Thursday, 28 May 2015

Hadrian's Wall. Day 7. Thursday April 30th. 2015. Last day so far!

Carlisle to Bowness-on-Solway. 14.5 miles (23.2 km), 300 ft (95m) ascent

The final day of the Hadrian's Walk started badly. The lack of a firm plan led to confusion, dithering, and ultimately a very unsatisfactory start to the last leg. Decision by committee can be very trying. In this case, the deciding about what to do about breakfast, having not made any definite arrangement the night before, resulted in rising earlier than expected (for me, anyway), and a very poor breakfast at the coffee stand on Carlisle Railway Station platform. It could have been so much better.

Past the Cathedral

But at least it got us all out of the Travelodge and onto the road, and well before our usual kick-off time of 9.30am (09.08 according to EXIF) we were making our way through Carlisle's pedestrianised city centre, past the Cathedral, towards the Castle.

Through the underpass

En-route to the river Eden

Through the underpass to the Castle, left along the main road, across the bridge over the railway and the River Caldew, then right onto Bridge Lane. This becomes Willow Holme Road, and at the Stagecoach Bus Depot we turned left into the jungle and followed a footpath through the industrial estate until we emerged onto the bank of the River Eden.

The church in Burgh-by-Sands
Our route now, quite pleasantly, followed the Eden for a while. The weather was neither one thing nor the other - a few spits of rain, the odd splash of sun, the wind still cold and in our faces. We followed the river until we reached the village of Grinsdale (to my disappointment, not 'Grimsdale' with the consequent possibility of a sighting of Norman Wisdom) then made our way across the fields to Kirkandrews on Eden. From here, the route of the Path should have led us along another section of the river bank, but because of a reported landslip, a diversion took us out onto the road for a distance. This took us into Burgh-by-Sands (burgh pronounced bruff), where the bus shelter made a convenient place for a lunch stop.

I took the opportunity to get some photos of St. Michael's Church, which by its own admission was built from stone taken from the Roman Wall. The church tower, itself a defensive pele tower in its day, is now arranged as a small museum, with information about the church, the Romans, and the days of the Border Reivers. The church is definitely worth a return trip, even though physical evidence of the Roman Wall is largely absent all along this section of the Path.

The statue of Edward I

The sign in the church also tells of King Edward I who, after dying whilst on the marsh, was brought to the church and lay in state on July 7th. 1307. Soon after setting off again after lunch, we came to the Greyhound Inn, beside which stands a statue of Edward. The statue was sculpted by Christopher Kelly, given to the town by Story Construction Ltd., and installed as part of the 07/07/07 commemoration of the 700th. anniversary of Edward's death. After taking a few photos, we got back under way, and after passing Longburgh found ourselves on the margin of the Burgh Marshes.

Not the Roman Wall - a disused railway

Our path lay along the raised embankment of what turns out to be a disused railway - unfortunately not, as I would have preferred, the remains of the Roman Wall. The weather continued to be reasonable, with odd spots of rain here and there, a few sunny spells, but still windy.

Because we were on the final day, and because the landscape was so flat, time seemed to pass slowly, distant objects remained distant, seeming to come no closer, and the miles crawled by.

Drumburgh Castle

We rambled through Drumburgh, passing Drumburgh Castle. Hadrian's Wall Path then took us off the road and into the fields again, passing through Glasson, until finally we reached Port Carlisle (only a mile or so to go).

A short distance beyond the remains of the old Carlisle Canal there is a signpost. It is intended for tourists, similar to the one at Lands End, and has finger signs pointing in many directions. For a donation, you can have your team photographed in front of the sign with your home town name and distance showing. Carol and Dave reached the sign first (I was still adrift in the rear taking photographs) and they must have told the Sign Man something about Dave's origins in Yorkshire. By the time that Fiona and Dermot reached the sign, the Sign Man had started spelling out Huddersfield, but Carol and Dave had moved on, and no amount of persuasion could convince them to retrace their steps for a team photograph. So the team shot would have to wait until we reached the pub in Bowness-on-Solway.

Nearly there! (But always only ever here)

That last mile was the longest of the entire journey. But, a mere seven days after taking our leave of Newcastle, we finally arrived at our destination. Entering Bowness, a sign on the right announces 'Hadrian's Wall Promenade' and The Banks.

