Pennine Way 1 – Kirk Yetholm To Garrigill
Our party of four started Pennine Way 1 in October 2009 at Kirk Yetholm in the Scottish Borders. We finished Pennine Way 1 a week later at Garrigill in Cumbria, a distance of 92½ miles. We travelled by train to Edinburgh, then on to Berwick-upon-Tweed, where numerous pints of Guinness were consumed before the taxi journey to Kirk Yetholm.
The Border Hotel, which is the official end of the Pennine Way, was our sanctuary for the evening. After a little more of the black stuff, a hearty meal was consumed by all. Keith who complained of a shocking headache decided to have an early night and was in bed at 9:30 pm.
The remaining three of us ventured up the road to Town Yetholm, a 10 minute walk and to our surprise came upon a public house. On asking the landlord, who happened to be smoking outside, if his place of comfort to travellers was open, he ushered us inside and insisted that we have some liquid refreshment.
We eventually returned to our accommodation and were soundly asleep by 11:30, the evening only marred by me being sick on two occasions during the night, I can’t possibly think why. The Border Inn was a good pub with decent food and clean rooms and was probably our best accommodation on Pennine Way 1.
Day 1 Kirk Yetholm to Harbottle (13¼ miles)
Initially, a journey of almost 30 miles was planned on this first day of our Pennine Way 1 trip. Thank goodness we decided to break it up into two days. After the ubiquitous starting point photographs at the Border Hotel, the Pennine Way 1 walk was under way.
The walk started up a tarmac lane near the hotel and entailed a steady climb for about a mile until a choice of high level or low level Pennine Way paths was met. It was decided to take the high level path and get the pain over quickly, or so we thought!
The terrain at first was good underfoot and after a further 4 miles the two routes finally met. A little further on, after another climb, we ate lunch and were soon underway again. A mountain refuge hut came into view after passing Hen Hole, a hanging valley formed when the glaciers retreated 10,000 years ago. More climbing and we were at The Schil 601 metres/1,972 ft high, a rocky top on an otherwise plain summit.
This was far from the end of our ordeal, as we headed for Auchope Cairn, a further 120 metres/394 ft higher. By now everyone was feeling the effects of needing to carry around 15 kilos on their backs, on what was a 1 in 4 ascent. It was becoming obvious that our original aim to walk the first 30 miles of the Pennine Way in one day was ridiculously optimistic. Barry, who is normally one of the pacesetters, had one of the heaviest packs and was really struggling to keep up with the rest. His face told a picture of what the effort was costing him.
From Auchope Cairn, a boardwalk over peat bogs took us to the highest point of the day. It was 743 metres/2,438 ft and the junction to The Cheviot at 815 metres/2,674 ft, and our path to Clennell Street. No street as such exists, it is the name given to a track down to the village of Cocklawfoot 2½ miles distant. Nobody dared to suggest any further climbing and it was now a paved path through another 3½ miles of acre upon acre of peat bog. This took us to our exit off the Pennine Way, and another 1½ miles downhill to our stop for the night at Uswayford Farm at Harbottle.
How people managed to traverse this section of the Pennine Way before the boardwalk and paving was laid remains a mystery. They would have been literally knee deep in liquid peat at every step and progress must have been excruciatingly slow.
On arrival at the farmhouse, after going to our 4 bedded room, we all collapsed exhausted, into the chairs or onto the beds. Dave volunteered to get some cans of beer from downstairs, which were soon consumed and replaced. We ate our evening meal, which was OK, had a couple of bottles of wine and had an early night in bed.
On our first days walking on Pennine Way 1 we had 1,402 metres/4,599 ft of ascents and the weather was low cloud and mist. Uswayford Farm was a typical farmhouse, cluttered and not very clean but in our condition we would have slept in a barn.
Day 2 – Harbottle to Byrness (16¼ miles)
We ate breakfast at 08:00 and we were on the road for 09:20. We had a 1½ mile climb back up to the Pennine Way path. We then climbed to Windy Gyle at 619 metres/2,031 ft. It was then downhill in nice rolling grass for a while until we met the peat bogs again. We had 2 miles to go to Mozie Law, when on the way Barry missed his footing and ended up in a peat bog. He was up to his groin in the mire. We eventually managed to extract him from the slimy suction.
