Saturday, 23 May 2015

Hadrian's Wall Walk


I've left kings cross and am heading north, as leave London behind me fields of rapeseed replace the city towers. It's a blue sky and fluffy cloud morning, I know the weather won't be the same on my walk but the sight of it is boosting my moral.

My thoughts are on my backpack, am I taking too much? Have I enough?? Last minute nerves I'm sure. 2 hours until Newcastle now, watching the countryside roll by is enjoyable but I can't take my mind off what lays ahead.
Newcastle and the sun is still high in the sky, this is where I'll finish my journey on Wednesday if all goes well! But for now I'm off to Carlisle which is quite close to the start... So far today everything has worked out well but I'm looking forward to getting on with it now so bring on tomorrow!!
This old noisy diesel follows the River Tyne on the south side as it heads to Carlisle. I'm sure the Wall is on the northern side but it's clear to see the beauty of this part of the country, I hope to get a little of this weather on route.
We just went past a sign to Hadrian’s Wall, I smiled.. As we stop at Haltwistle I realise we are very close to it now and the excitement is beginning to get inside me. Next stop Carlisle.
Arrived at hotel and checked in, just a Travelodge but it is perfect for one night.. Right a bath a relax me thinks.

The first of my problems was realised last night, the bus from here to the start goes at 6:20am and then at 9:35am a bit of a gap! However, with bad weather forecast to start I am taking the latter option and can always get a cab. It's Monday morning, and very wet outside, I need some breakfast to give me a boost, the sooner I'm walking the better.

Looking back it is easier to write – while on the trail no such luck. With rain and the knowledge that I had a set mileage to do each do -  this kept me pretty occupied. Making notes on video was the best way of logging events. I took the 9:35 bus out of Carlisle and reached Bowness-on-Salway at about 10:15..   To my mind most of the day had gone and I started off very quickly once I had found my barring’s. The first section is pretty boring although you have the lovely view of The Channel of the River Esk on your left.  The wind whistles across the estuary and does not let up – even on a calm day such as mine. The road is also prone to flooding which made me a little nervous but the tide looked out and no fear of water getting up around my ankles. Soon I left the road and followed the path round Drumburgh which is obviously where the Wall went - however it was not to be seen yet. I emerged on the road and soon met up with some Australian guys going the same way – but they were taking 6 days to complete so I soon rambled on past them. The next section was like the start – very open and seemed to go on for ever.. The village of Burgh by Sands was my exit and at this point I had already covered 5 miles or so.

The lanes and paths became more interested -  as did the weather, getting my first rain soaking at about 7 miles. This soon passed and I was on my way back to Carlisle and this was the next point I had my sights on.
You skirt round Carlisle on the walk taking the scenic route via the River Eden, which twists and turns many times… The Wall would have followed this too and must looked very imposing sat alongside it. At Carlisle the distance covered was about 14 miles…  I was feeling good to pressed on and out into the real countryside where city folk become farmers and pets become livestock.

The rest of the days walk was extremely enjoyable especially with the weather which was quite warm and sunny. Getting hungry now I looked for a place to eat in Lower Crosby and I found the Stag Inn which is right on the trail.. However, it was closed! Closed every Monday! This was a big let-down as I could have done with the rest but walked on instead looking for another beak point. A good walk later I passed Carlisle Airport and came to Bleatarn Farm where I found the self-proclaimed ‘Stall-in-the-Wall” – a large box of food and drink complete with honesty box for travellers to help themselves.. and so I did – I also left the correct money, in fact too much, I was so happy to see it.. I rested for 10 minutes or so before saddling up and getting on the move again.
Lot’s more pretty sights along the way before at about 8pm I decided it was time to pitch the tent before it could rain -  which looked threatening. I’d walked around 28-30 miles and had no hot food just bites along the way – however lots of carbs etc were consumed and I thought that tomorrow would be the day to get a meal or two down me.

It rained for about 3 hours that night but I did manage to get about 5 hours sleep – I woke at 4:30 with the dawn chorus in full effect – many a pretty birdsong. Before long I was up and got started walking again… Day 2!
I had only walked about a miles or two and found Hare Hill where I got sight of the first actual bit of Hadrian’s Wall on this trip.. It was a very encouraging sight and so I went off with a big smile in search of breakfast. I’d done about 10 km before walking into Gilsland going off track and finding a cafĂ© called “House of Meg”..  A sight for sore eyes! Jacket potato and baked beans please!! I took my time and rested well before buying more supplies and heading out again.
This was the second time I’d gone of coarse and both times cost me many more miles but you are not always presented with what you might need on the trail.

