21st May 2010 – Byrness to Kirk Yetholm – 24.8 miles
“When I come home yeah I know I’m gonna be, I’m gonna be the man who comes back home to you.
And if I grow old well I know I’m gonna be, I’m gonna be the man who’s growing old with you.
But I would walk 500 miles, and I would walk 500 more,
Just to be the man who walked 1000 miles to fall down at your door”.
The Proclaimers – 500 Miles
Today was the marathon mileage with the Ben Nevis ascent figures – and boy do my legs know it.
I had a breakfast of flapjacks and room brewed tea at 05:00 and crept out of The Byrness B&B at 05:25, with the sun still stuck behind the hills to the east. My breath clouded as I put my boots on, but the weather guessers had “forecast” that it would be a warm one today – for once they were right!
I’d decided to select a slightly different start path for the walk today, despite the good natured ribbing from Steve last night. I’d chosen the Border County Ride as my path – this is a forestry track that runs from Byrness to the PW just before Cocquet Head. It rises a little more gently and is much more consistent underfoot than the PW path. Unfortunately, it’s also subject to forestry operations and as I started along the road I saw several signs along the lines of “No access to unauthorised personnel”, which I guess sort of meant me. It was early though – I thought – no-one will be around to enforce these signs. I was wrong.
I saw two cars pass below me on a parallel road, both of which slowed to have a look at me, but neither one stopped. A bit further on I passed a huge tree-moving machine and the driver also gave me a good look over. I was dreading being stopped and forced to turn round and go back the way I’d come. It would add miles to my journey and cost me a load of time. I was in luck though – either they didn’t care about a lone walker, or they didn’t have the authority to approach me and enforce the signage. I’d fairly belted along that road, in my mild panic, so had a huge head-start on my schedule. Logging operations had made the last 1/4 of a mile of path a bloody nightmare, but I eventually rejoined the PW at about 06:30.
I could see a line of footprints in the dew-laden grass, so someone had already passed this way. I guessed it was Tony, as he’d said he wanted to get an early start this morning. I followed the faint trail in the grass as it picked up the newly signed “alternative route” that avoids the drop down to Chew Green Roman camp and saves about 1/2 mile into the bargain. I’d already decided to go this way – I hadn’t even realised it was now an official alternative.
I could see a walker a long way ahead on the path, but too far ahead to discern who it was. The early morning mist in the valleys was beginning to burn away and the sun was starting to dry the grass out slowly. But I had a bead on him now and it was only a matter of time before I caught him. I could soon see it was Tony, his now familiar walking style, large pack and twin poles made for easy identification. I caught him about 08:00, perhaps a couple of miles or so from the first Refuge Hut. He was walking quite slowly, but I stayed with him and we chatted as we walked into the hut.
I’d sort of estimated about 3.5 hrs to get this far and it had actually only taken 3 hrs. I was quite pleased. The sun was beginning to take hold of the morning and my caramel chocolate shortcake biscuit had started to melt. I’d packed enough for two breaks – one in each Hut, but I wished I’d added more Diet Coke to the lunch bag, so I had to ration myself to leave some for lunch.
Tony suggested I walk on, he knew I’d slowed down to walk with him and didn’t want to slow me down anymore. I agreed and headed off up Lamb Hill to the first trig point of the day. There were 5 possible, if I diverted to the Cheviot and made a small diversion off the final hill to bag another (I thought they were both unlikely to happen).
I got into a rhythm and despite the almost constant change in altitude of the path (it was either rising or falling for almost all of the day) I felt the miles falling away. As the day progressed the heat built up and the ascents seemed to become higher, steeper and harder.
Beefstand Hill came after Lamb Hill and then Mozie Law and then the long climb up to Windy Gyle with the huge Russell’s Cairn and the trig point sitting proudly amonst the stones of the cairn. I took a short breather here and I could see Tony a long way behind on the path.
Just before 11:00, about a mile or so further on. I met a couple relaxing by the path at the point that a 4WD track joins the PW path – they’d been staying at the B&B in KY that picks people up from Cocklawburnfoot and then brings them back to the same point next morning – this was the B&B Steve was using tonight. They’d walked about 2.5 miles up to rejoin the Way and were having a coffee break. They were on their last day, having taken 21 I think they said. They were incredibly impressed that I’d come from Byrness that morning. I must admit, so was I.
The rolling green hills of the walk so far were now replaced by rolling peat haggs and much of the route is covered in slabs from here onwards. The heather is still brown and drab, but at least it’s mostly dry between the slab sections. The slabs make a great motorway. I almost missed the third trig point on King’s Seat – mostly because it’s not really a proper summit, but also as I had my head down and was concentrating on crunching the miles rather than admiring the scenery. The trig point was slightly off the path, just the other side of the fence and I guess it was some sort of sixth sense I’ve developed while I’ve been hunting these little concrete monuments that prevented me from marching straight past it.
