and a 16 kilo pack. In order to refine my expedition I resolved to live entirely on the pemmican and sauerkraut that I carried, use a tin-can firebox and foraged wood for fuel, and to avoid all camp sites and hostelries along the way. I carried my phone mainly for taking pictures and to arrange my lift from Scotland (my sister was on call for that – many thanks to her). No tracking of my progress and certainly no GPS permitted. I carried a compass which was used once.
EXPEDITION KIT LIST AND PACKING
- 70ltr pack with 100ltr lightweight liner inside the two cavities.
- Ash Pole and Hazel pole with paracord hand loops.
- Plastic trowel (attached with a clip to the pack and tucked into webbing pocket on pack).
- Mountaineering boots (half shank, leather, goretex lined)
- Lightweight Craghopper trousers
- Wicking teeshirt
- Summer weight buff
- ‘Smartwool’ socks
- Ankle gaiters
- Fleece gloves (in bumbag when not needed)
- Paramo breathable & waterproof hat with peak and neck panel (in bumbag when not needed)
- micro towel (handkerchief-sized)
- Water filter bottle
- reading glasses
- Spruce resin balm
Main Cavity of Pack (undivided)
- Triple layer gortex jacket
- mountaineering mittens
- waterproof trousers
- Technical lightweight inflating mat.
- Bag of clothes: underwear, 2 spare pairs walking socks, Lycra shorts, spare gloves, Helly long sleeve top, Mammut long sleeve top, Mammut short sleeve top, silk tee for sleeping, silky long johns for sleeping
- Muckoff micro hand towel
- cacoon liner for sleeping bag (adds a season in terms of warmth)
- mosquito/midge face mask, charger for phone, phone charging cable, tampons, talc, all purpose biodegradable soap, insect repellant, antibacterial dry wash, cotton buds, nail file, purse (cash and card).
- Medical/emergency kit: (ibuprofen, paracetamol, diazepam (in the event of back spasms),allergy pills, tick removal tool, micropore tape, hypodermic needles, reflective squares, hydrocortisone, moleskin dressing, crepe bandage, dioralyte, wound dressings, second skin dressing, tweezers, safety pins, , insect repellant, wipes, hormone tablets and patches, lymecycline for rosacea, nail file, nail clippers, lube, 6 extra head torch batteries, duct tape, string, sewing kit, scissors.
- Three season sleeping bag
- Bivi bag
- Writing book
- Reading book
- Spare paper
- Maps not in use
- Filter-cleaning syringe
- Tin can wood burner
- Striker (ferro rod)
- Natural tinder
- leather gloves
- Lightweight cooking pot and lid (mug sized)
- spoon (personal favourite horn spoon)
- pencil sharpener
- 2 pencils
- head torch
Side pockets of Pack.
- Food: sauerkraut 1kg, 30 tea bags, pemmican 750, fruit 500g, whisky, coffee powder, hot chocolate, tea.
- Spare water bottle for filter
Lid of Pack:
- Tent pegs
- Head torch
- Plastic bags (dog poo bags)
Editorial comment in italics.
Friday 2nd Sept. Hawes to Thwaite. 10 miles.
Reached Hawes just before 11.00am and bought my whiskey. No skimping, got some Jura. Set out over Great Shunner (great name!). Uncoordinated with poles and fumbling about at stiles trying to get through spaces too small for pack. No technique yet. Straps digging in shoulders. A bit of a mess.
Once climbing up the track got into more of a rhythm. Tasted my pemmican for first time on top of the hill. Not used beef before. Good job I liked it. Sort of everlasting corned beef – it chews for a very long time. Sauerkraut okay but not as good as my own would be. On top wind and rain came in. Very wet feet. Sock change on top. Really quiet but eventually heard my first Red Grouse. Seem much more reticent to call than in Spring – who can blame them! Black rabbit dashed out in front of me on haul to summit – could omen? Who knows? Coming off the top saw Thwaite in pool of sunlight – meadowy dish in the valley. Gorgeous. Big contrast with Great Shunner looking blackly. In fact clouds building up and gusts of wind. Having two poles means can’t hold map – bit awkward. Made myself eat and drink.
Did 10miles today and completely shattered.
Sky clearing a bit now (6.30) and getting colder. Making myself write log with cold fingers.
Journey on train this morning really good/easy but felt self-conscious about my poles. The longer one looks like some sort of totem, and I was treated a bit like a (potentially) crazy woman. When reached Garsdale and got on the minibus to Hawes nobody blinked though.
