Day 75 (rest day) – new tires and some pottering about

It’s surprisingly hard to find tires for a Skoda Octavia estate in Northumberland, and we ended up going to Hexham where a very smiley man in the local independent garage changed the tire in record time whilst also effortlessly responding to Rowan’s efforts to chat him up.
Tire fitted, we spent the afternoon at Hexham Gaol (small but very interesting, with lots of information on the border Reiver families) and I bought some (more) wool to make Rowan a rainbow cardigan. Tomorrow: onwards to Scotland!

Day 74 – Bellingham to Byrness

The trail guides described today’s walk in some very purple prose: “The twilight world of Kielder”, “abandon hope all ye who enter here”, and “typical Pennine Way purgatory”. Unsurprisingly, I was feeling a little nervous when I set off. Fortunately, after the horrible weather yesterday today dawned bright and sunny, with a fresh breeze – pretty much perfect walking weather.
Shortly after I headed off, I met a father and two sons coming the other way; I nodded good morning, only to have him say “you’re the land’s end to john o’groats lady, aren’t you?” and ask after my children. I was startled to say the least, but it emerged that he had stayed the previous night in the same campsite as four Australian walkers who I had chatted to the day before, and they had told him about this crazy woman walking the end to end trail.
Still smiling, I headed up out of Bellingham towards the open moor, but what a difference to yesterday! The heather was so purple it was almost glowing, and even the fields looked fresher after the rain – everywhere was green and purple and blue. The good weather continued, and I had the good fortune to meet two very nice women, Erin and Michelle, both walking the whole Pennine Way solo. We walked the rest of the way together, chatting and sharing our walking stories, and what might have been a fairly dull walk seemed much shorter and easier.
With the exception of a section over Brownrigg Fell, which was very boggy, the path was wet in places but not as squelchy as yesterday, and the views were much better. Even the dreaded ‘twilight world of Kielder’ (a long section through the Kielder forest, a huge manmade plantation of spruce and pine) turned out to be a fairly pleasant saunter on a wide forestry track with the occasional burn and views across the hillside.
We seemed to arrive in Byrness much quicker than I had expected, and I said my goodbyes to Erin (who was due to complete the 26-odd miles to Kirk Yetholm in one go the following day, a mammoth feat) and to Michelle. I met the Australians again at the end of the day too!
Arran and the kids picked me up in Byrness (not sure it’s really big enough to be a village) and we opted for the ‘toll road’, a narrow forestry road heading almost directly back to the campsite. Unfortunately, the road is used by logging trucks and was very uneven; about halfway back we blew a tire and had to stop to change to the spare. Bit of a learning experience, and both Arran and I got eaten alive by midges.
Highlights: green and purple moorland against the blue sky; the huge ‘beehive’ cairn on Padon Hill; no twilight world here!

Day 73 – Housesteads to Bellingham

For the sake of caution I opted for another rest day before attempting this section, as I couldn’t face wearing trainers again and wanted to make sure my legs were up to the boots.
Wearing boots was a very good decision, as the route varied from squelchy to muddy to just plain wet. Another classic Pennine Way trudge over rainy moorland – the landscape all browns and greys, and my mood likewise.
Highlight of the day was the lovely farmer who left a kettle, cups, a fridge and snacks out in an empty barn for hungry and thirsty walkers. After several hours of squelching across the moor, a cup of tea out of the rain was fabulous; I donated all of my remaining money and wrote a probably over-effusive note in the visitors’ book.
My leg, however, was much better even with the boots, and I started to feel more optimistic about my prospects of finishing LEJOG. I trudged into Bellingham in a downpour, soaked but undaunted.

Day 71 – Haltwhistle to Housesteads Fort

This was my first day back on the trail, and I opted for a short (6 or so miles) walk up from Haltwhistle to Hadrian’s Wall and then along the wall as far as Housesteads, one of the excavated forts co-run by the National Trust and English Heritage. To avoid straining my leg, I opted to wear trainers. Unfortunately, the weather was absolutely filthy – cold, driving rain, and a gusty wind in my face – and my feet were soon soaked, but I was in good spirits and feeling happy to be back on my way, and it all felt appropriately atmospheric.

