Twice Brewed to Gilsland
We had slept well. After tea in bed, we launched into our routine. We checked the state of bodies, knees and feet, reported on aches, looked at how many miles to be completed and other important walking information. The weather though was causing the most concern.
It was predicted to rain heavily later in the day, so we went to breakfast really early to get a head start on the day. We had 10 miles today – a walk in the park, an easy stroll compared to yesterday. We dined in the restaurant and peered through the windows to the brewery – the huge metal vats and pipes full of beer and worked out why the place is called Once Brewed and the Inn, Twice Brewed.
We were out by 8.30am. We past by the brand new Discovery Centre and missed out Vindolanda, another Roman fortification which is being actively excavated. It was one of those places that need a whole day excursion to appreciate it and we just didn’t have time. A place to save for another time.
It was misty and moody as we retraced our steps back up the road and picked up the path again. The Wall continued. Deep, as tall as us in parts, following the contours. Our old friend showing us the way. We felt the odd drop of rain. We hadn’t gone far when we came across a trig point signifying the highest point of the walk, the summit as such. We touched it and took photos. It was a significant moment. The halfway point. Now it was technically downhill to the sea.
We continued. Across this beautiful atmospheric landscape. Walking next door to the Wall. The land undulated – up and down, a good stride. We had the path to ourselves again and we were happy.
Then it all abruptly stopped. Th Wall veered up a steep hill which had been fenced off, and looked like it disappeared over the top. The little acorn markers told us to follow the base and took us in the opposite direction. We followed the path , passing a sheer cliff and came round to a large lake which transpired to be a disused quarry that had been flooded. Looking at the man made cliff, we realised that the Wall was on top of it and had been cruelly lopped, sliced and lost where man had brutally taken stone by whatever means, for his own purposes. It looked like an amputation. It was a bit of a shock. The Wall had run across the hills, continuously for endless miles and then was gone. I was kind of angry by this vandalism, but reminded myself that this happened before we realised the significance of the Wall and before it was protected. It made me sad.
We made use of the toilets here and watched a coach disgorged a load of pensioners, still in disbelief. The clouds were low and threatening. We followed the acorn markers out of the car park and across fields. The Wall started to reappear. Sometimes it looked like a ordinary farm wall. I missed it when it wasn’t there. But it was soon back, strong, standing proud and back to its continuous rollercoastering of the hills. We were climbing back into a land of long views and stubby grass. Steep little climbs. The landscape was forever changing.
And so was the weather. We kept looking back behind us to check – it was looking misty, a sure sign of approaching rain. It did catch up with us, but it was only light, a stiff breeze soon whipped it by us. As we continued up yet another small hill, the route was becoming busy with more walkers. We spoke to a few Americans. They were wrapped as if they were expecting a deluge of snow. Full wet weather gear, hats, scarves, gloves, the lot. We were in a jumper. Did they know something we didn’t?
We resisted the temptation to get out the waterproofs. It wasn’t cold, and we were pleasantly warm from our steady pace. The rain was light and brief when it came. The Wall wasn’t so prominent now. It was still there, but not so tall. It disappeared under grassy mounds, then popping out later. It wasn’t as strong this end. The Romans had halved the width of its base to save stone and use the crags as part of the defences. It had been rebuilt over the three centuries the Romans stayed in Britain. Later in the walk, it would be just made out of turf.
It resumed some of its previous authority, when it again plunged off the end of a cliff. We were diverted down the hill and entered another quarry world. Had the Wall suffered a similar fate like at the previous quarry? It wasn’t so clear here as we walked through the bottom of the quarry. The Wall could be peering down on us from high above. We had no idea.
The quarry had been turned into a little wildlife recreational area, with a fishing lake, little paths and large swathes left to nature to reclaim. We met two little old ladies who engaged us in conversation and concerned about our welfare, pointed us to a cafe and toilets. I had a real craving for an egg mayo sandwich and a large latte, so headed off in eager anticipation.
