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.