Tuesday 16 November 2021

Pennine Way: Days 16 to 17: Selfishness or Chivalry?

Day 16 Byrness to Auchope Mountain Refuge Hut

29.6km, 1106 metres ascent, 9 hours 40 minutes

The Cheviots: great walking country

For those not too au fait (notice my linguistic skills there?) with the Pennine Way, the final stretch from Byrness to Kirk Yetholm can be somewhat problematic. It’s about 40km with a fair amount of climbing both up and along the Cheviots. Only very strong walkers can do it in a single day, but there is no settlement or accommodation along this high level section. If backpacking with a tent you are at an advantage here, although finding water can be an issue if it is warm and conditions are dry. Those without a tent have to drop down off the route and normally then need a lift to accommodation some distance away. John is more than capable of doing this section of the route in a long, single day. For me, though, this would have been completely out of the question, so we had planned two moderately short days of about 20km each, camping near the summit of Windy Gyle, the mid-point. As it happens this is not how things panned out.

Looking back after the climb through the forest

After a steep climb through the forest from Byrness the route opens out on to the broad, grassy slopes of the Cheviots, which makes for absolutely splendid walking, especially in the perfect weather we experienced  – a decent breeze, largely blue skies and a perfect temperature.

There was another package for Danielle pinned to a fence. We could see it contained a tube of Voltarol painkilling gel (this may actually have been spotted the day before – I’ve lost track). Soon after, at Chew Green Roman Camp, we dropped down from the route to the stream at the road head to take on water. It would be the last source until we were almost in Kirk Yetholm, over 25 hours away. And so an awful lot was needed with another 33km of walking and an overnight stop with dinner and breakfast to cook. Thus, I was to be burdened with another 4 litres and an extra 4kg to carry, with my camel like companion taking on slightly less. In fact, I would have liked rather more than this, as the day was getting warmer and I knew I would need to conserve what I had and would risk dehydration.

It had become apparent early on that our original plan of camping at Windy Gyle was not on. We would get there far too early, not least because we had left Byrness at 7.10 that morning. Furthermore, stopping at Windy Gyle would mean a much later arrival into Kirk Yetholm on the morrow (I really should have been born in Georgian times) which would make getting thither (see what I mean) in time to catch public transport home problematic. As it was we were at the top of Windy Gyle by 2.00 in the afternoon and so we pressed on. We thought that we might find somewhere nearer The Cheviot to camp, and I was hoping that I would feel fit enough to get beyond Auchope Cairn to the ‘second’ mountain refuge hut. This would mean a short final day and so an early finish.

Shelter cairn by the summit of Windy Gyle: A nice camp spot in calm conditions

The summit of Windy Gyle

The walking really was splendid, but by mid-afternoon I knew I was not drinking enough as I was trying to eke out my supply. I was also tired and getting slower and slower. John had every intention, and rightly so, of taking the spur to the top of The Cheviot; I knew that was beyond my physical abilities if we were to get to the mountain refuge to camp. Thus, after King’s Seat John went off ahead to climb The Cheviot, whilst I plodded on, increasingly slowly, up the steepish climb to Auchope Cairn and the even steeper drop down to the mountain refuge. John arrived there fifteen minutes or so after me, having walked at least a couple of miles further. It had been a fabulous walk but a pretty tough old day and I was feeling it.

Auchope Cairn

Looking to the Mountain Refuge Hut just to the left of centre in the mid-distance, (from the steep drop off Auchope Cairn)

The Auchope Mountain Refuge

We pitched the Duomids at the front of the hut. Having been rationing my water all day I had calculated that I had enough for a couple of badly needed brews, with just enough left over to rehydrate my main meal and breakfast with a morning coffee, and a small amount for the morning’s 8 mile walk to Kirk Yetholm.

Our last camp of the trip. Super spot

Self-timed selfie: our final evening

Soon after the tents were up another backpacker arrived, walking the Pennine Way as part of a Land’s End to John O’Groats trek. She was a youngish woman (she turned out to be 31, although at first I had thought she was probably a student). Now. When you read what follows you might think it rather inappropriate, but bear with me, there is a reason which will become apparent in a paragraph or two. The woman was clad in shorts and a rather nice lacy sort of top that clearly hadn’t been made by RAB or Berghaus. She had long blonde hair, blue eyes, very long, tanned legs and a rather public school sort of accent. I did not, of course, notice any of that. Certainly not. Not at all. This was, as you may have guessed, Danielle (linky thing - yes alright the spelling's different. Don't get all pedantic with me).

The three of us sat in the refuge and had a brief chat, learning that the packages we had seen with her name on had been left for her by another through hiker she knew and whom (I'm back to the Georgian stuff, as nobody seems to use this fine word any longer) we had met several days before on both Great Shunner Fell and at Tan Hill. During this conversation I started to make my desperately needed first brew, my stove set up on the bench in the hut. On my last legs with fatigue and thirst, I went to take my pot of boiling water off the stove and knocked the whole lot over onto the floor. A mugful of precious water wasted. My language was choice; really very choice. I apologised to John and Danielle whilst also just about avoiding bursting into tears of frustration and anger, but it was a close run thing.

Danielle offered us Jaffa Cakes. That was a different linky thing. Happy now? She explained that this was the only food she had with her. She had ditched everything else several day’s earlier to reduce the weight she was carrying. I think she had also abandoned her stove and pot. I may have misunderstood, but she seemed to be living off food handouts from people she was meeting en-route (I must stop lapsing into French in these posts). John and I were both carrying too much food so I offered her some cereal bars and John dug out a spare main meal. She then said she was very dehydrated as she had also decided not to carry water and didn't even have a water bottle, also to save weight, and she hadn’t drunk anything for several hours.

