Thursday 28th August: Byrness to Mounthooley – 20 miles
The full English breakfast at the Forest View was the best of the eleven that I consumed on the walk: a masterpiece. Digressing on the subject of cooked breakfasts, they were/are great for fuelling you up, but less helpful in that you couldn’t really set straight out on one. You did have to allow an hour for the food to digest properly. This would normally mean that – even on days where I’d force myself to be down for breakfast at eight o’clock sharp – I would struggle to set out on my day’s walking before 9.20.
Out of Byrness
Peering out of the bedroom window I saw that it had rained heavily during the night. I laced my boots up once more, lifted my pack onto my shoulders and set out for another long day. The forests and hills enclosing Byrness were shrouded in mist, which was a worry for the long walk ahead over the summits of the Cheviots. Out of curiosity I went to have a look around the old chapel (it was locked) and then bumped into the two gentlemen I came across at Whitley Pike the day before – they were waiting in the damp drizzle for a bus back to Berwick.
The steep climb out of the village was fairly tough, up a muddy slope, but not as long a climb as I feared. I had set out without donning waterproofs; the dense, soaked vegetation necessitated a quick change of plan.
Just above the tree line was a brief scramble up some rocks and bracken and then, at 415m the first summit, Byrness Hill.
This was the starting point of long march along the ridge of the Cheviots. The mist was starting to disperse and the visibility ahead seemed OK for now.
Marching along the Ridge
Before long the path picked up the wire fence marking the border – the walk for virtually the remainder of the day kept to the right of it, making navigation straightforward.
The Cheviot hills are wide, dome-shaped and strikingly rolling (giving them their character). The day’s walk along the ridge was composed of fairly gentle ascents and descents along grassy, peat moorland; the ridge summits appeared roughly a mile between each other, so I’d march onwards before stopping for a rest at the cairns or trig points.
By midday the mist had disappeared and blue sky had come. The walking was steady and enjoyable and the views were splendid. These hills offered complete isolation – apart from some sheep being herded far across the valley.
There was a drop down to the remains of the Roman camp at Chew Green – I took a break to try and make out what I could of the Earthworks – mainly small grassy mounds with sheep hanging around atop them.
Continuing on, a rise away from the camp brought me back to the border fence, then veered away to traverse a marshy patch by Wedder Hill. Ahead, the end of the day appeared far, far away (almost incomprehensibly).
Back on the border fence, I had a quick look around the mountain refuge hut, which was a modern shed.
Then the ridge rose to above 500m; the next five miles was a ribbon of flagstone paving over heather bog that kept to the fence.
I finally stopped for my lunch break by the trig point at Lamb Hill. I should really have stopped at the mountain hut, as at Lamb Hill there was nowhere to sit other than to try and make oneself comfortable on the flagstones. To my mild horror I found that – yuck – the beef and salad roll that I picked up in Bellingham the day before contained sliced boiled egg (which I discretely projected into the heather).
I marched on for an hour or more along the slabs, passing by the tops marked on my map: Beefstand Hill, Mozie Law. There was nothing to vary this terrain other than the changes in direction of the fence and the perspective of the surrounding hills.
As I approached Mozie Law, the blue sky became more obscured by clouds and mist arrived on the ridge.
Up towards Windy Gyle at 619m, the summits of the whole range are covered. On the approach to Russell’s cairn a mild squall passed over.
At the cairn/trig point, I kept my rest down to five minutes, for a drink, a chocolate bar and some photographs. The weather really can be variable on a long day on the hilltops, particularly on a remote, exposed location: only three hours earlier the conditions on the ridge had been perfect.
The weather began to ease I walked down the ridge from Windy Gyle to around 500m; the sun returned behind me as I continued to sustain my progress along along the border fence.
At the crossroads with Clennell Street, the signpost indicated that I had walked 8 ½ miles from Chew Green four hours earlier; and that itself was 4 ¾ miles from Byrness. I was still feeling energetic enough as five o’clock approached.
Passing the trig point at King’s Seat, the blue skies had returned and the Cheviot was in clear view once more. I looked around: the surrounding hills in the Cheviot range were pleasing to see: wide, rounded, curvy hills.
From there, the paved path along the fence curved round to the right, to approach the final gruelling climb up a peaty ramp to the plateau.
The Cheviot Detour
Then I had to decide whether I wanted to go to the summit of the Cheviot – two and a half extra miles. I’d already been to the top (from the other side) back in 2005. I found that I couldn’t resist and set off on the detour.
Unfortunately it was a bit of an ordeal, marching along with (by this point) grim determination: the summit plateau was a dead landscape of grass, peat and bogs. And the trig point was as weathered and forlorn an object as I’d ever seen.
The descent off the summit plateau was nicer, with some rock scree, cairns and the Hen Hole looking lovely in the evening light.
The Race to the Bunkhouse
I’d become very weary at this point and had begun to run out of time – I was expected at the bunkhouse at Mounthooley (a mile ahead and where I’d booked dinner) by eight and it was 19.36.
I finally headed down off the Cheviot ridge down a steep grassy valley side and marched by the lovely College Valley Burn, before arriving at the Bunkhouse in the dusk.
On pitching up, a couple of university students check me out, somewhat coldly remarking that they’d thought I wasn’t going to turn up. The warden, a direct but warmly hospitable old lady welcomed me – her cooking was splendid. The students were a pair of University of Durham postgrads doing a fauna study in the valley. The only other people in the bunkhouse were a couple of Duke of Edinburgh leaders, who had block booked the place. Luckily for me I presume, after I had made my reservation back in the spring. I had a nice conversation with them about the DoE (I had done it myself) and walking.
Then to bed in, alone in a nine-bed dorm decorated for children. I was very impressed by the bunkhouse and it was a fantastic place to end up after a quite epic day’s walking. Half a day to go – my adventure had not long left.