…in which I perform secret ablutions in a former library, conform to Way lore by needing the GPS and munch al dente florets in the dark.
Padon Hill to the Mystery Sheepfold, 17 miles.
Positively lavish after the past two days’ privations. Bellingham has at least three cafes, the first encountered southbound is Carriages at the Heritage Centre, then turning right at Lloyds’ Bank there’s Fountain Cottage over the road where I had a pleasant hot lunch, tea and buns served by delightful people who didn’t bat an eyelid when I hung a wet tent over their pretty furniture and made me some really nice takeaway sandwiches.
This cafe is in an historic County Council building formerly the town’s library and before that the workhouse. A big plus is that the loo is not only very private and tucked away upstairs, it’s a big room with a lock on the washroom door, hot water and paper towels. It’s ideal for a quick bit of maintenance after two nights’ wild camping. There’s another cafe in the town centre, a pub that does food, a butchers for pies, a bakers too but perhaps most useful not a candlestick maker’s but a decent-sized Co-Op. The Chinese is only open for supper.
I was getting pushed for time at Horneystead but the wonderful ‘pit stop’ was essential as my sleeping bag was so damp. Fifteen minutes in their tumble dryer (leaving a few bob for the electric of course) worked magic, and gave me an excuse for a cuppa.
Twice I’d passed the mysterious sheepfold near Sell Burn with a tent on my back and longed to put it up, now I finally achieved my ambition. The ground was sloping and the wall did very little to cut the brisk wind but it was a wonderfully atmospheric place to sleep.
In June I’d got lost on Whitley Pike so I spent time on this return trip trying to understand how that had happened – see PW1 – Day 17 for my conclusions. Southbound on a clear day the summit pole can be seen from the cattle grid, failing that just follow the flagstones virtually due south. As so often on The Way, there’s a comedy bog where they peter out.
Infuriatingly, I took the wrong track out of Blakelaw Farm, passing through the farmyard to the southeast by mistake after I’d called in to scrounge drinking water (most kindly given by the cheery inhabitants). This meant a very long and boring road walk back to rejoin The Way where the correct southwest track from the farm meets the road at about 846 838.
Getting out of Bellingham can be tricky in both directions. Southbound The Way heads out of town via a grass path to the left of The Black Bull pub. This becomes an alleyway past the graveyard and heads down past the blue-plaqued St Cuthbert’s Well. Turn right opposite the garage and onto the pretty riverside walk.
From the B6320 just aim for Shitlington mast as soon as (and if) it becomes visible. Down from the Crags I became confused by the stream crossings, mistakenly thinking the first house (covered by a red square on the NTG map, p. 163) had been Shitlington Hall. The actual so-called Hall (just a farm and not named) is further on. Then I became further confused by the hexagonal plantation at about 823 785 (NTG p.161). I failed to notice that the lower half of this hexagon is bog, not wood. You need to follow the road far enough south to pick up the obvious tarred track to Linacres. Try to walk along the edge of the wood through the middle of the hexagon and you’ll become embroiled in a strength sapping and foot soaking (although botanically interesting) mire.
Oh my, it got worse. For some completely inexplicable reason I failed to spot an obvious fingerpost pointing along the dyke across the tarred road at 803 754 (NTG p. 161) and I turned right onto the road instead. My excuse is that this road seemed newly-tarred, in June I’m sure it had been just a stone track. I somehow mistook it for the actual road past Willowbog further south. When no Willowbog appeared, it was a case for OS Locate and for a long walk back to the blindingly obvious fingerpost I’d missed. All in all this was not a good day for navigation and I still had the perplexing Wark Forest diversion to negotiate. Luckily I remembered how that worked from back in June, but I can’t remember now, so – good luck!
I was reluctant to leave my cosy campsite on Padon Hill but wild camping etiquette dictates a dawn start, so off I went at an unearly seven o’clock.
This is a big advantage of wild camping late or early in the year – a nice long kip. Mind you anything’s better than ‘proper’ campsites in summer, on which most of the time I can hardly sleep at all due to the unseemly racket of my fellow-campers.
Whitley Pike seemed friendly enough and the paths over Deer Play and Lough Shaw well-trodden and obvious; I was baffled as to how I’d become so lost up here in June. I was so pleased with myself for getting it right this time, I promptly took the wrong track out of Blakelaw Farm. This absurd error was compounded by my thinking to myself all the way down ‘that’s funny, I’ve an inkling this might not be quite right’. Did I stop and check? No, I stomped on. On the Pennine Way when you get an inkling, it’s time get thinkling.
In the cafe an elderly couple were debating whether they should get the Internet – ‘it’s expensive, and everybody steals your information’. The cafe didn’t take cards – ‘it’s expensive and people steal your information’. The Co-Op had gone contactless but the locals were plastic refuseniks – ‘it’s..’.
Showing off, I bought contactlessly some reduced cauliflower cheese, which later in the pitch darkness of my tent I discovered needed not so much contacting as actual cooking. Some tins of Pistonhead too, which later in the pitch darkness of my tent would ameliorate the al dente brassica issue somewhat. At Horneystead I met the male half of the owners and was glad of the chance to reiterate my thanks for their 1999 hospitality. He took this garbled anecdote from seventeen years ago in his stride as if he heard half a dozen such every day. He probably does. Remembering my inadvertant retention of the Rohan hat back in June, I managed to release my fingers from the high-vis pack cover I’d found on Kings’ Seat and watch it drift into the swap box. It will have come in handy for some DofE kid.
After the fun of getting lost it was dark when I got to the sheepfold, which is not spooky at all ahahahaha, oh no. It was draughty and slopey but not spooky. So I kept telling myself. American Wayfarer friends had camped there in June and dubbed it ‘The Serengeti’ for its strange, open aspect and sparse, misshapen trees. I half expected to be awoken by Wildebeest but a Robin was the only company. Robins don’t much care for raw cauliflower.