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It is remarkable that all the places on the PW where you cannot possibly go wrong are very well signposted. Of course, if there is any doubt, there is not a signpost to be seen!
We ascend a series of hills. We lunch by another signpost on Deer Play. This one is far superior to the last. The weather is benign and the conditions above and underfoot are a real treat.
The way is so clear we have not been taking too much notice of the map. All day we have thought we were on the hill behind. The penny dropped when we realised it couldn’t be the road that was in the wrong place so it must be us! Consequently, we were surprised to find ourselves on Padon Hill as we thought it was still in front of us.
From Padon Hill we enter the Kielder Forest. We have met mud, dung and squelch already along the PW but the stretch through Kielder must be the worst we have encountered. We really appreciate our hiking sticks which save us from muddy backsides many a time. At times it is like walking through a paddy field. I exaggerate not!
The best and the worst of conditions all in one day. This is what long distance walking is all about.
Out of the forest at last, we reach the road that takes us down to the river and the campsite just outside Byrness.
It is a beautiful day and we take a stroll to the Byrness Hotel. We sit in the garden, have a pint, admire the view and have a marvelous lunch. We take an even slower stroll back and have a lazy afternoon. The chaffinches are so tame here, they actually hop in the tent.
The path, when found, heads steeply uphill through the forest and gains height very quickly. We then walk a broad crest ranging from 1400’ to 1600’. The wind is indescribable but we’ll say “strong”. There is rain in the air but our spirits are high as we look forward to two days of desolation.
The path meets the border fence and crosses it. I don’t know what I expected. I didn’t expect to show my passport but something just a little more substantial would seem more appropriate. It is very boggy but we’re used to it .
We roll on like the hills. Always another one in front. A lot of our energy is taken battling against the side wind. It catches our backpacks pushing us two steps sideways for every one forward. It is very hard work.
It goes on and on. Lamb Hill, Beefstand Hill, Mozie Law. A squally shower blows up. I have a brief attack of the “I can’t go on”s." I want to camp immediately. I know this is ridiculous as I can’t even stand up myself, let alone put a tent up. After a brief respite (from the noise apart from anything else) under a polythene bag with a cigarette ,I have gained my composure.
The last rise and there it is - Windy Gyle at 2030’. It can’t be anymore windy than anywhere else today but putting the tent up is going to be fun. We manage it easily, amongst hysterical laughter, using feet, teeth and anything else that will hold something down. Yes, we’ll have all the guys out tonight!
Water is a problem. We know there is a waterfall about a mile down (which also means a mile back up) This doesn’t appeal. Charl disappears into the distance in search of moisture. The hills are shrouded in mist but while he is gone it lifts in all directions. The hero returns with some muddy looking fluid that he strains through a tea towel. Things are looking up in all departments. Time for a cup of tea!
It’s been a hard day but the Cheviots have a magic all of their own. The colours and the light are stunning.
We strike camp extremely quickly and get moving to warm up. The mist soon clears and Russell’s Cairn is soon just a small lump in the distance. We climb Cairn Hill.
We reach Auchope Cairn. I want to take a photograph but it is so exposed that there is nothing for it but to roll round the ridge with the wind. We are weak with laughter and bob along the ridge like corks on a stormy sea. We come across a Mountain Refuge Hut. We have our lunch in peace but no water. The hut is full of things left by previous occupants - rice, dried soup, pasta - all of which need water to make them edible. It is obviously a universal problem. We leave the hut and begin the ascent of The Schill.
The ascent is short and steep. We have crossed the border many times in the last two days but now cross into Scotland for the last time. The sun shines and we find water on the descent and have a that long looked forward to cup of tea.
The last few miles into Kirk Yetholm, along the road, seem to take forever!
We head straight for the Border Hotel. We do not claim our half pint from A.W. His credit must have long run out. It is an anti-climax - I want an award, a medal, a bunch of flowers or at least a pat on the back, but make do with self congratulation. We cannot now believe we have actually made it! It is all ready beginning to blur and take on the quality of a dream as we tuck into our steak and ale pie.
We bed and breakfast in a cottage on the village green. The landlady stares at the two bedraggled travellers on her doorstep, glances at the weary faces and dirty boots, hesitates a moment and then runs for newspaper. We have a long bath and fall into bed.
We have nowhere to go tomorrow.