Archive for the ‘St Cuthberts Way’ Category

St Cuthberts Way

Day 5 – Kyloe to Lindesfarne – via Pilgrims Path

The final day of the walk started with grey, but thankfully dry sky (we were yet to discover our planning faux pas).  We had a little time to kill, with only a short walk of 4 or 5km to the Causeway and a safe crossing time starting at 10:00 a.m.  After a brew up and chat with the very friendly campers we set off, aiming to be at the causeway at around 10:30, giving us plenty of time to cross and explore the island.  On the way out from the campsite, a tree to the side of the track was happily supporting no less than three buzzards only a matter of feet away.  Not wanting to miss this fantastic photo opportunity I hurriedly grabbed the camera to snap the birds, who didn’t seem to be concerned.  As soon as the camera was on and pointing at them, off they flew, just as I was focussing in.  Typical!

The Pilgrims Path – complete with Poles

We crossed the busy A1, the path then following a minor road and farm track.  This seems a bit odd at first as the farm track rises quite rapidly from the road but, predictably, there is a very good reason for this.  The small gain in height here gives a quite fantastic panorama over Lindesfarne, a final treat just before you cross to the island.  The weather was looking up too, with serene blue sky appearing out at sea.  This wasn’t going to be such a bad day after all.

The East Coast Main Line is crossed at this point, with the path crossing at ground level. Fortunately there is a phone here to notify the signalman that you are about to cross a rather busy stretch of line.  I seem to have read somewhere that there are plans afoot to put a footbridge across the railway.  However, in the current climate it may be later rather than sooner before this comes to fruition.  Hopefully I am wrong!

The path soon hits the coastline, complete with WWII sea defences (giant concrete blocks) then follows it briefly to the causeway which is adorned with a plethora of signs warning of the dangers of trying to cross when the water is coming up.  I especially liked the picture of a half drowned Land Rover Discovery – you really have to wonder at people sometimes.  (It is probably worth mentioning here that if you turn left along the road away from the causeway, there is quite a nice tearoom complex at Beal, around 1.5km away).

Hmm…looks a bit dodgy from ‘ere

After a short distance on the causeway there is a bridge with a rather quaint refuge on it – I wonder how many people have spent an uncomfortable night in there?  It is here that the intrepid walker adventurer must make a choice. (OK it’s a bit dramatic but what the heck).

The Pilgrims Path is marked by a series of poles running across the sands and cuts the corner onto the island arriving at Chair Ends, a short distance from the town.  We stood there a good ten minutes or so, swithering on whether to risk it or not.  In the end, I think, if we had crossed by the Causeway we would have regretted not crossing the sands, so with the decision made, socks and boots came off and we started the trek across.  There was also a steady convoy of vehicles now streaming onto the island which I must say contributed greatly to the decision.

The trousers rolled up is a fantastic new look!

This really was a pleasurable experience, if not the easiest walking in the world.  Although there was a lot of water about there was something really satisfying and rather refreshing about wandering over the sand in bare feet.  The surprising thing was that the water wasn’t cold in the slightest (things were brightening up a bit).  There are two refuges for the walker – around 1/3 and 2/3rds of the way  across, but they are both very open to the elements.

The central section is extremely muddy and great fun, (I would recommend shorts in retrospect), but things can get very very slippy at times and it was on more than one occasion I narrowly avoided landing head first into the rather soft mud.  That would have been extremely messy.  It took around 40 minutes to cross the sand and I would highly recommend anyone walking the whole St Cuthberts Way to finish like this.  Unique (there cannot be too many Long Distance Paths in the World that finish like this) and satisfying, despite the fact it does leave the rather tricky problem of getting rid of the sand and mud from your feet!

A short walk from the beach, and one ice cream later we were stood in front of St Cuthbert himself at the end of the Way.

The castle – and yes, the sun did finally come out!

