Wednesday, 19 October 2016

The end is nigh!

Canarra to Assisi – 14k

Today was another short walk and so I took advantage of getting up as late as I could without missing breakfast. At 9am I walked through into the dining room and found a feast before me, cold meats and cheese, yoghurt so, cereals, cake and lots of other scrummy things. Had I died and gone to heaven?

Renata appeared and I ordered my breakfast coffee and set too with making my fill. We both made small talk as once more I was observed eating my breakfast. Why do they have to do that, are the croissants so precious? I hastily ate my food and without wanting to seem too greedy, I ignored the gorgeous apple cake but did say I'll just take the croissant, wrapped in a napkin and left.  

I returned to the Piazza to record my journey and was soon off following a cycle track to Assisi. There was the threat of rain according to the weather forecast, it set to start at midday so I was hoping to arrive before it started. I followed a minor road to reach a crossroads and crossed over onto a no entry road except for residents and cyclists. Well that is what it said but none of the local people were taking any notice of it. It turned out to be a rat run to Assise and I was constantly moving to one side for fear of being mown down. As I neared the outskirts of the city I passed a memorial to Captain Ibbotsen, an RAF pilot who had lost his life in November 1944. There was no indication of the circumstances but I paused to pay my respects before moving on.

4K from Assise a heavy shower started and I promptly took shelter under and oak tree to put my waterproof trousers and jacket on. Once fully attired Inset off and in no time at all Inwas sweating buckets in the humid air. Thankfully the showers were intermittent and during the dry periods I managed to role my sleeves up and open my jacket to get some air. 

As I neared Assisi  the low clouds started to dissipate and the truly breathtaking place started to appear before my eyes. Initially I had planned to take a more direct route into the city but I felt it was appropriate to extend the walk and record the path along the base of the city from one side to the other. It was a wise choice because as I turned right to walk along a busy road, my path became a tranquil traffic free slope with the majestic beauty of the St Francis church and monastery dominating the hillside. Once in the city I set off to the church to see for myself. It is a sad to see so muck security around these places now but after the sad death of the priest who was stabbed in France, it is the times we now live in. 

I placed my rucksack on the table to be searched and told the armed soldiers that there was just smelly dirty clothes in there. “No knife, no knife” he uttered more than once. Non I repeated just as often. I had my fingers crosses because I was telling a little white lie, I had my penknife but I don't think that counted.

I was conscious as I entered the fresco adorned church that I was wearing shorts but I did not get shouted at and went inside. It was just a brief visit as I planned to return the next day when Claire, my walking companion for the next two weeks arrives.

After paying my respects, I set off in search of my accommodation and a decent meal and a glass of red wine before a siesta.

This journey concludes the footpath that the Cistercian monks may have taken in the 12th century. It is known that they walked from abbey to abbey every year to attend their General chapter meeting, a sort of annual general meeting, to discuss the affairs of their monasteries. The meeting would have taken place at Citaeux Abbey, Dijon France and they would have walked there. 

I have retraced that possible route from the most northerly Cistercian abbey in Melrose, Scotland and extended the path from Dijon to the place where the Cistercian General Chapter meeting now takes place annually, Assisi.

Maybe one day I will walk the whole route in one go and if I do maybe, just maybe I may be seen wearing a white habit!

And finally a special thank you to the person who helped in sponsoring this adventure, you know who you are! 

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

A lazy, lazy day.

Bevagne to Cannara.    8.8k

My accommodation was perfect, toasty warm and a large balcony to watch the sun set and see the early morning sun. I was reluctant to leave and could have sat having my breakfast on my balcony if any was being served. I took my breakfast voucher down to the local bar and swapped it for an espresso and a croissant. With both in hand, I set to transform my croissant into a lovely egg sandwich curtesy of a hard boiled egg I had and my trusty Swiss Army knife. Once they were both consumed I returned for a second helping and repeated the previous task……I was in heaven. My first hard boiled eggs since I had left blight over two weeks ago. The only thing I was really missing, apart from my wife, and children, and Grandson, well you get the idea, was the ability to brew a cup of mint tea when I wanted one.

It was approaching 10.30 by the time I picked up my bag and walked out of the door. I returned to the locati n of a Roman Temple to take a photograph as I was totally dumbfounded to see it had been transformed into the shell of a modern building. It never ceases to amaze me what the Italians do with their historically architecture, they really have far too much to preserve all of it. This temple had no information what so ever about it, it was that important!

Photograph taken I once again wound my way through the quite narrow streets to leave the village. My route was a simple one, I just followed the Forno Tippo along a quiet track, taking the odd opportunity to capture pictures of the Appenine mountains I would be skirting along in three days time. My peaceful thoughts were occasionally interrupted when frenzied dogs suddenly pounced at the fence of houses, barking frantically and scaring me half to death. Why do they have to do that?

By midday I was entering Cannara and with nearly two hours before I could check in a meandered round the streets getting my bearings. Now I have come across some quite places before, but I only saw about ten people as I paddled round and then took an hour to drink another coffee and write some blog notes. At 2pm and before my bottom got any number from sitting down too long, I made my way to the hotel and checked in. It turned out to be a 3star huge pile with me as the only guest……where was everyone, were they all zombies living in this place?

At 7pm after a siesta and writing more blogs I decided to see what delights Cannara had to offer in the evening and was there any more people alive. Well, there were more people alive but not much more. It transpired that every restaurant was closed, my hotel was not serving food and so I traipsed off to Sid’s pizzeria. My luck was definitely not in, it was just a fast food pizza joint and all they could offer me was two pieces of reheated mushroom pizza! I washed it down with a beer and having seen the supermarket next door open, I hastily paid and left to stock up on food goodies…….It was shut!

I knew there was a coop on the other side of town and wandered round the streets in that direction hoping to find a chip shop or a Wetherspoons open. I saw neither but there was at least three ice cream bars open. I arrived at the coop………it was shut!

I retraced my steps in the direction of my hotel and in shear desperation of some food, made a beeline for the Bluesky ice cream bar and bought two croissants and a bag of crisps to make some crisp sandwiches for my tea. I went to sleep hungry.

A late start and a short walk.

Bastardo to Bevagne      14.6k

My accommodation, the Hotel Paradiso served my needs well. The room was warm, the bed was comfy and I'd been able to have a decent two course vegetarian evening meal. Breakfast on the other hand was a different affair. I was the only guest and I'm of the firm opinion that Italians really don't do breakfast. On my table was a plate of various biscuits and baclava and some dried toast that comes in packets. I did have a choice of fruit spreads that I could add to my toast though. Needs must and I ate what I could and after obligatory two espressos I was packed and ready to go.

The route from Bastardo took me along a primary road and was not too busy for the time of the morning. Once again I was blessed with warm weather as I sauntered along the road passing along vineyards and olive groves. Every now and then I would get the distinguishing  aroma of wine fermenting in their vats, a smell I could be around all day.

After 4k I was off piste and trying to establish a route through farm land. I'd passed a landowner tending his olive trees and with only a cursory nod of the head in acknowledgement I knew I was ok on the path. My journey then took me through a farmyard with a large barn full of very curious young cattle, I don't think they've seen any walkers go past them before. I descended into the valley, my path meeting up with a road below or so I thought. Once again I came to a dead end, well the track continued, but will fall trees across it and clear evidence that it had not been used for some time I retraced my steps. I'd passed a bird hide at the top of a 10 metre scaffold tower so bravely and probably rather foolishly I climbed the ladder with my pack on to see if I could make out any tracks from the top. Not a dickie bird could be seen and know dickie birds either. I gingerly climbed down and walked up and down the track until eventually I saw a faint track which I decided to follow.

