A Pennine Perambulation – Walking & Wild Camping in the Cheviots

Part of the pleasure of a walking tour is the planning stage. Staring at maps and day dreaming, looking for wild/camping spots.  This October my idea was to walk the Western section of Wainwright’s Coast to Coast. The section I loved most when I walked the whole route back in, ahem, 1993.  My planning had yielded a route which would take me close to a pub each night so I didn’t need to carry cooking gear and could enjoy the interplay of the physical and zymological landscape of Cumbria. Akin to my walk in early September. I enjoyed the planning so much that was reminded of another idea I’d had which was to walk the very Northern section of the Pennine Way which traces the Border Ridge between the Cheviots and Scotland’s Roxburghshire. As the time for my walk approached I thought it would be wise to keep an open mind which route I did and base it on the better weather. Perhaps unsurprisingly the East won and my planned walk across Cumbria actually started at Byrness in Northumberland.

Cheviot Route Map

It was a three hour drive to the start, so I planned a ¾ day of just ten miles to get me started. It was very much a ‘walk in’ but whilst the scenery was only secondary to getting to my ‘real start point’ the cloudscape proved a highlight of the day, along with the pleasure of being out in the wild again and away from ‘civilisation’.

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The wind built as the day went on, so camping on top of Windy Gyle seemed unwise. As an aside, a Gyle is the traditional name for a ‘batch’ in the brewing industry. The source of this word seems uncertain. Some link it back the French for ‘to ferment’ whilst others link it to the Gallic for bog!  Having now visited Windy Gyle the both the idea of a ‘Windy Bog’ or a ‘Fermenting Wind’ seem appropriate, you make your choice… As a brewer I’d say the wind was as vigorous as the fermentation of a Saison, so I opted for the best, yet modest, shelter I could find on the col between Mozie’s Law and Windy Gyle before it got dark. The sun set as I pitched my tent, but 11 miles and 420 m was not a bad achievement in an autumn afternoon with full kit.

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I work up in cloud and the gratitude of being in a Hilleberg when I recalled the tent being pushed flat onto my face in the night because of the strength of the wind. After striking camp, Peak One was the aforementioned Windy Gyle.

Honestly that is what is behind the cloud in shown in the photo. I continued along the ridge in the cloud, but was delighted when it lifted just before 1100. The views were their own reward, I’ll let the pictures tell their own story.  It was then decision time, my plan was to spend one of my four nights in a lowland campsite. Would that be Yetholm (the end of the Pennine Way) or Wooler?

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A combination of the weather and practicality led to me choosing Wooler, so one hour into my transition to the St Cuthbert’s Way I started to look for a wild camping spot. I had already salvaged some water from a sheep trough supply and I found a flat grassy spot in the lea of am old dry stone sheep ‘stell’ or shelter. Dinner with a view. (Day 2 – 16 miles)

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As an aside on the subject of dinner, because I was carrying all my food for four days I wanted something light, flavoursome and suitably calorific. All my memories of dehydrated meals were all poor ones, both the taste and the after effects! I figured this opinion might well now be well over 20 years out of date so I shook the internet to see what fell out. A number of reviews spoke well of ‘Food on the Move’ dehydrated food pouches. I opted for the larger expedition size. I cannot eat regular pasta or cous-cous (due to the Fructans within them) so I opted for three rice based options. The two curry’s where excellent. The risotto was rather herb heavy for my taste, but it filled me up; I’d certainly use their curry options again.  For those travelling light it’s also great to be able to east straight from the packet – no washing up, and thus a few less things to carry.

The forecast for day three was rain from 1300. I could easily get to Wooler in this time (8 miles, 240 m) and hoped to find a pub with an open fire and read my book for the afternoon. St Cuthbert’s Way was really pleasant, and a contrast from the high fells. It was mostly double track which let me to wonder, did ‘Berty ride a quad bike?  Sadly Wooler proved a disappointment. It has three pubs, The Angel is only for generic lager drinkers, The Black Bull with it’s sign saying “Open all day” was closed and as I approached the Anchor I was met by someone being physically thrown from the establishment. I took that as a poor sign.  Luckily the local Co-op was well stocked with craft cans, so I filled my pockets and headed back to the tent to sit out the rain in comfort. No open fire, but at least I had good beer (Vocation, Adnams [Dry-hopped Lager], Brewdog) and a good book.

Day four (14 miles, 1200 m) was to be my big day in terms of assent as it involved climbing over The Cheviot back to the Border Ridge / Pennine Way. It was a great walk-in through deserted grouse moor. I passed the spot where I might have wild camped

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Should you ever want a spot to camp in this area, give Wooler a body swerve and go to NT 958 257. It has everything, shelter, flat grass, solitude and a fast flowing stream.

From here it was an upward plod until reaching the summit of The Cheviot, where I found a dusting of snow.

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There’s something very satisfying about backpacking to the snow line, even if I wasn’t really equipped to sleep in comfort at this temperature / altitude. Another 1.5 miles and I rejoined my outbound route but now in glorious sunshine. This time I could fully appreciate the viewed I’d hope to see on my way out. They were just as I’d hoped.

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Up here in the fells with my kit on my back I felt like I was in my 20’s again. My new career keeps me as fit as I’ve ever been. The differences are much better hill-wisdom, allowing for safe, comfortable and stunning wild camping at altitude and the benefits of the kit that I’ve been able to afford to buy over the years. I’m part way through a book by Johann Hari on managing depression without medication. One thing he points to is seek intrinsic rather than extrinsic goals. That is, goals which are the end in themselves, not a route to an end. Doing something you simply love, rather than aspiring to money, status other other paths which you use these to get something you think you’ll love. The former, he proposes, sustainably satisfies. The latter are quests which never really end. The sheer love of being in the splendid isolation of beautiful fell country is certainly a great intrinsic goal for me, and that made possible by a job I love in itself not for what it pays (not a great deal) or the status it affords (I’m no rock star). These are truths I never learnt as a child, I guess they are not what the consumerist world wants you to know, but ones I plan to pass onto Junior.

The rough plan was to walk back to Mozie’s Law and camp where I had on the first night. This time however I arrived with more time to pick a pitch. Again it was rather windy but with more time to review my options I found a narrow pitch just 100 metres from the original which was nicely sheltered as well as affording great views to enjoy whilst I boiled water for a brew. This had proved the finest day of this mini-tour and it was wonderful to see the sun go down from 550 metres in splendid isolation, albeit a herald of a very cold night. Whilst it’s true that I slept in all my clothes, hat and all, I was very impressed with the capability of my +5 C rated summer sleeping bag, a Lamina 35.

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With just 11 miles to do on my final day I allowed the sun to wake me.

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And whilst it’s true that this was now just a ‘walk out’ rather than any kind of highlight, everything tends to look better in the sunshine.

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Well most things anyway…

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Next time I’ll have the courage to head out for five days totally in the wild, with decent dehydrated food and iodate tablets to make the river water safe, what’s not to like?

2 thoughts on “A Pennine Perambulation – Walking & Wild Camping in the Cheviots

  1. Pingback: Leaden Hills under Azure Skies – a four day wild walk in the Northern Dales | weston.front

  2. Pingback: Hilleberg Rogen – a review | weston.front

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