Hadrian’s Wall Walk – homeward bound ☹️

Our last morning was bright and sunny. A glorious morning.

We went for breakfast and was joined at our table by a middle aged brother and sister who had just finished the walk too. It transpired that they were slightly ahead of us yesterday as it was them, from Worcester and Banbury, we had replaced on the white finger post with our village.

Our feet couldn’t quite believe that they were in normal pumps and it was nice to wear jeans and a top, looking vaguely smarter. We realised that we hadn’t really taken photos at the finish, so we headed down there again. And what a difference. It was beautiful. The view stretched across the Solway Firth, towards Annan and Dumfries. That was Scotland. Towards the west, mountains rose towards Stranraer. It was glorious – early autumnal colours. So different from yesterday. We took our photos and went on the pebbly beach. Lovely.

We retrieved our bags and waited for the little Hopper Bus to Carlisle. We admired the scenery on the trip back. It was bright and pretty. We were pleased to see how beautiful it was and erased the gloom of yesterday.

We were dropped off at the bus station and wandered through Carlisle town centre again. There were several shopping malls that were architecturally fashionable in the 1980s, full of Saturday shoppers. We found John Watts, our little cafe and enjoyed a lunch there. On trips to the toilet, you had to pass through a cavernous cellar full of antiquities of the tea and coffee trade. It was like a little stuffy, dusty museum that had been forgotten and really demanded more attention. It had low ceilings and dark corners, a little spooky – I half expected to meet Jack Nicholson hiding there, welding a axe. I hoped the cafe didn’t suffer a power cut while I was on the loo and the furthest from the exit. I would of had a good look but with someone holding my hand.

We waddled down to the railway station, dragging our cases noisily behind us. The railway station was busy and I was delighted to see it was a lovely Victorian edifice, all mellow brick and high curved glass ceilings and ornate ironwork. It was lovely and airy. A steam train with a long line of dining cars with little table lamps in each window, hissed patiently as people boarded. What a great way to dine. We studied the departure board. We had two trains to catch to get home, but the second one had been cancelled due to a mud slip on our little line. It wasn’t really an issue, but then we saw a departure on the famous Carlisle – Settle route. We looked at each other and made an instant decision. Let’s conclude this really great trip with a ride on this train.

Carlisle

Court Square, Cumbria, Carlisle CA1 1QZ

0333 103 1031

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carlisle_railway_station

The Settle – Carlisle line was nearly lost when British Rail deemed it expensive and unviable, some 20 years or so ago. But it was saved for the nation and what a spectacular journey it is. Through the heart of the Eden Valley, past heather moors, wide rivers, little towns, farms and green fields, with a backdrop of big blue skies and fluffy white clouds, it is beyond beautiful. Past Pen-y-Ghent, across the Ribbleshead viaduct. It was just perfect.

https://www.visitcumbria.com/carlset/

And then, at Settle station as we waited for a taxi to get us home, another steam train hurtled through, chuffing billows of white smoke into the air. Such a romantic sight. Such a perfect ending.

Hadrian’s Wall Walk Day Eight

Friday

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

http://www.wallsend.net/mobile/contact.aspx

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.

http://kingsarmsbowness.co.uk/

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.

Hadrian’s Wall Walk Day Seven

Thursday

We were doing good. The last two days had averaged 10 miles a day. My blisters were a little bothersome but apart from that, we were feeling great. We had another 10 miler today, from Newtown to Carlisle.

We waddled down to breakfast. The hostess was there with a young girl, but it was a “help yourself” affair. Little dishes with a muesli compote, freshly baked bread, crumpets, just a great choice – it was a little different from the bog standard breakfasts we had eaten. It was one of the best.

Our luggage courier was early and it was the first time we had met the mystery man who transferred our bags every day. It was nice to thank him personally. Our taxi appeared shortly after and took us back to Newtown. The clouds were gathering again in the distance and it was quite a cool wind. The t-shirts and shorts had been replaced by jumpers and long trousers. We set off through the village and walked across flat fields, farms and footpaths. The Wall was represented by grassy mounds in this part of the walk. It was nothing on the scale of the middle part and we wouldn’t be seeing the stone wall again. ☹️

The landscape was relatively flat, heading towards the coast. There was nothing to note. The rain showers scudded past us and the sun shone in between. We passed by Carlisle Airport and watched as a couple of planes took off. It was noisy and reminded us we were heading back into modern life. We strolled along the river Eden, along paths and roads. It was varied. We came across another Snack Shed. It tempted us with an ice cream, but it was a cruel deception. The main Wall Walk season is encouraged between April to end of October to conserve the path and prevent erosion over winter (you are reminded to walk side by side, rather than in single file to preserve it), so these Sheds weren’t being stocked for the few stragglers like us.

