Thursday, 16th May 2013

Journey oop North

It's 10am, the sun is out and Dave R (Trumpton), Mark (Former Fatboy or Slim), Martin and Simon (Cabin Boy) are powering North up the M11 in the Rogers Rocket. In the back, Martin – the expedition's Surgeon General - is already burbling on about medical matters, effervescing at the prospect of a major incident during the next few days. By 10.30 the conversation has shifted to the Dormobile Owners' Club, the features of Dave R's new motorhome (note to self – never call it a campervan or a mobile home) and the fact that the only facility it is lacking is a bidet. By 11.25, we're back onto serious stuff - Europe and whether the UK should be in or out – oh dear.

Lunch at the Markham Moor Truck Stop and we're joined by Gerry, Ian, John S, and Mike. Huge transport cafe with showers and all that a trucker could need, but no truckers! John A's flight from Exeter to Newcastle has been cancelled and he is now heading for Glasgow to catch a coach to Newcastle – little did he know that he would be sharing this four and a half hour coach trip with a stag party bound for a night out on the Quayside in Newcastle ......and only one toilet – lovely!

Question: why does Slim keep borrowing Martin's reading glasses to read Dave R's Illustrated Truckers Map – Isn't that what your parents do?

We arrive in Preston and The Joiner's Shop Bunkhouse that will be our home for the next five days. Dave F greets Mark “b----- hell, look at you, where have you gone?” We grab our bunks (note to self – in future, make sure you travel in the car that arrives first), unload our gear and look forward to our first, beautifully prepared evening meal.

The bunkhouse is a converted joiner's workshop. On the ground floor, there is a collection of old sofas in front of an open fire which we will light every night. There is a long dining table, a cooker and a sink that overlooks the yard. Upstairs, there are 18 bunks, two showers, three toilets and a dog bed for Finchey. John A arrives none the worse for his experience – excellent, he won't be missing the first day of walking.

After great food, drink, washing up, endless tales about past expeditions, we retire ahead of the first day's walk.

Friday, 17th May 2013

Budle Bay to The Joiner's Shop Bunkhouse (7.6 miles at Seahouses, 13.2 miles at High Newton-by-the-Sea, 17.2 miles at The Bunkhouse)

Dry, Sunny Intervals, 14°C

From my bunk high in the rafters, I can hear Dave R shuffling around far below. Elsewhere, gentle snoring can be heard from each bunk compartment interspersed with the occasional cough and fart. It's 6am. Finchey – massive paws padding across the wooden floor – walks through the bunks investigating. Dave F, in the firmest whisper he can muster (do they teach that in The Met?), shouts “Finch, Finch, Finch, Finch, Finch' in a vain attempt to get the dog to do what he wants. Outside, it is damp and misty.

After the best cooked breakfast I have had in a while, we leave Dave F and Finchey to enjoy the peace of Preston and set off in the two cars for the start of our first walk.

The cars are parked on the B1342 adjacent to Budle Bay and five minutes later, we are walking along the Northumberland Coast Path towards Essex. We soon leave the road behind and start heading uphill along the edges of planted fields (apart from a small contingent led by Martin that follows the actual footpath!). We are soon rewarded with stunning views to the North - across Budle Bay and the wide expanse of deserted beach to Holy Island and Lindisfarne Castle.

We arrive at the first of many golf courses that we will have to traverse - Bamburgh Castle Golf Club. Walking along the low cliff edge we can see the Farne Islands and Longstone Lighthouse in the far distance. The path leads us beneath the imposing and pristine, pink stone walls of Bamburgh Castle to the visitors car park where we stop to admire a gorgeous, pale blue Aston Martin DB5. After a long debate about the financial worth of this national treasure, we step out along Links Road before heading inland to pick up the footpath as it heads towards Seahouses.

Stopping on the wide verge in front of some very pretty cottages to sip from bladders and adjust our clothing (it's warming up for the first and last time) the group is entertained with a private conversation between Martin and Slim on the features , advantages and benefits of Lederhosen. Yes, this is a serious discussion, even down to the details that adorn them – apparently, a red deer is a common emblem! Note to self – talk to daughter about her boyfriend's family.

