Mon 6th April
As part of my job I’ve been taking some online courses called MOOCs (massive open online course). I did a very good one from Newcastle University on Hadrian’s Wall with FutureLearn for free.
You get to translate Roman tablets and identity objects. I’ve also done some very poor courses with FutureLearn but you don’t have to stick with it if you don’t want to.
It got me interested in the path and it looked like a walk with a lot of extra interest and lots of scenery. It’s also a test to see if I really can do 4 long days of walking and therefore will be able to do my Pyrenean trip in August.
The taxi I’d booked didn’t arrive so I drove to the station and parked in sight of a camera. Three trains were all fine. Chatted to a young Austrian woman who was on her way to Hawick to volunteer on a farm for a week and then coming back down to be an equine apprentice in the Midlands.
Walked to Ashleigh House B&B which is near my start of the Hadrian’s Wall Path (HWP). It’s probably 2* and frequented by builders but my room is clean.
Dinner in Pizza Express. I have a Peroni and a light pizza which is where they cut out the middle and fill it with salad. I can’t eat huge pizzas anymore. Also some roasted tomatoes and coleslaw on the side. Finish with fruity tea and a tiny piece of lemon posset crunch. Very nice.
Back to my room to take things in and out of bags.
Tues 7th April
Off to meet some Romans.
Breakfast of poached egg and tomato, and marmalade on toast.
Set off at 9. My first HWP sign directs me over the River Eden across the memorial bridge into Rickerby Park. Lovely park full of dogs and their companions. Rickerby village is des res. Over the M6 into Linstock, along the river to Crosby. A little girl had set up a roadside stall so I bought some juice for 30p. Start to see farm names relating to the wall. The first section of vallum (big ditch) and Bleatarn (Roman quarry) now full of reeds and bulrushes. Various honesty boxes along the way but have plenty of supplies. The path goes along lots of farmland, mainly sheep but some cows (well behaved). Also sections of road all very quiet. At Swainsteads the path crosses a tributary of the river Irthing with a weir.
I had my lunch at Walton sitting on a bench. On the road to cross King Water which also feeds the Irthing. Here there is a temporary road section of the HWP which looks like it’s a very long temporary. Just here is the first real section of wall but I missed it because of the diversion. I met a solo female American and had a chat. Just after Howgill I met 2 Northumberland National Park Rangers in a truck. They asked me about the condition of the path. First real climb up Craggle Hill for good views back west and south. At Hare Hill the first proper bit of wall. Quite high. Into Banks. Nice chat with woman doing her garden. Arrived 3.50 at Quarryside B&B which is lovely. Proper good welcome with tea and cake (skipped this) and biscuits. Nice room. Lovely hot shower. They will drive me to the pub 5 miles away and the pub will drive me back! Love this.
I saw 4 parties of wall walkers. 3 non UK girls with gigantic rucksacks, 2 UK women, 2 women and a man and the American.
Nice drive with David to the Belted Will Inn in Hallbankgate (Belted Will is taken from Walter Scott’s Lay of the Last Minstrel, a reference to William Howard of Naworth Castle which we drove past just after Lanercost Priory). This is the family that built Castle Howard.
Another great welcome in the pub. Sweet potato, chick pea and spinach curry with rice, nan bread and salad. Good grub washed down with Thwaites’ Wainwright beer. I have to wait for Steve the chef to take me back at 9. I had a bit of a headache so the nice bar woman has rung David to come and get me sooner. Her suggestion.
Sheets and blankets!
15 miles, 24km
Weds 8th April
Breakfast of poached eggs and beans while Elizabeth frantically makes toast to counteract a planned electricity outtage. Chat with 2 American women who are the support for a group of 19 walkers. They are all from RAF Lakenheath which I know well.
I set off at 9.25 and quickly reach my first turret. There are quite a few of these and 2 to each milecastle. Stop at Birdoswald for half an hour. Quite a lot of actual wall in this section.
Ghost boy. Strange little boy all on his own who looked like he had cancer holding a gate open. Then moments later another one who looked like him but smaller who then completely disappeared. I even looked to see where he had gone.
