Walking to Scotland 1965
4: Northumberland, Hadrian’s Wall and on to Penrith.
The Story So Far…. Crowded Easter hostels, but the lovely Yorkshire Dales, a dog in Grisdale that lost a paw to a weasel, a nasty military surprise near Kirby Stephen, and a sickly combination of Blue Band luxury margarine and Scottish Co-op Apple Jelly….
To Come Co.Durham and Northumberland: Dirt Pot and Acomb youth hostels and abandoned railway lines. Teesdale, Weardale, Hexham, and Bellingham. Brewing up in a GPO cable repair and location van, and a horny dog. And lots of rain, and more rain. But the sun shines along Hadrian’s Wall, and Mac the legendary warden at Once Brewed youth hostel…”Get up, you lazy bugger”.
April 25, Sunday. Brough, 10.30 am.
The hottest morning for a long time, equal to that morning in Ffestiniog when I was amongst the old slate quarries. Brough is busy with tourist cars and plenty of heavy transport, surprised being a Sunday – the heavy traffic, I mean. Tried to get an Observor but newsagent’s closed. If my calculations are correct another 15 – 16 miles to go.
Later on B6276 road to Middleton in Teesdale, sitting opposite a mile post. Middleton 10, Brough 4. Very quiet here, few cars pass. Left Brough walking with a young geologist for ½ a mile until he trotted off across the hills with his hammer and haversack. Just eaten 5 sandwiches – 4 tongue paste and one strawberry jam.
Milepost. Brough 8, Middleton 6. Near Scarhead Path. Five more sandwiches and a cig. Moor hills and onto a dodgy footpath. Goes through bog until I reach a stream. Footpath marked on map – red dots – new marking on this 1964 OS map but no footpath is visible from where I’m sitting. If I can find the footpath Langdon Beck is only 6 miles over the ridge.
Hogworm Hill, overlooking Teesdale. No idea of time, watch playing up. The path was non existent to the stream but a bridge of 3 logs indicated the path theoretically crossed at that point. Still no sign of a path, so followed the stream up until I saw a wide strip of green going through the brown gorse. Guessed it was the path and it was and so up to here, Hogworm Hill. Easy ascent, and now to descend.
Langdon Beck YH, around 9.30 pm. Is a mod hostel – brand new one built of local stone, conventional style but mod inside, and to my great surprise there’s only 3 others here – 3 youngish blokes playing cards. I had a great hot shower, followed by Vesta Beef Stroganoff which was OK but like their Spaghetti Bolognese not enough of the noodles and too much sauce, but a tasty meal, followed by a tin of creamed sago pudding and 5 cups of tea. Writing this in the common room with mod local stone fireplace and partial wood panelling walls and good selection of magazines and books – even an American ‘Stag’ magazine between Life and the Sunday Times Colour Magazine. (Stag in the 1960s was a fiction based American magazine, most stories involving men in war situations, or in the rugged outback.)
So from Hogworm Hill follow the path which follows Blea Beck (not shown on OS map), and then it disintegrates and heavy knee deep heather slopes, so just wade through it with difficulty down to the River Tees where it curls around a knoll where there’s a quarry. It’s a dark grey/blue rock, vertical strata, like columns. The knoll is rocky and covered with dark green thorn bushes that looks like somewhere in the Holy Land – or how you’d imagine it would look.
The valley leading up to the youth hostel is broad and green and unfenced and like nothing I’ve seen before. The River Tees is wide and shallow here, running over white boulders. And the farms and barns are white, dead white – never seen anything like it. Completely uncultivated, just green and these white buildings on a gentle slope.
All day as I was walking to here I’ve been hearing this low pitched humming/tweeting sound, and it’s swallows up in the sky who fly along and then swoop down, and then swoop up again. Dirt Pot tomorrow.
April 26, Monday. Dirt Pot YH. Evening.
Just me here tonight, and it’s O.K. Place to myself. Hostel is a former chapel.