Ave Terminum Callis Hadriani Augusti Pervenisti

Fiona and Dermot (sore feet singing in concert) favoured getting straight to the pub, but Carol, Dave and I wanted to see what marks the terminus of the Wall Walk. We found a hut, the entrance bearing a sign: "Welcome The End Of Hadrian's Wall Path"; and also in Latin: "Ave Terminum Callis Hadriani Augusti Pervenisti".

The floor of the hut is covered with an attractive mosaic, with the legend 'Ave Maia' at each entrance. Maia was the terminal Fort at this, the western end of Hadrian's Wall. In common with the remains of the Wall throughout this Solway section, there is nothing to be seen of the fort today.

The final team shot
Carol, Dave and I therefore repaired to the King's Arms, Hadrian's favourite pub in Bowness-in-Solway! The present landlady has taken over the pub only relatively recently, and the website that crops up from a Google search is now very out-of-date. The King's Arms is a Jennings house, and on the day we visited had only Cocker Hoop on draught. However, there was also 'Shipyard American Pale Ale' available as keg draught, and Marston's 'New World' on the rack - sadly not available to drink, though.

So we had a couple of beers, took the final team shot, and just after 5.10pm. caught the number 93 bus back into Carlisle. The bus journey passed through almost every sort of weather, and we were treated to a bright rainbow for a brief spell.

We were back in Carlisle in time to catch the 18.30 train to Oxenholme, and that got us into Oxenholme by 19.15. The bike was still where I had left it, so I rode down the hill and picked-up the car. I then returned to the station, and had collected everyone, the luggage, and had them back to our house by 19.40. Carol and Dave decided not to eat with us, but to go straight home. And that's where it ended.

This is the way the Walk ends - not with a bang but a whimper.

All the photos from the day can be seen on my Picasa Gallery.
Dave's photos of the walk can be seen in Dave's album.

Total distance walked:     87.5 miles (140 km)
Total ascent:        5000 ft (1540m)

Friday, 22 May 2015

Hadrian's Wall. Day 6. Wednesday April 29th. 2015. Five down, two to go.

Banks to Carlisle. 14.5 miles (23.2 km), 400 ft (125m) ascent

Today's stage into Carlisle (and the following day out to the coast at Bowness-on-Solway) was going to be hard. Not because the walking itself, or the terrain, would be the most difficult yet encountered. To the contrary, we were now out of the High Country, and the nature of the walking would become increasingly mundane as we neared civilisation. But, we were by now five days in, and even with only two more to go, we had reached that point in the journey where, although fitter and more accustomed to the daily rhythm of walking, we were also more tired. So with less to stimulate us and encourage us onwards, the effort required to simply get going would be greater than on earlier days. The sore feet were still sore, the rucksacks were no lighter, and Hadrian's Wall was not going to walk itself, Barb!

After a comfortable night, we were up for breakfast at 8.00am. as usual. The weather, on waking, was overcast and showery, but some breaks appeared in the clouds while we were eating, and Dave even managed to get outside for a photo of the B&B during one of the sunny spells. Booted, suited and loaded up, at 9.30am. we set off in sunshine. We got rain quite soon, though, and the early part of the day was characterised by much stopping and starting to put on and take off waterproofs.

The renovated Wall at Hare Hill
First place of interest was only a short distance into the walk, at Hare Hill. The Info sign told us the following: "This was once thought to be the highest surviving section of Hadrian's Wall but in fact, it was largely rebuilt in the 19th. century. A building stone on the North face of the Wall, bearing the inscription PP, records that this stretch of Wall was originally built by Roman legionaries under the Primus Pilus, the chief centurion of a legion."

Approaching Milecastle 54

Shortly thereafter, approaching the site of Milecastle 54 (sadly nothing is visible of the remains) we were hit by a very heavy, very cold shower of barely-melted hail; after that, though, the weather became generally dry, with spells of good sunshine. The wind, true to recent form, remained strong, cold, and from the West, and shelter was hard to find.

Snow-covered Blencathra visible in the distance

We could tell, though, that the weather was unseasonably cool, because of the evidence of snow on the tops of the distant Lake District peaks, particularly Blencathra, which was prominent on the skyline all day long.

