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Mon 8th August 2011

Pennine Way Part 5 - Stonehaugh to Bellingham

Pennine Way Part 5 - Stonehaugh to Bellingham

From now on Sundance should be known as dampfoot, his boots still leak and no matter how much he soft shoe shuffles he ends up with yet another wet day’s walk.

Saturday lots and lots of rain, local fords flooded should we chicken out?  By 7.00pm stopped raining lets see what it does overnight.  Sunday morning 7.00 am things look to be drying up and quite bright. OK no problem the walk is on.

Driving across to Bellingham via Winters Gibbet the view to the west was lost in low cloud and rain.  By the time we arrived at the car park in Bellingham it was just starting to rain.  During the drive to Stonehaugh on the bus it continued to rain but when we got off the bus the rain had eased to a light drizzle.

We picked up the Pennine Way where it crossed the road just south of Stonehaugh and followed the path through a small section of forest before coming out on to open (wet) ground, the walking was pleasant but wet when we came to a small waterfall. 

All of a sudden Mike remembered he had not taken a group photo so out comes the camera and as usual the batteries are flat so he has to get the spares out and change them, then we all have to move into a huddle so he can get the group in the shot! 

From here we walked downhill passing a number of signs saying there were teas for sale, each one also said how far we had to go to reach the teas.  We crossed the Warks burn by a footbridge (otherwise we would have been swimming to get across). The Pennine Way now follows the National Park Boundary although there wasn’t any pink lines on the ground to show the boundary, they had probably been washed away in the rain.  A quick walk up hill brought us to Hornystead and the “Help Yourself” tea shop.  Several people made use of the facilities (in particular the Coffee Shop Girls) while the rest of us sat in a barn to have our lunch, with a horse for company and a stuffed piglet! (see photo)

By now the rain had eased to occasional periods of dampness. The path continued in a northerly direction with only one stream to jump across near Lowstead.  Here we were over-taken by two ladies walking the Pennine Way (very fast ).  They had started at Once Brewed that morning and intended to reach Byrness by the end of the day.  That is four “Shepherds Walk”, walk days!  But suddenly we were catching them up, were we walking faster? No, they had met a herd of cattle straddling the farm track, with a little help from Jim they encouraged the cattle to move aside and they were off again leaving us in their dust, well they might have if it had been dry.

After a short road section we were back walking across fields but only after a coffee break.  We then crossed the Houxty Burn by another big footbridge before climbing up to Mike’s favourite farm Shitlington Hall. A short decent brought us to yet another stream that we had to plodge through before the longest climb of the day up to and through Shitlington Crags and onwards to a Relay Station whose mast Mike had pointed out at the start of the walk.

After a short stretch on a track we were once more walking across rough pasture by now with the obligatory boggy area and stream/ditch to cross. After a short distance we were able to look down on Bellingham and our first clear view of the North Tyne Valley.  A gentle descent brought us down to the main road through the valley. 

The Pennine Way follows the road crossing the River North Tyne by the road bridge before entering Bellingham. 

The temptations of coffee shops and loos proved too much for some of the party and only a small group arrived back at the cars together to complete the days walk.

Sun 17th July 2011

Hadrian's Wall, part 7 - Walltown to Walton

Hadrian's Wall, part 7 - Walltown to Walton

Sunshine and showers was the forecast and what we got, very heavy showers and 20 minutes of sunshine whilst waiting for the minibus in Walton.  Ironically we were waiting outside the Centurion public house which had ceased trading – so near and yet so far!

We started the day in waterproofs and we ended the day in waterproofs.  In between we tried to pretend it was summer but invariably ended up donning jackets and overtrousers post haste, especially when we decided to stop for a snack and particularly when we arrived at Birdoswald for lunch when the heavens really opened and the thunder and lightning we’d previously heard in the distance moved overhead.

The light westerly wind meant that the showers were very slow moving and the clouds deep resulting in very large raindrops and lots of them.  It was a good job that some of us are interested in meteorology.  Watching the showers approach down the Tyne Valley and gradually obscuring the fells of the North Pennines and knowing we were soon to get wet again soon was particularly galling when the sky to the north, over the Scottish border, was turning blue.  It gave us lost to talk, even laugh, about we were all British after all.  It certainly added to the interest at the river and stream crossings which ran uniformly high, turbid and peaty brown, we’d had a lot of rain in the last 48 hours.

