…in which baffled by a bog and beaten by a wall we conclude that tearooms, BnBs and buses are the way of the future.
Knarsdale to Once Brewed, 17 miles. Jump to Journal.
At Greenhead there’s a hotel with a bar and catering and a private hostel too but unless you’re overnighting the most relevant resource is probably the wonderful tearoom. More than just tea and buns, it does good hot meals including a soup-and-a-toastie deal that is one of the best bargains on The Way. It has decent loos and reliable free WiFi as well as tremendous homemade cakes, several of which will find their way into your rucksack if you’ve any eye for a cake at all. Great tearoom, great people. Unfortunately it closes at four so it’s a bit of a scuttle to get there in time from Alston. However if you stay in or camp at the hostel (pay in the pub) there’s free tea in there. (In September 2018 I met a Wayfarer who’d camped at the guest house by Thirlwall Castle).
At Walltown Quarry (669 660, NTG p.154) there’s a large car park where the Northumberland National Park has a small shop with loos and some limited refreshments, check seasonal opening times. I’ve met Wayfarers who’ve discretely camped here, there’s lots of flat grassy pitches. This is tourist country – there’s another useful loo at Cawfield Quarry car park further on (about 715 665, NTG p. 156).
Accommodations are numerous in these parts including campsites, the most convenient of which for Wayfarers is probably Winshields Farm at Twice Brewed, which also has a bunk house, a small shop and does breakfasts (UPDATE – in September 2018 somebody told me they’d found this site closed, so check before relying on it.) However as this was my companion’s last night on The Way, we stayed in luxury at the delightful Vallum Lodge nearby, a curious-looking place but really lovely and run by some of the friendliest people in the BnB business.
The Twice Brewed Inn is unrecognisable both from the minimal roadhouse of my youth and from online reviews that criticise the food; it’s clearly had a major leg up as my meal in June 2016 was both ambitious and delicious and the place was deservedly very popular with locals as well as visitors.
Above Lambley the path is unclear, just take a more or less diagonal route down to cross the A689, which has swung west away from the river. Don’t aim for the minor road heading off to the northwest though, that’s a little too far west; you should see fingerposts.
Update July 2017: the Trail Officer tells me (via Twitter) that new waymarkers on the next section are now making life easier. Update: In September 2018 I found this next section completely straightforward, the path was clearer, the marker pole much improved and I knew not to cut the corner.
After Lambley comes the fun of Hartleyburn and Blenkinsopp Commons where I’ve got absurdly lost on both south-north and north-south PWs. I don’t know what happens here, compass gremlins, unusually vibrant leylines, I always seem to end up ploughing through trackless and enervatingly tufty swamps. As far as I can work out my problems start soon after the lovely Kellah Burn. Don’t go west to Ash Cleugh (recognisable by the large Ash tree, or it will be until Hymenoscyphus fraxineus arrives anyway), instead follow The Way through Greenriggs. Over their back garden wall is a ladder stile that drops you into what other than in midsummer is a small swamp, like a pocket Okavango. (Update September 2018 – this swamp has ben tamed with flagstones!) You then squelch directly up the slope to another stile, observing the farm buildings of Highside within shouting distance to your right.
Your target is a fence line over to the far west, at which there is a marker post (below). Here The Way turns ninety degrees to head virtually due north along the fence. The diagonal, corner-cutting yellow line on the NTG map is unhelpful. Get to the fence by hook or by crook and don’t turn north too soon, the fence is your bestie, the sedge your nemesis.
Once found, walk up alongside the fence through a mosaic of varyingly traumatic mires, quagmires and bogmires. Do cut the corner, as shown on the NTG map, where a wall goes left then then the fence again right uphill. At the top there is a rusted loose-hanging gate to your left. Through here even in moderate visibility you should see the small and unimpressive lumps of rock called Eadleystone. Their name is unhelpfully obscured by the number 63 in the new NTG (p.149).
Then aim somewhat to the right of the Black Hill trig point finding a ladder stile over the wall at about 643 636. Over the wall there’s a very wet ditch to the left of The Way, which renders more amusing any detour to the trig point, the only dry ground hereabouts. Bumble down through bogs to the power lines and to what the NTG claims is a ‘field with two old buildings’. Damian Hall must have been cross-eyed from Spine Racing by this point because I can only see one.
