To celebrate his 80th birthday Ron decided to walk Hadrians Wall.
Setting the scene.
On the whole the Romans were opposed to the erection of a boundary wall to the empire, preferring to rely on natural boundaries, and only in Britain and Transylvania ( Balkan countries) were walls erected. Most boundaries followed the territories of friendly tribes, and it was decided to erect a barrier between the friendly parts of Britain and the more unsettled parts of Scotland, originally at the shortest
distance between east and west coasts, which would be today Edinburgh and Glasgow, and a wall, known as the Antonine Wall, was attempted, but it was decided this was set too far north, among a less settled part of the province, so the Emperor Hadrian, in 124 A.D. began the construction of his eponymous wall (classy word). Actually it was not so much eponymous, for which you can’t get the materials, but of turf, converted gradually to the stone wall, the remains of which one can walk beside today, should one feel so inclined. It followed more or less the line of the Roman Road, known as the Stanegate , which ran from Carlisle to Newcastle, or, if you wanted to ‘Go West, Young Man’, from Newcastle to Carlisle.
If you are raising a wall of turves, you need to dig them out of the ground, which in the nature of things tends to leave a bit of a hole, and the consequent ditch, or Vallum as the Romans dignified it, naturally became a sort of waterless moat on the north side of the wall, in other words, part of the fortifications, and much of it can still be traced today. The centre, most striking and hilly (and hence difficult) parts of the wall were built along the tops of steep craggy slopes, which no sensible Briton would attempt to climb – few sensible Britons today even decide to walk along the top of it – and obviously no vallum or ditch was required there.
The date 124 A.D was the year of planning and the beginning of the work, which obviously took some time, and with alterations, repairs and fortifications was probably not regarded as complete for at least six years. It was built by the Roman legionnaries themselves, who were not only fighting men, but who were equipped with digging and building tools. It is possible that some units became similar to the modern Royal Engineers.
The wall was built mainly from local stone (one or two quarries still exist today) to a width of 6 –8 ft. and about 12ft. high, with Milecastles built, strangely enough, at every mile, bearing in mind that a “mile” was a thousand (“mille”) Roman paces, also bearing in mind that a Roman pace was, rather perversely, two paces, i.e. the left and right stride, each of 2’6”, so that the mile was about 5,000 ft, slightly less than our modern mile.If everyone had left it at that it might have been pleasantly shorter to walk along. A milecastle was a sort of fortified gateway, forming, as it was built of stone, a sort of large sentry box; but it was a gateway: it had sliding stone doors, the grooves for which can still be seen, and was thus a guarded passage between the controlled parts of Britain and the more uncertain areas of Scotland – not necessarily entirely to keep the Scots out. At various distances between the milecastles were Turrets, which were small two-storey forts, capable of housing ten or a dozen soldiers.
Although one talks today of walking the wall, in practice one is taking the Hadrian’s Wall Path, for only sections of it are now visible. A small sample section can be seen at the Segedunum Roman fort at Wallsend; at the end of our first day’s walk, after our 15 mile walk, in the village of Heddon-on-the-Wall, a small section, about 100 yards long is on display. We walked for almost two days before we saw any more, mainly because the road is built on top of (and probably constructed from) the Wall itself. After that it is very visible – though generally only 4 or 5 ft. tall at the most – until a few miles past Steel Rigg, when it becomes spasmodic or totally destroyed to the end of the journey.
Which it is time we started
The day before day 1
This may sound a bit perverse, but makes sense, as I had to get to Wallsend in the first place. I could be even more perverse, and start two days before day 1, as on the Sunday afternoon I drove to Keith & Philippa’s so that we could get to Stansted airport on t.d.b.d.1. I only mention it – though it was a very pleasant beginning – as it begins the saga of the tins of shaving foam which formed an integral part of the Walk, which comprised a number of features which it could take two or three days to resolve. I shall only say now that I bought this tin because I did not think the tin I had been using would last the whole 10 days, and I might be somewhere where I could not get another tin (which I was). And while I am about it, I might just mention that on Day 1 itself, I found I had left it at Philippa’s.
So the day before day 1 began with a drive to Stansted for a flight to Newwcastle with Easy-Jet. The only memorable feature was the announcement over the Tannoy, asking that the gentleman who had left his hearing-aid in Boots to go and collect it. This was made several times, because without his hearing aid he could not hear the message.
