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St Cuthbert's Way

11th-18th June 2010

St Cuthbert's Way was opened in 1996 in a deliberate (and successful) attempt to bring walkers to the Borders region of Scotland/England.  The 62-mile route runs from Melrose (in Scotland) to the tidal island of Lindisfarne (also known as Holy Island or 'The Holy Island of Lindisfarne') by way of the Eildon Hills, the River Tweed, the route of Dere Street and then across the Cheviot Hills from Morebattle to Wooler. We completed the walk by following the Pilgrim's Way across the sands to Lindisfarne. We thoroughly enjoyed the walk - the only criticism we could think of was that it wasn't long enough! The walking was varied and relatively easy and, apart from some light rain, and one day that was slightly too warm, the weather was perfect for walking.

St Cuthbert's Way was designed as a cross-Border walking route linking places associated with the life of St Cuthbert. Cuthbert lived in the 7th Century AD and started his ministry at the monastery at Melrose (the site of which is thought to be the modern-day Old Melrose) when he was about 16. He returned to Melrose as prior following the death of Boisil, the previous prior, from 'yellow plague'. Cuthbert also had the disease but survived 'by the power of prayer'; an experience he never forgot. As prior of Melrose, Cuthbert would have travelled widely, visiting people in the remoter parts of the area, so it is thought that he would have known the Border Country well. He was known as the 'Fire in the North'.

Cuthbert later went to Lindisfarne, first as prior and then as bishop. He enjoyed solitude and studying the natural world (eider ducks became known as St Cuthbert's ducks, or 'cuddy ducks' in the area) and he died on Inner Farne. Following his death and canonisation, the Community of St Cuthbert was responsible for the Lindisfarne Gospels. In 875 AD, following a number of Viking raids, the Community left the island with the saint's relics on what turned into an eight-year journey around the north of England and the south and west of Scotland, ending at Durham.
At least one place on St Cuthbert's Way (St Cuthbert's Cave, where his relics are said to have rested on their first night off the island) is associated with this journey rather than being a place that Cuthbert visited when he was alive. The photograph on the right shows the lifesize carving of 'The Journey', in St Mary's Church, Lindisfarne.

The route of St Cuthbert's Way is extremely well signposted in Scotland; rather less so in England. We also used Ordnance Survey 1: 25000 maps (sheets 338, OL16 and 340) and Ron Shaw's official guide : 'St Cuthbert's Way'. This was generally very useful, though occasionally a description of something was given after the instructions to the next place - strictly speaking it was never inaccurate but it was sometimes confusing.

We had booked the walk with Contours Walking Holidays and they did us proud with accomodation (mostly in B&Bs, but also one inn and one hotel) - it was all good and generally excellent. Our luggage was transported by a local taxi driver (who by chance we had also booked to drive us from Lindisfarne to Berwick on Tweed at the end of the holiday). Where there are options for accommodation in villages and towns, he reckoned that we had always stayed in the best places. The lengths of the individual legs were somewhat uneven, simply because there isn't much accommodation available. The leg between Morebattle and Kirk Yetholm was only 7.5 miles, so we extended our walk on that day by exploring the northern extremity of the Pennine Way (which unfortunately coincided for some of the way with the route of next day's walk on St Cuthbert's Way).
Our final day, from Fenwick to Lindisfarne, was also very short, but we had researched the tide times carefully before booking and so were able to cross to Lindisfarne in the morning and then to spend the afternoon exploring Holy Island.

Despite the fact that St Cuthbert's Way has undoubtedly brought walkers to the area, we only met two other groups who were walking the route at the same time as us - four female walkers who we saw on three days and three women who were staying at the same place as us on
Lindisfarne (they had walked all the way from Wooler to Lindisfarne and so must have crossed to the island on a rising tide, neither of which things I would recommend). Whilst the path was quiet, there was plenty going on in the evenings - our holiday coincided with Ancrum Fete Day, the Vigilante Ride in Morebattle and Yetholm Festival Week.

We travelled to Berwick on Tweed by train - we didn't have booked tickets and ended up standing for part of the journey between Peterborough and Berwick - and I had an argument with a group of elderly Americans who wouldn't let us sit in their booked seats despite the fact they were sitting in others; in a sort of rough justice, they didn't get off the train in time in Newcastle and so ended up in Berwick too.  We travelled by bus from Berwick to Melrose, with a woman from Ipswich who was going to visit her daughter in St Boswell's. At Duns, we turned into the school bus! We had a pleasant overnight stay at Dunfermline House in Melrose, and a delicious evening meal at Marmion's Brasserie, right next door.
Our evening walk around Melrose took us across the River Tweed on a suspension bridge and along a very brief section of the Southern Upland Way, which also goes through the town.

At the end of the walk, we stayed at the Manor House Hotel on Lindisfarne. We had to wait for the safe crossing period before leaving the island on our final day, and we used the time to visit Lindisfarne Priory. The taxi picked us up at the hotel and took us across the Causeway and up the A1 to Berwick on Tweed. We got a seat on the train for our return journey, but this time we had the entertainment of sharing the carriage with a group of men who were heading from Edinburgh to Newcastle for 'Tam's Stag weekend'!

First leg of path
Click here for more photographs of our walk along St Cuthbert's Way.