St Cuthbert’s Way: Part 4 – Yetholm to Lindisfarne

This is part 4 of useful information gleaned from our extended 110 mile St Cuthbert’s Way walk from Peebles to Lindisfarne in September 2012. Part 1 is here. Part 2 is here. Part 3 is here.

The third section of the St Cuthbert’s is across the northern Cheviots from Yetholm to Wooler – up then down, up then down. There are no facilities on the route but it’s all very beautiful. Wooler is a sizeable town with plenty of pubs, cafes and shops. There also a Cooperative store on the main street open till 11pm most days. The Tourist Information Centre is the place to get your next stamp, but it closes at 4.30 so don’t be late. There are quite a few campsites in and around Wooler but we ended up staying in one on the Chatton Road that is so small I can only identify it by its Landranger coordinates – NU003286. But on a wet night, we were very happy to get the use of a static caravan with heating, shower, kitchen and a proper bed for £15.

The final section takes you through lovely Northumberland countryside with occasional tantalising views of Lindisfarne, but with no facilities until you get close to the A1 near the coast. We crossed to Lindisfarne over the sands on the Pilgrims Way. Despite the unavoidable stinky mudflat in the middle, this was a highlight of the journey. Just make sure you understand the tide times table and try to start your crossing as soon the table says it is safe to.

Even if you only have time to stay until the tide comes back in, Lindisfarne is a very deserving pilgrimage destination. You can get your final proof at the post office, and the 477 bus runs back to the mainland just before safe crossing ends – only on Wednesdays and Saturdays from September to May. But if you can stay overnight when the island is much quieter, the experience is even better.

We stayed at the Lindisfarne Hotel which has nice rooms for a very reasonable (for Lindisfarne) price. The proprietor Sean is a mine of information and something of a character (in a very helpful way). As the walk was to mark a birthday with a zero at the end, we celebrated with dinner at the Beangoose Resturant (now closed) which serves lovely food even if the local lobster isn’t available. Of the many, mostly tourist oriented, shops we found the Lindisfarne Scriptorium to be interesting and genuine.

Keep Reading

St Cuthbert’s Way: Part 3 – Melrose to Yetholm

This is part 3 of useful information gleaned from our extended 110 mile St Cuthbert’s Way walk from Peebles to Lindisfarne in September 2012. Part 1 is here. Part 2 is here.

The St Cuthbert’s Way starts at the Melrose Tourist Information Centre. You can get your proof sheet stamped here but bring your own, their printer wasn’t working very well when they last printed a batch. After crossing the Eildon Hills, which you’ll be able to see until the start of the Cheviots, the Way drops into Newtown St Boswells where there’s a Coop, public loo, bank and the Lunch Box sandwich shop. Which is fine for cheap fuel, but if the budget allows and your stomach will hold out then wait until St Boswells. Here you’ll find the Main Street Trading Company, which combines an award winning bookshop with a very nice cafe. After finally leaving the banks of the River Tweed, the Way follows the Dere Street Roman road – a surprisingly wiggly route – to the Harestanes Visitor Centre. You can get your next stamp here but it’s only open between 10 and 5. Even the toilets are locked out of hours. We wildcamped on the other side of the Teviot.

The next stretch goes through some lovely woods, rolling farmland and past the ruins of Cessford Castle but the first place with facilities is Morebattle. Here there are public loos, a shop (closed weekend afternoons) and the Templehall Hotel pub, which serves food and has accommodation. From Morebattle, the Way climbs steeply up to Wideopen Hill, the highest and halfway point of the route. This section has some viciously steep ladder stiles over walls and we met a Norwegian the next day who had hurt his knee coming down one, so be extra careful.

We stayed at the recently reopened Youth Hostel in Kirk Yetholm, which is also the place to get your next stamp. This is closed between 10am and 5pm, getting your proof is always a challenge. If you want to cook at the hostel, there’s a very good shop a few minutes walk away in Town Yetholm, which is open 7am till 6pm except Sundays when it’s 9am till 4pm. Otherwise it’s The Plough in Town Yetholm, which reputedly has good straightforward food, or the Border Arms Hotel in Kirk Yetholm, which is overpriced and over fussy.

Next time: To Lindisfarne

Keep Reading

St Cuthbert’s Way: Part 2 – Southern Upland Way

This is part 2 of useful information gleaned from our extended 110 mile St Cuthbert’s Way walk from Peebles to Lindisfarne in September 2012. Part 1 is here.

