Day 57 Saturday August 29th Byrness to Windy Gyle

Miles walked: today 14.3 miles cumulative 865.6

Today was the first half of crossing the Cheviot Hills via a long ridge. I found today one of the hardest on the PW, despite the short distance. There was 2616 feet of ascent and I have had a northerly gale blowing in my face the whole day. Oh yes, it rained most of the morning.

The path from the campsite goes through the forest to Byrness. There is not much at Byrness. It was a base for the workers planting the forest and building the Catcleugh reservoir. Now there are a couple of houses, a hotel (which was shut) and a church.

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The church was built in the 1790s. In 1903 a stained glass window was installed in memory of the 64 men, women and children (a 12 year old was killed by a stone crusher) who were killed during the bulding of the reservoir, using money raised by public subscription. According to a sign outside the church, it is a site of pilgrimage for trade unionists.

There was a steep and muddy climb up through forest to gain the ridge. I was passed by another couple who I had met before on the Way. They had also stayed at the campsite but had rented a pod. Luxury!

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Looking along the ridge from Byrness Hill

The path runs alongside the Otterburn military range. A short, but succinct warning to take care:

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The path then went past the Roman camp and fortlet at Chew Green. Later, there was a medieval settlement here. There is little to see now apart from a few ditches. I took the opportunity to fill up my water bottles from the river Coquet as there was no more running water until Kirk Yetholm.

I then followed an old Roman road, Dere Street, up to the ridge and the Scottish border. Dere Street went at least as far as the Antonine Wall and some LeJogers leave the Pennine Way here and follow in Roman footsteps to Jedburgh. I will meet Dere Street a few times on Lejog but I wanted to complete the PW, even though it entailed a 2 day detour.

The English/Scottish border runs along the ridge

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Border Fence

Not very substantial and the gate is no Checkpoint Charlie. Ms Sturgeon will have her work cut out if Scottish independence occurs. I will follow the border for most of the next two days, the path dipping in and out of Scotland.

The path was boggy, steep in places and the head on wind was tiring. There were good views over the desolate but beautiful Cheviots. A walker passed me at about 3pm carrying a full pack. He had walked here from Bellingham, about 22 miles. He was hoping to stay in the mountain refuge hut about a mile further on. When I passed it, it looked more like a shed. Welcome shelter in a storm but I wouldn’t fancy spending a night in there. Later on I passed another walker who said the hut was full. I don’t know whether the previous walker found a space there.

Pairs of Starburst sweets started to appear on the path at intervals of about 200 yards. What was this? An offering to the Hill Gods? Something Angela had planted to goad me on?? It transpired that a couple with a dog had walked along the ridge planning to meet another family and then walk back. The sweets were to encourage the children to walk on.

I arrived at the top of Windy Gyle very tired at about 7pm. The combination of the bog and the wind had made me very slow. I had planned to go on another two miles and drop down to a waterfall to camp. There was a large cairn and a wall on the top of the hill which sheltered a grassy patch on which to pitch the tent.

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It was clear and I had high hopes of a star filled sky. As it got dark the cloud and mist came in and my hopes of experiencing the Northumberland dark sky were dashed. Maybe it was because I was camped on the Scottish side of the fence and not in Northumberland.

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