17th May 2010 – Garrigill to Greenhead – 20.1 miles
“When I was a young man I carried my pack and I lived the free life of a rover.
From the Murrays green basin to the dusty outback, I waltzed my Matilda all over.
Then in nineteen fifteen my country said Son, it’s time to stop rambling ’cause there’s work to be done,
So they gave me a tin hat and they gave me a gun and they sent me away to the war”.
The Pogues – And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda
What would be the worst possible set of words you could be faced with after walking 21 rather hot and sweaty miles across the farmland of Northumberland? You could probably come up with a few; but the ones I got were “Oh, you’re Mr. Greig?” “I’m really sorry but there’s been a problem with your booking.” My heart sank and I automatically engaged “enraged customer” mode. But before I could launch into a tirade, the guy said “However, we’ve sorted you out something much better.”
I’d booked into the Hostel in Greenhead tonight, based on the prices in the Greenhead Hotel (£60 for a single occupancy) – I was prepared to rough it in a Hostel for the night (£19). They’re both owned by the same people and it’s only for one night! I was told the hostel had been block booked for some youth event and they’d moved me into a twin room in the Hotel instead, for the same price as a bed in the Hostel! No complaint from me, even when be said he couldn’t run to free breakfast as well.
So I’m fresh from a fantastic power shower, sitting in the Hotel drinking a large Diet Coke. The room is very nice, it’s got one of the largest Plasma TVs I’ve ever seen in a hotel room – and I’ve seen a few hotel rooms in my time – the best thing of all of course is that I won’t need the earplugs I brought with me for tonight. Better still, the Greenhead Hotel includes entertainment this afternoon – provided by five blokes in the bar, who are trying to remove a TV screen from the wall of the bar and replace it with a projector screen. Presumably in preparation for the summer’s major sporting event. There’s lots of cheery banter as the littlest workman is sent up a rickety ladder held by two others who promise to bear witness at the compensation hearing – in exchange for a percentage of the payout.
The five stooges are now deciding how to prevent the projector, which is wedged into a shelf much too small to fully support it, from falling onto the heads of punters standing at the bar. A bungee cord is now being hammered (using the back of a small hatchet rather than a hammer) into the shelf, presumably to be wrapped around the projector to “secure” it to the shelf. I wish this iPhone had video!
Anyway, back to the days walking….
It was long and mostly boring, with more wet bits than any other single day so far. It was sunny too. “Reports in a nutshell” brought to you by Lone Walker.
Seriously though, I had an enjoyable evening in Garrigill. Eastview was a little oasis in the desert that Garrigill is rapidly becoming. In any other village this gem of a B&B would be in great demand. As it is, it barely manages to justify it’s existence. When I booked, Lana, the landlady, warned me that the pub was closed, the shop shut early and she worked in the evening, so wouldn’t be able to make me a meal. This hardly encourages people to stay in the village. I really didn’t want to walk the additional 4 miles into Alston though, so I was prepared to rough it in terms of evening meal.
I had the best nights sleep of the walk, in the most comfortable bed and chatted over breakfast with one of the friendliest hostesses. I hope things turn round in Garrigill, for Lana’s sake and the other B&B owners’ sake if for nothing else.
I was out and walking by 08:15, concious that I had 21 miles to go and I wanted to visit Alston and pick up some lunch items. I set a good pace over the many stiles through the dozens of fields beside the South Tyne River. Many of the gates along this section were locked, which forced me to climb the stiles, and this became quite tedious after a while. I arrived in Alston at 09:20 – not bad for the best part of 4 miles, over what had felt like a steeplechase course.
I stopped into the Co-op and picked some bits up for lunch and then paid a visit to the Chemist and stocked up on Paracetemol. I met Tony, my German backpacking friend as I was sitting in the village necking a can of Diet Coke. “You’re always sitting down when I see you” he said with a smile. “I’ve already done 4 miles this morning” I retorted, ” how many have you done?”
He said he’d probably see me later, when I passed him; but that wasn’t going to happen. I had a plan. The guide book had said that this was a pretty tedious and “pedantic” section of the route and it meandered unnecessarily across fields and lanes. Looking at the map it seemed much more sensible to pick up the South Tyne Trail at Alston and stick on it as far as Burnstones – about 5 miles further along. This removes some of the wandering of the PW and uses a mostly flat disused railway line. It may not be the most scenic route, but it sounded like it couldn’t be any worse than the PW route.
I’d decided from the outset that I wasn’t going to be all purist about sticking to the exact route. I’ve avoided short-cuts for the most part – that really does seem pointless, but when I see the option to improve on the route slightly I will take it. The South Tyne Trail was excellent. It was five miles of flat, easy walking, just the thing for taking a great bite out of a 21 mile day. The first couple of miles of the STT run alongside a narrow gauge railway line, but this soon runs out. It appears to be under construction though as the final few hundred yards are on new sleepers, on freshly laid aggregate. On ocassion I could see PW signs below the railway path as it wandered first one side of the STT and then the other. I saw no other walkers for ages, on either footpath.
At Burnstones I scrambled down the side of the embankment and rejoined the PW. I was immediately faced with a steep climb up a hill and after 5 miles of flat walking this came as something of a shock. Having to rely on signing again also caused a problem, mainly because there was so little of it. The STT path was very obvious and I just had to follow my nose until Burnstones. The PW signs along the section I was now on are few and far between and very easy to miss; the little acorn symbol on a gate post 1/2 a mile away isn’t obvious. So I was map in one hand and pole in the other for the rest of the day.
As I joined the Maiden Way – an old Roman road – I at least had a wall to follow for a mile or two. A series of steep ups and downs brought me to Hartleyburn Common and then Blenkinsopp Common, both tedious, wet, grassy expanses where I spent a long time avoiding the boggy patches. Most of the wet bits of the PW have dried out over recent weeks, but these 2 sections are still bloody awful, I imagine they would be a nightmare after a week or two of rain. Bring on the slabs!
By 15:00 I’d almost finished the 21 miles. I rang Chris while perched on a ladder stile, watching a huge bull cruise around in the next field. I made sure everything was OK at home and confirmed that I was still alive and she should hold off contacting the insurance company – at least for another 24 hours.
I took a back route into Greenhead, trying to avoid the very busy A69 and found a quiet lane that runs parallel to it, right down into the village. I noticed that the Roam ‘n’ Rest campsite was closed, seemingly for good as they’ve taken the sign down. I’d stayed there last year when I walked part of Hadrian’s Wall, something to bear in mind if you’re camping the Way.
I’ve already described the mixed welcome at the Hotel, so nuff said on that score.
While sitting in the bar in the evening, I chatted briefly to an American lady who’s walking Hadrian’s Wall, she was trying to access WiFi and not getting much joy from the apparently open BTOpenZone hotspot. It’s not one of the truly open ones, you have to pay for it. Even though the iPhone finds it and seems to connect, you then have to go into a browser session and login with a credit card. So, if I want to post this I have to go outside to get a very weak O2 signal, which means no photos today I’m afraid. I have an easy 7 miles tomorrow, but no lie in.
13 down, 4 to go!