Expedition from the Backdoor Diary: St Cuthbert’s Way Section 15th – 17th April 2017

2 Kirk Yethom to Melrose
Kirk Yetholm to Melrose

Saturday 15th April 2017

Today it was good to leave the Cheviots, though I enjoyed them I think, but St Cuthbert’s Way has soon led me to some quite strenuous hill climbing over Crookedshaws and Wideopen Hill- every bit as hard as some of the Cheviot sections but dry underfoot thankfully. Saw more people on this trail. Was VERY windy again, interspersed with showers and very intense sun, so a bit annoying having to stop all the time to adjust clothing. Getting cold a bad idea, getting wet equally awful, so I don’t like to risk sweating when it’s warm or I’m working hard in case I’ll be left in wet clothes.

Doing it this way (sleeping out) takes a long time because you have to look after every little bit of it and not say “that’ll do” or “I’ll just get wet then”. Likewise I’m having to stop early in the day to have enough daylight with warmth in it to make an adequate bivi. I’m so aware of how far I have to go, can’t let things slip.

0 Crockedshaws Hill 2
Crookedshaws….not a diagnosis but the place this picture was taken at!

For lunch I had to MAKE myself eat the pemmy. By picking the meat out of the huge volume of fat I can at least eat it.


(‘Pemmy’ is short for pemmican which was a combination of jerky and rendered fat made originally by northern plains tribes from bison and sold to French Voyageurs during their exploration of Canada, but became popular amongst late 19th and early 20th century European explorers in tinned form. I say popular, but many learnt to hate it particularly if it was all you had to eat or it had become rancid within its tin. I was using Pemmy that I had made myself, not from Bison, but from more easily sourced beef.)

6 Melted Pemmican
“Pemmy” – Pemmican a homemade mixture of beef jerky and rendered fat.

Lots of calves and cows in the fields today. Had a few ‘almost’ encounters. I think the really big pack and sticks make me look strange/threatening. One particular cow was completely fixated on me to the point that I didn’t want to get into the field. After I’d sat for a while I spotted her small calf asleep near the stile. Whatever she did it didn’t move, so at last I had to get in with them and try to walk wide of the path. Farm had set up birthing pens in the quarry – secure walls of rock all round, and pens made of bales of straw. Cows looked very snug.

Stopped earlier than intended because riverside beautiful and lots of wild garlic beside scurrying stream. The rocks in the stream are all white, just like the walls, but seems to be white lichen covering everything rather than white geology. Crags look like the Roaches – gritstone.

1 Fat Burn Bivi
Bivi on Wether Hill, St Cuthbert’s Way, Scotland

Decided to have a hot drink and found the left over paper from around the pemmican burns really hot (why not – like tallow candles). Foraging today: common sorrel, sheep sorrel, ransom (wild garlic), wood sorrel, gorse flowers/buds.

7 Pemmican an Wild Garlic
Wild Garlic and Pemmican

Tractors on slopes above bivi and cars and tractors on fields and roads beside me. Nice site though, below Wether Hill. Old fire pit here. Glad to have stopped early – 4pm – since it’s given me time to set up well and DON’T WANT TO GO TOO HARD TOO SOON. Must keep eating but difficult. Will try to collect more leaves to supplement supplies and pep them up a bit more. ISSUES ARE JUST LIKE BEING AT ALTITUDE AGAIN.




= 30.5M IN 2 DAYS



Easter Sunday 16th April

Absolutely pooped today. Left Bivi 3 at 7.30am after getting up at 6.00. Night was blissful – long sleep. Very cosy now I’ve decided to use sleeping bag liner (cacoon). Walking today painful to begin with, which eased in spite of strenuous effort to carry. Was a relief to be on easy ground and the signposting on the St Cuthbert’s Way is ridiculously good (symbol is a cross). Saw a few people on the route today but very few. The morning weather was gloriously good but then all afternoon it drizzled, which wet everything.

Have developed the habit of picking the fat off my pemmy and just eating the meat fragments, leaving the fat to use as a fire accelerant – a GREAT new innovation! I quite like the time and effort that it takes (like the foraging exercises that they give animals in Zoos to stop boredom, or perhaps smoking a pipe) – helps me to relax and take stock rather than stress about how far I’ve got and need to go.