Eventually I arrived at the road and once again proceeded to climb up out of the valley. It was slow going but I was in the shadow of the trees and soon I was in my own little world of thoughts and dreams, savouring the peace and tranquility of the space around me. On the outskirts of the Bevagne I came across a church sat proudly looking down to the village. I was not able to check into my accommodation until 16.00hrs so I took advantage to take some photos and to sit on a chair that I felt had been placed there just for me. With my feet up and the weight off my back I just sat there enjoying the landscape ahead of me. I could have said silence, but less than a kilometre from the square a motorbike race was taking place around a field and the air was filled with the dreadful drone of the machines as they chased each other around the track. 

After 20 minutes I could stand it no more. I had planned to take a direct route to the village but the thought of walking down to and passing the dreadful racket I could hear where I was, filled me with dread. I chose instead to extend the route slightly and continued along the top of the valley before taking a right turn along via Sant’ Antonio. One of the houses along the road had a fresco of St Anthony of Padua set into the eves of the wall. I stopped and being an Anthony myself took time to reflect on my journey thus far. The final leg of the journey took me along the narrow medieval streets, with washing hanging high up from windowsills and the wafts of fresh meals being cooked. At the Romanesque church of St Micheal Archangel my journey ended and I went in search of a beer and well deserved sit down in the shade.

Up a mountain to come down a hill!

Masa Martana to Bastardo – 15th October 2016 24.3k

Well it was hard to leave today. I had had a good night sleep, managed to get my walk clothes washed and dried by keeping the heating on in the bathroom and consumed a decent breakfast. Well I say decent, I had planned to have some fried egg sandwiches after finishing the fruit salad I had made the day before, but I'd bought sugared croissants by mistake. I also say dried my clothes but my walk socks were still damp. After warming the croissants that I did not eat, I took advantage of the oven still being warm, switched it off and hung my socks on the inside of it and closed the door. Not only were my socks dry to put on but they were toasty warm. If anyone chooses to do this after reading this, please make sure the oven is switched off! I cannot be held responsible for you cooking your socks….

I'd had pre planned my route using satellite imagery and chose to follow a footpath up to the top of Mt Martano which then turned into a cycle route to Bastardo. Easy peasey, lemon squeezy. My first immediate hurdle was when I turned into the street that led me up there and I noticed a sing that stated Mt Martano ristoranta 11k. WHAT, what, 11k uphill…'ve got to be kidding me!

Well needless to say I continued the uphill trawl, initially I had not been able to see the top of the mountain due to the low cloud level, but as I ascended in the morning heat that soon had me dripping with sweat, the clouds dispersed and the sun beat down. In fairness the route wasn't too bad, once the Tarmac road had given way to the now familiar white stone track it was ok. The track meandered around the hillside all the time steadily climbing, I was on an unpaved road so a few cars passed me by and secretly was yearning for the offer of a lift but only to be able to refuse it……honest!

To left of my was a deep valley down to the town and to the left of that was the summit of the mountain with two very large and out of place telecommunications towers, but I guess they have to be there. Eventually after two hours I reached the crossroads and the cycle track that would take me to Bastardo. On occasions when I was facing the wrong direction there was a cool breeze that briefly gave me goose pimples but it did not last long enough for me to add an extra layer. As I neared the summit I was praying for the restaurant to be open, I thought it should be as it was a Saturday. My luck was in, every now and then I caught the smell of a log fire and although there were a few holiday chalets dotted around not were emitting smoke. The final corner brought the relief I was looking for when I spied smoke rising above the trees and the tell tale glimpse of the restaurant, I'm sure my pace increased slightly and before long I was walking through the door and ordering my usual double espresso. 

All good things must come to an end and after a quick photo of the roaring fire I slipped out of the door to climb the last few metres to take some breath taking views of the valley below me and the Appenine mountain range to the right.

Soon I was descending the long road down to the valley far below. Once again I had cars passing me by but this time I was smiling and nodding as they passed me by…..smug git I'm sure they uttered! In the distance I could hear the tingle of bells and knew that somewhere around the sheep or the goats would be grazing on the lush vegetation and forest floor. As I rounded a sharp bend the owners of the bells appeared…..four white cows slowly munching their way up the hill. Now the nearest field was about 6k down the hill, the nearest one up the hill was about 3k, so why were the cows coming up the mountain? Sadly despite being asked no one could explain.

I skirted around them and their deposits before arriving in Giano dell Umbria 11c, another sleepy place. It looked quite quaint so I decided to explore only to find that their was only about four streets around the circumference of the main piazza and the church at the top of a small hill. 

I made my way back to the main road and although I was starting to get weary I was equally keen to get to the hotel I had booked and so pressed on. By know I had 20k under my be
belt and my feet were telling me that they had had enough, I continued. I was keen to stay off any roads with traffic on so elected to meander through a sleepy hamlet with only three houses in but in essence never gained anytime or distance. Once more on the main road, I past the cemetery which was rather big given the size of the village I had passed through and then turned left. I don't recall the last 5k, I think I was either asleep or somewhere else, but just before 3.30pm I rolled into the village and to my hotel. 

The town grew around an inn and stabling station in the 17th or 18th centuries, and was once known as Osteria del Bastardo (i.e. "Bastard's Inn"). In the 1920s the name was shortened to its current form, it  has been noted for its unusual place name. Currently there are only about 1,000 people living there.

The only way is.........up!

Todi to Masa Martana – 14th Oct 2016 19.2k

Well there was a huge storm the night before but I had a fantastic, cosy and warm nights sleep. I woke late because I assumed it was a short walk today. Breakfast time turned out to be an interesting and humorous affair. I sat down to a fine cold buffet spread including cereals. I am always cautious over any milk offerings as I detest UHT milk. If I am not sure it's fresh I avoid at all cost. I chose the cereal but added yogurt and it worked very well. I'd asked for a double espresso and thrown my landlady into a tis, she had no idea how to provide my request from the coffee machine she was using. Aldo, she cried. He appeared and she told him off my request and in no time I had what I had asked for. Then the fun started. I was the only guest having breakfast and I think the landlady thought I looked  either very dodgy or she has had some bad guests because she just hovered around looking busy. In my peripheral vision I saw her tidy the counter although it was tidy. Then she opened the draws of the fridge and rearranged the contents, she wiped the sink, she wiped the counter top, she never stopped tidying until I left!

I was a bit sad to leave the hotel despite being aware that if I'd booked online I could have got a cheaper deal. I walked out of the city through more Roman gateways and called into the coop for some supplies. I'm always aware of the looks I receive I when I enter places like this, it's almost like I've just landed my spaceship in the car park. I'm reaffirmed that I am lucky to be doing this and some people will plainly not leave the place they are born in.

With plenty of water and some extra goodies to keep me going I set off in the direction of the motorway the E45 hoping I could either get under it or over it. Thankfully it was the latter rather than the former. Once I'd passed under my path started to climb up the valley to Chiona along a relatively quiet country road. After passing the village I turned left onto yet anger of my black routes / paths that I am having such adventures on. This time I was on the right path, it head down the hillside past a building on the left, around it and then descended the small valley. I turned round the house and was met with the occupants, Priva…I uttered? Blah, blah, blah came the response. I pointed to my map of where their house was and my intended route, but the lady of the house pointed at my feet and then the field and I realised my intended root was across a plugged field. There was a route and I could have gone that way but given I am writing the walk for others to follow it is preferable that the route is easy to manage and follow. I chose to turn back and return the way I had come and find an alternate route

I passed through Chiona once more with my new route showing that in about 2k the road naturally turned left and if I went straight on I could follow a route almost direct to Masa Martana. Now I have never been surprised when my intended route has a house on it or it's a dead end but  time a totally new road appeared. I say new, it clearly was an road that had been there along time but according to my map which was printed in 2013, it did not exist and nor did it on my GPS. Was I in another dimension, was I dreaming? I decided to test it out and turned right and yes it was an actual solid road.

I was now following signs to Monticello and I steadily descended to valley knowing full well that was go down must come up. True to form I then turned right following new signs to the hilltop village of Torrececcona and that was when the road started to climb and climb and climb. As I looked right down the valley I could clearly see the path I was intending to take but I guess passing through somebody's garden is not always the right thing to do.

