North Pennines: Melmerby Shop Pt 1

On those rare occasions that Hubby Hogs has a weekend day off we always try to plan an adventure. On this particular occasion I had it in my head that I wanted to go and stay in a hotel or a B&B. Sometimes I do just want a nice trip away somewhere with a pool / sauna / Jacuzzi / cooked breakfast but my skinflint nature baulked at the idea of having to pay at least £80 a night for somewhere in the Lakes or the Scottish Borders. Whilst I appreciate that’s the going rate for even a basic hotel on the outskirts of somewhere remotely worth visiting it still makes my debit card squeal with terror at the prospect.

So given my general animosity towards the cost of most leisure activities, we bundled up our sleeping bags and roll mats, squashed a day’s worth of kit and food into some bike packing bags and headed off on Friday evening in a new direction.

Hogs had heard a while back about an unofficial bothy on the moors not far out of Alston. It’s not an area we’ve explored at all since our general tendencies are to head north towards the borders so this was new and uncharted territory for us. We parked up along Hartside Pass and trundled off down a gravel track, full of vim for the adventure ahead. Within five minutes, and after a barefoot plodge through a remarkably heavy ford I was off and pushing up a grouse road that was so endless it felt like Escher had built it. I hate pushing my bike. It feels like such a cop-out but a combination of the gradient and my inability to ride fast enough to negate the humpity bumpity track gave me no choice.

Alston Bikepacking

After about an hour of pushing, riding, pushing riding we crested the last brow that would lead us to the bothy. It’s colloquially known as the ‘Melmerby Shop’ as it was the office and shop that serviced the nearby lead mine, and is a tidy little cottage – fairly well maintained – just off the grouse track hidden from view until the final approach. Riding up to it you’re rewarded with stunning views across the moors further down the track and at 8pm as the sun was beginning to dip down toward the horizon the diffused glow through the few scattered clouds made the bothy look warm and comforting.

Melmerby Shop

Although not maintained by the Mountain Bothies Association the cottage appears to be well looked after with three double-glazed windows, well fitting freshly creosoted doors and two functioning wood burning fires. There’s also a selection of tables, benches and chairs making it the perfect prospect for a night away from civilisation. Sadly, despite the bothy seeming in great condition there was a note hanging above the door explaining that the bothy had been victim of vandalism and that the landowner was going to be clearing it out soon. Our trip was a mere eight day before the ‘glorious twelfth’ so we can only assume they meant it was getting cleared out and cleaned ready for the grouse shooting season. Either way, we were glad to be there while it was still open and available.

We stashed the bikes in one of the rooms, unpacked our essentials in the other giving our sleeping bags time to loft before bed time, and then headed back outside to survey our surroundings. We always do this. There’s something soothing about taking the time to appreciate where you are so we often just stand outside the tent or bothy and soak in the world around us. Appreciate the solitude. Be thankful for it all.

Melmerby Shop Sunset

Heading back inside we fired up the Brewpot and got the fire going. After dozens of adventures like this we’ve got our camping food absolutely nailed. We only take just-add-water foods so that our beloved Brewkit doesn’t have to be cleaned out, so our favoured evening meal is a packet of Morrisons Savoury Rice (Morrisons ones cook in 5 minutes so adding the boiling water and sealing for 5 – 10 minutes cooks the rice perfectly) with a tin of mackerel in sauce for Hogs and a small tin of some kind of bean for me. Within minutes our tea was cooking and we were staring at the fire with some tunes playing on our little bluetooth speaker.

We stayed in this state for a couple of hours – staring at the fire with some tunes playing in the background. We didn’t even need to talk to each other. That’s part of the glory of these overnight adventures. They’re a chance to truly unwind. Some friends and colleagues question our sanity for wanting to voluntarily go and stay in a dingy little building in the middle of nowhere with no facilities and no beds, but for us this is a chance to escape all of that. To ‘rough it’ even just for one night and remind ourselves what’s great about the world.

Melmerby Shop, whilst not the best bothy we’ve stayed in by any stretch, was a welcome respite. A place of solitude in stunning surroundings that we’ll gladly add to our list of adventure spots. Besides, what we found when we woke up and continued our adventure the following morning made it well worth the visit. Story continues in part 2.

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