The Road goes ever on and on; Down from the door where it began;
Now far ahead the Road has gone; And I must follow, if I can;
Pursuing it with eager feet; Until it joins some larger way;
Where many paths and errands met; And whither then? I cannot say.

[JRR Tolkien, Lord of the Rings]

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Day 18 - by Harwood Forest to Chew Green

18 April (0800-1700)
Distance: 19 miles (Tot: 331)
Fitbit steps: 43500
Weather: wall-to-wall sunshine, barely any breeze, not too warm - perfect!
Number of vehicle encounters in first 4.5 hours of crossing Otterburn Range: 3
Number of 'comfort breaks' that coincided with a vehicle passing: 1

That was a remarkably good day!

Last night felt like the coldest yet, and the wind that howled yesterday stilled to nothing as the day drew to a close. That was enough for me to decide that a lie-in and a leisurely start was in order. It was worthwhile, as by the time we got walking the tent was almost dry and the quilt was aired free of its nighttime condensation.

I had thought that we would opt to yomp straight over to the road first thing this morning (rather than yomping the much further distance along the hippopotamus to join the road further along), but we agreed that we may as well have a quick look to see if there was any sort of a trod running in the same direction as the line of the footpath. It was the type of mountainously tussocky grass in which you can be 10 yards away from a path and not see it (and which, in the absence of a path is very hard going) but by good fortune I did spot a line and it gave us easy walking almost the whole way to Winter's Gibbet (named after the man hanged there, not after the season) where we met the road.

Some road and some field paths led us to Elsdon where it was with some delight that we found the tea room to be open. Two huge pots of tea and two breakfasts were put away, and two scones with jam ordered to take away, before we carried on our way. If you happen to be in Elsdon, I'd highly recommend that you pay it a visit.

Second breakfast usually falls 2 hours into the walking day and usually lasts 10-15 minutes. Today we had only been going an hour and a half and were stopped for over an hour, but thoroughly worth the time.

I knew what was coming next on our way, and had pondered last night whether I had made the right route decision. The 'track' through Otterburn Military Range is 14 miles of tarmac. However, in its favour is that it runs through a fantastic piece of the country, with the most incredible views on a nice day. Today was the nicest of nice days.

It was quiet too, being Good Friday, with absolutely no military traffic, and barely any other traffic either. We saw as many bikes as we did cars until we reached the junction by Cottonshope Head, less than 2 miles before the end of our day.

Moreover, the day wasn't as hard on the feet as I had expected. I was either blind or stupid last time we passed through the Range to fail to notice the perfectly walkable verge (no bowling green, but not tussocky) which runs alongside the road for all but a couple of miles of its length. So, even the going underfoot was okay.

And where are we pitched tonight? Where else but in our usual place. This is now the fourth time we've used this wild pitch, having arrived from 3 different directions.

(Conrad: we weren't as late leaving as that time-stamp suggested. I'd put my phone on to send the blog before we left but didn't remember until we were well under way that I hadn't pressed 'send')

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Friday, 18 April 2014

Gorgeous start to the day!

Just taking advantage of the sunshine (and delaying our start) by airing the quilt after another cold, perfectly still night.

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Thursday, 17 April 2014

Day 17 - Acomb to by Harwood Forest

17 April (0830-1710)
Distance: 18.5 miles (Tot: 312)
Fitbit steps: 43500
Weather: heavily overcast morning, a shower after lunch, then sunny intervals. Very windy and cool.

We didn't have to repeat last night's never-ending road in leaving the campsite this morning. Instead, a pleasant woodland path led directly from the tent to rejoin a different road further north.

Road was, unfortunately, the prominent feature of the morning. They were quiet lanes (on the longest section we were passed by more bicycles than cars), but after a total of 7.5 miles of tarmac, we were ready to leave the road when we reached Little Bavington.

