Welcome to LEJoG Day 57, and to Scotland
Day 57 pre-amble
I toyed with several options for this post title, marking the momentous final border crossing between England and Scotland. Eventually I went back to my first idea, rhyming with the favourite dog breed of both my auntie and one of my anonymous blogging inspirations. Not sure this walk was all that much of a jolly, but I enjoyed a meal and a couple of drinks at the Border Hotel, so it’ll pass. The other main contender used a punning rhyme on the opening lines of this WH Auden poem. However, it would have given away my surname, and I’m not planning to do that for a while.
And as for “Phillip and Sarah”, scroll to the bottom for something even more momentous…
LEJoG Day 57 (Friday 23 August 2019)
Windy Gyle to Kirk Yetholm (13 miles)
Cumulative: 809 miles
Facts: Time on walk: 4 hours 20 minutes. Average speed: 3.00 mph. Weather: Cloudy, windy, still quite wet underfoot. Mild, becoming much warmer in the afternoon – very warm at Kirk Yetholm.
Practicalities: Another 8am breakfast, packing, and the return journey to Trows Farm with Joyce at 9:30. Learned a bit more about their well-earned retirement plans. Brief stop so that she could show me Chew Green Roman Camp from the car.
Another interesting digression about the type of clientele they’ve been entertaining over the years. Generally it’s Pennine Way walkers of course, but in the late 2000s they had a spurt of LEJoG trekkers. Initially Colin and Joyce couldn’t work out why this had occurred. Eventually they concluded that it was due to the recession after the global financial crisis. People who had suddenly found themselves out of work, but with generous redundancy packages or decent savings, had decided to fulfil a lifetime’s ambition by walking from Land’s End to John o’ Groats. Joyce also talked about the recent boost to tourism from the Dark Sky Park in Northumberland. She’s also a good friend of Claire, the host of my Friday night B&B, Mill House at Kirk Yetholm, and promised me the accommodation was excellent.
At Trows Farm, thanked her profusely and wished her and Colin all the very best for their retirement. Theirs can’t have been a conventional life. It certainly differs vastly from that of the urban professionals I’ve spent most of my adulthood around. But it strikes me as one that’s been rich and well-lived. One under-appreciated thing about LEJoG is that you will come across these unsung heroes and think about them long after you’ve parted ways.
The pre-amble to Russell’s Cairn was slow-going. Partly because I was conserving energy for the main event, but also because I felt surprisingly lethargic first thing. I do walk less than I used to in between LEJoG sections, although my fitness stats (heart rate, VO2, weight etc) are at the same level. Perhaps it’s just a side effect of getting older… I did manage to see the collapsed sign that I missed yesterday. Spent 15 minutes resting at the cairn before starting the walk proper.
Start (LEJoG): Russell’s Cairn, Windy Gyle, 11:15am. Drop-off point at Trows Farm, started 10:00am. End: Border Hotel, Kirk Yetholm, 4:30pm.
Absolutely spellbinding opening view – one of the greatest of all 57 days so far (see yesterday’s header image). But it’s an inauspicious start to the final day of English walking, as the path from the cairn to the border fence is piss-poor. It disappears in places, and there’s a huge peaty chasm to negotiate as well. On arriving at the fence, Trailblazer says you can walk either side of it. My advice is to stick to the slabs on the right hand (English) side. That first couple of hundred yards is enough to put you off the grass for a while to come.
You’re now walking along the border between England and Scotland. In general it’s straight and easy for a mile or so, with the bonus of constantly wonderful views of the Cheviots. This is probably the single most remote stage so far in LEJoG. I wrote something similar yesterday, but at least that starts in Byrness, by a busy trunk road. Here you start over a mile from the farm, and apart from other walkers, very occasional ruminants and a single refuge hut there are no signs of life until Halterburnhead Farm, a couple of miles from Kirk Yetholm. I guess it’s as close to a wilderness as England possesses.
