One of Scotland’s Great Trails, St Cuthbert’s Way stretches for 100km between Melrose in the Scottish Borders in the west and the Holy Island of Lindisfarne off the Northumberland coast in the east. Starting in the Eildon Hills of Melrose the Way heads down to the banks of the Tweed then on to the old Roman road, Dere Steet, before crossing over the Cheviot Hills and into England and heading to the coast for a crossing over the Pilgrim’s Route to Lindisfarne. Hikers cross heathered moor tops, walk through forests and journey back in time as the Way passes old battlefields and the ruins of castles and abbeys.
St Cuthbert. Beginning his life as a monk in the abbey of Melrose in the 7th century, St Cuthbert was later appointed a bishop at Lindisfarne and ended his life as a hermit. Renowned in his life for his piety and diligence, St Cuthbert became even more famous in death with various miracles attributed to him including that his body remained perfectly preserved and incorrupt many years after his death. Once the most popular saint in Northern England, the Way in his name is inspired by his life, albeit there is no actual record of St Cuthbert traversing the route which the Way now takes.
Time/Distance. St Cuthbert’s Way is 62.5 miles (100km) long but sidetrips to Dryburgh Abbey and Jedburgh (necessary for accommodation) will add about 6 miles (10km). It can be walked in 5 days but as we were carrying our packs we spread the walk over 7 days. Regardless of whether the 5 or 7 day option is chosen, the last day walked is necessarily short because you need to end the penultimate day on the Northumberland coast just short of the crossing point to Lindisfarne and then spend the last day on the crossing to enable the crossing to be timed with the low tide period.
Difficulty level. Taking 7 days meant that the walk was reasonably comfortable with our longest day being 21 km with about 600m in elevation gain (the highest point, Wideopen Hill, is just below 400m above sea level, but the Way does go up and down a few hills each day). Shortening the period we walked would have been achievable but quite hard on the feet.
Getting there and back. We took a train to Berwick (on the London to Edinburgh line) and a bus from Berwick to Melrose, arriving in Melrose in the late afternoon. Transport back from Lindisfarne to Berwick is more complicated as buses (operated by Perryman’s) only travel back from Lindisfarne on certain days of the week (the Summer period has the most services but there will still not be a service each day). In addition the low tide times may limit the days on which you can cross. If you want to do the crossing, sight see around Lindisfarne and return to Berwick on the same day as we did, it will require advance planning and consultation of the tide chart and bus timetables provided by the Lindisfarne organisation (click here).
Stages. We walked St Cuthbert’s Way in 7 stages as follows:
- Melrose to St Boswells (7.5 miles, 12 km);
- St Boswells to Jedburgh (12 miles, 19.5 km) – see here for the description of our walk on stages 1 and 2;
- Jedburgh to Morebattle (9.5 miles, 15 km);
- Morebattle to Kirk Yetholm (6.5 miles, 11 km) see here for the description of our walk on stages 2 and 3;
- Kirk Yetholm to Wooler (13 miles, 21km);
- Wooler to Fenwick (11.5 miles, 19km) – see here for the description of our walk on stages 5 and 6;
- Fenwick to the Holy Island of Lindisfarne (6 miles, 9.5km) – see here for the description of our walk on the Pilgrim’s Route across to the Holy Island.
A lot of guides combine our first four stages into two as follows: Melrose to Harestanes (15 miles, 24 km); Harestanes to Kirk Yetholm (17.5 miles, 28 km). The problem with this is that there is no accommodation at Harestanes and you have to walk off St Cuthbert’s Way into Jedburgh (and back again) to get accommodation which adds to the already long days proposed by that solution. Our more relaxed approach meant that we had a few fairly short days but this just gave us more time to enjoy the walk and it was worth stopping in St Boswells just for the excellent meal at the Buccleuch Arms Hotel. If you do choose to break up your stages in a similar fashion it should be noted that the accommodation options in Morebattle and Fenwick are limited and would have to be booked early in the high season.
Our least favourite stage was probably the sixth as there was a fair amount of walking on the tarmac. Our favourite stage was crossing over the Cheviot Hills from Kirk Yetholm to Wooler (although the Pilgrim’s Route crossing was a close second).
Favourite Accommodation: the Mill House at Kirk Yetholm.
Favourite Pub: Border Hotel, Kirk Yetholm.
Favourite Meal: Buccleuch Arms Hotel.
Highlights of the walk: the abbey and castle ruins; the Cheviot Hills; the Pilgrim’s Route crossing (but note the warnings not to do this without a local guide. We didn’t bother, but I suspect that may be very condition dependent).
Lowlights of the walk. There weren’t many but we could have done without the long tarmac sections on stage 6 and between Cessford and Morebattle on stage 3.
Guidebook/maps. At the time of our hike there was not a single map to cover the entirety of St Cuthbert’s Way, so we made do with the Cicerone Guide: St Oswald’s Way and St Cuthbert’s Way.
Website. The official website is stcuthbertsway.info.