In between two of the road sections we had taken a byway, but we weren't too happy with that either. It has been deeply rutted on each side by 4x4s, and deeply rutted in the middle by motor bikes. That left us with some thin strips of lumpy grass on which to walk, and it wasn't a happy experience (the photo shows a bit of that byway, but not one of the particularly offensive bits).

Perhaps the better route altogether would have been to follow Hadrian's Wall much further east than we did, then to pick up St Oswald's Way (which we did join, but rather later). That route would have been about 8 miles, compared to the 5 of the one we took, but it would probably have been proportionately nicer than our 'hypotenuse' route (or, as I would usually say, 'hippopotamus').

A later hippopotamus route didn't work out well either, as I didn't pay enough attention to the map and we foundered in a field of sheep for a while before cutting our losses and heading for a road. The last hippopotamus of the day worked out better.

The most alarming incident of the day came not long after I'd commented that we'd not yet encountered any bulls on this trip. Fate had been tempted and soon we found ourselves with a herd of curious cows, with bull in tow, trotting towards us. Having successfully cornered us, we had two options, but rather than escape through a gate in the wrong direction, we adopted the 'approach with confidence, waving arms and shouting' technique, which fortunately did the trick nicely. I imagine that those of a nervous disposition around cows wouldn't have enjoyed those few minutes!

We arrived in Kirkwhelpington before 3pm, giving us rather a lot of time to kill before continuing on for a wild pitch. Happily, the sun had come out, so we whiled away a good chunk of time on a bench on the playing field. It was rather more pleasant than our earlier lunch spot, huddled up on the steps of a chapel, trying to get out of the worst of the howling, cold wind.

St Oswolds Way would have been followed for most of the final hour and a bit of the day, except I feared it would involve more tarmac, so little local paths were taken instead. No sooner than we had joined St Oswald again, we left him for good, as he veered off in an unhelpful direction, leaving us to yomp off in a different direction across a tussocky, barren landscape, to find ourselves a home for the night.

(Martin: thank you for the weather update and have a good weekend, wherever you are going.
Conrad: that sounds very similar to the alternative route I had plotted, which saw us join the Pennine Way by Bellingham. It got ditched in favour of the one we're taking on the basis of not fancying another repetition of the PW quite so soon.
Louise/TVPS: thank you for the shopping advice and info. Much appreciated.)

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Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Day 16 - Stanhope Common to Acomb

16 April (0700-1630)
Distance: 20.5 miles
Fitbit steps: 49000
Weather: early wall-to-wall sunshine; high level cloud later. Markedly warmer this afternoon

The day started with Mick getting a kick in the face. There he was, innocently lying all snug under the quilt, when I transitioned from the 'making tea' to the 'drinking tea' position, catching Mick's jaw with my foot as I did so. He reckons that with the number of times I accidentally kick, knee, elbow or thump him, he qualifies as a battered husband.

It was an early hour of day to be kicked in the face too, as I'd requested an early start, so as to cover the miles, buy groceries and arrive at our night-stop early enough to use the laundry.

So, it was just 7am as we hoisted our packs and left our pitch (an excellent pitch, even if I do say so myself). By virtue of having slept at the bottom of a valley, we started with a get-the-blood-pumping climb back out of that valley. Moorland was the theme of the morning, and it was incredible to see quite so much of nothing, save a couple of large chimneys (right on the moor) telling us that there used to be industry in these seemingly barren parts.

Good navigation (with, perhaps, a little luck thrown in) saw us land within a reasonable number of paces of stiles (or in one place, a waymark pointing straight through a fence with no evidence that there's ever been a stile) when we encountered fences during our descent off the first bit of moor.

A little lane, a pleasant path through a bit of forest and a bit more lane took us out of County Durham and into Northumberland at Blanchland. For us, today, Northumberland started with an absolute lung-buster of a hill. It did, however, offer excellent views back whence we had come, and the moorland onto which it led us was gentle on us, as was the forest road which followed.

From the little collection of houses that is Juniper, it's only 4 miles to Hexham by road, but why walk a road when there are (for a less direct a route) field paths instead? And so over fields and along byways we went, only hitting the road a short way before Hexham.