We will gloss over the small episode when it was discovered that the kitchen knife I had packed to possibly cut sandwiches was packed in my hand luggage, and this brought into action a small section of Stansted security forces before it was confiscated.
The flight to Newcastle was half-an-hour late owing to the late arrival of the plane, but was otherwise uneventful, and by lunchtime we were having a sandwich at Newcastle Airport. Thence by Metro to Wallsend for a 15 min. walk to our digs, a squeezed in little Victorian house in a redbrick terrace. Our bedrooms were on the 3rd. Floor and not bad, but not as good as all subsequent b.& b’s. Nor was the stair carpet, which was a bit hazardous for walking boots.
However, he did provide a welcome cup of tea, and then, as it was a pleasant, sunny afternoon, we walked down the road to view the Segedunum fort, about 15 mins. away. This is quite a large site, all of course outlined in little more than footings, but with a reconstituted bath-house, which seems to be a favourite feature of all Roman sites. There is a tall observation tower to the site, and we went up to view the site, but behind glass it was now too hot to hang about.
We returned to our digs to get ready to go out for a meal, which we had to obtain out, and found quite a reasonable pub nearby.
The owner of the Imperial Guest House, under which name our accommodation gloried,was a collector of old HMV records, and had a picture on the wall of Nipper, the HMV dog on the labels. His other idiosyncrasy was not to prepare packed lunches without 24 hours notice, a little difficult, as 24 hours before we were in Suffolk. However, we were able to obtain supplies from the local Co-op as we started out (plus a tube of shaving cream for me, as I had discovered the loss of the shaving soap.) But this, of course relates to
Day 1: Tues,June 8th.
Looking through the window in the recess where I was shaving, a small window hinged at the top,
I looked up at one of those patchy, blue and white mottled skies one often sees at the start of a reasonable day. I was thus a bit surprised to see below the window that the slates of the roof were all wet. Closer inspection revealed that the blue and white affect was in fact the coloured pattern on the window, so in fact we should be off to a good wet start.
Breakfast was o.k., and we chatted to two coloured Canadians who were also about to embark on the wall walk. We started off before them, as they wanted to pick up some waterproof clothing, and we thought to ourselves how inexperienced they must be to begin an 84 mile walk so ill-equipped. However, we did not waste much time sympathising, as we now had a thunderstorm and quite heavy rain to contend with. Neither of us had started in rainproof trousers, so it was now a question of getting properly dressed. Keith seemed quickly in control of his, but I had a pair with a zip gusset below the knee, which enabled you to open them out and get them over boots. That was the theory; but balancing on one leg in a wet shop doorway to put on trousers which have till then been tightly rolled, and of which the material rapidly gets trapped in the zip so that it will move neither up nor down was something I had not previously practised . However, we were soon approaching the Swan Hunter ship yard and then turning on to the footpath which was to take us alongside the Tyne through Newcastle.
The rain soon cleared up, and at coffee time we had our coffee in a rather smart coffee and drinks bar on the riverside. It was full of an old ladies coach party when we arrived, but seemed to empty fairly quickly when I took off my boots so that I could then take off my trousers (just the waterproof ones).
After coffee we proceeded along the City waterfront, actually standing on the “Winking eye” bridge, which is a very worthwhile Millennium project, and this was quite a pleasant riverfront, with Gateshead across the river looking surprisingly green. The walk gradually became more grassy, at first laid out semi-formally, but then more and more rural.
This was one of our long walks, at least 15 miles, but almost entirely alongside the gradually narrowing Tyne, and fairly level, so quite comfortable walking . Also the weather got brighter and warmer, and by mid-afternoon we were glad that a pub called the Boathouse was on our route, where a pint of shandy went down very well, and very quickly. It was also nice to meet there the two Canadians from our guesthouse. We were a little jealous of them, as their itinerary arranged for them to stay at Ryton overnight, and after 15 miles we thought that sounded a good idea.
