Our last day of walking. 15 miles from Carlisle to Bowness on Solway. We pulled on our walking clothes for the last time, made our last flask of tea and topped up our bag of mangled fruit.
We went to breakfast and enjoyed the cooked breakfast on offer. We did our usual obsessive checking – perceived injuries, miles covered, route today and on top of the list – the weather.
We had been tracking the weather on the BBC app and on television for the past couple of days. A big ugly band of rain was covering most of the north. It was payback time for the rest of the week.
We packed, said goodbye to our hosts and spent many minutes putting on rain jackets, waterproof trousers, rain covers over our rucksacks. We eased our feet into our boots, reassuring them that it would be the last time for quite a while. We looked like Michelin Men. It was already steadily raining. A fellow Wall walker came out, dressed in full walking gear. He looked like he was going on a major expedition and asked us where we were heading. He sucked his teeth and shook his head when we told him. “There’s a horrendous part, an enormous field with a line of pylons and cows. It’s a quagmire. Awful. I’m an experienced walker, walked many miles and I’ve not experienced anything like that.” We looked at him in disbelief. I had visions of us spending hours crossing this field, our feet sinking up to our knees and having to pull each limb out of this muddy apocalypse. Thanks mate.
We set off in the drizzle, along urban streets, skirting Carlisle’s centre and back to the Sands Leisure Centre. We picked up the Path and followed the River Eden. Almost immediately, we found another handsome park, being tended by workmen and we were in different world. Such a contrast. It was very pleasant. We passed the Castle, sitting high, dominating the town. It was beautiful, built in red stone – solid, strong and watching. The riverside walk was nice too. The Council had installed these chunky rectangular signs inscribed with Roman words and giving brief descriptions. Apparently Carlisle has no evidence of the Wall at all. How sad. I couldn’t blame the 1960’s for that one (though it would be ironic if it was under one of those horrendous office blocks). So we made do with the information boards and our imagination.
The river path was leafy, but went pass the modern world. A rugby club car park, churning factories, a buzzing electrical sub station, derelict warehouses poked in between the trees and bushes. On the other side, cows chewed the grass as the city ebbed away. There were a few steep stairways to negotiate along here and we were soon panting and warming up. I was getting hot with all wet weather gear. The sun had popped its head out too, making this strange scene strangely attractive. It was also making the huge black clouds amassing around us, look even blacker, but somehow they skirted around us. I wanted to take my leggings off, but it’s such a palaver and a lot of hopping uncontrollably to get them off that I kept them on. Anyway as soon as I’d packed them away, the heavens would open, so I didn’t chance it.
We eventually came to a field with pylons and cows and swallowed hard. Was this the aforementioned quagmire? It was muddy, you slipped and slid, a few places where your boot sunk into squelchy water and you did a quick tiptoed run across the boggy-ness, but we walked on the grassy edge and though it was cumbersome walking, it wasn’t too bad. We looked at each other, trying to convince each other that this was the field and it wasn’t further up. If it was, that chap more than over exaggerated it. How strange. We plunged on.
We went under a busy ring road, across fields. The countryside was back, lush with the rain, soft and gentle. There was rain in the air, the clouds pushing the sun out of the way, but not the expected deluge forlornly predicted by the forecasters. We passed through the villages of Grinsdale and Beaumont, quiet and sheltering from the weather, nobody about. It was rolling countryside. Everything was sodden. We met a couple with a spaniel who told us that a lovely cafe awaited us towards the end of the walk – he kind of mangled all the village names together so we didn’t quite get the name, but it was something to aim for.
We walked to Burgh by Sands, a long pretty village. We had been diverted onto the roads as the Path had been temporarily closed – for what it didn’t say, but presume it was for repairs. We had already avoided one field as cows had congregated around the gate and were not for moving, despite us waving arms and being noisy. They just nonchalantly eyed us up and refused to budge. We let them win. The sun had sort of reappeared again. Again, it was a quiet community. Towards the end of the village, the house names featured the word Marsh – Marsh View, The Marshes, Marsh House. There was good reason. The land dropped down onto the flat marshes leading to the estuary and the tidal coastline.We got our first proper sighting of the Solway of Firth, the broad river estuary splitting England and Scotland. A long black ribbon of tarmac stretched across the marsh. It was so long it had a vanishing point.
We took a deep breath and set off. Signs warned us how deep the water got across the road when the tide was in, but it only happened with high spring tides. We were safe today and anyway, cows were grazing on the marshland. The clouds were low, dark and moody. It was misty and gloomy. It was like being in a plastic box. We walked towards a rise in the road, expecting the next village, but as we reached the top, we were dismayed to realise that we weren’t even half way across and the road disappeared into the distance again.