Today was the day we crossed the watershed near Gilsland, left Northumberland to enter Cumbria (for the Cumbria & Northumberland Border Rain Festival?) and moved off the iconic scarp and dip profile of the Carboniferous Whin Sill rocks onto the more subdued pink coloured rocks of the New Red Sandstone.

The landscape became gentler once past Gilsland and when it wasn’t raining and the visibility improved we could glimpse the Carlisle plain and once even saw the Caldbeck fells “Back O’ Skiddaw.”  The Wall in this section of the walk was new to most people and the transition from stone wall to turf wall made an impact. 

The section between Gilsland to Birdoswald was particularly interesting with the long section of continuous wall, the abandoned Roman bridge abutments due to the migration of the meander of the River Irthing and the modern Willowford Bridge.  We climbed the steep hill up from the bridge towards Harrow Scar (Milecastle 49) in a brief burst of warm sunshine only to very quickly don waterproofs at the top.  By the time we reached Birdoswald “for lunch” on their picnic benches lunch was out of the question.  We sheltered briefly in the coppice adjacent to the English Heritage facility and moved on, the trees just made the drips bigger (no, not us).  Lunch was thirty minutes late taken standing-up with rucksacks and wet kit draped over farm gates.  After a few minutes drought the monsoon season resumed.

Most of us ran out of food by the Pike Hill Signal Station stop just before Banks so it was both a relief and a pleasure to encounter the self service Haytongate Snack Hut with picnic benches and a WC only 150 yards off-route, luxury.  This excellent facility enhances your faith in human nature.  As this was out seventh day together on the Wall Walk everyone knows each other’s foibles quite well and the banter flows freely with lots of dry humour.  This friendly continuity is one of the outstanding aspects of this series of walks – sometimes I almost relax!  Thank you to everyone for your many and varied contributions to yet another excellent, if somewhat damp, day out.  Our next appointment for “The Hadrian’s Wall Walking Therapy Group” is Sunday 28th August for the Walton to Carlisle leg.   


Sunday 17th July 2011

Wed 6th July 2011

Pennine Way part 4 - Steel Rigg to Stonehaugh

Pennine Way part 4 - Steel Rigg to Stonehaugh

The Sundance Kid had been hard at work, had the soft shoe shuffle worked? 

Sunday morning was warm, bright and with little wind, things were looking good.
By the time we had all arrived at some obscure spot in the middle of nowhere that Mike had chosen as the meeting place it was starting to become quite warm.  After a slight delay we set off for Steel Rigg in the mini bus.

We piled out of the mini bus at Steel Rigg and started walking straight away.  The climb up to the top of Steel Rigg crags quickly got us all very hot and ‘glowing’! Then it was back to the down up down into Sycamore Gap and the up onto the top of the crags at Crag Lough, by now every one was starting to cook.  The descent to Hotbank gap was only eased by walking in the shade of some trees.  The climb up Hotbank brought us to a suitable lunch stop with views over the Tyne valley to the North Pennines.

After lunch a gentle walk along the top of Hot Crags brought us to the next dip, here we left the Wall.

The route once more started to head in a northerly direction.  The path took us between Broomlee Lough and Greenlee Lough. Interestingly the out flow heads west back to Cawfields before heading south to join the South Tyne at Haltwhistle.  Eventually we reached the south east corner of Wark Forest which extends north to join Kielder Forest and over the border in to Wauchope Forest, some 40Km of continuous forest.  We followed a forest road for about 1.5km before heading into the forest itself for a short distance coming out on to a stretch of open ground.  From here all the streams now drain into the North Tyne until we cross on to the border ridge above Byrness.

It was not long before we were back into the forest for the final stretch of the days walk.  As we progressed we became aware of an odd flapping sound.  Was this some mythical forest creature or worse? No some ones boot sole had become loose and was flapping around much to the merriment of the rest of us as we were entertained by several strange (funny walks dept. take heed) walking techniques, none are recommended.  Eventually we reached a road which the PW crosses and marks the end of this section of the day route.   On the short walk a long the road Flapper became sole less and completed the day with one boot and one new boot slipper.

Well the Sundance Kid had over done the soft shoe shuffle this time as every one ended the day very very hot and sunburnt, well those in shorts and T shirt anyway.

This was another day to remember as Mike hardly wittered on except a couple of times about the views back to Cross Fell and forward towards The Cheviot.