However, our journey was not to finish until we reached Heddon-on-the-Wall, little more than two miles further on, but they were two uphill miles, and they seemed very long and arduous ones at that time. Heddon-on-the-Wall was an attractive little place, but with no accommodation. We had to ring up our landlady, who would then come and fetch us, which she did very promptly, driving us to her very spruce and modern bungalow, some 3 – 4 miles further along our route, and virtually on the Wall Path.
We shared a comfortable, well-furnished twin-bedded room, and it was then, by a more thorough reading of our schedule, that we discovered that the double bedroom we thought we were to share at the next port of call was almost certainly a double bedroom each. So no pink pyjamas.
At about 7 o’clock she drove us about two miles along the road to the Robin Hood pub, where we had an excellent meal in a highly presentable dining room, and she collected us at about 9p.m. As we were usually to do throughout the walk, we slept very soundly for a good rest.
Day 2: Wed.June 9th.
A fine start to the day, and a very conscientious one, for although the bungalow was on our road,
we were driven back to Heddon-on-the Wall where we had been picked up. It was to take us till 11 a.m. to get back to our overnight stop, and 1 p.m. to reach the Robin Hood pub.
In Heddon we stopped to view about 100 yards of the wall in a fenced enclosure, which we photographed, as we were not to see any more wall till Thursday.
This was an uneventful day, much of which was spent walking in the Ditch that runs alongside the wall, but was comfortable walking through fields or farmland, what the book calls “pleasantly undulating”, in good weather, and much of the path runs alongside the main road. The wall is not visible here as the road runs on the top of its course, and is in fact probably largely built from stones from the wall. The main interest to the day was that, with Keith’s help and advice, I discovered the proper use of two further straps on my back pack, which then fitted higher up and more comfortably on my back. This was useful, as I had not used this pack during any of my training, as I never walked locally with very much to carry.
We did about 9 miles this day, ending at a roundabout in the main road, from where we were again collected, and driven down a long, steep hill into Corbridge, and very relieved, not only to be taken down it, but more particularly to realise that we should be driven back up it tomorrow morning.
The hotel was a fairly large, very comfortable one, and we did, as we suspected, have a double bedroom each, though the food was fairly humdrum, and we had a fish-and-chip supper. Afterwards we had a brief walk to the town, which is quite an old centre. Our pub is apparently the haunt of locals, who drink in the garden outside one’s window until nearly midnight. However, once asleep I had the usual good night’s rest.
Day 3: Thurs. June 10th.
A good breakfast, followed by a short walk into town, partly to get our legs used to moving again, and I was able to buy another tin of shaving cream, this time of the right sort, to add to my collection. Then we were driven up the hill by the hotel manager, and were soon setting off from the roundabout for the day’s hike.
This started off as a further trapse alongside the path of the wall, but not in the Ditch, more through fields or woods, and the scenery was gradually changing and improving as the undulations became more undulating. We stopped for coffee at a small roadside café and shop, the only one we came across on the whole walk. There is some lack of enterprise amongst the locals in this respect, as this sort of stop is very welcome. At this one we met the man from Chester and his three ladies, whom we had met at the roundabout the previous evening. They were doing the walk entirely on their own initiative, organising their own stops and transport. Like all the walkers whom we met casually on the Path, they walked faster than we did, so we never teemed up with fellow walkers for the day until the very last day.
This day was to be a 5 mile walk, though the figures were often not too reliable, and it seemed more. It was pleasant walking again, both scenically and weatherwise, and after a lunch in a field of sheep adjoining one of the turrets on the wall (though there was no sign of the adjacent wall), we felt able to make a short digression from our route and visit Chesters Fort, quite a large site, with museum attached, and English Heritage shop. Here we got our passports stamped. It was fine enough for tea and an ice cream, and we met up with the couple from Toronto who had shared our first B.& B. in Newcastle.
Then we walked to the village of Wall and the Hadrians Wall hotel (the one where I took a photo of the view from my bedroom window), where we had a double bedroom each. Not en suite, but there was a separate bath and toilet for our two rooms only
It was a popular eating place, being the only one in Wall, and when we went down for our meal there, sitting at one of the tables, were our friends from Toronto, so we joined them, and had a pleasant chat. They were staying quite near, but their guest house did not do meals, but had recommended our hotel. A very pleasant couple, and I bought them a drink at Keith’s expense. (It somehow got included in his bill when he went up to order our sweet.) We were just about to go out for an evening stroll, as this had been our short day, though Keith’s pedometer showed us as having done 10 miles, but it started to rain, so it was an evening for reading in bed, and writing a few cards.
