Not a bad day yesterday, even though I didn’t make it to my final destination – was aiming for Broadway, but started pretty late and didn’t want to leave my brother Andrew (who was picking me up at the end of the day) sit around too much, so ended it at Willersey, which was still 21 miles down the road from Redditch, taking the total on to 757.

Had another rest day today, but did have to put my boots on around lunchtime as a photographer from the Redditch Advertiser came to visit and take my picture for the paper – I’ll link to it if it becomes available online at all. Aside from that, I’ve not done too much, but did manage to get around to uploading some photos. When I was going through Scotland, I had a couple of disposable cameras with me, and as you can now get your pictures from them copied to a CD, it’s made it easy to stick them all up on Flickr for you to take a look at. Of course, the problem with doing it all a few weeks later, is that my descriptions may not be accurate in some cases, but if you spot any egregious errors, then please let me know.

If I’ve been counting right, I’m up to 736 miles now, having walked all the way to Redditch, where I’m now enjoying a day off doing as little as possible – and I’ll be doing the same on Monday. I haven’t had a full day off in almost two weeks, so I’m making the most of this one, especially as I’m getting to use my own computer for the first time in almost two months.

Anyway, I’m now at least two-thirds of the way through my trip, as I think there’s only about 300 miles to go, and it really does feel like it’s all downhill from here. Coming down one of the last stretches of the Pennine Bridleway on Sunday, just before it reaches the High Peak Trail, I reached the top of a hill to see the Midlands laid out before me and rejoiced in the sight of hills that could be climbed in about five minutes rather than five hours. Added to that is the fun of going through Birmingham, which gave me the chance to do lots of walking along canals (for those of you who haven’t heard that most famous piece of Birmingham trivia, it has more miles of canal than Venice).

It’s not all been easy, of course. Those of you in the Midlands may have noticed the heavy rain and thunderstorm that passed over on Thursday morning. I certainly did as I was walking from Lichfield into the centre of Birmingham during it and got thoroughly soaked by it. Before that, just getting into Lichfield was an interesting experience as I found my first route blocked by a road turning out to be private and behind a locked gate then the path I was taking instead being clearly visible, just surrounded by very tall nettle bushes, helping to turn my thoughts of ‘oh good, I’m almost here’ to a further two hours of walking and map examination.

But, I can’t stay here forever, and tomorrow I’ll be walking down to Broadway (not the one in the US – you can tell the difference by the fact that one is filled with American tourists and the other one’s in New York) then when I set off again on Tuesday, it’s down the Cotswold Way and hopefully I should get to Bath for the weekend.

Things are still looking good for me to be finishing on Saturday October 7th, and if anyone fancies coming down to Cornwall that weekend to cheer me over the finish line and celebrate afterwards, then you’re more than welcome to. For those of you in the Midlands, there’ll be a celebration party/fundraising night at the Woodland Cottage pub here in Redditch after I return on Friday 13th. After that, it’s back down to Colchester and real life, but I think I might organise some sort of gathering (AKA a bunchof bloggers and assorted others in a pub) if anyone’s interested in living up to all those promises to buy me a pint when I finish.

And while I’m here, don’t forget to donate if you haven’t already. We’ve now into four figures with the amount raised online, and with what’s coming in offline, I should be close to my target by the end, but I don’t just want to reach it, I want to beat it! And if you’re not confident about donating online, then get in touch and I can give you an address to send cheques to. Also, we’re planning on having a raffle and auction at the fundraising evening on the 13th, so if you, or your company, want to donate anything to that then get in touch as well.

After going a bit further than I’d planned over the last few days, I’ve almost got to Hartington a day early. Almost as I’m actually here, but I’ve only walked as far as Pomeroy, a few miles north of here. Still, it means I can take the next couple of days at a more relaxed pace, and today was made easier by having my friend Bana around – as she will be tomorrow – for company during part of the walk, and the just as useful having a car to carry the rucksack in for the rest of it. Down through Dove Dale to Ilam tomorrow, and from the views this afternoon, I think I’m now past all the big high Pennine mountains, so it should be easier from now on.