IMG-20140810-00853 IMG-20140810-00852

IMG-20140810-00850 IMG-20140810-00851

By the time I got to Housesteads I was very wet and cold, and my sympathy for the Roman soldiers who had to man the wall in all weathers without the aid of Gore-tex had massively increased. On the other hand, I had made it through the walk without any problems with my leg, and I vowed that I would continue with LEJOG even if I had to do it in 10 mile stages.

Days 59 to 70 – More injury time, and a much-needed rest

It was obvious by now that I couldn’t continue until my leg was better. Because I’m not a sporty person, I have no experience whatsoever of sports injuries, so I consulted online with friends who are into running and cycling. Their very sensible advice was to see a physio, which I duly did – the lovely Sean at the Osborne Clinic in Newcastle, who diagnosed ‘tibial stress syndrome’ and warned that continuing would result in a stress fracture. On his recommendation I decided to stop walking altogether for a week, in the hope that if I rested up I would be able to restart walking without doing any permanent damage.

After nearly three months we had all had enough of caravanning, so we rented a small cottage in Rumbling Bridge, near Kinross in Scotland. This was a fantastic idea – it felt unbelievably luxurious to be in a real bed, with separate rooms, and the kids were touchingly excited about having a bath after several months of much-hated showers.

Although I was resting, we still managed to do a lot during the week – a birthday lunch in Edinburgh, Stirling Castle, the RRS Discovery and the Science Centre in Dundee, and Doune Castle (the setting for some scenes in Monty Python’s Holy Grail). Without the daily pounding of 20-mile walks, and with regular applications of heat (to aid circulation), my leg rapidly improved, and after a successful 3-mile test walk I decided to restart walking the following week. We headed back south towards Hadrian’s Wall, fingers crossed.

 

Day 58 – Alston to Haltwhistle

This section of the Pennine Way would be ‘bleargh’ in the best weather, and with a very sore leg and a steady downpour it was a grim slog. It was a classic Pennine Way day – wet, muddy, an indistinct path that seemed to cross fields for no reason – and for some time I thought that the highlight of the day would the wonderfully-named Slaggyford.

By the time I stopped for lunch my leg was so sore and swollen that I couldn’t see how I could finish the stage. Fortunately, just after Slaggyford the Pennine Way meets the South Tyne Trail, another disused railway track which goes all the way to Haltwhistle. It’s mainly light woodland and some pasture – even if it’s not hugely interesting it makes for some very flat and fast walking, and made for a welcome change for my sore feet and legs.

IMG-20140730-00840

By retying my boots so they didn’t touch my ankle and taking some painkillers I was able to keep up a decent pace, and the weather improved dramatically as I headed towards Haltwhistle. The highlight of the day was undoubtedly the Lambley Viaduct, an enormous and hugely elegant piece of Victorian engineering lovingly restored to its former glory.

IMG-20140730-00842 - Copy IMG-20140730-00843 - Copy

After the impressive view down the valley from the viaduct, the rest of the walk to Haltwhistle was a long hot trudge by comparison. By the time I got to the end of the track I was really hobbling and it was obvious even to me that I wouldn’t be able to continue without fixing my leg. I finished the day sore, tired and very apprehensive about my LEJOG plans.

 

Day 57 – Dufton to Alston

The stretch from Dufton to Alston is a long day, going up over Cross Fell (the highest point not only on the Pennine Way but also on the whole End to End trail). Cross Fell is notorious for bad weather – high winds and driving rain – and the trail guide tells me that it was originally known as Fiend’s Fell for that reason.

I was apprehensive about today, because although my leg was better for the rest it was still swollen, and I remembered the walk to Alston as long and difficult. I started the day by managing to leave my trekking pole in the caravan. I had a big tantrum and blamed the children for taking it out of the car before I remembered that in fact I had moved it out of the car myself when we moved campsite, and then had to apologise to Arran and Rowan.

The weather was overcast when I started, and as I climbed up the steep slopes towards Knock Fell it became apparent that the mist on the tops of the fell wasn’t going to burn off.

IMG-20140729-00823 IMG-20140729-00825

IMG-20140729-00826 IMG-20140729-00828

The conditions steadily deteriorated, and by the time I got up to Great Dun Fell the enormous radio station was all but invisible at a distance of about 15 metres:

IMG-20140729-00831 IMG-20140729-00832

By this point I was unable to see the cairns marking the path, so was navigating purely by compass. I’ve not had to do that before, and it was at points very scary, particularly when the path went through fields of boulders and disappeared. I fought down the rising feeling of panic and concentrated on getting my bearings right, and was rewarded by reaching the summit of Cross Fell long before I was expecting to. Sadly, the view from the top was nonexistent, so I opted for a very wet selfie instead!