At St Mary’s Loch, we picked up the Southern Upland Way for a couple of days. This is a well marked route which we really enjoyed. After a few miles along the loch, there’s a 13km section from Dryhope Tower to Traquair which is quite remote feeling, boggy upland with a bit of forest thrown in. It rained a lot this day so we were very grateful for Pat and Brian Hudson’s hospitality at the Quair View guest house in Traquair, all for a flat £25 pppn with breakfast. We ate that evening at the Traquair Arms Hotel just over a mile away in Innerleithen. There are a lot of pubs and hotels that will happily serve you very average food for £10+ a plate. The Traquair Arms serves very good food for a similar price so treat yourself there instead.

We took a break the next day and went back to Innerleithen. The Whistlestop Cafe is a very good daytime cafe with especially nice soups. Open on Sundays too. The Alpine Bikes shop (possibly closed down) might help you stock up on energy bars and there’s a good sized Coop opposite. Innerleithen has a few good secondhand book shops and is generally a more interesting place than it had been made out to be.

The next day was a long section of Southern Upland Way from Traquair to Melrose. It starts with about 400m of ascent and then continues along an east-west ridge with fantastic views. Then you drop through forest to the Tweed at Yairbrig (the Airy Fairy B&B was here at the time but we didn’t stop so I can’t comment). So far so fantastic. I wish we’d left the marked way here and followed the Tweed to Melrose. But we continued up and down to Gala Hill above Galashiels. I wish we’d left the marked way here and skirted around Gala Hill before dropping towards Melrose. But we didn’t, we followed the way down into Galashiels and then back up the other side of Gala Hill before arriving at Melrose around 7.30. A long day. But the Old Bank House B&B made up for it – very good accommodation, right on the (quiet) main street and the best breakfast of the whole trip.

We took another break day in Melrose. Although it’s a very tourist oriented town with shops which cater to that, there’s still enough practical stuff to get by. A small Coop, a Spar and a Boots are about the extent of the chains but there are also fishmongers, butchers, bakeries and a good deli – the Country Kitchen – where we stocked up on porridge oats, dried fruit and a few treats. The Bakehouse sells cheap sandwiches and hot snacks. Between Monday and Thursday, the Station Hotel currently serves main courses for £6 with accompanying starters and desserts for £2 each – perfectly reasonable food and keenly priced. There are lots of other places to eat in Melrose including a fish and chip chop and an expensive looking Italian place in the old station – worth visiting the station to walk up onto the platform to watch what is now the town bypass – weird feeling. We chose the Kings Arms Hotel because we were late on the first night and it was still serving – turned out to be nice food.

Next time: The St Cuthberts Way itself

Keep Reading

St Cuthbert’s Way: Part 1

St Cuthbert’s Way is a 62 mile waymarked walk from Melrose in Scotland via the Cheviot Hills of Northumberland to Lindisfarne, also known as Holy Island. Theo and I walked an extended St Cuthberts Way in September 2012, starting in Peebles and using a couple of sections of the Southern Upland Way to connect us in at Melrose. I’m not intending to blog the whole thing, but just to share some of the places we used and liked along the way in the hope that this might help others doing the walk

We started off at the Old Mill camp site at West Kyloe Farm just off the A1 and with our end point of Lindisfarne in sight a few miles away. This is a clean and tidy site with excellent facilities which mostly caters to motorhomes but will take tents by arrangement. The owner, Teresa Smalley, was very helpful, let us store our car at the site until we got back ten days later and even gave us a lift to the bus in the morning. The only thing to bear in mind if you’re on foot is that the camping area is about a half mile from the road.

We took three buses to get from the Beal crossroads to Peebles. It all worked out fine but I would suggest using Traveline Scotland‘s phone helpline to plan a route like this as my internet searches had failed to track down some services that would have made life simpler if I’d known about them earlier.

From Peebles, we took a section of the John Buchan Way over Cademuir Hill and into the Manor Valley. This was a really great short walk. We really wanted to be in the Manor valley so we could walk south over the hills to Meggett Water and the Southern Upland Way, but accommodation in this dead end valley is relatively hard to come by. The best place is Castlehill Knowe B&B but their rooms were fully booked. However Sue and Roger kindly made space for us to camp in their garden, gave us access to indoor facilities and cooked us breakfast, all for the price of a tent pitch. It would probably be possible to wild camp further up the valley, but a lot of it is owned by a very large egg producer who didn’t sound too co-operative.