There always seemed to be one more climb ahead – no matter how many I’d done, there was always one more left. I panted to the corner where the path turns right to the Cheviot or left to Auchope Cairn and met three guys planning their next move, they were day walkers (sounds like some sort of special vampire doesn’t it?) and didn’t really have any time for me. I decided not to do the Cheviot (Duh!) and turned left along the duckboards.
I’d been using a small flannel to wipe the sweat out of my face and it was becoming flooded and useless and that was despite my broad brimmed sunhat soaking up huge quantities of sweat as well. It was very warm. Sweat ran almost continually into my eyes and mouth and even my trousers were becoming damp – my base layer and shirt were almost completely wet. Did I mention how hot it was?
I’d put as much water as I could in my 3 litre Platypus and I’d been trying not to glug it all down, but this was thirsty work. I’ve become much more adept at judging water usage with the Platypus since my first walk with it along Offa’s Dyke in 2007 and I reckon I got into KY with about 200ml left – an absolute bare minimum, without actually running dry.
Although it doesn’t look it on the map, it seemed like a tough climb from the Cheviot turn up to Auchope Cairn and I gasped all the way. As I got there I saw three people coming up from the other direction. They were foreign students studying in Gloucestershire; a German girl a French lad and a Spanish girl. They had full packs on, with all sorts of kit hanging off them. They looked shattered. They said they were hoping to get to Byrness today, but they’d not left KY until 08:00 and it was already 12:10. I estimated they had at least another 7 or 8 hrs to go. They were planning on doing the Way in 15 days. I told the German girl that there was a countryman of hers a little way behind me on the path and asked her to greet him with “Hello Tony from Bonn” – it appears she did too! In fact Tony told the girl about Suzi who was behind him on the path and asked her to do the same! Steve also met the students later, still a long way from Byrness with the day moving on.
As I dropped down the steep slope to the second Refuge Hut I could see the Schil ahead – it looked huge, with a long steep, double climb to the summit. I wasn’t looking forward to having to do that in a few minutes. I stopped at the Hut and had my second lunch. I’d packed the wrong stuff. I’d have killed for a nice red apple, but I’d left that in my luggage and the caramel chocolate thing had completely melted and tasted awful. I did have some Fruit Pastilles which were some consolation. I wanted to drink a gallon of something cold, but I settled for a sip of warm water from my bladder instead.
As I left the hut I passed a miserable woman who didn’t respond to my hail of “good morning”. She didn’t even look at me. I must have slipped the magic ring on by accident again.
The Schil was tough. Normally it would be okay probably, but after almost 20 miles and in this heat it was hard work. The scenery was breathtaking though – huge craggy valleys surrounded me and rolling hills in all directions – awesome. I staggered up the climb, stopping several times for gasping breaths, before collapsing at the top for a rest. The flies there were rampant though and offered no respite, so I pushed on – downhill now at least. At least that was until another short climb to the col between Black Hag and The Curr, where the low level alternative footpath leads down to KY.
My mind told me I was almost done, but the map told me I had at least another 4 miles to go. 4 miles in the hottest part of the day, with very little water left and with feet that felt like lead weights. At least it was mostly downhill to the end. The path runs through fields and past a couple of farms before meeting a minor road which feels very hard underfoot. The sting in the tail of the PW though is the 200 foot climb, as the road rises around the lower slopes of Staerough Hill. This I ground out in true PW style, with sweat streaming, before dropping down into the welcoming village of KY.
The guide book tells you that no-one in KY cares that you’ve finished the toughest path in England – and it’s right. I arrived in the Border Hotel bar, a dripping, sweaty mess and no-one batted an eyelid. One of the locals laughingly asked me if it had started raining – but other than that – nothing. I ordered a pint of Diet Coke (the first of 8 that night) and sat panting in the corner. I’d done it! I’d finished the Pennine Way. It felt great – it also felt sort of disappointing – as much as I wanted to get home and see the family, I would miss the daily routine of walking.
I asked for the PW book and was given a certificate and a free half-pint of bitter, to which I added a small malt whisky and another Diet Coke. I finished them all and went up for a bath. A huge bath – big enough for my legs and most of my body and I stayed there for almost an hour, soaking and relaxing.
I had a great evening with Tony, Steve and Suzi and we swapped best and worst stories. Steve had also fallen in the tunnel on the start of Day 2 and he’d hurt himself quite badly. He’d almost given up in fact. He’d also missed what everyone else thought was the best moment of the walk – the sight of High Cup – the cloud had descended just as he approached High Cup and he’d seen nothing of it. Suzi had met the mad woman in Edale as well. Steve’s best bit was the first few steps out of Edale, setting out.