Saturday, March 9, 2013

And the story goes on

It seemed a little silly to write about what happened after my walk on a blog called Pennine Lives. Sure, it might make some sense now, but if I keep going, in a year's time, would a new reader have any clue what was going on? So I've started a new blog to write about the ongoing adventures of Ruth (and sometimes Chuck). Hope you follow me there...

Saturday, December 8, 2012


My walk on the Pennine Way will be an experience I will not forget.  There were challenges, there was pain, and there were times when I questioned my sanity.  But, overall, it was an amazing experience that gave me a chance to see parts of England that I had never seen, despite living in the country for over 4 years, and that many English people will likely (but sadly) never see in their lives. I spent time away from the cares of day-to-day life and the longest time away from my job since I started it sixteen years ago, and I found that most of my worries and stresses were out of sight, out of mind. I walked and walked, and I discovered that I was more capable than I expected to be. 
At the end of it all, I feel as though I've rediscovered a part of myself that I thought was long gone or was perhaps only a faintly remembered dream.  Maybe I have been in a coma for the last 20 years, and I am only now awakening and returning back to the person I used to know. It is a little scary at times as the person I was (and am) questions a lot of things about herself and the world around her, and she has a lot to work on for herself. But, I feel more grounded than I have in such a long time.
That I got to do this walk with one of my best friends made it all the more special.  Chuck was the inspiration, the encouragement, and (most importantly) the person who knew how to assemble the tent quickly in the dark.  I will be forever grateful to him for helping me to find myself again and for showing me the joys of long walks!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Berwick-upon-Tweed to Kirk Yetholm

For the first time in over a week, I awoke looking forward to the day ahead.  I studied the YHA binder's description of my trail one more time before packing up and checking out.  My walk would take me back over the walls and then out into the surrounding countryside before coming back to Berwick by the ruins of the old castle (the aptly named Berwick Castle) - six miles in total. 

The town was quiet on a Sunday morning, and I was just as in love with Berwick-upon-Tweed as I had been the day before.  I daydreamed about moving to Berwick and making a life.  It just felt like a place to call home, where you could settle in and settle down.

I walked along the now familiar walls and paused to take pictures I had been too excited to take the day before.  The walls pass right by a parish church built during the time of Oliver Cromwell.  I had taken pictures of the graveyard yesterday, but today I stopped to wander around the outside of the church.  Since it was Sunday, I could see that the church was still in use, and I wondered a bit about whether there were still practicing Puritans in England. Regardless, the church was lovely.

The part of town where the parish is located is apparently the place to go to worship your chosen God.  Immediately next door to the Cromwellian parish is an Anglican church and then a synagogue is right across the street.
Anglican church

After walking along the walls, my path took me over the Old Bridge. There were sidewalks on each side of the bridge (and each side was to be used for foot traffic in only one direction).  The bridge was narrow enough that cars could only use it in one direction, and there were evenly spaced areas where in days gone past wagons or carriages could have pulled to the side to allow someone else to pass.    

On the other side of the bridge was a small war memorial, and as I stopped for a moment a swan climbed up out of the river and walked right up to the gate next to where I was standing.  I don't remember ever seeing a "wild" swan before.  I was frankly a bit awed.  Swans are magnificent creatures.

Although I could have watched the swan for hours, he/she soon got bored with me and headed back to the water.  With that, I was back on my way.

I was entirely and completely alone for the majority of my walk. I encountered one man and his dog out for a walk, but that was pretty much it. Although the scenery was lovely, I found I wasn't inclined to take many pictures.  I was just happy to be walking and enjoying the sights and sounds. My path took me out along the River Tweed for a couple of miles and then back on the other side of the river.  All in all, it was a thoroughly enjoyable way to pass the time.

At the end of my walk I arrived at Berwick Castle. The walking path went beneath a gun tower built high on the hills, and there were little "sally ports" in the passage. They looked more like dungeon rooms to me, but apparently soldiers manned the guns in these little rooms.

Once I got back to Berwick, it was time to head to the bus station for the ride to Kelso. Kelso is only about 10 miles from Kirk Yetholm, and on a week day the bus will take you to Kirk Yetholm. Unfortunately for me, this was a Sunday.  The plan was to meet Chuck at around 4ish at the Border Hotel. I arrived in Kelso a little after 3, and I wandered around trying to find the taxi office I'd looked up the night before. But, although I seemed to be on the right street, I couldn't see the office. So, I called, and they told me someone would be right down to get me.  

