Scotland!!!!!

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Sorry for all the exclamation marks, but today is a big day for me. In cloud and rain, up on a boggy hillI, I crossed the border. I’m in Scotland.

I’m in Scotland!

I’ve walked the length of England. I’m thrilled to bits. This (below) is my crossing the border photo. It’s not got much in the way of dramatic landscape in it, but hopefully you can see the happy face underneath all the layers of clothing.

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Ok, enough of the celebrations. I’ll rewind several days to Plan B.
Plan B worked out pretty well. My alternative route was extremely scenic. On the day of the gales I walked north, underneath the slopes of the North Pennines, along tracks and paths and through quiet red sandstone villages. I stayed the night in a little village called Melmerby, with a proper mr and mrs tiggywinkle who ran a sweet B&B.

The following day was calm, hot and sunny. Ideal weather to go over the fells! Cross Fell, complete with big snow patches, seemed to grin wickedly at me I tramped along my long-way-round-route. If only I had waited out the bad weather in Dufton. But hey ho. Instead I did go north east and over the hills, but on a much easier, lower route. I loved the little green lanes that took me back up to the moors. I met a man who said that the tracks are referred to locally as ‘Lollins lanes’. I may be spelling it wrongly, but what a lovely word. Lollins.

After a wonderful sun baked 23 mile day, I caught up with myself. I.e. I caught up with where I planned to be. I was now down on the north eastern side of the North Pennine moorland, and in the South Tyne valley. (Which is extremely beautiful. Another gem that I would not have known of). Ian and Celeste came up for the weekend, bringing fresh eggs and other food treats.

Hadrian’s Wall was my next days walking – well, half day, as I seemed to race through it. For the first time since, since, well I’m not sure really. The first time since the Dovedale area of Derbyshire probably. Anyway, what I’m trying to say is that for the first time in ages, I suddenly saw loads of other walkers. It was bank holiday Sunday. And Hadrian’s Wall Path (another of our 19 official National Trail long distance walking routes) would seem to be far far more popular than the Pennine Way. Interesting. It’s popular with people from all over the world too. I met an Australian, saw Dutch people, Swedes, a Russian couple, and to cap it all I met a family from Honolulu. I think the reasons for its popularity are that the trail is a manageable 84 miles long, never goes higher than 350 metres, is near to roads and accommodation, and of course there’s the whole Roman thing going on.

In comparison to Offa’s Dyke which is a wonderful walk, but the Dyke itself is just a hump in the ground, Hadrian’s Wall is very impressive. At least it was in the stretch I walked, where the Pennine Way coincides for 7 miles or so with Hadrian’s Wall Path. Again I was walking in warm sun, and I felt so happy that my route was taking in yet another marvel of our amazing islands. And I was now in yet another county – Northumberland.

I also realised that I am at last fairly fit. The 23 miles the previous day felt fine, and on this Hadrian’s Wall day I sped along in high spirits, revelling in the sun and glorious views of wall and distant hills. I overtook everyone I came across, and no one except fell runners passed me. There will still be days when I feel low on energy, but at least it is good to know that 777 miles under my belt have made me stronger and fitter.

I read somewhere that on a very long walk, during the first third of the journey you get quite tired and are struggling to get fit. In the middle third, you feel great. Then in the final third your body starts to fall apart! I hope that final third bit doesn’t happen to me.

Having made the rendezvous point for meeting my friend Alex a day early, I was able to take a rest day. I’ve decided on a complete change of route through Scotland. So my rest day was spent pouring I over maps. I was going to have followed the new Scottish National Trail all the way. But on closer inspection I think that it’s (a) very wiggly and (b) includes quite a bit of westerly and potentially very midgy glens. Plus it’s not a marked trail, right now it’s more of an idea than a trail. I have come to the conclusion that it would be more fun to plan my own route north. I’ll keep you posted as to how it works out.

Back to England. The day before yesterday I was joined Alex. Instead of chatting to sheep I had a real live human to talk to. It was a day described as dull by my Pennine Way guidebook, but it was fine, and with plenty of variety. We started with a 1/2 mile of Roman wall, followed by moors, forests, and grass fields. The going was a tad boggy at times, and I was disappointed not to have my camera to hand when Alex decided to get more up close and personal with the bog. I turn round to see her rolling about in the bog, having slipped from a log into the mud. Luckily this event happened early in the day, so there was plenty of time to dry off. We also had a game of ‘Guess How Many Pennine Way Walkers We Will See Today’. It’s more exciting than it sounds. I set the rules. And I won. Funny that. Alex guessed 3, and I predicted 0. We saw one line walker, so I was closest.

