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!