But the day, what a day – woke up and there’s a steady heavy drizzle coming down. Eat my breakfast and hang around until 10. (YHA England & Wales regulations were that hostels were closed between 10 and 5, although at the discretion of the warden, depending on location, hostellers could stay in the hostel during the day if the weather was particularly bad. The discretion was rarely exercised.) So, wearing shorts, cape, and sou wester I go out into the drizzle. The drizzle is far heavier than light rain. Hill drizzle. Very soon the rain is running off my cape, down the back of my leg, absorbing into my wool socks and eventually running into my boots. Take the hill road to St.John’s Chapel.
Squelching along the road I come across a Durham County Council hut – no door, and enter. Must be a road workers hut, in the middle of nowhere. Dilapidated, but it’s dry and wooden plank across two piles of bricks. Sit on it and drag on a cig and eat 4 meat paste sandwiches – the last of the meat paste, thank God.
Outside it’s clearing – mutilated blue sky with hurrying clouds. Off again, reach the ridge and descend into St.John’s Chapel, past disused amateur looking stone quarries. St.John’s Chapel is a village with a road going through it. Continue down to the disused small jerry looking railway station and it starts to throw it down as I cross the river using the stepping stones. Climb up near Carr Brow Moor. Farm hand with boy talks to me.
Still raining as I ascend and then over the ridge, and another ridge to ascend – White Edge and now I can see the road going into to Allenheads. Descend to it – old cottages and the remains of a small coal mine – big wheels, abandoned trucks, small slag heaps. As I walk the road the sky clears – blue sky but a black curtain coming in and then a crack of thunder and the next thing there’s a great hail storm, big white pebbles bouncing off my cape. And I pass some workers also with capes on, trying to pull a machine over the moorland. Two trucks parked – some lime company from Penrith, and a Land Rover. Wonder what they’re doing.
The road starts descending and crossed the boundary into Northumberland, and descent into Allenheads. Looks Bavarian. Pretty. Forest of dark green firs closely planted.
Allenheads – go in the P.O. to find out the time. No one there, but clock on the wall – 5.30. Walk to Dirt Pot and the hostel.
Hostel is former chapel. Try door, locked, go to warden’s house, knock, no reply but smoke coming from the chimney. Getting cold and hungry. Ask a bloke who’s feeding his pigeons in the opposite cottage the time, and as I do another bloke walks along – ‘No one in? Should be.” We trot to the warden’s house, go round the back. He is in – he’s sawing logs in a hut. His wife comes with me and opens the hostel and lights a welcome fire. Head in head scarf. Place to myself and cook Spaghetti Milanese – tasted better, but filling, followed by bread and marmalade and tea and a cig and drying clothes in front of the fire, and looked at about the only book in the place, left by a previous hosteller, I think. ‘Britain and the Beast’ by Peter (M.R.) Howard and throw it away in disgust after a few pages. (From the book’s blurb “The author calls for a revolution for the best of Britain – an uprising of all those who believe in the ways of moral straightness and patriotism. Howard attacks ‘the campaign to call queers normal and normals queer, churchmen who question accepted morality, philosophers who point man back to the beast, men of Right and Left who fight class war.” Peter Howard was leader of the Moral Re-Armamement movement from 1961 until his death in 1965.)
I’ll go into Hexham tomorrow to get OS 77, which I need for the next stage of my walk
April 27, Tuesday. Hexham, around 1 p.m.
Sitting on a bench in a shelter in a park in Hexham.
Woke up to yet another foul morning, and woke up late. Must have been around 8. Wasn’t going to wash as no hot water but then thought – ‘Where’s your guts or self-discipline man’. So stripped off and washed using the sink. Hear someone come in downstairs, move around, and then go out. Put my sweater back on, strip the bed, fold the blankets, roll up my sheet sleeping bag, pack it and descend down the stairs. Must have been where the organ was, up where I was sleeping. Have breakfast, take my clothes, socks from in front of the stove – where I imagine where the altar was. Warden comes back. Yes, there’s a bus at 9.45. Gives me my card. (Hostellers had a membership card which was stamped by the warden after a hostel stay. Hostels often had their own picturesque stamp, giving a flavour of a local feature or of the hostel.)