The walk from Manor to Meggett is only signed at either end but isn’t difficult to follow and has great views of Dollar Law, one of the highest hills in the Borders. We ended the day at the Tibbie Shiels Inn campsite on St Mary’s Loch. This is in a lovely location but facing three valleys running from SW to NW so it gets a lot of weather. And did while we were there. The facilities are basic and it was feeling a bit end of season, so we decided not to spend a rest day there and continued on after one night. [Tibbie Shiels closed in 2015 under curious circumstances.]

Next time: the Southern Upland Way

Keep Reading

Easter road trip: Tir Penrhos Isaf

After leaving Cae Mabon, we headed across (well, around) Snowdonia to Chris and Lyn Dixon’s permaculture smallholding Tir Penrhos Isaf, where we’d arranged a guided tour. This was the part of the trip I think we were most looking forward to, and it did not disappoint. The photos I took, however, aren’t that great. Hey ho.


Chris and Lyn bought the farm in 1986 and the permaculture design started then. At the time it was seven acres of tired sheep pasture with a derelict barn in a valley clearing in the woods. Their first planning application to create a sustainable residence and establish a permaculture smallholding was made in 1989, a time when “sustainable” and “permaculture” weren’t part of planning language – arguably permaculture still isn’t.

They were keen to establish a precedent for permaculture so persevered, while living on site in a caravan with a series of three year temporary permissions, for over fifteen years until finally having to accept planning permission for a barn conversion in 2006. They were understandably disappointed to have to accept a compromise and not establish the precedent, but Lyn had suffered two bouts of cancer and they needed to get on with their lives without the threat of eviction.


And along the way, Chris has exposed a lot of planning officers and councillors to his ideas, and established a library of planning documents on his website for others to refer to. He used to post copies out to people so the web has definitely transformed that part of his life. :)

Chris gave us a fascinating tour of the property, I think it was supposed to last two hours but we ended up being there for over four. We started in the wooded area which he originally fenced off from the sheep in 1986 and then, as is the principle of permaculture gardening, observed before making minimal interventions. One of the stages it went through was heavy gorse cover and, as a result, Chris has developed something of a fascination with the plant.


We then went through the core gardens area and looked at how that had developed over the years before finishing with some of the water management techniques he’s currently experimenting with.

All this was put in the context of permaculture principles and Chris really expanded our idea of what permaculture is, specifically the idea of multiple primary income streams with secondary ‘hobby’ income streams which have the potential to become primary when required or if particularly successful.

One of the income streams at Tir Penrhos Isaf is Lyn’s horse training business – they have stables and a large horse pen so they can house and train horses (and their owners, one suspects). The idea of multiple income streams is actually best expressed in Lyn’s Permaculture Design and Horses document which she prepared for one of the planning applications.


The farm was featured in the recent BBC Natural World documentary A Farm For The Future in which wildlife film maker Rebecca Hosking investigates how to transform her family’s farm in Devon into a low energy farm for the future. The whole programme is available in a very blurry copy on Youtube.

Apparently the BBC crew were at the farm for three days to get the three minutes of footage that was used. Chris was keen to point out that the farm has never been completely self sufficent in food as was suggested.

At their highest production, they were probably theoretically self sufficient for ten months of the year. Currently due to the amount of time and energy being put into the conversion of the barn which Chris is doing himself, the figure is a lot lower than that.


So that was Tir Penrhos Isaf. A real inspiration and we hope to run into Chris again at the permaculture design course run by Sector39 at Llanfyllin Workhouse.

I’m sure there’s a lot more fascinating detail to add to this but I’ll leave that as a challenge for Theo since she took the notes.

Easter road trip: Cae Mabon

Our Easter road trip was intended to draw some inspirations for how and where we may want to live. One of the main destinations was Cae Mabon where we planned to help for a day of their Easter working party, and also to find out just what Cae Mabon is.


The tale starts in the early 1980s when storyteller Eric Maddern, an Australian by birth who spent the latter years of his childhood in the UK, returned from travels to California, Alice Springs and beyond to settle in North Wales.

Twice he saw the cottage in the woods above Lake Padarn but failed to secure it: the third time he made it his. And in the more than twenty years since then, he has transformed the site into a retreat and education centre – but so much more.

The site itself is very lovely, that of course is why he was drawn to it so strongly. The small cottage is at the top of the plot which then falls steeply away down to the lake (which technically it doesn’t front on to being separated from it by the Llanberis lake railway). A fast flowing stream rushes down one side of the property and there are plentiful trees.

