Wednesday 27th August: Bellingham to Byrness – 16 miles
Once I was up from my solitary bunk room, I went outside for a wander, to look around and pick up some groceries (as this was the last reasonably sized settlement before the finish). Bellingham was a small town (one that resembled a large village) with old, sturdy stone houses. A building that appeared to be the town hall had a spire made of green painted wood and lead as a flourish.
On my way back to the bunkhouse I stopped off at the Co-Op for some food (and a large bottle of shower gel – sadly for my shoulder muscles they didn’t seem to have any small ones) and then at a sandwich bar for some extra sandwiches. Back at the bunkhouse, the only other people staying there were a young couple from Newcastle, who were having a few days up in Northumberland. We had a friendly chat about what we were each doing – it was at this point that I learnt that Bellingham is pronounced “Belling-jam” and not “–gham”.
Finally setting off after 9.30, I left Bellingham by following the road out north for a few hundred metres. Then at a sharp right the P.W. then turned off to follow the track up to and through Blakelaw Farm. Before long I had climbed up above the farmland and was back walking along moorland and the familiar expanses of marsh grass and purple heather.
In truth the day was quite dull and uneventful. It was certainly nice to be walking in open country in fine weather, but compared to most of the previous days on the P.W. the terrain wasn’t interesting, varied or challenging. The first half of the day was crossing over the aforementioned moorland, five miles of clear footpaths over wide masses of heather.
Oddly enough, after days of virtual solitude when making my journey along the P.W., I found on this most insignificant stretch, someone else who was doing it. Just before Hareshaw House, I walked up towards a chap at rest, who was fiddling with a transistor radio. He explained that he was trying to complete the walk, having done two-thirds earlier in the year and was now making his way up to the border. He was a quirky, somewhat intense fellow, so I reckoned we’d both prefer our solitude and carried on.
The topography of these hills (I was by now approaching the Cheviot range) was low and flat. They would slowly rise to a top, marked by a cairn. Sandwiches were taken at one of these. Two middle-aged men out for a day hike passed by – they explained that they were doing this stretch up to Byrness.
Occasionally the terrain was interrupted by a B-road in the middle of nowhere.
The final stretch of heather moorland was bordered on the right by a wire fence, with the pepper-pot shaped cairn that was the obscure Padon Monument in the middle distance to the right.
The moorland ended at a wet and boggy dip and then a short, sharp, steep climb up to Brownrigg Head that for the only time that day left me out of breath and needing a rest.
The climb had brought me to the southern edge of the Redesdale Forest (part of the vast Kielder Forest). The footpath that skirted around the forest in approach was so waterlogged that it was possibly the most impassable chunk of the way that I encountered. It was weird how passages that appeared to have little to worry about (when looking at the map in advance), turned out to have hidden dangers.
Once through that, it was a long walk home along the forestry commission track through Redesdale. Interminable would be a good adjective to describe the last five miles, but at least the weather that day was warm and sunny.
Civilisation approached at the car park and visitor facilities at Blakeshopeburnhaugh. For the last mile towards Byrness, I followed the River Rede’s plain, crossing over the river at Low Byrness.
This was Forestry Commission country – Byrness was built in the 1950s. It is a slender settlement of two or three rows of white-washed modern terraces, hidden away along the A68 on the approach to the border.
The days walking hadn’t been too challenging, but I was quite worn out by the time I got to Byrness and approached the Forest Lodge Inn (perhaps the lack of stimulation had wearied me).
The Forest Lodge was a couple of the terrace houses, which had been knocked together. It used to be an YHA, and was still affiliated to them, which led me to mistakenly believe I was booked in at a hostel. In fact the couple next door purchased it and ran it as a very homely bed and breakfast catering for walkers (they keenly emphasised that it wasn’t a hostel). They helped me out with another load of laundry (utilising their aged spinner to wring out the water). Their home cooking was delicious too; and their living room was also the local pub – it was that kind of place. There were a quite a few people staying there too: the chap with the transistor radio was there, a couple about to finish the walk and a pair of public schoolboys doing the P.W. in the opposite direction.
I was getting closer to the finish, thirty miles left to walk. One big day left to go.