Day 62 - Twice Brewed to Bellingham
Today has been one of the sorts of days you hope for on an adventure like this. Absolutely not turning out the way you’d expect, and ending up meeting people that you would otherwise never have encountered.
It was a tricky start to the day. Starting today, there are three long days in a row, and the forestry commission reroute of the PW made today’s even longer than planned. My hamstring was stiff and sore in the night, and I woke feeling very worried about whether I’d manage. This walk would be an awful lot easier without the constant nagging pain and the intense anxiety about it. But, as always, I got up, ate as much breakfast as I could face, and got cracking whilst David took some of the psychological strain on the phone. He and my friend Philip deserve medals for all the anxiety and tears they’ve had to listen to as I sort myself out. Nobody said this would be easy, specially not for them…..
I was the only person on the Wall, though there were a lot of cattle lying nonchalantly across the path daring me to come nearer.
A little way along this section is one of the iconic views, and I was lucky enough to have it all to myself. Sycamore Gap is near Crag Lough, where a sycamore tree is located in a dramatic dip in the landscape. It was used in the film Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves, and in 2016 won the England Tree of the Year award. It is a great tree in an even greater place.
Not far from this spot the Pennine Way veers off North from Hadrian’s Wall. I had arranged to meet my friends Dave and Fi here. They are on holiday in Northumberland and very fortunately we managed to get our paths to cross. They arrived a little early, so it was lovely as I climbed a slope to see them coming down to meet me with their dog Monty. Seeing old friends really raised my spirits. We walked together across Ridley Common, which was much less boggy and much easier walking than described, and then up into the forest. This is where the diversion had been made, due to ‘storm damage’. The straight route had been replaced by a much longer circuitous affair, due to large swathes of fallen trees. If it was entirely due to storm damage then it was a storm that was pretty handy with a chain saw.
Additional mileage is never good. On a day that was already long and with the miles being added on dusty forest tracks, even less so. Once embarked on the detour we found a convenient set of boulders to sit and have a drink before they retraced their steps back to the car and I continued the journey. They had really helped me today, I was so glad to have seen them.
Once I’d got walking again I met Simon, who is walking the Pennine Way, carrying his tent. He and I conferred on the best way to navigate the detour, and ended up walking for an hour or so together. He is a vicar in Huddersfield, and we had some really interesting conversations. Walking alongside someone tends to do that. We passed more felling work in the forest, with huge swathes of trees lying ready to be taken for lumber.
As we got to the right path we said goodbye whilst I had something to eat and stretched my leg.
The day was heating up. The temperatures are due to rise still further during the week, and although up here in the north it’s nothing like what they’re putting up with at home, it was still warmer than is comfortable when walking long distances. So when I approached Horneystead Farm my spirits lifted, as I remembered the receptionist in the pub this morning telling me that there was an honesty box here. On the Coast to Coast I saw many of these, where farmers or other kind hearted members of the community set up stalls or even fridges with cool drinks and snacks for walkers. A cold drink was absolutely what I needed, and there in the farm yard was a room with a fridge full of drink, cupboards of chocolate and biscuits, and even a box for hikers to leave unwanted equipment that others might find useful.
And enjoying his own drink on a well placed seat in the shade was Simon. We stayed and continued our conversation, about the gendered nature of people’s reactions to my walk, how people perceive vicar’s spouses, the process of walking, the difference between swifts and swallows - we had a lot to talk about. I finished my snack and moved on, after he’d kindly contributed to my fund.
We said goodbye for the second time and I continued on my way. I’d shaken off the forest by now, and was thankfully out on the fields, and some narrow roads. Going down one of these I saw a walker at the side of the road eating a sandwich. I stopped to chat, as I always do. Bernard explained that he was Belgian, and also doing LEJOG. The first person I’ve met doing it this year. He had a large rucksack with him, and I presumed that he was camping. Not at all. He doesn’t have a tent, or at least he does, but with no poles. Instead he has been sleeping in fields, in barns, under bridges or even up on the top of hills. He has no phone and no watch, and relies on paper maps - but he’d managed to leave them all in the public library in Alston. He’s lost his glasses, but has fortunately still got his reading glasses. He didn’t even have a coat until a kind person gave him one. His and my journeys could not be more different. I have planned and planned, he is making it up as he goes along. Neither is the right or wrong way of doing it, just polar opposites. He suggested that we might walk together to Bellingham, where we were both heading. And then approaching us came Simon. So then the three of us did most of the last leg of the walk together, with Bernard astonishing us repeatedly with tales of his life. On his way to Lands End he ended up sailing a vessel with a full crew from the north of Scotland to Falmouth. He then walked from Falmouth to Lands End to start his walk. When his children were 6 and 8 he and his wife set to walk across Europe with the children and two donkeys. Which they did for three years, taking breaks in the winter in deserted Spanish villages. I have never met anyone like him.
We climbed the excellently named Shitlington Crags (quiet at the back please!), with the men commenting that I walk too fast. At the top, Bernard told us that he was going to meditate, and therefore we said goodbye. He asked if I could take a photo to send to his wife, to show that he is ok, as he has no way of getting in touch with her otherwise. He said that she is very understanding. I could only nod.
Reeling somewhat from this encounter, Simon and I walked into Bellingham, me to my accommodation and him to buy supplies. We crossed the Tyne, no longer an adolescent, much more a fully developed river.
We said goodbye for what I think is likely to be the final time, as he was going to camp a few miles outside the village. We both agreed that we had shared a most memorable day.
And for me it didn’t finish there. This evening I had the pleasure of my friends Cathy and James with their sons Tom and David join me for dinner. Annoyingly no photo, but it was a treat to see them, and Cathy had even brought a whole outfit with her for me which Tasha had kindly picked out. Such a treat to be wearing normal clothes!
Distance travelled: 16.5 miles
Total ascent: 2275 feet
Calories burned: 2324
Local tipple - Heineken 00 (too tired for alcohol tonight)
Dinner at Riverdale Hall - good
Lentil and vegetable fritters
Hake with potatoes and vegetables
Video of the day