Day 23. Hawick to Byrness. 21 miles - 'Crossing the border in style'.
I had not been looking forward to today, I would be leaving Scotland behind, a country I have become rather attached to, and I'd have to walk entirely on roads to get there. To make matters worse my breakfast at the Hawick B&B was reprehensible - made far worse by the lady behind me eating so loudly I'm sure everyone reading this probably heard her slurping away like Jabba the Hut eating a cream slice. I didn't even deign to snap a quick derisory photograph, but just imagine 2 eggs buried under a steaming pile of wet beans and you have a near enough approximation. 2/10.
Still, the weather was lovely and the roads mercifully empty and straight, after 6 or 8 or 12 very forgettable miles I found myself in Bonchester Bridge, a quiet hamlet boasting a bridge, a pub under new management and not a great deal else. My hiking experience has taught me to be wary of these one pub towns, typically the establishment can get away with sub standard food and drink due to the limited choice on offer - this was most definitely not the case with the Horse & Hound at Bonchester Bridge. The new owners were charming, the interior warm and I was even given a free (and delicious) homemade soup due to my charity fundraising. These kind of honest places simply don't exist in London, and I thought it would only be polite to have a couple of pints and a natter with the locals before getting back on the roads. By virtue of their generosity, tasty food and the idyllic location of the pub overlooking the green, its an impressive 9/10 for the horse (you only had 2 ales so it can't be a 10, I'm sorry!)
And just like that the day morphed from a dull plod into a fantastic day of walking. Spurred on once more by a couple of pints and unexpected altruism, the miles melted away in the warm basking glow of the Scottish sun (the Scottish sun is very similar to the English sun except it is cooler, rarer and until very recently supposed to be an entirely mythological entity). I was still on the tarmac roads, but the border was getting closer and closer, small villages were quickly replaced with huge Manor houses boasting old fortified ruins that spoke volumes of the border counties' tumultuous history. As I closed in on home soil a surprise highlight came into view - the ruins of an ancient church. The Southdean parish Church dated at least from the 12th century, and was probably far older, and with no barrier or tourists around you were free to roam the ruins at your leisure. A huge tarnished stone sat precariously atop the crumbling ruins and informed those who trod close enough that it was here, on this broken and forgotten site, that the Earl of Douglas assembled his men before invading England, resulting in the battle of Otterburn in 1388, a decisive Scottish victory. The Earl fell in the attack, but the stone was placed here to commemorate the victory - places like this are seldom spoken of and rarely visited, making this site more special (in my opinion) than many other more popular destinations.
But enough Scottish pride for now, I was quite literally leaving all that behind me and making my break, finally, for the border. Its no secret that Scotland boasts the best walking in all the UK and I was sad to leave it behind, but to be back on home ground would be a significant mental victory, and I quickened my pace towards Carter Bar, crossing point from Scotland to England. The Bar itself was only mildly interesting - some informative plaques detailed the history of the border whilst buses would pull up, spew out their contents to snap a few selfies, then refill and roar off on their way to despoil their next historical site, no doubt they would thankfully avoid Southdean church.
My first steps into England were mixed. On one hand I had to tip toe along the verge of the A68 as cars sped towards Scotland, no doubt fleeing England in the wake of brexit and praying for a second Scottish referendum so they could still be in the EU, but more positively I removed a 'research flat earth' sticker than some imbecile had plastered on the 'welcome to Northumbria' sign. I'm amazed they possessed the cognitive faculties to figure out how stickers worked in the first place to be honest.
My destination was a campsite in Byrness, barely a settlement, but important as it represented my first encounter with the Pennine Way, a 268 mile trail that would be my home for the next 14 walking days. People tend to love or hate the Pennine Way, mostly hate, but as it was all new to me I was determined to enjoy it and so made for Byrness with haste. But the day still had 2 surprises to throw at me. One is the photo below. Nothing significant or historical about it, it was just beautiful. I have never seen trees growing on a grassy spur well out into a deep lake before. I have a natural predisposition and interest in human history, but when nature gets it right it's impossible to beat.
The second surprise was my accommodation. As noted above I had planned to find a camping spot somewhere but 21 long miles, enjoyable as they had been, had taken their toll and I spied a sign for the Forest Walkers View Inn. Miraculously they were open, had a bed for me for the night, and even though it was past serving time, offered up a delectable 3 course meal, washed down with hand pulled real ale for their very own pumps. I met Nick who was finishing his last leg of the Pennine Way having completed one quarter every year or two, and had a small and rather old dog with him - she had been a pup when they both started their journey along the Way together. The other walkers were all charming down to earth folks, as were the owners Colin and Joyce. It had a real atmosphere did the Walkers, little did I know it was a famous spot amongst hikers and I would go on to recommend it to every walker I saw heading north over the next 2 weeks, it was that good. Oh, the whole place was also eco friendly using only solar and biomass power - 10/10 all round.
Tomorrow, the Pennine Way begins.