Cross the river Irthing which has a steel bridge brought in by helicopter. Through Gilsland crossing the railway line and then again at Greenhead. This morning at breakfast there were 2 men on the HWP. We leapfrogged for a while. I saw them when I stopped for lunch by a stream and one of them had a bad back and had to get his pack transported. I saw them again at Walltown Quarry and then later was waved at by someone being rescued in a Sea King helicopter which came right over my head. Don’t know if it was him.
First real ascent to Walltown Crags after Walltown Quarry. Frogs doing trigamy on path.
Lots of wall in such a difficult place. My back of a fag packet (mental arithmetic because haven’t smoked for nearly 15 years, hooray, best thing I ever did) calculation gets wall construction to 50 metres a day and it was 5m high which I thought could only be possible with vast quantities of slave labour, but apparently this is incorrect and it was auxiliary soldiers who did the work.
Along to Aesica fort which is really just a farm. Chat to woman who lives in Norfok and tells me the hardest bit is to come. Thanks. Today’s walk much tougher as a) muscles tired after yesterday b) much warmer and c) harder terrain with ups and downs. Down to Burnhead where there is a B&B. This would have been a sensible place to stop! It’s next to Cawfield Quarry (all the quarries are Roman and are now ponds), more mating frogs. Along the vallum to Caw Gap. Then some ups and downs to trig point at 345m where I meet my American pals from breakfast. Their party is 2.5 miles behind. I can see both my B&B and the Twice Brewed pub at Once Brewed from here. That last mile I fantasised about frothing tankards admittedly more likely in Bavaria! Val from the B&B rings me. Arrive at pub at 5.55, long hard day.
Twice Brewed beer is good. Eat a big bowl of pasta while drinking the Blonde beer waiting for my lift. It’s ok and I manage to eat it all. The non bad back man turned up at the pub.
Two Belgians with beards tell me Val is here to take me to Gibbs Hill Farm.
Val is 71 and is in a pickup. My first time in one. Gibbs Hill Farm is about a mile from the wall. Boots off outside. My room is large and comfortable. Long hot shower then down for a bottle of Becks. Long chat with David. He is in the middle of lambing. This means a month of 20 hour days. He has 600 sheep. Twins are inside and singles are outside. They own huge swathes of land from the wall to the forest and to the lough but it’s poor land. 32 miles to get round it. Used to be lots of staff and horses but now it’s bikes. He tells me lambs don’t try very hard to live! As well as the farm there is the B&B, the 3 holiday cottages and the bunkhouse. In the summer the wall is solid with hikers so I’m glad I am here now with just a few hikers and a few day trippers. Keep following the acorns (National Trail symbol). The HWP is very well marked and maintained so the Northumbria National Park rangers are doing a good job. Also relatively litter free.
When David gets time off he goes across to the Lakes and has done 70 Wainwrights.
My dad would have been 101 today.
13 miles, 21km
Thurs 9th April
Breakfast with the bearded Belgians. I’m not usually mad keen on beards but theirs are quite fun. One has a long but neat beard. I give the shorter bearded Belgian some sun cream.
We all get a lift back to the HWP at Steel Rigg and set off at 9.50. I go for a more relaxed pace although there is a teenage lad running up the hills like a puppy.
Up and down to Housesteads. A couple drop their National Trust card and I run to return it to them, could do with the boy for this. Pretty section through Scotch pines overlooking Broomlee Lough. I get in for nothing at Housesteads with my NT card. There are portaloos which are horrid and I wish I hadn’t bothered. Report the lack of hand cleaner to the staff. Eat choc ice cream. Quick trot round the fort. Came here a long, long time ago on a family holiday. Possibly as much as 50 years ago. I really cannot believe I am even saying that! Still some Ministry of Works labelling in place but a lack of apostrophes even then.
Say hello to the American walking group. They were 19 yesterday but today are only 10.
More ups and downs to Sewingshields Crags. Take the Americans’ photo and forget to ask them to take mine. Chat with an HWP volunteer who is knocking down molehills and picking up litter although he says the path is not too bad and this is so but it is early in the years for hikers.