Alex kindly had brought a gourmet lunch. We picnicked in a clear felled area of forest. The tree stumps made excellent furniture – providing us with a table and two stools on which to perch. Pickled quails eggs, falafel, and stuffed vine leaves made a welcome change from my usual slices of Soreen loaf with cheese. I’m somewhat fed up of the Soreen but I will persist with it as it’s brilliant for energy. Plus one loaf lasts for three days in my rucksack.

Our day ended with a stroll along the banks of the North Tyne into Bellingham. I now know that the North Tyne and South Tyne rivers flow into the more famous Tyne. In this neck of the woods all three river valleys are wooded and very beautiful. In an interesting quirk of pronounciation, you say “BellingJAM”.

From Bellingham, minus Alex, I strode on alone to Bryness. The lovely thing about walking is that I never feel totally alone. Some days I don’t see a soul. But when I do see another walker, they are always happy to chat. Its so different from normal life, where you’d rarely strike up a conversation with a stranger. I met Jim, a very experienced walker, who I later had supper with as we were staying in the same hostel/inn place for the night. And then I met Guy and Alastair, a father and son duo. Today I bumped into them again, and it was great to have company for the first few hours as we plodded through bogs and saw a sum total of nothing much in the cloud and rain. We shook hands and wished each other good journeys as we parted company late in the morning. Guy and Alastair are just one day away from completing the Pennine Way. And I was heading off the Pennine Way and along Dere Street, towards Jedburgh. Dere Street is a Roman road that runs all the way from York. The Romans would have been appalled at the state of some of the bits I walked on today. All that remained was muddy yucky cow trodden bogs. Thankfully after a couple of miles it improved and became more grassy. Late on in the afternoon I had had enough mud though, and completed my days walk to Jedburgh on quiet lanes.

A final word about the Pennine Way. I didn’t do the very last stage. But I’ve now walked most of it. It’s a wonderful walk. A challenge, but its fabulous to walk high along the spine of England, through three National Parks. The trail is in the best condition it’s ever been, with far fewer boggy bits than in previous years. Yet conversely it has the fewest people walking it than ever. It’s easily completed over three years – taking one weeks holiday each time. Go and walk it!

Right, that’s the end of this essay/chapter. And that’s me. In Scotland.

Plan B

Today I set off up the fell, aiming to go over Cross Fell. It’s one of the toughest Pennine Way days, taking walkers over England’s highest hill outside of the Lake District. Cross Fell is 893m high. Not a huge mountain, so I was surprised that it defeated me. I was on my way up it, not too perturbed by the snow I could see on the tops (during breaks in the cloud), and by the driving rain. Right from the moment I stepped out of the lovely youth hostel in Dufton this morning, I was buffeted by the wind. Walking was difficult. As I got higher, I rounded a corner, and the gale got so strong that I just couldn’t walk. I’ve experienced plenty of windy conditions up hills in my life, but this was super fierce. If I’d have crawled I might have been ok, but I still had 14 miles to go. And 14 miles crawling isn’t a practical way to go. I wished I’d not lost weight since I started walking. Some extra ballast might have helped. But even my rucksack felt like it was going to be tugged off my back by the wind.

I turned round and admitted defeat.

With the wonders of modern technology I downloaded some additional OS 1:50,000 maps to my phone, worked out how to walk the long way round these North Pennine fells, cancelled my B&B, googled another and booked it, and set off in a northerly direction on lower tracks and paths.

I’ve got a friend joining me in a few days time, so I’m hoping to still make our rendezvous point. Luckily I had an extra rest day planned in on Monday, so that gives me a bit of leeway.

A couple more weather facts. Up by Cross Fell there is a weather station. It holds all the records for the most extreme weather conditions in England. The average temperature (year round) is 4 degrees C. (That’s 39F for US readers). And the area is the only place is England with its own named wind, The Helm Wind. Wikipedia will do a far better job of explaining it than me. What I do know is that it doesn’t half blow.

Days like these

Days like these

(I wrote this a day or so ago but couldn’t set it live because of having no phone signal).

Days like these are what I go walking for. I am typing this blog post whilst lying in my hostel bunk, face hot with wind burn, stomach full of food, body content with a full days exercise. Today was glorious. If I say to you the word ‘Tees’ or the ‘River Tees’ or the ‘Tees Valley’, what images does it conjure up? For me it was an industrial, urban landscape. Middlesborough, where the Tees flows out to the North Sea.

This afternoon I walked up the Upper Tees valley. And it was one of the best and most beautiful days walking I’ve had so far. Definitely in my top 5. One reason for doing this long walk in my own country is to discover places like this. I could have done a famous long distance path like the Way of St James in Spain, or the Appalacian Trail in the States. But the UK has such varied and outstanding landscapes. Walking is such a great way to see it and to discover places I have never been to.