Day rating – 10/10

The perfect end to a great walk – even the sun had come out allowing us to sit in the beer garden of a local hostelry and enjoy an al fresco lunch.  It gets a ten, just because of the walk across the sands.  Pure Dead Brilliant.

On the flip side though, this is where we found out our mistake.  If there is one piece of advice that you take away from this blog, it should be DO NOT FINISH ON A SUNDAY (unless planning on staying on the island overnight, in which case you are just fine).  There is no bus on a Sunday, stranding you on the island, but during the week there is a regular servcice going to Berwick. Here you can pick up a bus to most of the Borders Area, or a train for further afield (most (probably all) London/Edinburgh East Coast trains stop here).  There are also taxi firms that will quite happily pick you up, but by far and away the best option (if you have the time) is to walk up the coastal path to Berwick, adding an extra day (around 20km) to the trail.

Trail Rating – 40/50 (80%)

This is a wee cracker.  A mid distance trail at a nice milage, and there are plenty of options to extend or adapt the route.  Southern Upland Way, Borders Abbeys Way, Roman Heritage Way, Pennine Way, St Oswalds Way and the Northumberland Coast Path all connect at some point, not to mention the E2 European path and the fact it is a popular route for the Lejog’ers of the world.  Don’t be deceived though, the St Cuthberts Way can be a little strenuous in places, especially if the weather isn’t the greatest, but then aren’t all trails at some point.  This is a trail with a great start, even better finale and for those that like their history, plenty of interest along the way.  Highly recommended


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St Cuthberts Way – Day 4

Wooler – Kyloe – Approx 20km

This was to be a slightly shorter day for us, a decision made due to the tide tables which dictate safe crossing times to Lindesfarne.  We had decided that the days walk would cut things a little fine to cross so we would camp at West Kyloe Farm and cross the next day.

This is where our forward planning went a little awry, but more of that tommorow!

The stay in the Youth Hostel had been entertaining, we got chatting to a couple of women from New Zealand who were on a three month whistle stop tour of the UK.  They were ‘healers’ and obviously had a great interest in the spiritual history of the Britain, especially keen on cup and ring markings (which are abundant in the local area), stone circles and the like.  One, who was very adept at massage, traded a neck massage for tourist information on Scotland.  A good deal struck I think.  I wish them both well in their journey around the UK.

Neck and shoulders feeling considerably less tense than before, we made a fairly late start to the day, giving the last remnants of the rain a chance to die out before we set off.  We dropped down through Wooler, past the school that had once been a PoW camp during WWII.  From here we followed the road climbing onto Weetwood Moor.

At a hairpin in the road St Cuthberts Way piles straight ahead along a footpath that looked like something from Jurassic Park.  The size of the bracken here was immense, and judging by the lack of damage to he leaves encroaching on to the path not many people had walked along it, at least recently.  Here was the problem.  With the rain overnight the bracken was sodden, and it became apparent very early on that this wasn’t going to be particularly pleasant;  we were in for a real soaking.  In hindsight I should have put waterproof trousers on, but to be honest, I couldn’t really be bothered at the time.  Section the path were difficult to make outs because of the intruding bracken, and it wasn’t long before everything we had on had been given a good soaking.  Finally, and with some relief, the way burst out onto open moorland and became quite a pleasant proposition again, despite the wet trousers and the low cloud still lingering from the recently departed rain.  Eventually the path turned to head down towards a particularly attractive bridge crossing the river Till.  With trousers beginning to dry out (I love these craghoppers walking trousers – they dry out so quickly – plug over) it was sods law that halfway down the hill, completely barring our way to the bridge, was a field full of nice wet bracken, just waiting for some poor bedraggled victims to wander haplessly through.

The bracken soggily negotiated, we finally reached the bridge, built in the 16th Century and crossing the only tributary of the Tweed that is in England.  From here the  way is a prolonged road/farm track walk passing through some very attractive little hamlets before skirting the edge of woodland containing St Cuthberts Cave. (It was at this point we made a slight detour – unintentional, mainly down to not paying attention to the map and waymarkers.  This excursion to North Hazelrigg adding around 1km onto the days walk).

