..in which I entrain to Berwick upon Tweed, am inconvenienced by gruesomely unfortunate cows and write a poem.
North to South – The First Day Issue.
To an even greater extent than when starting from Edale, a southbound Pennine Way imposes a challenging first day. Even more so in October, a couple of weeks past the equinox, with just elevenish hours of walkable daylight available each day. That limitation alone put a complete Cheviot traverse in a single first day out of the question for me.
In fact I’d suggest that a complete traverse to Byrness as a first day on the Pennine Way would be a killer at any season and for most people, even those already hill-fit. I’d already walked an entire PW just four months previously and I wouldn’t even have considered it. Damian Hall says a complete Cheviot traverse in one day is for ‘nutters’ and he’s a Spine Racer, so, think on’t.
If you can get to Kelso the night before you set out, the first bus to KY which leaves Kelso at 06.52 then becomes feasible and gets you on The Way by 07.15, from when the very, very fit might then squeak it across and down to Byrness (by headtorch, probably, in October), but definitely not me. If you can get to KY the night before that still only puts you on The Way at about 06.30 in October, which is barely any improvement. Of course, if staying the night at KY in midsummer you could be walking by 04.30. That would make a complete Cheviot traverse a distinct possibility if you’re already hill-fit but, again, for most of us normal folk that’s a very big ‘if’.
Overnighting at Berwick, the first bus to Kelso leaves at 06.55 and gets you there at 07.43. Unless you manage to decode the mystery of the school bus (which was just pulling out as I arrived) a leisurely breakfast in Kelso can then be enjoyed until a KY bus at 09.02. That puts you on The Way at 09.30 – a bit of a late start that definitely imposes a mid-Cheviot sleep on all but nocturnal super-athletes.
All the above considered, personally I’m inclined to factor in a sleep at Berwick as a buffer to the legendary obscurity and unreliability of Britain’s trains. Also because I like a pint in The Barrels – guys – this is supposed to be leisure. I’m then inclined to sleep out the first night on The Cheviot, because I carry a tent. I really don’t get people’s big aversion to doing this, I don’t find it a problem and I’m absolutely no tough guy, far from it. Your target weight for a solo backpacker tent plus sleeping bag plus mat should be less than 4 kg total, more like 3 kg in fact for two season gear at mid-price or above. Save 8-10 nights in BnB and you’ve paid for the lot. Heck, you’re walking the Pennine Way; you’re going to be cream-crackered as it is. For other ways of splitting The Cheviot, see PW1.
All bus times were correct at October 2016, but they’re notoriously prone to changing so please do your own research.
If the Trainline offers you a cheap upgrade to first class on Virgin, take it. For three or four quid it’s arguably one of the UK’s top travel bargains as (at the time of writing) you get not only free hot drinks but free food! Hence you don’t have to pack a picnic and, if you’re cunning and/or cheeky, you can slip a wrap or two into your pack for your first day on The Way too.
Berwick hostel does an impressive range of food and drink and deserves support but of course arriving in Berwick at any reasonable hour you’re spoiled for choice. I personally like my namesake the Cannon chippie on the way into town from the station and I always try to have at least one pint in The Barrels.
Arriving at Berwick by train in daylight you can walk along the river all the way to the hostel. Just go into the little park entrance on the right after you come out of the station then down the hill through the gardens to the river. Go left and follow the riverside walk under the two road bridges. After the older bridge you’ll find the hostel on your left through an unsigned wooden doorway studded with black iron knobs.
The riverside path is unlit, so at night I’d head down the High Street (noting the bus stop for Kelso at ‘Golden Square’ which is simply the near end of the newer road bridge) then off down and to the right after the older road bridge. I couldn’t find any way down to the riverside path from the bridge itself. From the first road off to the right after the bridge you would take a left then a right to pass by The Maltings arts centre down a steepish cobbled lane. Left at the bottom for the hostel or, if thirsty, right for The Barrels. Other roads are available. The hostel rear entrance is down an alleyway called Sally Row but if you miss this just take the next alley down to its front entrance, it’s part of a smart and recently-restored complex called The Granary.
In April 2017 I discovered there is in fact a path up and down between the riverbank and ‘Golden Square’ i.e. the newer road bridge but it’s tiny and the sign at the bottom was covered in vegetation, if you were walking the lower path at night it would be hard to spot.
My Pre-Day was characterised by train chaos, through no fault of Virgin’s some cows met a sticky end on the East Coast Mainline south of Stevenage. Yuck. With extraordinary resourcefulness, Sir Richard’s people cobbled together an emergency train, which somehow got me to Berwick an hour earlier than originally scheduled. Impressed, I was. A smidge of disruption often brings out the best in British railway staff, for many of whom a rail network, no matter how corrupted by commercialisation, is still a vast and marvellous train set. Gender roles were definitely a thing in this slight crisis – the male train staff pored with ill-disguised relish over their timetables and scribbled out complex custom itineraries for us all, while the females tracked down the stash of spare snacks and doled out lukewarm tea with motherly smiles. I pondered on what a mixed blessing gender roles and train set mindsets can be in public services generally and knocked out a poem:
The boys are playing with their trains, moving
Them as fast as possible, proving
Who is most pointlessly adept.
The girls are unsure, but will accept
A turn in charge, not to look wet.
It’s all a game of decision making,
Start and stop, accelerating, braking.
Who has tickets, of the right class?
Who must stop at signals, who can pass?
These are very serious concerns.
A row has broken out over turns.
The toys crash, and a city burns.