There’s a very shallow climb to King’s Seat (533m), but soon afterwards you begin to ascend Cairn Hill, and this is where you may begin to feel heavy-legged. I certainly did. It’s one of those ascents that doesn’t look like much initially, and where the contours don’t look too fearful on the map, but it becomes steeper as you progress. By the time I reached the rocky outcrop, just before the path flattens out again, I was walking very slowly (even with a light rucksack).
The summit of Cairn Hill is at 777m. This lies on the route to the Cheviot peak (815m), an optional sidetrack for those motivated by extra notches on their walking poles. Trailblazer describes it as “only for the diehards” and it adds 60-90 minutes to the day. In walking from King’s Seat to the junction at 743m, a distance of less than half a mile, you’ve already gained 210m in height, and have just finished what may be the most tiring climb between Byrness and Kirk Yetholm. What I’m saying is that this was a no-brainer: I resigned myself to probably never climbing the Cheviot, and turned left for my lunch spot at Auchope Cairn.
The sign for the Cheviot summit, near Cairn Hill
Lunch was taken in high winds, although there was a very good (and unoccupied) shelter which enabled me to eat lunch in relative peace. Stayed there for 25 minutes, then set off on the very steep descent towards Red Cribs, a striking ravine at the southern end of the College Valley. Just before Red Cribs is the second and last mountain refuge hut on this final stretch of the Pennine Way:
Auchope Mountain Refuge Hut
Before turning right and heading north for The Schil, it is worth taking some time to appreciate the view NNE up the College Valley, towards Mounthooly Bunkhouse. This might just have been the grandest vista in the Cheviot Hills, and it missed out on the header image for today only because I felt it necessary to reflect the significance of the Border Hotel instead.
The view towards Mounthooly
(this rather disappointing pixelated effect doesn’t really capture nature’s beauty, does it?)
My least favourite part of today’s walk was undoubtedly the remaining mile and a half between Red Cribs (490m) and the summit of The Schil (601m). Said to be the most attractive hill in the Cheviots, I’m afraid its charms passed me by due to an unusual early afternoon fatigue. It’s rare that I’ve felt so unmotivated when clocking up the miles and targeting a summit. There was a lot of boggy ground in the flat section, which didn’t help. And although the views were terrific, I didn’t really enjoy the climb either. It’s apparently the steepest of the entire 26 miles between Byrness and Kirk Yetholm, although to be honest I found Cairn Hill more taxing.
Approaching The Schil
Rocky summit of The Schil
View from the summit of The Schil (looking due south)
A long straight descent brought me close to the first cattle of the day, skilfully avoided by clambering over a wall and using a grassy alley separated from the cattle by barbed wire. The first sign for Kirk Yetholm (4½ miles) is the moment where you leave England for the final time and enter Scotland.
It points you over a relatively easy ridge, and then a second sign marks the point where you must choose between the high-level and low-level routes to the border town which marks the end of the Pennine Way. The high-level route is obviously more testing, and takes half an hour longer. Stopped for 15 minutes at this sign, for food and drink rather than thinking time. I might have pushed myself harder on a one-off walk, but at the end of a tough and sometimes demoralising week (Monday’s bogs, Tuesday’s wall and long hours, Wednesday’s ruined forest), with the end in sight, it was another no-brainer. We’re in Scotland now, so you take the high road if you like. I’ll take the low road thanks.
That low road gets very low very quickly. Due to the zig-zags it isn’t especially steep, but it’s only a few minutes before the Cheviots look very remote. Looking up at an already distant high route, you may well congratulate yourself on making the correct decision. Soon enough you’re among trees again – pretty much unseen today since leaving Trows Farm. Not long after that the sheep re-appear, just before Halterburnhead Farm. You follow a new route on the far side of the stream, avoiding the farm itself. The “best stile on the Pennine Way” – six steps in an L-shape – takes you back over the stream and on to the Halterburn road.