All in all, this had been a very enjoyable day
Day 4: Fri.June 11th.
A showery morning, and for ease of putting them on, we started off in waterproof gear (i.e. trousers).
However, the weather gradually began to improve, which is more than can be said for the walking, as now we started to meet paths laid with flagstones, which were to be a bugbear for the next two or three days. The idea is to provide some protection for the path, and it does give a dry walk, but a very uncomfortable one, as the stones are irregular in size, and offer a series of stepping stones rather than a flat walkway, and where they form steps to the hilly portions of the walk, which are frequent here, the going is very rough and tiring. Often, owing to irregular sizes and heights, these staircases are quite hazardous, particularly against a strong breeze.
We could have done this section walking along the flat at ground level, where the path is known as the Military Road, which soldiers patrolling this section must have welcomed; but in our conscientious way we stuck to the Wall Path at high level, which does reward you with tremendous views over the surrounding countryside. This is a part where no Ditch was needed beside the Wall, as there is a sheer rocky drop on the northern side. When we reached the car park at the end of this day’s itinerary, about half past five we had had enough.
This is an area known as Steel Rigg for some reason, and we had about a mile to walk to Saughy Rigg Farm at Once Brewed, not helped by the fact this last section was, as always, uphill, and for some time we were not totally sure we had got the directions right. It was some comfort, when we had done a bit over half a mile, to be hailed by a lady driving a minibus towards the car park.
“Are you Mr. Silk and Mr.Harknett?” she said. “I’ll be with you shortly.” It would have been even more of a comfort if she had said “Hop in”, but we realised eventually that she was on the way to collect a party of walkers who pretty well filled the bus. We were, we soon realised, just about in sight of the farm, and for probably the most friendly of our overnight stops.
This was by far the most tiring day we had had. According to Keith’s pedometer we had walked 15 miles on a rough switchback route against a strong wind, and Laura’s original comment – “You’re bloody mad” often seemed one of the truest comments I had heard her make.
However, the evening made up for it. We went downstairs to sit at a long table, seating about 12 people, to be served a three course meal, including a glass of wine. Half the party were a group of Canadians, who were walking from west to east, and both sides tried to convince the other that the walk they were in for tomorrow was worse than today’s. Two of the ladies were English: Carol and Jeanette, whom we were to see more of as the walk progressed.
It turned out to be a beautiful calm, sunny evening, making an almost balmy finish to what had earlier seemed a barmy idea.
Day 5: Sat.12th.
Once Brewed, said our itinerary, is a useful place to spend a second night if you need a break. Well, it gives you a break, as there is absolutely nothing to do there, and it is some miles from any other habitation. After Friday’s walk, a break seemed a good idea, but one is left with no idea what to do with one’s time. Our landlady, Kath, came up with an idea.
“I’m taking these two ladies” (that was Carol and Jeanette) “back to where they left off yesterday” she said. “If you like to come in the bus, I can drop you off at Vindolanda; you can look round there this morning, and then this afternoon walk a couple of miles to Steel Rigg where there is a country fair. You will be able to see the World Heavyweight Championships of Cumberland wrestling.”
So we accepted the offer.
Vindolanda is probably the biggest Roman site along the wall, with an interesting little museum of Roman artefacts, including copies of letters, inscribed in wood, written home by soldiers on the Wall.
It is quite an extensive site, comprising not only a military camp, but also an adjoining civilian settlement. All the buildings were as usual little more than footings or a foot high, though they had reconstructed a typical gate entrance two storeys high.
This took us all morning, and we had our packed lunch in the grounds (in a drizzle), but the afternoon cleared up, and we walked to the site of the fair.
This had started in the morning, entrance fee £1. It was about 3 o’clock when we arrived, and the man at the gate said:”Are you going in?” We said we would, and he thought a bit and said “50p. sound all right?”, and we paid and went in.