This is now the annoying Gap Shields dogleg. In June 2016 the fingerpost where The Way turns right onto the track (6415 644) had fallen down, in October it had been removed, but the track is obvious. Less obvious is how far you need to walk until the turning north – quite far in fact. Here The Way bends counter intuitively northwest again down an obvious track along a line of stunted trees that are characterful but clearly struggling. They probably thought the same about us.
The NTG bizarrely advises walking along the A69 into Greenhead. This is completely unnecessary, even if you can’t be bothered with following The Way around the boring golf course. Cross the A69 and ascend the wooden steps up to and through the large hedge on the far side, then turn immediately right and push through the vegetation between the hedge and the stock pens. This path is used by locals and should be visible even if overgrown, it leads directly onto a disused stretch of the old A69 running along the top of Greenhead Bank. This in turn leads you quietly and safely, if a little spookily, down to the railway bridge and then, just over it on the left, the tearoom.
From the tearoom, assuming you’re not a purist and can’t be bothered with the golf course, don’t go up the lane that runs parallel with the railway and also ignore the footpath sign to the right of the cottages. Instead, just before that cross a sleeper bridge with blue-green railings over the river then turn left onto a new tarmac cycleway; this is a short cut to Thirlwall Castle. Navigation along the Wall is obvious; don’t try a lower short cut along the Vallum to Once Brewed as we did, there’s numerous fences, bogs and other obstacles.
Once Brewed has most unhelpfully been excised from the map in the new NTG (p.157), the campsite is down by the B 6318. On the map, draw a line more or less perpendicular to the Wall from Green Slack. On the ground take the path that leaves the Wall at 738 673. Vallum Lodge is a little further along that road on the left (north), the pub a little further still on the right (south). For those leaving The Way here after completing a Gargrave to Once Brewed two-weeker, the bus stops are just after the pub, opposite the site of a massive new youth hostel and visitor centre currently (October 2016) still under construction. (Update 2018 – now open).
Hartleyburn Common is such hard work if you miss the path, the tussocks of sedge are mountainous, the gaps between them abyssal and lacustrine. It was a slog, further aggravated by depressing navigational incompetence. The tearoom at Greenhead though is a wonderful, restorative haven. It was encouragingly busy too, lots of oldies, lots of families, lots of foreigners asking convoluted directions far more ambitious than I could even attempt in a second language. The staff seemed patient and kind, the homemade pea and ham soup was perfect, the tea hot and refreshing.
At Walltown the meadows were a mass of orchids, a truly wonderful sight. However the Pennine Way is a nontrivial undertaking and after our sheep-enlivened night at Knarsdale we were a bit tired. Getting lost on Hartleyburn Common is dispiriting. My companion’s feet were past their walk-by date. All in all, we weren’t in the best shape to appreciate Hadrian’s Wall.
Attitudes to The Wall do seem to vary. Both Wainwright and Tony Hopkins (in the old NTG) suggest a short walking day leaving time to explore and enjoy it. Spine Racer Damian Hall in the new NTG however prescribes a blistering 22 mile day from Greenhead, giving the Wall very short shrift indeed. I’d visited Hadrian’s Wall on several holidays and so we weren’t that engaged by it this time, to be honest. In fact we hobbled along it as quickly as we could manage, excited far more by the prospect of a hot bath in a luxury BnB.
Even our quickest hobbling wasn’t very quick; don’t underestimate how hard the walking along the Wall is, it’s a fair distance and there’s lots of steep ups and downs. For many Wayfarers, especially from overseas, it’s a thrilling highlight, of course. Take it as you find it; on a nice day it’s undoubtedly a world-class experience.
Vallum Lodge looks like a small suburban roadside hotel and it is in fact by a road, albeit a very quiet one. However the ambience once you enter the incongruous building, surrounded by chickens and horses, is relaxed and thoroughly rural. There was an honesty bar, WiFi, a wonderful bath with endless hot water, a comfy bed, what was not to like? ‘Nothing’ said my companion, getting into a warm, dry, bed of crisp white linen and obstinately refusing to leave it for the pub or anything else short of Armageddon. The breakfast was exceptionally good too with really nice touches such as homemade lemon curd. It was pushing the top end of our price bracket but as a treat for someone’s last night on the Pennine Way it was well worth it.
In the footsteps of Simon Armitage, I hobbled alone to the Twice Brewed Inn to watch international football. As with Hadrian’s Wall generally, it seemed oppressively hectic and busy after the peace and quiet of The Way. Once I’d extracted an excellent meal from their rather ineffective food ordering system I returned to Vallum Lodge and oppressed my football-hating companion by watching the rest of the (terrible) game on the telly in the room instead.