Stand by the bus stop, outside the Co-op, the only shop in Dirt Pot and Allenheads. Warden and her husband run the Co-op too. A United bus turns up and 2/5 (12p) for a ticket to Hexham. Fills up quite a bit as it drives along, stopping at road ends, or where there are a few cottages. Mostly old men with hats or caps and women with hats. Driving through moderate countryside, nothing too exciting, except at Allendale Town there was snow lying on the ground. Surprised me, this is the end of April, and snow.
Hexham – a difficult town to describe in some ways – not industrial, residential, Northumberland country town, expensive men’s clothing shops, a market, stalls.
It’s raining. Buy some food, not very sensible, not very economical. Must get down to working out some dishes. Buy the OS map and a 1/-‘s (5p) worth of chips in Fish Bar only it’s a mean 1/-‘s worth. Eat them out of the rain standing underneath an arch. Other people standing there taking shelter. Rain goes off a bit, leave the arch and directed to “the best book shop in Hexham” as the woman directing me to it described it. Bought Waterhouse’s “There is a Happy Land”.
I didn’t go much on the ‘best bookshop’ bit – their stock of Penguins was virtually nil. “There is a Happy Land” will pass away this damp overcast afternoon in Hexham. Going to Acomb YH tonight, two miles away.
Writing this sitting in the park shelter. “Sheila Barron loves David Scarff” scrawled on the brick wall of the shelter and in front of me a green grass slope which a gang of black blazered young school boys came down minutes ago – shouting, screaming, laughing, fighting, and there’s the sound of a pneumatic drill coming from somewhere.
Acomb YH. 7.15 pm. Crossed the River Tyne to get here – broad river in wide flat valley and then bridle path to Acomb, pleasant out of the way village.
To my surprise the YH is packed out menwise – an all male school party from Stoke. OK hostel. But I’m going to have to stay two nights at Bellingham because one of their teachers told me they were booked in for two night at Once Brewed and that it was full.
April 28, Bellingham YH. 3.30 – 4pm?
Woke up in the dormitory at Acomb to another terrible morning – pissing down like the clappers, and wishing I had a Black’s Nylon Anorak and a pair of those Karrimor waterproof dubarries that fit from your knee down to your boots. Then I would be 100% water tight, but probably will have to wait until I get to Glasgow before I can buy them. Reluctantly I left the hostel in the pissing rain with one of those polythene bags cut in two and put over my socks, which proved later to be useless. The Stoke mob in the school journey party putting on their boots as I left.
With my cape on I set off, teeth gritted. (The cape was an ex WD cape. In 1965 there was still a large amount of left over army and occasional navy surplus clothing and equipment from the Second World War. Much was sold in army surplus shops, but also through the post from suppliers advertising in Exchange and Mart. Some of it was very good, such as submariners pullovers, and other items, such as the army cape were not so good. The army cape had a sort of rubberised proofing, that after 20 years from its manufacture was no proof at all in continual rain.)
Followed a country road to Crag House, looked behind me and the school mob were also trudging behind, wearing capes, making for Once Brewed YH. From Crag House I tried to follow the Roman road, now a track but a farmer had a gate with high barbed wire going across it so had to go on B road. Trudging along in the pissing rain – it’s a straight Roman road for a bit. The rain just won’t let up when a G.P.O 25 cwt Commer pulls up and they tell me to get in. I wasn’t even hitching. They’re going to Bellingham – great. Tell me it’s strictly against the rules to give a lift in a government vehicle. Driver and mate, jacket and trousers, G.P.O cable repair and location blokes.
In Bellingham at 12 0′ clock. They say “Have some tea” and the driver’s mate gets out with the kettle and goes off to find some water. It’s a great van – same cwt but more modern than Tony’s. ( Le Patron met Tony when he was spud picking in the Vale of York in the autumn of 1963. Tony lived in an ex- Post Office parcels van.) In the back there’s two benches, lights in the ceiling, a gas ring and Calor gas. Driver’s mate returns with a full kettle and as it’s boiling up on the ring the driver says he’s niggled by people thinking the N.E. is nothing but coal mines and slag heaps. Driver’s mate says there’s the finest beaches in England along the Northumberland coast – spends his holidays there – sand dunes and fishing villages. Sounded attractive.
