Hadrian's Wall 2013

 

 

Hadrian’s Wall

 April-May 2013

 

 

Two men inspired this year’s back packing trip.  The first was the Emperor Hadrian AD 76-AD138.  The second was Ian Hamilton AD1952 -

The first designed the route the second booked the accommodation.

 

It was Ian’s choice to walk the route East to West,  starting at Wallsend on Sunday morning, which meant traveling to the North East by train on Saturday.  Sunday morning was blustery to say the least, my hat blew off before the obligatory departure picture outside the hotel.  The first mile or two is alongside the once mighty Swan Hunter ship yard, now a shadow of it’s former self.  Twenty five or so years ago I used to work in the North East at least two days a week, all that first day we passed sites, now demolished, that employed thousands in jobs that kept the ship yards supplied.  Times change and the river front in the city centre is now busy with shops, bars and restaurants but I still felt a tinge of sadness passing the places I serviced compressors that kept the workshops going and communities thriving.

Day one finished in the village of Heddon on the Wall and a very nice B&B/Hostel run by Paula, a woman who knows everyone providing accommodation on the route and the opening times of all the shops and tearooms.

 

Day 2

The wind was 24 mph in our faces, dry for most of the time but the odd couple of rain/hail showers were fierce, a few sections of the wall were in evidence but most of the day was spent on or near the Military road.  To previous generations the Wall was just a source of handy building material so little is left untouched in the more urban areas.  The Tyne was again encountered and this time crossed at Chollerford just a couple of miles from our next B&B a farm where a hot meal was provided.  With no pub on hand we made our own entertainment and Hilary showed her prowess as a card shark.

 

Day 3

 

The wind had dropped to almost nothing, the sun shone and we had our shortest but most interesting day.  Lots of Wall, Milecastles, Turrets and the highlight that is Houseteads Fort.  We spent a couple of hours here in the warm sunshine eating ice cream and marvelling at the sheer scale of the Roman architecture.  This section of the walk proved to be the most popular, the area is the most remote of the whole route and so the Wall is at it’s best.  We were surprised by the number of different nationalities we met, Germans, Dutch, Canadians and most of all Americans, as well as the odd Brit.  A good night in the pub at Twice Brewed where we were cheated out of a win at the pub quiz by not fully understanding the bizarre rules.

 

Day 4

 

The wind was with us again, or should I say against us again.  Lots of ups and downs and the highest point of the walk but by mid afternoon the landscape changed to a more gentle undulating agricultural one.  Again the Wall had been taken for building material, is this the earliest evidence of recycling?  Not only had farms been built using Roman stones but at Greenhead the local landed gentry used Roman stones to build themselves a Castle no less.  It was about this time when Ian finally got in touch with our hosts for the night at Sandysyke Bunk House.  Although booking an evening meal (so he says) Ian learned that the lady of house could not provide a meal at all, but probably could manage to provide a breakfast.

We each bought a sandwich at the next port of call and decided to fill up at the cafe at Birdoswald.  Our plan however was thwarted by a group of Scots Guards who had stripped the cafe bare.  To add insult to injury we were informed that not only was no food on offer but we 4 were sharing our 8 beds with the 3 Germans we had passed on the path a couple of hours before.  We showered and set the table for dinner.  A ham sandwich, a packet of crisps and a Rocky Road washed down with a bottle of Spitfire turned out better than I had thought it would.  Nicholas, who was playing gooseberry to Felix and Julia, admitted that Spitfire was a good aircraft and a good beer.

 

Day 5

 

A beautiful morning with fantastic views and a very nice cooked breakfast, can’t ever remember a more expensive one.  We were over the watershed now and our next goal was the River Eden flowing West into the Irish sea.  We were on a much flatter walk from now on, with very little evidence of the Roman occupation until we arrived in Carlisle centre.  On the outskirts of the city we came upon Rickerby Gardens and it’s large collection of interesting buildings including the odd folly.  It really felt like spring had finally sprung as we walked into Carlisle along the river, we even saw a picnic in evidence on the opposite bank.  We had our second Italian meal of the trip as we had a choice of eateries in the city centre.

 

Day 6

 

Spring had not sprung, another chilly morning with a promise of heavy rain sweeping down from The Highlands had us getting a “wiggle on”  The tides timetable was in our favour so we stuck to the prescribed route.  The strong winds however had changed course slightly and so the heavy rain was avoided until the last mile or so into Bowness-on-Solway.  Our only refreshment came in Drumburgh where the locals provide a self service coffee stop with ice cream and a loo.  We managed to find enough change to feed the coffee machine and finished off our last muesli bars.  There is evidence along the shore of a once busy port but the estuary silted up, the railway closed and Port Carlisle is now just a sleepy backwater.  Our digs for the night was the Kings Arms and very nice it was too but we ended the walk in yet another tea room were we treated ourselves to toasted teacakes, crumpets and scones while the rain came down outside.

 

The journey home was by buses and trains.  Work on the West Coast mainline meant a bus from Oxenhope to Preston but we were still home by mid afternoon.

 

This was our ninth trip together, we are still all talking so we must get on.  What will we do for our tenth?

 

Thanks to Hilary, June and most of all Ian who made all the arrangements.

 

 

Peter