The Pennine Way. Dere Street to Kirk Yetholm
Day 14. 19 miles
I awoke before six this morning, and opened my tent to be met by a landscape that I realised I would really miss once normality was resumed and civilisation was reached and one I’d gotten used to during the last fortnight - that of green hills, fresh air and complete silence. Maybe this should be my norm. It was my last morning on the Pennine Way and whilst the accumulation of the previous 230 odd miles had begun to take their toll, I felt sad that the end was nigh. I crawled out of my sleeping bag and slipped my boots on to my aching feet, and following a cup of tea and a weetabix drink, I packed up and cleared off by 6:45. The fact I’d already cleared seven miles off the twenty six that cover the Cheviots initially made me think that it was just a quick lope to the Border Inn at Kirk Yetholm, when the reality was that this was a distinctly hard section, with climbs up Windy Gyle, Kings Seat and The Schill still to come. My resources were meagre; around half a litre of water, a porridge oats bar and another pie from the bakery in Bellingham. All of this to last nineteen miles. I was grateful that the day was an overcast one meaning the limited water I had left I could be a bit more conservative with than I would be with bright sunshine and 25 degrees worth of heat beating down on to the hills.
It wasn’t too long before the first of two weather shelters on this section was reached, this being on Lamb Hill, nine or so miles from Byrness with the second shelter at the bottom of The Schill and not for another ten miles thereafter. Much like Greg’s Hut on the descent from Cross Fell, these can literally be life savers and even in normal conditions, they seemed to be popular spots to pitch up outside when wild camping. A couple I'd met soon after starting were section walking the trail and had told me that they camped there overnight. I was surprised to see anyone at all up here; last time out aside from some people at the halfway point at Windy Gyle, not a single soul was seen in over eleven hours of walking. I think the couple today sensed I was eager to press on and I left them behind and headed for Windy Gyle. I could hurry along the flagstones and when they weren’t there, it was mostly dry underfoot which meant I could survey the scenery without worrying about my feet being planted in a bog. It was early autumn when we originally walked this section, the hills in their inaugural stages of turning golden and red were beautiful to see and in truth, more pleasurable than today. Mid summer it may have been but the gloomy, low hanging cloud that threatened to spill over cast a slightly solemn atmosphere on the surrounding hills and spoilt ever so slightly my final day, despite the fact it helped with the water situation. I had been incredibly lucky with the weather this fortnight but I still greedily wanted to finish in the sun.
The halfway point from Byrness was reached at 9:00, at Windy Gyle, and not a soul was present. I still didn’t hang about though. I took a couple of photos to remember the moment, and then headed off again to Kings Seat. In my head from last time, this part was flagstoned directly along the fence line from Windy Gyle. In reality, the approach to where the flagstones began was particularly muddy and boggy, and by the time I’d reached the path my boots had become particularly sticky. At least I could see where I was going, considering that when previously walking this section it was during the start of a downpour that became increasingly heavy. I recalled walking with my head down to protect my face from the elements, and when I looked up the landscape around me was completely engulfed by fog. On the plus side it meant I couldn’t see how steep the climb to Kings Seat was, something that today looked like a climb I could definitely do without. At least it wasn’t raining, though.
Eventually the trig point was reached after an ascent to 1748 feet. Shortly afterwards I arrived at the optional turn off for the Cheviot. Once again I neglected to go up there. The views were beautiful as they were, and I loathe having to go up and come back the same way. A mile and a half detour each way at this stage anyway was something that can easily be done without, and without regret. Anyway, if I’d undertaken that I wouldn’t have met the friendly father and son team who were coming the other way at the start of their north to south Pennine Way. Lovely people and we stood talking for quite a while about the usual things - bag sizes, routes, camp sites etc. Despite the fact I was developing a blister on the little toe on my right foot and my feet in general had certainly felt healthier, I was incredibly envious of them. I just wanted to turn around and head back to Edale.