8 Burning Pemmican Fat
Using Pemmy fat to light the fire and make it smokeless

Was going to push on till 5pm but stopped at 4 because really shattered. A few times in the day I’ve hit the wall, but a stop and some water and a morsel helped a great deal. The foraging has extended to Jack-of-the-hedge (garlic mustard). The sorrel though is food sent from God – lovely sharp off-set to fatty food, and quite ‘meaty’ itself. I’m always scanning the verges and hedgerows, and all other margins; eyes down all the time.

The scenery today was really lovely, with freedom to walk through all of it from farmlands, watersides, woods and forests. Yesterday, on the way down from the Cheviots, it seemed as though the walkers were barred from the streams and rivers, with Deer fences all along the route, or else private land. Today it’s been easy to get water and I’m pleased with my discipline with it – always keeping a full extra bottle for the evening. The woods I’ve just come through were beautiful, and I’m just looking for more of the Yew trees that were around earlier. They provide such gorgeous dry shelter underneath. There don’t seem to be any now though. I’m on a ridge-top on Dere Street (old Roman Road, now a distinct track), and have skirted around a clump of gorse bushes to find a densely leafed ash with dry ground underneath – good. There are some large sycamore trees that are in leaf on the other side of the track, but some walkers have just gone past quite close, and anyway not sure there’s enough leaf on them to give any shelter. Had wanted to make it to the next conifer forest but not sure that I could.

9 Dere Street Bivi
Looking apprehensive at Dere Street Bivi!

Made pemmy brew once settled in – MUCH more palatable. Fed fat to the stove – GREAT. Getting quite cold now. Everything a bit damp. Going to have some whisky and turn in.

Easter Bank Holiday Monday 17th April a.m.

Not a very good night but at least stayed dry. Felt damp in sleeping bag – should have put silkies on. Menstrual blood this morning. GRIEF! Was thinking all last night what to send home when I get to Galashiels to lighten the load: sunblock, neutrogena hand cream, notebook, extra plastic bags are the obvious things. Don’t want to just dump them.

Misty this morning – quite nice. Frightened by the distance/time I have to go.


10 Early Morning Dere Street
A cold morning, but the gorse in full bloom

Left Bivi at 8a.m. Everything still a bit damp feeling. Today the weather has been good though varied: sun/light showers/cold/hot – mainly on the sunnier side. Getting VERY cold now though, at around 6p.m. Feels like another very long day. Dere St. Was really lovely; gentle, tree-lined all the way. St Cuthbert’s Way altogether very genteel.

Took a slight detour to avoid a meander in the river Tweed, but sorry I did so since Tweed exceptionally lovely. Melrose also good place. Stopped there to shed gear and have lunch of pemmy and sorrel. Had some nice chats about walking/ backpacking. Very popular up here. No wonder since the trails are so good.

The bleeding has been a nuisance. Hard work managing the blood. Completely unexpected as well. Have stopped pooing as well, which doesn’t actually feel to be a problem but is a noticeable change.

My spirits lifted this morning when I saw a hazy mist with sun burning through. Put on quite a good pace. Quite a sharp hill though at the end of today, over Galashiels. On tired legs it took it out of me. Was really rewarding to get to the distinctive Eildon Hills today (remind me of some of the Shropshire hills like at Pontesbury). You can see them in the distance from the Cheviots, like a beacon, so get a sense of distance under my belt.

Very cold now. Feel my writing is a bit bland. It’s all about getting the next thing done, and the next.

Stopped at 4pm and bivi set by 5. Children and parents are walking in sight of me and me of them. Some have remarked that there’s a person camping in the woods – told to stay away, then father peering at my camp. He didn’t realise he was looking straight at me so I gave a cheery hello and he explained that he was trying to make it out. Getting a bit quieter now. Going to light a fire and make hot pemmy. Don’t want a smoking fire, so will need to heat it up with plenty of pemmy wrappers.

12 Dere Street Bivi
Dere Street Bivi with a little flask of whisky in the background.

I find that as soon as I’ve set up a bivi I get a territorial sense about it, so I don’t feel apologetic or embarrassed to be there. If anything I would challenge intruders about THEIR rights and intentions in coming close. I think it’s partly because I’ve worked so hard to get there and in fact need to make camp. It straightens out the priorities for me.


Today have gained the Southern Upland Way – JOY!!

14 Southern Upland way
Southern Upland Way.

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