The 2nd September saw me take part in the 36th Cheviots Challenge, a hill walking event that raises money for Northumberland National Park Mountain Rescue. There were two routes that could be chosen, a shorter 17 mile route, and the route I chose, the 23 miler that incorporated 3500ft of climbing.
The day started early, 5am for me as it was a two hour drive from home to Alwinton in the heart of the Cheviot Hills, Northumberland. I’d prepped my bag the night before but was still unsure as to footwear, do I wear my Haix boots, or do I wear my Karrimor trail shoes? I thought I’d make a decision at the start of the event once I knew what the conditions were like.
The drive up to Northumberland was much more straightforward than I’d anticipated, I think I should travel everywhere at 5:30am, the roads are so clear! I arrived at the car park (field) in Alwinton and made my way to the pub, which was where we all had to register. I registered, confirmed that I was doing the long route, received my checkpoint card, and also a route map. I was told that, as it was still before 8:00am that, although registered, I was unable to set off until the official start time of 8:00am. “That’s cool” I thought as it would give me time to double check my gear and make a decision on footwear.
Back at the truck, sorting through my rucksack I heard a “Morning” from behind me. I turned round to see Ed, who was the
culprit person who had put this challenge idea in my head to begin with. You see, a few months ago I received a Facebook message from Ed with a link all about the Cheviots Challenge. I, being the good friend I am, signed up straight away to this event. Ed however, Ed didn’t sign up to do the challenge, noooo, Ed wasn’t going to take part was he… It turns out that our Ed was up in Northumberland though, in the next bloody village, visiting family, and had decided to come ‘see me off”.
During our chat I’d decided to go with the trail shoes, I thought that as it was due to be a warm day, and with the distance involved, the boots would be a little too heavy. I made the correct choice. Ed said he’d walk part of the way with me, “great!” I thought, I was otherwise alone, not knowing anyone who had entered. We set off just after 8:00am, I activated my Strava app. As we walked, Ed was telling me a bit about his childhood as he grew up in this area and had actually worked on the very farm we were walking past. After about 100 metres or so Ed said “right, I’m going to leave you here but good luck”. “Oh, marvellous” I thought, “It’s your bloody fault I’m here in the first place and you abandon me right at the beginning…” We said our goodbyes and I set off, alone. I wasn’t really alone, I had plenty of people that I could follow round.
The run to the first checkpoint was uphill, pretty much all the way. It was definitely a climb to get the old heart pumping. As I climbed I thought the views were awesome! I’m used to the scenery and landscape of the Yorkshire Dales, this was something new, these were The Cheviot Hills.
The weather was stunning, and the visibility, amazing. For a first trip into these hills, I wasn’t going to de disappointed. I reached the first checkpoint and nervously handed my card or stamping. I’m not sure why I was nervous, I think it was the fact I was doing something that I don’t ordinarily do. Not hill walking, I do a good deal of that, as can be seen from this blog. I think it was more to do with the fact I was taking part in order to raise money for (as well as the Northumberland National Park Mountain Rescue Team) Walking With The Wounded and the Yorkshire Air Ambulance. This was a big thing for me, something I’d never done before so I think that failing and letting the charities, and those that had sponsored me down was in the back of my mind.
You can still sponsor me by visiting my Virgin Money Giving page, any amount would be greatly appreciated.
Setting off from the first checkpoint I started chatting to a real nice chap called Glen. Glen had completed numerous Cheviots Challenge events in the past, in all manner of weathers. We chatted about various things and he told me of an accident he, and his wife had come across while out walking these very hills. The accident had actually very nearly cost the person their life, and if it hadn’t been for the efforts of Glen and his wife, the person would have certainly died.
We walked, and chatted about what lay ahead all the way to checkpoint 2 where Glen and I would part company. Glen had had a new knee fitted a few months earlier and as a result, was doing the shorter 17 mile route. We shook hands, wished each other luck and separated. I took the high road, and Glen took the low road, I’m sure there’s a song in there somewhere…
I headed up the hill towards Border Ridge and checkpoint 3.
The landscape had changed up here, no longer was I walking on grassy tracks, I was no on moorland tracks. These tracks would take me all the way to the border that separated England from Scotland.
The heather was in full bloom, a vibrant purple blanket, extending as far as the eye could see. I continued on and before I knew it, I had reached the third checkpoint of the day. From here I could see well into Scotland, although I was to stay in England, for the time being anyway… It was between checkpoints 3 and 4, part way along I received a phone call, I took my phone from my thigh pocket and continued on my journey, replacing it back in my pocket after the conversation was over.
A little further along the track I came to a cairn. On top of the cairn was a pole with a star on top, something I’d not seen before so I got my phone out to take a picture. It was then I realised that my checkpoint card was no longer in my pocket. I searched all my other pockets, knowing it wouldn’t be in any and searched the area I was stood. All to no avail. I decided that I’d better head back towards checkpoint 3 to see whether I could find it.
