There is something very stirring, romantic even, about the idea of walking across an unmanned border from one country into another. For me, scenes and tunes from the Sound of Music certainly play their part, but there are other more profound resonances. My mother, not long before she died, wrote about her family’s escape from the Nazis and war torn France at the start of the Second World War. They journeyed through France, Spain and Portugal, via Scotland to England, and seventy years later, she still remembered having to cower terrified under blankets in a horse drawn cart as they crossed the countryside in the dead of night.
In May this year, J and I took 4 days out to walk from Morebattle in Scotland to Lindisfarne on Holy Island, off the Northumbrian coast. It was a distance of 37 miles, and was the second half of the St Cuthbert’s Way long distance walk. For some people, it is an act of pilgrimage, and the final leg of the journey can involve dragging a full size crucifix across to the island at low tide, all the while avoiding perilous quicksands. But for we amateur walkers, it represented both a personal challenge in stunningly beautiful countryside and for J, an opportunity to see Scotland for the first time.
Our first two days walking were consistently cool and wet, and as we were high up, we spent much of the day in cloud. J did a good job with the map and compass when we couldn’t see more than 70 yards ahead of us. Between quite demanding climbs, we crossed spectacular grouse heather moors, and the flowering gorse glowed golden and beautiful even in the murk. We crossed from Scotland into England with no one in sight for miles around. Late on the second day we encountered four holidaymakers, wandering out on the foggy moors without a map, utterly lost. In those conditions, only the river was a useful way finder for them.
By the third day, the sun had emerged, and we were enjoying rolling Borders countryside under blue skies. It was a land of gentle vistas and shady woodland, and we savoured that first glorious view of the sea. The causeway to the island is covered by tides twice each day, and the journey across has to be carefully timed.
Walking with my teenage son held its own pleasures. We talked for hours on end. I was surprised by how much he evidently enjoyed the walking. Putting him in charge of the map was a risk, but in the end took a whole load of stress off of me. We lost our way only once, and then just briefly. J thrived on the responsibility and made a very good job of it. We based ourselves in a gorgeous self-catering flat in Wooler for the whole walk, and this English market town suited us down to the ground.
Walking the St Cuthbert’s Way was only ever intended to be a one off, but we have grown an appetite for long distance walks. So last month, we made a start on the South Downs Way, a 109 mile trek which I expect to take us 14 days spread over as long as we need. J is of an age now where he might tire of accompanying me up hill and down dale, and I accept that I may have to complete it without him. But I do hope not, because I treasure these times walking with him.