We heard the roar of the M6 motorway a long while before we crossed it. A village sat right next door to it and the noise was awful. We followed the road into Carlisle and then onto a cycle path. It was here where the clouds finally got us and emptied their contents on us. We didn’t have time to get our waterproof trousers out (and we were close to the end of the walk) so our legs got soaked. Yuk.

We were close to the river and as the rain eased off, we entered a large and handsome parkland. We walked across it, noting that there was some very large and fresh cow pats, but no cattle. It was a bit worrying – were they hiding behind the trees, lying in wait for us? We crossed the river by a sturdy iron bridge and studied the map. Our accommodation was just over there, but the Path followed the river round for another half a mile or more. We didn’t want to cut out a chunk, so we walked around the loop so we didn’t have to do it in the morning. It was a bit of a waste of time, following a riverside path with no views in the city centre, but it had to be done. We stopped at the Sands Leisure Centre for the loo before heading into the centre, looking for a cafe.

Carlisle is a strange place to try to love. We had just walked through a splendid park with a tall stone memorial and handsome trees, but now we were negotiating one of those awful pedestrian underpasses under a roundabout and were burped out next door to a seven storey high 1960’s building, a box of spectacular blandness. I wished I had packed some dynamite. Next door, was another equally ugly building resided by the government body, Defra. They were both massively out of synch with the town, a ghastly blot on the landscape. Further up was the 1980’s red brick building, home to the department store, Debenhams, which wasn’t much more of an improvement. Poor old Carlisle. What a introduction. What had the City Fathers been thinking to blight their town with such monstrosities?

The High Street didn’t help our mood either. It was like any other British High Street dominated by big chains like WHSmith, Marks and Spencer’s, Primark and the other usual suspects. It was repetitive and monotonous. I felt sorry for Carlisle. I wished I had more time to find the heart and character of this city and look beyond the corporate desolation of its centre.

We spotted a Costa Coffee outlet. They are everywhere these places, but we knew you could, at least, get a decent cup of coffee there. We weren’t that desperate yet, but noted it’s location as a possible last resort. Then on a street corner, a little wooden A board was pointing down a side road and was promising an independent coffee shop!

https://www.johnwatt.co.uk/

Oh and what a find. What a little gem. The coffee shop was a tea and coffee purveyor, with tea caddies lined on shelves and the smell of delicious freshly ground coffee. It was old fashioned, but small, cosy and warm. We sat down and ordered a meal. It was huge. Hubby’s sandwiches were like doorsteps, the bread inches thick. There were many different blends of coffee. It was very popular too and had a great atmosphere. It was a little oasis. We ordered banana bread for pudding and that came up as two slabs, the size of a stone from Hadrian’s Wall. We wanted to stay for the rest of the afternoon, but made a decision to come back on our last day.

Suitably refreshed, we walked out of the centre towards our guesthouse – down a busy, but attractive road of Victorian terrace houses. There were road upon road of them, with pretty windows, fancy porches and some of them, built in two tone brick. They were elegant and I really liked them. I was also starting to forgive Carlisle. And in amongst these rows of sturdy, proud houses was our guesthouse, The Howard Lodge.

https://www.howard-lodge.co.uk/

It was slightly faded, stuck in a time warp of swirling patterned carpets into which you could lose things if you dropped anything. I liked it. It made a change from the modern standard. It was clean, tidy, airy, light and had everything we needed. We had a large room with high Victorian ceilings with a double bed and two singles, which made it a little cramped, but we at least could leave our suitcases open. We chilled and watched the sky get dark and rain showers whip by.

