The wind has been the dominant factor for the last two days of this walk. The cold has been as a result of the wind for the most part, but today was the sort of winter day I look forward to. So few of them coincide with a day that I can walk too. But today the fates conjoined and the walking was sublime. I’m a pessimist and a moaner of course so I’ve got to add a small qualification to that statement. It was sublime except for the half mile or so section over Blenkinsopp Common and Wain Rigg. More of that to come.
I had 14 miles to do today so I ordered breakfast (bacon and eggs) for 8am, with a view to being walking by 9am. I remember waking a couple of times in the night and thinking it was a bit chilly, but I dragged the duvet around me and turned over. I wasn’t surprised to find a substantial frost in the morning then, when I set out from Knarsdale to rejoin the Pennine Way. I enjoyed my stay at Stone Croft, the lack of a phone signal and no WiFi did make it a bit of a black hole, and even the pub didn’t have WiFi, so although I popped out for a pint I didn’t stay for long. It wouldn’t stop me from staying there again, but I’m not sure how much longer it’s going to be run as a B&B, the landlady says she’s thinking of giving it up, but she hopes to do a couple more years yet.
I started out in baselayer, windshirt and Paramo coat, as well as my buff as a neck gaiter, gloves and woolly hat. It was very chilly! The sun was out though and the sky was blue, with dozens of distant con trails making their mark on the vista. I have to admit to not looking forward to this section very much. I seemed to remember it as one of those dreadful ‘transition’ stages that you have to endure to reach the next scenic bit. My memory must be faulty then, because I enjoyed nearly every bit of the walk today.
The route starts by climbing (no surprise there, in fact the only day I can think of that doesn’t start this way is yesterday’s exit from Garrigill) but the path is good and the views open up quickly. The Pennine Way shares the path with the Maiden Way, an old Roman road and you can still see the deep wagon ruts in some places, probably a remnant of more recent times, but obviously a well used path for many generations. The scenic highpoint of the morning was Glendue Burn, lovely little spot, which reminded me of the little valley of Graining Water, back in Bronte country.
The early part of the morning was spent in open moorland almost exclusively and I can’t think why I remembered this section as being lacking in the enjoyment department, this is my sort of scenery and I was having a great time. Most of the wet bits were frozen too, so I wasn’t getting quite as wet as I’d feared. I had to experiment with the first few frozen boggy sections, to see if they’d take my substantial bulk, but the frost must have been a deep one, because they pretty much all handled my weight. I kept to tussocks where they were available and the rest of the time just trusted to the frost.
There were plenty of ups and downs today, in fact there were hardly any flat sections that I can recall. I was either climbing or descending nearly all day. My calves are aching as I sit in my B&B writing this up, so they know they’ve had a workout.
The pleasure began to drain away from the day as I walked away from Greenriggs farm, the open moorland beyond was the boggiest section of my whole walk back in 2010, at that time everywhere else was dry, except this section, so I had little hope of getting across dry shod today. The first part around Round Hill wasn’t too bad, still frozen mostly and plenty of tussocks to step on, but the bit beyond the little footbridge on Galloping Rigg was very wet and I over topped my boots, cursing loudly in the knowledge that no one could hear me. The worst bit though was across Wain Rigg, it was deep and cold and there were no tussocks to help me.
My toes were soon swimming inside my ‘waterproof’ boots and my ‘waterproof’ Sealskins socks. It was only a short section and I was soon standing on the ladder stile beside the Black Hill trig point, looking across the sodden top of Black Hill. It was one huge expanse of puddles! My heart sank and I stepped out onto it with little hope of escaping out the other end. My luck was in though, it was all completely frozen. The puddles were all iced over and because the summit was so exposed, it must have taken the night time drop in temperature really badly, every section took my weight. I strode across the expanse, ice groaning and moaning beneath me and me laughing and skipping across the top.
I crossed the busy A69, which was surprisingly quiet for a Friday and was soon crossing Greenhead Golf Course. I always think of Michael Douglas in Falling Down when I walk across a golf course. I met a couple of golfists, who directed me towards the exit, as if I was an idiot who couldn’t find his arse with both hands. I was on the RoW but they seemed to want to make sure I stayed on it. I did see a rather tempting shelter by one of the tees; I’d not stopped for a break all morning and I was due a sit down, but decided I shouldn’t push my luck so I stuck to the path and headed up to Thirlwall Castle.
The long slog up to Walltown quarry was done in the expectation of a sit down and a cup of tea in the cafe in the car park there. Unfortunately it was shut, so I sat on one of their picnic benches in the cold and had a couple of biscuits and some cold water. I got a call from my wife; after no contact for about 24 hours, she was wondering if she could start the process of cashing in the life insurance. I disappointed her by answering and telling her I was fine.
I still had about 3 miles to do, along Hadrians Wall, before I reached my B&B at Burnhead and it was only about 2pm, so I decided to slow down and make sure I did all the little climbs that take you up to the milecastles and turrets on the wall itself. There are several steep climbs, followed by knee crunching descents with fabulous views across the wall to the forests of the North, where I’ll be heading on my next stage of the walk.
I took my time, I had a phone signal so I tweeted some photos and caught up with some emails. All the while enjoying the solitude. I’d met my first walkers of the three days just outside Greenhead, and even along the normally very busy Wall, I’d seen no one around. It really was magical.
About 1/4 mile from the B&B my left foot went through what I thought was a frozen section of farm mud, right up to the ankle. Just as my boots were beginning to dry out too, so now I had one mud and shit covered boot and one mostly dry one. That was going to be fun when I came to take them off in a few minutes!
I arrived at Burnhead just as it was getting dark, Dave the owner, saw the sheep scattering in the field and figured someone must be coming, so he came out to meet me. I washed my boots under his outdoor tap and I’m now sitting in the warm, with a nice piece of lemon cake inside me and a hot brew in my hand.
There is no phone signal, at least not on Virgin and the WiFi is very weak, so I may not be able to post this. I’ve decided not to walk the 1/2 mile to the pub and the 1/2 mile back up hill back to the B&B, I’ll eat what’s left in my food bag and I have some Jelly Babies left. A picnic feast in my room; a great end to a great day.