I guessed what was coming a minute or so before it happened.

“I don’t suppose you could spare me some water?” she asked.

Now. I am well into my sixties. I had been carrying a heavy pack for almost 10 hours and had made this task all the more difficult by adding 4 kg of water to my load and lugged this gradually diminishing precious cargo for 21km over the hills. I, too, was dehydrated and had less than I needed for the rest of our journey. But here was a damsel in distress. A tall, blonde, blue-eyed, shorts wearing, long tanned-legged damsel, not that I had noticed any of these things. Certainly not. Not at all. She looked straight at me and I almost said “yes I can spare some”. Then I thought. “Hold on, would you be saying 'yes' if this was a 6 foot bloke with a beard, who was less than half my age, fit enough to backpack from Land’s End to John O’Groats who had decided not to carry any water to save weight?” No I ****** would not. Not even if he'd been wearing shorts and had the looks of a Viking God.

Thus, there was only answer I could give. Selfishness trumped chivalry. As a result I had terrible feelings of guilt. Mind you, the subsequent mug of tea I made at my tent helped wash that nonsense away.

Day 17 (September 17th, 2021) Auchope Mountain Refuge Hut to Kirk Yetholm

11.5km, 390 metres ascent, 3 hours 20 minutes

Dawn over The Cheviot

It was a beautiful dawn. Click on the linky thing. Please do. Then chill out, relax and enjoy.

Did you like that? I did think of giving you a James Blunt track of a similar name but you’ve bothered to read my ramblings this far so why punish you even further? Oh go on then. I know you are closet fans of his. Admit it. especially you, Mad'n'Bad.

The Schil from the Mountain Refuge Hut

We were away by 7.15 am, and soon at the top of the last major hill of the route, the Schil. The wind was cold and we didn't linger. Then a long gradual descent, with the occasional sharp bursts of uppiness, largely along wonderful, easy grassy paths. It’s amazing how tiredness melts away after a long trek when the end is within reach.

Lovely 'striding out' country along the Scottish Border fence

Almost there

Then we were down in the valley again, and a kilometre of tarmac took us into Kirk Yetholm, the best part of an hour before the Border Inn was due to open. Photographs time. We’d done it. It was never in any doubt that John would finish. But for me? After my failure in 2019 I had been determined to complete the challenge this time but there is always doubt there. Fortunately that hadn’t surfaced during the 17 days on the trail, not least because I was with John. Ultra-competent, great navigation skills, fit and experienced. All those things, but above all patient, fun, supportive and great company. I doubt I would have completed the walk without him there. But I did. And I think again of how I ended my blog posts in 2019 when I had packed in my attempt to walk the Pennine Way after just 4 days. Yep. I’d done it. So like me, don’t forget. When you get so down that you can't get up, and you want so much, but you're all out of luck just Hold on Tight to your dreams. And that's the best linky thing of all.

The End: The Border Hotel, Kirk Yetholm


  1. Bien joué, mec!
    I split those two days the same way back in 2007, but camped below the refuge hut below Hen Hole where there's plenty of water - it's only 300 ft below the hut.

    Bloody well done, Sir! (a loose translation)
    So then... What about another TGO Challenge?

    1. PS. I was aware of the possibility of camping below Hen Hole. It did, though, look 'orribly steep to get down there, I was all done in, and John and I had arranged to meet at the hut.

  2. Merci buckets, Al.

    As you know I'm not on the 2022 Challenge but I have plans to do another National Trail in March/April 2022. And amazingly, as he knows just how high my level of incompetence is, and how low my level of fitness is, Johnboy may well be accompanying me.

    I suppose I could consider 2023. Sorry that sounds grudging. Not meant that way. Fancy an Oban start? I've never done a more southerly crossing. Otherwise we could meet up elsewhere for a stroll. The Pre-Walk Daunder yes, but we could make other plans too...

  3. Very well done, I hope it was the tonic your mojo needed.

    Windy Gyle summit area made a grand pitch spot for us back in 2006. We collected water a short way before there at Richard's Cleugh.

    1. Thanks Geoff. The mojo had returned well before the trip - I just hadn't been blogging. Windy Gyle looked great for camping given the weather we had but it was just too early in the day. I haven't forgotten that I need to alter the link to your fabulous website. I will get around to it.

  4. Fine stuff.

    Windy File is a nice spot; often a trickle of water in a grassy trench a few 10s of metres Nth and a tad West of the cairn (I hope that's useful, in retrospect)... and if you drop 20m in height into the College Burn there is normally plenty. Normally.

    1. Hi Ed

      Yes I had seen a stream (Rowhope Burn) on the map very near the top. We didn't actually bother to go and look - the experience of the previous 15 days of walking as good as told us that they would be completely dry. I suppose we could have checked.

  5. In 2017, I bought an excellent Duomid from a grand gear sale on the Fellbound website. Did you replace your Duomid with a Duomid?

    I'm loving the one I bought from you. It was out in the Cairngorms a couple of days ago. Very cosy.

    1. Yes that's correct. I decided I had been too hasty in selling and thought I should give it another go. That cost me, but to your benefit I guess! With hindsight it was the selling of the Oookworks solid inner that was the greatest mistake as they had become unavailable when I replaced the Duomid. The MLD mesh inner I purchased to go with it is nowhere near as suitable for the UK. I also now have a cheapo Chinese solid inner which I would have been better with on the Pennine Way, at least on a few nights when it was breezy and thus a little chilly. I am pleased you are getting good use from the one you bought off me.