Bivi tonight is just above farmland in meadow – just in the ‘rough’ behind a dry stone wall. Dogs barking – think they know I’m here, but then they probably bark at everything. Valiantly avoided using the wall to string out basha (doing no damage – no dislodging of stones). Bent tree branches over top instead, but not sure the setup will keep out the rain. Not using bivi bag – at least will start out that way.
Very sore neck – a lot of pressure on downhills. Patches of long red grass on Great Shunner looked like pools of shimmering blood – in a nice way! Lots of flagstones over marshy ground, many had bolts sticking up out of them. Not so good if careless or in dark. Had to be really careful. Got a bit strange after 3 hours out on the fell. Maybe not enough food/drink. Maybe shock of exertion. Better now. Eaten well on my ration tonight of one lump of pemmican, a few mushed dates and several fork-loads of sauerkraut.
Took from 11.00 to 5.30 to do 10 miles. Maybe will be okay pace to finish. Maybe even at that I’ll get too exhausted. Feet sore but no blisters.
Continually talked to myself all day, especially pm when started to hurt. Told self that it is just pain in the hip and knee and not signifying any damage being done.
The damage to my hip joint has all been done already according to my consultant, which makes dealing with things much easier.
Pacing is key I think. Hope I haven’t overdone first day.
Saturday 3rd Sept. Thwaite to God’s Bridge near Bowes. 13m.
Up at 5.30. Still darkish. Quite cramped. Took inflated sleeping mat out of sleeping bag eventually since with it no room at all and v.v. uncomfortable. Supposed to use it inside bag to protect it, but little room in a mummy bag to begin with. Was alternating hot and cold all night. No good. Dinner was cold food, but all nourishing. Breakfast: dates and sauerkraut. Took plenty to drink.
Aching a lot. Threats of rain all night but nothing much. Red sky at dawn though…
Experimenting with charger for phone. No clue how may charges I’ll get from it, so will keep topping up so I can take pictures but don’t end up too low for my call at the end.
Left Thwaite at 7am. Straight into climb over Kisdon. Mist. River in valley. Warm. Broken wall of rock.
Groups of Red Grouse looking picturesque on the boulder fields. Took detour into Keld to try and phone home to let them know expedition underway. No mobile signal. Rubbish public phone wouldn’t connect me. Very slippery on path which problem with heavy pack. Lovely waterfall where considered getting firebox out for a drink, but too concerned to get mileage.
On higher ground soon, then lovely long easy up the Stonesdale valley. Rain came first as mist. Quite refreshing. Didn’t cover up. Enjoyed drizzle keeping me cool. But soon came heavier and by then felt no point getting out goretex. WRONG. Winds whipped rain across Stonesdale Moor which went on for ever. Just holding out for Tan Hill Inn (Highest pub at 1785′). When got there all I wanted was a shelter to sort myself out, but nothing. Determined not to go in. Have to be unsupported. Used outside loo to change into dry gear and waterproofs. Phone signal at last. Flurry of beeps and messages but just want say I’m okay and switch off.
Set out over the moor alongside Frumming Beck (another great name!). Felt very intrepid setting out in that. Soaked at once. Very deep marsh. Water well above boots in places.
Feet sliding around inside socks. Went half a mile and doubled back. Took the alternative route along road then track. Miserable situation. Worried how I could sleep out and where. Bleak – no cover.
My old map shows a natural rock bridge over Sleightholm Beck, but just pile of rocks now. Annoying back-and-forth to find bridge over Beck.
Rain briefly stopped after Bowes Fell but began again. On valley side could see below clump of conifers off to west. Would try for that. After crossing dry riverbed!! in this rain! before climb up to cross the A66 I saw old/disused railway remnants (bridge pedestals etc). Found a stone archway which was completely dry underneath. Managed to change standing upright (luxury) and take my time reorganising my things, hanging some up to ‘dry’.
Heard water before but now can pay attention to surroundings more. Am opposite a natural limestone bridge called ‘Gods Bridge’. Can hear the water moving through the little cave underneath the overhanging blocks on the tops of the riverbank.
Beginning to get cold. Think I’ll try a fire for a drink. Looks as though weather due to improve Tuesday. Hope I can make it till then.
Sunday 4th Sept. God’s Bridge to Tees Valley nr Middleton-in-Teesdale. 11m.
Left Gods bridge at 8am. Had a good night’s sleep. Woke at 7am. Initially could hear music from house behind me but soon went quiet. Water began dripping through ferns on ceiling during night, but managed to stay out of it.
Clothes from yesterday all still soaked. Even bumbag and pack sodden. FOOLISH. Should have covered all in poncho. Must be much heavier now. But feel saved from disaster by my cave.