IMG-20140729-00834 IMG-20140729-00836

It was too cold, wet and windy to stick around for long, so after a celebratory (damp) fruit pastille I headed rapidly downhill to start the long descent towards Alston. By this time I was wet through and very cold indeed, and I was very glad to stop at Greg’s Hut (the bothy by the path on the way down) and wring out my socks. There were other walkers there, all in an almost hysterically good mood – maybe with weather like this, everyone needs to persuade themselves that they’re not mad to be out there.

Of course, such being the way of things, the weather cleared up rapidly almost as soon as I left Cross Fell behind, and by the time I had gone 3 miles or so down the ‘corpse road’ I was able to look back and see the radio station in perfect clarity! By the time I got to the bottom of the hill, it was almost completely clear, and there was even some sunshine for the last bit along the river valley. I dried out a bit on the way, but was still very glad to meet the family for dinner (at Alston House, a nice pub and hotel which is very child-friendly) and some dry clothes.

IMG-20140729-00837 IMG-20140729-00838

Highlights: Finding out I can actually navigate without being able to see waymarks; a feeling of self-reliance at not giving in to panic; it’s all downhill from here to John O’Groats (well, on average).

 

 

 

 

Update

A friend recently called me ‘the world’s worst blogger’ – I hope he was referring to the frequency of my posts, and not to their quality! The lack of posts over the last few weeks has been almost entirely due to lack of internet or mobile signal in the evenings, but we are now in a campsite where my dongle works and hopefully I should be able to catch up a bit.

I’m pleased to say that after a long period of rest my leg is much better and I have restarted walking. Not only that, but I have made it over the Scottish border and am well on my way towards the West Highland Way. Tomorrow’s walk (19 August) should take me from West Linton towards Linlithgow.

I’ll do my best to catch up with blogs but am due to lose my laptop in a few days when Arran and the kids head home, so will only be able to post via my mobile after that….

Days 53 to 56 – Injury time, and some Roman things

I have to confess that prior to this I had been feeling quite smug about my lack of injuries on this trip. I haven’t had any blisters, and have been feeling notably fitter (and thinner) than I was when I started out. I had read the Andy Robinson warnings about stress fractures, tendonitis etc and was secretly congratulating myself on having avoided all of them. Well, after the walk to Dufton it was fairly obvious that I couldn’t just ignore my leg and continue to walk on it; my shin was inflamed and swollen and walking even a few steps was painful.

I decided to take a few days off and rest it up. When it didn’t improve, I visited the Minor Injuries Unit at Penrith, who told me it was a ‘soft tissue injury’ and would improve with rest and ibuprofen. I resigned myself to a few days’ off, and it was very nice to have some time with the kids (even if I couldn’t take part in Rowan’s hopping games).

Although I was resting, I couldn’t face being completely inactive, and we packed a lot into a few days. We are camping very close to Hadrian’s Wall, and took the opportunity to see two of the local forts – Vindolanda and Housesteads. Vindolanda was especially good, with some fascinating museum exhibits including a Roman shoe collection and the famous writing tablets. We also visited a swimming pool on the outskirts of Newcastle, followed by pizza and an early evening visit to the Angel of the North. Whenever I visit I find it hard to understand why people opposed it when it was first erected – it’s a wonderful thing to see up close and it makes me feel happy that it exists.

Last but not least, I finally heard back from Lowa, who offered to replace my boots without any quibbles, so we headed to Carlisle to pick up a new pair. Excellent customer service both from Lowa and from Cotswold Outdoor. Unfortunately I can’t wear the new boots at the moment as my shin is too sore, but I am looking forward to putting them on again once I am rested up a bit. Fingers crossed for a quick recovery.

Day 52 – Middleton in Teesdale to Dufton

I hadn’t walked this section before (my blisters were too bad on the previous occasion!) and was looking forward to it – although it’s strictly speaking a massive diversion, because the route goes east to west, it goes through some beautiful scenery and I was looking forward to the waterfalls (Low and High Force and Cauldron Snout) and to High Cup.