Dovecote Bridge, below Walton Church

All suggestion of the Wall proper effectively disappears from Hare Hill on, but it is still possible to identify sections of the North Ditch and the Vallum from the traces of dyke and earthwork that remain. At Dovecote Bridge, approaching the village of Walton, there is a grassy mound which conceals an extant section of Wall. The Info sign tells the story: "Until 1983, this stretch of Hadrian's Wall was the only visible part of Cumbrian red sandstone. It had been exposed for nearly 20 years, and in that time the weather had seriously damaged the stones. To preserve what remains the Wall has been reburied."

Until just past Blea Tarn Farm, the Path continues to follow the line of the Roman Wall, and we had lunch (in an attempt to find shelter from the wind) in what was possibly the North Ditch.

Blea Tarn, and the earthworks marking the Wall
Blea Tarn, now a boggy depression below the present-day farm, was a quarry for the stone used to build this section of the Wall, and the presence of the Wall is still visible in the ditches and earth mounds. Not long after this, the Hadrian's Wall Path deserts the line of the Wall itself, and heads off towards Carlisle along a variety of footways, including the bank of the River Eden.

The decoratively carved gravestone in St. John's Church

To reach the Eden, we passed through the village of Low Crosby. Dave's eye was caught by an intriguing carved gravestone in the Churchyard, bearing a detailed relief of a Dove and a tree. Being a wood-cutter by profession, Dave was duty-bound to take a photo. After the Church, the temptation of calling in to the Stag Inn was fiercely resisted, on the sensible grounds that: a). we would arrive in Carlisle sooner; and b). we would save ourselves for the Moo Bar in the evening. A visit to the Moo Bar in Carlisle was high on the list of priorities.

Crossing the Eden by the Rickerby Bridge

Fiona and I first discovered the Penrith Moo Bar in August 2014, and when we found out that there was a Moo Bar planned for Carlisle, we knew that our beer destination was ordained for when we reached Carlisle on our Hadrian's Walk.

We crossed the Eden at Rickerby Park, then followed directions from Fiona's phone to find the Carlisle Travelodge, our home for the night.

Travelodge room - basic, but comfortable and cheap

Minor panic at reception when it took several guesses to remember the name under which I had made the original booking! Then it was up to our rooms for tea, showers and a change of clothes, before meeting back in the lobby for 6.00pm.

From there, we set out to find Moo Bar for a couple of beers, before then finding a restaurant for dinner.

To my surprise, Moo Bar had a huge selection of beers on offer, most of which, sadly, were not as interesting as their names might suggest (or perhaps my taste buds were just becoming jaded from all the walking!). Thankfully, Thornbridge's Jaipur was available, and remained so (and on good form) all night.

Today's Team Shot - not so many smiles!
Masala Bazaar, bright and colourful Indian Restaurant
We had spotted an Indian restaurant, not far from the bar, as we were heading to the Moo Bar, so we decided to try there for our food. The Masala Bazaar turned out to be a good choice. The decor and design of the restaurant is very eye-catching, using lots of bright colours and large, bold artworks on the wall. It was not busy, so we were able to get a table with no difficulty, and our orders were taken and the food served very quickly - just what you want after a day on Hadrian's Walk, building up an appetite.

After food, back to Moo Bar for more beers.

Two young lads, one of whom was carrying a guitar case, came to sit at the table beside ours. The Moo Bar has a number of games available for customers to play, and the boxes were on a shelf behind our table. The two lads asked if we would pass them one of the games, which we did, but it was only a matter of a few minutes later that they were packing that one away and asking for a different game. Dermot made a comment about the fact that young people have very short attention spans nowadays, and one lad (who we soon learned was called John) said: "You sound like me Dad!", and we all laughed. The lads then got up to leave, and Dave commented that he had expected them to play something on the guitar. Against all my expectations (at eighteen, how many of us would have the confidence, the brass neck, to sing a song for strangers "who sound like me Dad" - not me!) John, as he now introduced himself, asked had we heard of The Band? Of course we had, but the surprise should have been that John had - even allowing for their second lease of life, at the Band's final break-up in 1999, John would have been only a year or two old! Anyway, he played "The Weight", and barring one or two moments of "not too sure of the words" made a very creditable fist of it. It seemed to make Dave's night, as he cited the song as his "best bit of the day".

It was raining on the return to the Travelodge, and we went to bed before making proper arrangements for the following morning.

All the photos from the day can be seen on my Picasa Gallery.

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Hadrian's Wall. Day 5. Tuesday April 28th. 2015. Our spring is sprung.