The tarmac road ended and became a white gravel unpaved road and I continued to climb. I was begging to wonder if I would come across some pearly gates or some angels playing harps by the road side but before any off that could happen the road levelled out and I came to a t-junction and turned left away from the village of Torrececcona. 

Either side of me now were olive trees and after stopping discretely by the roadside to make myself comfortable (have a wee) I picked one of the black olives off a tree to try. First I cleaned it as best I could from any possible insecticides that may have been used and then I popped into my mouth. Now I really like olives but to say this was bitter was an understatement, I spat it out almost immediately and tried to alleviate the taste with plenty of water.

In the distant now I could see Masa Martana, another village at the top of a hill. I'd dome my research using google maps and satellite imagery and knew there was a route into town from the base of the rock it was sat on. Ha, how wrong I was! I followed my intended course down a very evident track that appeared to turn into someone's garden. On closure inspection and with two dogs barking and snarling at me I saw that the track skirted the boundary of the property, so I set off in that direction. At the bottom it came to a stream and a deserted house with an 1872 plaque on it. I about faced and eventually found the actual track and carefully crossed the stream into a quarry. There was evidence of an old very broken wooden bridge which confirmed that I was going the right way. Not only was I now travelling into a quarry but a building site as there was serious maintenance work and rebuilding of the very high stone wall around this part of the village. Rather than reface the dogs I crept through the building site cabins and returned to the road. 

In relative safety now and knowing that I was going to get to Masa Martana without any further problems I pressed on up the hill. The final leg of the stage taking me through the old gates to Piazza Garabaldi and where Elizabeth my accommodation host for the night was waiting for me.

I was greeted warmly and shown to my very own apartment for the night complete with heating I could control, a kitchen where I could cook my own meal and a bowl full of fresh fruit to indulge on. I set about making myself at home as soon as Elizabeth had left.

Monday, 17 October 2016

A short walk but nowhere to stay....hrmpf!

Acquloreto to Todi – 13th Oct 2016. 12.6k

Well it was another uncomfortable night, I'd asked for the heating to be turned on but instead was offered a glass of red wine and a bottle of water. The owners made sure the air conditioning was on to heat the room but it would have been better to just huddle round a lit matchstick all night. Needless to stay for the second night running I slept in my clothes to keep warm and surprisingly I woke with a start when the alarm went off. I'm sure I could have slept most of the morning for some reason.

I though it quite amusing that not long after I got out of bed the radiators came on, now why could that not have happened last night I mused? I'd requested an early breakfast and was pleased to find that it was a big improvement on the previous mornings meagre affair. Once again I made the most of what was on offer and even relieved some bits and pieces just in case I got peckish to Todi.

Once again I was going off piste and following a black path on the map that met up with an unpaved road. I scanned the route on a satellite map on my iPad before I left and knew my route disappeared into the woods and what happened then I would find out later.

I have been well trained by my parents and I left putting my dirty shoes on until I got outside much to the amusement I'm sure of my host. With my laces tied tightly to avoid getting blisters I  set off to the Strada? The route was easy going as is the usual case when I am following a decent trail that actually exists. Part way down the track I came across a Priva notice attached to a tree and I was unsure whether it was stating the woods were private or the path ahead was. I soon found out…my route continued all time downhill but generally going in the right direction until it took a sharp right turn and I stopped at a chain across the path. Bum, it's that path that's private I told myself. I about turned no retraced my journey up to where I'd seen a track disappear into the woods.

Finally at the junction and extremely warm by now, I dispensed with my jumper and set off on this new track. It was very narrow, steep and very slippery underfoot with all the loose rocks and stones. This was definitely one of the black tracks on my map. I checked my GPS and my map to ensure that it was the correct way and it appeared correct although there was a watercourse to cross on the map. Thankfully when I arrived at that point it turned out to be a natural rock bridge with a fast flowing stream running through it. I pressed on and once again started ascending the hillside.

By the time I got to the top I was bathed in sweat and very out of breath, I paused and took advantage of having a decent drink to ease the 1.5 kilos I was carrying in water.Thirst quenched I set off once again, this time in the relative comfort of a road to follow all the way to the outskirts of my destination. The last few kilometres along the main road into the town after I had ascended the hillside as Todi like many places is perched at the top of a hill.

From the valley floor below Todi is dominated by the beautiful round church of Saint Marie d’Consalazione and the Duomo. My route took me past the Saint Marie and it is Tully spectacular inside, almost a mini St Pauls Cathedral in London. After a brief time inside I ventured off to the Duomo to finish the days walk. Passing the tourist information office I grabbed a street map and set of to the main square via the Roman gates into the city, once again all the time ascending to the highest point. The main piazza is dominated by the Romanesque style of the Town Hall, the side of the theatre with its tower and the Duomo. I'd arrived relatively early due to it being just a short walk and after some time in the cathedral I set off to find free wifi and a coffee. With both in hand I made a one of my B&B address and how to ask in Italian, “I have arrived, pleas may I check in?”

I wandered up and down Via Cavour looking for my abode, but I could not find it despite close scrutiny of all the narrow passages it could have been on. Eventually I did a very unman thing, I went back to the café I had just left as there was an American women in there who ,lived locally. I introduced myself and explained that even though I was a man please could I ask if one of them knew my accommodation address. My request was met with squirrels of
excitement and lots of questions about what I was doing. After a brief but interesting interrogation and the handing over of two Abbeywalks business cards, I was offered a high 5 and respect which I accepted. With directions in hand I went off to my abode only to find no one was home. It was after 2pm so possibly siesta time, I text a message to the mobile number and after no response plucked u courage to ring. Pronto cam the obligatory response, I repeated my Italian phrase about arriving and could I check in……..blah blah blah came the response in Italian. I plaintively utter..non comprenda, only to have the reply of blah blah blah in Italian but I thought I head him utter in 15 minutes. In hindsight I think I was hearing things.

It was getting cold by now and a storm was brewing. I was very obvious as I loitered in the doorway in my shorts and t-shirt with a house on my back. After 15 minutes the storm let rip and the heavens opened, I dashed under a restaurant canopy to take shelter from the torrential rain, but all the time watching the doorway for anyone arriving. After a further 20 minutes and no arrival I as getting really cold and so donned my waterproof trousers and jacket to try to keep warm. At 3pm I was not a very happy bunny, having been in the city for nearly three hours. I trusted to my gut feeling and head off to the tourist information that was open my now and asked if they knew of some where cheap to stay in town. The lady behind the counter, in her late 50’s or early 60’s, dressed all in black, very very slim, and heavily pierced all over and that was just what I could see, was very helpful. In very slow and deliberate English she mentioned the Hotel Flora behind the building.

I set off to see if I could find a deal. Initially the door was locked but after ringing the door bell the landlady arrived and in my fine Italian asked in they had a Camera Singola for a notte and quanta costa? She held u six finger and said €60, this exceeded my budget for the day but I was desperate. 

I handed over my passport and was shown to a very comfortable and warm room…..I was as happy as pig in ?!£&.

Tim from Cumbria in Umbria!

Civitello del Lago to Acqualoreto, Tuesday 12th October 2016 – 11k

Well to stay I was very cold in the Agriturismo would be an understatement, with no heating on it was an uncomfortable night and there was no food being served, so I ate all my meagre supplies and put on most of my clothes to sleep.

I was looking forward to breakfast but again I was to be disappointed as it was a meagre affair. I was reminded of what my Italian friend Carlo told me recently that not even Italians understand Italians! I asked my host for an espresso doppia (a double espresso) and was greeted with a bemused look. “A café grande”? was the response. Not wishing to enter any further confusion I just replied “Si” hoping I was not going to get an americano – I didn't thankfully. With four half slices of bread, some home made jam and two pieces of cake, I stuffed my face and paid the bill. Thankfully the advertised price of €60 which I'd have been horrified to pay was not requested, but €40 was. A suitable review on will be written.