After chilling, we looked for somewhere to eat. Just down the road, we found a Greek restaurant called Alessandro’s and enjoyed a fabulous meal. It went straight to the top of our restaurant meal rankings. It was beautifully cooked, tasted amazing and was just perfect. The staff were excellent too. We were very happy.

http://www.thegreek.co.uk/

We had a wander afterwards to walk off our meal before bed and experienced a brief, but eye brow raising glimpse of Carlisle’s nightlife. By the restaurant, it was genial and sleepy, but just down the road, it was rowdy, noisy, and grubby. What a contrast. We didn’t linger and headed back into the quiet backstreets. We headed back to our room and settled down. Tomorrow was our last day of the walk, 15 miles from Carlisle to Bowness on Solway. The last week had whizzed by and we couldn’t believe it was coming to an end. I had mixed feelings – I was tiring of walking every day, but wanted to carry on at the same time. I was sad, but felt ready to go home, fed up living out of a suitcase. And anyway, we were running out of clean underwear…………….

Hadrian’s Wall Walk Day Six

Wednesday

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.

https://www.thescotcharmsmews.co.uk/

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.

Hadrian’s Wall Walk Day Five

Tuesday

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.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vindolanda

https://www.vindolanda.com/roman-vindolanda-fort-museum

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.

https://willowford.co.uk/

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.

https://thesamson.co.uk/

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.

Hadrian’s Wall Walk 2019

In AD122, a chap from Rome called Hadrian built a wall in the north of England.

In 2019, some 1800 years later, I walked all 84 miles of it, across some of the most stunning scenery in England.

We travelled by train to Newcastle on a bright sunny Thursday in the middle of September. It was like a summers day. Hubby and I walked to the Premier Inn hotel, next door to The Gate in the city centre and some 15 minutes from the railway station. Based in the old Co-operative department store, we nearly missed the front entrance – a set of double doors in a jumble of other frontages. We checked in and headed to our room – it was a rabbit warren of corridors, doors and corners that we wished we had brought a ball of string so we could find our way back out again. Our room was the far end of a long corridor, the type you expect a child on a trike to appear at the far end and Jack Nicholson grinning manically and snarling “Here’s Johnny”.

We staggered into our room with our suitcases and dumped our rucksacks on the bed. The usual bog standard format of a hotel chain room. Looking out of the window, we half expected to see the usual rubbish bins and dumpsters, with staff lurking having a furtive fag, but was staggered to see the outside grilles and metalwork of a multi storey car park less than 30 feet away. Well that was a first. You couldn’t see the sky or anything else except Clive from accounts heading back to his BMW on Level 4.

But on closer inspection of the building, we discovered a staircase dominated by a beautiful tall Art Deco window, the entrance rails held by little metal men bent over carrying the rail on their backs and a memorial for the Co-op employees who lost their lives in the war. Look beyond the corporate styling, a lot of the building and it’s quirkiness had been retained.

We headed out and wandered Newcastle, down to the Quayside, enjoying the early autumn sun. It was very warm. We sat opposite the Baltic art building and people watched, before heading for tea in a Cuban restaurant. Newcastle has many fine and ornate buildings and it’s an attractive city. I was impressed. After another wandering of Newcastle city centre, we realised how tired we were from all our travelling and headed for bed, looking forward to the start of our walk in the morning.

Friday

Wallsend to Newburn, Newcastle 12 miles.

We woke stupidly early, full of excitement and after a cuppa in bed, we got organised. We had booked this trip with a company who had arranged all our accommodation and would transfer our luggage to each overnight stop, saving us dragging our whole life across the top of the country. We packed our rucksacks with snacks, waterproofs and other essentials before heading for breakfast. There was a huge variety and we worked our way through the cereals, full English breakfast, toast, coffee and much more. With slightly distended bellies, we retrieved our bags, left the suitcases in reception for collection, hoisted our rucksacks onto our backs, checked out and walked around the corner to the Metro at St James.

The official start of the Hadrian’s Wall walk starts in the eastern suburb of Wallsend and easily reached by Newcastle’s Metro rail system. We jumped onto a very clean train carriage that whipped us out through the inner city. The sun was shining. At Wallsend, we walked down to Segedunum, the remains of a Roman fort, a museum and the beginning of our trek.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Segedunum

We spent a little while here, taking the lift up to the viewing tower to see the Roman fort and far reaching views across the Tyne River and Newcastle. It was quite stunning. We lingered for a while, but we needed to start our walk. We were due to do about 12 miles and so we went back down, walked a few feet across the front of the museum, through a gate and dropped down onto the Hadrian’s Wall Path and took our first steps of our 8 day adventure.

