A discursive look at Napoleonic & ECW wargaming, plus a load of old Hooptedoodle on this & that


Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Hooptedoodle #65b - Hadrian's Wall - Days 3 to 6


Day 3 – Saturday – Banks to Twice Brewed Inn – 14 miles

After the ritual Full English breakfast (death by Cumberland Sausage) we set off in a beautiful morning. Early morning ground frost disappeared quickly, and we had almost perfect walking weather, though we still had to watch out for mud patches.

The track passes through many fields, mostly with a stile in the corner. For some reason (perverse humour?) the cattle like to congregate in the corners, so that an attractive green field will have areas of deep gloop in front of the stile where it has been trampled.

After Greenhead, the track swings round towards the first of the crags – a jaw-dropping sight, with just a small thrill of trepidation about how near the edge the track goes. In fact it is strenuous – more so than I expected, though not as severe as some of the Austrian walks or the Pentlands Hills hike I did recently. The trail goes up and down a series of steep cliff-top paths, with stone steps inserted to protect the trail and make the climbing safer. Having said which, I would hate to attempt these steps in the wet.

One of my colleagues was having problems with blisters, and our speed of walking slowed right down. At one point I was concerned that at our current rate we would not get off the hills before it became too dark for safety. However, after a pretty hard day we reached the Twice Brewed Inn, which served up its very fine eponymous beer and magnificent slow-roast pork belly with mashed spuds and black pudding (apologies to any vegans, especially teetotal vegans).

Cumbrian countryside

Birdoswald

What became a familiar view - the path runs straight ahead

Yet another milecastle



The history walks along with you

Medieval rip-off - Thirlwall Castle - "Excuse me, sir, I don't suppose
you would know anything about the whereabouts of a large quantity of
very old masonry?"

First glimpse of the crags after Greenhead

Up and down...

...and up again

One of my colleagues, feet badly blistered, delighted to reach the Twice
Brewed Inn as the sun sets behind him

Day 4 – Sunday – Twice Brewed Inn to Greencarts Farm (Humshaugh) – 15 miles

Another fantastic day’s walking. The Twice Brewed is a little off the hill trail, so we had to climb back up to the top of the crags, and then once again we had the switchback path and amazing views, along past the lake of Craig Lough, Housesteads fort, and eventually the path dropped down to run alongside the road. This was a rather boring section after the wonders of the earlier part of the day, and the weather began to deteriorate – wet and increasingly cold.

We arrived, tired and a bit grumpy, at Greencarts, to learn that there was an amber weather warning for the next two days. I had no idea what an amber warning signified, but it didn’t sound like good news.

Due mention must be made here of Mrs Maughan at Greencarts, who, since it was Sunday, produced roast gammon, complete with Yorkshire pudding, stuffing and home grown root vegetables. Raspberry sponge to follow – what a good job we were on a walking trip!

Turret on the crags

Craig Lough far below - complete with swans

The remains of an arch at Housesteads

And if you thought you were getting to walk on the actual Wall, forget it.
COH.II.SAG.HAM. would have found this funny, I think

The north wall of Housesteads from the barbarian side

Near Greencarts

Day 5 – Monday – Greencarts to Heddon-on-the-Wall – 18 miles

It turns out that an amber warning is definitely not what you are looking for on a walk like this. The wind was now in our faces, the temperature dropped and the rain was horizontal. The last two days of this walk are not very interesting anyway – there is very little actual wall to see, so it is mostly an act of faith. After you leave Chesters fort behind you, for all the visual evidence you might as well be walking the Great Wall of China at this stage.

We did give serious thought to getting a bus into Hexham and abandoning the full walk, but – though we were wet and cold and thoroughly miserable – we stuck with it and got through a hard slog. I am delighted to say that my gear stood up well to the test – my old Brasher boots were terrific, and my cheapo Regatta waterproof over-trousers were a life-saver.

We stayed at a ranch-style hostel on a farm, dried our kit and listened to news of serious flooding in Morpeth, plus forecasts of more of the same for the next day. At night it was hard to sleep for the wind roaring. It occurred to me that if someone had been employing me to do this trip I would have resigned at that moment.