The sun was shining today but in the shade it was definitely cool enough to have a jumper on. "Halfway up the 2k ascent to Civitella del Lago my jumper was off. Civitella was a very nice, quaint medieval village with breathtaking views across the valley from every direction. I called into the local café for an extra shot of espresso, a marmalade croissant for second breakfast and added two litres of water and some crème waffles just in case I needed some extra energy.

With breakfast over I headed out of the village and was soon in the middle of the woods as I steadily ascended yet another tree filled valley. The path was easy to follow, a white stone track with the now familiar GR signposts. I always find it strange to see cars on these tracks especially as they are not usually four wheeled drive jobbies. I passed such a car and then came across the owner scrabbling about in the undergrowth, I assumed looking for mushrooms or other such delights that grace the countryside.

I pressed on, eventually to reach the top and skirted the hillside before a pick up truck came my way making me move to one side to let it pass. I completed this manoeuvre one my time as it came back my way to descend the hill and the same direction I was now following. Five minutes later and deep in thought admiring the view and taking pleasure in the crunch of the horse chestnut cases and fruits below my feet, the truck returned making me move to one side again as it struggled to grip the muddy, stony track.

Once again I was rewarded with a breathtaking view down a small valley as I reached a clearing and my journey now took me down a very narrow, steep, slippery, stony track. On my map and GPS I was once again off piste and relying on the GR signs when I came across them and the contour of the land to identify where I was. More than once I went one way when in actual fact it was the other way, but I guess that is to be expected when you are trying to map out another new footpath for others to follow.

Eventually I arrive at the village of Mozzero and again I was faced with trying to find the track. I knew where I wanted to be, I was within metres of the path but I could not make it out anywhere. Again this is fairly typical of some of the paths I am trying to follow. I gave up the n frustration and retraced my steps to take what are now familiar white roads on the path and in reality little more than up aced tracks used by cars. On the outskirts of the village I came across an elderly lady and a young bearded man and British Land Rover in the garden. I promptly asked who it belonged to and the lady was from America and retired to the village and the young man – Tim was from Cockermouth in the Lake District of England. We chatted a little and he pointed out that in the village I was heading to, there was not only a good restaurant but on Wednesday night they have a foreigners night. It's a shame I was not hanging around.

Tim gave me directions to the village of Acquloreto and true to his word I was soon on the right path once more and within less than an hour I was happily walking into the centre of the village and the end of a good day. I took advantage of a seat around a monument in the sun, took my shoes off and emptied them of quite a lot of detritus that had made its way into my shoes. Tomorrow is another day and hopefully my Agriturismo tonight will turn out to be much improve Do!

Saturday, 15 October 2016

A short stroll and a 12th century convent

Tuesday 11th October 2016 – 11k

Well the previous night I was alone in the restaurant save for the chef who hovered around which made me a bit nervous. I’d apologised profusely that I was a vegetariano which was met with indifference. I was offered spaghetti with pomedere (tomatoes) which is always a safe meal and one I quite enjoy. Before my meal was served the receptionist arrived and queried me over my meal choice and I readily accepted formaggio and insulate (cheese and salad) as my second plate. My meal turned out to be ok but for €20 euros I felt it was a bit expensive, especially as a) it cost me €1.50 to sit there? b) €2 for bottled water that clearly came from the tap grrr. €2 For the very nice local vino rosso, I was ok with that and the rest of the cost for the food. Once again I am reminded how some Italians like to charge for everything and for as much as possible.

I slept like a baby and woke early refreshed and ready to start the day. Breakfast was a plate of dead animals which I ignored, juice with a straw, yogurt, stale bread and cake which I had to helpings off. Once breakfast was over I was on my way by 8.45am. The weather was dry and not too cold for my useful business attire – shorts and t-shirt. Halfway down the track the breakfast chef arrived and gave me a lift back to reception, well that was allowed as I had not started my walk yet. 

Back at reception the dog appeared once more and again we played scratch my ear, you gently  paw me and I scratch you again. With my GPS set I walked to the outskirts of Corbara and then over the river hoping the dam would not burst and I get washed away – yes I do have a vivid     imagination which often amuses me, personally I blame too much fresh air to the brain!   

I had seen a path to the Convent but seeing as it past by a farmhouse with smoke rising above the roof, I chose to take the main road for fear of meeting dogs or told it was a private path. I played dodge the traffic, crisscrossing the road at corners for fear of being mown down and after 3k safely reached the track to the Convent. It transpired it was a silent order and all the doors were closed. I spied three monks in the garden doing their chores and hovered around in sight making myself known. They ignored me.

After a while of hanging around one of them came close enough for me to bid him Bounjorno and to then utter Pellegrini (pilgrim). After what seemed an age the church for bolts were drawn and the doors were open for me to enter. Saint Francis took part in its building in 1216; not far from the Convent there is a cave where the Saint used to live for some time, and the reef on the Tevere river from which Saint Francis talked to fishes. The church is adorned with frescos, sadly some not complete now but it still a breath taking building.

My path continued out of the valley and once again encountered dogs, this time an old jack russell deciding that my ankles looked tasty and lunged for them. I raised my foot and it gnawed at the sold of my shoe, it retreated, it attacked, and attacked. I bravely walked off, repeatedly turning back and standing my ground so it retreated. 
At the top of the hillside and by now very warm my path turned left and I skirted the hillside with a view of the dammed water below me, glistening blue in the sun. Today my journey descended alongside one corner of the water before climbing again again through the trees and then the grapevines that dotted the open hillsides. I passed a winery and ambled by slowly savouring the sweet aroma of the fermenting grapes and then into the olive groves with their green jewels growing in the sun.

By midday I was getting close to my accommodation and slowed my pace as I could not check in until 1pm. Ten minutes later I was at the gates and stopped briefly before a car pulled up and Mario introduced himself as my host. I apologised for being early and was swept into the restaurant and promptly given a free glass of their own red wine. With my registration completed, a stamp for my Pilgrim passport, I was given a bottle of wine and a glass and taken to one of three accommodations. Mario suggested a three bedded apartment as it had better wifi reception. Now it would have been rude to refuse.

Once again I settled into the usual routine, shower, shower again, wash clothes, wash them again and then write up my blog. Tomorrow is another day….

It's a dog's breakfast

Saturday 8th October 2016 – 20k

It's October 2016 and another year for Pilgrim walking which is long over due after having to go back to work for six months to earn enough money for this journey. 

This time I am adding the final stages to the long walk from Rievaulx Abbey in North Yorkshire, England – the St Bernard Way. This new Pilgrim walk follows the likely journey that the 12th century Cistercian monks would have walked to their mother abbey – Citeaux Abbey in Dijon to their General Chapter meeting, held once a year to discuss the affairs of their individual abbeys. In modern times the General Chapter meeting now takes place in Assisi. I am using poetic Pilgrim walkers licence and using parts of the Via Francigena trading route from the 7th century to Bolsena before heading north east to Assisi.

From Bolsena, originally an Etruscan and Roman settlement, my route followed the old streets and passageways to reach the castle overlooking lake Bolsena. From the piazza my route briefly retraced the Via Francigena before soon heading off the road to pick up the old Etruscan path. The weather was humid for me but for the locals it is their winter. Soon, as my journey climbed the hillside I was sweating like an old cart horse. I was unsure of the route to Orvieto, my intention was to retrace the ancient trackway but after making enquiries in the tourist office they had no idea about it. Now aren't tourist information centres supposed to know about their local area? I am fast assuming that this is not the case as this is not my first experience of non tourist information. In future I think that is how I will refer to them.

I was using a 1:50,000 Kompass map (German company) and a GPS, both of which provided little accurate information so I had also used satellite imagery to glean further information not provided by my other two sources. I was grateful that the route was marked as a public footpath and also as an Etruscan trail with a suitable marker depicting the latter. 

