The Pennine Way 1991

Author: George Tod

This walk is illustrated with photographs. Click on small photo to enlarge in situ, or click caption to enlarge into new window.
Part 6 - Byrness to Kirk Yetholm


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Day 17 - Sunday 9th June - Byrness to Uswayford - 14 miles on PW + 1.5 miles to B&B - 2650 ft ascent

Accommodation - USWAYFORD FARM - B&B, evening meal and packed lunch 18 - miles from any other civilisation

Set off at 8.55 a.m. with fine weather, but this soon turned to heavy showers with patches of bright sunshine. The going was very wet as there had been a lot of overnight rain, but the scenery was magnificent and it was very enjoyable walking despite the downpours. The Roman camps at Chew Green were rather disappointing as there was nothing much to see and there is now a permissible detour signposted to miss them out. At the first mountain refuge hut I met up with Bernard who was 69 and completing the Pennine Way in 23 days. In cutting down on weight, he seemed to have decided to leave his false teeth at home!

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First Mountain Refuge Hut on Cheviots and Lamb Hill
Refuge Hut and Lamb Hill
Uswayford Farm (in the trees)
Uswayford Farm

We saw messages in the visitors' book from Mike and Edna from 10 a.m. (setting off at 6 a.m.) and Keith, Kevin and John from 10.35 a.m. (setting off at 7 a.m.). They were all travelling light; Mike and Edna having posted some things home from Bellingham and the others having left most of their gear at Byrness to be collected when they were picked up by car on the way back.

Just off Windy Gyle we found a pair of glasses in a case, and in the case were some passport photographs of Mike, so I took them hoping to find his address from Kirk Yetholm youth hostel so I could post them on to him. I walked with Bernard for the rest of the day as he was staying at Uswayford and he seemed to appreciate the company. He went slowly uphill, but otherwise did very well. It was not surprising, though, when I discovered that he spent a lot of his time working outside on the foothills of Kinder Scout. He started out as a wheelwright and also turned his hand to dry stone walling and other such things.

The B&B at Uswayford was fine and had two large bedrooms, each with 5 beds - a bit like dormitories. I had a nice relaxing soak in a hot bath. There was no payphone, as I had guessed, so Jean rang there instead. When asked if I were there, the farmer, who was quite a joker, replied "His body is, but his legs are still walking". I also heard from some friends that he likes a practical joke - his favourite trick is to intercept walkers when they are looking for the farm. He then tells them that they are in the wrong valley and points to a large hill with a near vertical slope telling them they will have to go over the top. On one occasion, it has nearly led to a punch-up when an exhausted walker with no sense of humour took exception to it.

The farm is so remote that they have to drive 21 miles to get to the nearest shop. Although it is a mile and a half off-route and several hundred feet lower down it makes a good stopping off place, especially as the weather can often turn very bad and the going underfoot is quite difficult and boggy. They have a room for hanging wet things and will dry things in a tumble drier for a small charge. The evening meal was good and we then watched television for part of the evening - something I had not done since leaving home - although I can't say I missed it.


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Day 18 - Monday 10th June - Uswayford to Kirk Yetholm - 11.5 miles on PW (omitting Cheviot summit) + 1.5 miles from B&B - 2170 ft on PW + 550 ft from B&B

Accommodation - KIRK YETHOLM HOSTEL - No meals, but evening meals in pub - Scottish YHA now provide cutlery, tea towels etc., so no need to take any.

Started off at 9.10 a.m. after a good breakfast. The weather was windy but fairly bright and gradually improved as the day went on. There was a lot of surface water about from the previous rain so I decided against going to the summit of Cheviot, as it would have been diabolical. There is also no view to be gained from the summit. The going for the few miles towards Cheviot was difficult enough with all the "bog hopping" that was necessary and we were glad of the duckboards over some of the worst bits on Cairn Hill. The second mountain refuge hut again had notes in the visitors' book. Keith, Kevin and John reached there at 2.45 p.m., which was pretty good going. The weather cleared up nicely and the rest of the day was beautiful with a leisurely stroll down to Kirk Yetholm, arriving at 5 p.m. The final walk from Byrness was a fine ending to the Pennine Way with mile after mile of magnificent scenery, especially as there was the time and the weather to enjoy it.

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Hen Hole and Cheviot from Second Refuge Hut
Hen Hole and Cheviot
The Border Hotel, Kirk Yetholm - End of the Pennine Way
Border Hotel, Kirk Yetholm

Kirk Yetholm youth hostel is run by the Scottish Y.H.A., so I had been sent a voucher to use there, but somewhere on the way it had been lost. However, the chap who was deputising for the warden was very friendly and let me off paying again. He also hinted that he was not averse to helping walkers celebrate the end of their journey in true Scottish fashion with a wee dram or two. I finished with a meal at the Border Hotel of steak and kidney pie and chips for 3.50 and 5 pints of the local bitter.


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Day 19 - Tuesday 11th June - Kirk Yetholm to Kirk Smeaton

Found out that there was a bus to Kelso at 7.45 a.m. as well as 8.45 a.m. so, having woken early, I decided to catch it to see if it would get me to an earlier train. However, this was in vain as there was no bus from Kelso to Berwick until 8.55 a.m. which I could have caught with a later start. There was then about an hour and forty minutes to wait in Berwick for the Doncaster train, so I took the opportunity to post the glasses to Mike in Southport and then took a stroll down by the beach until the train was due. The Inter-City train whisked rapidly along to Doncaster, arriving at 2 p.m. and I was then able to catch the 2.30 bus to Kirk Smeaton arriving at 3.15, to be greeted by Jean and a big "Welcome Home" on the front of the house.