Apparently the office isn't manned on Sundays, and the lady who picked me up had driven from her house, where she'd just bid goodbye to her grandchildren who'd been over for Sunday lunch.  She drove me to Kirk Yetholm, and we chatted about the area, the weather, walkers, etc. Kirk Yetholm was a tiny place. I spent the short drive through the village looking about to see if we'd pass Chuck.  We didn't.  

The Border Hotel's bar was full of what appeared to be the regular patrons. They nodded at me and carried on with their conversations. I'm sure they wondered about an American appearing out of nowhere late on a Sunday afternoon in December. But then again, maybe they know that Americans in the village have to be associated with the Pennine Way somehow, and so they just shook their heads at the apparent foolishness of a walk in December.  The landlady showed me a couple of different rooms, explaining that although one was a bit bigger, the other was warmer. Knowing Chuck, I picked the warmer room and headed back to the bar to wait for him.

It wasn't long before he arrived, looking a little tired, a little more "bearded", and perhaps a little thinner, but overall happy to have finished the walk.  I was happy to see him!!!

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Harrow to Berwick-upon-Tweed

My day started early.  I had bought the train tickets when we thought Chuck would be arriving in Kirk Yetholm today.  But, he'd taken a well-deserved rest day, and so I would need to entertain myself in Berwick-upon-Tweed until late Sunday afternoon.

Public transport in the UK leaves me in awe.  I love how you can get anywhere (or at least it seems that way) taking a combination of the Tube, overland rail trains, buses, etc.  In my case, I'd take the Tube to St Pancras station and then the train directly to Berwick-upon-Tweed. All in all the journey was a few hours long.  It took me 19 days to walk 130-ish miles, but this trip would be more than double that in length (and in fact almost triple) in just about four hours.  

If I hadn't mentioned it previously, this had been a rough November weather-wise for the UK. There had been record flooding throughout the country, and it was reported that 20-26 November had been the second wettest week on record in 50 years for England and Wales.  You could see the extent of the flooding as the train zipped through the countryside. It was no wonder we had had such a mucky, muddy journey!
Completely submerged fields
I was excited to get to Berwick-upon-Tweed. It is the northernmost town in England, and it has the only remaining intact Elizabethan town walls in the world (as there were no Elizabethan town walls built outside England, Ireland, and Wales, "the world" seems a grand statement, but .... it is true).  Elizabethan history is fascinating. Elizabeth I ruled England and Ireland for 45 years.  At a time when women's roles were primarily as wives and mothers, women who inherited the throne were expected to marry quickly and provide the next heir to the throne. But, Elizabeth established herself as the Virgin Queen and coyly eluded her suitors her entire life.  Her life was filled with scandal, adventure, and, I think, a lot of loneliness.  

Perhaps I identify with the loneliness I imagine she felt.  I have read enough biographies and historical accounts to know that she chose to be alone and even to give up the "love of her life" for her love of England and because she believed she was the one who could rule it well. I don't think I've chosen to be alone.  But alone I am, and alone I am likely to remain.  I sometimes wonder if Elizabeth felt that her sacrifice of personal love and family was worth it. I think she probably did.  Will I look back on my life some day and feel the same for the things I've prioritized over the years?

Enough morose musing!  On to Berwick-upon-Tweed.  What a lovely town - quaint and yet not too small.  It is nestled between the River Tweed and the North Sea.  It was only about eleven a.m. when I arrived, and so I had all the time in the world to explore the town.  I wandered around, browsed through shops, and stopped in coffee shops for warm drinks. I was staying in the local Youth Hostel, but I couldn't check in until after four. So, I decided I would do the Town Wall Walk (about 2 miles in total). I am terrible at visually estimating heights or distances - absolutely terrible. Let's just say, these were tall walls.  They were also wide; the Town Wall Walk is on top of the walls.  There was no way an army of Scots was going through these walls (well, unless they used the gates).

On top of the Walls
I strolled slowly and contentedly along the walls, stopping to read the little informational plaques and trying to picture the things they described - gun platforms, guards, artillery stations. It was so peaceful and lovely, it was hard to imagine it as an area of border skirmishes and battles.  

