20th May 2010 – Bellingham to Byrness – 15.0 miles
“Everything went slowly then, as if to match the way Curley was walking. The soldiers on the back of the slow-moving halftrack raised their guns. The crowd gasped, as if they hadn’t known this was the way it was and the walkers gasped, as if they hadn’t known and Garraty gasped with them, but of course he had known, of course they had all known, it was very simple, Curley was going to get his ticket.”
The Long Walk – Richard Bachman (Stephen King)
Tony and I had breakfast in a much more civilised environment this morning, in the dining room of Lynn View B&B, rather than in the seventh circle of Hell with all of Diablo’s little minions screaming around us.
The only thing I will say against Lynn View is that it has a smell of smoke pervading it. I guess the owners are smokers, I didn’t see them smoking, but there was an underlying smell of it all round the house. Other than that though it was great – lovely breakfast, clean rooms, tea and biscuits on arrival – everything you could want from a B&B.
We were out the door and walking down to the Coop by 09:00 – no point starting too early today, there’s nothing at Byrness other than the B&B and the Hostel, so there’s nowhere to sit and wait for them to open if you arrive too early.
Tony was collecting something for lunch and as I was waiting for him outside, Steve – complete with red gaiters – arrived from his accommodation, The Cheviot Hotel, across the road. We all set out together and left Bellingham at about 09:30. I wasn’t all that sorry to see the back of it, it’s a bit of a seedy place, unloved maybe, a bit rough, but it’s the last supply stop before Kirk Yetholm – still over 40 miles away.
We took it really slowly out of the village, climbing the road, which seemed to go on for ever, before turning off, through a farm and out into the open moors. We chatted and stopped and dawdled and chatted and generally took about an hour to do the first couple of miles. Once you cross the road beyond Hareshaw House the moorland becomes much more wild and rugged. In fact it’s absolutely brilliant, just like the high moors of the Yorkshire Dales. A single narrow path runs through the heather, studded with gritstone rocks with wide views across the surrounding moors. The path climbed gradually up to Deer Play, we could see the fingerpost and cairn from a long way off, beckoning us onward.
And what a view there was from the top, the highest point of the day. We could see Padon Hill’s huge summit monument a mere 3 miles away, but far more impressively, we could see all of tomorrows route, as far as The Cheviot at least. The hills climbed up through the forest behind Byrness and then rolled off into the distance to the cloud clad and snow draped summit of the mighty bulk of Northumberland’s highest peak.
It was sobering to think that the Cheviot was about 30 miles walking distance from where we stood and I would be walking up it’s lower slopes in about 24 hours time.
We walked down from Deer Play, over Whitely Pike – not sure what Richard Whitely ever did to deserve having such a lovely little heather-clad hill named after him. It has a large cairn with a lichen covered stake in it and a little path leads off down to the road at Gunstone.
I’d already discussed my intention to “cheat on the route” at this point, with my two companions. They were determined to go the traditional way, despite the dire warnings of peat bog nightmare, deep mud and sketchy path from the guide book. I figured that if the guide book included these warnings then the reality could be even worse, and the use of a perfectly dry, parallel road seemed quite logical, if not totally in the purist vein.
We said goodbye and Steve and Tony headed off along the fence line and I marched off down the road. There was a nice green verge, so I didn’t need to walk on the tarmac and I didnt see a vehicle on it. It eventually climbed up to a farmhouse, with a gate into the forest and a nice, well maintained foresty track running straight ahead. There was a very muddy, 100 yard section at one point, but it was totally dry today – it may be messy in wet weather though.
The road was soon joined by the PW path that emerges from a line of trees along a wet looking track and then runs almost pencil straight for a mile. The road was hard core, laid down to support the logging trucks and foresty vehicles, not for the comfort of walkers – and ocassionally the PW diverts off to the left of the road to follow a grassy parallel track. My feet appreciated the thought.
Not much to say about this section really. It was long, tedious, dull, hard on the feet and done during a very hot spell. We’d departed Bellingham under cloud, but gradually the sun had burned through and from the road after Whitely Pike we’d been walking in hot sunshine. The forest offered no respite; the road was too wide, the trees too far back and the sun was at it’s height. I stepped up to almost full pace and hammered out the miles. I looked back ocassionally to see if I could spot Steve and Tony on the track behind me – it was straight enough – but I couldn’t. They must have been taking it very easy.
I slowed down once I passed Blakehopeburnhaugh as the path switched to a narrow leafy lane between the trees and it was lovely and shady. I took a couple of breaks on fallen trees and paced myself to arrive at about 15:40.
The Byrness looks like it’s seen better days. It sits just off the main road that can’t even support a petrol station-cum-cafe-cum-shop affair. The Byrness is a B&B now, but it used to be a hotel and from the outside at least, it looks like it’s in slow decline. Once you get inside though it’s very nice. The decor is aging, but clean and the room I have is nice and large. The evening meal is provided, there’s nowhere else to go!
Steve arrived about 17:30 and we are about to be provided with a menu to select tonight dinner. After which we’ll go over to the Youth Hostel to see Tony and have a final drink together. It looks like Tony is going to walk the full day into KY, but Steve is only going half way, where he’ll be collected by his B&B and then returned to the same place the next day.