It was at this point, while Slim unzipped his trousers (to remove the bottom half of his legs), that the assembled ten men encounter their first tantalising glimpse of the local librarian – young, female, long dark hair – and driving the mobile library. Like a scene from Postman Pat, she waves cheerily at the handsome members of the Association of HeavyWeight Campers .....and, a bit stunned, they wave back. We will be seeing her again throughout our stay, driving this public service along the deserted lanes of Northumberland.

We pick up the disused railway line on the outskirts of Seahouses which will lead us to the centre of the town. We adjourn to an auditorium of memorial benches overlooking the small harbour. Under crisp blue skies and feeling cold, we eat our sandwiches, two AHWC members to each bench. Half way through the lunch and Mike looks up to observe a seagull on a flight path that will pass directly over his head. A split second later, he complains that it has dropped a Number Two between his eyes. There is no visible evidence of this and we conclude that it must have been a Number One – or in his imagination???

Ian then makes the fatal error of standing up to look for a bin in which to place his banana skin. Within milliseconds, nine other AHWC members show support for him and the environment by donating their rubbish for disposal – only there is no bin. Note to self – never, ever be the first to stand up after lunch.

Refreshed, we rejoin the Coast Path and traverse Seahouses Golf Club – a local golfer in strangely coloured attire greats us – “Ow do's? Ware's thew marchin too?” – and continue to our next major incident, ‘Beadnell Bay Camping and Caravanning Club Site welcomes visitors to Northumberland'...

The footpath emerges into this Caravanning Club site. We pause on the edge of an area of grass that could take about 20 caravans – only it was empty. Our group gathers together, chatting, sipping water, seeking minor medical attention from Martin, letting everyone catch up. Within seconds, a rather tense man emerges from Camping Headquarters to inform us that this is private property and – essentially – we have to clear off. He scuttles back into CHQ and we, chilled (apart from Slim) decide to stay. Two minutes later, what we can only assume is the rather tense man's wife (his boss) emerges to inform us that we are not allowed to take photographs (of what???) on their property. She too scuttles back into CHQ and we ignore the instruction. Fuel, oxygen, ignition – all delivered in six minutes....Slim, indignant at the fact that both he and Trumpton are Caravanning Club Members (nobody else admits to it) starts banging on, and on, and on, and on – and will continue to do so for the next four days and four nights. A copy of the letter Slim will be sending to the Caravanning Club, and their response – if it is ever forthcoming - will be added to this diary in due course.

We continue along Harbour Road before turning inland through Beadnell Bay Caravan Park. The path follows the edge of the bay – windswept, cold and very beautiful. Crossing Brunton Burn, we walk to the small hamlet of High Newton-by-the-Sea and adjourn to The Joiners Arms for refreshments. The group splits – some returning to The Bunkhouse by car and some walking the remaining four miles across fields full of inquisitive bullocks force Cabin Boy to cower beside the fence, and so to Brunton and then along the roads back to Preston.

The day is rounded off in The Bunkhouse with tea, showers, another delicious evening meal, more washing up, a few beers, a roaring fire, dog stroking, medical attention from Martin, more endless tales from past expeditions and then deep sleep up in the rafters. A day to remember.

Saturday, 18th May

Embleton Bay to Warkworth (6.4 miles at Boulmer, 14.9 miles at Warkworth)

Overcast / Showers / 14°C

Morning number two in The Joiner's Shop Bunkhouse. Another great cooked breakfast – the bacon from the half pig Dave F brought with him. More washing up. More industrialised sandwich making. More abluting. Then, we're outside in the courtyard assembling for the off.

We park the cars just South of High Newton-by-the-Sea. We pick up the Coast Path and crossing out first golf course of the day - Dunstanburgh Castle Golf Club - head South, roughly in the direction of Essex. We arrive in Craster and it's a bit damp. Colin is enjoying an early day hallucination – some talk of “wearing a carafe round my neck”. It's early, he's clearly in need of caffeine and we head straight for a coffee shop where we enjoy our first refreshments of the day.

