Wednesday 4th September 1963

Although the beds were no better than hammocks, we all slept well, and left the hostel at 09.55h. We walked up onto the Roman wall, which was quite well preserved at this point, and walked along it for quite some distance. The weather was bitterly cold at first, but became somewhat milder later on.

The Roman wall is built in parts along the line of the Whin Sill, an old friend(?) by now, which forms a sheer face towards Scotland, and a gentle slope back into England. It is built in an ideal defensive position.

At 11.00h we reached Housesteads Roman Fort, the best-preserved in Britain. It is not very impressive to ignorant slobs like us, so we left after ten minutes’ rest. We doubled back along the Wall to the point where the Way goes north towards Wark Forest, large plantations of spruce, which form part of the Border Forests.

While we were walking through fields of tussocky grass – an old friend(?) of ours – we heard a bull bellowing. This was not very helpful as there were a lot of ‘cows’ about, but any one of them might have been the bull. However, we escaped into the forest at about 11.45h.

The Way follows firebreaks in the trees, and we lost our sense of direction before very long, as we could see nothing but trees, and the small Pennine Way signs were reassuring to us. At one point we were ploughing through bogs in the firebreaks, and on each side of us the wood was so thick we couldn’t see more than a few yards. At other points we could see further, but a grey, misty air filled the wood. A few ruined houses, evacuated when planting took place, could be seen on occasions.

At 13.15h we emerged from the forest after one and a half hours inside, apart from one short interval when we had walked across – guess what? Yes! Tussocky grass! We stopped here for dinner, near Willow Bog and left shortly after as it was very cold.

We walked along another firebreak near the edge of a section of the forest, and then set off over some fields to cross the Warks Burn. At 15.05h we stopped for a rest just outside the boundary of the Northumberland National Park, which we had just walked through, though we hadn’t known it at the time.

After five minutes we set off again and descended to Shitlington Hall, a farmhouse, then over the top of Ealingham Rigg, a hill about the same height as Chevin, to Bellingham.

We climbed Ealingham Rigg without any trouble at all, which showed how much fitter we were than when we had set off. From the top we could see Bellingham, which, though little more than a village, seemed a big place to us, as we hadn’t seen anything more than a couple of farms since leaving Alston.

We bought some food at the local co-op, and carried it up to the hostel, receiving whistles from a crowd of girls who seemed to like our filthy, mud-stained legs.

We had reached Bellingham at 16.20h, very early for a day’s walk, and we cooked our supper straight away, intending to go out for a drink afterwards. When we had cleared our supper things away, we found that it was raining heavily, and so we played cards until it stopped. When it ceased, we dashed down the hill to the pub, and saw our first television and read our first newspaper for twelve days.

Thursday 5th September 1963

At 09.25h we left the Youth Hostel, after Neil had performed in dozens of different poses trying to fit the building into his lens. The weather was warm and cloudy, and we descended into Bellingham, to take the path to Hareshaw Linn. This went over boggy ground, trodden into a sticky morass by the cattle, and then through a wood, beside a stream, until we reached the point to turn off up a steep stream bank and across a field to a track running across peaty, heather-covered moors towards the farmhouse of Hareshaw House.

We tried to follow this track, but soon lost it, and splashed across the boggy expanse to the farm. We bypassed this, and went down to a minor road, which we crossed near a disused colliery. We arrived here at 11.00h, and after five minutes’ rest we set off across the boggy ground to the hill of Lough Shaw. We climbed this, and then headed across to Deerplay and Lord’s Shaw, two other hills on the same ridge.

We wandered a little too far down into the basin below these three, and were in very wet ground. Finally, however, we managed to reach the summit of Lord’s Shaw, at 11.55h.

Ten minutes later, we set off to cross yet another minor road, and followed the track to Gib Shiel. Gib Shiel is a remote farmhouse, where peat is still cut, and where a horse is still employed. The farmer was a red-faced, stoutish individual, who looked as if he had worked on a farm all his life. The farm was very tidy in all respects, but very remote.

At 12.45h we stopped for dinner near this farm. The day was now quite warm, because the cloud had gone and the sun was blazing down. At 13.10h we set off again, across the moors with tussocky grass, towards the line of trees on the horizon. These were the start of the Redesdale section of the Border Forest, and when we reached them we found we were on top of a ridge and could see right down the valley and across it to the hills we were to climb next day. The vast area covered by trees amazed us. We walked down the firebreaks in the wood, and at 14.30h we had a rest near an old quarry. After this we pressed on past Blakehopeburnhaugh, and up to the main road.

Just before we reached the main road, we saw a deer in the forest. It would have made a good picture, but of course it was nervous, and had gone before Neil could get a reading.

At 15.15h we reached the main road and walked along it to Byrness. The original village is very small, and can hardly be called a village, but the Forestry Commission has built quite a lot of new houses for its staff who work in the Border Forests.

We went to a filling station to ask if there was any reasonable accommodation, and were told that the Byrness Hotel was the only place. This was a very posh joint for three scruffy-looking hikers to visit – we hadn’t shaved for some time, our hiking clothes were dirty, and the day was hot – so we went, just to see what our reception would be.