Catching up

That’s one of the disadvantages of B&Bs – unlike hostels, they tend not to have internet access, at least not for guests, so I haven’t been able to make any updates as I’ve passed through Yorkshire.

Anyway, it’s been an interesting week as I’ve steered down the eastern edge of the Pennines, passing over a few dales on the way. Of course, when you pass through the dales from north to south, you make it slightly harder for yourself in that you have to constantly go up and down hills to get through them, rather than the nice valley walks I had coming through South Tynedale and Teesdale.

Oh yes, Teesdale was where I left you last, heading out of Alston and to the highest point of the trip so far (and likely overall unless I get seriously lost coming through the Peaks in the next few days) as I hit 600m above sea level while still following the road. From there it was down to Langdon Beck and England’s most eco-friendly hostel at Langdon Beck, with nice views over Teesdale and nice people staying there – and thanks for your donations, folks!

It was south-east from there, steering well away from the Pennine Way at last as I passed through Barnard Castle and then on to Richmond on two days that were pretty pleasant but didn’t yield much to write about, except that village pubs in Yorkshire have a disturbing tendency to be closed at lunchtime, which is annoying. And then on Saturday, coming out of Richmond it rained and I took a wrong turn, resulting in me having to take a long diversion around Catterick Garrison and ending up in Bedale instead of Masham, as I’d planned. Then – possibly as a result of the soaking I got on Saturday, or maybe just because of the curry I had that evening – I ended up with an unplanned rest day on Sunday because of a stomach ache.

I got back on the road on Monday, and made it through Masham – weeping that I’d missed the chance to spend the night in the home of the Theakston and Black Sheep breweries – to Pateley Bridge, which is a nice little village, though one that’s probably not too frequently visited by walkers due to the rather steep sides of the Nidderdale valley it nestles in. I’m beginning to think that descents are worse than ascents, though, especially at the end of the day when your legs are tired and don’t want the rather taxing job of supporting your weight on a precarious downhill balance.

The descents have been much nicer since then, though – Tuesday took me over the moors to Ilkley, going past the listening station at Menwith Hill that’s clearly nothing to worry about in any way as it’s so inconsequential the Ordnance Survey don’t mark it on their maps. Though that may be because they were too busy sniggering at the name Blubberhouses which is right next to it.

Wednesday took me over Ilkley Moor, without a hat, but with the hood of my jacket up as it was raining again. Well, not actually raining, just that persistent Pennine drizzle that’s far too apathetic to be proper rain, but still manages to soak you. I was thinking about walking all the way to Hebden Bridge then, and having a day off, but decided that it made more sense to finish earlier at Haworth, go to Hebden Bridge today and have what amounted to two half-days. As they’re being followed by a day that’ll be mostly on the canal to Littleborough, it’s almost a holiday in itself.

Anyway, here’s the plan for the next week, vaguely following the Pennine Bridleway for the first four days:
Friday 8th: Hebden Bridge to Littleborough
Saturday 9th: Littleborough to Glossop
Sunday 10th: Glossop to Buxton
Monday 11th: Buxton to Hartington
Tuesday 12th: Hartington to Uttoxeter
Wednesday 13th: Uttoxeter to Lichfield
Thursday 14th: Lichfield to Birmingham
Friday 15th: Birmingham to Redditch

Yes, I’ll be back in proper Midland civilization very soon…

Still going

Haven’t been able to get onto the internet in the last week, but all is still well. I’m currently in Haworth, about a day behind the schedule I posted last week because of an unscheduled day off on Sunday because of a stomach ache.

Aside from that, things are mostly fine – if only it didn’t rain so much in Yorkshire, things would be even better. I’ve had a few days of getting quite wet in the last week, and it’s not pleasant – it’s even less pleasant when you’re getting wet and lost around Catterick garrison, unable to take a short cut across Army land because that large rucksack you’re wearing might as well be emblazoned with a sign saying ‘suicide bomber – please shoot me now’.

