Welcome to LEJoG Day 55
Day 55 pre-amble
Destination: Forest View Walkers Inn, Byrness. The essential pinch point for any Pennine Way planner, i.e. you need to book this place well in advance otherwise you will have great difficulty in completing the trail. Much more of this place in ‘After the walk’ below. I can say straight away that its high reputation is well-earned and carefully protected.
Along the way: well, the second half of this walk offers many different forest views. There’s a long stretch through the commercialised Redesdale Forest, preceded by a bleak passage of felled and uprooted trees. Before that there’s a horrid little climb through cleared forest at the edge of Redesdale; after it there’s the much more pleasing forest surroundings of Byrness itself.
LEJoG Day 55 (Wednesday 21 August 2019)
Bellingham to Byrness (15½ miles)
Cumulative: 783 miles
Facts: Time on walk: 5 hours. Average speed: 3.10 mph. Weather: Cloudy, dry, occasional sun, mild.
Practicalities: Just the walk from Riverdale Hall Hotel back to the North Tyne Bridge.
Start: Pennine Way sign after North Tyne river crossing, near Bellingham, 10:35am. End: Pennine Way sign opposite church, Byrness, 4:25pm (linear end: actual end about 10 minutes later at Forest View).
The first task was to photograph the lovely North Tyne river crossing, which was runner-up for today’s header image.
Bridge over the North Tyne, just outside Bellingham
After a short riverside walk and a few side streets, you emerge in the village of Bellingham. As this is the last place on the Pennine Way from where you can obtain provisions, I stopped for a couple of cans, a pasty, some Lion fruit salad sweets and a box of snack bars. With no really long walks to come, I thought this was plenty. The ¼lb of Lion fruit salad was a concession to childhood nostalgia: my auntie used to buy these for me every Thursday. Yes my teeth are fine…
The climb out of Bellingham isn’t especially steep but it is a long one. Just as it flattens out, there’s another small hill before Blakelaw Farm. Negotiated the cow field without any unwelcome friskiness this time, and once over the wall I was back on open moorland. The target, Hareshaw House, was constantly in view but seemed to take a long time to reach (actually about half an hour). Easy enough walking, a couple of small jumps to avoid boggy ground, and some grass had been deliberately trampled in places to help you avoid wet or claggy feet. After Hareshaw House there’s a sheep pen, then another open section leading to the B6320.
After crossing the road there’s an easy and clear path through the heather to Deer Play, where I stopped for lunch, seduced by promises of glorious views.
Pennine Way sign amidst the heather at Deer Play (looking N)
And the next target was Whitley Pike, where the views are said to surpass those at Deer Play. Again this was an easy path reminiscent of those on my familiar Peak District moors. Slightly boggier near the stream, prior to the final ascent, but nothing like Black Hill on Monday.
Looking west from Whitley Pike (the Pennine Way continues NW, downhill)
Retrospective (looking SE) at Whitley Pike, including Pennine Way milestone
I feel like I’m flying through this walk. Certainly don’t wish to seem blasé about the views, but there’s nothing remarkable about Deer Play or Whitley Pike. They stand out today, but only because the forest to come is generally either monotonous or vaguely haunting. Compared to the Dales or Peaks though, they’re nothing special. The really impressive views on the last five-day section of the Pennine Way arrive with the Cheviots.
From Whitley Pike you head downhill and cross a minor road before scaling (though not summiting) Padon Hill. The ‘pepperpot‘ shaped cairn on your right draws your attention away from the all-pervasive heather elsewhere. Once again the path is easy and quick. It’s all been going too well for 8 miles, hasn’t it?
Having descended from Padon Hill, here comes what for me was the worst part of the walk. A nasty, sweaty climb to Brownrigg Head, in humid conditions with persistent insects. The midsection is unpleasantly steep, worse than it looked from the foot of the hill and much worse than it looks in the retrospective photo below. Also – and this is mercifully rare on the Pennine Way – there are felled trees across your path, some of which require you to duck underneath. In fact, with even a small rucksack, it was necessary to crouch right down.
