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reveries of an amateur long-distance hiker

Walking to Cape Wrath Day 1, May 11, 2022

May 12th, 2022

Walking to Cape Wrath day 1, May 11, 2022

In 2014 I walked the Pennine Way, finishing at Kirk Yetholm just across the Scottish border. What I remembered most about that hike was wandering the Yorkshire Dales and the crazy weather up on the ridges, but the last part was in the Cheviots, a different topography and sensibility. Obviously settled by farmers for millennia, the granite mountains are humped, rounded hills covered with close-cropped grass— the work of sheep over centuries. That world doesn’t change at the border, so today was spent climbing cheviot humps, covered with grass and sheep— it’s lambing season— and rimmed with gorse (loved by Eeyore, enjoyed at a distance by walkers, but a brutally difficult plant to manage).

Technically I started the Scottish National trail yesterday at Kirk Yetholm as I left the village to stay in Town Yetholm (1/4 mile) at a campground. I set up my new ZPacks duplex tent— my original Soloplex lasted through the Te Araroa, Nepal, the Camino, TransSwiss, Laugavegur, Tasmania, and the Benton Mackaye before finally giving up the ghost. I’m loving the replacement. The wind was brutal even though I was pitched in the lee of the shower house, but I slept like the dead, causing a late start.

That first night in Town Yetholm I stopped at The Plough—the town pub and a classic rural establishment. Late afternoon a crowd of locals had gathered, picking up on the stories they probably had been telling the day before— lots of good natured ribbing which they soon directed toward me. My ear not yet attuned to the accent, I missed half the comments, but from their demeanor, none of the insults were Ill-intended. And of course there was the obligatory large dog sleeping in front of the fire.

I was reminded how close the community is in rural pubs—composed of locals and the many walkers who fill the paths all over the country. They returned from their walks and burst through the pub door. You can see the wind still in their faces. It takes a moment for the outdoors to leave them, then they set their inside faces, warm from the day’s walk and the close air of the pub. I half listened while eating bangers and mash, soon dozing off, so rousting myself like a dog from the fire, I made my way back to the campsite huddled against a strong wind.

Before setting off in the morning, I stopped at the local post office/convenience store where I got McVitties Digestif crackers (fundamental hiking food) and some cheese and crackers. While sipping my coffee I was greeted by a stream of farmers stopping by to pick up a newspaper before returning to the fields. Even the gruffest were quick with a greeting and smile. Just before I left, the woman running the store stopped by the front door. We were looking out over the Cheviots with their gorse lit up by the morning sun. She asked where I was going, smiling approvingly when I said I was heading up to the hills. We talked the weather and she explained how much of this area have their own micro-climates—that in the winter one village will get snow and the next won’t. Then she looked up to the hills declaring it a wonderful place to live— something for her that was simple fact.

The morning’s walk was a long slow climb out of the valley, occasionally crossing the river and fields of sheep—it’s lambing season, so sometimes a wide berth was necessary. Late morning the trail worked up to the top of the ridge with the wind continuing to howl.  Most walkers on this section are doing the St Cuthbert, and they start from the west to hike to the sea. I passed many of them, all with the wind at their backs, while I plowed ahead face first. Sometime later in the morning I crossed Wideopen Hill. Measuring 1207’, it is the highest peak on the St. Cuthbert Way, which just is a reminder this is part of the Lowlands. By midday I was in Morebattle eating a big lunch, and then set off for a pretty difficult afternoon— first some nice forest walking, mostly in beech and birch woods. There are no accommodations at the standard endpoint (and unlike most distance walkers here, I’m not using a baggage and van service), so I needed to push forward, making a long day even longer, finally landing at the Lillardsedge campground around 6:30– too long for a first day trekking. Still, a nice place and I slept once again like the dead

T. Hugh Crawford