In the early hours of the morning, I vaguely heard someone chuntering about pillows, but I was too far out of it to really understand or act accordingly. When I awoke in the morning, I realised that something was very different. After a few minutes of making some progress towards consciousness, I realised that the dormitory had full occupancy; a stark contrast to the several empty unmade beds in the room when I fell asleep. And Jimmy and myself had helped ourselves to extra pillows, thinking that they weren't required! That was what the chuntering was about! The other guys in the room were still asleep, two of them without pillows. Jimmy and I made a sharp exit.
Over breakfast, Jimmy expressed that he felt really bad about denying another weary walker his pillow. I did too, but it was too late to do anything about it now, and in any case, the two pillowless hostellers appeared to be sleeping soundly enough. After polishing off the hostel breakfast, we lined up our rucksacks and poles in the large reception area and awaited our packed lunches. The sun was beating down already, before 9am, with beams of warm light blinding us through the large windows. At last we got walking, and we were not done with old Hadrian and his wall yet. But we had to get to it first, and with Jim G0CQK and daughter Kay long since gone yesterday, we would have to get there without the luxury of a lift. I was not relishing this prospect; the lift down in Jim's car the previous afternoon seemed to reveal a long and tall hill to reascend from the hostel. We set off in determined fashion, and surprised ourselves by being back on the wall at Steel Rigg by about 9.30am.
The signs continued to ask us NOT to walk in single file, but to walk either side of the worn path. This erosion control was in total contrast to the signs that were encountered on farmland further south. We were treated to a superb historical site, early into the day's walking when we approached Milecastle 39. The prospect of this tactically important Roman defence, set against the wall continuing eastwards, and the waters of Crag Lough below was most impressive. Hadrian's Wall continued its demands of relentless steep ups and downs, but we seemed to travel along them much faster than yesterday. Perhaps this was because we had become physically acclimatised to this terrain, or perhaps it was more psychological; the fact that we had over twice yesterday's distance to cover was forcing us to maintain a greater speed. Either way, we were able to clear Hadrian's Wall midway through the morning and walk northwards once again.
The views back to the wall were initially impressive, but became less so the further we moved away with the feature widening and thinning out all the time. The next objective was our first encounter with Wark Forest, We decided to put in a fast-paced walk through Wark and have lunch somewhere in the clearing on Haughton Common. The author's notes in the guidebook we were following indicated that the increasing remoteness and desolation of this area would encourage us to move on away from it. Not a bit of it. We were loving being in the northern countryside, walking and surviving, miles away from anywhere. As we ambled through the first forest section, the attacks from flies became an incessant annoyance, but we elected to press on rather than linger to apply repellent. Just as we had hoped, when we emerged from the trees, the concentration of flies diminished rapidly. We continued across the common until we felt we were approximately halfway between the forested section behind and the forested section ahead. The flies had been left behind, and there was a slight dip in the path which allowed us to sit out of the wind. The weather was hot and sunny, but with a stiff Easterly breeze across the common. I made a formal declaration of lunchtime, and unpacked our youth hostel feast of sandwiches, pasties, fruit, chocolate biscuits, fruit juice and extra fruit. Yes, the "no crisps please" trick was still working perfectly.
Shortly after lunch, and resuming our trek, we passed a winged sheepfold on Haughton Common before re-entering Wark Forest. It was then I read the notes in the guidebook that this was "an acceptable stopping place for lunch". Brilliant, we were now keeping up with the pace expected of Pennine Way walkers; a sharp contrast to that long, long first day just over two weeks ago. We continued to follow the track weaving northwestwards in and out of forest before heading out to Longlee Rigg. It was here that we had our first navigational difficulty for quite some time. The instructions were to bear right through a gate, supposedly to bring us within sight of a footbridge. What gate? What footbridge? In any case, we could see that we were close to the bank of Warks Burn, so we couldn't be far away.