It was a small information point, manned by a young lady, who seemed pleased to have some company. One side was taken by tables and chairs. She was squashed by a small desk with information leaflets. There was no cafe in the sense of food counters and scuttling waitresses. There was a tall fridge with an assortment of rolls wrapped in plastic, a basket of crisps and a coffee making machine where you pushed a button marked latte and it squirted the mixture into a cup. Not exactly what we envisioned, but it was an improvement on our bag of sticky apricots, squashed dates, mixed fruit and chunks of slightly melted chocolate we had added to liven it up. We chilled here. Our little old ladies joined us. One of them was in her nineties and sharp as a button. Her friend claimed she still walked up to three miles a day. “Well, I’m not sure I can go that far these days” she replied with typical British deprecation. She looked like she could jog it. I just hoped that I could do that if I ever reached her age. She was my hero for the rest of the day.
We got up to say goodbye and grimaced as we did so. We gingerly picked up our rucksacks, hoping we didn’t grimace too much. After five days of walking, any time we stopped and started again, we took a little time to warm up again. Primarily it was the feet. My two blistered toes had called a truce and were not getting any worse, but they were tender. I kind of hobbled for a few yards until they got comfortable again and I could bear the soreness. We got back into our rhythm. I had a ninety year old to impress.
We were now walking through rolling farmland, crossing stiles and gates. The countryside becoming softer, changing yet again. The Wall made brief appearances, but you could see the defensive ditches albeit now part of the pastures. We were dropping down into civilisation towards little hamlets and villages. Down little footpaths. We saw a railway line in the distance and eventually crossed that and a little stream. Along a back road before heaving up a steep field and dropping into the village of Gilsland. Nearly the end of our walk. The Path took a tortuous route around the back of the village, burped us out on the Main Street and down towards the river that dissected the community. And dissect it did, as this was the county boundary. We crossed from Northumbria into Cumbria. Another milestone. So one side of the village were Northumbrians and the other were Cumbrians. I hoped they didn’t fall out with each other.
We branched off onto a farm track and the Wall decided to rejoin us, strong and sturdy again. What a lovely surprise. A proper wall. It led us some half a mile to our next stopover. It was, as we were embarking on this last leg, that the rain finally got us. It wasn’t worth digging out waterproofs, so we strode briskly to a huddle of buildings in the near distance.
It was a farmhouse adjoined on two sides by a barn and low outbuildings. We knocked on the door and was dismayed that there was no answer. We were early admittedly. We took shelter under a nearby porch, watching the steady rain bouncing on the cobbles, wondering how long we would have to wait. The crunching sound of tyres on the gravel got us excited, but it was only a delivery guy. He came and went, but we probably only waited about 15 minutes before our host rocked up in ageing car and let us into our room.
We were in the outbuildings, converted from the old grain store into 3 or 4 little bedrooms. Tastefully decorated with high beamed ceilings, under floor heating, a lovely rain shower and a comfy bed, it was lovely and the best room so far. We peeled off our boots and coats and made ourselves at home. Our host told us where we could eat – the Samson Arms in the village and he could take us down there if it was still raining. So at teatime, with the rain still teeming down, we knocked on the door and together with another two guests, we got driven down by the wife and their little daughter.
We had booked a table beforehand. We went into the busy bar to get drinks and then was ushered into an separate dining room, on our own as if we had done something wrong and were being sent to the naughty step. We sat there alone in an empty room for quite a while until a family of four joined us. Perhaps they had been naughty too. There was no atmosphere. The food was organic, but it wasn’t special. We were a bit disappointed. We went into the bar after our meal, but had no enthusiasm to stay.
We decided to walk back in the dark. It was still raining, but not too bad. We set off along the village streets lit with the orange glow of streetlights, back into Cumbria. Back along the farm track, dark and now full of puddles. We had our headlamps to help us pick our way through the gloom. Finally, the farm loomed in the dark and soon we were back to our room. We got ready for bed, got comfy watching telly and warming up after our little trek, before snuggling down, listening to the rain pattering down outside.