Struck out for A66 underpass onto Bowes moor. Very marshy. (Wore gaiters, goretex jacket and waterproof trousers over long johns, but gaiters not much use in bog like this. Beginning to think would be better to have boots with holes to let water run through.) threatened rain all the time and occasional showers over moors.
Around Lunedale (Grassholm reservoir) all farmland and lack of signage. Got trapped in fields. Found a way out through field with bull, cows and calves – not ideal. On top of Harter Fell became easy at last and nice going underfoot. Saw some ominous clouds to North on my way over Harter Fell and wanted fiercely to keep myself dry now that my pack, bumbag and clothes had dried out. Only very light rain came through though.
Went into Middleton-in-Teesdale and nothing helpful there. Wanted a nice stone bus shelter or something for respite, and a gear shop for some dry (hopefully sealskin) socks. Remembered it was Sunday – took wind out of my sails. Ended up in a plastic open bus shelter with sloping seats (like in cities). Bought two pairs of ordinary high wool content socks from the post office/store, but not much faith in them.
In fact the socks turned out to be a great help at night and for walking out on my last day.
4pm. Found myself a friendly hazel tree. Sheep sorrel everywhere and lush grass. No thistles. Walked about barefoot to try and bring feet back to life. It worked. Have time in evening sun to hang things on trees to dry and have the perfect bivi site – nice and dry. Lovely views. Midges are quite thick but my repellent spray working well.
Today was hard at first, and had some hip and knee pain, but got easier/better. Managed to dump gash in a bin which lightened the lid of my pack (esp. of the heavy glass bottle from the whiskey – now decanted into small sigg). Again carefully staying away from pubs and tea rooms.
This bivi is beside a feeder stream into the Tees. Calming sound of water descending fast.
Light is clear tonight. Makes me want to take photos. Have messaged home a few times since the first signal at Tan Hill. Now signal easy to get. Need to stop it. Feel much more relaxed about people in general up here. Fewer of them?
Monday 5th Sept. Tees Valley to Peeping Hill nr Dufton. 18m.
Awake at 6.00. Awake on and off during night. Had hot choc and plenty of pemmican etc. but some hunger pangs in the night. Many dreams during the night. One of trying to cross a river on what I thought was a bridge but it started to snap – made of elastic ‘handrails’ and a solid pole. Called to a man to help me (if he could) he said probably not. I asked him to try. He said a lot of idiots end up in the river downstream from doing this. I managed to get myself back and told him to ‘F’ off. Another dream involved living in a house where the boiler was behind a wall and we thought it was exploding. Turned out to be a big cardboard arrow shooting through the wall with Egyptian symbolism on it and a hidden room behind. Too many cartoons as a kid, or Raiders of the Lost Ark??
Woke to rain – still dark – and sensed/saw something. Didn’t know whether hallucinating or whether something was moving slowly up the hill a metre or so away. Felt an intense staring at me. Could have been a fox, deer or person. But a human foot would have snapped at least one or two sticks. This was noiseless. Had the impression of a red colour. Silent. Was momentarily bothered, then curious, but soon settled back when couldn’t see anything. Possible that it was merely a light source from down the valley being reflected. Comfortable night except for ankle soreness. Pressure sores on front of ankles that I don’t seem to be able to relieve.
Washed my face and hands in stream in the morning and brushed my teeth. Felt good. Lots of sorrel and even some wild garlic still on the banks. Starting on to the North Pennines section today.
Stunning day. Threw everything at me. Beautiful, awesome waterfalls on Tees, Low Force and High Force, and slightly scary one at Cauldron Snout where the Tees falls over the edge of a reservoir (because you have to climb up the wet rocks beside it to get to the reservoir).
Strange ‘juniper garden’ on hill overlooking High Force, on long walk along the river valley.
Clamber over boulders round bend in river v. tiring on legs and slow, then wet scramble up hill alongside Cauldron Snout waterfall. V. Tenuous with pack on and tired legs.
Two couples walking up Pennine Way as well. Kept criss-crossing each others path. Noticed tracks on wet grass like tyre tracks and realised that I’d seen them everywhere – people walk in twos at such exact distance apart that looks like car track. When gets more arduous track becomes single again, then branches back into two. Had to stop self rushing to catch up all the time. It gets in my head badly. Remind myself all the time that I’m well equipped and will be fine if I’m careful and don’t rush things.
Mist then rain, then very dense mist over Dufton Fell. Wrangle with myself over whether to push up on or find somewhere sheltered down in valley. Would mean staying there for the night though. Pushed on.
