Hadrian’s Wall was always going to be the first long distance walk I started with. I’d walked parts of it last year and should have actually walked the whole thing 20 years ago as a kid. It hung over me like a shadow. I hatched a plan to tackle the walk in 3-4 days over the Easter bank holiday weekend. Its the period where things start to open around the area and there isn’t much foot traffic. With train tickets booked I counted down the time.
It flew by and I soon found myself getting off the train in Carlisle. I walked around for an hour and that was enough. Its the sort of town with history and potential but finding it just out of reach. Maybe I missed something but after eating and picking up supplies I had to leave. I don’t like to do places a disservice so maybe with a bit more research I might have found the real Carlisle but I wasn’t there as a tourist.
The journey to Bowness was strange. I talked about my walks to the driver and he told me about his recent visit to Fort William. I asked if he went to do some walking and he said no, he just wanted to get away for the weekend. Fair enough I said, so what did you get up to? Looking in shop windows and buying a fountain pen. Imagine that. You go to somewhere as beautiful as Scotland and a place like Fort William and you don’t got for one walk or take in the scenery. You browse around shops and buy a pen.
I try not to judge people but his next highlight really got to me. He pulled out his phone and showed me a photo of Jimmy Saville’s boarded up house in Tyndrum. The morbid fascination of stopping to take a photo of a house once owned by that guy. It was all I needed to know so the conversation dried up and I started playing with my phone.
Once my “friend” dropped me off in Bowness I met Liz. I was renting a room from her on AirBNB and, as she showed me round, we briefly chatted about things. I had a good feeling about Liz. She left me to unpack my gear and I slept for a bit. Seems all I do at the minute is sleep but at least this time I had an excuse. I was out the previous night which doesnt happen very often for me.
When I woke I went out to explore. I found the starting point of the walk and sat for a while. Watching river life and listening to the birds.
Occasionally someone would appear, finishing the walk, and we’d chat. How was the walk? What were the condition like? How was the weather? Small talk of people experiencing the same thing and passing through each others lives.
As the sun went in I ate at the local pub and went back to Liz’s. I watched TV to just switch off and we chatted a bit more. She was so friendly, laid back and easy to talk to. We swapped a few life stories and she told me of her walking experiences. I love hearing tales like that. I knew I’d got a positive vibe from her, a good soul. I opted for an early night and went to bed waiting for sleep. It came quickly.
I got up early, showered and made breakfast. Liz had left some food out for me. I didn’t want her to wake early and make it for me but my ninja like abilities weren’t enough and she came downstairs to wish me luck. After eating we said our goodbyes and I was off.
Todays walk would be 25 miles from Bowness to a bunkhouse at Sandysike. It was a glorious morning. The sun was rising and the sky clear. I was down to a t-shirt in no time.
I stuck some music on. I’d spent some time making a playlist with 1000s of my favourite songs on. A welcome friend to keep me sane.
As I walked along along the river, the world slowly waking, I found myself thinking about various things. What I had planned to do, the pressure I put on myself, the time I was taking out of my life, what I wanted to do after. Did I have it in me? Could I get through it? Was I making the right choices?
The answers weren’t coming. This was just the first day and realised I had months of this ahead so switched off my brain and turned up the music.
After passing through Carlisle I started getting into the countryside but still no sign of the wall. I knew that wouldn’t come until the next day. I was just happy to be out of the urban environment. Nothing worse than trying to negotiate pavements and roads.
After an uneventful walk along back country roads and fields, passing through small villages and settlements, I reached the bunkhouse. I chatted to the farmer for a bit. He told me about some of the flooding in the area last year. I had seen signs of this in Carlisle as well. Must have been devastating for people who depend on the land for their livelihood.
He then dropped the news that the local pub was closed. I really wanted a pint so the kind dude sold me a few cans. I went to the bunkhouse and got through my routine. Stretches, protein shake. hydration drink, change of clothes and sorting out my feet. No blisters.
I had the bunkhouse to myself that night. It was equipped with a kitchen, bathroom and a bothy room with a fire. I cooked up some food, got the fire going and had a few beers. What a great end to the first day.
I slept well and, after breakfast, I sorted my pack and left. It was that early even the farmer wasn’t up. Today was over 22 miles to a bothy just off Sewingshields and that distance was covering a lot of the hills that make up the wall. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy.
As the sun slowly appeared, it burnt away the clouds and I was met with another gorgeous morning. The weather gods were really looking after me. I walked for a bit and then found myself crying. I wasn’t sad so figure it was a build up of emotion. I was enjoying myself.
I sat down for 5 minutes and in the distance a small herd of deer came out of the woods. I cleared my head and just watched them. They hadn’t spotted me and were coming closer. Then their heads went up and they darted. I’ve been close to deer before but that was special. I got up and started moving, wondering if I was meant to stop and wait for that moment.
I eventually started passing pieces of the wall and when I got to Thirwell Castle I saw a familiar site. The tall crags at Greenhead. From that point I could see the route stretching out for miles ahead of me.