The cave is reputedly where St Cuthbert was laid to rest by the Lindesfarne Monks on a journey to Durham.  This was in 875 and allegedly due to some bad men (some called them Vikings) that came from a scary Northern place.  Rape, pillage and a general dislike of Christians was the order of the day!

The first glimpse of our destination

After a very short detour to the cave we rose up over the lump that is Greensheen Hill to catch our first glimpse of Lindesfarne in the distance,  complete with blue sky behind it!  We were getting close to the end of the days walk, and all that remained was a meander through Shiellow Wood along paths that, while charming walking (also part of the North Sea Coastal Trail, St Oswalds Way and the Northumberland Coast Path), had been used as target practice by the local cattle.  Tread very carefully!

On exiting the wood we said goodbye to the trail for the day to make our way to West Kyloe Farm (saying hello to a couple of very frisky horses on the way), a lovely Camping and Caravanning Site around 2 or 3 km from the path.

These two horses said hello as we wandered into their field. As we walked to the gate they both thundered past us, then looked a little dissapointed as we left without them!

I can thoroughly recommend the campsite to anyone.  It is a lovely location, and the owner was very helpful.  They even have an area set aside for tents, decent facilities and plenty of local information on display.

On arrival we were welcomed by a young family in a trailer tent, who very kindly brewed us up a mug of tea.  Thank you so much!  Although their very curious and energetic son was eager to help out with putting the tent up.  He even asked if I wanted to have a game of football….erm maybe a little later?

The site was superb, and not too far off the beaten track for the backpacker.

Day rating – 8/10

Again another very enjoyable days walking, although there is nowhere to stop (pubs or shops) between Wooler and Kyloe.  The tide times meant we had to stop short, but it also meant we had no hurry to get to our destination.  The weather was clearing up a little and the paths, although sodden in places, were a genuine joy to walk (mostly!).  A very satisfying day, and we were left with the anticipation of a short walk to the causeway and the crossing onto the island the next day.

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St Cuthberts Way – Day 3

Kirk Yetholm – Wooler –  approx 13 miles

One thing I forgot to mention about the previous day was the rather spectacular hill fort that could clearly be seen from the top of Wideopen hill, perched somewhat clumsily on top of Hownam Law.  These hill forts were to become a prominant feature of the days walk across to Wooler.

However, the decision to stay in the Youth Hostel overnight proved to be inspired.  Despite the very fine evening of the day before, the weather had deteriorated over night, disturbing our sleep with what sounded like fairly high wind and considerable rain – all that from inside the hostel!  The morning however was dry, if a little overcast and after breakfasting in the hostel (after a good natter with the other hostellers – many of whom had just finished the Pennine way – with great relief I might add) we were on our way.  This was a little later than planned, but then we hadn’t the greatest distance to walk today.

The path leaves Kirk Yetholm and climbs steadily out the town on the Pennine Way, following the road past some rather morose looking donkeys peering gloomily out of a shelter in their field.  We were passed here by a taxi heading up the road, contemplating that the passengers may have been attempting to get a bit of a head start on their days walking!  As we reached the brow of a hill all became clear before us.  At the bottom of the hill the Pennine Way splits (or joins up again depending on what way you are walking).  The road continues up the Glen (we are after all still in Scotland) and is the ways poor weather alternative.  Climbing away in front of us was the official route that coincides with the St Cuthberts Way, heading off towards the Cheviot.

The cloud was down as we were rising up, giving the hills around us a dramatic air.  This was especially true for the first hill fort of the day, perched on top of Green Humbleton to our left.  All too soon we left the Pennine Way at a large signpost which left us looking longingly at the route that stretches all the way down into Derbyshire.  This was the second time I had walked a section of the Pennine Way this year – the first being a stretch of the Dales Way at the Ribble Head viaduct.  One day I may manage to walk the lot!  It is here that we also say Goodbye to the E2 European Path.  From here you can either walk on to Hull or Dover, and from there follow the GR5 through France to finish in Nice.  Oh the possibilities, but for the moment it is only a dream.