It was a typical country fair and show, with all sorts of sideshows and exhibitions, including gambling on a ferret put down a tunnel, and you wagered on which stop he’d go to; on the lines of the game shown in the ‘;Auf Wiedersehn’ series in south America. We watched some of the Cumberland wrestling, which consists of arranging a grip with both hands with your arms behind the neck of your opponent, and then hooking a leg round one of his legs, and throwing him to the ground. Three such falls and you’ve won. There was also a hound bitch show, a big marquee housing cakes and various decorations, and some animal pens, mostly sheep.
I was tempted to take a photo of the Gents loo, which consisted of a large sheet of black plastic on a wood frame. In fact, if I had taken two pictures of it, I should have got the whole edifice, as it was exactly the same from the other side. I was told the Ladies incorporated a Portaloo.
Then a walk back to the farm, arriving about 5 o’clock, just in time for a large pot of tea.
The drizzle of the morning had given way to sunshine in the afternoon, and we enjoyed another pleasant sunny evening after another good measl rouns the large table.
As we went to bed, Keith read his pedometer.
“Do you know, we have done over ten miles on our rest day,” he said
Kath gave us a lift, together with the Canadians, to Steel Rigg car park. Here we said goodbye to them, as they were going east towards Newcastle. We were continuing our programme to get to Bowness-on-Solway.
It was quite a pleasant day as far as weather was concerned, but the going was still very up and down, and much of the path still had the uneven flagstones. However, the wall is very much in existence here, and the scenery still very attractive.
Also still very rural and off the beaten track; when we were sitting leaning against a farm wall for our elevenses a small hare trotted by.
Somehow we managed to stray off the correct path, but in any case decided to divert to the small Military Museum. This is run in conjunction with Vindolanda, with many exhibits of a similar type to those we had already seen there, and I felt sufficiently tired to take advantage of a seat in the small cinema, where there was quite a good film about the Wall. Keith jojned me after a while, and by the time I had seen it round twice I felt much better.
About 3 o’clock we resumed our walk, making for the overnight stop of Slack House Farm at Gilsland. By now the Path was much smoother, though still very much up and down, with the Wall still on or right, and in one place actually rising to 12 courses of stonework. We were now in farming country, with sheep and cattle to watch us, though the walk was still very variable, as we walked through two private gardens, in one of which a series of small garden gnomes was watching us; then we had the pleasure of crossing a small river by a bridge erected on the site of an old Roman one.
We walked as far as Birdoswald, a small Roman settlement and museum, but left that for the morning, and took our route to Slack House Farm, best part of an uphill mile off the actual Path, and arrived there about 5.30, to find Carol and Jeanette already enjoying a cup of tea.
Another good B.& B., though my room unusually had no washbasin in it, but Keith and I had the use of a separate bathroom, and it was a very comfortable billet, good food, nice dining room and very comfortable armchairs to lounge in in a sitting room, where we lounged till about 9.30, then retired to bed.
Day 7: Mon. 14th.
After a good breakfast we continued walking, but also after Carol and Jeanette, who, like everybody else we saw on the walk, walked faster than we did, and had left before us. According to our itinerary, we were to have a shorter trip today, only about 8 miles, so we took things easy, and set off at about 9.30.
First stop was Birdoswald, which we did not stop to visit, as it was quite small, and much like previous sites, but we did get our passports stamped. This was No.4 – only two to go!
Walking was now getting easier, i.e. the ground was less rough and hilly. The act of walking itself never started off any easier, but initial stiffness soon wore off, or else one got used to the pain. It was pleasant, gently sloping country, and the day progressed from a cloudy start to a pleasant sunny day, though as happened throughout, a breeze kept it from getting uncomfortably hot.
What was even more pleasant was that we arrived at the village of Walton, where we were to stay at the Centurion Inn, at about half past two, so the walk must have been nearer 5 miles than 8. We enjoyed a cup of tea and caught up with the test score, which we had last heard two days previously.
It was a day for catching up on things: while we were sitting against a farm wall by the roadside having our elevenses, Keith heard voices, and discovered it was the Post lady delivering mail to a nearby farm.
“Do you collect the mail as well?” he asked.
“Oh, yes, I’ll take it,” she said, so we got rid of all the postcards we had written in the last few days, as we had seen no postboxes in the interim.