Soon the footpath signs disappeared and I was trusting to my own instincts and the visual interpretation of the land from the map. Whilst pouring over the map an elderly gentleman ambled my way and soon we were chatting and pointing the way to Orvieto, my instincts were right and I was heading the right way. As my footpath became a proper track I heard the frenetic barking of dogs and knew that I was potentially in trouble. I slowed down as the dogs burst out of a field charging at my ankles. I'd encountered this experience many times whilst walking through France and had learnt that the best course of action was to be calm and move slowly, not easy when you feel that you could be a dog's breakfast...

Eventually the dogs grew tired and ran back into the field and I carried on only to encounter another experience less than 1 kilometre further along the track. This time six dogs were with their rather overweight owner who breathlessly shouted at them, but they just ignored her. She motion me to continue which I did reluctantly, again for fear of being eaten alive once more. Slowly my distance increased from the frenzied dogs and I returned to the peace and solitude of the path.

At a footpath crossroad I ignored a footpath sign knowing the route I had planned was further ahead. I took that path which eventually took me to a main road. Something told me that I was not in the right place and after checking the map I realised I should have turned off onto a previous track. Never mind I thought, and decided to add a few extra kilometres and pressed on. I'd seen that there was a track that would get me back to the correct path but this turned out to go behind someone's house. I quietly approached the house for fear of more dogs but thankfully no one was home. 

Soon I was nearly on the right course and the final track to it meant another encounter with dogs but this time they were tethered in the middle of field. Don’t ask me why, it seems a stupid place given the heat of the afternoon. I decided to avoid the path and took a different one that initially ran parallel with it before eventually joining it. 

Two walkers came my way and we chatted about their path. It transpired they were walking the Etruscan path to Bolsena and mentioned there was a good coffee stop in Sugano. It was not on my initial planned route but on looking at the map it meant staying off a main road. Sugano turned out to be a sleepy village and totally by accident I circumnavigated the centre probably much to the amusement of the old lady who was sitting quietly in the sun. In a playground I found a shady spot and a bench to rest my feet. Soon my shoes and socks were off and the cool shady air was taking the heat out of my feet. After quenching my thirst and having something to eat I gazed lonely at the map hoping I was near to my destination but alas it was another 8km.

Walking in Italy is always interesting especially if you go off the main GR routes which are always in red on the map. Off piste one can never tell what eventualities will occur and today transpired to be no different. I had decided to walk the final leg to Orvieto almost as the crow flies – direct. I started off on what was a white road on the map which is often and untarmaced track / roadway. This then became a path or a black line on the map but unfortunately that took me past a farmhouse and almost through a small vineyard much to the amusement of the farmer up a ladder trimming his grapes. I asked him if this was the way knowing it was, but as is usual I was told no and to go around the hill not the way I was intending.

I crept around the vineyard hoping he wouldn't see me to check for myself and the end of the field disappeared down a steep valley. Reluctantly I retraced my path back the way I had come and eventually picked up the GR route I had been following previously. My route took me along the hillside, through the woods and eventually to the outskirts of Orvieto. I came to a sign that pointed right rather than downhill as I thought was the correct route. Imagine my surprise when I arrived at the point had I ignored the sign and continued ahead. It would also have saved an addition 3km.

Once on the right route I followed the road up to the city and through the old Roman gateway and along the main road Corso Cavour before heading to the Duomo and the end of the day. It had not been the walk I had intended but I think it could be best described as interesting and certainly some valuable lessons learnt in using a Kompass map for Italy.

Would the next stage be the same I wondered……and so to my bed and breakfast.

Thursday, 25 February 2016

Flat and Fast

Tuesday 23 Feb 2016
Kelso to Jedburgh - 20km
The title of this blog entry by no means refers to myself, but I am by no means fat. My accommodation was everything I wanted except the single bed...hrmpf! My Geordie hosts were very welcoming and had suggested a couple of places to eat the night before, I plumped for The Cobbles. It turned out to be just what the doctor ordered, good friendly company, a roaring log fire, good real ale and gorgeous food. I left a very happy bunny and slightly squiffy despite only having drunk one and a half pints.
I had a reasonable night’s sleep and the first lie in since I had started walking five days ago. My breakfast was a leisurely affair and included vegetarian haggis which Lisa had bought especially for me. I did tell her whatever she wanted she could have but ( thankfully ) no request was forthcoming. After a good hour of eating and chatting about all sorts and everything I excused myself and returned to my room for the final pack. By 9.30 and almost one and a half hours later than I would usually start I was walking out of the door. No sooner had I descended the accommodation steps when Lisa shouted me back and as I turned round my gaiters were thrown over to me…
The route from Kelso Abbey took me across the River Tweed and then over the River Teviot which I then followed passing the ruins of Roxburgh Castle. I passed a brave fisherman standing in the river and we bid each other good morning. I never fail to understand the concept why someone would stand over their waist in freezing cold water trying to catch a fish. Myself, and this is my opinion, I don't think it is a fair sport. Picture the scene.... a large healthy salmon or pike standing in waders in the river with rod in hand trying to catch a passing that would be fair.
I continued along the riverbank with the sun shining on my face to Roxburgh before turning left onto Ferry lane. There is no ferry plying people across the river now but all the signs of that existence are still there. I continued along the river once more, passed under a huge viaduct that crossed the river with a quaint suspension bridge slung from stone piers protruding from the viaduct pillars.
The path eventually took me to and along a disused railway line which I followed for some distance past the hamlet of Nesbit before crossing over the Teviot to continue on the opposite bank. I followed the old railway line again having to negotiate a huge crater that had been gouged out of the bank by the recent floods. All around were the detritus left behind including three large gas canisters, the type that home owners use instead of piped gas. They just lay there like big red beached walruses.
The old railway line led me to the main road into Jedburgh but my path took me again along Dere Street before the final few miles guessed it ..Tarmac. It was only 2 o'clock when I arrived so I headed to the Abbey book shop cafe for a bowl of delicious homemade soup before heading to a different accommodation and definitely not the previous 'Fawlty Towers' experience I had had a few nights earlier.

A new walk and a new day - The Borders Abbey Way

Monday 22 Feb 2016
Melrose to Kelso - 30km
A new walk and a new day - The Borders Abbey Way
Melrose is a quaint place, the Abbey however is stupendous! When I arrived the previous evening I went
straight to the ticket office and announced to the interested English Heritage employees that I had just completed a brand new walk linking Rievaulx Abbey, North Yorkshire with the daughter abbey Melrose. I believe they were interested, they certainly asked questions but it unfortunately didn't grant me free entry to the abbey, so I took photos outside.
My accommodation last night was comfy, a double bed for a change and it was warm. Once again I settled into the usual routine of washing boots, gaiters and drying sweaty socks and clothes. My room always has a particular odour to it when I leave, but I think I am a good guest in that I always leave the windows wide open to let the fresh air in and the stink out.
After a hearty breakfast of porridge with honey and fresh cream, and a cooked breakfast I waddled out of the door to the start of my walk. From Melrose Abbey I retraced my steps from the previous day's stage to St Boswell and the wooded path above the Tweed before descending down to the suspension bridge across the river to Dryburgh Abbey. Dryburgh was first established in 1150 and belonged to the Premonastratensian Order. There was no possibility of getting photos close and inside without paying and
again despite informing staff of what I was doing there was no free entry. Never mind, I did get some really good photos from outside and once I am back in the office at home these photos will be added to this blog.
After nearly an hour of wandering around and snapping pics I returned to the footpath that took me along the banks of the Tweed before ascending a steep track and then my worst enemy......the road. On and on and on it went. There was absolutely no respite at all. Now I don't know about you but my feet do not like the constant pounding of a solid surface ... it seems to draw my feet and before too long the ache set in and it's just a case of mind over matter to get to the end. 
En route I passed a signpost staying "find the lost book you’re looking for". Needless to say unfortunately it was just off my route and the day was long enough without adding more kilometres it.
Today I was treated to a hot and sunny day making it enjoyable in respect of the weather. Once more as I pounded the road my mind drifted off to la la land and as you might have guessed I missed my footpath and only realised when my gut feeling woke up and shouted at me  'YOU HAVE GONE TOO FAR ! '
Ok, I woke up and checked the map, checked my GPS just in case the map was lying, how can a map lie ? never mind my gut feeling was right. I had gone too far, I refused to turn back and instead completed two sides of a triangle to get to the path again. My route thankfully disappeared across fields before returning to tarmac and paths past Kelso race course and along an alleyway in a housing estate. I am always wary
when walking through somewhere like that when I don't know the area so my senses were on high alert. The local numptys helped me on my passage through the urban streets ( not ) by turning the Borders Abbey Way signs round. Consequently I had to use intuition and something unfamiliar to my sex, i.e. ask for directions! 
I was guided through the local rugby ground and out the other side before a quick left turn to the town centre and Kelso Abbey. Guess what? It's free to get in! Well to be truthful there is very little of it it left, but what is still standing gives a true sense of the scale of what it may once have looked like.
After taking full advantage of being able to get into the abbey for free, I asked, yes I said "asked" for directions to my b&b. This turned out to be two minutes away, and was an absolute oasis of loveliness for all the right reasons.