Cars passed us as well as large dumper trucks, whizzing past at speed, spraying up muddy water lying on the road. It was half way that we got caught in the biggest cloud burst ever. It was like standing under a shower on full blast. We zipped up our coats under our noses, pulled down our hoods, hunkered down and plunged on. You couldn’t look up so we watched our feet methodically eating the miles.
God knows how long we walked along that dead straight road. Later we found out it was 2.6 miles long. We limped into Drumburgh, dripping and damp. A sign declared there was a cafe – was this the promised oasis by the spaniel couple? No, it was another flipping depleted snack shed. It was brick built and relatively roomy with benches. We plonked down and ate our own provisions. This was dismal.
The Shed did have a loo which we made use of. We looked at the map, which showed the Path heading down a track and across fields, to connect up with another village further up. The road also went to the same village. We made an executive decision – there was no difference in distance, the fields would be horribly wet and boggy and looking at the map, the road seemed to follow the remains of Hadrian’s Wall. So we decided to keep on the road and marched along the twisting country lane towards Glasson.
The Acorns markers reappeared and veered onto a little footpath, in between bushes. It popped us out by Port Carlisle, a little hamlet. The remnants of a harbour wall and jetty jutted into the estuary – an information board informed us that in the 1800’s, it was a busy port with a railway and could of rivalled Liverpool as a dock. Then the industry all collapsed and Port Carlisle reverted back to a quiet backwater.
We were close to the waters edge when we came across a tall white finger post, like the ones at John O’Groats and Lands End. It was marked with Worcester and Banbury. As we lined up a photo, an elderly man appeared, seemingly out of nowhere, and asked us where we were from. It transpired that he had created the post and would change the destinations, putting your home village or town name on it for £1 each. So we did.
In an adjoining shed, he had a heap of letters and numbers. He picked out our letters and asked how far away it was. He then got rid of Banbury, slotted our village name in and used our phones to take photos of us standing underneath it in the pouring rain. He was very chatty – he seemed that he didn’t get out much – and he could of talked all day. We chatted for awhile, before waving goodbye and walking the last mile of our walk.
The last mile was on the road. The road sign “Bowness on Solway” hove into view, sparking more photos. We wandered into the village and dropped down a little alleyway to a wooden gazebo and the official ending of the Hadrian’s Wall Walk. I had expected more – not exactly a brass band and ticker tape reception, but at least a little manned gift shop and cafe to greet us. We sat in the gazebo and gazed out across the estuary. The view still hadn’t improved. So this was the end, no more walking. We were quite proud of ourselves. We had walked 84 miles across our country and it had been a fantastic experience. Loved every single minute. It was a bittersweet moment. Pleased to have completed it, but sad it had come to an end.
We walked back up to the Main Street looking for our guesthouse, but were distracted by the appearance of an actual proper cafe serving coffee and food. We didn’t need much encouragement. We collapsed into chairs and ordered large coffees and sarnies. Hubby’s sausage sandwich came with three whole sausages! He must of felt pity on us, a pair of drowned rats.
Hunter Leisure Cafe
Bowness House Farm, Bowness-on-Solway, Wigton CA7 5AF
We loitered here for a while, chatting to the owner. He was struggling to convince the locals of his intentions as he did have a small empire with the cafe/village shop, motor homes, apartments and other projects on this small site. We didn’t care. He had fulfilled our basic human needs who had just completed an epic walk and in our minds, he was okay. I bought my promised hoodie and a t-shirt for hubby
We found the Wallsend guesthouse down a side lane, a rambling rectory. It was lovely. The owner fussed around us, taking our boots to dry. We stripped off our damp gear, made warming cups of tea, ate the complimentary biscuits and chilled on the bed. We watched their four dogs chase their doggy friend, a bonkers spaniel around the garden, ignoring chickens pecking in the flower beds. Chickens were equally unfazed. It kept us amused for many minutes.
Refreshed and dry, we walked to the nearby pub, the Kings Arms for tea. It was okay. We sat in the dining room and realised that the weather had cleared and it was a beautiful sunny evening. How weird. It had been so awful that afternoon and now it was gorgeous. That’s British weather for you. We were planning a celebratory game of pool, but solitary youth turned up with his cue in a case to practice looking professional. We would be many hours trying to pot just one ball, so we downed our drinks and slid out of the pub. We waddled back to our room and chilled.
And we never came across that awfully muddy field.