2007: Hadrians Wall

Day 0: Thursday

Trains, planes and automobiles, ends in Peter kicking heels for 4 hours in Carlisle. Not to be recommended. Thu night at Carlisle North Premier Travel Inn, next door to Gosling Bridge (CAMRA Pub of the Season, Spring 2001).

Day 1: Friday: Carlisle to Walton, 19km

Heeeeere we go....

Peter, looking relaxed and happy on the banks of Eden. As well he should, we have done only about half a mile by this stage, with three tough days march ahead.

Waiting for the Stag Inn in Crosby to open its gates, we take a stroll through the village.

Bit of an old banger here. Structure OK in its day, but now needing to be reinforced with additional substances. Clattering old engine, wheezes slowly into life at the start of the day. Could really do with a good buffing up and a bit of a polish. Nostalgic to look at from the distance, but get much closer and you can see marks and scars of running repairs. Emits some fairly noxious fumes at times. When it (all too rarely) sees a bit of action one can hear it wheezing and banging away from across the street.
The car, however, is a real auld beauty.

The Stag finally gets going, and we call in for a well-earned pint. Peter is bothered by ragged and torn toenails, a bit of an annual feature of these walks of ours, and widely decides to sort them out before they cause serious problems with his feet. A carefully considered, calm, wise and sensible thing to do, but Adrian makes a big fuss about it. Something to do with the fact that I do it in the Lounge Bar rather than walking all that extra way to the Gents. No big deal, its not as if anyone else was about!

First of many acorned HW signposts, just beyond Eden Bridge, Carlisle, more often a harbinger of gloom than a glimmer of hope

Walk up the hillside singing songs reminiscent of sheep:
  • Only a Ewe, can make my dreams come true
  • Baa-baa-baa-baa-baabara-Anne
  • Please Fleece Me, then let me go
The lamb in this picture really is about 5 minutes old, by the way. We stayed back and left it in relative peace. The last thing one wants to hear upon arrival on this planet is two eedjit hillwalkers crooning stupid fleecing songs.

Notes made on the trip itself, which I can now barely make out due to stains of snow, mud, or some other substance, refer to this perfectly ordinary-looking beast as Marilyn Monroe the Cow, and add the cryptic reference: Good Morning Mr President! I have no idea what any of this could mean.

The Centurion in Walton is a fine pub/hotel, run apparently single-handedly by a cheeky young Welsh lass called MJ. Arrived at Walton early, only to find that the Inn was closed to all Centurions, not to mention hillwalkers. Sat and shivered in a bus shelter for a bit until the nice wifie turned up. Our room rather cold and damp, but after a fairly miserable 10 minutes found a kebab roaster in a cupboard. Turned that on and sat happily, roasting our toes.

Evening meal in a packed and very nice pub. Fortunately one table was free, and it was just by the fire, which was lucky! We sat cosy and warm to order food. After a short while we became very cosy, then very warm, hot, roasting and finally cooked. Felt like we were eating inside the oven. By this time we had clicked as to why the locals had left this table free. End of the evening we put clothes back on and went to bed.

View from the CenturionĎs guestroom, where Adrian has just been caught spying on MJ, as she pluckily lugged in the coal from the shed on the right of the picture

Day 2: Saturday: Walton - Grindon, 32km

Hareís Hill. First serious bit of Wall encountered, just beyond Walton. Amusingly populated by large colony of rabbits.

Ah, thatís more like it. Satisfyingly long and undulating stretch of HW, just east of Birdoswald. We meet first group of westward-bound walkers here, they talk of having experienced some tough trekking against the wind. We scoff at their poor planning, and head off ourselves, the wind at our backs and a spring in our heels.

Harrows Scar

Adrian .... and then Pete crossing the new Willowford Bridge, with the ancient Roman one, now high and dry, to be seen in the background

This wonder of engineering was one of a series of Roman bridges spanning the Irthing; two millenia later and the river has changed its course a hundred yards east, rendering all these efforts totally useless. Peter smiles grimacingly, or grimaces smilingly, at the irony.

The Vallum. There were Barbarians on both sides of HW, so in addition to the Wall itself the occupiers had also dug big ditches (bit difficult to say, that) and mounds to slow up any surprise rear attack. Thae Romans werenae feel.

Advice for HW novices: donít wear a waxed Burberry sombrero like Adrian did. Looks daft and is not much use in a gale.

err, this one is a bit of a mystery

Thirlswall

Snow, hail, wind, repeated the mantra, "Thank God we are not walking the other way," about 53 times. Wall so up and down it is a joke. It is becoming rather unpleasant up here. Wonderful views as we scale the crags, but these are almost irrelevant as we hardly dare look around us, wind and rain whipping constantly from behind

Cawfields....err can't think of anything else to say about this bit. Nice arse?

Milecastle Mid Section. More picture postcard Hadrianís Wall scenery. This shot was taken while we were still basically of the opinion that Crags were beautiful, inanimate things. Soon, we hated them with a passion bordering on the physical.

The Stile Council

This is open country now, much of it wild and untamed. In days of yore the Armstrong clan held much of this land under their sway. In more modern times the ancient clan structure has fallen away, and almost all this area, distant from the major cities, has fallen under the influence of the Stile Council. This secretive and dastardly organisation exists to thwart and foil innocent walkers at every turn, or at least at every stile, and their malignant influence need be suffered by all who dare cross their path.

