Recce of Stage 1
October 23, 2018
I decided to start some of my preparations for the Durham Round by exploring the first few miles of the route. A Recce of Stage 1, you would say. I had arranged to call my wife, and give her my location at 5:00pm to arrange a pickup from where ever I got to, by this time. I decided to take my 65 litre backpack with my sleeping bag, bivvy bag, stove, gas, food and water for the day. This was to also help to prepare to walk at distance with weight in my pack.
Starting of from Ushaw Moor
I set off from Ushaw Moor and walked into Durham City centre. The official start point of the round is the Market Square in Durham. I chose to start from my house and then join the first leg alongside the River Wear.
The first map looks like this:
I joined the round route at Framwellgate Pedestrian Bridge, and followed the River Wear. It was the weekend after storm Callum, so the river was flowing quickly with the huge volume of water that had fallen.
Another thing that was noticeable was that barely any of the people I met walking along the riverside were willing to acknowledge me. I make a point of giving a smile and greeting to everyone I meet, but the courtesy was rarely returned.
It started to rain.
The path along the river side is well surfaced with tarmac and lent itself to a fast start, too fast perhaps as I paid the price for this early speed later on in the day. The round leaves the riverbank near one of Durham Universities Colleges, St Hild and Bede. There has been some mudslides and the paths have definitely changed since the guide book by Jill Delaney was written. I put on my waterproof jacket at this point.
My map reading skills were immediately tested. I left the riverside and headed into the woodland, passing a foot bridge and immediately losing my way. I spent a few minutes going from path to path, eventually heading for the higher path away from the riverside. This area is called Pelaw Woods, and it rose quite quickly as I was looking for a path to take me towards Old Durham Farm.
I ended up going too far uphill and coming out behind a school on the south side of Gilesgate. I followed the path back down through a farmers field to Old Durham Farm, and hit the lane that I needed to head down near the kennels. I started to use some way points to help me navigate. For example, on the path I was on, I knew if I got to a footbridge I had gone too far and missed my turning. I kept doing this throughout the day to help keep me on track with the route I had marked on my OS Map.
I knew I was on the right path, and continued on through a farmers field with a public right of way, but no path. I think there was a path through the field that was actually created with a set of tractor tracks but I didn’t want to risk it so I took the longer more tangled route around the outside of the farmers field, on the edge of the undergrowth. I made my way through the motorway underpass under the A1(M), and out into a quite densely wooded area close to Sherburn Village. There was some water available near here, but I was a bit suspect about it. I think as I get more confident and get a decent water filtration system, I’ll be able to collect water as I go through the journey. On this trip I took 2.75l and didn’t end up using it all.
It was still raining.
After crossing the A181 near Sherburn House Farm, the path became again harder to follow, as it doesn’t seem to be very obvious. I ended up going around the farmers fields as opposed to trying to find the path through, but eventually, I was able to start to see the paths or sheep tracks that would lead to the exit of each field. I stopped at the footbridge crossing Sherburn Beck for a Stoat bar (a porridge bar with dried fruits), a banana, and to refill my 70ml water bottle from my 2l bottle in my backpack. This was approximately 12:00pm. I decided to turn my phone off at this point to save battery.
After this short break, I carried on and entered Sherburn Village proper. The path into the village is along the disused railway line. The weather was getting worse, so I broke out my boonie hat, and continued on. This meant that the peak of the hat kept the water from dripping off my hood and onto my glasses, a thoroughly irritating experience. The path left the disused railway line and went a few hundred meters into the village of Sherburn. The path then took a northerly route through some allotment buildings, and back on to the disused railway, it continued alongside the rear of the Ramside Hotels Golf course, and towards a disused mine shaft. This was another area of navigational error.
From the route I had marked I took a right hand turn around the disused mine shaft. I found the mine shaft and duly went around the far side of it, hitting a trail which I mistakenly thought would take me on to Low Pittington. In fact this trail lead southwards back towards Sherburn Village. I thought the distance seemed very short and I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t find the stud gate that was on Sue Delaney’s guide. After some careful consideration of the map, and cursing myself for losing my new compass before I even got to try it, I was able to identify where I was and had a decision to make. Do I, use the roads to walk the more direct route up to Low Pittington, or go back the way I came? I was highly aware the weather was terrible, and I wasn’t wearing any high visibility clothing and there were no footpaths on the road. So I did the sensible thing and headed back along the path I had taken, back to the disused mine shaft.
