Ravenber Way #FAIL

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.

Straight up Loaning Head this morning
Black Moss – nicer than its name suggests

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 path less trodden is not always the best choice!
Neck deep nettles in places, I’ve never been stung in the armpits before!

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.

Climbing up Carrshield Moor
On Isaac’s Tea Trail on Knockshield Moor
On Isaac’s Tea Trail on Knockshield Moor
On Isaac’s Tea Trail on Knockshield Moor

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.

Bloody awful field paths in Allendale

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!

Sweat much?

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!

9 thoughts on “Ravenber Way #FAIL”

  1. Stuart, I just stumbled across your walking blog while googling the Ravenber Way (a walk that I had not heard of before today). I’ve done a bit of long distance walking during my visits to the UK over the past 8 years (see my blog if you are interested). I always do some fitness training in the month or two prior to a walking holiday. I was potentially supposed to be back in the UK this past July for more walks, but COVID put a halt on those plans (I think July-Oct 2022 might be my next visit should nothing interfere). Like you, my weight has increased, by 11kgs, since I finished my last LDW, so some serious training needs to be undertaken before I take on the next multi-day/week/month challenge. I think I have your Pennine Way guide (at home here in NZ – I’m at my parents for a few days, so can’t check that), which I walked in 2018 and enjoyed much more than I thought I would. Keep up the walking and blogging – it’s sites like yours that help to somewhat sate my desire to be long distance walking in the UK during these restricted times.

  2. Stuart, you are not alone. I had a similar experience walking in the Alps this year. After a year or so of not walking or training much due to injury/work & illness I just wanted to get away into the mountains. After 2 1/2 days of misery I binned it. Quite the self reflecting trip home I can tell you. I have since started doing much shorter walks with a view to building things back up over the winter ready for next summer.
    Really enjoying my walks again now.
    Good luck with getting back into it again.

  3. I find as I get older I seem to have less and less time, and when I do get a little time I get I can’t always muster up the enthusiasm to go out training as I get bloody tired after a day at work… even though it’s desk based!

    It’s just not fun fighting your way through fields overgrown with nettles, brambles, thistles etc, plus long grass throwing you off-balance and hiding ruts… just saps the will and makes things difficult. I can totally relate to your frustration and unwillingness not to put yourself through any more of that!

    Just take some time to pause and reflect and maybe get out on some day walks for a bit in your favourite areas- just do what you enjoy without forcing anything.

  4. Hi Stuart, I relate fully to your predicament as I too am in my advancing 50’s and struggling to do what I once did. The big difference between us is that I have had a long break and am struggling to begin again. It’s probably good that I recognise my limitations and so am now looking at some overnighters with very little walking planned each day. This way I can do what I can and not feel bad about myself if I don’t manage 15 miles a day.

    I’m watching with interest 🙂

  5. Hi Stuart – great reading as usual. I’ve massive sympathy for you as I too have found myself in the same predicament. Having completed the C2C 2 years ago, feeling fit enough to immediately return by the same route, I now find myself having to restrict my walks to 6 miles or so. Resting on my laurels feeling assured that I would retain that level of fitness was an illusion, maybe 50 years ago but not now! Hopefully I can muster the motivation and find new challenges which are achievable. With your amazing experience I’m sure you will overcome this little hiccup and I for one really look forward to reading all about your progress. Keep writing, please!

      1. I think achievable goals to create enthusiasm is the way to go. I shall concentrate on covering every ROW on the North York Moors – that should keep me busy and hopefully motivated for a seriously long time. Looking forward to reading your solutions Stuart!

  6. Stuart – always interesting to read of your walking exploits, and this was no exception.

    Re not completing the walk – I don’t wish to sound patronising in any way, but I think perhaps you’re beating yourself up a little too much. Like you, I’m into my 50s now, and you certainly can manage a lot more than I can these days. I don’t know what you do for a living, but if you’re like me at all, you’re desk bound five days a week. That, combined with too many birthdays, does nothing for one’s fitness! And besides which, the Ravenber certainly looks, and sounds, like a tough trail indeed.

    I was tempted to say as much after reading of your Cape Wrath experience. A lot of what you said there, and here, echoes what I’ve been feeling but have been too afraid to admit to myself. But then again, thinking back 20 years or so when I had what you might call my most audacious walks – they never seem so difficult in retrospect. Only when you think back really hard, to what you actually felt at the time – some of my harder hikes, even back in the late 90s, had me cursing the landscape, looking in the mirror and thinking, ‘Never again…” So maybe it’s all psychological. Provided you/we don’t take the easy option and kick the whole game into touch – there’s hope yet. Hang in there, mate, and keep going!

    1. Stuart, wise words and thank you. Yes, I wrangle a mouse and keyboard all day but in the past I’ve not let that stop me from building up the fitness required for a walk like this. It’s certainly harder to achieve that as I get older and maybe that’s a bigger factor than I’m prepared to admit. I have been too lazy recently and that will have to be addressed. I certainly have no immediate plans to sack in the walking altogether, I need to see if I can motivate myself to fix my situation though. Watch this space I guess.
      Cheers Stuart

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