The walls were used as recently as 1908 for training volunteer soldiers how to defend the coasts of England.  You can walk right on top of the circular and rectangular concrete slabs where the guns were positioned to fire on attacking ships. In fact, there is no place on top of the walls where you can't walk. Nothing is cordoned off, nothing is "protected."  I am so used to going to see things where you are kept at arm's length from the thing you are trying to see. I could almost say it was thrilling - I could have had a little picnic on the slabs if I wanted.
Artillery "slabs"

There were so many things to see.  But of all the historical buildings and places, the most picturesque to me were the three bridges - the Old Bridge (completed in 1634), the Royal Tweed Bridge (opened in 1928), and the Royal Border Railway Viaduct (opened in 1850).  All three are still in use today, and it is strange to see so many bridges crammed into such a small area.
Front to back: Old, Royal Tweed, & Viaduct Bridges
My favorite: the Railway Viaduct
After my walk, I checked into the Berwick-upon-Tweed Youth Hostel, and it was a fantastic place. The staff were extremely friendly, the facilities were clean and modern, and it was perfectly situated.  I had my dormitory room to myself.  They even had a little binder in the room that contained walking and biking paths in the area. There was a nice 6-mile local loop detailed very clearly  - perfect! Tomorrow is sorted!

I spoke to Chuck a few times to arrange our meeting time (approximately), and then I finished off the evening up in the TV lounge to watch Strictly Come Dancing.  There was a family of four sharing the space with me.  The father and youngest child (maybe 4) playing Go Fish at a small table, and the mother and her son were already watching Strictly.  The boy, 8ish, was an expert on the dancers and openly critical of the judges. You could tell that this was a family event at home.  The mother mentioned that they were exploring England by train and hiking in the local areas. How cool!  As at the beginning of a journey, I could see how the love of walking that is so prevalent in England gets its start.

Finally, tired from my journey but excited for the next day, I collapsed into my bottom bunk and was instantly asleep! 

Friday, November 30, 2012


I am going to keep going with this blog, and there will even be one more tale about the Pennine as I'm going up to Kirk Yetholm to meet Chuck on Sunday.  I am looking forward to hearing about his journey. It will also be my first trip to Scotland.

I've been back in civilization for about a week and a half now.  It's been hard. Back to work since Monday - a week of too many people, too many noises, too much sensory stimulation.  Even at the best of times, I've always been impacted by the noises and sights/lights of a populous area. I have traveled to Hong Kong a few times for work. Although I love seeing my colleagues from work and spending time with them, the city itself complete overwhelms me.  There's just too much going on, and my poor little brain can't handle it.

The job itself is just the job; nothing new there.  I guess after spending so much of my life at work (and at one company), slipping back into that pattern is not much of a challenge. Sometimes it's almost like I never left, except that I did and everything is just slightly different now.

Aside from the familiarity of work, there's nothing else about this that is easy.  I miss walking all day.  I miss Chuck. I even miss the muck.  My flat seems cold and clinical, or maybe it's just sparsely furnished as it always has been.

Chuck has called a couple of times to let me know how he's doing.  But he can never talk for long, and usually we have connection issues. Mobile phones don't work where there is nothing around for miles.  His journey continues, and I am jealous.  

This "re-entry" process has brought me to some of the worst lows I've had in years.  My brain doesn't know what to do with all of the input, and it's coming up with some wacky and disturbing images I can't shake.  And so I write them down, hoping the act of putting pen to paper will cause these demons to lose their grip.

Tomorrow I take a train to Berwick-upon-Tweed, where I'll spend the night.  I am looking forward to the chance to see walls built in the time of Queen Elizabeth I to keep the Scots out of England!   

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Heading back to Harrow

Today marks the end of my Pennine journey.  The plan: I will take a bus from Bowes to Darlington and then a train from there back to London.  We packed up our things and switched packs so that Chuck could carry a lighter load.  We had our last meal together (at least for while) and settled the bill.

But, before I started on my public transport odyssey, we planned to go have a look at Bowes Castle.  For those who don't want to go read the history, Bowes Castle was built around 1187 on the site of an old Roman fort at the request of King Henry II.  We had seen the castle from afar as we approached Bowes yesterday, but rain and exhaustion had kept us from exploring.