Our biggest resupply yet was needed in Hexham (our next shop isn't until Selkirk on Sunday - eeeek - Easter Sunday - that's not promising from a shopping point of view, is it? Wish I'd thought of that earlier!) where I nearly cried as I searched and searched, covering what felt like an extra mile or so, for the things I wanted in the big Tesco.

Our night-stop was another 2.5 miles further on according to the map, but I'm sure that the last lane went on for twice the distance it should have! Eventually the lane did end, the campsite was before us, and with relief our parcel was handed over.

Having paid our pitch fee (£17.50 - ouch!) we were shown to the scankiest bit of ground. Had the fee been more reasonable, I would have accepted it, but for that much money, I expect something half-decent, so I rejected it. We settled on another spot in the end, but it's still not great. It became slightly better when the warden returned to apologise for overcharging us and to give us a £2.50 refund. All being well, tomorrow night's pitch will be better - and free, although it won't have much in the way of facilities!

(Conrad: two offers of tea doesn't bring us close to your record of receiving hospitality! Unrelated to that: where did your LEJOG route take you after Rookhope Burn?
Martin: if we hadn't climbed up so steeply during those 3 minutes, I likely would have made an about turn! What's the weather for the weekend for the Borders (Jedburgh and Selkirk area)?
Mike K: that would have been really useful to know yesterday!)

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Day 15 - W of Barnard Castle to Stanhope Common

15 April (0810-1930)
Distance: 20.5 miles (Tot: 273)
Fitbit steps: unknown! Battery died!
Weather: glorious!
Number of lost-foot incidents: 1

One of the benefits of being to the west of Barnard Castle last night was that this morning we started out along the sunny side of the river. That was a good place to be, as it was a cold one last night; our first frost of the trip (even the dregs of last night's tea had frozen in my mug!).

Having rejoined the Teesdale Way for a while, we left it before Eggleston and took to footpaths which appear to be very little used. One didn't even have a single waymark along its length to indicate that it was a right of way. Notwithstanding those issues, only once did we have a significant dither as to which way to go.

Agility was the requirement of the morning, as we had to cross many stiles, few of which were designed for ease of passage (in fairness, some were so designed, but the effects of age and wear has reduced their friendliness for stumpy-legged, backpack-carrying walkers).

A march was had along a section of B-road, from where we'd intended to take a path via Pawlaw Pike and Hawkwood Head to Bollihope. Beyond a new bit of track, that path didn't exist on the ground (as far as we could see), so instead a track linking shooting butts was taken up a nameless hill, whereupon it promptly petered out. Yomp we did, and we no doubt cut a bit of distance off the day, even if it was slower going than staying on the road would have been. It was during that yomp that I, very neatly, put my left foot down a small hole - so small that it left me with my toes bent backwards. More of a predicament than the toe-position was that the smallness of the hole meant that my foot was stuck.

I giggled. Mick came to investigate what I was finding so funny, and after a bit of wriggling I managed to free my foot. Mick wondered what I continued to find funny, until he realised that my left foot no longer had a shoe attached.

With the foot no longer filling it, the shoe proved easy to retrieve, and, reshod, on to Bollihope we went. Plenty of people were around on the riverside, but there was no ice-cream van. We had a jelly baby break instead, to prepare ourselves for the steep pull up on to the moor which would take us over to Stanhope. It was less than 3 minutes into that pull up when I looked back and saw that the missing ice-cream van was now in place, right next to where we had just been sitting. What bad timing!

The bit from Bollihope to Stanhope took a bit of concentration and a game of 'spot the stile' as the lines of the footpaths weren't obvious. Top marks to Mick for spotting the gate that I would have missed.

Arriving in Stanhope at 1630, time needed to be (and was) frittered away; some on a bench, some in a pub and some outside the chip shop. Eventually we adjudged it late enough to head towards our intended night-stop, which wasn't without its challenges, due to some landslides along the Stanhope Burn.

