Picnic on Wideopen Hill in the Cheviots

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My highlight from today was a picnic lunch break in the Cheviot Hills on Wideopen Hill. After a hot and huffy puffy walk up the ‘hill’side with several stops to catch our breath, it was rewarding to reach the midway as well as highest point of St. Cuthbert’s Way.

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We stopped and marked the moment, not just taking a photo of the sign, but Chrisy completing a bit of a happy dance I thought. We had made it up there in about an hour and a half and knew we would have time today for a proper picnic lunch break since we had fewer miles to walk than we had had in previous days.

We found the perfect spot and even took our hiking boots off: the simple pleasures. After finishing off my tuna sandwich and apple I lay back in the sun in the grass and was blissfully happy. I could feel the warmth of the sun with a slight breeze and the texture of the grass. I could hear birds singing and sheep baa-ing not too far off. Eventually the birds stopped singing and it was so very quiet. It felt completely peaceful. It will be a good memory.

 

 

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Protective mother cows . . . and welcoming border collies.

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Tuesday’s very long and tiring walk (21 km and 30000 steps, the majority of which seemed to be taking us gradually higher) started off in a pleasant wooded area near Harestanes. An animal theme began quickly as a beautiful horse startled us from our focus on the path by neighing from the adjoining field. As we looked over he seemed to be looking at us and saying good morning. Of course, by the time we had our cameras out he had given up on us, but I thought it a good reminder to look about and enjoy our surroundings a little more even though we needed to be purposeful about the distance to be covered with an attempt to make our 4 p.m. pick up for the evening’s B&B.

We saw lots of sheep and the highlight perhaps was another deer, who looked at us from the pathway ahead for a moment before leaping away through the forest. The sound of him bounding and twigs breaking was quite lovely.

However, our funniest moments, looking back, involved crossing a farmer’s field of very large cows and their very young calves.

We entered the field having crossed a small stream and gone through a small gate. The field seemed quite large and sloped with several cows, which all seemed off in the distance. We followed the St. Cuthbert’s Way signposts and soon realized that we were being directed, not around the edge of the field as had been happening in fields of crops, but rather across the centre. ‘Hmm,’ I said to Chrisy, ‘the path seems to be taking us straight through where the cows are crossing with their calves right now. ‘ We thought it best to let them pass.  Although Chrisy was sharing stories from her earliest childhood on a farm and suggesting the cows would be used to walkers through their field, I was reminded of warnings in our book about how protective mother cows can be of their young in the spring, although usually quite placid.

There seemed to be a lull in the cow traffic so we decided we would walk up to the protective screen of gorse bushes, although we would then have cows either side of us, and suss out the situation and make our next decicion. At this point a large, dare I say enormous?, black mother cow turned back, stared at us for a few moments and then started making her way back down towards us. ‘Oh, Nelly, we don’t want your babies’ one of us said and we scampered back down the hill a way.

Having noticed that the next sign for our walk seemed to be having us zig zag back and up, we thought it wisest to skip the zig part and just head up, which thankfully had us skirting the edge of the field and just past a farm house. Chrisy was telling me a cute childhood cow story at this point as we realized there were more large cows the other side of the house. The story stopped mid sentence and it was pointed out to me that the cow closest, quite close in fact, was not only large but also had a horn. Only one horn . . . . On the side of its head of course. It wasn’t a unicorn. Chrisy stayed back as I ventured up to the corner and had to report that the signs indicated we did have to go that way but once around the corner we would be going through a gate and a couple of strings of barbed wire would separate our path from the cows. We scuttled quickly one after the other and then all of a sudden the barbed wires seemed to bring on all kinds of confidence in Chrisy who proceeded to slow down to take pictures of said cow.

We were oddly pleased with ourselves, but a long slow climb was ahead of us.

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The scenery was lovely, and for much of the second half of the day we could see the Cheviot Hills. These comprise much of the walk for us on days four and five, our book informing us that day four will be the hardest, due to very steep sections, and that day five will have us staying in a B&B in the wildest section of the walk.  So on we trudged, with only brief pauses now and again to catch our breath or refuel. We have learned that we don’t end up feeling hungry, but rather perhaps just experiencing a drop in energy.

We had never before experienced such relief at the site of a cafe before: we had made it in time for our pick up to our B&B. As we spotted the old church which had been converted into a small cafe we were greated by the friendliest and most excited of border collies. He ran out to say hello with wiggles and whimpers and then rushed back into the cafe to tell his owner he had customers. Peppermint and licquorice tea with a border collie and elderly man originally from Australia was a nice end to the walk for day three.

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Undulating landscape and hedgehog giggles

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Yestrday afternoon when we arrived at our hotel we were asked to leave our muddy boots in the main floor lobby rather than traipsing mud throughout the carpeted hallways. This morning as we left there was quite the collection from which to choose.

The guidebook described our second day as consisting of eight miles again, starting out along the River Tweed and then progressing through ‘undulating landscape’ but much easier than our first day with steep climbs.