It is mostly in ruins now. But as you probably realize, this makes no difference, as I love this history stuff. And I loved Bowes Castle.  It was the oldest building I'd seen on the journey.  I was dying to get inside and explore.
Guarding the fort
Unfortunately, we were not very sure when the bus to Darlington was going to arrive. From what we had been able to tell, it only goes through Bowes twice a day.  So, rather than explore the castle, we headed back to the bus stop.  Chuck hung out with me for a bit, but I could tell he was itching to get underway.  And so, I watched him with envy as he headed back to the castle.

I probably could have gone with him for a bit.  We'd uncovered a bus schedule from a couple of years ago that said we'd just missed the morning bus, and it was four hours 'til the afternoon bus.  But, I was too worried that the schedule was out of date, and I'd miss my ride. There was absolutely nothing to do in Bowes and no little shops to hang out in while I waited (not that I'd have gone into one anyway what with my concerns about schedules).  Funny how the prospect of returning to society brought an almost instant level of anxiety and pressure that I hadn't felt for weeks. Thoughts about work and bills and every day tasks started popping unwanted into my head. "Away! Away!" I thought and focused on willing those thoughts back into the recesses of my mind.

Throughout my long wait, which was almost exactly the four hours promised, and then the long journey back to Harrow, I tried to focus on the spirit of the trip instead of on what was awaiting me.  I scrolled through my pictures on my camera; I wrote in my journal; I read some Bill Bryson (Notes from a Small Island).  I watched the landscape pass by from the windows of the bus and the train.  I thought about what I might see when I go up to meet Chuck in Kirk Yetholm in a week and a half or so. For the most part, I managed to keep the unwanted thoughts at bay.

Overall, it was an uneventful journey, and I won't bore you with the details. This walk was something I will always remember and of which I will always be proud.  Had you asked me as a child or a young adult if walking 130-ish miles was something I could picture myself doing, I would have given you a resounding "NO!" My younger self has often been wrong, and I'm glad I was.  I've got the walking/hiking bug, and I don't think I want to be cured.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Tan Hill Inn to Bowes

The Tan Hill Inn has the prestige associated with being the highest inn in Britain.  It's a whopping 1732 feet above sea level.  Of course, that doesn't seem like a huge height to those of us from the Mile High City, but in Britain, it's pretty high. It's a lovely inn.  Cozy fire, warm drinks, gentle music. The fire, in fact, is there every single day of the year.  The bartender, who was adding coal to it at the time, told us it hadn't gone out in "years."  

We spent the evening down in the pub - eating, playing Scrabble, enjoying ciders.  Chuck even got one of the guitars down off the wall and played me a tune or two (even though it was missing about half its strings).  I keep the video for future blackmailing purposes!!!
The serious Scrabble player
Needless to say, we loved the Tan Hill Inn.

The morning of my last day on the trail started with breakfast in the bar.  The landlady was feisty!!! We ordered two coffees, and she brought a tea and a coffee. Then she continued to insist that we'd asked for the tea, and a number of breakfast misadventures ensued.

We shared our table with a young couple.  Well, we thought they were a couple, but they were a couple of cousins.  They were very young.   He was a photographer and she was a journalist, both freelance.  They were doing a piece on, of all things, the weather for a magazine called "The Weather."  More specifically, they wanted to interview the landlady of the Tan Hill Inn about the unique weather conditions around the inn.

We didn't really see anything unique about them.  It was raining and cold and a little windy - nothing new.  We kept trying to convince the young man that a picture of two crazy Americans setting off into the rain from the inn would be perfect for their article.  I think he took a few pictures just to stop us from pestering him.

Our morning's walk was through mushy moors, Sleightholme Moors.  There were posts sprinkled periodically along the way.  Someone had gone along and placed a lost dog poster on the top of each post. Poor dog.  We think it must have been swallowed by the moors. After all, what else could get it?  It was a bigger dog.  Maybe the sheep ganged up on it?