I had a quick break then carried on. It was everything I had hoped for and more. I love this section of the wall. The undulating hills with views that take my breath away. I always try to put myself in the head of a roman centurion. Far from home at this remote outpost of the roman empire. What must they have thought? Did they fall in love with this place and were they sad to leave? I know how I would feel.
After reaching Hole Gap I decided to stop for lunch at The Milecastle pub. I’ve eaten here before and the food is always hearty. I chatted to the landlady for a while and bummed some cigarettes off her. After filling myself with slow cooked belly pork I went outside for a smoke and to check my feet. I’d felt some hot spots the last mile and wanted to sort them. After finishing up I went back in, grabbed my pack and said goodbye. The next stop was going to be my home for the night. A bothy at Haughton Green.
When I arrived at Sewingshields Crag I checked the map to look for the attack point I needed to find the bothy from. I wasn’t far off and when I got there I took out my compass to follow the bearing to where it was located. The walk in took me over a few hills and boggy fields but I got there before the rain. And it was empty. I had a look around and got through my end of day routine again.
After a while two brothers from Durham showed up and I was more than happy for some company. They’d come to check the place out but weren’t sure about staying. We ate and got the fire going. After a while they decided they were off. I can’t help but think my eagerness to chat put them off so after our goodbyes I sorted my sleeping bag and got settled for the night.
As I slipped into my bag I listened to the wind outside, the tapping of the rain against the window and the crackling of the fire as it slowly went out. I felt at peace. Safe. I drifted off.
A few hours later I woke to rustling. I made the mistake of leaving a bag of rubbish on the floor and the mice were at it. I got out of my warm nest and packed the rubbish away. Bloody swines but it wasn’t their fault. Given it was my first stay in a bothy I think it could have been the least of my problems.
As I woke I spent 10 minutes figuring out my plan. Get out bag. Check feet. Get dressed. Make a brew and eat. Pack everything away. Get going.
Today was going to be a long day. The clocks had gone forward so I had lost an hour but I was still up early enough to make good time. As I stood at the bothy door and watched the sun rise I knew I was leaving the quiet behind for Newcastle. My only wish at that moment was I had someone there to share such a beautiful morning with.
The walk was meant to be 27 miles to Newburn but I ended up doing 31. Rather than follow my compass bearing back to Sewingshields Crag I wanted to avoid the bogs so followed a land rover track back to the wall. This essentially had me doubling back on myself. Classic mistake. My feet wouldnt thank me later.
After getting off the wall it was more fields, paths and roads. I didnt enjoy this at all. It had rained and a lot of the paths were made of slabs of stone or rocks. In the rain it made for dangerous walking. The surface of these paths had been made smooth through years of walking so it was pretty slippy and I nearly had a bad fall. A lesson to be careful in future.
There isn’t much else I could say about this leg. It really was a boring walk and was hard work. I reached Heddon and slowly made my way down to the Tyne where I met my Dad and Stepmother at a pub. It was nice to chat although I felt a little short tempered. Out of sync somehow.
When I got to my Dads I went through my routine, had a shower and enjoyed a beer. After we ate I ended up falling asleep at 9 but found myself waking at 12. Something was obviously bugging me. I was struggling to sleep. Not sure what.
I rang my mate, who was still up with it being it a bank holiday, and we chatted for a bit about the walk, life and his little girl. I then watched a film and fell asleep around 3.
I woke up at 7, got myself sorted and we jumped into the car. My Dad was joining me for the final 12 miles.
The weather was overcast with some rain. We donned our waterproof jackets and set off. My feet were complaining already and I was reconsidering my footwear for the next walk. I like the Salomon Ultras but they had started biting into my ankles which is why I hate wearing boots. I would try the Inov-8 Roclites on the next walk.
This part of the walk I have cycled and ran on my way to Tynemouth. I always imagined a time when boats would carry their goods up and down the river. A busy vein of industry. We passed many a testament to how powerful the north east used to be. Empty factories or huge blank open spaces where they once stood. The occasional plaque detailing what once stood. A sad reflection on how the north has been treat over the years.
But the Tyne remains and the people are proud. And why I’ll always love the place no matter where I travel.
My Dad told me stories as we walked. Pointing out where his parents lived, where he first worked while starting his apprenticeship, where he was sent to get lunch from the chip shop, where the boilermakers would go for a pint. The bus stop he would wait at on a Friday night, describing it as the loneliest place on the earth.
Before long we reached Segedunum. I was pretty disappointed. All shining glass and viewing platforms surrounded by empty decaying buildings and a dying shipyard. I took a few photos and we got a metro back to Newcastle. I had finished my first long distance walk.
So how do I feel? Relieved its out the way. I’d managed a few days on my own in my head, put some ghosts to bed and learnt some valuable lessons.
It had been a hard few days walking and a realisation of what lay ahead. I was under no illusion it was going to be easy. But nothing good or scary is.