I’m sorry there are no pictures of the last two days – it was just too wet to get my camera out.

Day 6 – Tuesday – Heddon-on-the-Wall to Wallsend – 14 miles

We were now sufficiently cynical to make some policy decisions.

First point to note is that we were tired and cold and keen to complete our walk from coast to coast with or without reference to Roman walls or anything else. Second point to note – which may justify our attitude a little – is that the official Hadrian’s Wall Path walk is a thing of compromise anyway. The site of the wall is known, and the original scheme was for a walk to follow it, but concerns about erosion, disagreements with individual farmers about access to their land and – more significantly – involvement of the National Trails people have fudged the routing of the eastern-most section of the walk. The HWP through Newcastle is now a scenic trek along the northern bank of the Tyne, which has nothing to do with Hadrian except that it ends at the site of Segedunum, the coastal fort at the end of the wall.

We decided to cut out the detour and walk straight through central Newcastle to Wallsend, which was probably a smart move.

Done it. Tired and cold, but unbloodied and in good shape.

Afterthoughts

Am I glad I did it? Definitely. Was it as I expected? More or less – some of the climbing was harder work than I thought it would be, and on some of the sections – especially in the bad weather – the tedium is a killer, but overall it is not nearly so arduous as the West Highland Way in Scotland. In the direction we did the walk – apart from the separate objective of crossing England on foot – days 1, 5 and 6 were not very stimulating.

I think I might revisit Hadrian some time in the future (if I’m spared....), but I would approach it differently – I would book a few nights at the Twice Brewed and do day walks over defined stages of the crags in the central section. That really is the very best of the wall, and an unforgettable experience.

Last little moan – the signposting on the walk is generally good, but from time to time there are no clues which way to go, and some of the pointers are inaccurate, which is not helpful if the conditions are difficult. Compared with my recent experience of the excellent signposting of walkways in the Tyrol, I think the HWP could do rather better in this respect.

However – mustn’t grumble. I met a lot of interesting people and was grateful for a lot of hospitality and kindness, and I had an excellent time.

The museum at Segedunum, on a much sunnier day. We couldn't find the place at first, failing to realise that the large building that looks like a modern colliery was what we were looking for. I had hoped to see the big cranes at Swan Hunter's shipyard, but sadly they have been
sent to China.




8 comments:

  1. Well done Sir! I would love to do this but I don't think my back would take it!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Ray - I was very stiff yesterday, but a night in my own bed and not carrying a pack have just about sorted it.

      Cheers - Tony

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  2. Impressive achievement Tony. A walk I hope to do one day although I may take your advice about concentrating on the middle bit. I was last at the wall aged 14 and did actually walk on top of a bit of it, although come to think of it there were probably signs up saying "keep off"...

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    Replies
    1. Hi Ian - I had the distinct impression that the Erosion Police would appear from behind a tree if anyone even thought of walking on the wall now. There were some lovely people walking, but some of the volunteers and counter staff at the museums and tea bars on the way were a bit earnest for my taste. Someone mentioned that it had been proposed that children should be barred from Housesteads because of the potential damage they do. I don't believe anybody would really propose such a thing - after all, it is a fort, so you would think it would take a bit of serious effort to do much damage (or a double 6).

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  3. Lovely pictures Tony, and a good write up. You can almost follow the build up of clouds in that series of pics! Glad the bad weather did not prevent you from finishing, you're a hardier man than I am!

    Lee.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks Lee - yes, tough as old boots, though I seem to have done a surprising amount of sleeping since I got home. I seem to have to bend further to tie my shoelaces than I did before!

      Cheers - Tony

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  4. Thanks for bringing us along. Great pictures. It has been a lonnnnngg time since I last walked even 20 miles with a pack on a back. Hopefully I will forget all about this by spring.

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    Replies
    1. I don't do as much walking now as I used to, but have been more active this year. Walking through industrial suburbs in the rain had me wondering why I do it, but out in the hills on a sunny day I remembered.

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