LITTLE though they know it, ramblers who pass through Hoolet are being eyed up. Do they look as if they might enjoy a coffee or home-made scone to see them on their way? So many walkers traipse by, weighed down by backpacks, they surely represent a potential gold mine when finally hospitality can resume.

It is a long time since we had a shop or cafe, and the lack is often bemoaned. Nor is it just villagers who feel the loss. Hoolet lies on the St Cuthbert’s Way, a well-trodden pilgrim route that begins in Melrose, where Cuthbert started out as a monk, and runs to Lindisfarne, where he ended his days as Bishop. While there are signposts, you’ll still often be stopped for directions by strangers in gaiters, bemused by the various roads and paths leading from the hills. One Easter Alan spotted a bare-foot man carrying a wooden cross, but he seemed to know where he was going.

Most who embark on this 60-mile venture bring their own provisions, but who wouldn’t be delighted to smell freshly ground coffee, and take the opportunity for a breather in which to shrug off their packs and pop their blisters?

Of course, should this start-up idea ever get beyond the realm of day-dreams, hill walkers might have to push their way through Hooleteers placing orders. For us, no day is too short or busy to find time to stop and chat, especially if scones are on offer.


Not long after we moved here, a friend dropped by for tea and cake as he embarked on the pilgrims’ way. His pack was almost as big as he was, and it crashed to the floor like a curling stone.

‘What have you got in there?’ I asked. There was a daily change of underwear, socks and t-shirts, a toothbrush and a hefty history of Russia, in hardback. His companion’s rucksack – he too was a reader – was no lighter. When they departed, it took ten minutes to get their boots laced up, after which they hoisted their packs onto their shoulders like coalmen heaving sacks. We watched them trudge up the street like lorries in first gear on the Khyber Pass.

As they slowly disappeared out of sight, we feared they would not even make it as far as their first B&B, three miles away. But in fact, they completed the entire route without mishap, which makes me wonder if perhaps I could do it too.

The other evening, sitting by the window and watching the snow fall, our thoughts turned to holidays. Despite the surge in over-50s booking holidays abroad this summer (how hopeful is that!), going anywhere beyond our sightline for some considerable time seems unlikely. Jet-set friends and family in recent years have attempted the Camino de Santiago in Spain, or walked in the Canadian Rockies, but given that the St Cuthbert’s Way is on our doorstep, it might offer as much escape and diversion as anybody can presently expect. Possibly even too much excitement.

The path runs through some of the most beguiling landscape in the area. Crossing the Eildons, then heading over the River Tweed at Dryburgh – where be otters – it continues through the Cheviots between Morebattle and Wooler, and ends at the Northumberland coast, not far from Bamburgh.

In Scotland you can pitch a tent wherever you like, and also ride a bike or horse, conditions permitting. Once in England, however, the rules are stricter, bikes and horses and wild camping no longer an option except where approved. Already I’m poring over maps. The route looks easy to follow, but I have an almost pathological ability to lose my way, by car or on foot. Alan claims to be savvier, but since he once directed us as far as the outskirts of Troon when heading from Glasgow to Drumlanrig – he had forgotten his glasses – I cannot rely entirely on him.

Fortunately, the staging posts are relatively short, on average seven or eight miles. This of course raises the question of whether to do two stages each day, or take it easy, and double the length and pleasure of the trip. Part of me prefers the second option – what point walking as if to a stopwatch when you’re taking a break? – but it might also feel too brief a daily excursion. That said, if you’re not pitching a tent – and we certainly won’t be doing that, no matter what Tenzing Norgay says – hotels, or guest houses and B&Bs are often a few miles off the route.

The planning committee has not yet convened to decide the details of the trip, but for the moment it’s pencilled in for late summer or early autumn, depending on the pandemic’s persistence. Studying the map shows that the way takes you through rich layers of history, from the days of Picts, Romans, Vikings and marauding kings to the ferocious reivers, who arguably caused more trouble than all the rest together.

I’m already getting into the holiday mood, just by tracing the route. Maps have always fascinated me, although more as portholes into the past than as an active aid to navigation. Despite the steep climbs, possible encounters with territorial bulls, and the difficulty of gauging how many Mars bars to stuff into my bag, there’s only one obvious obstacle to be cleared.

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The final stage of the walk involves crossing to Lindisfarne between tides. I’m not keen on that. Come the day, I hope to be so buoyed by adrenaline and relief at having made it that I won’t give the North Sea a second thought. It’s more likely, though, that my mind will be on Grace Darling and the nearest lifeboat station as we splash on and off the island.

Taking what is known as the pilgrims’ path directly over the wet sands is a mile shorter than by causeway. On the tarmacked route, however, there is a refuge tower, in case you’re stranded. The mere sight of a timetable labelled Safe Crossing Times makes me shiver. I have never forgotten Robert Stevenson’s account of building the Bell Rock Lighthouse, when a boat drifted off, leaving engineers on the rock with the sea rising around their feet. One thing’s for sure, then. Should we ever get that far, I’ll be taking the high road.