By and by a good pitch was found, hidden from view from most vantage points.

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Monday, 14 April 2014

Day 14 - Darlington to West of Barnard Castle

14 April (0745-1645)
Distance: 21 miles (Tot: 252.5)
Fitbit steps: 49500
Weather: mainly sunny
Number of 'sun-kissed' noses we have between us: 2

Yesterday's half-day of rest did us the world of good, so we set out this morning (set up by a full cooked breakfast) with a spring in our steps. Or, at least, without a hint of a hobble.

Back to the Tees we went, and having found it we stayed with it, more or less, all day. There were a few places where the Teesdale Way wandered away from it a little, and one place where we opted to take a direct footpath to cut off a large meander.

Having the river nearby all day didn't, however, mean that we were walking along the river bank. In fact, I was a little disappointed by some sections where the Way ran on pavements alongside the A road, whereas I'd thought, from the map, that we would be river-side, paralleling the road. Admittedly, part of that misconception stemmed from the quality of printing of today's map being very poor, which obscured the detail.

Even when we were near the river (which was actually the vast majority of the day), it was often not in full view, but there were interesting buildings (halls, a 'tower' and a ruined abbey) and pleasant farmland. When we were alongside the river, or where we did have a view, there were no complaints from me. As I've mentioned more than once before, I do like the River Tees.

The other notable feature of the day was its undulations. The land that lies to the north of the river is at a much higher level than the river, and that path did like to take us up into the fields for a while, only then to take us back down to the water. On one occasion, it took us down just so we could see a sulphur spa fountain, before returning to the high ground.

By lunchtime (which was had at a gorgeous spot next to the water), all the good work of yesterday's rest had been undone and my feet ached more than they have on any other day. I can't pinpoint anything about today's walk which caused that.

Great relief was found in (bustling) Barnard Castle, when I switched to Crocs for my three rounds of the supermarket, whilst Mick sat on bag-watch outside.

After half an hour relief from my shoes, the feet felt much better on the final mile and a bit over to the campsite, which lies to the west of Barnard Castle (it didn't go unnoticed by Mick that after all that travel eastwards the week before last, today's walk has taken us only west, not north).

Arriving in reception, I really thought that the question "Would you like a cup of tea?" was directed at the policemen standing behind me. It took the warden three repetitions before I realised he was talking to me. Obviously, I gratefully said yes, both to tea and to biscuits, which then lessened the blow of the £17.20 pitch fee. Definitely comparatively expensive, but the site and the facilities are immaculate.

(Two photos today: Barnard Castle, taken from the middle of the Tees, and the riverside spa fountain at Piercebridge)

(Conrad: Yep, we did the unexpected and went west! I could tell you tomorrow's direction, but I'll keep you guessing.
Gimmer: thank you for the decryption :-))

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Sunday, 13 April 2014

Day 13 - beyond Appleton Wiske to Darlington

13 April (0730-1215)
Distance: 11.5 miles
Fitbit steps: 28000
Weather: sunny intervals, but a strong, cool wind

After 12 days of being impressed by the standard of way-marking of rights of way, and/or the obviousness of the line of those paths, this morning we struggled a little. With no waymarks and no evidence of where the path went, we were at times a little flummoxed as to which side of a hedgerow we should be. We did nothing more scientific than taking a guess at each such decision point and duly we reached the Teesdale Way at Girsby, from where we knew the route would be clear.

The approach to Hurworth-on-Tees seemed vaguely familiar, and I definitely remembered Hurworth itself. When I plotted this route I'd completely forgotten that we'd been there before, having walked into the village with Conrad ( back in 2010.

Various delaying tactics had been employed during the morning, but it was too cool to stop for too long in any one place, and thus we found ourselves outside our B&B on the outskirts of Darlington at the unreasonably early hour of quarter past noon.