I did however take this opportunity to strip off my soaking lightweight walking trousers, and get into some proper waterproof trousers. Luckily no one was around to witness this very ungainly activity, especially trying to take off trousers and keep my feet as dry as possible. My boots were not providing any protection from the rain and wet grass that I had been ploughing through for the last few hours either. My socks were soaking and when I retied my laces after changing trousers water oozed out of the material underneath the laces.
When I found the disused mine shaft, I retraced my steps back to the disused railway line and continued on towards Low Pittington. Eventually I found the Blacksmiths Pub at Low Pittington and the call of a pint and some food was oh so strong. I resisted and found a bench to remove my boots, and stretch my feet a little. It had stopped raining now. I then returned to find the path from Low Pittington to High Pittington and crossed into another allotment area with a wide menagerie of animals from chickens to goats. I ended up missing the path to the side of the allotments and nearly went off to the South before I went back to find the Northeasterly path out of the village and towards an area called The Moor. This took me into a small wood of deciduous trees, where some recent felling had taken place so the smell was of sweet pine sap. I went down hill towards the footbridge and again navigated incorrectly.
I turned too quickly southwest and ended up walking within the wooded area all the way to the road at Coalford Lane, I should in reality, have carried on for longer after the footbridge and joined path leading to Coalford Lane Farm. I managed to join the path from the southern side and walk north to reach the path into the Farms land. The right of way leads through the farm land and across a horse racing track. Very bizarre. Even more tricky as I couldn’t get my backpack through the stiles leading onto and off the race track. Once I had left this area, I was into my fifth hour of walking, and decided to take a rest at the next available spot.
The next available spot was the children’s play area at Littletown, it was about 3:30pm at this point and the temperature was starting to drop. I donned my fake Decathlon down jacket and a woollen thinsulate hat. I took off my boots and tried to dry my feet a little, rubbing Vaseline into both my heels where rubbing hot spots had started to appear. I ate a banana and another stoat bar and considered cooking some pasta, but decided against it as I was planning on being collected in the next few hours. I headed out of Littletown, and after a brief chat with a friendly farmer headed down into the woodland of Dog Kennel Bank. This was a lovely piece of woodland where I would seriously consider wild camping in future. The only problem, as usual, is there was no readily available flowing water source that I could see. I missed the turning out of the woodland and continued higher up past Elemore Grange Farm. I wasn’t too bothered at this point as I knew if I hit a path heading south it would bring me to Low Haswell. I found the second path from the woodland up Low Haswell Bank. This meant passing through the field with the warning “Beware of the Bull”. Great. I climbed the hill as directly as possible keeping to the path but giving the bull a wide berth. He had something stuck in his horns, and I feared it was some sort of light weight technical material a long distance walker might wear! I managed to dive over the stile before the bull or his ladies really noticed I was there and sat down for a breather.
At this point I decided to turn my phone back on, thinking I would be able to arrange my collection in the next half and hour. I got my phone out my backpack. What’s this? Enter your code to complete the update? What update? Why was my phone still on 4 hours after I turned it off? Of course the bloody thing had turned back on and decided to do a software update while I was walking. My battery was 0%. The phone died. I have to admit my cool calm collected self was muttering, “ship, ship, ship” or something that rhymes with that while I went into full on panic mode. I decided to walk on to High Haswell and see if I could knock on someones door and ask if they would let me use their internet. Yes, their internet. As me, being a well organised 21st Century Digital boy, didn’t know any of my families telephone numbers, and didn’t have them written down either. Ship.
I walked past one house at Chapel Garth, but decided to knock on someones door at High Haswell. No answer. Ship, ship, ship. I crossed over and knocked at another door. Nothing again. As I was walking away a lady called me back and I explained my predicament. She was so lovely and let me use her phone to email my wife and my Mum, asking for them to get into contact with each other and organise my collection from High Haswell. The lady was every so kind, and I plan on returning to see her with a small token of my gratitude soon.
As I waited on the bench at High Haswell I thought I would try my phone, one last time. What’s this? 10% battery? I quickly rang my wife telling her my location and text my Mum telling her I was okay. 15 minutes later my wife appears and collects me for the return journey to Durham.
1) Never venture out without emergency contact details on you
2) Never venture out without an agreed pickup time and location
3) Buy a compass and look after it (Silva one perhaps?)
4) Buy a solar powered power back/phone charger
5) Waterproof my boots properly
6) Always bring spare socks
7) Have a system for carrying and making water safe
8) You are capable of walking around 18 miles in 1 day at this point
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