The lack of a layby and burger van was somehow disappointing

With the Cheviot covered in black cloud in the distance we hurried on towards the border a few hundred meters away. Here a finger-post breaks through the wall and fence to welcome walkers into each country.  There are hill forts everywhere round here, and a short diversion up onto Coldsmouth Hill gives some fine all round views.  They would have been even better with clearer skies!  A short walk through a rather dark and eerie woodland brought us bursting out into a hay meadow, before a short drop down to Elsdonburn and a short walk into Hethpool and the college valley.  Before reaching Hethpool, on the slopes to our left are some rather impressive Medieval Cultivation Terraces.

The College Valley (nothing to do with any sort of Education institute – the reason for the naming escapes me at the moment however) is a pretty place and we stopped for lunch at a very pleasant spot close to the river.  There is a real sense of remoteness and isolation here, but not really in a bad way.  There is a nice atmosphere around the valley, added to by the feral Goats that wander freely as the path begins it’s long winding climb towards the giant hillfort of Yeavering Bell, the largest of its kind in Northumberland.

It is a stiff climb up here just after the Way leaves a farm track past some very remote houses and eventually the strangest of Way Posts is met.  The post points in four directions but is no more than a foot or so from the ground.  A novel solution to the shallow soil here perhaps?  As we reached the top of the climb the cloud base dropped and from then on the walk became a bit of a slog. While visibility wasn’t restricted badly, it was enough to reduce any views that we may have had while walking over the moorland. This moorland however is well maintained for Grouse, the typical rectangular patchwork obvious, along with the scarcely disguised Grouse butts that would occasionaly appear out of the gloom.  Some of the walking up here was very boggy, so it was with some relief that we crossed Gains Law to begin our descent into Wooler, past the penultimate fort on Humbleton  Hill.  At Wooler common the way actually turns away from the town initially before leading the walker through some dense woodland.  On another day this would have been a delightful little section, but the rain had come, just in time to make the last few miles a rather miserable affair.  This was brightened by one last fort just outside Wooler, and some slightly more recent history, a WWII pillbox standing like a silent sentinel protecting the town.

By consensus we decided to make for the Youth Hostel here, only to miss the sign and walk to the opposite end of town.  Eventually getting there right on opening time, it was with some relief that they confirmed they had beds.

Day Rating – 7/10

I’m not going to be too hard on this day just because the weather wasn’t great.  The first part of the walk to the College Valley was hugely enjoyable, and for the first time really on the trail we met a few walkers out and about.  The cloud closed in on the second half, covering any views that we may have had, but in its own way gave the hills a certain drama.  The rain at the end was a bit of a pain, but the Youth Hostel had a fantastic (if a little crammed) drying room, which meant there was going to be no problem with our gear the next day.  There is a lot of interest on this day for those that like their history.  Plenty of hill forts and even the odd cup and ring marks (if you are willing for a bit of a detour), and even the fantastically preserved Cultivation Terraces at Hethpool – a quite amazing highlight.  Wooler is a nice bustling town with plenty of choice for food and drink.  There is a co-op in the town as well which supplies just about anything that you want food wise.  It’s amazing how some beer and a warm bed cheers you up!

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St Cuthberts Way – Day 2

Harestanes to Kirk Yetholm – approx 16 miles

A fairly early start from the campsite saw us up and packed by 8 am, ready for the bus back to Harestanes – another Munro’s bus, but this time with a very accommodating driver who very kindly let us off the bus right where we needed to be.  A quick walk down to the visitors centre (it was still so early that not even the Rangers Centre looked open) was in vain, the hope of an early morning coffee evaporating as we wandered through a deserted courtyard.  There was nothing for it, other than to press on along the heavily wooded Dere Street, eventually crossing the Teviot by a fairly new and rather bouncy suspension bridge.