After not being able to get a room in Barnetby last week, we booked this place as soon as we felt confident that we were up to the mileage required to get here by today, to make sure that we wouldn't be hunting around in the suburbs for a stealth-camp. As it was, rather than having the expected 21-mile walk-in today, we had fewer than 12 miles to cover, and thus could happily have carried on. However, the room was booked and, by good fortune, the owner was home and perfectly happy to let us in so early.

One of the benefits of a half-day was having the time to do some laundry. Some people (most people?) would be disgusted to know that I have worn the same top, unlaundered, day and night, for 13 days, so I thought it was probably due a wash. It was a bit of a challenge in the smallest-sink-in-the-world, but as I type there is washing drying all around the room. Even my trousers got cleaned; they took about eight changes of water before I declared them to be clean enough!

Today's photo is another field of rape shot. This one had a good width of path at ground level, but the plants had reached nearly shoulder height and were overhanging, so we came out the other side spattered with yellow.

(Gimmer: that was a bit cryptic!
Louise: definitely unlucky in my view. Doubly so as it's the second time I've been used for (successful) target practice this year.
Alan: we didn't get offered food specifically last night, but when we were asked if there was anything we needed, I had to resist answering 'a shower and the use of a washing machine'!)

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Mick was in charge of putting the brown sauce on the cheese and crackers today...

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Saturday, 12 April 2014

Day 12 - before Cold Kirby to beyond Appleton Wiske

12 April (not May as I erroneously said yesterday!) (0720-1745)
Distance: 21.5 miles (Tot: 220)
Fitbit steps: 50500
Weather: drizzly start to both morning and afternoon, but otherwise dry with a cold wind. Lots of blue sky as I type this at 1830.
Number of killer dogs: 4 (all in one pack, making defence a bit difficult)
Number of slugs I carried all day in my cook-pot: 1 (I really must stop transporting slugs!)

Contrary to the forecast, when I first peeked out of the vent this morning it was high cloud I saw, not rain clouds. My optimism of a dry day was misplaced as within half an hour there was the sound of very light rain on the fly. It was never troublesome and didn't last more than an hour, so by the time we had regained the Cleveland Way (having strayed off it to short-cut the around-the-houses bit that goes via Sutton Bank) it was dry.

Racehorses out training gave us something novel to watch as we made our way back to the Cleveland Way and once we got there the views off the escarpment, whilst curtailed by the weather, were still impressive. With very little noticeable up and down, save for a few small sections, for the next eight miles of first the escarpment and then moorland, we strode along the good path. Even with breaks for second breakfast and elevenses, plus a good few faffs, we were in Osmotherley before 1230.

Having established that we were going to be a bit stuck for cooking fuel for the next couple of days, and having decided that it was far too early to be stopping for the night (Osmotherley being our originally intended night-stop) we repaired to a cafe for lunch. Huge quantities of food were eaten (the portions were very generous), lashings of tea drunk, and an hour and a half frittered away before we moved on. I even had a shower, although it was accidental and fully-clothed, thanks to the mis-firing high-flush cistern in the cafe toilet!

We would have stopped for more tea in Ingleby Arncliffe, except the pub was closed, as was the cafe at the A19 services (where I did a happy dance upon finding that the petrol station sold canisters of gas), so on we plodded.

A pause on a bench in West Rounton (we were trying to kill time, with a stealth camp being on the cards) told me that benches that circle the trunks of trees are a really bad design, as I got splatted by a bird. We swiftly moved on.

The problem with this area is that it's very flat and open, so having failed to find a hidden field-corner in the area we had ear-marked, our only remaining option (other than sitting around until dark - over 3 hours away) seemed to be to ask permission to camp. Eventually, a farmhouse presented itself directly on our route and we crossed our fingers that the farmer would be both home and friendly. A refusal at that point in the day (particularly given the upcoming surroundings) would have given us a problem.

Happily, the farmer was both home and very friendly. Hence, we are lawfully pitched with a good view back to the high ground we came across this morning. Having completely forgotten to take a blog-photo at any point during the day, the one attached is taken from inside the tent.

It's nice to spend the evening hours until dark without the paranoia about being spotted and moved on.

