A Walk along Hadrian's Wall - 2009

1. OFF WE GO 2. HE'S THE MAN 3. TERMINVM

Your Secretary embarked on this winter trip at short notice last November and this is an account of a fantastic few days. Having met Tony, a fellow member of Penrith Ramblers, in town and discussed his forthcoming plan to solo the route I promptly hijacked his arrangements by inviting myself along and also persuaded Janet, yet another member, to join us from Day 2 onwards. As the start day approached we did wonder about the wisdom of doing it at this time of year given the floods that were currently engulfing Cockermouth and Workington, not to mention the rest of Cumbria. Our worries were amazingly unfounded as we hit a window of fine weather with sunshine being the predominant feature for most of the journey.

 

Start Day -1 started with the two Tony’s journeying valiantly to Newcastle via Carlisle courtesy of HM Government’s excellent bus pass scheme for old gits. We managed to negotiate our way past numerous old ladies enjoying their free day out with only minor collateral damage to them from our oversized and out of control back packs. Arrival at the big city saw an immediate dash to the nearest hostelry to quench thirsts and attempt orientation as we navigated eventually through the busy streets to Jesmond’s friendly Youth Hostel. Surprisingly the occupants all appeared to be at least 20 years older than us with a variety of fearsome maladies. Intent on painting the town pink at least we were soon out and about finding our way eventually to the quayside and a most acceptable eatery beside the ‘blinking eye’ bridge. The riverside is now a paradise as compared with student days of getting on for half a century ago! Walking back up vaguely familiar streets we dived into the Three Bulls Heads for a nightcap before retiring.

 

Day 1 proper saw us country bumpkins unravel the complexities of Newcastle’s metro with consummate ease arriving at Wallsend well before opening time - of the museum of Segedunum that is. Assuming that there would be plenty of further opportunities to view heaps of stones we blithely set off alongside the River Tyne. The day was set fair and the route undemanding as we travelled rapidly riverside through and eventually out of the city. Though walking most of the day on tarmac and cycle paths etc the Way was always interesting with its mix of modern development and industrial relics – no wall to be seen today however! Geordies are inquisitive beasts and we had several friendly interludes especially over al fresco coffee by that magnificent Millenium Bridge.

 

We learnt about the Lemington glass cone, the battle of Newburn Ford in 1640, the Wylam Waggonway where Puffing Billy ran and much more. Eventually after a 16 mile day full of interest we climbed through fields up to our nights digs in Heddon-on-the-Wall. ‘Too early’, the landlady cried as she packed us off to the pub while she prepared our abode. Fortunately we were eventually allowed in and establishments later in the walk were rather more accommodating! Redemption was obtained as she drove us down to Wylam station to meet Janet off the Carlisle train and with the party now complete we celebrated with a top notch Carvery courtesy of the nearby Swan before retiring for the night.

 

First up on Day 2 is a good section of the Wall which then promptly disappears again as its course lies underneath the modern Military Road. Keen to impress our new addition we promptly got lost circling our way out of Heddon! The day’s march closely parallels the B6318 or Military Road which is, however surprisingly unobtrusive. The weather remained fair though cool as we passed through Harlow Hill with its interesting church followed by the Whittle Dene reservoir complex. Despite a lack of Wall we learnt that the ditch to the north was mirrored by a Vallum to the south of it and lots of both were on show today. More to the point a roadside caravan serving burgers-to-die-for was discovered at just the right time of day!

 

After crossing the A68, route of the old Dere Street which links Corbridge to the Scottish border at Carter Bar, the next highlight was the site of the 7th-century battle of Heavenfield between King Oswald of Northumbria against Cadwallon of Gwynedd and Penda of Mercia! More significantly the associated farm boasted a friendly tea room packed with home-made cakes served by friendly waitresses and even an accordionist playing ‘She’ll be coming round the Mountain’– I kid you not. Reluctantly we left this oasis as time was passing and the day dying with several more miles to be covered. An impressively swollen River North Tyne was crossed in fading light by the equally imposing Chollerford Bridge as we strode past the overpriced George Hotel up the hill to our night’s lodging at the friendly and reasonable Crown Inn in Humshaugh.