Then it was another 2½ miles of the same conditions underfoot to the mountain refuge hut at Yearning Saddle. On the way to the hut we encountered a platoon of Dutch soldiers on exercises. The thought occurred to us that they were getting paid for traversing these Pennine Way peat bogs whilst we were paying good money to do it.
On reaching the refuge hut, which the soldiers had commandeered, we had a good chat with their captain who informed us that they had just come back from Afghanistan. They were on a 3 week intensive training course, including night navigation, on the moors. Poor sods we thought, it was bad enough in daylight.
Another 2 miles further on brought us to the Roman Road of Dere Street and a further 1½ miles later found us at the site of a Roman Camp at Chew Green. From now on Pennine Way 1 became tiring and monotonous for the next 6 miles, to our destination at Byrness. This entailed numerous hill climbs through swampy ground, including a section where I ended up in a sphagnum moss swamp. At least the water was relatively clean and only just past the knees. The final section was a rocky downhill traverse followed by a muddy ankle deep forest path. By this time Barry was suffering with knee problems.
To cap it all when we reached the YHA at Byrness, which was now privately owned, we all had to strip off wet and dirty clothing before the female Kommandant would allow us in. Barry was heard muttering expletives at this point. This place became known as the PLEASE DO/PLEASE DO NOT accommodation, as at every turn, on every wall, we were faced with a laminated message. They were licensed but the booze cupboard was kept securely locked between drinks. A microwaved chicken curry was to be the highlight of the day.
We under estimated the effort required to carry 15 kg back packs through this Pennine Way 1 assault course. After 2 days, averaging 15 miles per day, we decided to resort to taxi services to carry our overnight baggage. For 2 in their mid 50’s and 2 in their mid 60’s the effort required to carry this weight in such conditions proved too much.
Byrness YHA was clean but spoilt by the restrictive notices, it was the least hospitable accommodation we had on this first weeks Pennine Way 1 journey. The owners thought they were running a 4 star hotel, not a hostel. I understand that it’s now a public house with home cooked meals, so hopefully it will have improved.
Our second day on Pennine Way 1 saw 1,309 metres/4,295 ft of ascents and the weather was low cloud and mist with 1½ hours rain.
Day 3 – Byrness to Bellingham (15 miles)
Last night, Barry decided that with his knee problems and the weight of the bags, he could not continue on the Pennine Way 1. Despite asking him to sleep on it and to see if he could manage without carrying, as we had now arranged baggage transfer, his decision was final. It was with great regret that he wouldn’t be able to join us on the remaining days of our Pennine Way 1 journey. I don’t think we all realised how much he was suffering, as a later email from him tells.
“It looked like I’d had a pair of elephants legs grafted on when I reached home on Tuesday. I eventually recovered by Friday after a course of anti-inflammatory tablets got rid of the swelling and I could bend my knees and hips normally again.
Those two days were G-R-U-E-L-L-I-N-G!!.”
So now there were three of us left to complete the weeks Pennine Way 1 trek. After a self catering breakfast, Barry caught a private bus service outside the YHA and the train back home. The rest us had a 09:15 start. We made excellent progress through a wide forest track for 6 miles, until a turn off through the woods presented us with another depressing section of 2 mile swamp.
Even on the steep section it was the same. It looked like it never drained, even in summer. Next was a climb to just west of Paddon Hill, with the monument on top. Soon we were down by a minor road. We crossed this and then proceeded to climb to Whitely Pike. It was then onwards across 3 miles of desolate moorland, on a path which was non-existent in most places. This part of the walk was mainly featureless bog trotting.
Eventually we came to the B6320 Otterburn road and crossed it. We had a 10 minute snack and drink stop over by the dry stone wall. The ground underfoot was now starting to become a little greener and the next 4 miles to our destination was probably the driest we had encountered so far on this Pennine Way 1 journey. The last mile or so was thankfully downhill and we soon reached our YHA bunkhouse at Bellingham. With no answer to our knocking at the bunkhouse and the owners house opposite, there was only one thing to do – find a pub.