It was an urban walkway. Initially, we passed by factories and industrial units hidden by big scrubby bushes, hiding our view of the Tyne. On the other side, more trees and hedges with glimpses of housing, yards and other urban development. It was pleasant enough, shielded as we were by the foliage, but the noise of the city intruded. The people we met were chatty and friendly, the cyclists pinged their bells warning us of them approaching from behind which was very refreshing. Usually urban cyclists think they own the paths and whip past without warning, startling you, but Tyneside cyclists were very considerate and lots of thank you’s were exchanged. Even an old man driving his car along the part of the path to get to a parking area, stopped, wound down his window and started chatting. “Aye, I’m walking t’dog, then I’m oft for the drink” he declared and we wished him well.

Soon we dropped down to the banks of the Tyne and the view opened up. We followed the river, past a marina with lovely riverside houses and apartments, landscaped with flowers, trees and bushes rather than block paving and concrete. We stopped for coffee and a snack by the Bike Hub, overlooking the river and the edge of the city centre and relaxed. We continued into the centre and back to the Quayside where we lurked the night before. The sun shone and we walked in T-shirt’s and shorts. We strolled through to the other side, past the pigeon lofts, the pleasant business park with red brick offices, pleasantly landscaped. We had lovely views across the river and soon started to spot the edge of the city with gentle green hills and surrounding countryside. Suddenly, the path lurched upwards and away from the river and we found ourselves on the side of a busy dual carriageway, with traffic hurtling up and down. It felt at odds with us dressed in walking boots and rucksacks, tramping along a hard concrete path with lorries bearing down on us. We weren’t on there long, thank goodness and the path took us up into a leafy corridor and the surroundings changed again.

We wandered through grassy fields, tunnels of green where trees touched each other, through city parks, across bridges and busy roads and skirted suburban estates. All the time, the ceaseless roar of traffic, police sirens and other city noises reminded us that we hadn’t escaped the city completely. We dropped back down to the river and followed it. The path was way marked with a white acorn nailed to regularly spaced posts, so it wasn’t difficult to follow – we had no need for maps or a fear of going wrong.

Finally we came to an urban country park, on the edge of a suburban village called Newburn, with a play area for the kids, where locals walked their dogs and where we came across an ice cream van in the car park. It was perfect timing – we decided to award ourselves a treat there and then – and so we sat in the afternoon sun, overlooking the river and eating our icecreams with sprinkles and a chocolate flake stuck in the top, underneath the marching pylons taking electricity to the city, feeling very happy and accomplished.

We walked another 2.5 miles to Heddon-on-the-Wall, up a long but steady hill to the village centre and keen to locate our next accommodation and a long cooling pint of beer. Tired from our walk, we googled Keelman Lodge as we didn’t fancy staggering around trying to locate it. Imagine our despair, when Google pointed it back in Newburn. We typed it in again and we got the same answer. We started to curse in disbelief, wondering how on the earth we had managed to overshoot our hotel like that, when a local sauntered over, asking if he could help. We told him we were looking for The Keelman and he sadly confirmed it was way back in Newburn. Our shoulders sagged despondently, knowing we had an hour walk back before we got our promised pint and dejectedly started to walk back down the hill we had so recently just staggered up, when the local offered us a lift in his car. We could of kissed him. And bless him, we went to his house, collected his car and he drove us back to Newburn, right outside our accommodation. He refused any payment, wished us a lovely trip and he was then gone leaving us to stagger deliriously to the bar.

http://keelmanslodge.co.uk/

Actually we kind of limped – our feet were sore and letting us know about it. We were taken to our room, across the courtyard in a block consisting of eight rooms. It was a large room on the second floor, with french doors opening towards the courtyard. Very pleasant. We showered, spread out our things and checked the state of our feet. They were not that bad. We then strolled back to the main building, across the busy courtyard into the conservatory for tea. The pub and outside was busy with families, groups and couples. It was quite nice. It then dawned on us that just over the hedge and beyond the car park, was where we had sat eating our icecreams earlier. What a pair of muppets!

We enjoyed a starter, main and pudding, the last of the sun’s rays shining through the legs of a nearby pylon, it’s tower dominating the tree line. We had inadvertently walked a total of 15 miles and wondered why we were tired and our feet ached.