Now, these last two miles are not physically difficult at all. First there’s some flat road walking, which ends at the point where the high route rejoins from the right. Then there’s a couple of gentle hills, with a sharper one about half a mile before journey’s end. Psychologically however, I found the last mile one of the hardest of the day. You can see Kirk Yetholm’s church for a long time before you actually reach the first houses. It was much warmer and I felt over-dressed. There are no verges, so be prepared to wait for traffic. But once you round the final corner and see the village green, with the Border Hotel at the far right hand side, you’re only 50 yards from home. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the end of the Pennine Way.
After the walk
It is a well-known tradition that the Border Hotel provides all walkers completing the Pennine Way with a certificate and a free half pint. You can also sign the completers’ book on request – I left a short message as “Ben Wainless”. For many years of course, that drink was on Alfred Wainwright himself (and later his estate). Here’s the bottom half of my certificate, showing the name of the drink if not the walker.
A friendly chap at the bar offered to take a picture of me under the official “End of the Pennine Way” sign and next to the array of walking boots donated by PW finishers. Here’s one of the photographs, only without me…
The official end of the Pennine Way, and of my 2019 LEJoG walking
I hope my overall enjoyment of the Pennine Way comes across. I would recommend it to any walker, although I can’t deny I was glad of the breaks between sections. The highlights? Pen-y-Ghent and the whole day from Malham Cove to Horton stand out for this writer. Kinder I already knew was wonderful. The Cheviot Hills are magnificent. Tan Hill is a godsend. High Cup, obviously, and the waterfalls (particularly Cauldron Snout). And, perhaps less appreciated by many, the moorland between Haworth and Gargrave (notably Ickornshaw Moor and Pinhaw Beacon) feels like real, honest, gritty distance walking, where your cares just fall away and nothing matters but the next hill and the splendid views. I’d add Hadrian’s Wall, if the 13 miles from Rapishaw Gap to Bellingham hadn’t been scheduled for the same day…
Lowlights were few, but I have to mention: the bogs north of Greenriggs/Round Hill; the Corpse Road to Garrigill; the repetitious scrolling landscape south of Middleton-in-Teesdale; and the Holy Bible-era Manic Street Preachers song in landscape form that is the devastation at the southern end of Redesdale Forest. You will notice that all of those lowlights occur in the second half of the Way. I can’t really pick anything out of the first nine days, although “Wuthering Heights” is distinctly underwhelming and I think you should definitely take a bus if ending stage 2 at Standedge.
So, after the photos I walked the 5-10 minutes to my accommodation at Mill House. Most PW finishers either stay there or at the Border Hotel. Indeed, as Mill House only provides B&B, your lovely host Clare will book you an evening meal at the Border. I had quite a quick turnaround: shower, change and back to the Border for a meal at 6:30. Minor mishap on my return to Mill House when I forgot which room was mine (no I was not drunk!), and then a relaxed evening in.
Final morning practicalities: early-ish breakfast as I had to catch a bus out of Kirk Yetholm at 8:45am. Shared the table with some people who were walking St Cuthbert’s Way for charity. Some of that route will be on my agenda for 2020. My bus took about an hour to reach Kelso and I spent over an hour there, waiting for the next direct bus to Berwick. Really didn’t fancy any more stopping and starting. Train home from Berwick.
Postscript – My Listening Pleasure
Public Service Announcement – “A Bit of Phillip and Sarah”
As trailed at the top of the page, a momentous occasion. After eight months of site design, kicking around ideas and actually writing these posts, while keeping the site private, I am finally ready for…
50FootHead is now open to the public.
Polite request: please don’t treat Ben like Five Star.
Picture (taken 23 August 2019) shows my first look at the Border Hotel in Kirk Yetholm. Ideally I would have used the picture of the “End of Pennine Way” sign and the walking boots. However it didn’t fit with the site design and you’d only have seen a blank wall when clicking on Day 57.
Next: Day 58 (2 August 2020)… in which the world has changed.