I have my lunch in a turret.
From this point on it’s down, down and then along the side of the road, not actually on it, some wall in between. This part is a bit dull, about 3 miles.
Across the road to the Temple of Mithras which also rings a very strong bell that I have been there before. I don’t bother with Procolotia fort as it looks to be lots of grassy mounds.
Back across the road and along to Limestone Corner. This is a Roman quarry where stone has been cut but then abandoned.
Down to the road, along a bit and then to Greencarts farm, arrive about 4.25.
Sandra is Val’s pal so I give her Val’s message and we are off to a good start. I have the whole bunkhouse to myself. It’s ok, but the floors are a bit grubby. First have to make my bed which is hard when I feel so tired. Second is to have a shower but I have to use the campsite ones as the bunkhouse one is being repaired so I am very glad I brought my flip flops as it’s all a bit old and grubby but my towels and sheets are all very clean.
Sandra drives me to the pub, the Crown in Humshaugh (said Humshoff). This is the best meal so far. Grilled chicken with couscous done with herbs and broccoli and red cabbage. Washed down with Blaydon Brick beer. Sandra picks me up and back we go. Huge hare in the field next to the farm.
Today’s walk was 10 miles. I’ve decided that as I’ve now walked all the exciting bits of wall and done all the ups and downs that I will have an easy day tomorrow. It’s 19 miles from here to my last stop at Heddon-on-the-Wall although they would be easy miles they look to be a bit dull. I have a plan.
Everything is signposted in miles on the ground and on one of my maps. I find it quite hard to think in miles for walking purposes as all my maps are metric.
10 miles, 16km
Fri 10th April
It was odd sleeping in a bunk bed without Chris being in the one above!
I had asked for poached eggs for breakfast but got 2 small fried ones with the edges cut off which S was trying to palm off as poached. Sandra friendly etc. but the place was too grubby for me to want to come here again.
Walk to Chesters and happy memories of being in the bathhouse with Carol! Nice English Heritage coffee and shortbread. Sandra suggested that I walk the dismtld rly (my favourite OS abbreviation!) to Hexham so I leave Chesters and go into Chollerford and cross the Tyne over a nice 18th C bridge. Along a permissive path to the Roman bridge abutment for the east side of the river looking across to Chesters. It’s an extensive structure and very clear in the water. I tried the old railway line but it was hard going, overgrown and soggy. Gave up at a private land sign to retrace my steps. Along the road a bit still on the HWP but no acorns or signs at all. Thought about looking at Brunton turret but instead got the bus to Hexham. The bus was 2 minutes late. Hexham is a bit tired and I wanted to leave almost immediately as I just didn’t want to be in a town. Went to tourist info and ran into the bearded Belgians from Ghent again. Their walk to Wark (said as in park) yesterday had been hard.
Back to the bus station. Nice chat with old man who reminded me of dear Dave, I’m a pushover for twinkly eyes! Bus to Corbridge was 10 minutes late. Corbridge is a nice old village. Off to the Roman town which is 15 minutes walk from the centre. It’s our own Pompeii! Ice cream in the sun. Back to the village to wait for bus to Heddon-on-the-Wall. Bus was 7 minutes late. Get off at the Three Tuns. The barman says Houghton North Farm is 500m along the road. Off I trot, it is a bit more than that. Pass a bus stop I could have got off at next to the hostel. Paula is very welcoming and this really is a nice clean hostel. I have a bunk room I can lock all to myself. My bed not a bunk is already made up. The kitchen is next door and a skinny man is cooking several tons of pasta for 9 serious skinny cyclists who are in a race tomorrow. They are Wiggins level apparently.
Paula recommends the Swan. After I’ve sorted myself out and had a nice shower it’s off to the pub. I measure the distance back to the Three Tuns because I am quite obsessive and it is 800m.
The Swan is mainly a carvery. I opt for a pint, a whole pint of Doom Bar, veg lasagne and Eton Mess. It’s all ok but the beer is the best!