We emerge and reluctantly trudge on South until we reached Boulmer where the prospect of escaping the rain and enjoying a pint (two for Mike) in the local pub proves irresistible. The weather is showing no improvement but we decide to continue walking. Outside, in the pouring rain, five of the group disappear into the pub's smoking lodge (a rather upmarket bus shelter affair). Giggling like school children, they eat their lunch while the other AHWC members continue walking wondering how the missing five could have possibly disappeared over the horizon in such a short space of time.

Mike calls for Dave F claiming he's off to find some mountains because this place is just too flat. They go to Alnwick to buy Dave a Barbour – well, find one for Paula to source on the internet.

The Coast Path takes us through more caravan parks until we reach a deserted bay, just North of Alnmouth. We pause on a beach that has been washed clean by the ebbing tide while the rest of the group eat their lunch – now who's laughing!

We move on, walking past dunes and across Alnmouth Golf Club – the fourth oldest golf club in England. Unable to follow the footpath marked on the map and cross the Aln Estuary at its mouth because of the risk of drowning, we walk inland and across the road bridge. Across yet another golf course and through yet another caravan park, we find ourselves walking in single file along a road that will lead to the end of today's walk at The Masons Arms in Warkworth.

Two vehicles, travelling in opposite directions, slow down as they reach us. Both pass us carefully and Colin acknowledges the fact with a gentlemanly raising of the hand. Within seconds, the driver of the Transit engages the emergency stop button. His startled girlfriend lurches forward in the passenger seat releasing something from her hand which hurtles downwards into the foot well. In the back of the van, the contents release their grip of the van floor and slide forward crashing into the back of the cab. Had a dog run out? Had one of our party ended up on the wrong side of the road while texting home? Had Martin spotted a medical emergency on the verge and dashed across to apply his skills? No.... the driver's door is flung open, the driver emerges in a rage and shouts across to Colin “whu tha f.. day ya think yar wavin at?” Colin, is shocked but remains super cool. He explains in his very best non-Geordie accent. To the not inconsiderable relief of everyone else, who thinks they are going to have to rescue him from a fight, the Transit moves on. Note to self – don't walk near Colin again, well-meaning but he does upset the locals.

Our drivers (Dave R and John S) recover their vehicles and then their passengers from The Masons Arms and we return to The Bunkhouse for tea and cake. Dave F presents Former Fatboy with a delicious chocolate cake to celebrate his recent (60th?) birthday and Slim responds by counting the calories.

Showers, yet another fantastic meal courtesy of Dave F, more washing up, a moderate amount of alcohol, a few sparks from the fire, more laughter and more debate about the walk tomorrow. It has rained today and the forecast for tomorrow is not great. We head for the bunks and an ever deeper sleep.

Sunday, 19th May

Across Lindisfarne Causway, round Holy Island and back (9.3 miles)

Overcast / Misty / Dry / 14°C

It's day three and in an attempt not to cross a golf course or walk through a caravan park, we decide to visit Holy Island.

With low water around noon, the two cars leave The Joiner's Shop Bunkhouse at 10.30 and head for Holy Island. Half an hour later, we arrive at the car park at the West end of Lindisfarne Causeway. Another tourist, with a bike, immediately engages Martin in a mutually admiring conversation until her husband intervenes.

We walk across The Causeway through the mist to Holy Island. The atmosphere is very eerie – walking on tarmac covered by a thin veneer of sand left by the ebbing tide. We pass the safety station in the drifting mist and, in the murky distance, can see the poles that mark St Oswald's Way arrow straight across the level sands. Arriving on The Island, we decide to head straight for a cafe where Mike entertains for 10 minutes with a demonstration of his engineering skills (CE & MCIBSE) by opening a garden gate. We enjoy seven coffees, one tea, a latte and a mocha. Waiting for the mist to lift, Mike nearly gets struck by bird poo again and Dave – or was it Slim – emptied the contents of the milk jug into Dave's rucksack.