 Twice Brewed to Banks. 13.5 miles (21.6 km), 1200ft (370m) ascent

The amazing thing about a night's sleep is what a difference it can make. You think that you have had a hard day, you are exhausted and you are never going to recover. But you have a shower, a good meal, a night's sleep, and when you wake the following morning you feel ready to do it all again. Of course, you realise that it's not going to be easy; the blisters are still going to feel as if you are walking over razor blades; your rucksack straps are still going to pull your arms out of their sockets; and yet ... you're still not ready to throw in the towel.

The ascent from Winshields Campsite back up to the Wall
 Snow had continued on and off overnight, but by dawn it had turned to intermittent rain. Breakfast was at 8.00am. in the dining room, and as I have already mentioned, served by the same young man who had been on bar duty the previous evening. Breakfast was good - I was again treated to a couple of croissants to go with my cereal and toast - and by the time breakfast was over the weather was starting to brighten up. As we resumed our journey, it was cold and windy, wet underfoot, and with a few spits of rain on the wind. Walking uphill past Winshields Campsite soon warmed us up and got the early morning stiffness out of our legs. We encountered a large group of schoolkids with their teachers as we began the ascent back up to the line of the Wall, but we took a different route up the hill and so left them behind. I did not envy the teachers the job of keeping tabs on such a group of children, particularly with the weather as it was - "Are we there yet?" We could see them, periodically, in the distance behind us, and continued to do so until we had passed Caw Gap.
Fast-moving patches of sunlight, and the Whin Sill continues ahead of us

This part of the Walk, continuing along the ridge of the Whin Sill, proved similar in character to the previous day. Good going underfoot, very varied terrain, great views all round during the spells of good visibility, and surprises at every twist and turn, and every rise and fall. And once again, Deus Meteorologicus was more generous than he might have been, but today was the day that brought home to us the penalty of walking the Wall from East to West. Had we been here a week earlier, we may not have given it a second thought. Today, though, strong Westerly wind made the day cold, and in the occasional snow showers, positively painful as the snow, hail and rain was driven straight into our faces. But we were also rewarded with some brilliant sunshine, accentuated by black and threatening skies, and dramatic skyscapes as the clouds were hurried aloft by the turbulent air. All-in-all, an exciting day to be on the hill.

Precipitation within sight!
 We were overtaken by the first of the heavy snow showers on the section over Cawfield Crags, between Caw Gap and Cawfield Quarry. Out of a blue sky, seemingly materialising out of thin air, precipitation was in sight. It was on us so quickly that I was still in the process of donning my waterproofs as it struck, and so fierce was it that, in spite of my wish to try to get some photographs from within the maelstrom, I could hardly hold the camera still enough to compose a

Still in sun behind us to the East!

A quick snap in the whirling white

In the end I had to settle for a couple of 'point and hope' shots of Fiona and Dermot below me in the white-out, and a couple of shots with my back to the storm.

Back to the wind and try again
 At that point discretion seemed the better part of valour, so I put my camera out of harm's way and finished putting on my waterproofs. According to the EXIF data from the digital photo files (digital photography - don't you just love it?), the shot of 'precipitation within sight' is timed at 10.44; and the shot looking down on a sunny day over Cawfield Quarry is timed at 11.03. So the whole episode, from start to finish, sun back to sun, took less than twenty minutes. In next to no time, we were drying out, and moving on to our next destination.

The barrage lessens ...

... and the sun returns

Sunshine on the Milecastle and Cawfield Quarry
 Cawfield Quarry and Walltown Quarry are two fascinating, not to say controversial, locations on the Wall. Fascinating because of the drama they lend to the landscape; controversial because between them, in fewer than 100 years, they have been responsible for the destruction of more of the Roman Wall than the previous 1700 years put together. As the Info sign in Cawfield Quarry succinctly observes: "The quarry worked until 1944, showing how different attitudes were then to such an important archaeological site!" You can find more about Cawfield's history at the Industrial Railway Society, and from a couple of entries on the Durham Mining Museum website - Entry 1 - Entry 2. Walltown Quarry, where again the Roman Wall is literally left hanging on the edge of the modern quarry face, is harder to find information about. There is a reference to the destruction of the Wall, though, at the bottom of this page of Haltwhistle's town website.

