In the summer of 1955 I agreed to join a friend to experience youth hostelling. It was intended to travel to Wholehope on the Friday night and hike to Wooler on the Saturday. Arriving at the Haymarket bus station other hostellers dissuaded us from doing this as we would never find Wholehope. On the Saturday we set off up the Langleeford valley and gratefully accepted a lift on a flatbed milk wagon travelling halfway up the valley. After climbing the Cheviot we eventually reached Kidlandlee and met the shepherd (Jock Dunn). He pointed to the top of the valley opposite and advised us to follow a group of hikers there who were making their way to the hostel.
On arrival we were booked in by the volunteer warden (Dave Sevante) a teacher from Twickenham who spent the whole of his six weeks there. Present also were the late Tug Wilson, Charlie and Grace McGonnigal and Grace, and Pitch Wilson. It is possible that that is where I made the aquaintance of Geoff and Val Cobbing as well. My friend and I had a pleasant stay at Wholehope and I determined to kit myself out in boots and rucksack etc for the following year.
In the spring of 1956 I arrived at Thropton on my own on the last United bus. It was pitch black and I hiked the 10 miles to Alwinton and at 0130 hrs reached Wholehope to find that I was the only one there. I bedded down straight away! I was awoken at daylight by a cow scraping its horns on the wall and set off for Wooler.
My next visit was again travelling from Thropton on the last bus but the walk had a difference. There was about 8 inches of hard packed snow on the road and on reaching the hostel I found that there were 55 others there, some still sledging and Skiing till 0300hrs. The only space to rest was on the large flat stones which made the floor and I was half under the table. There was no chance of a lie – in as one guy started cooking on a primus on the table and the fat was spluttering over on to me! Their sport continued next day till we all left about 1500 hrs. One notable feature was that in the clear cold air we could see the hills of the Lake District 80 miles away!
I remember that my two cousins, George and Bill Harrison told me after I had been to Wholehope that they had been there a few years before me. George had something to do with scouting. Another point, I found that 95% of the time I could beat the bus to Wooler by hitch hiking. One chap, Owen Pumphrey of Pumphrey Carrick Watson the coffee firm twice gave me a lift to longframlington. He was well into scouting in Northumberland. Another lift was given by Rupert Spear (Sir Rupert MP for Hexham )in the fifties. Some of us were amateur musicians and the Keilder club members told us that if we got as far as Bellingham they would come through for us. Billy Ballantyne from Wark was a retired flautist from a philharmonic orchestra, living at Wark. There was Tommy Nuttney spoons & knackers, a guitarist and myself on piano.
Funny thing is that my great grandfather was from Wark and retired as a police inspector at Newcastle west in 1919. I twice entered the Chevy Chase and once hitch hiked from Newcastle to Luss on Loch Lomond and used the ferry, only passenger, over to Auchindennan where I entered the Ben Lomond race on the Sunday and got the ferry to Helensburgh. Luckily I reached Newcastle about 2300hrs that night.
Before call- up for National Service I had started to hike from Wooler to Kirk Yetholm on Saturdays and managed the SYHA for elderly Mrs Veitch. On the Saturday night I played the piano in a pub at Town Yetholm. Invariably there would be a wedding reception on and the piano top would be laden with whisky and pints. Nobody realised that I hardly imbibed so that pub must have made a fortune pouring the drinks back from whence they came after closing time.
Happy carefree days, all now long gone – but what memories we have……