St Oswald’s Way: Day 1 – Wall to Kirkwhelpington

(19th March 2014 – 19 miles)

On the ninth day of my walk from Ulverston to Berwick, I woke early, pulled back the curtains and gasped.  Blue skies!  Sunshine!  After three grey days, a sunny spring morning was a bit of a shock.  I danced a little jig (not really), had a shower and considered what to wear.  Eventually I decided on the Black Paramilitary – which was just as well.  It’s all I had.

I said hello to the solitary chap in the dining room (he didn’t respond), picked at a sad breakfast (watery coffee, tinned grapefruit, too greasy full English – you get the picture), grabbed a packed lunch and rejoined the path.  It was 8.15am.  Today would be a long 19-miler and I couldn’t hang about.

St Oswalds Way Day 1 (1)

I followed the Hadrian’s Wall Path for a couple of miles

St Oswalds Church, Heavenfield

to arrive at the C18th Church of St Oswald, Heavenfield.

Heavenfield Cross

A 1920’s wooden cross marks the spot where Oswald’s small army defeated the larger forces of Cadwallon, King of Gwynedd and the Mercian King, Penda.   This cross, which replaced an earlier stone one, marks the beginning of the St Oswald’s Way.

St Oswalds Way Day 1 (4)

But though I was now walking a new path, it continues to follow Hadrian’s Wall for another five miles or so.

St Oswalds Way Day 1 (5)

There was still evidence of the Wall, if not nearly so much as during the previous couple of days.  Above is a length of the north ditch, but the Wall itself lies beneath the adjacent B6318, the Military Road.  Road builders in the C18th used Roman stone for hardcore and the line of the Wall as foundation.  How sad is that?  (Though as my guidebook points out, the tarmac may help preserve any surviving ruins for future generations to study).

St Oswalds Way Day 1 (6)

It was a glorious morning, full of birdsong and, despite the constant drone of traffic from that busy road,

St Oswalds Way Day 1 (7)

I waltzed along, enjoying the sun on my face.  I crossed the road a couple of times and after a final bit of the vallum,

St Oswalds Way Day 1 (9)

left Hadrian, his Wall and that irritating road for good.  I marched off to the north, whistling, towards the Northumbrian coast.

St Oswalds Way Day 1 (8)

The going was dry underfoot and quick,

St Oswalds Way Day 1 (10)

A thing that pleased me – gate stay on rural gate

and I had plenty of time to twiddle dials and push buttons on my camera (I still have no idea what some of them do) and photograph things that pleased me.

St Oswalds Way Day 1 (11)

Today was completely devoid of walkers.  The St Oswald’s Way isn’t a National Trail and whilst I expected it to be quiet, I didn’t meet any distance walkers nor indeed until I reached the coast.

St Oswalds Way Day 1 (12)

I was relieved the wind wasn’t gusting.

St Oswalds Way Day 1 (13)

It’d be a little hairy walking this high, exposed country in a storm … with huge branches crashing about my ears.

Whittington Mill

Whittington Mill, C18th windmill

Lunchtime and I approached the village of Great Whittington.  To my predictable delight, I saw a very appealing pub indeed.  But as I stood outside, releasing straps on my backpack, I realised it was a cruel chimera; an evil tease.  The pub had closed down and pleasant thoughts of a leisurely lager shandy with a packet of cheese and onion wafted away on the breeze.

St Oswalds Way Day 1 (15)

Disheartened, I gulped warm water (hardly the same) and traipsed slowly onwards.  The quality of the walk took a dive after Great Whittington and for long miles, the path was no path but road.

St Oswalds Way Day 1 (16)

A long, very straight couple of roads – if thankfully almost traffic free.  But I sped up, cheered up and hammered through the day.

St Oswalds Way Day 1 (18)

I like to post a selfie now and then, if only to prove that I was actually walking the walk and that this isn’t all some elaborate-if-difficult-to-fathom-why-fiction.

St Oswalds Way Day 1 (19)

An interlude from road stomping, saw me under a ‘Far From The Madding Crowd’ sky

St Oswalds Way Day 1 (20)

with huge views of a county I have fallen for.  And a bit of mud.  And a sheep.

St Oswalds Way Day 1 (21)

Three riders passed me by but didn’t stop to chat.  Maybe they noticed my big intake of breath, look of intense concentration and steely determination to talk at them.  Whatever, they barely acknowledged me; let alone stopped.  I’ve made a mental note to look less desperate when attempting to talk at people.

St Oswalds Way Day 1 (22)

As the day wore on, the sun grew bored and slipped away

St Oswalds Way Day 1 (23)

as I was consigned once more to tarmac.

St Oswalds Way Day 1 (24)

It grew colder and I became impatient with asphalt bashing.  Many of the trees were sculpted by the powerful, prevailing south-westerlies.