We were so early at the pub that as a bonus, we took a stroll round the village, quite a modern little place which it took us all of 15 minutes to get round, then returned to the Centurion, and spent the afternoon sitting in deck chairs in the pub garden, having a quiet read. I don’t remember it as a hilly climb to reach, but we were reasonably high, and had a lovely panoramic view of the surrounding meadowed countryside, and had a much better rest day than we had had on what was supposed to be our day off at Once Brewed.
Although the pub bar was a fairly basic rural sort of room, the dining room behind it was comparatively swish, and nicely laid out, with a dinner to match, served by a very cheerful landlady, with a ready laugh. (At breakfast the next morning, Keith’s request for scrambled eggs raised quite a laugh. “I’m not much good at those,””she said; but in fact served him up quite a serviceable one.)
I think she might have laughed if she had seen me trying to get a good night’s sleep in the bed, which had a fitted undersheet which did not quite fit. As soon as one shifted or turned over, the elasticated edge pinged off, and ended in a bundle, somewhere under you. At about 4 a.m. I got out and re-made the bed carefully, making sure the under sheet was secure; I then pulled back the sheets so that I could get into bed from the side, and did not have to slide down from the top. This worked well, and I slept well till morning.
Day 8. Tues.15th.
Off at 9 a.m. on a cloudy, fairly cool day, for a pleasant country walk. The bright spot of the morning was coming across a farmyard where the postman’s van was subject to what was probably a daily ritual of an attack on its wheels by a black and white collie dog. How it managed to be a daily ritual without a fatality to the dog remained a mystery; the postman didn’t slow down, neither did the dog, which was sometimes almost under the wheels.
The next highlight was coffee. Coming to a road, we saw a the board of what seemed a rather smart hotel, but the board said “Walkers welcome”. It was about a 400 yard diversion, and was certainly a posh place, but we managed to attract attention, and had coffee served on a little table in the garden
(overlooking the helicopter in the photo), with cups and saucers, silver coffee pot and all, and a very friendly reception. They even advised us to take a short cut along a wooded path back to the wall, saving us 400 yards back.
A further step forward in our general comfort occurred later, when we ate our sandwiches sitting back to back, which was very much easier on the back, but just a bit surprising that it took us 8 days to work it out.
This became a nice easy walk along by the River Eden, now on a pleasantly sunny day, and we even found a seat to sit on while we had our lunch, watching the birds swooping low over the water. The day was getting better and better, and we were now approaching Carlisle, through parkland, and feeling up to going a mile or so farther than our itinerary to get out passports stamped at the Sports Centre.
This turned out to possess a large restaurant area, and seated at one table was the chap with three lady companions, whom we had actually caught up, but only because they had decided to have a day in Carlisle.
They were stopping the night in Carlisle, in digs not very far from our own, and they walked most of the way with us to our lodgings, which turned out to be extremely comfortable, and probably the best furnished and fitted out of all the accommodation we had had. They did not serve evening meals, but a pub was only about 100 yards away, with good food, and all in all this proved to be the easiest and most relaxed day of the walk.
Day 9. Wed.16th. Last day!
It was going to be a long day’s walking, so after a good breakfast, we got off at 9 a.m., going through the shopping centre, where we were able to buy a paper, – the first since the previous Thursday. Then off through the park that we had left the day before, past Carlisle Castle. We were advised to leave the correct path by a friendly couple who told us there were road works ahead, and it was very muddy, but we very quickly picked up the right way.
Not long afterwards we met Carol and Jeanette who had taken two days to do the walk we had just done, so we caught them up, and spent the whole of the last day in their company. We stopped for coffee in a Churchyard: they made a point of using churchyards for their coffees, as they usually found a bench or a tombstone to sit on. We had to do a slight diversion for this churchyard, and a friendly local asked us if we were walking the wall (not a difficult diagnosis),and pointed out we were leaving the path, but we explained we were diverting for coffee. This was the scene of a number of photos, as I had to take a picture of the others on both Keith’s cameras, then he took one of us on mine, then Carol had to take us two together, first on both of his cameras, then on mine, and by the time all was done we were ready to walk again.
The rest did us good, but by 3 p.m. we were very warm and gasping for a drink, when we saw the
Highland Laddie pub. A very welcome sight, except that the next thing we saw was the landlord and lady working in the garden, and the pub door was firmly shut. However, the landlady took pity on us, and opened up just for us. The kindness so overwhelmed Carol that she un-knowingly used the Gents by mistake , rather to the surprise of both of us.