Long made-up (MOD) road into the fell (rubble). Signs to keep clear of artillery ranges. Surprised by size of Maize Beck on top of fell and glad of a bridge to get to north side. Unrelenting wind and clag as move over top along High Cup Nick. Sense of the drama but see virtually nothing. Should be able to see Lake District. Just ominous towers of rock and a drop-off in front of me. Got a bit concerned about making it off in daylight, but descent route soon meets a made-up track into valley by Peeping Hill. Before that I went through lovely sheltered amphitheater of good grass and rock walls. Thoughts to stop but lots of sheep. Have set up bivi by an abandoned building. Very wet grass and sloping. BUT a good stream close by for refill. Setting up and fetching water I stumbled over two obstacles in exhaustion, so glad that I have stopped for the night. Desperate for R n’R after all that weather!
Filter squeeze bottle sprang a leak and wet my trouser pocket, so wasn’t pleasant. Have spare bottles. Church bells in valley. Always enjoy that. Geese formation overhead. Talking to each other all the time. Love the sight.
Tuesday 6th Sept. Peeping Hill to Gregs Hut (Bothy) on Cross Fell. 10m.
Up at 6.30, left at 8.00. Couldn’t get stove alight. V. Wet. Not feeling able to eat this morning or last night. Exertion? Bit of a worry. Good spot though despite the slope. Need to take a lot of time to get properly repacked when in bivi. Big day again in terms of conditions. Everything wet. Collected dead wood and thistle heads as I walked through very muddy, tree lined, path out of Dufton.
When reached side of Dufton Pike saw walkers ahead of me again and had to force myself to stay within myself, not rush to catch up. Realised that catching up a bad idea anyway coz then will either have to go faster or walk with/just behind them. Kept timing how far ahead they were. Made me think is the whole doing-it-alone thing my struggle with dependence over independence?
V. Tough day. Started dry and relatively clear but low cloud over Green Fell and continuous clag over all the tops. From Knock Fell to Great Dunn Fell line of upright hollow poles/pipes. They sang in the strong wind like pan pipes – each different pitch.
Extremely strong wind and v. Low visibility over Little Dunn Fell and Cross Fell. Had to pick my way v. Carefully and take a compass bearing on Cross Fell.
I have a new compass now since I realised that the reason I went the wrong way on the Leeds-Liverpool canal last time was because I had an Antipodean compass. I knew it was from the picture of a platypus on the leather pouch. I didn’t know then that a compass couldn’t be accurate for both Northern and Southern hemispheres but has to be balanced for one or other. Makes perfect sense of course.
Path on Cross Fell travels over boulder field so little to give a clue as to path when cloud down. Couldn’t see cairns. Wind blowing pack over sideways. Felt lop-sided. Dug into shoulder.
Met a few people coming and going from the Bothy, but saw nobody over cross fell. Ankles feeling the punishment now for a few days, esp on left foot. Raised lumps on fronts of ankles with bruising. Have been adjusting lacing, but don’t want boots too loose and unstable. Feet are constantly immersed in water. Very boggy coming down cross fell.
Delighted when reached the path to the Bothy. Think I’d made up my mind on top of the fell to stay there, even though only early afternoon. Tried to dry things out outside Bothy in the wind but air too damp. Amazing variety of clouds and mists constantly whirling round the fell, but glimpses of a really sunny day in the valley.
A fella going super lightweight style form North to South direction stopped off in Bothy for a brew and, I think, the usual noodles type meal that people carry.
I started on fixing my feet. Complete swabbing of feet with Jura whiskey – felt good. Then hypodermic lancing of all the huge bubbles of skin that had formed. Then clamped them down with micropore tape to stop them filling up with liquid again. Usually works. Next took the knife to my boots and got rid of stiff patches on the tongues with the makers emblem on them, thinking they might be the culprits for pressure sores.
Eventually got fire tin going. Had very strong coffee with whiskey in it.
Shock at first but then got into it! Very damp and dark in the hut but no complaints. Shelter is amazing when had none for days and days.
Couple arrived and told me they weren’t going to impose and would be outside – I didn’t mind them in the hut, but they didn’t ask. They started putting up tent outside in the gale, but pole broken and after failed attempts to solve told me they were going to have to foist themselves on me in the hut after all. Going North to South like the last visitor so had some useful info. They like being outdoors more than indoors as well. Carrying same weight as me but split between them. Shocked me when started up a primus stove in the other room of the hut coz the noise was phenomenal. Bit worried about carbon monoxide but decide won’t be on long enough to be a danger.
My things all spread out on the sleeping platform – luxury to be able to sort through. Phone about half charged so tried to charge it but none left in gadget. Bummer. 50% won’t last so will have to try and charge in Alston. No adaptor plug with me though. Thinking round and round all the permutations.
Turned to planning rest of expedition. Very long days needed. A lot of pressure.