Give me a tea and they eat their lunch. I eat my bread (loaf given to me by the school mob) with Bournville chocolate. We talk and at 1.10 pm I leave, thanking them, and they are off to work. Think: great blokes and find a cafe because I need a slash. Nice homely place. Couple of farm hands eating a tempting looking meal of mince, carrots, peas, mashed potatoes, but at 3/6 (17.5p) give it a miss. I have a mug of hot tea for 4d – at least it is dry and warm in here. Eke out the time. Drink the tea, smoke a cig. Leave and cash £10 in the P.O. There’s a Co-op and buy a load of food and to my pleasant surprise they’ve got dry spaghetti, so buy Tomato Sauce Mix and some cheese.
Still got time to kill so start off for the railway station. It’s unused and the track’s ripped up.
Walk along the track bed to Redesmouth, then follow unclassified road back into Bellingham.
Made my way to the youth hostel. Timber building, looks like a scout type hut. (It was more likely an ex-Forestry Commission hut. The massive Keilder Forest and Wark Forest is to the west and north of Bellingham. It is the largest man made coniferous forest in England, and the Forestry Commission still has work related buildings in the Bellingham area.)
Warden doesn’t live on premises. Everything locked up. Looks nice and cosy and clean inside when I looked through the window in the door.. Must admit I expected the Northumberland hostels to be in wild remote places and the countryside rugged. It isn’t and they aren’t. Didn’t have to wait long when the husband of the warden turned up, let me in, got a fire going and left me to it. Quite a chatty bloke. Cooked the spaghetti, had it with the tomato sauce mix and grated cheese. Followed by a Lyons apricot sponge pudding I’d bought in the Co-op which for 1/8 (8p) considering what it turned out to be – more sponge than apricot jam – was daylight robbery.
April 29, Thursday. Around 3 pm. Near Lanehead station.
Making the best of having to wait a day before I can move on to Once Brewed. Lanehead station, but for a long time disused. (The station was, in fact, called Tarset station, after a local castle. The station was closed in 1958, just seven years before, not such a long time.)
Writing this leaning against an old buffer – a mound of earth boxed in by wood, the station about 50 yards down the green grassy track bed – track lifted.
After breakfast this morning I left in the drizzling rain, heading north, first to Blakelaw, a farm, by the Pennine Way and continued over low moorland hills. Misty.
Arrive at B6320, quiet road and stop by a gate and the wooden Pennine Way sign and eat a date bar. Head across the moor making for the ridge (the footpath I’m on has petered out). Get to it and descend through the heathery moor to the unclassified road. Eat slices of bread and some chocolate. There’s a Victorian monstrosity called Highgreen Manor set in woodland with cut spacious lawns – in the middle of nowhere. Looks like the first cut of the year. I wonder who lives there. As I walk along the road making for Greenhaugh I’m thinking what I’m going to do in September. Ah, so many possibilities and spent some time sitting on a stone wall, the drizzle stopped, the mist lifted thinking about them. Cycling to Israel, or learning to drive and get a Commer 25cwt van, labouring, or working on the buses?
As I walk in to Greenhaugh – small village – I pass a 20 year old looking girl walking the other way. Not bad. Asked her the time. Around 2, and I think, is that all?
Greenhaugh. Into the village store. No one there. Spend ½ a minute looking at all the things I could knock off if I felt that way inclined. Then called out “Anyone in?” and a 30- ish piece comes out and I can’t take my eyes of her big tits. Potatoes? No – ah well.
Walk to Lanehead, go to the village shop but it is closed. Big yellow labrador sitting on the step – grabs hold of my leg and tries pathetically to screw me. I shake it off. It looks fed up.
Make my way down to Lanehead, and here, by the old station. Broad flat valley in front of me and the River North Tyne.
Bellingham, sitting outside the YH 20 t0 5 pm. Followed the river back to Bellingham – swollen, rust reddish, and floating debris: logs, bits of branches, and barbed wire fences with dry grass trailing from them from earlier floods. When I get to the village to my surprise the shops are open – the YH handbook said Thursday was half closing. I buy a 1lb (500g) of spuds, chips for tonight when I get hungry after my meal. Miserable woman in the greengrocers, miserable face, miserable service.
