Up to the waist in bog – finally finishing the Pennine Way

Published on 28 February 2011 in , , ,

Last August, after doing it over several stages, we finally finished walking the Pennine Way. Whilst I haven’t generally blogged much about that particular walk, I decided ending it did deserve a little writing…

“So you folks heading to Byrness then?” asked the driver, spying our rucksacks and walking poles, as we walked up to the National Express coach in Newcastle.

Pennine Way Signpost

His thick Mersey twang suggested the driver and his passengers had already come quite a distance, and most were heading to Jedburgh or on to Edinburgh, leaving us the only people getting off in a small Northumbrian village with few facilities. The petrol station and café had closed some months earlier; the nearest supermarket dozens of miles away; and whilst there used to be a pub, its bar was empty after being converted to a guest-house. Byrness is a place of little. Two streets, a school and a youth hostel.

That Byrness is on the National Express network at all is nothing short of a miracle; a tiny community in the middle of absolutely nowhere, completely surrounded by forests, is not the obvious calling stop for an intercity public transport service.

It only gets its service because the village sits just off the main road to Jedburgh, and as such, gets one coach a day in either direction, competing with a similarly low number of local buses which ply their trade on a slightly shorter route. And being dropped off there is like being dropped off in the middle of nowhere. Quite literally.

A place in the middle of nowhere it may be, but it has a reason to visit as it lies on the Pennine Way. Indeed it’s the last settlement on trail before it ends, twenty seven miles later in the Scottish village of Kirk Yetholm.

And it was the Pennine Way that was drawing us there.

It was the spring of 2007 when we’d first set foot on the grandfather of Britain’s long distance routes. Our first experience was a mere day and a half, but over the years we managed to complete two thirds of the 267 mile route in various instalments. In March 2010 we set out on our final trip. Eight days to finally finish the thing off.

After six wet and rather miserable days walking, we arrived in Byrness on 30 March with the sun shining bright in a glorious blue skies. We dried off, had a good meal and made ample use of the youth hostel’s well stocked beer cupboard before heading to bed. The next morning we arose to find the place covered deep in snow, and more coming down hard.

Forest View (Byrness YHA) in the Snow

Being on a major road, Byrness wasn’t isolated from the world for long. The highways were cleared and traffic slowly began to flow. The hills of the Pennine Way were another matter. Even in the valley, the snow was several inches deep, and only a fool would have headed out on the hills that day. Stuck and stranded, we cancelled our next nights accommodation and bunkered down in the now empty hostel playing whatever games we could find, until the hostel owners could drive us to civilisation the next day. We were just two days from the end, but had no way to get there on foot.

As soon as we’d arrived home, we looked at our diaries trying to work out when we’d be able to fit in those elusive two days. At one point I suggested completing it after our Coast to Coast walk. We’d be in perfect fitness from fourteen days walking; it made sense. Catherine seemed less keen, believing it may be too much walking in one go.

Instead we settled on the August bank holiday, just after I’d finished The Dales Way. I’d get the train from Windermere and meet Catherine in Newcastle ready to board the coach. It seemed like a plan.

And so it was that I’d left Windermere in soaking rain, and arrived in Byrness in glorious sunshine.

It didn’t seem to have changed much in the five months since our last visit. The petrol station was still shut, but the guest-house had opened a café. And that was about it; the place was pretty much as we’d left it, with just one obvious difference. The hills weren’t covered in white. We were finally going to finish the Pennine Way and there was little that could stop us.

Next time, it’s time to set off and leave Byrness. To see more photographs of our trip, check out the Flickr set.