With a large pack on the crossing of this bridge was rather fun

This was now a short section of very pleasant river walking which would soon lead to a main road, and it is here that the St Cuthberts Way and Borders Abbeys Way meet up for the second and final time.  It was also the first real climb of the day, one which I seem to remember complaining about after walking the Borders Abbeys Way.  This time things were  a little drier (but judging by the rather murderous looking black cloud grinning at us from above, things weren’t going to stay that way for long) and the ascent up the hill was slightly easier.  The ways split with the Borders Abbeys Way dropping down into Jedburgh and St Cuthberts continuing up Dere Street for a short distance.  A quick look back at where we had come from gave a view dominated by the Waterloo Memorial, a sight that would stay with us for most of the day.

Here the way diverts from its original route, meandering its way along field edges and through some very atmospheric woodlands.  The second climb of the day started after a rapid drop down to the Oxnam water and some rather curious cows.  This climb, in Scottish speak, is a nippy sweetie.  A steep haul up to some fairly remote cottages at Littledeanslees then a rather deceptive climb up a narrow road which left us breathless and sweating at the top.

Here the way is rolling, and for a while is very reminiscent of the Downland in the South of England.  We passed a farm that has an aviary with several very large birds of prey in it, one of which we could still here making a racket from over a mile away.  The large black cloud that had been threatening us was now spewing its guts with a vengeance, fortunately it wasn’t on us (giving a very dramatic picture around us), but I did have a lot of sympathy for any poor sod out walking around Jedburgh.  We caught a few spots of rain on the edge of the cloud, so the pack covers came out as a precaution.  However, this was to be a lucky day weather wise.

Eventually we reached the original line of the walk and this was now a fairly long road section from Cessford to Morebattle, passing the impressive ruin of Cessford Castle.  A long stop in Morebattle was much needed, resting the weary feet at the Templehall Inn before heading on to the section with the highest point at Wideopen hill.

Although the only pub/hotel in town, I can thoroughly recommend the food and drink in the Templehall inn.  Much needed refreshment!  There is a shop in the town, but unfortunately this was shut as we passed through.

The second part of the day started with a climb up onto Wideopen hill.  The initial climb is fairly steep, but the all round views really are fantastic.  The weather had started to clear and for the last time on the walk we could see the Eildon hills back at Melrose and the Waterloo Monument still standing out proud and tall at Jedburgh.

The view from halfway up Wideopen Hill

Before you climb out of Morebattle there is an option to take the road to Town Yetholm, but I would say – DON”T DO IT unless there are some pretty extreme weather conditions.  Wideopen hill is by far and away the best section of the walk so far.  You get the first view of the Cheviot from up here, as well as passing a plaque letting you know that you are on Wideopen, right at the highest and halfway point.  From here it was downhill all the way into the Yetholms, a large signpost encouraging the intrepid walker to sample the delights of Town Yetholm.  It wasn’t to be for us as we were making for the SYHA at Kirk Yetholm, just about squeezing in there for the night.

The hostel in Kirk Yetholm, while a tad bijou, is superb, although their shower needs a little bit of maintenance.  If you are planning on using it – BOOK.  Most of the folk staying there had just finished the Pennine way, and I got the distinct feeling that it could be full for most of the year.

We ate at the Border Hotel.  While a little pricey, the pub is a very nice place to spend the evening, and again the food and drink is nothing short of superb.

Day rating – 9/10

A really good varied day with plenty of ups and downs, constantly changing landscape and some quite spectacular views.  The section over Wideopen Hill is spectacular, and it is easy to see how it was named when you reach the summit.  We needed a long stop for lunch to re-charge the batteries at Morebattle, (I was really flagging), and the rest really helped drive us on to Kirk Yetholm.  For the second day in a row the trail exceeded expectations. Why not a 10?  Road walking – aargh I hate it!

