Thomas Ogden

Day 14 - Bellingham to Byreness

Pennine Way Day 14, via Kielder Forest.

Following the 30-odd kilometres covered the day before, this penultimate leg through the Kielder forest promised to be a lighter piece before the finale over the Cheviot hills and into Scotland on Saturday.

Happily, I was also walking to meet my mum and dad, who were driving up to meet me in the afternoon. They’d kindly offered to collect me at the end of my walk so I wouldn’t need to negotiate the buses and trains back home. Better still, dad had decided to join me for the final leg, after enjoying our walk from Crowden to Blackstone Edge two weeks before, so this would be my last day of walking solo.

Leaving Bellingham at 8 o’clock, north towards Blakelaw, I passed ruins of mine workings, and the remains of a coal railway track. Via the stiles of Hareshaw House, I met and crossed the B road to Otterburn, and slowly climbed the moorland to Deer Play (A), ‘a wide wilderness with limitless views’, and up to the summit at Whitley Pike. The next ascent, Padon Hill (B), had a tumulus built on top by the owners of Otterburn Hill in the 1920s. The growing mass of Kielder approached, and down at Brownrigg Head I reached and followed its edge for a distance, apprehensively looking under the perimeter of trees into the dark within. Cold steam rose from the canopy. The path led me in at Rookengate, at which the woods swallowed me for the day. It’s a little hard to describe the feeling of being deep in those acres and acres of Norway Spruce. It gets repetitive much sooner than being up on a barren hill or on an open plain, where at least there are usually distant vistas to give some distraction. Here there were only the closest trees, the gloom beyond, and a persistent sense of unease. I imagine a better understanding of nature would help, as one would be able to appreciate the birds and small variety in trees, but to me it was the same one hour to the next. And so my mind would drift into considering the size of the forest, and how easy it might be to disappear into, and if there weren’t people living in there unknown to the rest of the island. Escaped convicts, even! And then a twig would snap and I’d hurry on my way.

Forests are great though. It’s fun to imagine what England must’ve been like before so much of it was chopped to make way for agriculture and settlements. Cities and towns, all oak and birch. Kielder is, of course, a modern addition—grown in response to timber shortages following World War I, it’s a huge mass of Norway Spruce. Yes, a mixed and native woodland would be more appealing, but I reckon this is better than no forest at all.

I escaped the dark and reached my destination at about three o’clock. I called mum in the car, as dad drove, to boast that I’d beaten them there. As they were still an hour away, I decided to explore the village. It took all of five minutes—Byreness is not a place. Built by the Forestry Commission to house forest workers (who were soon replaced by machinery) it consisted of a couple of ugly cul-de-sacs, a closed-down pub and a decrepit petrol station. A pretty Methodist church offered its only reprieve. The camp site was back down the main road, so I was glad to be getting a lift. The petrol station had a little shop and a couple of picnic tables, so I decided that would be the best place to wait. I dropped my bag and glugged on the Lucozade I had left from the Bellingham Co-op. I had intended to investigate the shop and pick up a snack, but as the cashier (or owner, or whatever) came to the window to give me a pointedly scornful look (presumably as I had stopped to rest my legs before buying something from them) I decided they were getting no pennies from me.

It was great to see mum and dad, share hugs and sit in a warm, familiar car. We drove down to the campsite. It turned out this place also had rooms available, which they kindly came back with keys to. So we’d have comfortable beds before the last effort. Even better, they drove me to a restaurant in Otterburn, where I hobbled through the lounge on my battered feet to enjoy a big tasty meal. I was still apprehensive, remembering the tales I’d heard of the Cheviots along the way, remembering how hard it was to do 30 or 35 kilometers, remembering how dangerous Cross Fell had been and that The Cheviot was even more infamous. Would my knee make it through a day of 40 kilometers over even more big hills? Would there be enough daylight, even setting off at dawn? I was certainly glad dad was going to be coming with me. This was going to be tough!

Bellingham to Byreness Profile Map

Day Distance Ascent Duration Plasters on Feet
14 23.7 km 544 m 6.5 h 13