Pennine Way Blog 1: Day 15

…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.

Resources:

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.

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. 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. 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 from the minimal roadhouse of my youth and from 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 very popular with locals as well as visitors.

roman emperor england long distance trail path national walk hike trek

Hadrian’s Wall, obviously.

Navigation:

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.

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, until dieback arrives anyway), 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. 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 the 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.

hartleyburn common northumberland

Looking northwest at the marker post, the fence is heading north towards Wain Rigg and Black Hill. Photographed in October.

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 helpfully 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 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.

roman ruin emperor hadrian long distance walk trail national england

Wall, Hadrian’s, evidently. The photographer wasn’t too inspired this day either.

Journal.

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 day 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 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 walking 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 busy after the peace 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 with the telly in the room (and the terrible game) instead.

northumberland england pennine way roman fort picts border national trail

Good photos of Hadrian’s Wall are widely available, but not here…

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