We woke to a heavy overcast world. It had mercifully stopped raining, but was threatening. Morning ablutions over, we walked to the dining room for breakfast and met fellow walkers. It was very genial. We chatted about our routes, the weather, what we were doing next, where we were from. A delicious breakfast was served – all organic, fresh and home baked. In between we were visited by Alan the collie dog who patiently eyed up any leftovers and two cats who briefly rubbed themselves against your legs. A lovely start to the day.
Today’s route took us from Gilsland to Newtown, though our accommodation was in the small town of Brampton and would require a taxi once we got to Newtown. We donned our waterproof jackets and played safe. It was very damp and wet.
We picked up the Path and the Wall right outside our door, wide slate steps helping us down the field to the river. Across a lovely arched metal bridge – rusted and brown. It was very elegant. We walked along the path before suddenly being thrown upwards along a very steep gravel lane. A bit of a shock to the system so early in the walk! It got the old heart pumping and seemed to go on for ever. We stopped to get our breath back!
We came across another English Heritage site at Birdsowald. It was closed, another half hour before opening. We walked across fields, with evidence of the Roman ditches, disturbing the resting sheep who laid across our way. It was squelchy underfoot. Parts of it became a quagmire where animals had congregated by stiles, our feet slipping into a muddy goo. It was hard work. Slipping and sliding. It was a morning of alternate walking on the road and fields. The Wall on one side, then the road and then the Path, all parallel to each other. The Wall looked like a ordinary farmer’s wall, only the old mile castle remnants reminding you it was there. The road was hard on the feet, the Path slippy and narrow. We were on a ridge and could see across the valley. The clouds were trying to break up and brief shafts of sunlight broke through. It was stunning. We went through a couple of little pretty hamlets with little white crofter cottages. It was a reminder of how close to Scotland we were. We were losing the Wall. It was making sporadic appearances now. It was there spiritually, hidden under the pastures, the woodlands, villages, but not physically.
I wanted it back. I had touched it thinking that I could of been the first person to have touched that stone since a Roman centurion. I had admired it, up close and into the distance. Now I felt I hadn’t appreciated it as much as I should, that careless thought that it would be with us for much longer. I wanted to go back and enjoy it again and do the job properly. Now it felt we were just doing a walk in the country.
But it wasn’t. The ditches and Vallum were still there. The Wall, this side of the country, was initially built with earth and turf, then if it was rebuilt in stone, not so robustly. No wonder it was lost to nature.
We strolled through rolling country, crossing pretty rivers, through copses and sheep fields. At one point, the hill dropped away, giving us a wide panorama to the west, the land lying low. We squinted to see if we could see the sea, but it was too murky.
A hand painted sign informed us a cafe was 500 yards away. Mmm. Coffee and cake. We were ready for a coffee break. We quickened our pace and came to someone’s garden. There was a shed/summerhouse with a honesty box. You chose what you wanted, looked at the price list and popped your money in a box. The trouble was the cupboard was bare. There wasn’t much on offer that was an improvement on what we were already carrying. You could make yourself a cup of tea, but there was no milk. Another shed offered Hadrian Wall t-shirts and hoodies, which I didn’t fancy carting around. That was going to be my reward in Bowness. We wandered off and refuelled ourselves with tea and lumps of apricot, Oreo chocolate and dates that had welded together from our bag. Unusual taste.
We continued our journey. The day was brightening and the threat of rain disappeared. Over more farm fields, little woodlands, wooden bridges over swollen rivers and streams. We ended up on another road that lead steeply into the village of Walton. Coffee and cake weighted on our minds – it was becoming a craving. We reckoned on the chances of a cafe here being very remote, but as we turned a corner, a blackboard pointed to a cafe – 200 yards, 10am – 4pm. We couldn’t believe our luck.
We met a New Zealand couple picnicking at a table and asked where the cafe was. They shook their heads. “It’s closed”. We looked at them incredulously. They had done the same thing and had resorted to eating their own food. Even the loos were shut.
We stalked off after a chat with the NZ couple, muttering why the board was still out. In the long grass at the base of the board was a little sign marked “Thurs – Mon”, having fallen off. We just didn’t see it. And today was Wednesday.
We weren’t happy. Denied an infusion of caffeine and the delights of a scone with lashings of jam and cream, we headed to Newtown, another 3 miles away. We stopped at the main road. This is where we needed a taxi to Brampton. We had been given two numbers to call. One we couldn’t get through, another was in Carlisle and would be a couple of hours. Oh. We googled taxis and got another number. “I’m in Carlisle, it will cost your £25”. No thank you. This was getting desperate. I spotted a sign – Snack Shed. Maybe we could do an afternoon tea while waiting for the original taxi. Alas, the Snack Shed was what it said on the tin – a shed in someone’s front garden stocked with Pot Noodles, chocolate bars and other nibbles. Dejectedly we headed back to the main road. We tried another tact to get to Brampton. Stuck our thumbs out for a lift. But to no avail – there was little traffic heading the way we wanted to go, the vans full of workmen and cars owners gave us a wide berth completely.
There was only one ending to this. We started to walk down this busy road with no pavement, jumping into the verge when a big lorry bore down on us. We still tried to hitch hike, but no one offered. We were foot weary and didn’t want to walk another 2.5 miles. We should of booked the taxi earlier, but it was difficult to judge the time of arrival.
We staggered in Brampton and realised why we couldn’t get taxis. It was home time for schools and everyone was on the school run. Doh. We found the Scotch Arms Mews easily enough and wandered round the back to the entrance. It was closed! All we needed.
It was all easily solved and sorted in minutes. It was a mixture of our penchant of arriving early and how the guesthouse worked. There was a number on the door which we called and within five minutes we were being let in. It was all good. We pulled off our boots and socks, putting them by the wood burning stove before being taken up to our room. Again it wasn’t particularly big. We began to settle down, when we heard a noise outside the open window. It was lashing down with rain. We had timed it to perfection – big black clouds had been gathering as we risked life and limb on the road and now they were off loading. We were very thankful.
Scotch Arms Mews was quirky in its operation. The owner showed us around downstairs and basically told us it was self service. There were comfy chairs, deep soft sofas, the fire, a well stocked bar and a warm ambiance. She was heading home next door, but we could help ourself to drinks behind the bar (another honesty box), visit the one or two eateries in town or order takeaway food and bring it back there. So we did. Fed up with eating restaurant food, we phoned through for a pizza each, walked down to collect them, brought them back, got a beer out of the fridge (noting on a pad what we took), settled in front of the fire, found some reading material and essentially blobbed for the rest of the evening. It was like being in your own lounge back home. Very very relaxing. We had it all to ourselves. A wall mounted telly was on and we half watched that. This was perfect. Just what we wanted.
We were mulling about retiring to our rooms, when two other guests appeared, helped themselves to drinks, asked us if we were watching the telly before finding a football game and settled down. We sauntered up, liking this arrangement very much and loved the whole idea. What a different way to run a hotel guesthouse.
Looking out of our window later, over an unglamorous car park and the backs of shops opposite, I spotted another taxi firm. I had spotted it when I was Googling, but thought it was in Carlisle. I cursed under my breath. It soon passed as I fell asleep with the comforting thought that those guys were booked to take us back up the hill again tomorrow morning.