Damp sleeping bag but feels warm at the moment. Hoping for sun tomorrow. Been too long without sunlight. Can hear the wind howling around the Bothy. Like it.
Wednesday 7th Sept. Greg’s Hut to Larchet Hill. 19m.
Up at 6am. Night was a bit frustrating coz v. comfortable but one of our company snored. Wind outside was howling all night – learned from the couple (who learned it from the visitors book), that the fell has its own wind called the Helm Wind. In the end tried to just enjoy being there and not bother about being awake.
Could smell sauerkraut on sleeping bag and bivi bag and other bits. Realised had a spill, but checked it and lid still on. Build up of pressure had forced the gases and liquid out through the lid seal. Resolve to release sauerkraut pressure each day and keep bottle upright. Had to get used to smelling a bit ‘iff-ey’.
Up as soon as enough light to pack. Others got up. Chat about pemmican. Also told me there was nothing in Byrness to stock up for Cheviots climb. Made me concerned. Not much pemmican left. Decided to get some salami and more dried fruit in Alston as a stop gap in case I needed emergency food on the mountain. Filled out visitors book in bothy.
Poo – it is interesting that my poo now looks indistinguishable from the kind a wild animal would make. Dark, glossy, evenly shaped each time, inoffensive. Also completely regular. Makes me think the rations might be quite near to what my body is designed to digest.
Walk down from hut long and easy. Feeling good. Convoy of 4×4 s off up to the moor. Series of polite nods and good mornings was heart warming. Had a good sprightly pace. Visibility at last! Actually became quite hot quite quickly. Met an old chap in Garigill who gathered I had come from the hut. Helpfully pointed me to river ford for cooling off feet in the water.
Walk to Alston good in many places. Diversity of plants. Much good foraging. Still puzzled about lack of apples and damson trees, and blackberries for that matter. But verges and meadows not all covered in nettles. Lots of elegant Rowan trees.
Farmer mending dry stone wall in his pants! Made me think how much time it takes and what it’s like to allow yourself that – enough time to do a good job. He was clearly relaxed about it.
Collected dried spruce and cones for the stove – fingers crossed.
Thought I must have overshot Alston coz waymarks dried up. Had been hearing traffic for ages. Felt I’d walked far enough. Pressed on after looking closely at footpath map.
Alston shops didn’t look promising for buying a socket or getting phone charged somewhere. Bought salami and fruit from garage. Went to tourist info/library and librarian there lent me her iphone adaptor and let me charge phone in the lobby. Caught up with logbook. Charging took ages. Was hoping to charge the charger as well but left after an hour and ten minutes with 98% charge.
Feet have been playing up a bit. Pressure spots on heals and ankles. Feeling strong though.
Love the accent here. Geordy is so melodic and interesting. See signs for Hexham and Durham. Come a long way! My walking has been a bit stop-start up to now. First this is wrong, then that needs attention…not so much today. Making myself attend to everything at one stop rather than lots of stops. On the mountains, though, I do need to stop frequently to maintain myself. Would be very frustrating with a partner in a different rhythm. You’d never get anywhere. Maybe that’s why people tend to drift apart and walk on their own (except the ones who make the parallel vehicle tracks).
Some nice interludes today. Looking at Roman Fort, Whitley Castle (briefly and from a distance) sitting on stonking wooden bench designed for that purpose. Some horrid interludes: getting stuck on old railway line (now cycle route) and having to double back.
Beginning to lose the point in it all. Can’t get as far as I want. Having to bivi 5 miles short of planned distance. Really unsure what to expect in terms of availability of places to stop. Makes it difficult to know when to stop. took nearly 2 hours in Alston which is very annoying.
Did enjoy the Tyne river today very much, but got really tired with silly routes through little fields plowed into sludge by cattle – very hard on my white and mushy feet and infection worry with open sores. Want to keep my feet on the flat all the time but impossible. Just when I needed to get going and make mileage a really stupid bit after Slaggyford, taking detours round fields and eventually (when I doubled back time and again to find the route) it took me over a wall into someones back yard right by their conservatory window. Walled all the way around. Couldn’t see my way out, which turned out to be using a stone jutting out in middle of the wall. Felt like a puzzle or game getting through there. Few indications of others going through that way, so I wonder!
Feeling down. Maybe just fagged out. Was looking forward to waking along the Roman Road after Burnstones, but turns out there isn’t one. That phrase (site of) should warn me. Set up bivi on moorland (Larchet Hill) quite close to a farm and within sound of road. Just using bivi bag, no basha. ‘Makey-do bivi’.
Thursday 8th Sept. Larchet Hill to Twice Brewed. 17m.