It was really hot again – more blue skies and sunshine, in a very un-Pennine-like way – and I decided to carry another litre of water just in case. Unfortunately I didn’t start until close to 10am, but I decided that if I put my best foot forward I could make it to Dufton by about 6.30.

The start of the walk from Middleton-in-Teesdale is a very pretty and easy stroll along the Tees, through mainly flat pasture, and there were wild raspberries growing beside the path. Along the way I met John, Jim and Terry, who were heading up to Dufton as well, and we walked part of the way together. The three of them are old friends and walking partners, and it was great listening to their stories. Terry in particular was a mine of information and taught me how to recognise burdock and meadowsweet (a flower I have seen a lot on my walk but couldn’t name). I persuaded the three of them to pose (reluctantly) for a picture by Low Force.

IMG-20140724-00801 IMG-20140724-00802

We passed High Force a bit further up – very impressive, although I think the view is actually better from the north side of the river – and continued on through shadeless fields. It was getting hotter and hotter.

IMG-20140724-00804 IMG-20140724-00805

I then persuaded the other three (against their better judgment) to take a ‘shortcut’ which turned out to be nothing of the sort, and we ended up having to retrace our steps through a steep field. The others were too kind to blame me, but it was definitely my fault and I felt guilty. We stopped for lunch in the only shade we could find, next to the river, and Terry soaked his sore feet although he said the river water was actually warm.

Having looked at my watch and the map, I realised that I would have to speed up if I were going to make it to Dufton in reasonable time, and so I said goodbye to the other three and headed off. Unfortunately my leg, which had been getting increasingly sore all morning, was by this time very painful and I had to stop several times to loosen my boot laces and take some painkillers. I was very tempted to soak my leg in the river but suspected that if I ever put my feet in the cool water it would be very difficult indeed to take it out again and carry on walking! My morale was not improved by being overtaken by a group of army trainees, all carrying heavy packs and wearing black tshirts and thick camouflage trousers. I was not in a good mood and the scenery up to Cauldron Snout was largely lost on me.

IMG-20140724-00807 IMG-20140724-00808

After what seemed like a very long stretch of scrambling over boulders, I eventually rounded the bend to Cauldron Snout. This is a 180m waterfall in a high and narrow gorge just below Cow Green dam, and the force of the water rushing down was extremely impressive.

IMG-20140724-00809 IMG-20140724-00810

Unfortunately, I then realised that the route goes straight up next to the waterfall by climbing the rocks. It’s higher than it looks from that photo. I am terrified of heights and not confident about my balance, and for a horrible moment I thought I would not be able to do it and would have to turn back, but I packed away my pole and decided to take it slowly. It was one of the scarier things I have done on this trip – I was equally frightened of falling and almost equally frightened of panicking and getting stuck. I eventually made it to the top and had a rest break and a piece of Kendal mint cake as a reward.

The drama of Cauldron Snout was followed by a long and incredibly tedious climb up through moorland. The trail guide moans about the boggy going on this bit, but when I got there there were two bulldozers building a huge new road out of aggregate. It was firm underfoot, but very hot and dusty, and there was a lot of noise and the smell of engines and tar. Eventually I got to the end of the track and it was downhill to follow the beck towards High Cup. This was a long and very boring walk; by this time I was running low on water and my leg was really sore, the sun was still beating down, and the going was rough and uneven underfoot.

IMG-20140724-00812 IMG-20140724-00811

Just as I was starting to question the point of the walk, LEJOG, and life in general, I got to High Cup and all my worries dropped away. If you haven’t seen it, you should – photographs really don’t do it justice. It’s a huge bowl scooped out of the hillside, and you reach it without warning; the ground just drops away from your feet and it feels like floating in space. It was truly amazing, and I sat down as close to the edge as I dared and just drank it in.

IMG-20140724-00817 IMG-20140724-00818

The rest of the walk was a bit of an anticlimax – a long steep descent down into Dufton, albeit with wonderful views. I finished the last of my water with about an hour and a half to go, and spent a lot of the last bit planning what to drink in the pub. By the time I reached Dufton my leg was very painful and I was glad to stop walking, but it was worth it all for High Cup.

IMG-20140724-00821 IMG-20140724-00822

Highlights: The tart taste of raspberries near High Force; being asked by Terry to sing while we walked along (Ilkley Moor, if you’re wondering); High Cup, which can’t be described adequately; the cool shade of Dufton village green; a much-needed G&T in the pub.