I took a break at Auchope Cairn, my last stoppage of the walk. It was bloody windy up there so I donned a jumper and got stuck into my remaining pie, and I surveyed the view. In the close distance was the second weather shelter with the climb up to The Schill beyond. The rest of the landscape were beautiful rolling hills as far as the eye could see. I sat there and thought about the other amazing views I’d seen on the walk; the top of Jacobs Ladder, at Torside looking out over the reservoirs at Crowden, and from Laddow Rocks looking back over Crowden to Bleaklow. Standing on the limestone formation at Malham Cove and the view from my tent that evening at Fountains Fell. Pen Y Ghent, looking down over Middleton in Teesdale on a lovely warm July afternoon. High Cup Nick, of course, and now, seven or eight miles from the end, there was just the one big climb remaining before the final walk in to Kirk Yetholm.
I could add The Schill to the list above, but I regretfully admit I barely stopped to take it in. My feet and thighs were burning at this point, the descent was painful and the sign beyond, the first for Kirk Yetholm, stated just less than five further miles to go which at that point, felt as though I’d have a full days walking remaining. A short while later a choice is to be made; the low or high route that leads onto the road that heads in to the village. The official route is the higher one. I’d done that one before and right now I was pole-axed, so I chose the lower. Half a mile in I saw a field of cows on the horizon. Not again, I said out loud. Surely I can’t be slowed down and diverted yet again, when so close to home. Thankfully the path eventually steered away from them and instead towards Halterburnhead Farm, where I skirted through and onto the lane, and walking on tarmac nearly finished me off. In front of me, though, were a couple in their seventies walking even slower than I was, and I soon caught them up. Their lovely and cheery company enabled me to forget about any pain I was experiencing and they kept me company for ten minutes as we chatted away until we reached their car. The lady offered me a lift to Kirk Yetholm. As grateful as I was, there was no way I was going to accept it. I was going to make it to the Border Inn if it meant crawling there on my hands and knees. I wouldn’t be able to look myself in the eye if I didn’t complete the last couple of miles on my own. We said our farewells and off I went. I looked up and saw another small climb up the road, which at that point wasn’t what I wanted. I just reached the top of it when a car came trundling past with my new friends waving from within. The thought that I could have been in the back of that car I admit crossed my mind. In any case I carried on, and finally the village green at Kirk Yetholm came into view with the pub beyond it.
I walked over the green in total silence. The mecca each walker strives to reach is, like Edale, an unassuming quiet little village on the Scottish Borders. Walkers arriving here having completed the Pennine (or indeed starting their journey) are fairly frequent - the signing in book in the pub is testament to that. They and we just walk, that’s it, and just hope we can make it from village to village, from pub to pub, from Derbyshire to Scotland. Every persons Pennine Way is different. Everyone has their own troubles, tribulations, pains, but hopefully, and certainly in my case, their own exhilarations, their own moments of joy and happiness and magic little moments - a sunset, a view, conquering a climb up a hill. Also, every person will have a different feeling, or feelings, when they finish. Mine, when I strolled into the pub at 2:00, was simply emptiness. I genuinely didn’t feel anything, good or bad. It turned out I was the fourth person to finish the Pennine Way that day. Kate had been and gone, and a couple from Brighton who were sitting in the bar had finished not an hour before. This was the first time we had met. We must have started the trail at around the same time, and not bumped into each other until now. We congratulated each other and that was that. The woman behind the bar presented me with the book to sign, a certificate and a pint of orange cordial in lieu of the free half a pint of beer that I didn’t fancy. I wearily took a seat a table towards the back of the pub, and contemplated the contrast that tomorrow I'd be in Edinburgh among the crowds and the noise I'd spent the last fortnight attempting to get away from. I can't say the prospect was a particularly exciting one. What appealed more were the hills, the mountains, the bogs, the mud, the cows, the solitude. And I knew that the challenge of the Pennine Way would be undertaken again. One day.