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.

No comments:

Post a Comment