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.

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