The Cheviot Hotel provided us with 2 pints of Guinness each, and on trying for the third, Dave was informed that they were now closing. A decision was made to go to the local Co-operative shop for a couple of tins each and some provisions. On returning to the bunkhouse the owner was now there and our bags had also arrived. We were in an 8 bed bunkhouse but were fortunate that only the three of us were occupying it. Bags sorted, we went down to the kitchen/lounge for soup and baps in front of the wood burning stove. Finishing off with the tins of Guinness, we were fortified and ready for the evening.
Showered and hungry we dined at the Cheviot Hotel. The food was excellent and we then went for a look around Bellingham. This entailed a 5 minute walk to the Black Bull, a pub with the Liverpool/Lyon match showing. Then followed a reasonably early night.
We had 751 metres/2,463 ft of ascents on day three of Pennine Way 1 and the weather was clear and dry. The Bellingham YHA bunkhouse was comfortable and clean.
Day 4 – Bellingham to Once Brewed (20 miles)
We had the best breakfast of the week, bacon and tinned tomatoes, mopped up with baps, made by chef for the day Keith. Fortified we set off on the 20 mile walk to Once Brewed. Over the River North Tyne bridge and a walk down the B6320 Wark road and we were soon climbing the first hillside of many for the next 6 miles. Eventually forest sections were reached. More marshland was encountered in between the forest sections for the next 5 miles. Another 1½ miles of peat bog and a final climb brought us up to Hadrians Wall.
Many steep ups and downs later and we arrived at the turn off for our accommodation for the evening at the YHA Once Brewed. A quick change of boots and we were at last in the Twice Brewed Inn replenishing lost fluids. We later had an excellent meal there and further fluids were required to re-hydrate the party, so much so, we were the last patrons to leave the hostelry.
We had 640 metres/2,100 ft of ascents on day four of Pennine Way 1 and the weather was overcast and mainly dry with a slight drizzle. Once Brewed YHA provided good accommodation with friendly and helpful staff.
Day 5 – Once Brewed to Alston (18 miles)
This was going to be a long day so we were at breakfast for 07:30 and on the road at 08:30. We had an early morning slog back up to Hadrians Wall to rejoin the Pennine Way. 7½ miles later we were off the wall and across the A69 Brampton road, then on the moorlands and marshlands to Alston. Over the marsh of Blenkinsopp Common, then on the peat on Hartleyburn Common where we lost the path (what path). On arrival at a nearby farm, we were informed where the path was. Having found it again, Dave realised he had been originally standing feet from the stile, which he couldn’t see for tall reeds. Just a post on this section of Pennine Way 1 would save a lot of time and effort trying to find the exit stile.
Then followed 5½ miles of difficult and energy sapping terrain. By this time, 16:30 and with just over 1½ hours of daylight left, it was obvious we were not going to reach our destination at Alston. Due to the previous days exertions and the terrain, we had been travelling at 2 mph. With 6 miles to go it would be 19:30 before we finished the walk, and that, in 1½ hours of total darkness.
Dave suggested that we go to a pub he knew, (he knows pubs in places you never thought existed) the Kirkstyle Inn, which was around ½ mile away off the Pennine Way 1 track.The plan was to have a drink while waiting for a taxi to take us to Alston and return back here in the morning to continue Pennine Way 1.
Not much persuasion was needed at this point so off we went. Of course the pub was shut, so now it was plan B. We would walk to the next village, Slaggyford. It was around 1½ miles away and we would phone for a taxi there. On the lane just past the closed pub we met a gentleman who seemed to be involved in the local community. He was inspecting the recent building work on the new community hall. We stopped to ask him if we could get a taxi to Alston in Slaggyford. “There is nothing there, not even a shop” he replied. We had a vision of walking the last 6 miles in darkness on an A road with only verges to protect us from the traffic.