About an hour in to the walk, enjoying the babbling sounds of the river, we found ourselves itching to take photos despite knowing that what made it special was the sound which we couldn’t capture, but then modern day pilgrimage troubles hit. Chrisy’s camera on her iPhone wouldn’t work . . . She was receiving a message that there was no room to store anything despite the fact she had taken the time to delete photos earlier in the morning. She fiddled and then said she would wait to fix it later. But there was no rush and I suggested she take as long as she wanted since it just gave me time to go down to the river to feel how cold the water was and pick out a pebble. A reminder that there is no rush. Better to slow down and smell the wild garlic . . . Why are roses privileged so much? . . .and watch the swallows swooping about.

 

There were some very pretty sections of the walk again today, some definetly through ‘undulating landscape’ as the book described it. However there were some less interesting sections too. For a short while we walked on a narrow paved road with high hedges either side blocking views and we found the road surface almost jarring after the springy pathways through the fields and woodlands.

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Aptly, given my fondness of hedgehogs and my earlier reflections on Teresa of Avila’s comments on the hedgehog metaphor in relation to the spiritual journey, our day’s walk ended at The Harestanes’ Visitor Centre where there was a gallery display of hedgehog pictures, with cards and prints that could be purchased. This was also amusing given an incident which had occurred yesterday. As Chrisy and I walked into Bowden yesterday I spotted a little cottage with a house name plate: Hedgehog Cotage. ‘Oh, lovely,’ I said, or something similar as I was tempted to take a picture of the name plate. At this point Chrisy asked, ‘What’s that?’ We’ve laughed about this a few times since because she says I gave her the oddest look and said, ‘It’s a small animal,’ to which she replied, ‘I know.’ So what had she been asking? It turns out, she has explained, that since she is unfamiliar with houses having names and name plates in stead of street numbers, or in addition to them, and because she is in tourist mode, she had thought that the sign might have been for tourists, explaining the style of brick work and she wondered if there was a special pattern to hedgehog cottage brickwork. She says I was looking at her as if I thought her stupid to ask such a question whereas I was confused by the question. It was just one of those funny cross cultural moments. Later as we discussed the hedgerows I pointed out that they are the habit for the wildly exotic animal known as ‘hedgehog’. Today we each bought a lovely little print of a hedgehog trudging along which we will frame when we get home and which will be sure to make us giggle again when we look at them and are reminded of the odd looks we must have been giving one another.

Anyhow, we are now feeling like we are almost in the lap of luxury in a beautiful Georigian House/B&B in Jedburgh. The owner picked us up in Harestanes to bring us here and will return us to Harestanes tomorrow morning so we will resume our walk where we left off. We walked into town for dinner, past Jedburgh Abbey, and now, having left our muddy boots at the front door here as well, we are each having a quiet evening before 10 miles of walking tomorrow.

 

Proud of aches in St Boswells

imageA kind lady took our photo this morning as we were all set to begin our hike. We were feeling pretty excited with a combination of confidence and apprehension . . . Had we prepared sufficiently? We just hadn’t had quite enough hill walking preparation, we didn’t think.

It all began with the stairs, followed by steep hills, a little break of flatter terrain, and then more steep hills, but lovely views. All very much worth the huffing and puffing.

Then we enjoyed forests, fields, towns and the Tweed river . . .

And about four hours after our start we stopped for our ham and onion chutney sandwiches,  looked over the river and examined our mud covered boots, remembering the time we sang These Boots are Made for Walking karioke-style several years ago with Karen at The Royal York.

It has been a lovely first day of walking and we’ve felt very lucky with the weather. We’ve reflected on all the metaphors walking can provide for life and we’ve enjoyed the wild flowers, herb and onion scents as we’ve walked, seeing a deer leap across the path ten feet ahead of us and listening to the birds singing. We have realized we’ve been taking many photos . . . Does this interfere with our engagement with the moment? We are products of our time . . . And so this is what a modern day pilgrimage is like, I suppose.

And so we have enjoyed and survived our first day: 8 miles, 22000 steps, over varied terrain. I’ll speak for myself as I say I have some aches, which a hot bath soothed a little. We’ve enjoyed slow braised beef with yorkshire pudding for our dinner and have time for a nice rest before another 8 miles (but not as steep) tomorrow.

St Cuthbert and Melrose Abbey

imageChrisy bought each of us a St. Cuthbert’s cross key chain for our backpacks and so we are all set.

According to the Official Guide to St Cuthbert’s Way, written by Ron Shaw, St. Cuthbert started his ministry in Old Melrose in about 650 CE and shortly after that joined a monastery in Melrose. Eventually he became a Bishop in Holy Island Lindisfarne which is why this hike Chrisy and I are following takes us from this starting point in Melrose to Holy Island Lindisfarne. We arrived in Melrose today where we are staying in a lovely B&B and we will start the walk officially tomorrow, ending up in Lidisfarne next Sunday.

