Day 14 (Sunday 26th September 2021) - The plan had been to do this stretch in August, when the heather was in full flower, but August came and went in seemingly the blink of an eye. September was flying by equally quickly, so, with good weather forecast for Sunday 26th September, I headed back over to pick up where I'd left off before I missed another month. This was a bit of a last minute decision so I hadn't made any particular plan as to how far I'd go other than thinking it'd be nice to get up onto the hills again, nor had I made a packed lunch, so it was a relatively short day out on the trail. I've also taken up running and my legs were inclined to having a stroll rather than a big hike so this was a very leisurely day - it was lovely to just go out and slowly drift along the Pennine Way for a bit.
I parked up where I'd got up to on my last visit, beside the Kielder Forest Drive, where there's a loo and small amount of parking (the facilities close over winter, from 30th September). From there it was straight onto the Pennine Way trail into the woods, past predominantly conifer trees. The path emerges from the woods to a riverside walk along the banks of the pretty River Rede. It's a shallow gravel-bottomed river, stained the colour of a good hearty ale from the peat the water runs through to get here. The banks of the river are thick with wild flowers, reeds, shrubs and overhanging willow trees. I was chatting to some dog walkers last time I was here and they advised that salmon will be heading up river here around October time. This place is lush with growth and feels full of life, I saw toads and lots of dragonflies and I'm sure I saw the tar-like droppings, or 'spraints', of an otter - this definitely feels like otter country! I then crossed a small bridge next to a great looking camping and caravan park Border Forest Holiday Park - what a wonderfully peaceful place to camp, have noted it here so I don't forget for a future visit! The Pennine Way then goes through more forest filled with birdsong and thinly planted pine trees - it's a calm and tranquil place for a leisurely stroll, just what I was hoping for. A short walk further and you cross another bridge and ahead lies a small church.
Two women emerged from the church as I passed by the entrance, their arms filled with Chrysanthemum flowers. I love Chrysanthemums, they remind me of my Grandad, he had an allotment and used to send boxes of beautiful Chrysanthemum flowers to me when I was at University, along with some of my Nan's homemade shortbread - he sent flowers to my mum, too. Grandad and Nan didn't have much, but everything they had they shared and much of it was made or grown with love, there's no better gift. I said to one of the women how beautiful the church and her flowers were, and she invited me in to have a look, pointing out a stained glass window, and then she left me in peace while she headed out to decorate the outside of the church ready for the afternoon's service. I took some photos and read about the church and the window:
“Built in 1793 and consecrated three years later, St Francis church was at one time the smallest parish church in the diocese of Newcastle. The stained glass window, installed in the south wall in 1903 commemorates those of the community who died during the period of construction of the nearby Catcleugh Reservoir and was paid for by their fellow workers. It is reputedly the only such window to include the depiction of a narrow gauge railway.”
I'm not a religious person but I love the calm atmosphere of churches, a place for reflection and quiet contemplation whatever our beliefs.
From the church I crossed over the A68 and the Way started climbing steeply up through more forestry plantation, emerging at a forestry road and then climbing up through bracken towards the edge of a craggy escarpment dotted with large boulders, rowan and holly trees. It was a bit of a scramble up the crogs, unexpected and good fun, especially as the rocks were so dry and easy to grip. Once I'd clambered up the crags there was a short walk along a grassy path over a small rise and then I looked up and was on top of Byrness Hill, and what a view! Suddenly I was on top of the world - I'd made it to big country! The National Trail guide to the Pennine Way describes reaching this viewpoint and what I love about the Northumberland hills perfectly:
'By turning your face to the north you are suddenly at the threshold of a very different world, an open ridge often hammered by wind and rain and leading to the loneliest of hills in the least-populated place in England.'
I had been really looking forward to getting up here and to seeing expansive views and miles of rolling, windswept, grass-covered landscape. The sun was shining, the sky was a brilliant blue and filled with racing fluffy clouds, some white and some dark grey threatening rain at any moment. As the clouds raced across the sky their shadow followed over the hills and valleys below, bringing the landscape to life. There was a stiff breeze but it was warm from the late summer sunshine. It was a joy to be up there in such superb hill walking conditions! I sat by the wind shelter on top of Byrness Hill and had some lunch and just sat back and enjoyed the view - it was so good to be back on the Pennine Way again. I could clearly see the path winding along the ridge ahead, heading towards Chew Green. I decided to call it a day, that next stretch would be for next time, for a full day to give me time to have a really good explore and make the most of being back up in the hills.
I climbed back down the crags, down through the forest path, over the road, past St Francis church, over the river, through the woods (stopping to say hello to a dog walker and his gorgeous greyhound) and back to my car. That was a nice, gentle day. Very much looking forward to heading back again for the next stretch!
Here's a little video from Byrness Hill and some photos taken along the way on this day.