Tuesday, 23 February 2016


Sunday 21 Feb 2016 
Jedburgh to Melrose 27 km

Well I arrived at my abode ok and it was not quite Fawlty Towers but I only had a small bolt on the inside of my bedroom door, no actual lock. I was conscious that once I had shed all my wet things that all was not quite right, but by then it was too late to re-dress and I was certainly not going to the co-op in my birthday suit!

That said after the usual routine including the now familiar process of washing the mud off my boots and my gaiters in the bathroom sink, I was keen for an early evening meal. I had been told of one place to eat at but I knew there was a wild bunch of semi naked girls on a hen night in there. What's wrong with that I hear you say? Nothing but my personal injuries and general disposition meant that I was very fragile.

I set off instead to the Forresters, nothing really special from the outside, in fact some would say it looks a bit of a dive from the outside but boy o boy the homemade burgers are to die for. Given that I have been christened Bad Tony by my walking friends, yes I said friends, I settled for a Bad Boy Bankok Burger - vegetarian of course. It came with crispy crunchy chips and homemade coleslaw...and it was absolute heaven. I will return to Jedburgh in a few days and will probably head straight back there for another tasty burger.

With my meal consumed it was time to hit the coop for the appropriate solution to my current walking injuries. Now it is at this point that I must warn all readers of this blog that if you have a delicate disposition or are just plain weak, skip the rest of the blog and instead go straight to the next have been warned!!

I do have a little medical knowledge - not quite enough to be able to conduct a heart transplant but it comes close to that so I knew how to alleviate my ailment - chafing. Now before I go on I think it prudent to digress slightly and look at that common sports injury and explore it further......well not that close!

I ask myself why is it that I have read so many reports, articles, advice and reviews about the best walking boots to wear, the best base layers, the best waterproof jacket. Why have I never seen any reviews about what is the best underwear, surely that has to be a given. It could say - Silk is very soft to the skin, highly breathable, washes and dries well, chafe factor between 1 low to 10 oooo that smarts! Or how about - Thong, well you hum it and I'll play it, good breathability, quick to wash and dry but be careful, you know what a cheese wire does to cheese....oooooo!

I'll move on because I think you get the general idea. So I found myself in the Coop, and there are many other good retail stores out there too, to find some Vaseline. Now I am not saying that I am old, but in my day Vaseline came in a pot and there was just one kind. When I got to the right shelf I was met with a plethora of flavours, Cherry, Cola, Rasberry, Mint, all I wanted to do was apply it not eat the darn thing! I settled after much thought and dithering with Hello Vera 'cos I heard she was kind and gentle and good for the skin. Purchase complete I went back to the hotel, applied and stayed awake most of the night.....single beditus...again!

After breakfast my route took me from Jedburgh along the river bank and to Dere street once more. In January hurricane Jonas had caused a lot of problems and flooding in Jedburgh and as I walked along Dere street it soon came apparent just how bad it had been. Dere street descended down to the main road and on some parts of it it the rainwater a gouged out huge deep channels along the street. It was a very sorry sight to see.

From Dere street my route returned to the river Jed Water before joining the River Teviot. Once again the extent of the huge floods that had recently happened were evident with all manner of detritus littering the fields. Pushchairs, children's toys, parking cones and general rubbish hanging from trees and bushes.

I crossed the river using a very narrow suspension bridge which was very wobbly and swingy, yes you guessed it, I took full advantage of its swingyness like the boy I am. Once safely on the other side my journey continued through woods past Monteviot House before rejoining Dere Street. This time it was a pleasure to be walking its length. Before me it stretched and unfurled like a green wide carpet with just the faintest hint of a footpath meandering along it. I have to confess once again I drifted off into la la land dreaming and soaking in the experience of walking in the footsteps of history. 

The street took me past the battle of Ancrum moor, now thankfully over, and then past the Lilliards Stone. A myth relates to "Fair Mistress Lilliards" from the battle and is penned in verse - "Fair Maid Lilliard lies under this stane little was her stature but muckle was her fame upon the English loons she laid monie thumps and when her legs were cuttit off she fought upon her stumps. AD 1544". 

I pressed on to the natural end of the Street, then to the village of Maxton and past the village church that was reputedly built as an apology for burning down Dryburgh Abbey.  I dropped down to the woods by the River Tweed before having to take a detour due to a land slip to arrive at St Boswells. As I followed the detour through the side streets I came across a woman dressed with a tight headscarf dragging a branch of a fir tree slowly behind her. My immediate thoughts were is she a witch? I let her get ahead of me for fear of being turned to stone. 

From St Boswell the path took me through woods but this time high above the banks of the Tweed. I was very conscious that a slip to the right would have meant a very early bath, fortunately I reached urbanisation safely. The final leg of the journey was along a disused road past the Roman signal station high up on the hill to my left and then along into Melrose to the Abbey and the end of the day.

Monday, 22 February 2016

No Roman around today it's a long 'un!

