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]

Friday, 23 April 2010

Day 30 - Houghton to Kershope Bridge

Thursday 22 April
Distance: 20.5 miles (plus half mile lunch detour) (Tot: 533.5 miles)

A month to the day after setting off from St Margaret's at Cliffe, today we crossed the border into Scotland, in the process achieving our second end-to-end of England (and this a true one, as last time we strayed into Wales).

At the beginning of the day, it looked like that would be the only notable point. On paper, it looked like rather an uninspiring, positioning sort of a day.

The route on the map showed us on roads for the first 12 miles of the day, which is way more road work than on any other day of this walk so far.

Not relishing the thought of so much tarmac, the map was examined and a few footpaths over fields were identified. They didn't cut off any corners, but they did serve to save us from being on constant car look-out (and on our first lane of the day some of those cars were travelling rather too fast for comfort).

It soon became apparent that the footpaths north of Houghton aren't used a great deal. In fact, we found no sign of usage at all, and when we came to a stile that was blocked by a fallen tree, there was no hint that anyone else had forged a way under/round/over.

The going was far from easy either. The fields that looked so green and lush from a distance had been horribly rutted by cows when the ground was wet, and now those bumps and ruts have set solid. I did think I was just being a bit of a girl, making a meal of our passage, until Mick confirmed that it was harder going than it ought to be.

Much of the final four miles on road could have been avoided by taking a slightly longer route, but experience from the morning had suggested that such a route would be more trouble than it was worth. With the roads being quiet, we took that option.

The first vehicle to pass us on one particularly quiet lane was a Transit, partially converted to a camper van, and alongside us it stopped.

"Where are you going?" asked the driver and upon explaining he said "You'll not want a lift then", but after a bit of conversation he did suggest that if we didn't mind a half KM detour from the route then we could pop to his house for a cup of tea and some lunch.

What's the point of doing a walk like this if you're not going to be receptive to such offers? So telling him we would see him again in an hour he continued on his way, and so did we.

Exactly an hour later we arrived where Gordon had described, but had a bit of trouble locating his front door (it looking more like the door of a storage barn; a good chunk of his land also looked like a graveyard for old cars, caravans and trailers). Finally we did find him, and he wasted no time in spreading a picnic blanket out on the grass, and serving us with mugs of tea and steaming bowls of homemade thick vegetable broth.

The sky promptly clouded over the moment we arrived and the wind picked up, cooling the day down remarkably, but nevertheless we spent half an hour or so enjoying Gordon's hospitality.

With a good handful of miles still to go, we thanked him kindly for our unexpected and very tasty lunch and back off down his track we went.

We were now off road for almost all of the rest of the day, but with the route being through forestry, we were entering an unknown. Would the tracks be as shown on the map? Would we be walking through tall trees, without views?

The answer was, by way of a pleasant surprise, that all of the tracks were exactly as shown on the map, and with the trees being of various ages, complete with cleared areas, seldom did we find ourselves walking down a green corridor.

What we hadn't expected, however, was to find ourselves on a rally trial track.

When a man wearing a radio set up jumped out of his vehicle to ask us where we were going, we took the opportunity to ask what was going on. A Rally in the forest over the weekend, he answered, and having checked our route he confirmed that we weren't going to wander onto the track, albeit we may encounter some cars (as we already had by the time we met him).

I was curious as to how there could be cars whizzing around access land without there being a closure order displayed, and a while later, in a different part of the forest such a notice was found. It told us that the rally (Pirelli International Rally 2010) is taking place over the next two days during which the land will be closed for public access (good job we didn't have that rest day in Halifax then!) and that after 1700 today there would be a course recce going on.

It turned out that our route followed one of the stages almost perfectly, so it was a good job that we cleared the forest by 1615. It could have been a bit annoying to have to keep leaping out of the way of cars when walking through what you thought would be a carless area.

Only a matter of minutes after leaving the forest tracks, we crossed the Kershope Burn, which also marks the Scottish Border.

We're now pitched on the Scottish side of the river, having wandered up it far enough to be out of sight of the road. It was, perhaps, a laudable thought, but as it goes, one of the rally stages will go along the track on the other side of the river, and soon after we pitched the recce activity began. Dozens have cars have driven along, kicking up clouds of dust. I wonder if we're a curiosity to them?

Hopefully it will quieten down later, and we'll have the peaceful night that should be had in such a location.

(No sooner than I had typed that, five gobby lads, heavily laden, one with a case of beer, appeared on the track opposite, where the final rally sweep vehicle had just gone through. Our hearts sank as we heard "Shall we go and camp over there?". "How are we going to lug all this stuff across a river?" One of his companions answered. We remembered the barbed wire fence too and crossed our fingers that they would come up with an alternative plan. As they paused for five minutes, I was in fear of them pitching within earshot and partying all night. Then a car pulled up, they got in, and into the forest it went.)
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