The cost of the journey home was 1.20 + 2.40 in bus fares to Berwick, 29 train fare and 1 bus fare from Doncaster to home.

Driving the car again seemed very strange and it took me a while to get used to high speed - anything more than 3 mph seemed reckless!


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Thoughts at the end of the way

Arrival at Kirk Yetholm brought no sense of elation, mainly because it had been so enjoyable for most of the way and, with such beautiful weather and scenery to finish with, there was a touch of sadness that it had all come to an end. Perhaps those who do the final stage in one day have a great feeling of relief as they reach the end and, therefore, feel a much greater sense of achievement, but whether it is worth spoiling the enjoyment of the walk in order to do so is debatable.

Mileage and Ascent

The first thing that becomes apparent when looking at mileage covered along the Pennine Way is that no two books agree. The reason for this is that some measure only the line on the map whereas some try to take into account some of the meandering that is necessary over boggy areas. The true mileage covered is certainly more than the shortest line on the map of 252 miles. This is especially so when taking account the extra distance to overnight accommodation. A few hostels are right on the Pennine Way, the majority are within about half a mile or so, but a few are as much as four miles away. When this is taken into account, another 30 miles or so could be added to the walk if staying at Haworth and Stainforth youth hostels and not using the bus. Optional detours such as the Bowes Loop further increase the distance, as do mistakes in map reading and detours for sightseeing. Further walks in the evening, if only to go to the pub, can add on quite a few more miles, so when all this is added together I am sure that my total mileage was well in excess of 300 miles.

It is also interesting to note that the number of footsteps taken is over half a million!

In additional to the horizontal mileage the walk also involves about 33,000 ft of climbing, which is as much as Mount Everest and Snowdon added together. However, there are very few steep climbs; the steepest being Pen-y-ghent followed by some of the crags by Hadrian's Wall. Most of the route follows green roads, pack horse routes, bridleways and footpaths which mostly take more gradual ascents, so the amount of climbing involved does not appear to be as much as it is.

It is often said that no two people walk the same Pennine Way. Bearing in mind the fact that in many places the route is vague and in other places it is easy to lose the way for short distances, particularly around farmland, this is probably true for anyone who does not spend all day taking compass bearings. However, the spirit of the thing is to go from one end to the other taking approximately the marked route; any mistakes are likely to increase mileage rather than reduce it, so only the most pedantic retrace their steps in order to tread the exact route.

One could be forgiven for thinking that whoever designed the multitude of different stiles and gates along the way thought that the Pennine Way was supposed to be an obstacle course rather than a walk. There seem to be all sorts of ingenious designs and devices intended to cause maximum difficulty and/or injury to walkers, and particularly to those carrying rucksacks. It is no wonder that people leave gates open when you see the difficulty involved with the majority of them. It is a pleasant surprise to find a gate which actually opens and closes properly.

The overriding thing with a walk taking 18 days or thereabouts is that, apart from the one or two days with walks of over 20 miles, there is more than enough time available for each day's walk. As there is little point in getting to the night's accommodation too early each day, it is better to go at a very leisurely pace taking plenty of time to admire the scenery and have rests. This way it is far easier on the feet and it enables the walk to be enjoyable rather than being an endurance test.


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Rucksack Weight and Equipment

Even though I thought I had cut down my pack to the bare minimum (it weighed 18 lbs. at the end of the day and about 24 lbs. with a full supply of food and drink at the start of the day), there was nothing that I felt I was short of. In fact there were a few items I need not have taken, such as the pair of walking trousers which I wore for a couple of hours, and which I could easily have managed without. As the Scottish YHA now provide every bit as much equipment as the English YHA, there is no need to take a tea towel or cutlery etc. as is implied in the YHA book.

Although most long distance walkers attempt to keep their pack weight down to a minimum, there are different views on what constitutes a minimum. One chap Dave, in his early twenties, recounted how he had cut everything down to the bare essentials, then put his rucksack on the bathroom scales and found that it weighed three and a half stone! He then proceeded to be completely ruthless and went through his pack again throwing out everything that was not absolutely essential. It then weighed three stone - he hauled it onto his shoulders, gave a slight groan at the weight, and pronounced that that was about right. I was quite intrigued as to what he had in there until it all became apparent later in the walk. In Middleton-in-Teesdale he went into a cafe with his rucksack and was asked if he would mind leaving it outside. At this he became quite indignant and retorted "I'm not leaving that outside - don't you realise I've got twelve designer T-shirts in there worth 30 each." He also had several pairs of jeans - so much for the bare-essentials!

It is worth checking before the start whether walking socks (especially any thin inner socks) have sewn seams over the tops of the toes. These can be a cause of rubbing and can cause blisters. It is not so bad if the seams lie across the toenails, but if they lie further back there is more possibility of them causing problems. I also found that the choice of one of my T-shirts was not ideal for walking, as it had no collar. When walking with a camera and a map holder around my neck there was nothing to keep the straps from rubbing on my neck. Because of this, I changed to using different shirts for walking and that particular T-shirt was not worn again for the rest of the way.

Sending things by post may seem a good idea, but parcels need to be posted a long time in advance to be sure of reaching out-of-the-way places. It is best not to post anything that is vital in case it does not arrive. Bearing in mind that most of the hostels have good drying facilities it is just as well to take a minimum of clothing, particularly things which wash and dry easily, and rely on regular washing of them on the way.


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