St Cuthbert’s Way is inspired by the life of St Cuthbert and links Melrose in the Scottish Borders, where St Cuthbert started his religious life in 650 AD, to Holy Island off the Northumberland Coast.
Holy Island was St Cuthbert’s initial resting place after his death, but when Vikings raided the island in 875 AD, monks fled with the body. Legend has it they spent the next 7 years wandering around Northumberland and at some stage took the body to St Cuthbert’s Cave.
You don’t need to be a pilgrim to enjoy the walk, I’ve only once seen a group carrying a heavy wooden cross. It’s 100 km (62.5 miles) and takes you through some of the best scenery the Borders and Northumberland has to offer. Here are my tips for walking the route.
Take Your Time
There is a race that completes the route in one day, but if you want to relax and enjoy the stunning countryside, it’s good to take your time.
Most people take 4 to 5 days stopping at Harestaines, Kirk Yetholm, Wooler and Fenwick. It’s classed as a moderate walk, mainly because of the hilly section from Kirk Yetholm to Wooler.
St Cuthbert’s Way is a walk you can feasibly do all year round. If you want sunshine and dry, warm weather, there are no guarantees at anytime of the year. That said, the Summer months from early May to the end of September are generally best.
Use A Map
The route is well sign posted but the are a few turnings where a map is essential. The route does have some remote sections crossing moorland and it helps to have some navigation skills.
If you’re unsure about your ability, go with a walking guide. Your guide can also arrange baggage transfers.
You do need accommodation for walking St Cuthbert’s Way. You can wild camp on the Scottish side of the border and there are campsites in Wooler. Most people stay in B & B’s or use Youth Hostels.
Carry Drinking Water
There are many places to top up your drinking water in towns on route, but the water in streams is best avoided.
St Cuthbert’s Way can be boggy in places, especially after spells of heavy rain. Go for comfortable footwear and be warned: there are a few sections on roads.
Trainers are fine if you’re used to walking in them, (provided they’re designed for rough terrain), but go for lightweight boots if you need ankle support. Look for good grip and waterproof is best, unless it’s really hot or you don’t mind soggy feet.
Beware Of The Tides
The last section across to Holy Island can only be crossed at low tide. Check for safe crossing times before you go. Most people stay at Fenwick overnight, just 6 miles from the finish. This helps getting the timing right for crossing to the island.
There are two options for reaching Holy Island: take the Causeway Road or follow the posts of the historic Pilgrims Path across the sands. Make sure you have plenty of time to cross. You’d be surprised how many people need to be rescued each year. The returning tide comes in really fast.
Most people walk the Pilgrims Path barefoot carrying their shoes. Expect slimy mud in places! It’s a unique experience.
Maps & Guides
A wonderful end to the walk is to spend a night on Holy Island, enjoying the island without the day tripper crowds. I’d love to hear your stories if you’ve walked the route. I find it’s a wonderful snapshot of the best countryside in the area…