Awake at 6am looking at a red sky. Okay so more rain then. Thought it was going to rain last night when settled and that I would lie here in my self pity getting soaked, but it was just the dew falling. Skies Cleared and I could see the stars for the first time this leg. Slept well but had periods of wakefulness. Full of concern over whether I can finish and struggle with myself over how hard I can push.
Pain in my left arm (and so it has come!) I am thinking about whether this might be incipient heart attack, especially given pain in the jaw too. But then my jaw hurts because I sometimes grind my teeth at night (given how I was feeling I might have done), and pain in my arm is to be expected carrying such weight and using a pole in left hand for the first time.
This morning I feel more philosophical and relaxed about the final few days that I have before stopping. I won’t kill myself but I WILL try hard. I am feeling very grotty which I don’t think is helping, so in spite of guilt over time wasting I’m going to wash my underwear in the steam as soon as I reach it. Couldn’t face food last night except a bit of dried fruit and hot chocolate but this morning will have some pemmican.
The huge spider in the grass, looming above me last night, has gone now and seems to have taken its web with it. The slug who was making for my food has also gone. The grouse have been in great numbers and up close all evening and since dawn this morning. Very noisy. Lovely. The stile over my wall is one of those wooden ladders either side that cross over into handrails at the top. Most are like that now. They look like birds perched on the top of the walls.
Walked to the end of the Hadrian’s wall section of the route.
Stopped 7pm. Went all day no breaks. Heaving rain coming over the moors up to and beyond A69 crossing. BUT was enjoying it and relaxed on the moors. The expanses seem to soothe my mind. Anyhow you have to forget worries when in water up to your shins! Sun came out just before A69 crossing and I took shelter in an old house/cattle shed to swap clothes. As soon as I got going again so did the rain.
Waymarkers haven’t been good today. Feet very blistered – having to check them out every day and treat. Walking in bogs helps coz you get to not feel them, but dangerous. Have been too hot at night so far, but have a feeling that tonight will not be so. Was very exposed on the escarpment and I was being blown over. Was looking forward to coffee and whiskey tonight but don’t really feel like it now. Perhaps will make it anyhow.
Have a LOT of miles to cover tomorrow if want to give myself a chance of getting to Kirk Yetholm. Need suitable weather. Sun setting now. Looks promising colour. Red sky this morning was entirely accurate. Lets hope tonight’s sky is so. Happy with myself for not quitting at YHA in Twice Brewed. Instead went to other side of the escarpment and found trees for shelter.
Friday 9th Sept. Peel to Highstead Hill nr Bellingham. 17m.
Friday am 5.50
Was so tired last night that gave up lighting fire in semi-darkness. Wind picked up dramatically over night and buffeted my tarp even under cover of trees and a wall. Could hear it rumbling along/over the crags. Had a couple of spells of rain and got out to adjust basha/tarp.
Early evening the crows started roosting in trees above me and brought that unique atmosphere that crows do. They settled to quietness. Had lots of dreams. A doctor lent me some state-of-the-art glasses that picked up radio/music, and I used the case to collect water. More disturbingly I helped a girl to bury a dead relative because she said it had all been taken out of her hands.
Woke up and it was completely still – no wind. Looking up at the trees I started to think about the dreams and try to explain them to myself and found myself in tears. Made me wonder, after I’d stopped crying, whether the other person I’m always talking to (talking to myself) sort of explaining myself to, whether it’s a similar feeling that people have getting comfort from God. An experience of omnipresence.
Always knew that to do a walk like this has to be a form of therapy, but now not sure how much of it is beyond what I’m aware of. Also doing this has something to do with getting older and feeling the urgency of seeing things through. Thought for first time that maybe mountains aren’t the be-all for me and that forests are more so. Looking straight up at tall trees is profound.
Been mentally challenging day for me today, even though physically I’m quite strong. I don’t seem to notice my mangled feet too badly. Was up at 6.00, left at 7.00 and walked pretty much non-stop to Bellingham where I stopped under a river bridge for food/water and a think. Want so badly to succeed, but really not possible to get to Kirk Yetholm. I even thought of walking through the night at one point. Tonight thinking maybe I could get up to first mountain refuge hut tomorrow from here, and down to Kirk Yetholm on Sunday. Will have to see how I go with the bogs tomorrow. Looks as though the walk through the Kielder Forest is on forest roads.
The walk through Wark Forest Today was difficult – unexpectedly.
