8th July 2019: Garrigill to Allenheads – 12m
If you asked me describe my perfect hill path I would probably just point you at the bridleway that runs over Knockshield Moor. It’s a lovely thin path, across spongy, springy peat running between mixed heather and moorland grassland sprinkled with bog cotton. Above, the curlews, plovers, skylarks and oyster catchers swooped and called their plaintiff cries. The weather was perfect too, not too hot, with a slight breeze to keep the little flies away and to keep me cool. All in all today should have been utterly perfect.
I left the rather strange B&B about 9am and was immediately faced with a steep little cobbled track up Loaning Head, this came as something as a shock and within 10 minutes of setting out I was bathed in sweat and gasping for breath. The path flattened out for a bit and then climbed up beside a lovely beck to the old lead mining ruins at Bentyfield Mine. From there it was onto the open fell of Black Moss with more curlews and skylarks for company and a gentle breeze to help me cool off. This was the first of three climbs today, and after yesterday I wasn’t really looking forward to them.
I was soon descending into Nenthead and I stopped at the little village shop for a cold drink and a Twix. I sat in the sun on their bench and enjoyed them both, before heading out up the second climb. A friend on Twitter (@Tramplite) walked the Ravenber a few weeks ago and commented that many of the paths the Way uses aren’t heavily trod. I found this on the way out of the village.
The two photos above just don’t do justice to how overgrown this path was. The second one shows a track between walls, which admittedly is not a right of way, but the nettles, brambles and shrubs were up to my neck in places and the ground was so uneven that I almost fell over a couple of times for not being able to see my footing. I emerged at the far end and was met by the guy who owned the house at the top of the track, “bloody hell, you’re brave” he said, “it looked like a good idea on the map” I replied.
A little way out of the village and I used a rough hillside right of way (no path) to join Isaac’s Tea Trail, a way-marked long distance route that I could follow for the next few miles. Initially it crossed rough moorland and dropped down to a minor road which led to one of the nicest paths I can recall using for a long time. Leaving the road I climbed (third and final) up Carrshield Moor to Blackway Head and then across Knockshield Moor – what an utterly sublime three miles of moorland walking.
The path is narrow, used just enough to be visible at all times, but not enough to be eroded and boggy. The bird life is surprisingly diverse for a grouse moor – no raptors of course – but plenty of curlew, lapwing and skylarks. I drifted along with the clouds beginning to gather and a breeze coming up from ahead. I had hoped to take a lunch break at Nan Davisons Cleugh, which looked like a good spot on the map, but the beck was dry and there was nowhere to sit, so I pushed on, eating a Tunnocks on the go.
It was a shame to leave the high path, but I cut right, down what is marked on the map as a footpath, but is in fact just rough tussocky grass and cut across to a gravel access track beside a wall as soon as I could. The final few miles would be through Allendale, along fields and quiet lanes and if I’m honest, it’s pretty shit, especially when compared to the previous miles.
I passed through the yard of a house and spotted a hose pipe, the owners were out tending to their horses and I asked if I could refill my water bottle, they happily agreed. Their dogs weren’t happy though and if they could have reached me I think they would have torn me to pieces. I sat at the top of the next field on a stile and had a late lunch. Beyond here the fields were pretty awful, overgrown for the most part which meant wading through deep rough grass and climbing endless bloody ladder stiles. At one point I was so frustrated I shouted at the top of my voice “if I see one more bloody ladder stile I’m going to feckin scream!” and found another ladder stile at the next boundary.
A mile or so of road walking finally saw me arrive at Allenheads and the eponymous Inn. I arrived about 5 minutes before a dozen cyclists who were also staying here and we all milled about in the bar while rooms were allocated and drinks dispensed. I had a fairly OK steak pie for tea and retired early, I was a bit pooped!
It was at this point that I decided to go home! I had the best part of 17 miles to do tomorrow, into Hexham. Despite everything being in my favour today I hadn’t really enjoyed the struggle, the pain, the panting and the sweating and I didn’t think I wanted to another four days of it either. You can probably skip the rest of this post, it doesn’t relate to the Ravenber Way, it’s just me trying to organise my thoughts about my future as a long distance walker.
The Definition of Madness
Did you notice the “should” at the beginning of this post? Everything aligned to make the day brilliant, everything that is except me. I struggled all day, the climbs left me gasping and sweating and the descents left me limping from sore knees. I’m just not fit enough to enjoy anything I’m doing on the hills right now. Even with the perfect conditions I just wasn’t having any fun, I couldn’t drag my mind away from the pain, the unrelenting breathlessness, the utter dread of the next hill and the feeling that I should have been enjoying it, but I’m just wan’t. It’s my own fault of course. I knew I wasn’t fit enough for this walk, or the Cape Wrath Trail I sacked off in May. They say the definition of madness is doing the same thing time after time and expecting different results. I’ve not done anything to mitigate my lack of fitness in the five weeks since I got back from Scotland. OK, I’ve done a couple of day walks but that’s not enough to turn round the last 24 months of almost no regular fitness work. Any core fitness I’d built up has been burned away by a couple of years of only sporadic walking and I’m left struggling up the mildest inclines.
So I’m back where I was a few weeks ago, looking for an escape route from a long distance walk. That means I’m three for three now this year. I cut my Herriot Way walk short at Easter, abandoned the CWT after 2 days and now I’m sacking the Ravenber Way after 2 full days. Not good! On the upside, it turns out escape is actually quite easy. I can catch a bus in the morning to Hexham and a train from there to Carlisle, another to Crewe and a final one to my local station, leaving a 20 minute walk home.
This decision leaves me with some serious thinking to do, about my future walking plans and the preparation I need to commit to if I want to continue doing what I’ve loved doing for the past 15 years. Something has to change, I can’t keep doing the same thing and expecting a different outcome. It brings to mind another saying I use quite a lot, I need to “piss or get off the pot” – I need to start doing the training and preparation for the long distance walking I’m doing, or I need to give it up completely – I can’t keep putting myself through this all the time.
I had a long think on the way home, I had plenty of time on the trains and in various station waiting rooms to consider things. I also found myself looking out of the window of the trains, up at the hills and down into the river valleys and often thinking, “oh, that looks nice, I wonder where that path goes”. I obviously still have the passion and the desire to continue doing this so I think I’ve made my decision – I just need to work on a plan to implement it.
In the short term I’ve shelved plans for the walks I had planned later in the year – I’ve cancelled all my accommodation for the Southern Upland Way, which fortunately didn’t cost me anything as I’d selected rooms on Booking.com that didn’t require deposits. I’ve cancelled a walk I had been looking at in the middle of September, the Cross Border Drove Road. I’ve also rung my long-suffering walking partner Chris and told him I can’t consider joining him on a challenge walk we were due to do in a couple of weeks. There’s no way I can do two 20 mile days back to back. At least I’ve managed to give him some advanced warning this time and not just left him in the middle of the walk.
So it’s time to hit the reset button on my walking. I started off in 2004 in a much worse position that I am now, from a fitness and weight perspective and within 12 months of that I was bagging my first Wainwright and about to do my first long distance path. I need to learn to walk before I can run, and I’ve been on this journey before, so I know how it works!