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.

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