We started the day on the St Cuthbert’s way. Wow, was that longer than we expected? We trudged along, it was actually quite pretty, until we were unsure whether we were going in the right direction. Luckily we bumped into some hiker and his son, Mikey. The woods were cool, dark and brown in comparison to the warm Summer’s day beyond the foliage. Mikey and the hiker bounded along, chatting to us amiably.
We crossed a river over a modern looking suspension footbridge, said our farewells to our temporary companions, and joined a C-road to Jedburgh. I’m sure we should have taken the A-road, but the C-road looked just as quick and less dangerous. Turned out to be the circular route.
It took a good few hours to make it into Jedburgh (there would have been no way we could have made it last night). We approached a cafe for lunch, then Euan raided a Co-Op skip whilst Robert and I aired our feet. He returned with some multipacks of crisps, cheese and oats. Rather nutritious I thought sarcastically. Little did I know what a life-saver these items would become.
We set off for Byrness; the border trek was intense. We walked out of Jedburgh, encountering an ancient tree on the way (the Capon tree; the last survivor of the old forest), and began the up-hill ascent to the border. The road out of Jedburgh twists wildly as it approaches England. Bordered by hedges and woodland it eventually levels out presenting a classic scene of hills and pine trees. The last two miles to the border are the most perilous; the road is a major thoroughfare with tight bends and fast-moving traffic. It snakes back on itself a number of times, giving the same view repeatedly at different altitudes, before straightening out for the last three-quarters of a mile to the Carter Bar. I made a rush for the border, keeping my head down, pressing on with my pack. I made it to the top, unable to fully appreciate the view due to the descending clouds. I sat against a huge stone named “England,” as I waited for Robert and Euan. Eventually they made it and we set up the camera for a hasty group photograph. Robert tried to explain the dinner situation to me, but I was too tired to really care. Apparently he had been in communication with the hostel owner who had kindly offered to cook us some food.
Energised by our reaching such an imposing milestone we made our way down into England. As steep as the ascent was to the border, so too was the descent into England. Darkness was fast approaching and in the distance we saw a small light; the light of our hostel? Not so lucky, Byrness seemed always ahead on the road, just beyond the visible horizon. Along a tunnel-like straight I sat to call my computer savvy associate, Nat Dixon. Not far, he encouraged me enthusiastically, just beyond the end of a reservoir. This reservoir did not seem to end, and once it did no hostel was perceptible.
We were at a dip in the road, Euan seriously wanting to give up, when a lady stopped her car. Winding down the window and unleashing a loud wave of Nirvana upon us she asked if we wanted a lift. As Euan was about to accept I stepped forward determined not to take a single form of transport that wasn’t my own two feet. It’s not far, I declared, thank you anyway. The woman drove on, depriving us of some serious grunge. Not two minutes later we reached higher ground and saw Byrness lying ahead of us.
I suddenly became very apprehensive as we approached the hostel. I asked Robert about the food situation. Well, he began, the woman had apparently offered to cook us some food. How kind, I said. Well, Robert continued, things got a bit complicated when I told her Euan was a vegetarian; after a while of negotiation I told her not to worry, but she got a bit angry and insisted. Angry? I asked.
I was right to be apprehensive; the woman whined about our lateness (perhaps not appreciating the nature of our journey) and insisted our boots didn’t make it past the drying room. She peered at Euan, almost in disbelief, and begrudgingly allowed him over the threshold. I bet she doesn’t usually let people camp in the garden, but made a special concession for Euan on the off-chance he was some sort of semi-articulate animal that might soil the carpet. Euan was very polite and charming, but no amount of charm can be measured against the gold standard and so the woman saw little value in his demeanor.
The woman was almost finished with cooking our food, which she unexpectedly charged us for, and we fleetingly met two girls who also happened to be staying at the hostel before we were herded into a dimly lit dining room. Apparently these two girls (walking from Lands End to John O’Groats) have been through similar problems with the woman.
After eating as much of the £24 meal as possible we washed up the dishes, at the woman’s insistence. This gave us a good opportunity to get to know a bit more about the girls, as the woman had neglected to introduce us (she’d gone as far as moving them into another building from us). I’m beginning to get the idea that this woman is trying to run a bed and breakfast, not a hostel; the room is too pleasant.
My Skin came off when I tried to remove a blister plaster. This was the hardest day yet, and the day I learned not to remove blister plasters. I am exhausted, and it’s a testament to endurance if I continue. I hope my wounds allow me to meet Nat and Bryde (the highlight that’s getting me through). I will definitely shower tomorrow!