What Eric has done to it has only added to the magic. To support its use as a retreat centre, various accommodations have been built. And what buildings they are: an Iron Age style roundhouse; a small existing barn which has been extended and converted into the kitchen and meeting/eating area; a cob (earth) cottage started as part of an onsite course in cob building techniques run by Ianto Evans and Linda Smiley of the Cob Cottage Company ; and dwellings for visitors to stay in – a hobbit house with a round door, a Swiss chalet, a straw bale hogan, and a cedar cabin.


Several of the buildings incorporate interesting energy saving techniques: a rocket stove built into an internal bench so the smoke heats it up rather than venting wastefully straight up a chimney; a cob storage radiator behind a full length south facing window so that it absorbs heat during the day and gives it out during the night; and turf roofs of course.

The sustainable living ethos doesn’t end there. The cottage and studio barn are fed by mains electric but the rest of the buildings are lit solely by solar-powered LED lighting. I think Eric was probably driven to fit this after the shock of the first roundhouse burning down due to a stray candle.

The toilets are composting. The kitchen waste water is filtered and fed back into the stream and lake. There’s a vegetable garden and chickens on the site (as we would find out when we came to the work party). There are creature comforts as well, notably a wood-fired hot tub next to the stream.


We arrived there on Good Friday evening and were sorted out with accommodation by Alison, who was doing a fantastic job of fitting people in. I guess at this stage there were two dozen people on site although this would swell to closer to three dozen by Saturday night. Eric holds a working party for two weeks over Easter to get the site ready for the summer and hopefully progress a few projects as well.

Some people were travelling or volunteering their way around the country or world, some were working party regulars or friends of Eric (the distinction blurs over time of course), and some were curious newbies like ourselves. All were friendly. Dinner was simple but tasty – there’s a £5 per day contribution towards food.

After dinner, Theo took advantage of the hot tub while a fire was being stoked up in the roundhouse. Everybody gathered, some songs were sung by Eric and then a couple of the volunteers talked about the permaculture course they’d attended at Findhorn, a longstanding community in the north of Scotland. When they’d finished we slipped away to bed.


After breakfast, the morning meeting took place in the studio barn where Eric went through all the jobs that needed doing and people bagsed what they fancied. We decided to help out in the garden. I tidied up the shed while Kestrel and The Fairy helped with weeding, planting seedlings and harvesting some greenery for lunch.

The Fairy and I then settled into our main task, levelling out an area for a polytunnel to sit on. This involved wheelbarrowing a pile of small rocks (sieved out of the soil which had been used for the vegetable beds) and using them to build up the lower edge of the patch against a retaining stone wall – the area used to be full of slate quarries so stone is not in short supply. It didn’t seem like a big pile but it kept us busy until lunchtime.


After lunch, we took advantage of the sunshine and had the catch up meeting in the outdoor circle. Being a storyteller, Eric has a fondness for extravagant gestures, although I have no idea why the subject of aeroplanes appears to have come up during the meeting.

Anyway, the net result as far as we were concerned was that Kestrel and I would continue levelling the area for the polytunnel. Meanwhile The Fairy would help with some decorative painting in the Longhouse, a bunkhouse which had just had a fresh coat of paint inside.

After we’d finished the levelling, I wandered down to the Longhouse to find The Fairy, Mandy and Kevin carefully filling in the swirls they’d pencilled on the ceiling and walls – especially carefully since normal house paint isn’t the best material for detail work! But it looked fantastic and even by association, it felt very satisfying to leave such a permanent mark on Cae Mabon.


From there, we helped cook dinner for ever growing number of people – throw some more vegetables into the sauce and put more pasta on! – before a quiet night chatting and reading in the studio barn. We had to be away early the next morning.

Cae Mabon is a hybrid. It isn’t a fully fledged community, it’s essentially Eric, Keith and various helpers running a centre. But for the period of the work party it does function like a permanent community and it was really interesting to see how that can happen. Understanding the dynamics of group living and working is an important part of permaculture.


Cae Mabon really flourishes due to the goodwill people feel towards Eric and the place he’s created. One of the volunteers is a permanent resident at the Centre for Alternative Technology and he’d cycled over to spend his Easter weekend helping Eric, and this wasn’t the first time. And he wasn’t the only skilled and talented person making a similar commitment. That speaks volumes for what people think of the place.

We were similarly charmed by Cae Mabon the place and Eric the person. I’ve no doubt we’ll be back at some point.