 

Large individual rooms and a bath were a counterpoint to the previous night and Janet was even spared the rite of passage of being third in the bath! Even Tony mellowed and forgot to complain about his sore shoulders (a 35lb. pack should be nothing to an ex-marine) after a lamb shank washed down with Black Sheep soothed the memory of an 18 mile and 7½ hour day. Early to bed was the cry as the following day promised much in terms of culture and history.

 

Early morning of Day 3 was frosty with low cloud though this soon lifted to give us another day of sun with occasional misty patches. Chesters Fort was the first objective again reached before its opening time. Its defences, however, proved inadequate to our unauthorised entrance and we were soon marvelling at the intricacies of the Roman bath house set beside the river. Travelling on, again with the Military Road for company, the next gem to appear was the Mithraeum – a well preserved temple to the Persian god Mithras.

 

The Wall now began to take centre stage as the route at last swung away from the road and climbed majestically to a trig point above Sewingshields Crags. A spartan lunch was enjoyed in the sunshine before arriving at Housesteads – Mecca for Wall aficionados. We duly appreciated the Fort’s ramparts and associated remains, not least interesting of which are the communal latrines! Even more interesting was the appearance of a Cloudbow caused by the sun reflecting off very tiny water droplets. We visited the not-so-interesting Information Centre for tea and pies before continuing along a superb roller coaster walk on Whin Sill rock above Crag Lough, into and out of Sycamore Gap and past Peel Crag. Daylight was again fading as we left the Way to descend to the youth hostel at Once Brewed. The 15 miles had taken us over 7 hours again but at least our cultural needs had been satisfied.

 

Youth hostels are an acquired taste, and one which Janet was sampling for the first time. The name apparently relates to the teetotal lady who opened it in 1936 and wanted nothing brewed but tea and that only once! Thankfully this no longer applies and especially not at the adjoining Twice Brewed pub to which we soon repaired. On retiring our rest was soon rudely interrupted by a late arriving guest who proceeded to unpack his gear and inhabit the bunk above mine where his nocturnal movements helped my slumbers no end!

 

The morning of Day 4 was dark and overcast with rain threatening so we delayed a final departure from the hostel, opting for a diversion without rucksacks to visit the Fort of Vindolanda. Again this 3 mile add-on involved unauthorised entry but we were determined to get full value from our trip and admired the reconstructed timber tower, stone turret and associated excavations appropriately. After breaking out we returned to the hostel and continued heavy laden once more, rejoining the route at yesterday’s ending.

 

Luckily the heavy rain and high winds reported from Lakeland did not visit the Wall and we enjoyed a wild but largely dry day with a welcome tail wind. The highest point of the walk at 345 metres on Windshields Crags was celebrated with photos at the trig point. The miles to Greenhead by Cawfield and Walltown Crags soon passed alongside long sections of Wall interspersed with Milecastle and Turret remains. Hopes of refreshments at Birdoswald lent wings to tired legs as we sped past Thirlwall Castle and Gilsland to cross the River Irthing after a surfeit of Wall at Willowford farm. Unfortunately Birdoswald was closed for the winter with not a Roman to be seen and the day was only saved by Janet’s apparently inexhaustible supply of ‘Go’ bars!

 

Suitably fortified but again with time running out the last few miles soon passed as we homed in on our night’s destination in Banks. Mileage and time for the day was consistent with 17 miles in 7½ hours again and a warm and friendly welcome accompanied by tea and cake proved an effective amnesiac for weary limbs. A dearth of eating places in the village had persuaded our hosts to provide a shuttle service to the Belted Will pub in nearby Hallbankgate. Food and service were excellent and we learnt that Belted Willwas Lord William Howard so-named by Sir Walter Scott in the 16th Century because of his broad belt! They even provided a lift back ‘home’ courtesy of the chef/landlord.

 

Day 5 of this epic journey was again sunny and warm for the 17 mile hop into Carlisle. This section provides pleasant but less exciting walking mainly through fields (boggy) and along farm tracks as it visits the villages of Walton and Newtown on the way to Crosby-on-Eden. A planned stop at the serve yourself farm café here was thwarted by its winter closure but a ‘Walkers Welcome’notice drew us into the rather posh Crosby Lodge hotel where we were served coffee and biscuits at a fair price and welcomed as advertised despite our less than pristine condition.

