LETJOG – Day 36: Tuesday 22 June – BELLINGHAM to BYRNESS (16 miles)
A great start to the day, and thank you to Anne, Dave and Tracey at the Cheviot Hotel for a breakfast to remember, and for supporting LETJOG – this is very much appreciated!
Then the goodbyes, this time, maybe, for three weeks, as Rachel returns to the real world and I continue on the LETJOG trail. I haven’t said much yet about being on my own on this walk. I confess that, generally, I quite enjoy the solitude that comes with a country walk, whether for an hour or so from my front door or on a longer trek, and especially with the poles, so that I can go at my own pace and maybe push myself a bit. In our busy world I find that the exertion and contemplation that a walk brings is my best way of taking the time needed to order my thoughts and to plan my day. Or my life for that matter. That isn’t to say though, especially on such a long trek as this, that there aren’t times when I yearn to be with loved ones at home, and to be in the company of family and friends, or just around acquaintances and strangers alike within a social setting. Of course the pandemic restrictions have got in the way of many such relationships, and we have all suffered to some extent with this interruption to our lives. My approach is to plan around what one can do and to build around that focus, and it is in this context that the LETJOG idea was born. I hope that this perspective provides the requisite motivation to see me through the next three weeks of relative solitude, as I head ever northwards.
Of course my compensation to being alone lies in the unfolding adventure before me, and in the stunning scenery that I know I will encounter as I head towards and into Scotland. This experience began today almost immediately today, with a prolonged climb out of Bellingham yielding some wonderful views of the Cheviots ahead of me around to the northern Pennines behind, as I climbed along the Pennine Way across Troughend Common to the peaks of Whitley Pike, Padon Hill and Brownrigg Head.
After around ten miles the trail began a long descent through forestry plantation land, eventually becoming a riverside walk along the Rede as the track approached the roadside hamlet of Byrness. With the smell of the pines refreshing the still air this path provided an enjoyable way to conclude my day’s walk, and, although I fear that the coniferous stands of trees are no great haven for biodiversity, along the shale track and around the piles of harvested timber on the wayside, a great many small lizards darted, my first sightings of any reptiles on this walk.
And against the green of the woods wayside colour abounded on this fine afternoon:
Alas, no accommodation available today in Byrness, so a taxi ride was needed to the Redesdale Arms, its ‘First and Last’ maxim reminding me of my imminent arrival into Scotland for the next stage of my LETJOG escapade. Outside, in the evening sunshine, and enjoying a good dinner and a fine pint of Allendale Brewery’s Golden Plover ale, I sat back to plan my next few days.
(1). I have been most impressed, along the Pennine Way and across the north of England, with the almost complete lack of litter in the countryside. There certainly seems to be complete respect by the locals and by visiting walkers alike in these parts. Rachel and I also discovered that there is a network of ‘Monday Men’ who keep their villages and countryside tidy, with voluntary workforces engaged each week in such things as verge-mowing, public gardening, and even heavier work like path-making. Perhaps litter-picking is covered here also, if it is needed.
(2). The lack of inhabitants, particularly in the northern Pennines area, is striking. This sparsity of habitation has certain advantages, and the part of Northumberland around Byrness is designated as an ‘International Dark Sky Park’ due to its low levels of light pollution and its consequent suitability for viewing the wonders of the night skies.
(3). By coincidence, I happen to be walking this final, northern part of the Pennine Way exactly two years after completing the walk originally. Both times, during Summer Solstice week, my walk has overlapped with the annual ‘Spine’ race, whereby competitors set off on a Saturday morning to run/walk the entire 268 miles of the Pennine Way in one go. On my previous walk I spent my two final days, towards the end of the race week, passing the stragglers seeking to finish their race within the permitted seven-day window. This year I was passed by the race leader less than three days after his start from Edale in the Peak District. The results of this year’s race are yet to be posted online, but last year the race was won by John Kelly of the US in just under 88 hours! I spent an interesting 30 minutes yesterday speaking with marshals Pete and Amy at the Byrness checkpoint, all of us marvelling at the resilience and achievements of these ultra-athletes.