Friday, 21 June 2013

Trows to Kirk Yetholm

Me before my last day on the Pennine Way
A very comfortable night at the Byrness Hotel, and an early departure. It turned out that Kate was not only driving us back to Trows (14 miles), but was subcontracted to Brigantes to take out luggage on to Kirk Yetholm (more than 20 more miles), so she would be spending much of the morning on the road. Winding minor roads, too, with no real opportunity to put one’s foot down and stupid unpredictable sheep to avoid at every turn.

She dropped us at the same point I had been picked up the previous evening, which meant that it was another long walk to regain the Pennine Way at the summit ridge between England and Scotland. This was initially a mile and a bit up a dirt road (past the point at which I had reached it the previous evening), and then a climb up to the tops – gentle at first before a steep bit to a plateau, and then a final climb to the summit ridge.

The view from the ridge path on the way to the Cheviot
The most extraordinary incident was that Frank commented that the final bit looked like grouse country. Within a minute a red grouse actually flew off with its characteristic whirring flight. It seemed altogether too much of a coincidence, as this was the only grouse I saw in five days on the Pennine Way, despite passing miles of suitable habitat and one area which was obviously managed for shooting. But Frank assured me it was just that – a coincidence – and that he hadn’t seen the bird first. Extraordinary!

At the summit there was a signpost stating that we had just walked up Clennel Street, which then headed off to the lowlands to the Northwest. This was the first mention of Clennel Street we had seen, apart from reference to it in documentation on the Pennine Way, stating it as the break-point if splitting the final bit from Byrness to Kirk Yetholm into two shorter stretches. However hard I looked at the map I had never managed to determine where it was, so it was rather gratifying to learn that it actually existed.

Once on the Pennine Way itself it was a long, reasonably level walk along the boundary fence for three miles or so before a 200m push up to the shoulder of the Cheviot itself. Much of this was paved, which was just as well, because without paving it would have been rough and boggy even in the prevalent dry conditions. The last bit, though, was work in progress. There were stakes driven into the ground, and pallets of new paving stones randomly dropped nearby. There was no sign of anyone working, though, despite this being a weekday, and according to the notices the work apparently being done by Northumberland Council. I thought this was a pity, as I’d have liked to see how they actually lay these paving stones (is it stones on stakes to prevent them sinking further?) and what sort of mechanical assistance they have. The pallets looked as if they had been dropped randomly, presumably by helicopter, but there were no signs of any equipment to do the detailed positioning. Yet some of the paving slabs must have weighed several hundred pounds, and be almost impossible to manoeuvre manually, particularly given the nature of the terrain.
Cairns at the highest point on the Pennine Way
in the Cheviots

One of the notices was ridiculous. It stated that the stretch of the Pennine Way we had just walked was closed because of the works. Not only was it after we had walked it (we had seen no equivalent sign at the beginning of the stretch), but the notice actually acknowledged that there was no alternative route. It was an example of planning madness, presumably, by some Council official far away from the heights.

The clouds had descended as we reached the highest point of this stretch of the Way at just under 750m, and even if we had wanted to make the mile-and-a-quarter diversion to the East to the peak of the Cheviot itself it would hardly have been worth it. In addition it was beginning to look as if the morning’s forecast of rain was about to be fulfilled.

We had a 20-minute pause at the top while Frank resolved some banking issues over the phone. Mobile reception is pretty variable in these remote parts, but sometimes improves at the highest points where there are presumably fewer obstacles between the phone and the nearest mast. Then it was down to the mountain refuge hut s mile further on – and 250m lower in altitude.

The view to the South from the Mountain Refuge Hut
There we paused for a snack break. The views were magnificent, and there was even the occasional sunny spell to give the hills more colour. I found the Cheviots the most exciting part of the Pennine Way from the point of view of mountain scenery. The Yorkshire Dales are also wonderful country, but lack the magnificence of this rolling high country. The only better bit had been High Top Nick and the descent into Dufton.

Within minutes we had been joined by two other walkers – David, who had been with us in Bellingham, and Bruce, a Yorkshireman who Dave had met at Windy Gyle. Bruce had started from Byrness at 4:00 in the morning, intending to do the whole 26-mile stage to Kirk Yetholm in a day, and had met Dave at around 9:30. Dave had done the same as us, and broken the 26 miles with a drop down into Trows and a return trip (from different lodging) that morning. He had actually gone back to Windy Gyle itself, whereas we had rejoined the Pennine Way a mile further along and missed a mile of ridge walking. They had been walking together since.

The track down to Kirk Yetholm
As they were clearly walking more speedily than us we let them get ahead before setting out ourselves. There was a steady climb to the final hill, the Schil, after which we had been told that it would all be downhill to Kirk Yetholm. This turned out not to be 100% accurate. After starting the descent from the border fence, and finally leaving England for good, one os offered two alternatives: the High Road, with an immediate climb ahead and more peaks later, with Kirk Yetholm 4½ miles away, or the Low Road, half a mile shorter and clearly downhill. Just before we reached it we were passed by a young man, who strode on ahead saying that he was anxious to finish, but without really studying the signpost took the high road, which seemed to give the lie to his intention to finish as soon as possible. Later we learned that Dave and Bruce had also opted for the high route. It seems that purists don’t take the easier options.
We did – and it was all downhill except for trivial little bits after crossing streams. The only exception was the final bit of road into Kirk Yetholm itself, which involved a 50m climb over the ridge between two valleys. 50 metres right at the end of the day somehow feels a lot more than 100m earlier!

We're there! Frank at the Border Hotel -
the end of the Pennine Way
The Border Hotel was wonderful: great rooms, with full length baths as well as showers, and great beer. And the food was pretty good too. We had dinner with Dave, who was also staying at the Border, and the only disappointment was that we had to leave too early the following morning to have anything more than a couple of slices of toast left out for us to make ourselves. Then it was time for Frank to leave me after an excellent week together. He dropped me at my B&B in Jedburgh, where I was scheduled for a rest day, on his way back home via Durham.


Changeable, with a forecast of afternoon rain, which fortunately failed to materialise. Cooler, though still mainly shirtsleeves weather. Cold and mist-shrouded at the highest point. Occasional sunshine through the threatening clouds. Moorland with a lot of paved stretches on the Pennine Way itself, otherwise grassy or tracks. Dirt road to start and a minor country road for the last 2km into Kirk Yetholm. 22.40km, with a high point just below the Cheviot peak (815m) of 737m. 806m climbing, 965m of descents. 

No comments:

Post a Comment