Jimmy's mobile 'phone made a noise and told us of some missed calls and voicemail messages. We were certainly in areas of low to intermittent cellular coverage, as expected this far north on the Pennine Way. One of the messages was from a reporter from the Knutsford Guardian who wanted to do an article for this week's newspaper. Andrew McCreaddie was keen to speak to us both at length when I returned the call, and I cautiously viewed the steadily diminishing credit on Jimmy's pay-as-you-go mobile! I explained to Andrew that we might be struggling to find mobile top-up outlets, and asked him to call us back. Call back he did, and seemingly hundreds more questions were reeled of as he thoroughly researched his piece. The interviews over, we really needed to be finding the bridge over the burn and progressing. The afternoon was ticking away again.
Lowstead Farm was an impressive and well looked-after collection of buildings, and the lady who lived there came out for a chat with us as the Pennine Way followed the farms' access drive out to the road. The final climb of the day was shortly upon us, a gentle amble up to Ealingham Rigg. This took us past the famous Shitlington Crag bunkhouse. I had not told Jimmy about this area with the eyebrow-raising name, and he was in stitches when he saw the sign outside the establishment. I was quite surprised when I read the details of the facility. More than just a bunkhouse, it offered meals, B&B and other services. An accommodation option of which I was unaware while planning the trip.
Once past the bunkhouse, we were climbing up the Shitlington Crags themselves, and walking out onto Ealingham Rigg. Now we could see the town of Bellingham and the meandering River North Tyne out ahead of us; a couple more downhill miles and we would be there. The final mile into Bellingham was somewhat dull being along the B6320 Wark to Bellingham road, which had enough traffic on it to slightly spoil the end to the day. A photo call on the bridge into Bellingham proved difficult as we tried to get the shot in between the frequent passing cars on the narrow crossing. Dropping off the bridge, we followed the very last stretch of the Pennine Way for the day through the local recreation ground and up into the town.
There was more to think about in Bellingham. The youth hostel was self-catering only, so we first visited the Co-op to stock up on items for tomorrow's breakfast and packed lunch. We had made rather good time today, so we trotted off uphill, still following the Pennine Way along a road, to the hostel in order to get settled in before returning to the town centre for a meal later. I was rather taken aback with the initial appearance of Bellingham Youth Hostel; a green and white wooden cabin, almost appearing as a secreted evangelical mission. Walking in, a jolly voice of West Midlands brogue called out "Just get yourselves settled in and have a shower lads, we'll sort all the paperwork out later". The volunteer warden, Tony Reece, was in the middle of having his tea, and his welcome was music to our ears. We didn't need asking twice, and made a beeline for the bunk beds and showers. Chatting later to Tony, he revealed that Toke and Bobby had stayed at the hostel a couple of nights earlier; he recalled them well.
I felt quite stiff and tired while walking back down the hill to Bellingham town centre later, not something I was used to. A couple of pubs were checked out, but neither were serving evening meals, so we settled for the less appealing Cheviot Hotel on the main drag. This establishment, with its upstairs dining room, lacked the atmosphere of a proper "Pennine Way pub", but at least some real ale was available, and a couple of pints of "Old Hemp" were enjoyed with our meal, which was fillet of duck in orange sauce. The food was acceptable without being stunning, but the dining room was heaving, probably as a result of neither of the other two pubs doing food that evening. Jimmy and I took our time over dinner, checking out what Hopkins and Wainwright had to say about the day just gone and the day ahead tomorrow, in their respective guidebooks.
The skies were threatening to darken as we emerged the Cheviot Hotel and commenced our third and final encounter with the road up to the youth hostel. Jimmy was quickly to bed when we got there, but I sat up with warden Tony, his mate and another hosteller for a short while to take in something I had not experienced for what seemed like an age - television news. The security services had seemingly foiled a terrorist plot to blow up a series of flights from Heathrow and Gatwick. As expected, virtually all of the ten o'clock news was given over to this story. My eyes became too heavy to carry their own weight and I started dosing off into happy dreams about being back in the countryside tomorrow, with all its blissful ignorance of the depressing real world news. "Think I'd better go to bed" I grunted after reawakening from yet another microsleep, and struggled to my feet. Tony chuckled and wished me goodnight.