It was rather cold – almost icy. Neil inquired about accommodation, and a youngish man, who seemed to be running the joint, looked us up and down. Obie and I tried to look appealing, but the guy probably thought we just looked dissipated. After a long silence he decided he could fit two of us up in a room with two single beds, and the other would have to sleep on a camp bed.

We discovered later that the floors were not soundproof, and our room was above the ‘Border Bar’, which seemed to be the noisiest place outside a Youth Hostel which we had ever seen. At 16.50h we went for a snack at the petrol station opposite the hotel as dinner was not until 19.00h and we were in our usual famished state. We were also in a rather impoverished state, or we would have stayed in the hotel for some food.

At 17.30h we returned to the hotel and played cards, and sat, reading, in the lounge. After dinner, which was very good for a not-so-good hotel, we read again and played cards again until 23.00h, when we went to bed.

Friday 6th September 1963

At 09.10h we left the hotel and most of our money and set off to climb Byrness Hill. This was our first objective in the Cheviots, and our last day had turned out to be a remarkably fine one. The sun was blazing down, but the air was, as yet, clear and cool.

We made a determined effort, and climbed Byrness Hill, through the last of the forests, with only one brief rest for a photo of Catcleugh Reservoir, just up the valley from Byrness. The forests were shown at their best that morning.

At 10.00h we had passed Byrness Hill and were on Windy Crag on the same ridge. We followed the fence to Raven’s Knowe, and on the way had our first sighting of our ultimate objective – Scotland! Far away across the hills, it looked pleasant and green, and the last hills were covered with tussocky grass!

We reached Raven’s Knowe at 10.20h, and sat down to admire the view. This view was, to us, worth walking hundreds of miles to see, which, in fact, we had done. We could see right across to the hills we had walked on the previous Monday – Great Dun Fell, Little Dun Fell, and Cross Fell. The Redesdale valley and upper Coquetdale were also just before us. To the other side was the mass of hills which form the heights of the Cheviots.

At 10.30 we left Raven’s Knowe and walked near the source of the River Coquet to Brownhart Law in Scotland. On the slopes of Brownhart Law, Obie saw a snake. It is quite true to say that tussocky grass in Scotland is quite as uncomfortable for walking as that in England. With that profound thought in our minds, we proceeded to Lamb Hill and Beefstand Hill and crossed to Mozie Law where we had dinner at 12.55h.

We then decided to descend to Cocklawburnfoot, and walk into Kirk Yetholm that way. At 13.20h we set off, and by 15.30h we reached the road and took ten minutes’ rest. We then walked into Town Yetholm which we reached at 16.50h and bought some food. At 17.25h we walked into Kirk Yetholm and eventually found the hostel. We cooked our dinners and went to the ‘Border Hotel’, where the landlord, a great guy, bought us all a drink.

We eventually returned to the hostel, and played cards for a while before going to bed. Although we had finished the Pennine Way, we had to be up earlier than ever before to catch the bus to Berwick, so as to get onto the A1 and start thumbing.

Saturday 7th September 1963

At 07.00h we got up and cooked breakfast. The bus set off for Berwick at 09.00h and we caught it, to arrive at Berwick at 10.25h.

Obie decided to catch a bus to Harrogate, then to Otley, this costing just over one pound. Neil and I decided to try our luck hitch-hiking. Two hours passed before we got our first lift. This was on the back of a builder’s lorry, and it had no sides and nothing to grip. A Newcastle lad was on the back, and he shared his sandwiches with us. We were dropped fourteen miles north of Newcastle, and caught a bus into Newcastle, then another, to the other side of Gateshead.

At 15.55h we were picked up by a large van from Edinburgh, carrying antique silverware – three thousand pounds-worth of it. The driver was only a little thin bloke – he must have a lot of faith in human nature!

At 18.55h we were dropped at the roundabout at Wetherby. (He had bought us a cup of tea at a transport café at Scotch Corner.) We walked into Collingham, and then got a lift to Harewood. From here we walked to Pool and got a bus. On the way we met two Scouts, and after giving them the benefit of our infinite knowledge, told them to camp near Kearby Sands.

At 22.00h I arrived home, and sitting there were Dogbert and Alec – what a way to end a holiday!


Alec:     Alec Marsden, boyhood friend
Amby:     Clark Dour man who reared bullocks at Otley
Buttertubs:     Vertical solution chambers in limestone
Dogbert:     Robert Ledger, boyhood friend
Dotheboys Hall:     Fictional Dickensian school with cruel regime
Grough:     Natural drainage channel in thick peat
Easter Sunday 1963:     A wet hike from Keswick to Great Langdale
Half a crown:     £0.125 sterling
Obie:     John Thornton, Pennine Way companion
One of each twice:     Two servings of fish and chips
Peat hag:     Exposed face of peat (see grough)
Thirty shillings:     £1.50 sterling
Sunday in 1962:     A wet and snowy bus trip to Lake District
Whin Sill:     Igneous rock forming crags in N. England

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