|The Pennine Way|
Byrness Village, Redesdale, surrounded by Kielder Forest
Some people finish the Pennine Way in one long day of 27 miles (43 kilometres) from Byrness to Kirk Yetholm. I was not up to such a strenuous day so I split the walk in two by dropping down to Uswayford (pronounced Oozyford) Farm. The other options are to camp somewhere near The Cheviot (which Ian and Marilyn did) or drop a long way off-route to prearranged transport.
|Byrness||YH||00870 241 2314|
|The Byrness||Pub||01830 520231|
I left the B&B with Ian and Marilyn and we walked down the road to where the Pennine Way took a direct route climbing up a steep 150m ascent through the forest to the top of Byrness Hill. The track is mostly grass (and mud) with a small craggy scramble on a rock edge to get to the top. From here there is a good view back down into the dale - a good excuse for a rest. We had the better excuse of stopping to put on some wind-proof clothing to protect us from a rather cruel and cold breeze. The good view is testified to by the remains here of a stone fire lookout tower (just the lower courses) and the concrete base of a hexagonal hut. The northern aspect presents a less cultivated face with a wide ridge open to anything the weather chooses to throw at it.
From Byrness Hill we followed the path along a ridge to Houx Hill and then along a fence to Ravens Knowe. Between the last two heights (I think), there is a long boardwalk saving the fragile moors from walker's boots. There is an easy drop along the side of Ogre Hill to the headwaters of the Coquet river (just a trickle where the Pennine Way crosses). We climbed up from the river a bit to a corner on the fence line. Then we turned right to descend back towards the river down to a wicket gate through a fence and into Chew Green.
Chew Green is the site of not only a medieval village (Kemylpethe) but also of a series of Roman marching camps (constructed by the legions as overnight stops) and a small fort. What you see nowadays is just the low earthworks of the Roman remains. It is here that the Pennine Way joins the Dere Street - a Roman road that linked York with the Caledonian wilderness. The military is still active around here - to the east is an army exercise area (now using 'dry' ammo but still be careful of anything you see in the grass). Funnily enough there is little sign of Kemylpethe village which was located on the rise a bit to the east. If you need to head back to Redesdale in an emergency then a private MOD road heads south along the line of the ancient Gamel's Path (and is out of bounds if red flags are flying). Another rough road heads east over the moors towards the Coquetdale Road which is the closest vehicle access to the Pennine Way that you will see in the next 2 days.
We strolled slowly around the bottom of Chew Green and uphill to the five-bar gate where Dere Street wanders into Scotland, passing close to the earthworks of a Roman signal station. Dere Street continues to skirt Gaisty Law and then Woden Law on its way to the headwaters of Kale Water. Woden Law illustrates one of the military tactics of the Romans - in AD 80-1 Agricola's army created a defended network of roads which allowed them to push north without having to fight every tribal stronghold. The ruins of an impressive Iron Age fort crown Woden Law and Dere Street allowed the Romans to take their time in reducing it. There are still marks of siege equipment on the grassy slopes around the fort. We stayed in England and went in an arc around to Rennie's Burn, This path stays well above the former Pennine Way route which may explain why I did not find it as boggy as I expected. However the ground at Rennie Burn is very spongy. A short stint uphill and around a bit of a corner and we arrived at the wooden shelter at Yearning Saddle. This is about the size of a railway wagon with creosoted roof and walls and provided a welcome break from the wind (despite the fresh coat of creosote that was being applied as we had an early lunch).
Yearning Saddle is named after Yearning Law, the hill to the south east. 'Law' means a not very big hill (as does 'Knowe', e.g. in Ravens Knowe) while 'Yearning' may be from the Anglo-Saxon word 'earne' which in general meant 'soaring' and especially applied to the white-tailed eagle. You may notice several other bird-based placenames on the maps: Gowkhope ('gowk' is cuckoo so Gowkhope is 'cuckoo stream'), Cushat Law ('cushat' is woodpigeon), Cocklaw ('cock' is woodcock) and Corbies Crag ('corbie' is carrion crow).
After our rest, we proceeded on over Lamb Hill (a good place to look back over the ground we had travelled), Beefstand Hill, Mozie Law (slightly wet underfoot with heather and peat bogs) and then Plea Knowe where the ancient drove road of The Street climbs up a ridge from Coquetdale. The National Trail Guide book has a good circular route using The Street and the Pennine Way. This is also a good escape route if needed to the shepherd cottages at Trow and Rowhope or the minor road along Coquetdale.
The Pennine Way avoids Foul Step and then crosses into Scotland for the first time as it climbs fairly steeply up Windy Gyle and to the large and untidy cairn at the summit. This is Russell's Cairn dating from the Bronze Age but named to commemorate Lord Francis Russell (warden of one of the three Border Marches or zones) who was killed here during a wardens meeting in 1585. The cairn provides a little shelter from the wind and an atmospheric, lonely place to have a break. There is a good view onwards along the ridge the Pennine Way takes up to The Cheviot. Windy Gyle is about halfway between Byrness and Kirk Yetholm. Apparently in clear weather you can just see the bumps of Cross Fell, Great Dun Fell and Knock Fell to the south through binoculars, with Knock Fell being about 53 miles away
With Scotland still under our feet we pressed on along the fence to meet the old drovers road of Clennell Street and passed back to England over a ladder-stile. Here our paths split - I dropped down to Uswayford while they pressed on to camp near Hen Hole under the slopes of The Cheviot. The forest to the left hides Davidson's Burn where the infamous 18th century Highlander outlaw Black Rory had an illicit still. The 2 kilometre walk down to the farm was very easy - as it usually is walking down hill. The farm itself is very isolated - they have to travel 20 miles to the nearest village for supplies. The farmer and his wife provide good basic accommodation and an evening meal. Coupled with great company - a trio of other walkers (a Frenchman doing the Pennine Way and a couple crossing the North of England) and of course the farmer and his wife - the evening passed comfortably.