The Official Guide also suggests that Cuthbert found great solace and true refreshment in walking, since travelling at a natural pace on foot allows time for contemplation and for the cares and worries of daily life to be forgotten. The Guide goes on to suggest that walking St. Cuthbert’s Way can be enjoyed as a modern pilgrimage and that as well as enjoying plenty of nature and wildlife we will experience enough variations of weather to test a saint. We did in fact experience heavier rain this afteroon than either of us had experienced over the last week or two that we have already been in the UK. This will build character, right?

We took the opportunity to visit Melrose Abbey since we had the afternoon free to explore. The views from the top of the tower are quite lovely and even in the gloom of the on and off again rain the bright yellow of the gorse bushes (I’m pretty sure that’s what they are) on the hills added quite a bright splash of colour.

Although Cuthbert was associated with a monastery in the area from the late 600s, this Abbey we visited was founded in 1136 by King David I for Cistercian monks. There is little left of the 12th century monastery so most of the ruins pictured above are from the 14th and 15th century.

imageThis is a view from inside the ruins of Melrose Abbey and we think this hill might be part of our walk tomorrow. Our Guide Book does describe the route tomorrow as involving a steep climb to the saddle between the Eildon Hills to get us started. So, an early dinner and an early night for us tonight.

Not quite smooth sailing to Edinburgh

I was very grateful for a lift from Linda to the train station in Salisbury for my train adventure to Edinburgh today. What a lovely morning with a sunny blue sky. She also kindly provided a large slab of Romney’s Kendal Mint Cake which she explained no self- respecting hiker should be without. Since David had been suggesting emergency energy supplies which I hadn’t gotten around to this was very much appreciated. I sat down to an Americano and began what I expected would be the first of many waits on the trip.

I had a lovely trip to London watching the fields of sheep go by. I read a little, sent an email and wrote some field notes. I was in Waterloo before I knew it.

Then things started getting interesting. I decided a taxi from Waterloo to King’s Cross would be wise since I only had an hour to get there and I didn’t fancy the underground with my suitcase and backpack, especially with changes from one line  to another. But the traffic was bad. With only 15 minutes to get to a cash machine and a loo and then to my connecting train, I checked the monitor, checked with staff and followed signs to Platform 0 for the 1 p.m. train to Edinburgh. I hopped on the train, stored my suitcase and as I wondered why the seat was labelled coach F, seat 10, rather than coach M, seat 10, the train started moving at 12:52. This wasn’t a good sign. I asked if this was the train to Edinburgh and was told ‘No. Sunderland.’

Thankfully, it was heading north and although I had to pay for another ticket since I was on a different train service altogether, I was told I could get off in York and run over to catch the train I should have been on before it went through 7 minutes later. This was a little anxiety producing but I decided staying calm would be the wise choice.

I met lovely helpful people. I was safe and comfortable and everything was fine, just a little more expensive.

So, here I am in Edinburgh, having met up with John and Chrisy. We’ve had a lovely pub dinner and are preparing for next steps tomorrow. John will head back to Canada and Chrisy and I will head to Melrose, having carefully chosen the correct train, for the starting point on St. Cuthbert’s Way.

Imminent and Immanent

I have been in England almost three weeks now. Last week David and I visited the Sidmouth Donkey Sanctuary in Devon, which I loved even more than I had expected. Not only are the elderly and previously abused donkeys charming, the grounds are lovely for walking. We came across the idyllic spot with sheep grazing on a hillside complete with blossom tree and sea view. I found myself feeling particularly peaceful though just scratching the ears of Nathan the mini donkey:

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Having returned to Salisbury for the final module of my MA at Sarum (another wonderfully enriching week) I have been back to my favourite walks through Harnham and back to Salisbury through the water meadows.

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However, now I am packing up and preparing for the imminent St. Cuthbert’s Way walk with my head full of ideas for my next paper for the MA, which will be a Critical Analysis of the extent to which travel experiences can be understood as pilgrimage: An auto ethnographic study. A lecture from Quaker scholar, Dr. Ben Pink Dandelion, was helpful in preparing me for this and his book will be my travel companion tomorrow as I board the train in Salisbury for Waterloo, in London, and then on to Edinburgh, where I will meet Chrisy for dinner and then the next day we will head on to Melrose where our adventures begin on Sunday.

As I am completing my final packing preparations, I am continuing to think about the ideas Ben shared which resonated with experiences many of us in the class had also considered. Travel is not necessarily half the fun of getting there anymore. People buffer themselves with technology and headphones and books and all kinds of paraphenalia to avoid talking to anyone on the way, perhaps just hoping to distract themselves from the discomfort and inconvenience, and once there, wherever there is, often hope for ease and home comforts.

I’m pleased I decided to take the train, rather than plane, to travel to Edinburgh. I don’t think it will actually take that much longer than it would have in total if I had taken a train to an airport and had to wait for a flight, and it will also provide lots of time for looking out windows at wonderful countryside, contemplating the spiritual aspects of travel and maybe even talking to a few people along the way.