Thursday, 23 May 2013

Alston to Greenhead

Mike and I were pleased to have crossed the high hills from Dufton the previous day. Looking back we could see that the tops were covered in a dusting of new snow. It was cold, too, with a strong North wind. It would have been very unpleasant to have been making the crossing a day later.

The view back towards Alston
It rapidly became apparent that the Pennine Way doesn’t take the easy options. In this case it would have been too take the footpath alongside the South Tyne railway, which runs for a few miles to the North from Alston. It’s a narrow gauge track, now apparently operating only on summer weekends. Our route was across farmland and then up in a loop over the moors – wet, uncomfortable with the wind in our faces, and with chilly rain showers to add to the mix. The views may have been a marginal compensation, but with a long day ahead of us we didn’t relish too many diversions from the more direct route.

The end of the line - on the South Tyne Way
So after reaching the point where the Pennine Way paralleled the old railway, we opted for the South Tyne Trail which followed the old rail track for the next few miles. The Pennine Way itself was now off to the other side of the old rail track, and in part was along a busy main road, so the old railway looked both safer and easier. The rails ran out soon after we had joined the track, and it was extraordinarily wet in places before becoming a road. At this point, in the village of Slaggyford, the Pennine Way crossed the rail track and took off uphill across farmland. Rather than face unnecessary climbs and more wet cross country walking against the wind we elected to continue along the old railway track to the Lambley viaduct across the South Tyne itself. There we stopped for our lunch before leaving the rail track to rejoin the Pennine Way proper.

Lambley Viaduct
This involved what proved to be an unnecessary diversion downhill and under the viaduct before climbing back up to the village of Langham: we saw after doing the hard bit that we could have simply walked on the level instead of taking the low path under the viaduct. Then it was through the village and out into open country before getting back to the Pennine Way proper a mile later.

The next stretch, over rough grazing, was luckily well way-marked, though we still had to refer to the GPS from time to time to be certain of the way. Both Mike and I had the ViewRanger system with the Pennine Way maps, so even when my battery and booster gave out we still had the necessary technology to find our way. This is an excellent aid. Even when there isn’t any decent mobile signal it seems to be able to use the GPS functionality to fix its location within a few metres.

After a couple of miles of fields it was back to moorland. Even though the land here is a lot lower, averaging less than 300m in altitude, it soon became apparent that the moors could be just as bleak as at higher elevations. And despite the good signage across the farmland, there were no more waymarks where they would have been really helpful across the moors. Luckily there were enough walls to make the navigation relatively easy after we had gone initially astray, so we weren’t too incapacitated by the lack of Pennine Way acorn signs across the moors. We concluded that the powers that be are quite happy to put up signs where access is easy, but more reluctant to do so where it is harder to get motorised transport. It was also apparent that on less well-tramped parts of the Pennine Way, like the Alston-Greenhead section, there is less damage from overuse, and therefore less incentive to put in the paving slabs that characterise many of the wetter upland sections. This bit – across Hartleyburn and Blenkinsopp Commons – was incredibly wet and poorly-drained, so could certainly have benefited from some improvement.

Eventually we were over the top, and could see the heavy traffic on the A69 Carlisle to Newcastle road to the North. It was then an easy couple of miles to our destination in Longbyre just North of Greenhead itself.

The end of the road - TH and Mike Tobias
reach Five Wynds in Longbyre
We reached our B&B at Four Wynds just after 7:00. We were both pretty tired. The previous day had been pretty arduous, and this final day of my ninth session had been much tougher than either of us had expected. So after a cup of tea and a shower we took my car (left at the B&B the previous weekend) to the Greenhead Hotel for dinner.

Mike said that he’d enjoyed the two days, though he also said that the Alston to Greenhead bit had sometimes felt more like masochism than pleasure. I certainly appreciated his company. As well as making it  much more social experience I think that a walking companion helps one perform better, and makes the walking easier.

The following morning I drove Mike back to Dufton to pick up his car (a 50+ mile road trip that had been under 40 on the Pennine Way) and then drove back to London. My total distance travelled has now reached nearly 1,300km, with nearly 28,000m of climbing. It begins to feel like I’m really accomplishing something! The next session will take me into Scotland.

Dull, cold and windy all day. Occasional rain. 8-13C. 27.5km, 500mof ascents and 500m descents. Very wet across farmland and moor to start, and initially on the old railway, but then better going on a track. The second half of the day was almost entirely across farmland and very wet open moorland, with only the final couple of miles on easier going.


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