And, with a plentiful supply of gas, I may just be extravagant and put the kettle on for another cup of tea.

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Stop the Press! We have gas!

Of all the (seemingly) unlikely places, it was the Shell petrol station on the A19 which came up trumps.

Never have I been so excited to see a gas cylinder in my life. The fact that it's a biggun (500 size) just means we'll have more tea making ability than we have tea bags available :-)

(Gimmer - thank you kindly for the info anyway. Much appreciated.)

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Oh Woe!

There is no longer an outdoor shop in Osmotherley. The village store doesn't sell gas or meths either. The campsite has Camping Gaz, but that's no use to us, and they've sold out of meths.

I reckon we've got one meal's worth left in our canister, which means there's none spare for tea :-(

It's not the end of the world - surely there's a purveyor of meths (even if not screw-top gas) in Barnard Castle, where we're due to arrive on Monday?

(Of course, if any of my readers happens to live in the line of Osmotherly to Darlington to Barnard Castle and happens to have any gas or meths to spare, then we'd be most pleased to hear from you!)

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Day 11 - by Welburn to before Cold Kirby

11 May (0730-1840)
Distance: 21.5 (Tot: 198.5)
Fitbit steps: 52200 (so maybe our distance was actually more than 22 miles)
Weather: glorious start, getting gradually cloudier as the day went on

There I was, lying in the tent last night, whilst Mick was away doing the dishes, when suddenly the body that I had assumed was Mick returning turned out to be a huge wire-haired lurcher joining me in the tent. It all happened fast and the first I realised that it wasn't Mick was when it thrust its face into mine. Can't half make you jump, something like that, you know.

Fortunately, that was the only dog-related disturbance of the night. Indeed, there was no other disturbance of any kind. We were the only people on the excellent C&CC Certified Location at Greets Farm, and much sleeping was done, to make up for the previous night.

We woke to find not a cloud in the sky and it was a perfect morning to walk through Castle Howard, through Coneysthorpe and along the 'ridge' (ridge implies it was bigger than it was, but I can't think of a more suitable word) that lies to the north. The air clarity was excellent, the rape in bloom, the skies blue and I could go into raptures about how perfect a walk it was (I'll overlook the torn-up mudfest condition of some sections of the path in that assessment!).

Equally perfect was the gorgeous village of Hovingham, where we didn't subject the well-dressed folk lunching at the tea-room to our odour, but rather obtained a take-away from the adjoining bakery which we consumed on a bench in the sunshine.

Having already used part of a Centenary Way and part of the Ebor Way (and having lunched on the ground, 2 minutes before finding a bench with a view), we arrived in Helmsley, where we were to pick up the Cleveland Way. It was teeming with people on this market day in Helmsley, which turned out to be a far bigger place than I expected, and we spent a long while there as we sorted out supplies. Alas, there was no gas to be had, leaving us hoping that there will be some in Osmotherley tomorrow.

Time was marching on by the time we got going again, and the sun was dipping low in the sky by the time we got to Rievaulx Terrace, which we really must go and explore sometime, but not with backpacks loaded down with water and near the end of a long day.

Some lovely pools would have provided a perfect pitch for the night if they (and we) had been in Scotland and thus at liberty to pitch in such a place. As we're in England, we had to find somewhere more discreet, and the unploughed margin in the corner of a fallow crop field, being in a dip, seemed to meet the bill. Approaching 7pm on a Friday evening, we figured the chance of the farmer passing (in the one direction from which we are visible) was slim, so up went the tent without further ado. We always seem to be wrong in our assessment of stealth and sure enough, five minutes later, an engine was heard and along came a tractor, straight towards us. There was no way he could miss us, so I sent Mick out to do the talking.

Once again, no talking was required. If he saw us then he didn't have the time or inclination to make his way down to the bottom corner of this field. We are not going to have a peaceful night though, surrounded as we are by pheasants!

(Conrad: I recall that we met you in Yarm on your Broads to the Lakes. Where did we leave you?)

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