Scotland Day 1 - Byrness to Pennymuir
Last night was the best sort of evening, in a friendly and comfortable place, meeting new people who love walking. At Forest View guests eat communally, so we got to know Kevin, Stephen, Richard and Martin over our fantastic meal. Kevin is finishing the Pennine Way today, completing the gruelling last leg in one go, which drew admiration from everyone else. The other men are old friends, meeting at an Opera North production in Leeds twenty years ago. 2 actors and a singer, they were good company. And after a while I realised that I knew Martin, and we established that he had gone to school with my brothers and also worked on a radio show with my dear friend Mel. I love a weird coincidence.
Breakfast was another convivial meal, and then most were getting a lift to do the second half of the long last leg, having done the first half yesterday. I was the only one from the B and B walking from Byrness. I am so very glad that we managed to get to stay with Laura and Ollie again, and for David to meet them too. They are diamonds, and Forest View is somewhere at which everyone should stay at least once. They serve excellent beer too!
And finally I was off again. To my surprise I have been feeling calm and ready for it, instead of anxious. Long may this last! The Pennine Way continues a little way down the A68, and gave me a vigorous start to the day, with a steep climb in the first couple of miles. Last year it was hot and parched, this year there was moisture underfoot, and I was walking through tall stands of cow parsley and enjoying the fragrance of the elderflower blossom too. And wonderfully, I was walking through new growth in the forestry areas, instead of the apocalyptic felled sections at which everything went finally wrong last year which I could see in the distance. The forest felt filled with hope instead of despair.
The steep walk turned into a steeper scramble, on hands and knees at times. Recently I have been trying to train using the low heart rate technique, aiming to boost my cardio vascular efficiency by keeping my training within the optimum range for my age of about 125bpm. That was not happening in this section, my heart was pounding, demonstrating that the Chilterns are no match for the Pennines!
But the effort was worth it. As I got to the top, I felt nothing but joy. I was out in these wonderful spaces again, striding out on springy turf, with the sky larks mirroring my happiness. I could see for miles, Scotland was ahead of me, and everywhere that I walked last year was behind. The picture shows the joy, but also the very hot face! If it's anything like last year, the fitness will build again quickly.
My happiness was tempered by an unequivocal notice from the MOD. I was not going to pick up any debris anyway, honestly.
This is a really remote part of England. In the whole day I only saw one small group of people travelling together, and only one dwelling. I didn't even see any sheep till two hours into the walk. It feels exhilarating being the only person in the world when the sun is shining and you are fit and healthy. Quite different in other circumstances. I also had the benefit of there having been a bit of rain yesterday to soften things up, but not so much that the infamous Pennine way bogs grabbed my boots. Nevertheless, I was grateful for the people who had put in the work to create the stone flags, and a wooden boardwalk.
Frustratingly, the Pennine Way dodges backwards and forwards over the border between England and Scotland. And there is no fanfare, no post, no signage, I only knew that I'd changed countries by assiduously watching my map. But having repeatedly swapped my bowler hat for my tam o'shanter, I could see that the last border was on its way. I decided to rest and have lunch in my last moment of England. I sat on a soft grassy bank in the sunshine, eating an excellent sandwich, listening to the skylarks and admiring Pete's Shank, an excellently named hillock opposite me. A very fine shank. Thanks Pete.
Eventually I crossed for the last time into Scotland. And at this point I left the Pennine Way, home to my walking for so many days, and started to follow Dere Street, built in 71-81 AD to link York with Inchtuthill, near Perth. In total it is 180 miles long. I love a Roman road. There is nothing quite as evocative as walking in the footsteps of those sandalled centurions, and watching ahead how the line of the path determinedly crosses all obstacles. This area is also crammed with the remains of forts and Roman refuelling stations, all speaking of the efforts they made to protect England from the rampaging Scots. But this narrow section of the road would have been tricky for a cohort to march even two abreast. The track clung somewhat perilously to the side of the hill. The squeak of my rucksack and the rustle of my cagoule seemed rather insipid replacement for the ancient sounds of leather creaking and the clang of metal breastplates.
By now I was only 3 miles or so from my pick up point. David is acting as support vehicle for me for the next few days, partly so that he can enjoy some of Scotland, partly so that he's nearby if things were to go pear shaped again. There are many lovely things about this, and one is that I'm not having to carry my full rucksack. But a rucksack that has everything in it to be safe on these wild hills is still quite heavy, and I thought that I might need a bit of a boost for the last hour or so. Last year the special people in my life added music to a Spotify playlist for use when things were feeling tricky. I wasn't especially at this point, but I wanted to hear a new one that had been recently added. And so, for the next hour, I followed the Romans whilst listening to great music and playing 'let's see if we can make the lyrics be appropriate to this situation' (prize for those who can identify all three songs!)
'This skyline pigeon dreaming of the open, waiting for the day that he can spread his wings and fly away again' - big tick
'Look at that lady, she carries herself right, she's singing whoa whoa whoa' - another big tick, as by now I was bellowing the songs to the sheep
'Still only knees deep, I'll never be brave like you' - at that moment I was indeed feeling brave, confident, almost dizzy with it all.
Filled with the excitement music brings me, I approached a large ford next to which was a footbridge. My brave self, flying away, carrying myself right, laughed in the face of the deep water and plunged in. Whereupon the algae that lined the base of the ford demonstrated its very slippery properties, and I conducted a less than dignified slurpy slide, only rescued by my poles remarkably holding me steady. This rather broke the spell, and I made a soggy laughing exit, startling the cows that had joined me. For the rest of the walk I was a little more circumspect. At the top of the road I saw David in the car, and as I got nearer there was music again. This time a recording of Highland Cathedral by the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards, as he thought I should have a bit of a Scottish moment. It certainly was.
We are staying in Jedburgh for two nights as today and tomorrow skirts the town. So after the holy trinity of a simultaneous bath, cup of tea and a Tunnocks wafer, we went out to look at what our B and B owner described as a one-horse town. That seemed a little unfair, as Jedburgh has the most spectacular ruined abbey. Built in the 12th century, it is still standing in some form despite many egregious attacks through fire, bombardment and currently masonry problems that meant we couldn't stand inside. Still worth the visit though.
Distance travelled: 11 miles
Total ascent: 1800 feet
Calories burnt: 1666
Local tipple - low alcohol Cobra. But a particular shout out to the Call Out ale from The First and Last Brewery that I had last night at Forest View.
Dinner at the Jedburgh Raj Tandoori - good
Mixed pakoras and poppadums
Vegetable butter masala with coconut rice
Video of the day