Thursday, 14 May 2015

Hadrian's Wall. Day 2. Saturday April 25th. 2015. The going gets tough.

OS map of the route for Day 2
Newburn to Corbridge. 15 miles (24 km), 900 ft (280m) ascent

Team shot outside the Keelman's Lodge, just before departure.

As a consequence of the recently-changed accommodation arrangements for this, our second day's walking, as a group we felt some trepidation about the additional mileage we would have to cover to get us from the Robin Hood Inn, down into Corbridge in the Tyne Valley. I comforted myself with the idea that, since we would be making our way from high on the Wall, down into the valley of the Tyne, then that extra distance would be mainly downhill, and therefore straightforward. Wishful thinking, as things turned out. But that would be later.

Breakfast was at 8.00am., and perfectly satisfactory it was, too. I am not a fry-up kind of guy, preferring cereal and toast first thing in the morning. Keelman's offer a choice between full English or Continental breakfast, and they also charge less for the Continental. So I was able to have a couple of croissants with my cornflakes and toast, while the bacon, sausage and eggs brigade were equally well-served. After breakfast, we arranged to depart around 9.30am. and I just had time for a few photos (in unfortunately poor light) of our overnight stop. One final team shot outside the Big Lamp Brewery and we were off - 10 miles to the Robin Hood, then another 5 miles to Corbridge. The weather turned out to be not as bad as we were led to expect by some of the more apocalyptic forecasts (predicting snow!). For most of the day we had to contend with spitting rain, cloud, and cool temperatures made more obvious by the wind from the West, but eventually it turned drier, and we were treated to some late sun during the evening in Corbridge.

Only 12 miles to Corbridge - and that's by the direct route!

Taken all in all, Day 2 was hard work. We were not yet properly warmed-up. We were none of us in the first flush of youth, and despite our training and preparations, we were all still prey to the standard niggles, aches and pains associated with walking and carrying a rucksack. What I did not realise immediately (and in truth I cannot remember at what point in the day I became aware of the situation) was that both Fiona and Dermot had developed painful blisters on the soles of their feet during Day 1's journey out of Newcastle. And fair play to the pair of them, they both managed to walk every day, to cover the miles, and to continue right to the end at Bowness-on-Solway - on blistered feet. For all my sore legs and groaning shoulders, my feet gave me no trouble - all my woes were self-inflicted, and given how much walking I used to do in the past, I surely should have known better!

The first couple of kilometres followed the bank of the Tyne, and made for a gentle re-introduction to putting one foot in front of the other. Then came the part of the day's walk that was nominally the hardest, the climb out of the Tyne Valley up onto the start of the high ground at Heddon-on-the-Wall. This turned out to be a relatively gentle ascent, zig-zagging first through a golf course, past Close House (associated with University of Newcastle), then along quiet residential lanes to land us in Heddon at about 400 feet (130m) above the Tyne. Anyone interested in shortcuts should note: as you arrive in Heddon, at the end of the lane called "Heddon Banks", at the T-junction with "The Towne Gate", the Hadrian's Wall Path waymark signs take you right, around a circumnavigation of the hillock upon which stands the Church. When you rejoin "The Towne Gate" some 400m farther along, at the Junction with the B6528 Hexham Road, a glance to the left will reveal the junction with "Heddon Banks" - a mere 100m away!

The North Ditch, just to the North of the road as we leave Heddon-on-the-Wall
Leaving Heddon-on-the-Wall along the B6318 finally brought us face-to-face with the first obvious traces of the Roman Wall. When General Wade came this way in the 1740's, his road builders found the foundations of the Roman Wall made ideal foundations for the Military Road being built to deal with the Jacobite Rebellion in Scotland. So, today, the Wall proper is concealed beneath the modern tarmac of the B6318 Military Road, but immediately to its North, over the bounding wall, you can still see the unmistakable signs of the North Ditch. From time to time, looking South also revealed signs of the Vallum, a double ditch and dyke structure running parallel to the Wall, built at the same time as the Wall to form a second line of defence. Historically and structurally interesting, bur sadly this section of the Hadrian's Wall Path is once again uninspiring. Often no more than a narrow strip of field, separated from the busy and noisy road by a wall or fence, and segregated from the rest of the farm land alongside the path by a few strands of barbed wire, the path does well to follow the line of the Roman Wall quite closely, but does not inspire awe.

