I risked more smoked salmon with scrambled eggs for breakfast this morning and all was well.
Today was more like a rest day. We had a short stroll down to the coast which involved crossing the 60mph A1 road and then the main east coast railway. That bit was quite exciting. Rather than providing a footbridge, there was just a telephone and lots of warnings about trains travelling in excess of 100mph which means they arrive before you see them. Martin called the signalman and said we’d be over in 30 seconds so we were cleared to cross the line. But by the time he’d explained the protocol and we’d unlocked the gate, the 30 seconds had passed. There was then a further delay to arrange us into two households and apply the necessary social distancing for the benefit of the CCTV. We then set off across the line and by the time I’d cleared the track it felt more like half an hour since the call. However, the trainspotters among us would not be disappointed; the London bound express flew past soon after I’d locked the gate.
There was no telephone or signalman to give us the all clear to wade out to Holy Island. I poked the sand with my pole and declared it safe. We sat on the little wall and removed our socks and shoes, rolled up our trousers and with a tiny splash, dropped into the fast receding tide and set off on the final short but hazardous stretch of my pilgrimage to the Holy Island of Lindisfarne.
Why Holy? Because this is where Christianity became established in Britain. St Cuthbert preached here and was buried here. And it is where the Lindisfarne Gospels were written in the ninth century. So it’s a worthy pilgrimage destination.
The crossing was as dramatic a finish to a pilgrimage as I’ve ever experienced. At first, Lindisfarne is some 5Km away and the pilgrims follow a straight line called the Pilgrims Path marked by tall poles. It’s essential to complete the crossing within the six hours of low tide otherwise you will be washed away. That’s why I set off from Weybridge when I did to catch the morning low tide today.
The water was cool and the sand was mostly solid although there were patches of knee deep mud, some very slippery sections and some pleasant seaweed areas. There were a couple of small refuge huts on stilts for the reckless but, believe me, you wouldn’t want to sit out 6 hours of high tide in one of them.
Almost everyone drives along the causeway but there were a few others on the sands. It was a special experience. Some birds wandered around poking for worms, a colony of seals provided a suitable BBC soundtrack and gradually the castle came into view.
I wanted the crossing to last forever. You’d think walking barefoot for 5Km across the sea would be painful but your feet are so perfectly numbed by the cold that you don’t feel a thing.
Although this was my shortest pilgrimage in time it felt like the longest. I walked up England through places, whole regions I’d never visited before, poked my head into Scotland and then finished, after six weeks, off the Northumberland coast.
I was expecting a lonely passage in these times of the coronavirus but it was a challenge to spend so long without meeting anyone on the rural footpaths. There was poor weather at times which added to the bleak and desolate landscape. Without fellow walkers, I kept myself company by reliving special times of my past which might have crept into my blog but they kept me going.
Then just when I was approaching the most remote areas of the north Pennines where I was expecting total emptiness and the most awful foggy, wet and windy weather, everything changed. The sun shone, the landscape dazzled and the most wonderful people appeared to accompany me through the final stages of my pilgrimage.
I was always looking forward to crossing The Cheviots. They are mystical hills and they didn’t disappoint. The landscape was spectacular and I have so many very special memories of those last few days at the end of the Pennine Way. I will treasure them forever.
What a journey this has been. At the start of this year I intended to walk in Italy but it gradually became clear that an overseas trip would be tricky during the coronavirus pandemic. That’s why I decided to finally tackle the Pennine Way and to make a proper pilgrimage out of it. I hope you all stay safe in these very difficult times.