Bellingham YH 9.20 pm. Yes, watch has mysteriously started working again. Earlier, a meal of spaghetti, Knorr Tom sauce mix and grated cheese, followed by an apple tart which cost 2/3 (11p) – madly extravagant, but worth it. A good meal. Just had a saucer of chips and a cup of cocoa – cocoa left over by hosteller. Yea. Followed by sigh. Yea. What does it all mean? – the old question. Do I know the answer? No. Does anyone? No. So. I don’t get the feeling I’m moving in different parts of the country, there’s no sudden change of scenery, particularly around here. It’s not like being abroad, moving fast and into different looking country. A feeling of timelessness. Yes, a great deal of that. In this part of Northumberland the accent sounds Scottish – plenty of “Uh-huh, uh-huh”. And before I forget – remember central Wales? The “Yes indeed” and “No indeed.”
Spring’s a long time coming up here, but I don’t feel as if I’m “up here” – just somewhere. In Snowdonia the trees were nearly green, and that was three to four weeks ago. Only a few are out here, the rest are still bare, just buds and it’s May 1st on Saturday.
The warden’s hubbie came up after I had my meal. Peculiar, he kept reminding me of that warden in Newton. This one just likes a chat, rather than trying to chat me up. 43 years on the railway, he told me, ticket collector at Hexham, daughter living in London. Wearing scruffy worn suit, pullover, collar and tie, short, greasy cap, glasses, smokes Woodbines.
April 30, Friday. Shielafield, 25 past 10 a.m.
At last – wake up and blue sky and now glorious warm weather. If I can get in at the Lakes hostels I hope it lasts all next week. So, over the fells, as a farm bloke I talked to earlier calls them. Low wooded hills, a warm, pleasant breeze.
11.25 am. There is something distinctive about the fells, green wooded rolling hills, pleasant as I walk along the side of a country lane. From Shielafield down to Shitlington Hall. A farm, no walls or hedges, the road going through open country, nice.. Cross the beck by a wooden white painted footbridge onto to Wark Common and unclassified road with a line of oak trees on each side. Lush green grazing fields to Langstrother, a farm.
On to Dean Burn. Sky larks singing, sheep baa-ing, the breeze in the trees. Writing this sitting on a milk churn collection wooden platform.
Dinner 1.25 pm. Down to the burn, in a little gorge, a farm, one its walls right on the bank. Rushing water quite deep. On to Moralee, another farm and another little burn in one of these peculiar miniature gorges. Green grass and the shade of trees. Pretty. Down and up and along a road with a bit of Forestry Commission woods on my left, and then keep straight on, mixture of footpath and track for Hadrian’s Wall and the B road. Crossing Crook Burn, looks OK on the map, but a very dodgy crossing. It’s a ford, alright if you’re on a tractor, but having to balance on very slippery rocks to cross it. Now sitting near the B road. Quite a bit of traffic and V bombers roaring overhead in a blue sky.
2.40 p.m. Near Sewing Shields on Hadrian’s Wall. This is really something. Turret, site of, Mile Castle, remains of, behind Roman Road. Sitting on a crag – Sewing Shields Crags – a beautiful example of a scarp slope. 50′ below me are green unfenced fields and some woodland, and the land into Scotland stretching out in front of me. Some sheep and cows down there. A commanding position indeed.
Once Brewed YH 9.15 pm. From Sewing Shields continue along Hadrian’s Wall, with its view over the land towards Scotland, and come to Crag Lough, which looked marvellous. A small lake with a crag, like a cliff, dropping into it.
Walk down the slope to the lane that leads to the B road, and so the hostel. Not sure of the time as watch playing up again. Sit outside in the sun having a cig, and a bloke passes me on his bicycle – “It’s five past five, he should be in”. Nip out cigarette and enter. And just a bloke called Mac there – Mac the warden, who uses a crutch, one leg shorter than the other – a character – swears, a well built bloke.