Three kilometres or so from Heddon, the site of the Vindobala Fort is only visible as a few lumps and bumps in a field. The map marks the sites of milecastles and turrets (one milecastle every Roman mile, and two turrets spaced equidistantly between each milecastle), but the evidence on the ground along this section of the path is all but invisible. There are, thankfully, regular signs of the North Ditch and the Vallum to help to convince me that we are still on the line of the Wall. A lunch stop was made in the village of Harlow Hill, in the lee of a disused church, to let us find some shelter from the drizzle and the wind.

Passing the Whittle Dene reservoirs

Not much farther on, passing the Reservoirs at Whittle Dene, we discovered a Public Bird Hide just by the side of the path. It was occupied, but could provide welcome shelter to walkers in the event of very inclement weather.

The Robin Hood Inn - closed, but not looking like it's closed!

Another mile saw us at the Robin Hood Inn, originally intended as our overnight stop. It was shortly after 2.00pm. Which, when considering the additional mileage we still had to cover, was rather disappointing. We could have been sitting in the bar, out of the weather, enjoying a leisurely beer or two before a shower and a hot meal. Instead, it was to be a further two and a half hours before we could put our feet up. Also rather disappointing, had we been tourists turning up on spec, the signs outside the Robin Hood still proclaimed "Open to the Public All Year Round", and "Bed and Breakfast Available".

Crossing over the Tyne in Corbridge

The rest of the walk into Corbridge is best glossed over. It seemed interminable; it was not, as wishful thinking had suggested, all downhill; but eventually it came to an end, and we had made it to the town sign. Patches of blue sky were appearing as we made our way through the town, and we made quick examinations of the pubs that we went past. Initial appraisal awarded first prize to the Angel Inn - pleasant interior, menu looked good, plus at least four real ales on the bar. A return was prophesied! We crossed the bridge over the Tyne, and just before knocking on the door of Fellcroft, our destination at last (Hallelujah!), I went next door to the Pub called Dyvel's, and was pleased to discover real ale on offer. Then we knocked on the door, and announced our arrival to Mrs. Brown, our landlady.

Mrs. Brown - Tove - was very friendly, and showed us all up to our rooms. Fiona and I got the twin room with en-suite shower, Carol and Dave got the double with separate shower room, and Dermot was upstairs in a single room with his own bathroom. The rooms were pleasant, bright and airy, and there was a very good selection of biscuits to have with a cup of tea. Tove enquired as to whether we had booked anywhere in Corbridge for our evening meal, and when we revealed that we had not, she suggested that she book us a table at the Black Bull. Saturday evening in Corbridge can be very busy, and we might have a long wait if we did not have a table arranged. And so we took advantage of the Corbridge Network, and within a few minutes we had a table at the Black Bull for 6.00pm. We then all had our showers, had a bit of a relax, and a cup of tea. And it's amazing what a difference a shower and a change of clothes can make to the exhausted Waller Hadriani!

Rejuvenated, we strolled into town in pleasant (though still chilly) evening sunshine. We had a good meal at the Black Bull (Greene King beers - OK, but nothing out of the ordinary. I must admit, though, to being pleased to have a pint of Belhaven's 80 Shillings - a bit of a blast from the past). Special mention must be made of the Fish Pie, and of course of the fact that, thanks to the Corbridge Connection, the Black Bull were kind enough to fit us in at very short notice. After eating, we moved on to the Angel, where we were faced with a choice of five real ales. Absolutely top was 'Pennine Pale' from Allendale Brewery - very dry, very new world hoppy - excellent. We made the mistake of allowing Dave to sit in a comfy chair, and no sooner had he sat down than he was snoozing! Finally, we made a visit to Dyvel's next door to our B&B - it seemed churlish not to. It is very much a locals pub, with several real ales, none of which, on the night, were of the calibre of the 'Pennine Pale'. Then back to Fellcroft, and so to bed at (the relatively early hour of) 11.00pm.

End of Day 2 - very definitely not the best day so far!

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

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