St Oswalds Way Day 1 (25)

Which pleased me.  I did get a glimpse of red squirrel but the only photo I managed was so pitifully poor, I won’t bother posting it (which, if you saw the one I posted on the Cumbria Way section, is a true indictment).

Breat Bavington

In the tiny village of Great Bavington, I sat on a step, admired a Victorian post box, and scoffed a superb beef and horseradish baguette (The Hadrian Hotel does make a grand sandwich at least).

I pressed on (a VR post box is only so interesting) and as I crossed a paddock, deep in solo-walking-thoughts and munching another apple, I was suddenly, violently shoved forward.  What the #%*‡!!?  I staggered, swore, barely avoided landing on my nose and whirled round to face my foe.  Brigands?  Robbers?  A gang of youths out for laughs?  Or a placid looking horse intent on my apple?  OK, it was a placid looking horse … but with an impressively silent stalking skill.  What a rude oaf.  He certainly did not get my apple (but he possibly got the core).

St Oswalds Way Day 1 (27)

In mid-afternoon, I pulled on my Goretex coat for the last few, bitterly cold miles into Kirkwhelpington.

St Oswalds Way Day 1 (28)

Approaching Kirkwhelpington

There is no choice of accommodation on this first stage of the SOW: there is only one option.  When I booked my fifteen night stop-overs, I confirmed my booking for Kirkwhelpington first.  It’s a linchpin on which this whole coast to coast hung: if I couldn’t book Cornhills Farmhouse for my preferred date, my entire 15 day itinerary would need shifting backwards or forwards.  Luckily, my booking request was successful.

I called Lorna, the owner, from the village and a few minutes later she pulled up and whisked me the couple of miles to her sheep farm.  As we drove, I spotted a cast sheep.  On hearing my mumbled observation, Lorna did a magnificent Starsky and Hutch brake, turn and squeally stop and together we ran over to right the unfortunate animal.  (Got a brownie point there, I think).

Cornhills Farmhouse, Kirkwhelpington

Cornhills Farmhouse, Kirkwhelpington

The house is beautiful – built in 1840 by Lorna’s husband’s family.  It might be a little old-fashioned inside but I liked it very much.  For dinner, I sat in a large, empty dining room for my three courses.  It was a little odd, sitting alone, listening to family conversation from the kitchen, with longish pauses between courses.  But the mushroom soup, beef with cheese scones and Eton mess were all excellent.  If I was a little disappointed at the lack of beer, I don’t suppose my liver was.

I was more tired than I realised and, returning temporarily to my room, fell asleep within minutes – still clutching my Kindle.  At 9pm.  Even the diverse horrors of ‘American Psycho‘ couldn’t hold my eyes open.  I slept for a solid, very sound and delicious ten hours.Save

9 thoughts on “St Oswald’s Way: Day 1 – Wall to Kirkwhelpington

  1. A great start. Though 19 miles on day one (or any other day) is too much for me. Have you discovered wine? It’s a great drink made from fermented grapes. Try it sometime when beers off.

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    • Sadly there was nothing on offer other than tap water. A glass of wine would have been very welcome – or even two – but short of carrying it myself ……

      I had noticed your daily mileages, which generally seem like a morning’s walk to me! Personally I find about 15 or 16 about right for a full day but on occasion push myself into the low twenties if accommodation dictates it. Dave.

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      • Did you ask. Ask for what you want is my message to you. I’ve been known to carry a couple of mini bottles – or a hip flask- for such emergencies. I’m gutted that we are destined to only walk half days together. But then I could get a bus, have a bath and get the beers in.

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  2. Love the windmill and that last farmhouse. Just gorgeous. All looks a little different to my recent South Australia walking. Looking forward to the soon, soonish, quite soon and eventually editions to find out if you perfected the nonchalant look with your occasional, potential conversationalists.

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    • I’m taking nonchalance classes as I type, Janna. All finger nail inspection and an air of slight disinterest. Coming along fine. And please do hang on in there … the rest is coming. Soonish-ish. Dave

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  3. I’ve always loved permanently windswept trees. Just below tree-line in the Rocky Mountains (somewhere around 11,500′ and very exposed) are forests of wonderful, ancient bristlecone pines that are all warped and dwarfed and magnificent. It’s not a place anyone would *live*, though — hard to imagine enduring that kind of wind all the time.

    Horses: tsk. I bet he enjoyed that.

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    • I was watching a programme about living on the Falklands recently and as beautiful as it was, eek that constant wind straight off the Antarctic would drive me mad. I applied for a job there years ago – but don’t think I could handle it now, knowing that. Yep, I’m sure the horse did enjoy his shove. I had absolutely no idea he was even there, the rascal. Tsk, indeed.

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