Back along and then take the footpath next to the hostel signed Military Road half a mile. I can’t see it at all because crops growing on it.
Back to the hostel. Despite planning not to walk much I’ve knocked up loads of miles which wasn’t the plan at all. My feet are quite good this evening. Am very grateful to Mandy for my birthday arnica salve which has saved my feet.
14 miles, 23 km
Sat 11th April
Very glad no ailments on this trip – no blisters, no cuts, no bruises, no insect bites. Just slight headache because of not drinking enough which was soon remedied. Very pleased with what I’ve done. It got easier each day. Still slept badly everywhere. But I like waking early and the early mornings are the best part of day for me. Bruce song accompanying me on the trip in my head was Further on up the road. Of course.
Breakfast was a bit bonkers with the cyclists but pleasantly overlooked by Paula who made sure everyone had what they wanted. Surprise to see the 2 American women again. 12 of the 19 air force men finished the walk. They rushed off.
The Express bus got me into Newcastle. I recognised Eldon Square, decided to spend 20 minutes in the big M&S and had a coffee. Then onto the Metro to Central Station and into my First Class seat to Leeds (£1 extra). My car was still at Sowerby Bridge station much to my relief. Home before 2pm. Always funny to see how much further on the plants are in just a few days. Feels like weeks!
Gear, kit and tips
Planning was done using:
National Trail 1:40K strip map, basic but despite the metric scale also shows exactly how many miles you’ve walked, good for detail of services available.
Harvey’s 1:40K strip map, showed better contour detail. I had the 2 maps on either side of a case so that I could quickly get the different but equally useful bits of information.
At no point did I need a compass. It would have been possible to do the whole walk without a map but you would also lose a lot of the historical detail.
I used a baggage service, Walkers’ Bags, to take my holdall to each destination. This was efficient and cheap, cost £7 per day.
Because the weather was so stunningly good I was able to ditch my waterproof jacket and trousers after the first day. I took:
Medium sized rucksack
Trekking poles (only used on one day)
Bladder for water (essential), I used about 1.5 litres each day, drink lots before you leave your accommodation.
Small first aid and emergency kit, Compeed essential here, I didn’t have to use it but if there’s a hint of a possible blister, you need to be able to deal with it. Sunscreen also essential.
Snacks, I ate a couple of energy bars each day, one mid morning and one as I started to flag near the end of each walk with a big hill looming! I didn’t eat much else but made up for it in the pubs.
Lightweight summer boots
Summer walking trousers
Short sleeve merino top
A sun hat, mine is a baseball cap with a foreign legion flap, I don’t care how stupid I look and I can always tuck the flap away and look almost normal if the sun isn’t shining on my neck.
Long sleeve merino top (merino lessens the terrible smells which you get with synthetic clothes)
Light weight warm synthetic jacket
Last but not least, a small Mountain Rescue bear, who has his own ruddy Facebook page! You will find him on Facebook by searching for Little Ted.
In the holdall:
Change of clothes
Arnica salve, this kept my feet in one piece, lovely stuff from Neal’s Yard
Supplies of snacks, energy bars etc. I had far too many of these.
Extra layers because I thought it might easily be cold and wet!
I walked the walk I wanted to do, I didn’t stick strictly to the Hadrian’s Wall Path which starts at Bowness on Solway and goes to Wallsend. Once I had got onto the path at Carlisle though I did stick to it rigidly and followed it as far as Chollerford. It all went really well and I have a great sense of achievement plus I think the Pyrenees trip is now possible.
Please support the National Amyloidosis Centre
Lots of people decide to do big things, runs and walks and climbs and raise money for charity. I managed to not spend all the money I took with me so I’ve decided to donate £2 for every mile I covered to the National Amyloidosis Centre. Those of you who know me will understand why I’m doing this and I would urge anyone who has enjoyed this blog post to donate to the NAC. Amyloidosis is a hideous illness and is rare and thus needs more research, please support them and University College London to find out more and so be able to treat patients like my dearest friend.
Please visit Map and Compass and learn how to interpret a map and use a compass with me and my navigation partner, Cath.