[Read part one of boggy volcano here]
Day two of my ninth volcano, walking across the Cheviot Hills in England’s Northumberland National Park, and we were off. The rain of yesterday was gone, replaced by a gentle frost and lashings of lush sunshine. Now this was more like it.
My walking boots were still sodden from yesterday’s dismal weather and bog-hopping. Pulling on my cold, stinky, sopping socks that morning had given me shivers. I’d held the offending items at arm’s length, nose wrinkled, viewing them with contempt, before plunging my feet into their soggy centres. I admit, a whimper had escaped my lips.
But now, as we tramped uphill, my feet felt toasty – or as toasty as wet feet can feel. The second day of our adventure across the volcanically formed Cheviot Hills was to take us from Barrowburn back to Wooler via some summits. The original plan had been to include a few more summits but going on the day before’s poor time-keeping (and my poor fitness), I decided to scrap some that were more out of the way. Thus, our route was more direct.
Of course, that wasn’t taking into account the possibility of getting lost – and get lost we did.
We stood outside a farm, with a sign hanging on the gate barring all walkers from entering, while we looked at the map, then looked at the farm, then looked at the map again. The compass came out; that didn’t really seem to help. We’d barely been walking an hour and a half.
I stomped my feet and threw my hands in the air, frustrated. “I just don’t understand,” I wailed.
The boyfriend took control, storming off up a hill in a direction suggested by the compass, away from where I thought we should be going. I followed meekly behind.
But low and behold, he was onto something. At the top of the hill we could see a river, we could see where the river met another river, and over there was the forest, and the fence line we needed to follow.
Relief flooded through my body. “Oh my goodness, you did it. You’ve saved us,” I squealed in gratitude.
Then I realised we weren’t the only animals on this side of the hill – just metres away a giant Highland cow watched us through its hairy fringe. It seemed adorably cute and lovable with its dishevelled bed-head look, but you could have sharpened knives on those horns.
Trying not to panic, we rushed down the hill in the most subtle and ordinary fashion possible. “Nice cow, nice cow,” I mumbled as a mantra under my breath. “Nothing to see here.” It was only once we had crossed the river that I felt safe again.
Now knowing exactly where we were on the map and in which direction we were headed, we set off at a trot. We followed the river that cut deep into the hillside, strode through pine forest, stopping briefly to don waterproofs when the sun disappeared and clouds threatened rain (learning from yesterday’s mistake), and walked a bare and lonely stretch of trail through one of the most desolate parts of the Cheviots.
After a quick bite to eat we started our climb for the summits, Comb Fell and Hedgehope Hill.
This was where the going got tough.
Following just the fence line rather than a dedicated path, I took the boyfriend overland. The terrain was dodgy, one wrong footing and your leg ended up in ankle-deep bog. That was the good scenario – the bad was you could sprain an ankle or worse. A dead vole floating in a water-filled paint can rammed the message home.
On we ploughed. The boyfriend lost the tip of his walking pole to the supreme sucking forces of the black mud. He cursed and muttered. It was clear he wasn’t particularly enjoying the adventure.
I, on the other hand, couldn’t have been happier. It wasn’t every day you got to take on the challenge of mother nature. I was puffed and I had wet feet but exhilaration was running through my veins.
We reached Coldlaw Cairn, admired the view and the quickly descending sun, and turned right towards Hedgehope Hill, crossing the relatively unremarkable summit of Comb Fell.
There was supposedly a path alongside the fence, according to the map, that would take us from Comb Fell up to the summit of Hedgehope Hill. In reality this was nothing more than a giant bog. What looked like a path in places, where there were even shoe prints, ended just as quickly as it began as the next pool of cold, stagnant muck stopped us in our tracks. We were left contemplating where to cross – follow the shoe prints into ankle-deep mud, take a chance and attempt to jump, or track downhill some ways to find an easier, more accessible place to cross? In many ways, none of the options were any good.
For more than an hour we laboriously navigated the kinks in the bog, making calculated risks, sometimes successfully, other times ending up with mud over our boots.
It had got cold by now. The sun had disappeared behind a mass of dark cloud and the wind was whipping up a fury. The summit of Hedgehope Hill had vanished into the mist; we could only guess how far we still had to go.
When we finally reached the summit, drained and dripping, it was something of an anti-climax. By all accounts the view from Hedgehope Hill is a stunner but, for us, there was no celebratory panorama, unless you counted the whirling mist flying past our faces. It was cold, windy, damp, dark and altogether unpleasant. In fact, it was grimmer than the summit of The Cheviot, and that looked like the Somme.
I didn’t want to dilly dally – and it wasn’t like there was anything spectacular to take a photo of (my phone had died anyway). Plus, I had a feeling the gloom signalled a rapidly setting sun, and we still had around three hours of walking left before we reached Wooler (I at least congratulated myself for remembering to bring spare batteries for my headtorch, which, as a result, wasn’t dead, unlike my phone).
I set a brisk pace downhill, delighting in following a path (albeit still boggy) for once, eager to get to the road we entered the park on before it got dark. In my haste, I slipped twice on the muddy track, legs scooting up from underneath me and landing with a bounce on the spongy ground. I picked myself up and carried on.
We didn’t descend far before we emerged from the cloud and got a glimpse of what the view would have been like from the summit. The rolling hills I had grown accustomed to over the past couple of days and, in the distance, the Harthope Valley, from where we had come, alluring in the grey half-light.
We reached the road just as dusk was turning to night. Pulling our coats around us, we walked down the lonely road and into the darkness as the clouds parted and a thousand stars twinkled.
Missed part one of the boggy volcano? Read it here.
Find out about my #40by40 volcano quest here.