The path cut across the forest roads, and the terrain in between was muddy and swampy. There are continuous swerving paths of grass flattened down, like waves, where walkers have used it to try and avoid sinking in the mush. Walked through a section of moorland enclosed on three sides by the forest. Wonderful rainbow behind me and I could see the cloud advancing. Was on me quickly. Stopped at a ruin in the centre to get poncho wrapped around pack and put on waterproofs. Took ages. When I turned around lots of fluffy faces watching me intently. Calves. Very cute but potentially my nemesis. I couldn’t see their mothers through the group, so very quietly moved in a big circle away from them. Have had to make a lot of exaggerated route adaptations for calves, cows and bulls. There really are a lot of all three. Not so many sheep at all.
Been a superb foraging day – finally! blackberries, bilberries, but still no apples. But what there is tons of up here is sorrel – not the little leaves but huge generous ones. Had to stop myself just eating and eating, involving stopping and stopping. Collected some up though to snack on. Like having sweets – takes away dryness in mouth.
Was so tempted today by all the treats on the way. Like pot of tea on the go at a farm (so said a sign – to go and help myself), and notice at bottom of ravine that refreshments available at top. Campsite signs everywhere. Need to stick to my guns.
Really enjoyed being on the high tops but rain threatening all the time so have made a habit now of strapping poncho over pack with paracord and wearing my goretex (when I can bear the heat), or having it over my shoulder for easy access. Have made quite a few adaptations to poncho and pack, removing things here and adding them there.
As I write (in my bivi) I swear I can hear music in a car thumping but cut off here and no buildings for miles. Only a bridleway. That’s why I chose it. Bogs are everywhere here, on the tops, in the dips and on the slopes – no getting away from them. Used to pick my way around them but takes too long. Now just march headlong through mostly.
POLES – used to the necessity of poles in the Alps for testing snow and crevasses, but on this stretch at least necessary for testing bogs.
Bellingham seems a very nice place but had a bit of stand-offishness. Realising I look more like a hobo now than whatever it was I thought I looked like. Keep thinking “yes I know, but I’m doing the Pennine Way y’know”. My three pronged pole probably has a bit of an impact. Just a useful thing but looks totemic so makes people nervous. Who/what do I think I am?
I’m on a high knoll just beyond Bellingham with wind gusting strongly. Scots Pine in a walled area and a Sycamore. Constructed a tepee-type arrangement from the poncho. Three pronged pole essential!
No phone signal. Bugger. Need to start arranging my lift out with sister.
Saturday 10th Sept. Bellingham to border fence on Cheviots. 19m.
Its 5.30. Very wet and windy night. Slept okay. Was thinking about the couple in Greg’s Hut carrying about the same weight as me but sharing. That’s how people do it when they camp on the move. But seems to me danger of staying within relationship bubble. How could you help it? Don’t then have the vulnerability that I want – the thing that makes it really hard and keeps me trying.
Have dejectedly decided this morning that everything points me to finishing in Byrness. Pemmican running out, weather awful, blisters and sores, too little time – meaning I’d finish so late my sister and mum would have to drive through the night to get everyone home for work Monday. I might get into needless difficulty which is not the purpose. What it does mean is that for the next leg to Knoydart I’ll need to start with the Cheviots, so I’ll have wet feet and gear from day one.
It’s really astonished me that despite spells of sun and plenty of wind I’ve been completely unable to dry my socks. Maybe marsh water lingers the longest. Waiting now for enough daylight to operate in. The wind and rain has stopped – the lull before the dawn – but often starts up again once its paused for sunrise.
Was up at 6. Left 7ish. Been hard going around Kielder Forest today. Before getting to the forest I slipped over for the first time in the muddy slopes on Deer Play Hill. Didn’t mind the hills despite the slipperiness. Sandstone showing through.
Steep, muddy slope up to the forest then a hateful yomp through even worse swamps than yet. And proper bog – flat surface of peat/soil that I stepped on and leg sank right in. Couldn’t get it out. Boot stayed on but didn’t think it would. Feeling iff’y about forests now.
Sitting here after just getting through it all and onto the forest road met a guy doing the whole thing from Edale to Kirk Yetholm in 10 days. For charity. Camping on the way. Looked in good spirits and pretty strong. Started to feel my effort measly.
At Kielder forest I was excited to get to the forest road but turned out not to be a happy relationship. For miles and miles its slopes are covered in conifers that have thick foliage to the ground. All very uniform. Dense planting. Feels dead. More barren than the moors. The dead quality of the forest had another bad effect. Man who was behind me for quite a way suddenly picked up speed and overtook me then kept looking back at me. He was only dressed in day gear so not doing Pennine Way even though on the route. Made me quite nervous. Then when got down to the river realised there were lots of folk around – its a park with a visitor centre and all that. Not sure about that man but the atmosphere of this forest borders on sinister. Notices telling you you are being watched, cctv notices, notices warning vandals to refrain from wrecking bothies, measures to block vehicle access.