Looking back at the climb to Brownrigg Head
The steep midsection starts where the conifers are – the path from Padon Hill bisects the top half of the photograph; pepperpot cairn just visible in top left
Fortunately you are rewarded with a very easy path beside Redesdale Forest. A fence runs parallel, making navigation a doddle. Gradually however, the rough grass on your left is replaced by felled trees, and the surroundings start to resemble news bulletins about wildfires or natural disasters. Obviously I exaggerate, and it’s very easy for even an urban dweller like me to tell the difference between acts of God and acts of commercial forestry. But it is a disturbing, jarring, incongruous sight when you’ve been so accustomed to the untouched natural world for over 200 miles. Most of the apocalyptic visions will be on your left. On your right are planted saplings, of the uniform and characterless kind that so depressed Alfred Wainwright when walking through Ennerdale Forest in the Lake District. Also on your right, this:
One of many uprooted trees
As an urban dweller, I confess that in this instance it took me a few seconds to work out exactly what I was looking at. The first impression is of a hideous mutated giant spider from a knock-off sci-fi show. I’ve included this photo to help emphasise that it doesn’t matter where you look, this is almost certainly the most depressing ¾ mile of the whole Pennine Way. Even the path underfoot degrades into hard, grey, loose stones before starting to improve after you reach the main forestry road.
I followed this road right through Redesdale Forest. There are a couple of places where a PW sign points away from the road and into the long grass, but you are advised not to waste your time wading through bracken and bog. As long as you keep an eye out for forestry traffic (I didn’t see any), the road is fine. The commercial forestry isn’t quite as enervating to walk through as the felled and uprooted trees, but it’s far from inspiring and inevitably becomes quite tedious. There’s one long uphill section and two shorter ones – none of the walking is difficult. On Trailblazer’s Map 118, near the old quarry, there are four stones, one of which makes an ideal seat for a snack stop.
The road descends to Blakehopeburnhaugh (one of the longest place names in Britain: basically just a couple of houses and a bridge) and then you branch off left to follow the River Rede. Just after the Border Forest Holiday Park – note that name, you’re now only 5 miles or so from the Scottish border – the path leaves the river to head through more forest. Turn right at the junction and head over the bridge to Byrness church, right by the A68. The sign for the Pennine Way, pointing you towards Byrness Hill, is across the road. Forest View Walkers Inn is another 10 minutes walk along the A68.
After the walk
I was the first guest to arrive. It’s worth noting that today was one of the loneliest on the Pennine Way – I saw no other walkers at all until finding myself 100 yards or so behind a couple of women just before Byrness. They were next to arrive, having taken a wrong turn just before the main road. We were greeted by Colin, joint proprietor along with his wife Joyce. Boots were removed and a cup of tea served before we were shown to our rooms. I had a separate private bathroom with my own key – presume at least some of the other rooms are en-suite.
The evening meal is served at 7pm and all guests eat together. Orders are taken in advance, just after the cuppa. As others have stated, Forest View is quite a regimental place, but it works superbly. The next couple of entries will make it clear that Colin and Joyce know exactly what they’re doing and what walkers need from them.
I think there were 9 guests this evening – the two women who arrived just after me already knew another group, from having stayed in some of the same B&Bs. This is the advantage of completing the Pennine Way in one trip as opposed to in sections. I was on a table of three with a couple from Manchester who were finishing a journey they started around 15 years ago, before children got in the way. The gentleman had also climbed Kilimanjaro back then – as this is one of my walking dreams of course I took the opportunity to elicit some tips. Having read this guidebook, nothing he said really surprised me. It is however sobering to hear that one of his companions had to descend due to altitude sickness.
The food was excellent – I was the only guest to resist a pudding. There was a lot of loud conversation between the groups who knew each other afterwards – I was happy to retire. Actually finished that Kilimanjaro guidebook this very evening.
Postscript – My Listening Pleasure
Janelle Monae, Dirty Computer (from Blakelaw Farm to the B6320).
This episode of the West Wing Weekly podcast (from the B6320 to just after Deer Play, including lunch).
Picture (actually taken 22 August 2019) shows a forest view from the top of Byrness Hill, near the start of the Day 56 walk.
Next: Day 56 (22 August 2019)… in which I enter Scotland! (briefly, and very undramatically. Braveheart this ain’t.)