The guy saved the day by offering us a lift to Alston, which was gratefully accepted. 20 minutes later we were in our billet for the night, the Cumberland Hotel, boots off, sat by a fire, drinking ale. 3 pints later we decided to shower and change and get back down for a meal.
On coming back down, the pub was crowded and we managed to grab a table and head to the bar for more of the same. There was a group of around eight lads all wearing the same flat caps. We thought this was strange and Dave suggested that they were the local leek growing society out for a jolly. On asking a member of staff, she stated they were on a stag party.
After our meal we headed up the road to find another pub to try. The Crown turned out to serve the best pint of the week, Theakston’s Bitter, which went down extremely well. Too well in fact, as we had about 6 rounds.
Dave and Keith decided they would buy some cheese and wine to finish off the evening and rolled up with 2 bottles of vino and 2 packs of cheese, I went to my bed. Alston was once the centre of a large lead mining area and claims to be the highest market town in England. The Cumberland Hotel had good food, good ale, with very efficient and friendly owners and staff.
On day five of this Pennine Way 1 journey we had 1,173 metres/3,848 ft of ascents and the weather was mainly clear and dry with some sun.
Day 6 – Burnstones to Garrigill (10 miles)
This was our last day on Pennine Way 1 and with the previous days plans shot to pieces, a rethink was needed. To cover the 6 miles from Burnstones to Alston and then do the days 20 miles planned walk to Dufton would be impossible considering our condition. It was decided that we would get a bus back to Burnstones, then walk via Alston to Garrigill to finish the first week on Pennine Way 1. We would do the 6 miles lost the previous day and add another 4 miles to Garrigill. Keith had arranged for the local taxi to pick us up at Garrigill and take us to Dufton, where we would spend the night before travelling home the next morning.
By the standards set, we had a short walk of 10 miles, so we decided on a late breakfast and would catch the 10:20 bus to Burnstones. In the breakfast room we overheard the landlady on the phone speaking about the flat cappers. She said it was a “stag party of sorts, as they were all gay boys”. Perhaps two of the party were tying the knot.
So we had the easiest days walking on the first week of Pennine Way 1 ahead of us? Wrong again, we were all that tired from the weeks walking it took us nearly 5 hours to cover the last 10 miles of the week. Dave and I were all in and even Keith who had set the pace all week admitted it was the hardest weeks walking he had ever done.
The days walk itself was ok, meadowland, an old railway track, farmland and the final section by the South Tyne River. On arrival at Garrigill, we might have guessed it, the pub was shut. In fact the George and Dragon was closed for the winter according to a notice in the window.
We got picked up at 16:00 and arrived in Dufton an hour later. We showered at the YHA and went across the road to the Stag Inn. This was a fine establishment with real ales and a very good chef. We celebrated the weeks efforts on Pennine Way 1 with Black Sheep Bitter and a good meal. Ascents not known, the weather was mainly dry with some sun and a few small showers.
We stayed at Dufton YHA which was clean, with a friendly warden, who reminded us of Victor Meldrew’s neighbour in the comedy series, “One Foot In The Grave”. Not Patrick played by Angus Deayton but Mr Swainey, the excessively cheerful one, whose mother you never saw depite his constant references to her.
Conclusion on the first week’s Pennine Way 1 journey. The low points of the walk were on day 2, on the way to Byrness when Barry went up to his hips in a peat bog and on the same day I was up to my knees in a spagnum moss swamp. The high points were the Hadrians Wall section where the Pennine Way joins it.
This was a walk we all under estimated. Although we had completed many long distance footpaths the Pennine Way 1 was horrendously hard over very difficult and bleak terrain with few escape routes.
We had walked 93½ miles, an average of 15½ miles per day on Pennine Way 1. Total ascents were 5,275 metres/17,305 ft. Hours walking were 40¾ with an average walking speed of 2.3 mph. To put the ascents into perspective, in 6 days on the Pennine Way 1 we had climbed 60% of the height of Everest (8,848 metres/29,028 ft) and nearly 4 times the height of Ben Nevis (1,343 metres/4,406 ft)