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St Cuthberts Way

Day 1

Melrose to Harestanes (Ancrum)

The St Cuthberts Way was to be my third trail of the year.  Even after studying the guidebook and website I had developed some preconceived ideas about the trail, a cross border route from Melrose to Lindesfarne.

The way is named after the 7th Century Monk who was Prior of both abbeys at Melrose and Lindesfarne.

The start is at the Abbey in Melrose, opposite the Information Centre, and shares the same route as the Borders Abbeys way for a few meters (the ways meet twice more on this walk).  We pass through market square then quickly rise up under the bypass before dropping down some steps, looking as if they enter a back garden.  The way starts with a vengeance here, screaming straight up onto the Eildon Hills, not quite reaching the summit but passing between the two hills that provide you with a distinct reference point at your back, almost until you reach the border!

This is a walk that really hits you between the eyes from the start.  The views over Melrose are fantastic and even better if you take the short (but strenuous) diversion to summit of one of the two lumps.  Apparently there was a Roman signal station on the top of one.  I can just imagine some poor sod of a Legionary having to get up there in a hurry!

We lost hight as quickly as we had gained it, settling in to a comfortable rhythm through the very pleasant woodland that the way meanders through before finally turning Eastwards; the direction of our destination.

This section of path (up until Kirk Yetholm) is shared with the E2 European path, wending its way from Stranraer to Nice in the South of France.  It is also a popular route for those doing the Lands end to John O’Groats and we bumped into a gentleman doing just that.  He turned out to be the treasurer of the Backpackers Club and we stopped and had a chat for a good 20 minutes or so.  He was on day 59 if I remember correctly and still had in the region of 30 to go.  Impressed with our gear, he even gave us a seal of approval as bona fide backpackers!  Get in.

A short road section leads into Newton St Boswells where there is a superb sandwich shop servicing both the St Cuthberts and Borders Abbeys Way.  Here the routes converge for a mile or so (see the Borders Abbeys Ways Blog) before splitting at a bridge over the Tweed at which you can cross to visit Dryburgh Abbey.

From here there is a very pleasant, but surprisingly tough, river walk along the Tweed.  The Southern bank is often sheer and steep in places with the path constantly rising and falling with the aid of numerous (very well constructed) steps.

Eventually we turned away from the river and climbed up into the very pretty town of St Boswells.  There is an excellent cafe/bookshop here which is well worth a visit to recharge the batteries.

A short road section eventually leads onto Dere Street, a Roman Road.  This is now part of the Roman Heritage Way, a route that links Melrose with Hadrians Wall Path, also cutting off the corner for LEtJoGers who want a more direct route onto or from the Pennine Way, while avoiding the diversion to Kirk Yetholm.

This was very pleasant walking along the line of the Roman Road, skirting woods and fields, but there is never really a feeling of  “straightness”, something that can sometimes become a little tedious when walking Hadrians Wall.

Our stop for the night was to be a campsite in Jedburgh and it was decided to walk into Ancrum to get the bus, making the return trip in the morning.  A huge mention now goes to the driver of the Munro’s bus who pointedly ignored us while stopped at a T junction.  Thank you very much.  I really would like to return the favour one day.  Miserable git!

Thankfully, there was another bus along 40 minutes later, although this meant we still had another mile or so to walk into Ancrum.  To top it off the pub was shut meaning we couldn’t even have a swift pint to console ourselves!  Nevertheless we made it into Jedburgh, and had a very pleasant evening listening to the owls go ballistic right above our tent.  Happy Days!

Day Rating 8/10

Quite a tough day, and it felt a lot longer than the guide-book suggested.  Probably one of the finest openings to a trail in Britain over the Eildon Hills, setting things up superbly.  The walk along the Tweed was tranquil as, surprisingly, there were very few walkers using it; even dog walkers were in short supply, possibly due to us starting mid-week.  A varied day that never really got tedious and had plenty around to keep the walker occupied.  The campsite in Jedburgh was camping and caravanning club with some pretty decent general facilities, although no specific ones for backpackers.

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