More tomorrow, when I’ve got a bit more time to write.

So, having had a wander round Alston and a quick trip on the South Tynedale along the path I walked in on yesterday, here’s the rough plan for the next week:

Tomorrow (Wednesday 30th) I’m heading off to Langdon Beck/Forest-In-Teesdale which, even using the roads, is likely to take me to the highest point of my walk as I near 600m. Luckily, starting around 300m in Alston helps.
Thursday 31st: Heading down the B-roads and back roads to Barnard Castle.
Friday 1st finds me taking to the back roads again as I head from Barnard Castle towards Richmond and Catterick
Saturday 2nd: Richmond down to Masham, again on the back roads as I skirt through the lower dales.
Sunday 3rd: Out from Masham and through the edge of Nidderdale to Pateley Bridge.
Monday 4th: Back towards the Pennines, and from Pateley Bridge to Ilkley
Tuesday 5th: Songs will be composed in my honour as I traverse Ilkley Moor without a hat on (unless it happens to be really sunny) towards Keighley and Haworth
Wednesday 6th: From Keighley or Haworth to Hebden Bridge, where I’ll take a day off.

That’s the tentative schedule, but some of those days are a bit short, and there’s a possibility – depending on how I’m feeling, the weather and other factors – that I might be able to go further on certain days and get to Hebden Bridge on the Tuesday, though we’ll see how it goes.

If anyone ever tells you that you should walk the Pennine Way because it’s fun and enjoyable, here’s what to do: Go straight to your nearest outdoor shop (Milletts or Blacks, most likely) and buy yourself one or two walking poles – preferably aluminium ones, not carbon fibre – then go back to your friend and beat them repeatedly around the head with them until they see some sense.

Yes, I’ve had my Pennine Way experience over the last few days, and it’s safe to say that I don’t like it. It’s muddy, it’s damp, it goes through countryside for which ‘bleak’ is perhaps an overstatement and it seems to take special pleasure in avoiding anywhere interesting. For instance, there’s a bit further south from here where the route takes all sorts of weird twists and turns to avoid going into Hebden Bridge. They boast that 250,000 people use it every year, though as that includes just about anyone walking around Kinder Scout, Malhamdale or Pen-Y-Ghent for an hour or two, it leaves very few people who make any sort of effort to walk the trail.

I could write a much longer post about all this, but it comes down to the difference between hikers and walkers, and the Pennine Way was designed much more as a trail for hikers than a path for walkers. Suffice to say that Wainwright, perhaps the best example of a walker, hated it.

Anyway, it’s not all been bad these last few days – Thursday’s walk from Melrose to Jedburgh was very nice, except for contriving to lose one of my walking poles when I left it outside the Post Office in St Boswells. This wouldn’t have been a problem in that I tend to only use one, and I had two, except the other one broke yesterday…

Friday was pleasant from Jedburgh to the border, following back roads that became increasingly rough and narrow until they eventually became a track up a hill, following old fencelines until I finally – without any ceremony, signs or waiting border guards – crossed back into England, where it promptly began to rain on me, making the descent into Byrness not at all pleasant. Saturday, I did follow the Pennine Way while it stuck to forest tracks through Kielder, then switched to back roads for the walk into Bellingham. One thought that did strike me is that the youth hostels I stayed in at Byrness and Bellingham (and Alston, where I am now) are set to close in the next month or so, meaning that I could well be the last End-to-End walker to pass through them, so I’ve made a little mark in history, perhaps.

Sunday saw me avoiding the Way again, instead taking to the back roads through Wark to get to Hadrian’s Wall, and discovering a lovely little village called Simonburn on the way. It was one of those little marks on the map that could be a village, or could just be a large farm and turned out to be an old Northumbrian village of about 10 or 12 houses around a green with an old church and a tearoom-cum-shop that served the most amazing hot roast beef sandwiches. It’s the sort of place you dream about finding in the middle of a day’s walk, so it is entirely possible I was hallucinating about a Pennine Brigadoon and sitting in a field eating grass – if anyone else can confirm it exists, I’d be grateful.