Walltown Quarry - the Roman Wall hangs over the top left of the crag
The wind continued to harry us all along the ridge, with bursts of blinding sunlight in between black cloud and sharp showers. We stopped for lunch at the Walltown Quarry car park. The descent from the remains of the Roman Wall above the modern quarry effectively marks the end of the Whin Sill, and thus the end of the drama and excitement of the high country. From here on we saw a return to the more rural surroundings of fields, fences and stiles, though true to its nature the Path still cleaved closely to the line of the Wall. And, to be fair, we were not yet finished with the Wall. We still had the Willowford Bridge crossing of the River Irthing, Birdoswald Fort, and regular appearances of the remains of Turrets and Milecastles to look forward to; they would just no longer be situated in the upland wilds.

Philippus built this

The Willowford Wall remnant, and the remains of the bridge that carried the Wall across the River Irthing, are very impressive. Incorporated within the wall of one of the farm buildings at Willowford is an incised stone, obviously 'rescued' from the Roman Wall. It records the fact that "Phillipus built this".

Willowford Bridge abutments

 The new footbridge that carries the Path over the river is also not without interest, and almost as soon as you reach the West bank of the river, you find yourself at Birdoswald Fort. This deserves a return visit, because we were not able to give it the attention it demands. As we arrived, the sky turned black, and (again before waterproofs could be fully deployed) the deluge was on us once more. It began as snow, big wet flakes clumping together. It turned for a while to soft hail (little white lumps that, if you examine them under a magnifier, resemble nothing so much as the Apollo capsules from the NASA moon landings) which hurt in the wind, and eventually to cold, persistent rain. This storm lasted a lot longer than the earlier one on the Whin Sill - there is a spell (EXIF data again) of 55 minutes during which I did not take any photographs - and we were all glad to eventually see the back of it.

Daffodils on the green to greet us in Banks

So finally the rain stopped, the skies brightened, and the sun reappeared. The Path along this stretch involves some road walking, as well as the by-now-classic narrow strip of grass along the road side, so we were becoming wearied as we began the final couple of miles to Banks, our destination for the night. There were still plenty of signs of the Wall all along here, including glimpses of the earthworks of the Vallum. Finally, after passing Milecastle 52 and Turret 52a, (click here to see a pdf, from Durham University, concerning Milecastles along Hadrian's Wall) we made the short descent into Banks in a burst of sunlight, passing daffodils on the green to find Quarryside B&B.

Greatly relieved to have made it, we were welcomed by Elizabeth, our landlady for the night, and ushered into the warmth of the house with offers of tea and coffee. After taking our bags to our rooms, we all decamped to the sitting room for hot drinks, cakes and biscuits, and to find out about the arrangements for the evening meal.

In a corner of the sitting room was an attractive, small, stained-glass widow, which caught some late sunlight and made for an unexpected photograph.

After a refreshing cuppa, and when we had all bathed or showered, David, Elizabeth's husband, ferried us to the pub for dinner. Because there were five of us, he had to make two trips, so Dermot, Carol and Dave went first, and Fiona and I were delivered about fifteen minutes later. The pub we were taken to is "The Belted Will Inn" in Hallbankgate, about five or so miles from Banks. Elizabeth and David have had the arrangement with the pub for some years now: they shuttle their guests to the pub, and the landlord of the pub returns the guests to Quarryside after dinner. (The only shortcoming with this system is that the return to the B&B was earlier than we would have chosen if we had been under our own steam. In all other senses it is excellent, because it allows an overnight stay in an area that would otherwise prove problematic to visitors who are on foot, and have no access to a car.)

The pub was quiet, and (from our point of view) had unfortunately had a very busy weekend. Unfortunate, because there was only a single real ale on draught (Thwaite's Wainwright), and also a dearth of bottled beers. This meant that, disappointingly, we could not buy any bottles to take with us back to the B&B. Now to be fair, there was nothing wrong with the Wainwright, it's just not one of our favourite beers. We were pleased to drink it, we were all more than satisfied with our meals, and we had an enjoyable evening in the pub. The landlord, also the chef, gave us our lift back to Quarryside when he had finished in the kitchen for the night, and during the drive told us more about the pub and the local area. Elizabeth was around when we arrived back, and kindly provided us with tea and coffee before we all retired for the night.

Day 5 had been a challenging day, arguably the hardest day of the whole walk. It was certainly the day of the worst weather, and involved a lot of ascent and descent. But, like the day before, it was packed with incident and interest, and many details to remind us how impressive was the Roman achievement in constructing the Wall. The next two days to the finish were going to be anti-climactic.