Later, just before bed. So Mac, the limping, swearing makes you laugh warden. Thought I was going to be the only one in tonight but around about 8 a climber comes in – knows Mac well. The three of us sit in front of the cosy fire passing the time away and around 10.30 a pot of tea is made and bread and jam is eaten, bread and marge left over from the Stoke mob who had been at Bellingham a couple of nights ago. Mac says they left 5 loaves.
May 1, Saturday. Penrith. About 4.45 pm.
This morning at Once Brewed I was up before the climber. He’s a youngish bloke, works for a timber merchant, going to spend 3 months climbing with a group in Europe this summer. Made myself porridge for breakfast plus toast with dripping. (Beef dripping.) Finish packing my rucksack in the dormitory, climber still sleeping when Mac comes in – “Come on you lazy bugger, it’s half past nine”. He stirs and smiles.
I’m off about 10 am. Cross the fields using a footpath and over the ridge onto the A69 (T) Newcastle to Carlisle Road at Melkridge. Big modern road but sod all traffic on it, probably because it’s Saturday and early morning.
A Mini stops – bloke going to Haltwhistle to do the Saturday shopping.
Drops me off in the high street. The main A road bypasses the centre, so walk along until I get back onto it. Very little traffic and even fewer single drivers, and virtually no lorries, but resolutely continue hitching what ever is approaching. Green fields, pleasant enough views. Walk on and come to a United bus stop. Hitch two cars but nowt doing, and then bus comes along. 2/8 (13p) single to Carlisle.
In Carlisle 2.15 pm. Not a very big or distinctive place as cities go – all the usual big stores and get a Lake District Tourist Map in Smiths and ½ dozen large eggs.
Walk out on southbound Penrith road. Sit on a bench underneath a big “Harp Lager Sir?” billboard, traffic going past and have a look at the Lakes map. It looks wild and impressive. After the disappointment of the Peaks, I’d wondered if the Lakes was going to be a let down, but doesn’t look like it.
Penrith YH. Around 8.30 pm. To pick up from Carlisle – move a bit down the road and hitch and almost immediately an old black pre-war or just post-war Jaguar stops. American couple in their 50’s. Elegantly dressed. I had to get in on the road side, baggage on the near side.
I get in, waiting for some traffic to pass before it was safe, and off we go. Wife’s driving. Slim and casually dressed. They’re driving around Britain and Ireland. They drop me off in Penrith and continue south. Really nice couple.
Penrith – old narrow streets, swarming with coach day trippers, coaches parked in the square, with “Excursion” or “Lakes” on their front. And amongst the day trippers, tens of tarts displaying themselves all over the place, giggling, pointing, laughing, and groups of blokes similar age looking them up and down. (The Beatles were to release their single Day Tripper in December 1965: “She was a Day Tripper, One Way Ticket, yeah….”)
I’m sitting on a bench in the square and before I know it I hear a church bell strike 5, so I start off up the road, stopping to buy some lard in a Mace store, which also sold sanitary towels. (Commenting on the sanitary towels was because in 1965 it was very unusual to see them sold in anything but a chemist’s shop.)
Find the YH. A Victorian monstrosity up a gravel drive, in woods on a hill slope. Built 1885.
Enter. It’s not too bad on the inside. And contrary to what the handbook says (“Small store”) it has a big, intelligent store: intelligent stock of food, maps, soap, etc. Not that I bought anything.
Made myself a very satisfying meal of omelette and chips – the omelette, 6 large eggs, beautifully done, and the chips golden and dry. Biscuits and tea. Yes very satisfying. Two well dressed males, 18 years old they told me, taking their A levels this summer, arrived later in the evening. So the three of us in this Common Room on Saturday, May 1st, 1965. The Common Room, despite a very pleasant ceiling painted a rich plum red and white walls, is a monstrosity. There’s a massive wooden fireplace – ridiculously elaborate ugly carvings and a big mirror above that you’d need to be 6’6″ to see yourself in. The windows are stained glass with most peculiar looking women in flowing white robes – one for music, one for horticulture, one for art, and so on, each one doing their corny, deathless bit in the window. Quite thoroughly atrocious. Plus there’s an unidentifiable pervading smell in the place.
Coming next in early June, 2017
Walking to Scotland
Part 5: The Lake District.