From there, it was along the Hadrian’s Wall Path for a while towards Once Brewed, which was interesting but somewhat marred by the strong wind coming from the west that I was walking into. One bizarre thing I’ve discovered is that the official guide to the path suggests walking it from east to west which means that not only do you start at Wallsend, where I thought the name would be kind of a clue as to the best way to travel, you’re heading into the prevailing wind for the whole journey.

And then yesterday, I turned south, heading through Haltwhistle which claims to be the centre of Britain and thus may well mark my halfway point. It might have been apt to have stopped there, but it was only 11 o’clock, and there was a nice path down the old railway line from there to Alston, where I’m now enjoying my day off, 5 weeks and 480 miles on from John O’ Groats. At times, it doesn’t seem that long since I left, yet at others it seems as though it was years ago, given how much I’ve done since leaving there. I think I’ve got just over five weeks to go, though – having done some rough calculations and barring accidents, I’m expecting to finish on Saturday October 7th. That might lead to me doing some days in the last week that are either very short or very long to make it there on schedule, but I figure that if I finish on a Saturday, then anyone who wants to come and meet me at the finish can get to Land’s End and back over the weekend, meaning I should have someone there to celebrate finishing with on the Saturday night.

As for where I’m going now, I’m planning on heading south-east and then skirting the eastern edge of the Pennines through the Yorkshire Dales, then cutting back into the west of Bradford to get to Hebden Bridge and the Pennine Bridleway which should take me into the Midlands. I still need to check out some details, but I’ll hopefully post more this afternoon.

As I’ve now worked out how to email from my phone, you can now see a lot more pictures – with most of them in a much bigger size too – of where I am or where I’ve been at Flickr. (Caution: contains snakes without the government’s recommended daily amount of Samuel L Jackson)

Halfway?

Just to let you all know that I am still alive and still on the move – I made it to England on Friday and have been progressing south since then and am now in Alston, about to enjoy a day off tomorrow, when I’ll fill you in with a lot more detail about where I’ve been and where I’m going.

And just a quick note on civilisation: I’m in Cumbria, where one-half of my family originates from, so I’m firmly within the bounds of civilisation right now. Of course, when I get moving againon Wedneday, I’ll be leaving it behind within a few miles when I enter Durham.

It’s strange to think, if all goes to plan, that in a day and a half I’ll be leaving Scotland and heading into England, exactly one month after starting this walk. If there’s one thing I’ve learnt since setting off, it’s that Scotland is much bigger than you think. Consider that Inverness is regarded as being so far north that most Scots won’t venture that far – and I had to walk 120-odd miles from John O’ Groats just to get there.

398 miles down the road – the exertions of the last few days have really accelerated the count – and it’s a damp evening in Melrose, though there’s a lovely golden tinge to the sky where the clouds don’t quite reach to the western horizon allowing the setting sun to break through. It’s going to be strange to leave Scotland behind after its been my effective home for so long and cross the border to a land where Haggis, Neeps and Tatties isn’t a fixture on every menu, where all the money is printed by just one bank, where people can still smoke inside pubs and the papers make reference to football teams using nicknames I can actually understand.

Still, it’s not over yet, and tomorrow’s another day of following the Tweed for a while before picking up the old Roman road of Dere Street and heading into Jedburgh. I guess the presence of Roman roads indicates how far south I’ve come – somewhere in the last few days I must have crossed the path of the Antonine Wall, but I’ve no idea where.

The plan’s still as I laid it out earlier in the week – Jedburgh tomorrow, then Byrness on Friday, Bellingham on Saturday, Once Brewed on Sunday and then (cutting off a corner of the Pennine Way and following the South Tyne instead) Alston on Monday where I may take a day off. As ever, anyone wanting to join me for the day, or offer any other kind of help is more than welcome.