One of the people I asked if they’d seen a checkpoint card said not to worry about it. He said as long as I knew my entry number I’d be ok, people would loose them all the time. I thought he may be right so, even though I was close to checkpoint 3, I turned round and continued along towards checkpoint 4. About a mile from checkpoint 4 was the Ordnance Survey trig point at Windy Gyle. Glen had told me that Windy Gyle was right on the border and if I walked round the trig point I’d have walked from England into Scotland, and back again.
When I arrived there were a lot of people milling around, taking photographs, eating their dinners, etc. I decided not to hang around and continued on towards my destination. That said, Scotland was looking particularly beautiful.
I eventually reached checkpoint 4 and told the officials that I’d lost my card. “Oh, we’ve got it here!” said one, “you’re quite the topic, we’ve been talking about you on the radios. It’s the first time we’ve had a card arrive at a checkpoint before its owner before.” It seems someone had found the card prior to me knowing I’d lost it and had carried it to the next checkpoint. Finally reunited with my card, I hit the trail once more.
Checkpoint 5 was where those doing the shorter route would join up again with us that were doing the longer route. I did wonder whether I’d bump into Glen again, we had arranged to meet in the pub at the end of the event, if he was still around by the time I’d finished that is. The path from checkpoint 4 to 5 was pretty straightforward, although it was a good 4 miles or so between checkpoints. The scenery seemed to be getting better and better and I was beginning to see the route I’d taken in order to reach this point. It was like a horseshoe and the distance to this point from the start had me impressed. My previous longest day hike was my 16 mile hike, which you can read HERE.
The distance between checkpoint 5 and 6 was relatively short and I was feeling good in myself, although that was about to change… Checkpoints 6 to 7 were another good distance apart, just shy of four miles (if memory serves) and a lot of the walking would be on a gravel track. Initially the section ran alongside a wood and a really pretty stream that had some deep looking pools and I just felt like jumping in to cool off but I resisted the urge.
It wasn’t really until I started walking along the gravel track that I started to really feel the pain. I had developed a blister on my left heel but that wasn’t what was bothering me, it was the burning feeling I had in the soles of both feet. Every step I took felt like walking on hot coals, it was horrible. I was so glad I had taken a walking pole with me as I used it to try take some of the pressure off. I kept looking at the map and thinking to myself, “not much further, just keep pushing, one foot in front of the other.”
I finally made it to checkpoint 7. “Well done for getting this far” said the official, as he gave me some orange juice. “There’s only about two and a half miles to go now.” “Great!” I thought, “and only one more hill to go” he said. That wasn’t what I wanted to hear. I had a top up of water and set off on the final leg, this leg would be nothing but pure hell for me. At this point I’d walked about 21 miles, something my feet were not accustomed to. I set off, trying to hide the pain I was feeling and made my way along the path that would lead me to the final climb. As I was walking through the bracken I noticed that I was constantly going uphill, “if this is the hill then I can cope with this” I said to myself. It wasn’t.
I rounded a corner and in front of me stood the final hill. This hill might as well have been Mt Everest. It, although not big by any stretch, seemed huge to me. I was in pain, my feet felt like they were on fire and my blister was starting to get more painful with every step.
I looked again at the hill in front of me and I could see people traversing up the front of it. I was determined to finish this event so again, putting one foot in front of the other, pushed on. I came to a little stream at the foot of the hill and I put both feet in it. The water came flooding through my trail shoes and my feet were instantly frozen. I’m pretty sure they weren’t actually frozen but the water felt so cold. It took all the pain away and for a minute or two I was able to walk without the burning sensation. It soon wore off though and the burning was back. Pushing on, and standing in every pool or stream I came across, I kept going. I made it up and over the hill. On the descent I could see the village of Alwinton in the distance, my destination, and the finish line.
The very last section of the walk was along the road into the village. This, for me was almost unbearable, the burning I was feeling was so bad that I wished I could just float. I thought to myself that I couldn’t give up and the pain I was suffering now would be worthwhile in the end when the charities receive the money I’d raised. The suffering I was feeling was nothing to that of those the Walking With The Wounded charity helped. My few hours of suffering would be nothing compared to what they had experienced. With that thought in my head, I really pushed hard to the finish, although the village seemed to get further away with every step closer I took.
Eventually I made it to the village, to the pub, and to the final checkpoint. I handed in my card, was congratulated on completing the event, and was presented with my goodie bag and mug, courtesy of Cotswold Outdoors, along with my certificate. Putting everything on the table, I headed to the bar for a very, very, well earned pint.
As I sat there, contemplating what I’d just done, a couple I’d met while going round came in. We congratulated each other and they sat down with me where we chatted about what we’d just done and what we were going to do next. Heading back to our vehicles, we said our goodbyes, wished each other a safe journey, and went our separate ways.
Thanks to my little detour (looking for my checkpoint card) it turns out I’d actually put an extra mile on the hike, 23.9 miles in total. It was tough, real tough but it was worth every step and I’m looking forward to doing it again next year.