All the photos from the day can be seen on my Picasa Gallery.

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Hadrian's Wall. Day 4. Monday April 27th. 2015. Hope springs eternal.

Humshaugh to Twice Brewed. 12.5 miles (20 km), 1300 ft (400m) ascent
Booting up before departure
We were up and ready for breakfast at 8.00am. and it was another glorious morning. Sunny, clear blue sky, and though it did not survive long, there had been a frost overnight. Breakfast was good, in the sunny dining room at the foot of the stairs. The chef serving the breakfast (presumably the partner of Val, the landlady) was chatty and amusing. When he discovered that some of us were from Cumbria, he commented that Dave looked like Chris Bonington! After breakfast we packed and were ready to go by 9.30am. Dave and I wanted some pictures of the pub in the morning sunshine, and while we went for those, the others called at the shop for essential supplies.

Today's section of the Wall was already, at least in part, familiar to Fiona and me. We had visited the area a couple of years ago, and had walked several miles along the Wall from Winshields Crags to Housesteads Fort. We thus knew that the day would be demanding, with a lot of ascent and descent, as well as being along the top of the Whin Sill Ridge. However, we also knew that there is a lot more of the surviving Wall in this part of the country, so even though we had a difficult day in prospect, it was going to be packed with interest, dramatic scenery, and Roman remains. And so, not without some apprehension, we were off along the first couple of kilometres of quiet lanes, until - yes, you guessed it - the first stile of the day took us off the road near Walwick Hall.

Roman Wall near Black Carts
To begin with the Path followed the familiar pattern of the previous days: North Ditch to our right, Miltary Road to our left concealing the Roman Wall, and sometimes visible still farther left, the line of the Vallum. After about three more kilometres, approaching Black Carts Farm, a substantial section of surviving Wall could be seen some way off in front of us, set some distance away from the modern road. For whatever reason, General Wade's road builders had not seen fit to utilise this part of the Wall as foundations for their road. That was to our advantage, though, because we now had the bonus of the Wall remnant to admire as we passed by.

Limestone Corner
Not much farther on, we encountered the extraordinary litter of boulders that is known as Limestone Corner. There is more information about the place to be found on Wikipedia, but Limestone Corner (it is a corner on the line of the Wall, but it is not limestone) marks the most Northerly point on the Wall. The reason that the ground is covered in rocks is apparently due to the fact that the Ditch (which is from where the rocks were dug) was never completed, with the excavations simply abandoned where they lay. A fascinating place, I found myself pondering the life of a soldier in the Roman Army, specifically of the Legion responsible for the building of this part of the Wall. A hard life, to be sure, and possibly a dangerous one, but knowing what we do of Roman civilisation, with its bath-houses, underfloor heating and engineering know-how (what have the Romans ever done for us?) perhaps it was a life of some comfort and security, particularly when off-duty and back in barracks.

Temple of Mithras

The views all around were expansive along this section of the Wall, and as the weather continued sunny, the visibility remained good. Many interesting things to photograph, including a number of isolated groups of trees, which for some reason kept reminding me of paintings by Paul Nash. (More about the artist here). Although the weather was sunny, the wind was persistent and cold, and did not encourage us to stop for long in any one spot.

A Paul Nash Clump
We soon came to Brocolitia (where there s a car park) and the Path took us past the Temple of Mithras, an Eastern Sun god popular with soldiers. A few kilometres later, with the ascent of Sewingshields Crags looming, we made a stop for lunch, in an angle of the roadside wall in a futile attempt to find some shelter from the nagging wind. Needless to say, we didn't stop for long, and we were soon beginning the climb up the long slope towards Sewingshields.

Lunch in the Wind Tunnel
Amazingly, the remainder of the ridge passed remarkably straightforwardly. Given that we still had around 9 km. to go (almost half of the day's distance) and still had the bulk of the ascent (and descent) to accomplish, the task never felt like we couldn't manage it. We just got on with it, and the miles passed beneath our feet. Over Sewingshields, looking down on Broomlee Lough; past Housesteads Fort, and along Hotbank Crags. The sky was clouding over, and the wind felt colder, but we still got short bursts of sun, illuminating small fragments of the landscape around us.