When walking beside the river I felt more relaxed. A couple walking their dog hailed me to comment on me having a hazel pole. The gent also carried hazel. He had same thoughts as me about its qualities and also indispensability around the bogs. His was posh with a buffalo finial, but it didn’t seem to matter. Cheered me up a lot.
Jaunty now. Headed straight up onto the Cheviots (mud slope then rocky scramble). More MOD land to watch out about. Bullets draped over a fence. Feel as though its been a double day because of this last minute change of plan. Had resigned myself to finishing in Byrness, but weather good, feeling strong, continued on. Went to the border fence. Delights me. This is success – now made it to Scotland.
The weather was so stable I thought a night on the hills wouldn’t be too bad. Bivi is set now and quite cold up here but cosy in my sleeping bag. Very little wind.
Notices to keep the right side of the military ranges, not to mention not upsetting the archeologists. Notices not to touch any ordnance. Strange feeling.
No water tonight but have my sauerkraut which is actually more refreshing. Thought I might make gypsy well, but no need.
Sunday 11th Sept. Cheviots to Byrness. 5m
Very comfortable night due to thick grasses and mosses under me. Found myself a cluster of three small fir trees to nest inside.
Could hear wind whipping up all night. Sounded high above and below in valley at the same time but didn’t impact on where I was sleeping. Maybe was being whipped up the valley and over my head?. Perfect spot then – but not due to cleverness.
Had rain intermittently. Initially extremely cold. Ended up using cocoon sleeping bag liner – so not carried in vain. Warmed up enough to stop having shakes. Sky was clear in between showers and could see milky way and shooting stars. Stars very bright but was having difficulty picking out constellations – in the end wondered why I was trying to. Mosquito just landed on my hand but didn’t bite. I’ve rubbed my spruce resin balm on my hands and neck and seems as though its worked as a repellent. I love the smell – vast improvement on smell of socks.
Pack has developed a whole range of conversation now beyond the monosyllabic squeaks. Most of the time yesterday though it was telling me to dig deep. Feel a great affection for all my gear. It seems natural to think more superstitiously on my walks – thoughts or responses come to me and I accept them with a sideways glance, knowing they aren’t exactly rational. They are my interaction with the world. I don’t think any less of them for that. Rationality doesn’t get you very far in extremis. There’s something in your body that you talk to and feel with.
This morning a red sky that has now been quickly covered in clouds. So be it I suppose. Hope the wind gets up and blows them away.
Going to take Border County Ride trail back down through the forest to Byrness. Have no water now but looks like we cross streams on this route.
Sunday 10.00 am
Last log. Walked down the Heads Toe track instead of Border County Ride, coming out on Jedburgh road. Glad because avoids scramble down wet crags and all the mud of the ascent route. Stopped at Byrness church. Weather turned to rain on the tops before I struck camp so moved out quickly without bothering about pack organisation. Letting go of discipline now its ending. Felt quite emotional and tearful on descent. Helped by sighting group of deer who kept reappearing ahead of me. Water difficult to get coz river very cut-in and also gullies dredged deeply. Found a nice rivulet coming down from forest running into sand/clay channel. Completely clear. Took some.
Just waiting at the church in the sunshine. Nip of whiskey for me and one for the nineteenth century curate whose gravestone I’m sitting on.
Was at work Monday, but with bad oedema in the lower legs/feet. Strapped them up and raised them overnight which helped a bit.
My poor feet took a lot of injuries. Need to look into boots for bogs and for people with bunions.
There are a few things I won’t take next time that add up to a kilo at most. I overdid the clothes, having two short sleeves and two long sleeves, so I’ll leave one of each. Two jackets is also probably overdoing it, and so I’ll either take the primaloft or the fleece. My gaiters weren’t much use so depending on the season will probably leave them. Other than that I overdid only the medications, with plasters and far too many diorylite sachets. If you injure yourself either you need a proper dressing or none at all, not a plaster at any rate, and if I need that much diorylite then I probably need to come home!
I Had my hormones (HRT) and rosacea meds with me but they seem to be playing a quieter part in my concerns than before. It might mean, of course, that its because they are working. One thing has changed since I got back that I wouldn’t have predicted, and that is giving up makeup to cover my rosacea. It doesn’t seem to shame me now. I like the wind-burnt look!
Some weight was down to bad planning, finding myself with only a heavy pair of scissors for example. My striker (ferro rod) is very large and heavy so I’ll take a much smaller one. I also have a few needlessly heavy clips and attachments I can jettison and use cord instead. Seriously thinking of a lighter weight pack that will dry out quickly, and a lightweight cover. Wary of getting too ‘technical’ though and changing the nature of my expedition.