|St. Cuthbert's Way|
Tuesday, 13 September 2011
John O'Groats to Land's End: The Scottish Borders
After leaving West Linton and my fabulous CS host David I had 4 days to make it over to the Pennine Way and eventually leave Scotland for England. This short stretch shows how different hiking in the UK can be depending on whether you are on an established and waymarked trail or going cross-country.
The first day was partly cross-country again and as usual this ended up in a disaster. The cross-country section was only about 2 km but it took me 3 hours. Everything that could go wrong went wrong and I will give you a more detailed description to show what to avoid doing: First the trail was going exactly where it should go according to my sketch map AND GPS - great! But then - when the cross-country section started a nice track continued even with sign-posts saying it would go to my destination! So why go cross-country if there is a nice trail? I followed the nice sign-posted trail for about half an hour only to realise then that the direction of it was nowhere near to where it should go. And of course there was no waymarking now either. And of course I did not have a detailed map - a fact that I have come to regret hundreds of times on this trail before. So I just could turn back and get off the nice trail. When I was about 800 meters from where the cross-country section should be according to my GPS I decided to do a short-cut and just bushwhack over to it. Another huge mistake!!! I started out on what looked like a narrow trail on the edge of a plantation but it soon turned out to be a water ditch. And before I could think twice I was in the the middle of a grassy swamp between blow-down trees with wet feet. Well, I could manage another 600 meters of that, couldn't I? These 600 meters took me 45 minutes jumping from one grass island to the next one only to end up before a stream with knee deep bog around it. After wading through that bog I spent the next 45 minutes climbing up a steep hill through waist-high ferns scaring away the sheep who were wondering about this crazy hiker screaming German curses at herself. When I finally thought I would be where I was supposed to be it turned out that I was supposed to be 100 meters higher - so much for me being capable of reading a map. A last scramble through sheep shit and bog brought me eventually to a forest road - after 3 hours. So much for going cross-country in the UK.
But things did improve the next days as I was on established trails again. First on the Southern Upland Trail that was so nice that I am actually considering to hike it one day. There even was a purpose-built bothy on the trail! Next day was on St. Cuthbert's Way visiting the three Scottish Border Abbeys Melrose, Dryburgh and Jedburgh. The abbeys are all ruins so I did not bother paying 5,50 £ to visit them. The most remarkable incident for me was seeing a three-legged dog on that trail. As its owner assured me it is getting along very well on its three legs and gets spoilt by all the tourists and hikers who take a pity on it - it had lost its leg in a car accident 8 years ago. Now it has become a local celebrity with hikers on the St. Cuthbert's Trail as it is walked there every day and darts over to any hiker around to beg for treats. Finally a last day on Dere Street brought me to the Pennine Way. Dere Street is actually an old Roman road, although nowadays you cannot see much of it, but like all things Roman it is a big issue in the UK and has even been waymarked - with a Roman military helmet! And were Dere Street meets the Pennine Way there is a long fence - the border fence between Scotland and England.