On the approach to Sycamore Gap we were overtaken by a tall, lanky European man, looking for "the tree from the Robin Hood movie". Luckily, having some knowledge of the area, I had a vague idea as to how far we were from the Gap, and so gave him directions. As a group, we were moving more slowly than he was, and he continued on his way alone, but soon returned saying that he had not found the tree. So, as we were going that way, we invited him to accompany us.

Along the Whin Sill, beyond Broomlee Lough, from Sewingshields Crags
Housesteads Fort, just South of the Roman Wall
In conversation, I discovered that he was from the Netherlands, on holiday in Rothbury, and had walked along the Wall from Housesteads in his quest to find the Robin Hood Tree.  He was interested in the fact that we were following the Hadrian's Wall Long Distance Footpath. He told me about the "Vierdaagse" (Dutch for "Four day Event"), which is an annual walking event that he likes to take part in, and he also revealed that he had ambitions to walk the Camino de Santiago de Compostela after retiring.
Descending from Hotbank Crags, with Crag Lough beyond
Given the coincidence, I of course explained to him that Dermot had similar ambitions, and that we were using the Hadrian's Wall walk as a taster event: if Dermot enjoys Hadrian's Wall, then he may enjoy the (considerably longer) Camino. The Dutchman and I were in front of the rest of the group, so when we reached Sycamore Gap, I waited for the rest to catch me up. Our new-found Dutch friend dropped down to the tree to take his photos, and eventually, calling out his goodbyes, he set off back towards Housesteads.
Crag Lough, Winshields beyond, including Milecastle 40!
From Sycamore Gap, Fiona, Dave and I continued on along the top of Peel Crags, while Carol and Dermot opted for the slightly lower, slightly more direct, parallel path of the Roman Military Way.

Sycamore Gap, the now-famous 'Robin Hood tree'

They consequently got down to the Twice Brewed Inn about ten minutes earlier than we did, but we were all down and installed behind a table with a beer in front of us before 5.15pm.
At last - the Twice Brewed Inn!

While we all had definitely found it to be an arduous day, the combination of terrain, scenery and weather made it surprisingly enjoyable. We kept well to time, and the calculated distance was close to that measured by the app. on Fiona's phone. One unexpected (and frankly unbelievable) result: the app. claimed that the altitude climbed for the day was nearly 1500m!
Our room (sans facilities) in the Twice Brewed

After a couple of beers we checked in to our rooms. For the sake of economy, we had chosen to book rooms without en-suite facilities, which meant that we had to make use of communal showers and toilets. Given that there were some other guests also staying that night, and also opting for shared facilities, we ended up with nine people sharing two showers and two toilets. Carol and Dave found another toilet and shower later, but in retrospect, we would have been wiser to accept the extra cost, and book rooms with en-suite facilities. When you are cooling-down and stiffening-up at the end of a hard day's walk, the last thing you want is to have to queue for your shower. There was little wrong with the facilities (although it was difficult to control the temperature of the showers), just a pain to have to wait. We won't make that mistake again.

Team Shot - Day 4, still smiling
And so: showered, changed, refreshed, we all met back in the bar for food. The food proved to be very good, and we were all very satisfied with our meals (particular mention must be made of the pies). While we were eating, the weather closed-in, and (not entirely unexpectedly) snow began falling steadily. In spite of the damp conditions, it started settling, and a dusting even covered the road for a time. It never seemed at risk of blocking us in (we were, after all, on foot), but it did seem quite wild for a time.
The snow settling over Hadrian's Wall
I had a very enjoyable stay at the Twice Brewed (and I believe so too did the others). Much credit for this must go to the young man with the fashionable stubble who was working behind the bar. To my shame I did not find out his name, but he was very good at his job - a conversationalist, prepared to discuss the beer, friendly, and not obsessed by his phone, unlike many young bar and restaurant staff these days. And to cap it all, not only was he there behind the bar when we retired to bed, he was there again in the morning to serve the breakfasts. Kudos. Best beer of the night - Sonnet 43 India Pale Ale.

So the end of Day 4. We were all properly tired now, with blistered feet, aching shoulders, and sore legs. But we were still mobile, still up to the job in hand. We were almost at the official Roman half-way point, and would pass Roman Milecastle number 40 on Winshield Crags (also the highest point on the Wall at 345m) in the morning. From there on, it was all downhill!

All the photos from the day can be seen on my Picasa Gallery.