So, here we were then, standing on the verge of greatness. Today's walking would take us to the forestry village of Byrness, and the prospect of the final two day traverse across the Cheviots. With very limited civilisation in that area, and only occasional and lengthy "escape routes", there would only really be one approach in most eventualities, and that would be onwards. Such sentiments were the content of this morning's inspirational team-talk as I reasoned with Jimmy that finishing today's walk to Byrness would virtually guarantee the successful completion of the entire Pennine Way!
We awoke, quickly dressed and tidied up our bunks. Our four pints of milk and box of cereal, purchased from Bellingham Co-op yesterday, would not be making the onwards journey with us, so we treated ourselves to two bowls of Coco Pops each, and made up our protein shakes with milk rather than water, a luxury of which Jimmy became increasingly fond along the journey. I prepared the carry-on luggage for Brigantes to collect, checked the map and threw on the pack. An extra spring in my stride and bonus burst of enthusiasm was no doubt due to the fact that Bellingham Youth Hostel sat atop the first hill out of Bellingham and half a kilometre into today's route. I thanked Tony for his warm hospitality at the hostel, and he shook us both warmly by the hand and wished us well.
The walking seemed to be getting ever easier, for our ever fitter bodies. Early in the morning, we were striding out above the wood that reputedly conceals the beautiful Hareshaw Linn waterfall. We weren't going to cheaply surrender half of our total ascent so far that morning for a peek, so onwards we pressed towards Hareshaw House.
Our first encounter with anything that could be considered a 'summit' or a 'top' was the pile of stones and stake at Whitley Pike. This was in fact reminiscent of the similar arrangement on Mill Hill on our first day. Straight ahead, and slightly to the right however rose the loftier perch of Padon Hill, although the Pennine Way would pass to its left. The easterly wind was rather strong, so we dropped off the path into some springy heather behind a large rock to shelter for our lunch. It did not take too long before most of out previous night's shopping from Bellingham Co-op was inside our grateful bellies. Dropping down towards an outlying corner of Kielder Forest, the air suddenly became stiller and damper. The close humidity provided an unpleasant contrast to the stiff cold breeze hammering Padon Hill a few minutes earlier.
We reached the saddle, and the trees came ever closer. And so did the flies. Tens of them. As we plundered through the loose undergrowth and fallen branches blocking the way, we were accosted incessantly by kamikaze flies. The tens became hundreds as the hill steepened and our faces began to perspire. The hundreds became thousands, and we could have no doubt that we were under sustained attack. In our hastened desire to reach the safety of the top of the hill, we quickened our pace. On such a steep and slippery slope, surfaced with wet grass and other vegetative obstacles, this demanded yet more effort and drive. This in turn increased the perspiration all over our bodies, and therefore our attractiveness to the flies. I muttered to Jimmy that walking with one thousand besotted flies above my head, around my body and in my face, was not doing too much for my self-esteem. Finally, the brow of Brownrigg Head opened out, and we raced for the blast of wind that would surely curb the enthusiasm of our six-legged two-winged admirers.
Curving around the summit area, we aimed to re-enter the forest, with the guidebook indicating a long, long stretch through Kielder's twilight world. However, it appeared the many trees had recently been felled, and the entire passage was fairly bright. It did drag on a bit though, and was fairly boring with little in the way of objectives to aim for or look forward to.
Reaching the picnic area and car park at Blakehopeburnhaugh (in the Guinness Book of Records for the longest place name in England) gave us a false sense of hope. Three kilometres, or about 40 minutes walking still separated us from our objective, but our pace quickened as we could sense today's finishing line. At last, there was some interest to lift our spirits. Firstly, we passed the secluded woodland campsite at Cottonshopeburnfoot (which should have the entry in the Guinness Book of Records!) and then followed the River Rede to where the first hints of the forestry village of Byrness opened up before us. We strode on across the footbridge and past the Holy Trinity Church to the famous Byrness Filling Station and cafe. We had a look around and purchased a few extra flapjacks and Nutri-Grain type bars to replenish our rucksacks in readiness for the two day epic traverse of the Cheviots. Finally, we crossed the A68 to the The Byrness, directly opposite.
The Byrness used to be the local pub, as well as hotel, but now appeared to be remodelling itself as a country guesthouse. There was no longer a public bar. Our room had the customary two single beds and the uncustomary portable television. We hadn't missed the telly in our three weeks without it, but it was a good novelty to perch on the ends of our beds and watch the news and Coronation Street while awaiting our turns for the shower.
Down in the dining room, we met Liz and John, who had just finished the Pennine Way that day, and had got a lift back down to the Byrness for the night. They had split the Cheviots stretch into three days, bedding themselves down in each of the two mountain refuge huts for overnight stops. We were told all about their antics finding and carrying water for their cooking each night, and the disconcerting howl of the wind and sound of animals scratching at the cabin door as they attempted to sleep. Dinner was beef casserole followed by chocolate fudge cake and ice cream, accompanied by a couple of cans of Carlsberg lager. The landlady offered us an earlier-than-usual breakfast at 7.15am, which we accepted. She had assumed we were attempting the 27 mile Cheviots traverse in a single day, not realising we would be overnighting at Uswayford Farm. Nonetheless, we were quite content with the idea of an earlier start. We said our farewells to John and Liz and went up for another early night. It was still something uniquely pleasurable to be able to get in bed before 10pm and go straight to sleep!