Refreshed, humour restored, we walk up to Lindisfarne Castle and then descend via the sheep latrine to the shoreline. To the South, we can see pointed, stone obelisks across the bay near Hen Pool – and debate whether they are transit beacons for mariners. The mist lifts a little but it remains cold and we shelter from thw whistling wind behind a stone wall for lunch watching the waves crash onto the stone covered shore and wonder why the illustrious hermit St Cuthbert received so few visitors.

Refuelled, we step out across the dunes. In spite of the poor weather, the island is busy with day trippers and bird watchers. Apart from a couple of cyclists, we are the only people not in a car, on a motorbike or in a coach.

The homeward stretch – suddenly, from the very back of the group and with just two miles to go, Trumpton, engages warp drive (to become known as ‘Doing a Dave'). Gait engaged, arms swinging from port to starboard, he positions himself in the slip stream of the nine men in front. Overtaking each one, he then holds pole position for the rest of the day and reaches the car park four minutes ahead of the next man (Slim). Truly impressive. His resolute determination undimmed by a head on incident with a motorist as they play a game of chicken. My lasting image of the holiday is of Dave disappearing into the mist as it swirled across Lindisfarne Causeway, arms raking from side to side – very Dickensian and pretty impressive given the pain his feet were giving him.

Home by four - more tea, more cake, more showers, another delicious meal, a few glasses of beer/wine, tales from of the pubs and clubs of Essex and the East End and a lot of nodding off in front of a roaring fire. Mission accomplished - no golf courses and no caravan parks today.

Monday, 20th May

Rothbury to West Thirston – was supposed to be a walk along the river bank (11.2 miles)

Fair / Dry / 15°C

The two cars pass the entrance to Cragside on their way in to the pretty town of Rothbury. Parking down by the River Coquet in fine weather at the Roal Moat memorial gardens, we head off in an Easterly direction towards Denmark.

Walking along a mixture of road, disused railway line, field (where we see a sheep giving birth), river edge and farm track, we arrive at Thorney Haugh Farm with its self catering accommodation. Unable to resist the chipboard swing hanging from a rather prominent tree, Martin comments that he hopes his weight will not cause it to break. Back and forth, back breaks! Much sniggering abounds as the assembled AHWC members pretend they have seen nothing and skulk off.

Continuing our path East, we pick up The River again where we spot fish rising. Close to the A697, we use the old road bridge to cross to the North side of the River where we eat lunch before liquid refreshments at the very welcoming and elegantly refined Anglers Arms. We take the hint and sit outside on the bridge.

Continuing along the North bank of The River, we see a Sika deer and her tiny foal – a very rare sight. We cross beneath the A1 and walk on past Felton Park. The state of our mental health is showing as we walk past a warning sign ‘Slow Squirrels Crossing'. There ensues five minutes of conversation about what could lie behind the beautiful walled garden on our right – a convalescence home for squirrels; a rescue centre for maltreated and undernourished squirrels that had been brought from around the world to spend their final years resting in these tranquil surroundings; respite care for squirrels who were in the final years of their lives and now needed others to bury their nuts for them. It was clearly the final day.

We arrive in West Thirston, and not being an odd-numbered Thursday, the pubs are closed. Dave F is already here and is a bit grumpy? We enjoy hot drinks on the Felton and Thirston Old Bridge while watching a fly fisherman cast his last few lures of the day. The cars are recovered and on the return journey to The Joiner's Shop Bunkhouse, we stop off in Alnwick to withdraw cash ahead of the evening settling-up and debate on where we are going in 2014.

Tuesday, 21st May

Back to the land of white socks and civilisation

And that is it for another year. One last Full English, one last washing up session, a spot of vacuuming and we leave at 9am bound for Lincolnshire, Essex, Devon and Powys.

Birds Twitched (thank you to John A and Gerry – they are the only two who are capable of identifying what they spot)...

Flora Spotted – well, some of it (thank you to Martin and John A)...