Tired, full, pleased with ourselves, we wandered back to the little block of rooms. It was a funny little place, an urban pub in a country park busy with suburban people. It ticked a box.

And it turned out not to be a too bad a day after all. After our free lift, I was given a free walking stick by an Australian hiker who had no further use for it and when we highlighted that the bar staff had forgotten to charge us for earlier drinks, it was waived and they were free too. And a further bonus – as we had already walked 2.5 miles of tomorrow’s walk, we would have a shorter day! Perfect.

Hadrian’s Wall Walk Day Four

Monday

It’s the Big One. 15 miles from Wall to Once Brewed, high in the hills and our half way point.

It had rained overnight and as we got up, it was still teeming, but the skies were clearing. By the time we had breakfast and got ready, the sun was coming out behind the clouds. Mist laid in the valley, the hills poking above – wet, vibrant green with tinges of autumn browns in the trees. It was a very beautiful scene. It made you feel good.

We were alarmed about how much heavy traffic lurched past our accommodation. Our room overlooked the main road and it was constant rumble of lorries, coaches and cars. It had been a funny night – we had developed a tendency to go to bed by 9 – 9.30 – so the other guests seemed quite noisy when they retired an hour or so later. Lots of banging doors and noisy water pipes and cisterns. Also there was a lot of light pollution from various sources which didn’t help. Another weird night.

We walked back to Chesters and continued up a long slow hill by the road. It gradually got steeper, but mercifully not too long. At the top on the edge of the village of Walwick, we turned off and followed a back road. We ended up doing a big loop through fields and ended back near the main road again. The Hadrians Wall Path (also known as the National Trail) goes through private land and not all landowners were happy about walker’s trampling across their fields. So we get these little diversions – there’s not many. Sometimes its to avoid a dangerous section of road or because it just wasn’t feasible.

The scenery was getting better with long distance views. We were again walking through fields and pastures, cows watching us with bored interest. We overtook one foreign couple sauntering along and then caught up with a couple probably in their sixties. We stopped to take photos and swap stories and they said they were finishing in Once Brewed too. We bade them farewell and continued. The Wall was making more of a physical appearance – a line of stone here and there. We stopped and read the information boards as we gradually gained height. We stopped for snacks where the view was 360 degrees with moorland and pine woodlands in the distance. We could of been in the middle of nowhere, but the roar of nearby traffic reminded us that civilisation was not far away. The older hikers caught up with us again here. We packed up and followed them to the site of a Roman temple, sunk into the moorland. There was a car park here, a lonely patch of black tar, with a van surrounded by a couple of chairs and tables. The enterprising van owner had turned his vehicle into a mobile coffee shop. Our fellow walkers succumbed to the smell of coffee and that was the last we saw of them. We never did know if they reached Once Brewed.

The sun was high in the sky with big fluffy clouds. By now we were walking by the Wall almost constantly, it sneaking away into the distance, over the undulating hills. It was probably half the height it was, but still strong. It was a good six foot wide too. We came across the foundations of mile castles, gatehouses and forts that were spaced evenly across the whole length of Hadrian’s Wall and the information boards gave artists impressions of what they would of looked like. We wondered if the soldiers were sent here as a form of punishment or did they line up, hoping to be chosen to be posted in a very exposed and chilly corner of Northern Europe. What was life like living here? You could see for miles so you had no excuse if a Barbarian managed to sneak up. It kept us occupied, discussing what it was like being a Roman all those years ago.

Eventually we parted company with the main road, we just veered away from each other and we headed higher along grassy pathways. With the sun shining, the scenery was stunning. You could see for miles. The muffled roar of traffic travelled on the prevailing wind and electricity pylons matched relentlessly in the distant valley. You couldn’t quite escape the 21st century.

Here and there, we came across some small holding or farm, hidden in a copse of trees for shelter from the worst of the weather. A brief change of scenery, strolling through a little woodland before being popped back out into the big country. To our right, it was a vast expanse of nothingness, the odd woodland and heathland.

We came across Housesteads, another excavated Roman fort, with tourists wandering around the ruins. We were too weary to give it justice and having already seen Chesters, we gave it a miss. However, it is here where you’ve got the only chance to walk on top of the Wall itself – so we did.