Sat 20th Feb 2016
Byrness to Jedburgh - 28km
No Roman around today it's a long 'un!
My accommodation in Bryness was a strange but very nice affair. Given that its name was Forest View Inn I expected just that, an Inn. But as I walked through the small hamlet of what was originally for forest workers' houses, my accommodation turned out to be just that. Two forest worker houses side by side with an authentic Inn sign swinging in the breeze. When I arrived I was immediately bustled through into the conservatory and plied with a hot cup of tea. While I recovered, my boots and all manner of wet things were kindly taken away and put in the drying room. Oh and the boots were even stuffed with paper, how's that for service?
I settled into my room and continued with my usual routine until it was time for me to order my evening meal at 5.30pm. Once ordered I returned to reading my iPad book, keeping an eye on the battery level as I had foolishly left my charger at my mums. I blame that error on her forcing me to drink whisky until I got squiffy!
At 7pm dinner was served, a steaming bowl of vegetable curry ontop of which I put two boiled eggs for extra protein. The hard boiled eggs had been carried from Bellingham, an emergency ration I often carry. My main course was followed by plum crumble and custard and I couldn't help but reminisce of the apple crumble or pie my nana would always have ready for me when I went to see her. My nana is never far away from my thoughts, I really miss her.
Now the Inn had another peculiarity. Not only did it have a fully stocked bar in the lounge of one of the houses, it was also open to the public. Just before 9pm a group of the locals wandered in like they owned the joint, well I guess that's what you do when you go down to the pub! They promptly ordered drinks and once in hand proceeded to chat away to my hosts. I managed to understand some of what was being said, hoos, noo, yer ken etc, all new words to me.
I bid everyone goodnight and retired at 9.30pm and had another restless nights sleep. I don't know about you, but I find it really hard to sleep in a single bed nowadays, surely they're for children? I like to spread out from corner to corner like a big beached star!
I had cheekily asked for an earlier breakfast the previous day and the response was, well we don't usually serve until 8am but I will as you want to get off earlier. Now I was the only guest and I really would prefer my hosts to just say yes or no when I ask for breakfast outside the allocated times, because any more information just leaves me racked with guilt. By 8.30am and with the rain falling I was once more in waterproofs and heading out of the door.
There really were not many routes to choose from to reach Jedburgh so I decided to take the most direct one, straight over the top. Within two minutes of me starting the long day I was huffing and puffing like the three little piggies and slipping and sliding like Bambi on ice, straight up through the woods. There were two very brief flat bits as I crossed the forest tracks but aside from that I just kept climbing and climbing, at one point I thought I saw some pearly gates but it was just my eyes deceiving me. The final leg up the uphill struggle was over a craggy outcrop of boulders that meant either some serious concentration or a certain long tumble backwards and more than likely something hurty!
As my head crested the top it was nearly blown off and as the rest of me followed I too nearly got blown off my feet. Now I thought the previous day was windy but today I was very likely to get blown off my feet or into the next continent. I strapped everything down tight on my bag, gloves on, hood up and continued along the ridge line thankful that the tank range down the other side of the valley bottom was not in use this morning. The first time I had heard it go off the previous day I nearly jumped out of my skin and that was when it was about ten miles away.
As I ambled along I was buffeted continuously from the left side, grateful that it was not a head on wind. The route was isolated, boggy and very bleak, every now and then I had the feeling I was being followed but when I turned round there was no one there. I guess it must have been a Roman soldier from one of the many camps and the hill fort nearby keeping me safe.
I followed the Pennine Way past the large Roman hillside fort of Chew Green. These days there is nothing but large mounds of earth that depict the outline of previous buildings. I would not have liked to have lived up there or for that matter walked in the clothes the Romans once wore. The wind must have fair whistled round and up their uniforms. Brave men indeed..........or very very foolish.
From the hill fort I joined the Roman road of Dere Street once again, but again here there was very little to see except for a faint outline. The road continued to climb once more before disappearing only to reappear more formally with a gated entrance, a warning notice to motored vehicles, and swampy green swathe of grass ahead. Again I was buffeted by the wind, with the hillside falling away steeply to my left and the ridge line of Mid Hill and Gaisty Law again dusted with snow. 
I had been advised that the previous day there had been knee deep snow up here so I was pleased to see that the previous night’s rain had got rid of most of it.....Gott Sei Dank! After a brief section of Dere Street, once again it disappeared. My path took me left along a faint path and down a very steep hillside to rejoin Dere Street. By now all around me were beautiful hills dotted around like pimples sticking out of the valleys.
After being nearly blown of my feet and drowned in a bog once more I was relieved to reach a road and some safe passage. Ha ha, that was soon short lived as at the top of the road after passing a Roman encampment, minus the Romans, I rejoined Dere Street . Again there was notification that motorised vehicles were unauthorised as it was out of season.......out of season, formidabla! I walked through Italy last year along all manor of Roman roads that just looked as if they had been freshly laid. Here Dere street in places was a swampy, rutted, travesty of modern civilisation. If one considers when these roads were made, then view how long we have had mechanised transport it does not take much maths to work out how little time modern man has raped, vandalised and destroyed this historical creation. Am I I am absolutely fuming!
Rant over, no! I continued on my merry way and was nearly mowed down by a farmers hand on a quad bike with a young giggly female on board! Then with hounds barking in the distance I knew that either a hunt was around or the dogs were out. The former rather than the latter was the case. I observed the local toffs all clad in black or red tearing across the hillside led by a quad bike,  and with further quad bikes bringing up the rear.
OMG, they reached Dere street and turned right straight towards me. Bounding and charging along tearing yet more of the road up. ‘What oh smelly walker' I am sure they wanted to utter as they charged left and right of me. 'What oh you upper class vandal monied toff' I wanted to shout, followed by 'I hope you fall off your horse and get eaten by a carnivorous sheep’ ! Rant over......NO, And then the cavalry came charging along on their quad bikes tearing more of the road up, ‘ I hope you hit a rut, and get thrown off I wanted to scream '! But I just nodded like the coward I am. RANT OVER.......yes.....meow!
I carried on my way spitting and snarling at the state of this ancient monument and once more was grateful for a brief interlude of a Tarmac track that was still Dere street. From the road my journey continued back onto a deeply rutted, horse trampled, vehicle rutted, vandalised, swampy Roman road. I passed numerous more Roman encampments minus the Romans. The former camps were just green fields interspersed with mole hills. Look, look, LOOK, even the moles are at it....hrmpf!
Thankfully after four more miles of this road I decided enough was enough. I am not a person to walk the same path twice and I had decided that the St Aelred's Way would not go almost all the way to the Borders Abbey Way to Jedburgh. Instead I had decided to take a more direct line and avoid two sides of a triangle, and so at the second country road I decided to turn left and take a straight route into town. I headed straight to Jedburgh Abbey to complete the stage and despite still wearing waterproofs and sweating like a sweaty thing, I was a now a happy bunny once more. Journey complete!

Sunday, 21 February 2016

Bellingham to Byrness

Friday 19 Feb 2016

I resumed walking the St Aelreds Way following being blown off course some three weeks ago by hurricane Jonas. I had a leisurely journey the previous day to my re-starting location albeit with a bit of a hangover after being forced to consume 40 year old whiskey by my mother. Shouldn't they know best? Well I though so, so I did not refuse.

My accommodation last night was the YHA bunk barn which I shared with a family with three well behaved young boys. I had been warned by my fellow residents that the barn was cold when they arrived, and despite a roaring log fire burning in the lounge, it was a cold building. I spent a fitful night’s sleep due to being cold myself despite having an extra duvet on the bed and sleeping in my thermal walking top. Needless to say I awoke feeling tired, not just due to the early start.

The day's walk ahead was across bleak moors following the Pennine Way to Byrness, pronounced Burness. It was to be an isolated walk, with little emergency break off points so I was pleased that the sun was showing itself as I set off. My route took me up out of the village on the road before leaving it to head across fields and the start of the moor. Ahead of me all around was a carpet of brown heather, and way in the distance were hills dusted with snow like icing sugar on a cake.

As I crossed the first section of the moor I was thankful that there was a decent track to follow. I had initially surmised that that there would be little or no path to follow at all, as had been the case on previous parts of the Pennine Way. The path was very boggy due to the previous rains and the wind was cutting across me, which is always preferable to it being in your face and pushing you two steps back for every one taken forward.

Little did I know but the worst was still to come. My first break off point came and went, and I was feeling a bit more confident but I have to confess that there was an air of trepidation in the back of my mind. I soon moved on to the second section and by far the longest part of the moor. Initially there was no indication of my direction presented by the two paths in front of me. I checked the map and headed right, fortunately it was the right choice.

The path swept up through the heather and the mud got stickier and stinkier as I battled along with only a foot’s width of path. I felt like a ballerina as I gracefully lumbered along, slipping and sliding away. I continued to climb. There was a brief respite and then another gradual climb. All the time I was being blown this way and that, and as I reached the highest point I was more certain than ever that I had made the right decision not to continue walking earlier in the month as hurricane Jonas unleashed its force.

At the highest point of the moors I was in the middle of nowhere. In every direction as far as the eye could see was moorland, interspersed with hills peppered with snow. I pressed on and descended onto the stone slabs that had been laid by the army of volunteers who maintain the footpaths. I was grateful for this pavement of stone as without them I would certainly have disappeared into the boggy waters, never to be seen again.

