Walking is a real joy in this lovely little country of ours, especially when blessed with good weather and fine company. The Saint Cuthbert’s Way is a 60 mile/100km walk between Melrose in Scotland and Holy Island (Lindisfarne) in England. It’s a rolling distance walk that takes in open pastures, lofty hilltops and the quaint border towns of both England and Scotland.By its very name the walk honours Saint Cuthbert and offers a glimpse at the landscape he would have travelled during his ministry. There’s something poignant and alluring about walking away busy thoughts, allowing them to dissipate into the free and vast space of rural Scotland. These kind of walks seems to enrich a spiritual force in us regardless of personal belief, not to mention knackering you physically, encouraging a good nights sleep.Prior to the walk I’d been feverishly looking forward to a trail that takes days rather than hours, simply because for me, walking and being on the hills is a rhythmic form of meditation and peace (in between my hyperventilating and general sweated panting you understand). By the time the Easter school holidays arrived The Saint Cuthbert’s Way called out to me, screaming and howling like a rabid wolf in fact. How could I deny such a rampant want and need within myself?So out with the tent and of course a good hearty and yes heavy pack to keep even the most aloof mind grounded. My trusted, (if sometimes chaotic) walking companion Colette, heaved her blue pack up upon her shoulders, gingerly swaying on the spot like a vintage ‘weeble wobble’ for anyone who remembers those little bobbling toys.
A walk like this is certainly different with your house on your back but truly rewarding and in the true spirit of freedom.The first section of the walk takes you past the red sandstone ruin of Melrose Abby, heading south out-of-town up a rather testing flight of stairs onto the Eildon hills. We found the path here much like a bubbling, volcanic mud pool, ready to submerge any foolhardy walkers with aspirations of getting over the saddle clean and mud free. It was one step up for ever two sliding back, so not a breeze by any means. With quite a lot of respiratory panting and mud splattered clothing we arrived at the Dryburgh bar ironically named, in St Boswells.The pub was full of pale, leathery skinned men who seemed a little displaced by the vision of two muddied women, alive with eager thirst in their eyes. A quiet hush swept across the dark recesses of the bar as we entered, interrupted only by the gruff yet jolly voice of a local man, glued structurally to the bar who asked where on earth we were heading ? Quickly and with a candid quality he declaring in response to my honest answer ‘Holy Island’ with “yer fucking mad!” I chuckled and thanked him for his wise and correct assessment of the situation while calmly ordering a few pints of liquid nectar to restore us both for the final stroll down to our first wild camping spot across the bridge at Dryburgh Abby.Day two took us through lively spring woodland, a small rural hamlet and lush green rolling fields, rich with yellow rapeseed.We walked a section called the Roman Road, that would have been the perfect setting for this years annual international mud fighting championships. Colette fell victim to this section of the walks sludgy wrath not once but twice. She was literally found squirming around like a snared eel trying to escape the clutches of a feral mud monster. Let’s just say her clothing changed; evolving into army regulation camouflage, making it quite hard to distinguish her from her surroundings. It was reminiscent of that classic scene in Predator, when Arnie rises up from the mud with only the white of his eyes visible. We ended our day at Oxnam Water where we wild camped beside the gentle gurgling of the stream there, fairly exhausted but enlivened by a good trudge through fields and woods with glorious blue sky and warm sunlight as our companion.Day three took us over the highest point and through the lovely little town of Morebattle where we met a chap called Richard renovating an old church, pretty much independently.It warms your heart to meet folk who just don’t settle for the norm. After a coffee we headed onwards and over the hills to Town Yetholm where we crossed the highest point and came face to face with an aesthetic asbo if ever there was one.I was visually assaulted by gnomes and am still left shaken by the grotesque, if strangely apocalyptic scene of gnomes taking over the world.Thankfully the great little campsite in Town Yetholm restored my frayed mental state. The pristine lawn was a OCD sufferers delight. I felt strangely compelled to measure individual blades of grass just to confirm the amazing uniformity and evenness of the surface. The shower too was a devine delight after a few days wild camping we were reminded of the simple pleasure of running warm water. It gets bad when you have to attach air-freshners to your ear lobes, so it’s safe to say the campsites basic facilities were a welcomed stopover indeed!The next day saw us walk over the border and down to Wooler. No offence intended but the soil over the border is decidedly poorer (I guess that’s why we gave the land up?). By the time we pitched our tents at Highburn campsite we felt like we’d been sentenced to 10 years hard labour breaking rocks just getting the bloody tent pegs in the ground, not to mention a general assault in the night by a ravenous, oversized hedgehog the size of a plump cat! England’s a wild place and clearly the Hogg in question was well used to stealing food from unsuspecting campers. It was quite large, which may justify the wild and fairly alarming screeching at 3 in the morning by Colette. Of course she was screaming as though her life was in danger, displaying no audible control in response to the subtle rustling of this menacing intruder. He was eventually foiled by my flashlight and sent packing back to the woods he’d dared to venture out from but it was too late, the damage was all but done. Highburn campsite was no longer a place of tranquillity and certainly no amount of explaining in the morning could placate the snarling, contorted faces of our fellow campers…Woops.Wooler to Beal was a long days trek on interrupted sleep, over moorland and forest but we were given a sudden injection of energy as we got our first sight of our final destination shortly after visiting Saint Cuthbert’s Cave, where it’s documented the monks of Holy Island had fled, carrying the saint’s body to safety after a savage Viking attack.Coming up over that last hill the fields spread out before us, rolling out towards the coast, breathing renewed vigour into our now weary legs. It was quite a sight that thankfully spurred us on to cross two man-made challenges that seem inherently bent on killing pilgrims in plain sight of Lindisfarne.Both the A1 motorway and the main east coast rail line have to be crossed which was hairy, if just short of terrifying. We approached the train tracks to find a big enticing yellow phone. Colette naturally sprang at the chance to negotiate our safe passage or rather I should say have some phone banter with the signalman poised wearily at Tweedmouth rail junction. She nonchalantly declared it would take us a mere minute to cross tracks that carry trains hurtling past between Scotland and England at 125mph. I sprang to life, gauping, slightly wide-eyed at the quite large wooden steps yet to be clambered over, darting feverishly with my cumbersome pack to avoid a messy splattering. If we were tired at this point it certainly didn’t show!Having enjoyed her rather silly phone conversation, confused by the fellows incoherent accent and some quite obvious advice stating “don’t cross when there’s a train coming” we chortled at having survived the ordeal and completely forgot to phone back once safely across. Is it any wonder that every subsequent train that passed could be heard hooting loudly from miles away.We allowed ourselves the luxury of a hostel and some fine nosh at the Lindisfarne Inn, preparing for an early morning walk over the tidal causeway to Holy Island. We earned a stunning sunrise the next day and had 12km under our belt all before breakfast. We explored the island enjoying the gentle and beautiful rewards of its tranquil setting, knowing the efforts of the previous days had got us here the slow way and I sense the best way. It was a lovely end point and a place I’d certainly be tempted back to. The island is enchanting, given its tidal inaccessibility and seems quaintly stuck in time with its history evident in both the ruined Abby and prominent castle perched high against its eastern coastline. There’s wildlife and admirable vistas over the mud flats not to forget the liquor of choice here, Lindisfarne mead. Those monks certainly had spirit as we did toasting the end of our walk.If you’re interested in the walk check out the link below to plan your own Saint Cuthbert’s Way adventure. Happy walking.http://stcuthbertsway.info