Pennine Way Blog 2: Pre-Day

..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 has a challenging first day. Even more so in October, a couple of weeks past the equinox, with just eleven-ish hours a day of walkable light. That limitation alone put a complete Cheviot traverse in a single day out of the question for me.

In fact I’d suggest a complete traverse to Byrness as a first day on the Pennine Way would be a killer at any season and for most people. I’d already walked an entire PW just four months previously and I wouldn’t have considered it. In the National Trail Guide (NTG) Damian Hall says a complete Cheviot traverse in one day is for ‘nutters’, and he’s a Spine Racer.

borders long distance national trail england

Back again, so soon?

If you can get to Kelso the night before you set out, the first bus to KY which leaves Kelso at 06.52 becomes feasible and gets you on The Way by 07.15, from when the very fit might then squeak it across and down to Byrness, by headtorch, probably, in October, but 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, 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 for most of us normal folk that’s a big ‘if’.

Overnighting at Berwick, the first bus to Kelso leaves at 06.55 and gets you there at 07.43. Unless you 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 late start that definitely imposes a mid-Cheviot sleep on all but nocturnal super-athletes.

Personally I’m always inclined to factor in a sleep at Berwick as a buffer to the legendary unreliability of trains. Also because I like a pint in The Barrels – this is supposed to be leisure. I’ll then sleep out the first night on The Cheviot, because I carry a tent. I really don’t get people’s aversion to doing this, I don’t find it a problem and I’m absolutely no tough guy. Your target weight for a solo backpacker tent plus sleeping bag plus mat should be less than 4 kg total, more like 3 kg 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.

Resources.

Virgin no longer operate the East Coast Line but back in 2016 their cheap first class upgrades were a total bargain. For three or four quid you got not only free hot drinks but free food! If you were cunning and/or cheeky, you could slip a wrap or two into your pack for your first day on The Way too.

Berwick hostel does food and drink and deserves support but arriving in Berwick at any reasonable hour you’re spoiled for choice. I like my namesake the Cannon chippie on the way into town from the station and did I mention The Barrels?

northumberland fish and chips

I haven’t nicked this pic from TA, I took it.

Navigation.

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 downhill through the gardens. 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 a tunnel with unsigned wooden doorway studded with black iron knobs. (UPDATE in September 2018 this tunnel was closed as the town walls above it have been deemed unsafe. From the north end of the old bridge take the higher option along the top of the wall instead, then descend the metal steps behind The Chandlery pub to the hostel’s back entrance.)

river crossing border england scotland pennine way

Berwick’s rather touching bridge illuminations, a kind of Slow TV writ large.

The riverside path isn’t well lit, so at night I might 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 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’d 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; if you miss this just take the next alley down to its front entrance, it’s in a complex called The Granary.

In April 2017 I discovered 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. From the lower path at night it could be hard to spot.

capitalism quotation end of laissez-faire

Yet more edifying Youth Hostel reading.

Journal

My Pre-Day was characterised by train chaos; some cows met a sticky end on the East Coast Mainline south of Stevenage. Yuck. Resourcefully, 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 compromised by commercialisation, is still a vast and marvellous train set. Gender roles were definitely a thing in this slight crisis – male staff pored with ill-disguised relish over timetables and scribbled out complex custom itineraries for us; females doled out spare snacks and lukewarm tea with motherly smiles. I pondered on gendered and train set mindsets in public services generally and knocked out a poem.

Playing Trains

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.

virgin trains northumberland river bridge

Crossing the Tyne on the East Coast Line

 

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