I reached another point where an escape was a possibility but like a brave soldier, I pressed on back onto the moorland. I knew that at some point I would reach a forest but there was no sign of it yet. By now the wet weather had closed in. Walking in full waterproofs is never my favourite thing, but then neither was the option of arriving like a drowned rat at my accommodation. I donned my waterproofs and pressed on. The path didn't improve, if anything it got worse. Eventually the forest came into view but it had the last laugh. My route continued down into a small cutting before ascending rather steeply up the other side. Due to the incessant rain of previous weeks I was now walking up a narrow, slippery stream as it rushed past me to the bottom of the cutting. I was glad to reach the top, but then again I wasn’t ! 

I was now walking in snow and it soon became clear to me that I was about to enter the mother of all bogs. There was no discernible path so I picked my way gingerly across the swampy soupy snow ( or snog - snow / bog ). In the distance I saw something move - a fox looking at me…ha ha he was probably saying – another victim for the swampy soupy snow, I'll just duck out of cover and watch him meet his certain end ! I followed the fox’s footsteps through the snow and soon came to a swimming pool of bog ( a swog  )! A tree gave me some relief as I hugged its trunk to help me past. The tree shook me off, it was probably in cahoots with the fox. Soon I was heading the wrong way, inertia got in the way again, my left foot went straight in the bog up to my knee and I was propelled forwards. Next, my left foot gave way and I managed to reach some solid land but landed on my knee on smelly water. I kept going forwards. Fortunately I put my hands out to brace my fall and a certain face plant. Now I was up to my wrists in water, I am sure I could hear both the fox and the tree laughing. I managed to break free and cleaned myself as much as possible and it was then that I realised that I was mere metres away from the forest track and safety.

My journey continued uneventfully through the safety of the woods and the forest track, and before I knew it I was approaching the village of Byrness and the end of a seventeen mile stage.

Sunday, 31 January 2016

No Roman around today!

Sunday 24th January 2016.  31km 

I was home alone last night as Rachel and her parents attended a Burn’s Night supper. In some respects it was nice to have somewhere very familiar to just paddle around in and have a quiet night to myself. My evening meal consisted of more curry from the night before…….one can never have enough curry sometimes! Once my appetite was replete it was down to preparing the next days walk, highlighting the route and ensuring that my bag was packed ready for an early morning departure. 

The alarm went of again before 7am and I slowly dragged my body out a nice warm bed. Within twenty minutes breakfast was over and I was completing my finally packing to include food supplies needed for the day. After the previous days walk and only carrying a day bag I was keen to off load as much from what I had previously been carrying in my larger bag. Surprise, surprise I am sure I got rid of about 4 kilos of weight, it might not seem a lot, but over rough undulating terrain even 1 kilo can really make a difference. 

By 8am I was in the car and heading out of the driveway to be dropped off at Hexham Abbey. Once again Rachel was dropping me off before heading home, so when we arrived at Hexham Abbey Rachel was being a bit clingy, I don’t think she wanted me to go…… but a man must do what a man must do, and work was calling me. After a lengthy farewell and much hugging and kissing later ( sorry I should have added a warning declaration to readers of this blog ) I turned the corner and we were both out of each other's site. 

There has been a church on the site of Hexham Abbey for over 1300 years since Etheldreda, Queen of Northumbria made a grant of lands to Wifrids, Bishop of York c.674. Wilfrids Benedictine Abbey was constructed from the remains of Roman stone from the area. It is a wonderful peaceful place and I would recommend popping in if you are in the area. 

My route took me directly to the railway line and along Cycle route 72 before following the river. Unfortunately due to the height of the recent floods the footpath had fallen victim and I was forced to continue on the road through Fourstones and Newborough. Newbrough and Fourstones are on the Stanegate Roman road, built in A.D. 71, which runs from the east to the west of England and formed the original northern frontier before the building of Hadrian’s wall. Newbrough’s church stands on the site of one of the line of forts along this road. 

Soon I was leaving the tarmac behind as I headed across the moor to the Roman Military road. There was no sign of a footpath and once again I had to take a grid bearing, identify a point to aim for in the distance and just walk in a straight line irrespective of what lay ahead of me. Once more I bog hopped my way through squelchy, smelly muddy water. Just before reaching the end of the section the weather finally let me down and a windy squall of horizontal fine rain increased in persistence forcing me stop and put my waterproofs on. I had been walking for about ten minutes when my sixth sense kicked in, something was wrong, the Feng Shui did not feel write. I stopped and collected myself, thought long deep and hard……a rare experience for me nowadays! Agh….walking pole, where was my walking pole I thought? I retraced my steps hoping it was close at hand, maybe I had left at the gate I had to open, maybe it was at the stile before that. All sorts of dramas and scenarios were going through my head. Fortunately at the first stile, there is was patiently waiting for me to return. I am sure it smiled when it was in my hand once more….. 

Once on the Military road I played dodge the very fast 'are walkers supposed be treated like bowling pins ?' crazy car drivers.  I was now following the line of Hadrian’s Wall passing the fort called Brocolitia, and the site of the 3rd century Temple of Mithras. Thankfully, after bounding from road to grass verge, road to grass verge repeatedly like a demented bunny I turned right and once more followed a direct line Again the path faded from an ancient byway to nothingness. Fortunately the Gods were looking favourably upon me and I was able to take advantage of walking on top of a derelict stone wall that was nothing but very very lumpy grass, hard to walk on but far easier than being swallowed by a bog. Several times I encountered huge pools of deep water that had congregated within the confines of a closed gateway that required precision foot placing to avoid drowning. These were missed opportunities of seeing me triple salchow and pirouette on sods of earth or wobbly stones as I wrestled to open and close gates without mishap. There were also a couple of bridges over burns that had to be crossed and once more my athletic graces were brought to the fore as I slipped and slid along the wet, greasy wooden boards like Bambi on ice. I have never encountered such a plethora of obstacles along a path for some time and I was glad when I finally reached a tarmac surface. I was in such euphoria that I had to sit down and have a sandwich to celebrate. 

It was well after midday and I had only completed half the distance, so after a quick respite I set off once more. Hadrian’s wall was behind me now and I was in what used to be the Border Reivers territory. I had avoided being TWOC’d in Middlesbrough and now had the thought of whether I would be safe crossing through this land that was once home to the lawless gang of horsemen, or would I encounter a group lost in time? I constantly gazed around, kept watch and listened out for the whinny of a horse that might give them away. 

The fine mizzle of rain had eased off but I kept my waterproofs on and increased my pace along the road trying to make up the time I had lost crossing the boggy wastelands. I left the road and turned onto another ancient Byway before reaching the Pennine Way, a 267 mile path from Edale in the Peak District to Kirk Yetholme in Scotland. I was only following it to Bellingham today. 

I was starting to feel the exertion of the day by late afternoon and I was starting to wish the end would come soon. By now I was starting to climb and this was only increasing my sense of fatigue. My legs were tired from having never really been able to go in a straight line what with all the slipping and sliding around I had endured and I was a sweaty uncomfortable mess inside my waterproofs. 

Ahead lay Shitlington Crag and by now the light was starting to change as the end of the daylight approached. I bravely battled on and at the top I was nearly blown off my feet. I ducked behind a wall to recover and as I continued the fine wet mizzley rain started again. At last I was back on a decent track but the was short lived as the path turned left I was greeted with one final boggy, smelly waterlogged stretch of moor to end the day on. Again there was no sign of a path and I slowly criss crossed my way to the road before turning left again and my hotel in Bellingham. I am often surprised by accommodation givers different approaches to wet, smelly, muddy walkers and tonight was no exception. I took advantage of getting as much mud off my boots outside and I peeled my soggy waterproof trousers off and bundled them into a position where I would not drip mud everywhere. At reception I was met with a cheery Geordie greeting, and once checked-in  was shown to my room. As asked if I needed to take my muddy boots off and received the response…Na bother! 

My room was a Palace, the bed was huge, it was not raining inside and it was warm ….I was a very tired Happy Bunny!