The Upper Tees valley is one such discovery for me. I hope my home made (on phone) video does it justice. There’s Low Force and High Force waterfalls – famous I know, but I had never been. High Force is England’s most powerful waterfall. There were flowers, and very varied riverbank trees. I passed wood anemones, spring gentian, cowslips, oxslips, bluebells, daffodils, ladysmock, buttercups, and England’s largest juniper wood. If you are ever in the area I thoroughly recommend a visit.

The day before the Upper Tees day I crossed out of Yorkshire (boo hoo) and into County Durham, into the North Pennines region. On my last night in Yorkshire I stayed in Keld in Swaledale. What a closed in, wild, valley. It felt like one of the most remote places I’ve been to in England. I walked up and over Tan Hill and the moors surrounding it and then descended into Bowes. It is funny, after spending hours in the moors, which are beautiful but so desolate and bare seeming, it’s like sensory overload to come into a green valley, with trees and flowers and the smell of wild garlic. I felt like someone who hadn’t eaten for days, suddenly presented with a gourmet meal. In May especially, the contrast is so great, since the bright green leaves and grass are so vivid. I heard Colin Prior, the photographer, give an interview in which he said that there is a difference between looking and seeing. I am hoping that on this walk I am really seeing, noticing things around me. I guess the same goes for our other senses too.

My Upper Tees day was also aided by the fact that Ian and Celeste had been to visit for the previous two nights. Not only was it wonderful to see Ian again, but he cooked up gorgeous meals AND brought me some brand new socks. I can tell you that one’s feet become incredibly sensitive on a long walk. At the moment I can only wear one particular brand and model of socks. Anything else feels like sandpaper on my feet. (Smartwool womens PHD hiking sock in medium weight crew height, size 6, to be precise).
The new socks are blissful to wear. I think my old ones had started to wear a bit thin.

The following day after my sunny shorts-weather Upper Tees walk, I crossed over the higher North Pennine fells to Dufton through snow and hail. Minus 12 windchill! I was wearing almost every item of clothing I had (not lots, admittedly). The day was wild and rather wonderful. But not weather for stopping for picnics and taking lots of photos. I did manage a few photos of High Cup – an incredible rock cleft and high hanging valley. Mostly though, I hurried on, arriving too early at the Youth Hostel. Luckily although not officially open until 5 (most are closed in the daytime), the doors were open so I could shelter inside, make a cup of tea, and wait for the warden to appear. Incidentally, Dufton is in Cumbria, on the edge of the Vale of Eden. Another county for me. Although I’ll walk straight back out of it as I head north.

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On and off over the last 10 days or so I have met another End to End walker. He’s doing such a nice thing – he sends his elderly mother a postcard each day. We chat about route plans and feet.

Thank you ever so much to all of you who comment on my blog or message me or respond on Facebook. The day before Ian arrived I had a low batteries day – no particular reason, I just felt low on energy, not motivation. It is so nice to know that friends and family are cheering me on. If my blog posts make you smile, then its equally true that I always smile when I read your comments.

I can’t believe I’m heading up to the very roof of England now. In the distance today I saw not only the Lake District, but the hills of southern Scotland. Scotland! I played Highland Cathedral on my iPod to celebrate the sighting.

Mankinholes to Hawes

Mankinholes. What a fabulous name. It’s a little hamlet near Hebden Bridge, and I stayed at the Youth Hostel there – the night I ate my infamous Kit Kat and satsuma with custard pudding. From there I had some steep slopes to leave Caulderdale and ascend to Heptonstall Moor and Stanbury Moor. On the latter I came across some Wuthering Heights fans, as I was now in the area around Haworth that markets itself as Bronte Country.

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Milestones

This is so annoying. I’ve tried 5 times to insert 10 photos into this post, and it’s not working. Apologies if you subscribe via email and got a dead link. Hopefully I’ll get the pics inserted tomorrow. Meanwhile, here are the words and a couple of photos.

In my last post I forgot to write that I had passed the 500 mile mark. It happened on my peak Peak day. Now as I write this blog post I’m at 556 miles on the clock.

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The next milestone was that a couple of days ago I reached the hillier High Peak area of north Derbyshire. And with it, the Pennine Way. I’ve been eagerly anticipating this moment. I’ve never walked the Pennine Way. It’s our original National Trail, and runs north for 268 miles from Edale in Derbyshire up to the Scottish border, right up the hilly spine of England. My guidebook says:

“The Pennine Way remains the toughest of the National Trails, one that every long-distance walker should aspire to.”