 

The last leg of the day visits the River Eden before crossing the M6 and entering Carlisle via Rickerby Park where council workmen regaled us with stories of the previous week’s flooding here. After visiting the Eden benchmark sculpture behind the Castle we delivered Janet to her car – home to Penrith and a good rest for the night after three long days with the Tony’s – while we discovered our excellent city centre B&B. A Thai banquet followed perhaps to celebrate the impending success of our venture.

 

At last Day 6 arrived with the party reunited and intent on the final push out to the Solway. A brisk overnight frost had firmed the ground making the going much easier for the morning section again Eden side as far as Beaumont where we briefly explored the handsome Norman church. At Burgh by Sands we admired the statue of Edward 1 (Hammer of the Scots) though did not visit his nearby monument where he died of dysentery. Instead we opened the adjacent pub and enjoyed coffee in the Greyhound before a long straight three miles on the sea defence embankment to sandwiches, courtesy of Janet, on a handy if breezy seat overlooking the Solway Firth.

 

A brief excursion inland over thawed fields thankfully soon passed and the last few miles were spent in the company of Bowness Marsh, big skies, estuarine scenery and the awesome spectacle of four air-borne swans. All too soon Port Carlisle was bypassed and Bowness-on-Solway arrived to mark the end of the day’s 16 mile section and also the end of the National Trail. Appropriate photos were taken at the terminus before we piled into the pre-placed vehicle and bade farewell to this quiet but hauntingly beautiful corner of Cumbria.

 

GPS data showed that we had walked some 99 miles over the 6 days which equates to a more satisfying figure of approximately 108 Roman miles! The Path certainly did not disappoint with its great diversity of scenery and wealth of historical features. The Wall wasn’t too bad either. As always the icing on the cake is provided both by the weather and the company – both of which could scarcely have been bettered.

01.DAY 1. BIG CITY BOYS 02.DAY 1. PLENTY BRIDGES 03.DAY 1. COFFEE WITH A SMILE. 04.DAY 1. HISTORY LESSON 05.DAY 1. A TRANQUIL RIVER TYNE 06.DAY 2. NOT HALF !! 07.DAY 2. SOME WALL AT LAST 08.DAY 2. AS IT SAYS 09.DAY 2. WORN OUT AT HARLOW HILL 10.DAY 2. RAMBLERS REST SNACK BAR ! 11.DAY 2. LOTS OF VALLUM 12.DAY 2. SQUEEZE THAT BOX 13.DAY 2. MINE HOSTESSES AT ST. OSWALDS FARM 14.DAY 3. LEAVING HUMSHAUGH 15.DAY 3. THE BATH HOUSE AT CHESTERS 16.DAY 3. JUST MOSEYING ALONG 17.DAY 3. I SEE NO SHIPS - ONLY HARDSHIPS!! 18.DAY 3. THE MITHRAEUM 19.DAY 3. CLOUD BOW AT HOUSESTEADS 20.DAY 3. THE LATRINES 21.DAY 3. BIG WALL COUNTRY 22.DAY 4. VINDOLANDA 23.DAY 4. BREAKING OUT OF VINDOLANDA !! 24.DAY 4. PEEL CRAG AND CRAG LOUGH 25.DAY 4. HIGH POINT OF WALL AT 345 M. 26.DAY 4. MILECASTLE 42 27.DAY 4. THIRLWALL CASTLE 28.DAY 5. GETTING CLOSER 29.DAY 5. TAXI !! 30.DAY 5. AAAHHH 31.DAY 5. NOT MUCH WALL BUT ANOTHER SUNNY DAY 32.DAY 5. POSH CROSBY LODGE 33.DAY 5. 'TOWARDS THE SEA' - CARLISLE'S EDEN BENCHMARK SCULPTURE 34.DAY 5. CARLISLE SKYLINE AT DUSK SHOWING CASTLE AND CATHEDRAL 35.DAY 6. A FROSTY EDENSIDE 36.DAY 6. BEAUMONT CHURCH 37.DAY 6. KING EDWARD 1 - 'HAMMER OF THE SCOTS' 38.DAY 6. THE SOLWAY FIRTH AT LAST 39.DAY 6. BOWNESS ON SOLWAY 40.DAY 6. THERE BE SCOTLAND