We approached this holiday with some trepidation as well as enthusiasm, as we had got very out of walking practice and were anticipating we might have to resort to taxis for part of it! However, no such worries as all the distances were between 5-8 miles per day, no steep gradients or big peaks to climb so fully achievable for two oldies like us.
Jon met us at our excellent accommodation on the first evening to go through the route and after being wakened by battering rain on our first night in Kirk Yetholm, we prepared to don the waterproofs, but apart from a few squally showers on day 1 Kirk Yetholm to Hethpool, and strong winds on day 2 Hethpool to Wooler (the remains of Hurricane Gert), we had fine, dry and not too hot days perfect for walking and the jackets remained firmly at the bottom of the rucksacks! Kirk Yetholm to Hethpool saw us climbing up out of the village to the Scottish-English border, then past Coldsmouth Hill and great Hetha to Hethpool in the College Valley. Arriving 90 minutes before our taxi was due to pick up, we strolled up the unspoilt and very beautiful College Valley, home to populations of deer and red squirrels.
Having stayed overnight in Wooler the next day the taxi returned us to Hethpool to continue the route over the north Cheviots, an 8 mile walk past the Newton Tors, Yeavering Bell and Humbleton Hill, through swathes of beautiful heather in full flower on Gains Law, dropping down into Wooler in time for a welcome cup of tea and scones.
The following day was a Sunday, and a short walking day (4 miles), so we spent the morning in Wooler, going to a service in St. Mary’s Church and then more coffee and purchasing sandwiches for lunch before heading out to East Horton over Weetwood Moor, and more rafts of purple heather. Our guidebook mentioned there were prehistoric cup and ring marks on rocks on the moor, so we had a bit of a diversion to go and look for them, but without success (surely the bracken was hiding them, not down to our navigational skills?). Getting back on track, we dropped down from the hills and over the ancient Weetwood Bridge over the River Till to arrive somewhat hot and tired at our next B & B to be greeted with an afternoon tea tray from our hostess, that just hit the spot.
Horton to Fenwick (7 miles) – following an excellent breakfast a gentle climb out of Horton took us past the hamlet of Old Hazelrigg with its carved statue of St. Cuthbert, and onwards and gently upwards to St. Cuthbert’s Cave, where it is reputed the Holy Island monks rested with St. Cuthbert’s body on their flight from Viking raids to Durham Cathedral in 875AD. A lovely post-lunch stroll through fields and woodland brought us to Fenwick about 2.30pm. Here we had a decision to make as the Holy Island Causeway was open 7.45am to 1.35pm the following morning, would we get up in time to get back to Fenwick and to the causeway and across the Pilgrim Path before becoming a casualty of the tide and sitting it out in the refuge points for 6-8 hours?!
So we decided to carry on walking the Way from Fenwick, diverting past the East Coast Main Rail Line via Fenham to the beginning of the causeway and then up the lane past Beal to the overnight accommodation at the Lindisfarne Inn on the A1. It turned out to be the right decision for us even though it added another 3-plus miles to the day with the bonus we got to see lots of wading birds including curlews, oystercatchers and 3 Little Egrets on the coastline marsh flats, part of the Lindisfarne National Nature Reserve. The following morning we arrived at the causeway by 9.30am, in good time to cross in the middle of the safe period, and taking our boots and socks off, proceeded to follow the line of poles across the sands on the Pilgrim’s Path. This was the highlight of the trip for us. Walking at a brisk pace initially (visions of those warning posters!) we soon realised we’d get across in plenty of time and slowed down to enjoy the misty morning views across to Lindisfarne Castle, Bamburgh Castle, the multitude of wading birds, and the haunting sound of seals hauled out on sandbanks in the distance. (Tip – walk across in bare feet and shorts or roll up trousers – there is a slippery muddy section in the middle for a short while, plus channels of water to wade through, although the majority of the path is on good firm sand. Boots or even wellingtons would have been no use to us in the mud.)
One and a half hours later following the line of poles brought us to our final destination – Holy Island. Having taken some bottles of tap water with us we rinsed off our muddy feet and ankles, put our (clean) boots back on and set off in search of coffee and lunch at Pilgrim’s Coffee House. By early afternoon the tourists had mostly departed back across the causeway, and the Island became peaceful again giving us time to explore and then check in to our B & B for the night and shower the rest of the mud off, then off to St. Mary’s Church next to the Priory for Evening Prayer.
After breakfast the taxi arrived bright and early to take us back across the causeway and on to Kirk Yetholm to collect our car! What a wonderful experience this walk was, and the length and gradients of the daily walks were just right for us. Perhaps next time we may be fit enough and brave enough to tackle the whole route from Melrose Abbey!
Thank you Jon, Jackie and the Shepherd’s Walks team.
Kath and Geoff Roberts