The rest of the day seemed a long trek, and was much more than the 13 miles set out in the handbook. It was at least flat, much of it along a road, and quite near the River Eden, which joins the Esk to form the Solway Firth, across which we could just see Scotland
But at last we reached THE END OF THE WALK, in a little hut overlooking the river, where we had quite a long chat from a lady who told us all about the salmon fishing done by nets in the river.
From there we crossed to the Kings Head pub, where we got the last stamp on our passports, and were given a certificate to prove we had arrived.
Although we were not staying there, we were due to eat there.
“What time do you serve dinner?” asked Keith.
“I don’t cook on a Wednesday,” she replied, and suddenly we felt considerably even more tired.
However, while we were having a drink with Carol and Jeanette, she came out and said:”If you are prepared to eat now, I can do you something.” The girls were going back to Carlisle by taxi, so we accepted, and had a not very good meal before walking a few hundred yards to Wallsend, the guest house where we were staying. The landlady said the pub lady was a bit like that, and she had in fact taken two ladies who were also staying at the B.& B. into Port Carlisle for what sounded a much better meal than we had.
Wallsend was an old rectory, a large and comfortable house, and in the end a very restful finish to a very long and tiring day. A phone call home, then I turned in, very tired, but very self-satisfied, and after the original quiet reaction earlier when we had staggered into the hut at the end of the Walk, finally beginning to enjoy the satisfaction of having completed The Project.
Day 10.Travelling Home.
A stiff walk up to the bus stop carrying cases to catch the bus into Carlisle. From there we caught the diesel train into Newcastle, and with typical B.R. ingenuity we managed to get two different fares at the two desks. We thought we might take the bus all the way, to get a good glimpse of where we had been walking, but times did not suit.
On Newcastle station we saw one of the Canadians we had met at Once Brewed. They were about to entrain for a walk across most of the Highlands! We just had to get the Metro to the airport for our flight to Stansted, where Philippa met us, and drove us back to a warm welcome at Woolpit. Here I was reunited with my original shaving soap. We had a Chinese meal, and a very pleasant evening, and the next morning I made my way to Leigh. So ended our Project.
After I was back, several people asked me if I had enjoyed the Walk, and I gradually found myself making the stock answer the I had enjoyed having done it, though I should hesitate to call all parts of it enjoyable.
Yet it had been not just satisfying to have done: it is a beautiful part of England, it was interesting to get an idea of what those early Roman settlements looked like all those years ago, and it had been an enjoyable experience to enter into the world of long distance walkers, and to be part of the companionship of the Rambler’s world. We had ideal weather for walking, never totally soaking wet, quite often pleasantly warm, without being too hot, very well organised, and, one needed to remind oneself, a quite unusual holiday. I found I did need to remind myself that that is what we had had, for there was often a risk that we were intent on getting through a Project: that we had to complete our mileage allocation for the day; that we would often say, looking at our guide book, “Ah, we have just moved on to the next page!” There would be something to be said for taking a little longer, so that one could linger over some of the more interesting sites or buildings near which we passed.
But it was quite something to have walked the wall; on many days it was like a stroll on a pleasant country walk, and it was immensely satisfying to spend ten days in mutually agreeable company.
Keith was not only a good companion, but always cheerful, helpful and encouraging. I do not say that without him I should not have been able to complete the walk, but the temptation to cheat a little or take the easier route sometimes might have been difficult to resist. He deferred to me at all the stiles, of which there were not a few, he helped sort out all the straps on my jacket and back-pack, he poured the tea out in the mornings, and all in all I became very glad he had asked to accompany me. I wrote to him in those terms when we were back, and got Philippa to buy him a book he wanted, and he replied in such a similar vein that I began to think we should need our pink pyjamas after all.
Now I am left with the task of trying to convince my fellow ramblers that I am not a genuine long distance walker, I was just responding to a self-induced challenge, and am at last beginning to get used to going out once a week for a short walk with friends, and am no longer under the compulsion of being in training for the Great Project, though I am still often referred to as “the Hadrian’s Wall man.”