Heading out I walked along one of the most beautiful sections of Wall which was still very much intact. I past Willowford Bridge, Thirlwall Castle and headed on to Walltown – which is where the pain really began. My right calf began to hurt – this was an injury I thought I was over. I thought, let’s carry on and see if it gets worse. It didn't get worse but I was not walking badly to stop it from hurting – mix that in with the now rolling hills I was hiking across and you can see it was an uphill battle (forgive the pun).

So of the most amazing landscape kept my moral up though – alongside the Wall I walked where Roman Armies once guarded with their lives – you can see it stretched out for miles into the distance. The weather was also changing – one hour of sun then of rain. The waterproofs would be on and then off again – it was too warm to leave them on. It was as the Wall veers left toward Sewingshields that the weather got really nasty! A hail storm. And this continued for about 1 hour, totally demoralising. And also at this point my Achilles began to ache on both my heels. The weather kept on thunder around me but now only showers of rain – the bulk of it was behind me…  But not the walking. No rest points along the Craggs – no cafe or tea rooms – it is a very remote place. Asking two men going the opposite way the said there was a Tea Room in Chollerford about 5 miles ahead…  It was mid-afternoon – could I make it before it closed? I could not walk fast now – notably I was going much slower and painfully too – the weight of my rucksack was beginning to show. However, I finally made it to Chollerford and in the sunshine too, the time? Just gone 5pm.. And yes, too late for the Tea Shop. Though this cloud had a silver lining, the George Hotel sat across the road glaring at me, beckoning me over. Oh ok then…

That night was spent repairing many blisters, having a bath and some well-earned food… Perfect! A really good night’s sleep after a glass of whisky at the bar.
After breakfast I was on my way again – out of Chollerford you climb up alongside a road and then just keep climbing it seems! However this day my jacket was going to stay in my bag – a lovely sunny day… But the weather was the least of my worries.  My feet were now giving me a lot of pain – carrying 24lbs over 70 or so miles in two and a bit days had taken its toll. The pain bought on emotion and this started to drive my moral down. It’s tough when you do these things solo. It’s hard to describe how it feels unless you have actually experienced it… But it makes you feel like stopping. You have to talk your way out of it and I nearly did not. I spoke to 2 people on the phone which helped me dig myself out of this hole I’d found myself in.. and so close too. I could not give up now surely.

I soon found myself dragging my wounded heals into Heddon-in-the-Wall. And another pub waited for me there – time to rest and re-assess my situation. The bar was called The Three Tuns – great beer, great food!.. I met two hikers going in my direction and we talked for an hour or so – they were staying and doing the finally hike tomorrow – my aim was to finish today so off I went.  The rest did me good and I started off with a spring in my step, however, it was not long before I started to hobble again – this was not good.

I decided to omit a section from the walk which saved me a couple of miles – from Heddon I cut down through some fields to the River Tyne rather than the ‘preferred route’.  Once back on the tow-path I was back on course and it cheered me up thinking that Newcastle was now on the horizon. From here I had about 7 miles to go until the Central part of Newcastle.. Every step was becoming intense but I kept on – I knew that stopping now would be the end of me for sure.. It was nice to get 4G on my phone and I checked some wonderful messages from friends on good old Facebook. This warmed me again and now within my goal I was sure to make the end… But where to end? Wallsend is the actual end of the walk but is about 4 miles past the centre of Newcastle. So I got to the centre and found a hotel – that was it – to much pain to carry on and too much temptation walking through here – shame on me. I’m pleased to have finished without giving up..  Notes to self – less weight and or more days next time… I know I'm fit enough to handle this – putting more pressure on myself with a quick time doesn't make the walk enjoyable. I started in the Royal Railway Hotel that night and limped out the very next morning..  This is what I wrote when I woke...
I woke many times last night, my muscles ache all over. Still, I completed the course even though I skipped a couple of points. My body just could not take any more.. I'm upset because of this and I feel like I cheated but at least I did not give up early as I so nearly did on a couple of occasions.
I'm so uncomfortable here, I need to get home and care for my feet properly. Plus get some good sleep! The train is at 10 and my hotel is next to the station so not far to walk or should I say hobble. Breakfast is going to go down well today.
Finally on the train, I'm glad I don't have much walking to do today as every step is a painful one, my feet have swollen a bit and my boots are uncomfortable to wear.. So as Newcastle disappears into the grey skies I'm happy to have some fantastic memories of this adventure.


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