We dropped down by a farm where the cows were mooing frantically – apparently they were being separated from their calves. It was a dreadful noise. It was, as we were crossing a wide track, that we realised the biggest, blackest, meanest looking bull was lumbering with surprising speed towards us. Ahead of him, was a man, woman and a small dog walking briskly towards the same gate as us, with an air of restrained panic. They were doing a circular walk when they met him and quickly turned tail. Bringing up the rear, I whispered with quiet desperation for everyone to get a move on as he was bearing down on us. Luckily, the sound of thundering hooves failed to materialise, as he continued his steady plod into the next field to check out the noise and his faithful harem of ladies. Relieved, we all continued our respective walks.

From here, the wall could be seen snaking in the distance, up and down of the contours of the hills. We started to climb up, summit, walk a little distance and then drop down into a gully and immediately back up, quite steeply that steps had been placed into the side. They needed care, these steps – sometimes just soil, other times slate and stone. They weren’t particularly high, these hills but you had to concentrate. Up and down, I lost count. We thought of the poor men who had to construct the Wall here, where the land plunged downwards into a U bend and climbed out again. An entirely different construction was required here and they were numerous. An amazing feat.

We were now on top of a high crag where people abseiled off. It was a natural barrier that the Romans took advantage of. It was just a sheer drop. We dropped down to Sycamore Gap, where a solitary sycamore tree sits in the wall. It was featured in the film “Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves” where Kevin Costner kisses Maid Marian. On pictures it looked isolated as lonely, but in reality it was surrounded by tourists. It was our bad luck as we approached this area, a big group of German teenagers had got ahead of us and were leaping around and bounding down the steps, unnerving me. I’m not particularly happy on these type of steps, especially after 15 miles. So the kids beat us to the sycamore tree and started climbing it. Any special moment instantly evaporated. We stopped briefly, but these kids would be a while so we headed up yet another stone staircase, feeling disappointed and denied. Halfway up, they overtook us again, jabbering away loudly. I was tensing up with fear (I slipped on a narrow path years ago and have an irrational fear of falling – I’m making it sound like climbing Everest, but this section relatively simple and easy) and just wanted to get to the top. Thankfully, it was a short, sharp ascent and once there, we put a wiggle on and left the Germans behind. It was getting busy with tourists who had just parked their cars nearby, wandered a mile or two so they could claim they had walked Hadrian’s Wall. Another large school party of primary school kids stood, spread across the path. Our patience was being tested here. None of the adults shooed them to one side. Grrrr.

Our next hotel hoved into view, a seemingly distant speck. It was a welcomed sight. We dropped onto the little lane that lead to our destination and our little black mood lifted. One final insult was that we caught up with a boisterous mad professor type, full of energy, telling us about a nearby cottage being the Queen Mother’s and offering inane information that we didn’t really want to hear. We feared he was heading to the Twice Brewed Inn with us, but thankfully bounded into a waiting car and disappeared from our lives. We sighed with relief and quietly thanked God.

https://www.twicebrewedinn.co.uk/

We staggered across the Twice Brewed Inn’s lawn and to reception. We checked in and were taken to the smallest room I’ve ever encountered. I think if you swung a cat, it would of hit its head on all four walls. We couldn’t open our cases unless they were on the bed. We needed to close them up and store them away instead of leaving them out, and even then we had to pick our way around the room.

But we didn’t care at that point. Forgoing showers, we retired straight to the bar and got a celebratory beer and gin and tonic. We chinked glasses and toasted ourselves on our achievement. Our feet were beyond soreness, our knees creaked, but we were gloriously happy. We even forgave the Germans and the casual day trippers for blighting the last mile.

Once we had recovered, we tried to get a bigger room to no avail. The alternative was slightly bigger. We stayed put. We showered, rested before heading down to the bar again for food. We was going to eat in the restaurant, but the bar was livelier and had more atmosphere, so we ate there. Afterwards we played dominoes (though quite a bit of it was missing, so the game didn’t last long) and scrabble. We watched people come and go and a couple with a large adorable dog who didn’t get a moments peace as everybody wanted to pat the hound.

We went to our tiny bedroom (the bathroom had more room). We had completed Day Four, we were halfway through our walk and we still had more adventures to come. We fell into a deep untroubled sleep, very happy indeed.