Day One, up over the Kinder Scout moorland, didn’t disappoint. The weather was truly wild. Driving rain, sometimes hail, stung the faces of my poor sister and I. Walking upright and straight was a struggle in the blasting wind. Cloud all around us made for zero views. For Lucy this was meant to be an enjoyable few days accompanying me through the Derbyshire countryside. The first two days were exactly that. But the Pennine Way day was somewhat more exciting. Hopefully I haven’t put my sister off hillwalking for life.

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Despite the fierce conditions I was rather happy to be up and running in the higher hills, and embarking on this famous trail. And of course I was delighted to have the company of my sister. Plus somehow it seemed fitting that wilder weather heralded the start of the tougher new chapter of the Pennine Way.

The third milestone is that yesterday I crossed into my home county, that most special of counties, Yorkshire. Today I’ve weaved into and out of Lancashire too. There is something rather wonderful about crossing into new counties on foot. Also the slowness of a walking journey in comparison to biking or a car means that I’ve been very much aware of the gradual rise in the height of the landscape as I progressed from lowland Staffordshire up to the high Pennine country of north Derbyshire.

Finally, the fourth milestone is that I crossed over the M62 motorway today. (Not by sprinting like Usain Bolt, rucksack bouncing along behind me, dodging onrushing HGVs. There is a rather nice footbridge just west of junction 22). I now feel that I’ve officially in the north of England. I still am slightly incredulous myself that I’ve walked here. But it would seem that I have.

Today I was again almost blown off my feet, so strong was the wind. And on and off there were hailstorms. I made for a dramatic sky, as black clouds scudded by, followed by bright sunshine. The visibility was amazing. Walking over the high moorland in this area is interesting, as all around, low down below, there towns and cities. Rochdale, Halifax, Oldham, Huddesfield, to name but a few. And Manchester’s high rises were clearly visible. I saw not a soul all day. As I eventually passed north of all these towns, and over the M62, it gave me a feeling like I was in a different world. Sort of like walking about with a Harry Potter invisibility cloak on, high above on the moors. I can see the world below, but do they all know this roof garden exists?

Another good memory from the past few days was Lucy and I walking for a while with four lovely gentlemen who were a real pleasure to meet. Eddie, Clive, Norman, Stan – I hope you will forgive me for posting this snapshot. It’s great to listen to a group of people who’ve enjoyed a lifetime of friendship and hillwalking.

It’s also been superb to have my number one supporter and his campervan along this weekend. Thanks Ian!!! His visit also meant that I could swap back to my winter clothes again. It’s so cold and wet at the moment that the shorts and t shirts of less than a week ago feel like a world away. Today the wind chill was down to minus 12 at times! I’m not complaining though. It’s not bad that 11th May was my first truly rainy day since Exmoor – Devon – which was funnily enough on the 11th April. This far they’ve been the only times when it has rained solidly all day. The forecast for the rest of May is very mixed though, so I have no doubt I’ll see plenty more of the wet stuff. Not to worry. A few weeks ago a friend asked, “Are there ever any days when you wake up in the morning and don’t feel like walking?” I can honestly say there haven’t been any such days. I am well aware that this trip is a unique event for me, something to be relished and savoured every step of the way. Although it takes a long time to complete, it will end and so whilst I’m doing it I want to enjoy every moment as much as I can. I have felt very tired at times, and the muscles and ligaments in my feet went through a couple of painful weeks. But I’ve been so very happy to be doing this.

I also get asked if I listen to music or books whilst I’m walking, and if I get bored of my own company. Before leaving I put a load of audiobooks onto my iPod. And I thought I’d listen to books and music quite a lot as I plodded along. I have on previous weekend or 2 week walks. But I’m finding that a longer walk like this is different. For me anyway. That everyday busyness that is normally there in my head has ebbed away. And with it the need to fill every moment with external information and noise. For example when driving in my car or taking a train I would almost always listen to something, or read on the train. However right now I’m perfectly happy just walking along, looking at what’s around me, thinking my thoughts. And thinking about food.

Ooops, this is turning into a mammoth post. I’ll probably write nothing else for weeks now. However in relation to food, one other thing occurred to me. And that is that I’ve noticed that my body is now a lot more sensitive to what I eat. By which I mean, if I’ve walked a lot and for some silly reason, not eaten enough, I experience a really low, sad, miserable feeling. I just want to cry. It’s happened a couple of times. As soon as I eat I’m fine. Also if I eat a really big meal after again not refuelling enough in the day, after the meal I feel slightly dizzy, woozy, almost drunk on food. Who knew?! Breakfast is really important. If I don’t have a decent breakfast then I feel tired and lethargic during the day. My energy levels are much higher when I’ve eaten porridge in comparison to any other breakfast food.

Oh dear. I’ve become a Porridge Bore.

NB. Tonight’s tea. A bowl of custard with a satsuma and a Kit Kat thrown in. A delicacy you won’t find on many restaurant menus.