Frumming Beck was running alongside us all the way across the moor. In many places it had flooded the path, and we were ankle deep in water.  The beck would meander its way right up to us and then dart away, like an animal trying to check us out but not get too close.  As it was raining again, we weren't feeling too disappointed by the beck's reluctance to jump up and say hello.  The rain was coming from our right for the first time the entire trip.  In fact, the right halves of our bodies were soaked and our left halves were completely dry.  It was a bizarre sensation.
After a couple of hours of slogging through mud, we reached pavement. Just in time - I was afraid the mud would swallow us as it had surely swallowed countless sheep before us!  The rain seemed to be letting up too.  We crossed over a "railway sleeper bridge" where the Frumming Beck met the Sleightholme Beck.
It was shortly past the bridge where we had the worst argument of the trip. I chalk it up to stress about my last day and being cold and wet for too many days in a row.  It was a stupid argument about a plastic bag and my clumsiness with said bag.  I apologize now to the Earth for whatever damage is caused by the bag that blew out of my hands and out onto the moors.  We yelled at each other for a bit. I thought maybe it was a good thing that today was my last day on the trail.  Eventually we settled down and got back into our normal rhythm.

Speaking of rhythm, at some point in the last day and a half, my body had finally figured out this walking thing.  Throughout the journey, Chuck had pointed out "opportunities" for me to improve my walking technique.  He tried to make parallels or give me things to think about. It hadn't sunk in.  My uncoordinated self just doesn't pick up these kinds of things very easily most of the time.  But, I realized that my foot falls were smoother and lighter.  I was rolling from heel to toe, walking carefully like a cat.  I GOT IT!!!! I couldn't believe it.  It wasn't completely second nature, but I was definitely walking "better."  It felt so different when I thought about it.  I felt like I could keep going for days now.  Too bad I had only a few miles left.

After Tan Hill Inn the Pennine Way branches into two paths.  The original path kept going through the moors, but there was an official alternate, called the Bowes Variant.  And so we left the moors and went back into farmland.   We got lost a couple of times, as the path was none too clear.  Several times, we stopped and gazed off into the distance, looking for the Pennine signposts. Fortunately, we were heading back into civilization, and so we couldn't get too far off track.
The Pennine walker is fearless!
Although the rain would continue all the way to Bowes, we were again walking beside (and over) a lovely stream, Sleightholme Beck, and the pleasant sound of running water made us forget the rain.
But the mud was hard.  Sinking to my shins with each step was getting old. Worse - it was messing with my new found stride!  It's hard to roll through a step when you have to pull on your knee to get your foot out of the mud.  We finally emerged onto pavement near Lady Myres Farm, but it was all too short.  We decided, for the second time in as many days, to bail on the Pennine Way and walk on the road.

The road into Bowes was more of a quaint country lane.  With picturesque barns and cute post office boxes/drops, we decided that our deviation from the Way was an even better decision than we had originally thought.

All too soon we reached Bowes.  There were a couple of men working on the roof of a building we passed.  They yelled something at us. I'm sure it wasn't a wolf whistle. Who would wolf whistle two people bundled like Michelin Men?  I think maybe it was something about how cold it was.  The northern accents were hard to understand.  I rarely struggle with any London accents anymore.  I lived in London for four plus years, and I spent at least half of 2012 there as well. But my ear was unaccustomed to the northern UK accents.  We just kind of mumbled something, nodded, raised our hands, and hoped they wouldn't climb down from the roof and come after us!!!

Our destination for the night was a pub called The Ancient Unicorn.  What a great name!!!! I love creative pub names - The Slug and Lettuce, The Duck on the Pond, The Olde Cheshire Cheese, Oddfellows Arms (my old local), The Rat and Parrot.  Imagine a unicorn... now make it ancient.  In my mind it has a beard down to its knees.

The landlady (Joanne) had left us a note on the door telling us where our room was and inviting us to join her for dinner and drinks later.  So nice!

We cleaned up, hung everything out to dry and played a little Scrabble while we waited for the pub to open for dinner.  A plaque near the entryway informed us that Bowes was 128 miles from Edale - the halfway point!

I was humbled, I was amazed, I was overwhelmed.  I walked 128 miles.  Or close to it. Let's say 123 miles to account for my bus day through Keighley from Haworth.  I thought back to the start of our journey. I thought of all the hardships I'd experienced.  I thought of the fun.  I thought of the liberation I felt. How could I give all this up?

Going back to work seemed like the worst possible thing I could do. However, I'm not independently wealthy, and so work is a necessity.  My hope was(is) that I could hold on to the feelings, the exhilaration, the joy.  We'll see how that goes!