Chief amongst the Stile Council's transgressions is there insistence, in a country liberally dotted with stiles, that every single one, with nary an exception, must be designed according to different principles. This means that the innocent walker cannot settle into any kind of rhythm or rolling gait, but must needs adopt a different approach at every stile, tiring out a different set of muscles each time. Ouch, but they are a mean lot.

Cursing the Stile Council, but in soft undertones as one never knows who is listening, we limp on our way. Marvelling at the genius of innovation that can come up with 20 different varieties of stile.

Oh when shall this cursed land ever be free?!

Light fading fast, and so is our morale, as we approach Housesteads, still several miles from our goal, Grindon. This famous bit of Wall is known locally as the Helterskelter (- hey, I just made that up!)

Housesteads represents the lowest point of the whole walk. The heritage site is deserted, of course, but we have no eyes for it anyway.We are tired, cold, wet, hungry, and with a full four miles on the main road to travel to our night's accommodation. Abandoning the trail, we straggle up to the road as the daylight dies. Pathetically we fail to find any shelter in a rain- and wind-swept car park. So we break out our survival rations of Kendalís mintcake and muesli bars. The whole business is getting rather dismal.

Teeth chattering, we are suddenly dazzled by bright headlights pointed directly at us. A UFO in the carpark? Surely no human being would ever come to this place, in the rain, in the dark An ethereal creature alights from the spacecraft and levitates across to us. He is trying to communicate in some earthly language, but we cannot follow him. He even appears to be asking if Hadrianís Wall is open for visiting, which, even in our demented state, we recognise as a wholly preposterous idea. We say no. The alien seems sad; he returns to his spaceship and its inhabitants and we wait for it to take off to the next planet.

However, it is then that the real miracle occurs, because it isnít a UFO at all, but rather a small Italian hatchback, completely filled by a rather corpulent gentleman in the driver's seat, with his bemusingly, devastatingly attractive wife in the passenger seat, and a brace of umbrian cherubs in the back. Rather improbably they offer us a lift down the road - truly a heavenly chariot sent by God. We accept, and incredibly succeed in squashing our 2 large bodies + rucksacks alongside the children in the back, who cheerfully accept the situation as just another typical chapter in their family holiday to this cold, wet, miserable, desolate, appalling place.

Four miles gives us only a very brief opportunity to chat, but we gauge enough of the chap's personality to agree that the attraction felt by the shimmering Venus in the seat next to him must be because he is hung like a donkey.

The Old Repeater Station, Grindon. What an ace place.

We are made very welcome by the hostel chappie, called Les. While still dripping on his doorstep, we meekly acquiesce to Lesís urgent solicitation that we part immediately with most of our clothing, in particular some very wet and mucky troosers. Before long, we are sitting in dry togs in front of a roaring fire, drinking hot tea. Thankfully, our manĎs peremptory bidding us to strip off has been prompted by a quite understandable concern for the cleanliness of his house, and nothing more sinister than that. He even sticks our manky troosers into the washing machine for us. But he canĎt be arsed cooking for us, so instead he drives us to the nearest pub, where we succeed in making ourselves popular with the locals by carrying off all the prizes in the pub quiz.

Day 3: Sunday: Grindon to Robin Hood Inn, short of Heddon, 27km

Mr Friendly is up and gone in the morning by the time we rise (sigh, twas ever thus), so we get up and make our own breakfast, while gazing out at the blizzard, which is slowly whitewashing the bleak Northumbrian moorscape. As we get ready to leave, a comely but totally whacked looking Miss Friendly, (by her own account barmaid at Once Brewed pub some 3-4 miles west of here), staggers out of her bed, just in time to pocket our cash and see us smartly out of the house. (Actually, twas mostly thus.)

Them tharís snow on them thar vallums.

Not Hadrianís Wall Path. Jokey sign erected by the Stile Council.

Collerford Bridge

Our final destination is The Barn, 10km short of Heddon, next door to the Robin Hood Inn. £25 per person, need cash, no machine in village, in fact, no village! Not only that, but we must Beware! Ides of Mothering Sunday! Manage to squeeze into corner table, despite both of us carelessly forgetting to bring along a Mother on this day of days.

Day 4: Monday: long auld drag to Newcastle

Heddon-on-the-Wall, our pedestrian goal, is suddenly upon us. We willingly succumb to Heddonism. Looking for an open pub to celebrate, we find ourselves standing at a bus stop, just as the Newcastle bus arrives. Without saying a word, we nod at each other and jump aboard.

The Wall ends at a village called Wallsend. What are the chances of that?!

Our room in Newcastle Hotel bizarrely has Shake and Vac still liberally covering the floor, shaken but not vac'ed. Yet again a glorious, tacky example of what afflicts us when we try and move up to a better class of hotel for once.

Cranes dipping and brooding over Newcastle Docks somehow have an animalistic rather than Industrial effect. A Jurassic Park of girdered and rivetted, carniverous menace. Roooaaarrr.....

. Thank you very much for your application to join the Third Cohort, Imperial Army (North). We regret to inform you that you have been unsuccessful on this occasion.

Whitely Bay and St Marys Lighthouse

Bet itís lovely and cosy inside

Newcastle

And so I leave it to you to judge, Dear Reader, whether the stunning night view of The Bridge oer the Tyne is enhanced or not by the additional feature of Peter in close up!