Sunday 30th August: Windermere
A little “mini-break” in Windermere, to see A’s sister and her family before we start. They’ve hired a cottage here, not far from the B&B we stay in when we come up for walking. We haven’t seen them since Christmas, they’re doing well. Bowness-on-Windermere is heaving more than I remember in high season, but it turns out that it’s the Windermere Air Show today, so we get an ace display by the Red Arrows!
Monday 31st July: Tynemouth to Wallsend (6 miles)
Just a little stroll of 6 miles, from the coast to the official start. A and I set out, with A’s parents in tow. A was thrilled that it started to rain as we were walking through some of the less savoury parts of North Tyneside, as you can imagine.
R: A and I about to set out!
Oh, and my £12, 1000 mile, no blisters guaranteed socks were so good, I got a blister. Great start!
Tuesday 1st August: Wallsend to Heddon-on-the Wall (14.5 miles)
The first section proper! The vast majority of this was along the banks of the Tyne and therefore on Tarmac, which is a bit unforgiving. Here is the Baltic Gallery and the Sage Theatre in Gateshead, from the Newcastle Quayside:
There were a couple of showers, but nothing too soggy, thankfully. About lunchtime, I realised I’d left my walking poles at my in-laws. I could live to regret this…The section between Newburn and Wylam was lovely though. This is where we turned away from the Tyne and began to climb to Heddon. We finished this section at the pub with another couple, Phil & Cooky, doing the walk with their two border terriers, Cassie and Buster. Walking this distance was fine, but I was a bit stiff this evening. The Compeed I put on my blister is great, it’s not changed at all. Compeed is amazing stuff.
Wednesday 2nd August: Heddon-on-the-Wall to Wall (14.5 miles)
Today we started off by finding the first section of Wall proper, at Heddon (see photo). How exciting! The first 2 miles today were breezy but clear. Unfortunately, the remaining 12.5 miles were in driving rain, with the final 6 miles or so battling against 40 mph winds too. Deep joy. Most of it was following the path of the Military Road, so it was fairly straight but quite up and down. A and I kept bumping into Phil and Cooky today, and by the end, it really was only Cassie and Buster who had any spring left in their step. It’s sounds dramatic, but I now understand how hypothermia victims feel when they decide to lie down in the snow. My brain was convinced that if I curled up in the Vallum (the ditch that is often the only part of the wall left in this section) I would get warm really quickly. Scary stuff.
An interesting aside here - the Military road was built at the time of the Jacobean Rebellion. The message came for it to follow the route of Hadrian's Wall, but it was taken so literally, that in many places, they built it almost on top of it, using the stone as hardcore. Oops.
The highlight of today was the Bothy we stayed in. The landlady is younger than me I think, and an absolute star. She showed us how to turn the heating up to full to dry our things out, gave us a lift down to the pub that night (having booked us a table) and told us to ring her anytime to come and collect us. Lisa Burrows of Kiln Rigg, we salute you!
A enjoying walking in the rain. Not.
Thursday 3rd August: Wall to Steel Rigg (Once Brewed) (13.5 miles)
The Wall stretching away from us, just outside Chollerford
I got out of bed like a little old man today! Nothing hurts whilst I’m actually walking; the stiffness kicks in when I stop! After yesterday’s downpour, today was glorious. Like a fool though, I didn’t put on enough sunscreen and ended up with the worst sunburn I’ve had in 20 years. My lower left leg is as tight as a sausage about to burst under the grill. This section was magnificent walking, but hard going, over crags. By the time we got to Sycamore Gap, after 12 or so miles, I had to crawl on my hands and knees up the steps to get back out!
Sycamore Gap - yes we did walk down to the tree then back up the other side!
Met up with Phil, Cooky and the dogs again today and we all stayed at Saughy Rigg Farm. This farm is really in the middle of nowhere, but it’s brilliant for walkers, as Kath the owner comes out to pick you up from the Wall and drops you off again, and offers a very nice meal!
Friday 4th August: Steel Rigg to Haytongate (15 miles)
Because we didn’t go for a walk to find food last evening, I woke up pretty stiff this morning and took about 20 minutes to be able to walk without a “sailor’s roll”. Today started off with another 6 miles of stunning crags as we walked over the Whin Sill. The photo shows the view of Saughy Rigg from the top, on a zoom lens. I had a low point at Gilsland, after 8.5 miles, when I wasn’t quite sure how I’d do the next 6.5 miles, but I rallied after I’d had lunch. Possibly it was knowing that we were going on when Phil and Cooky were taking 4 days to do the second half of the walk while we were only taking 3 days. They were really good company and we’ll miss them. Weather was dry but a bit overcast. We spent the night in Brampton, having crossed the border into Cumbria. There was a bath in our en-suite tonight – bliss! A complained about the noises my knees made today. There’s no pain, but a most horrible crunching noise when I walk up or down hill. The right one in particular has made noises like this for a while, but even I winced when I heard them today. A’s knees are silent, but painful, and his feet are a bit of a mess…
Saturday 5th August: Haytongate to Carlisle (13 miles)
Back to lower level walking today. A little bit of drizzle, but not too much. There’s no real stone parts of the wall left here; the Romans had obviously had enough by the time they hit Cumbria, since a lot of the wall was covered in turf here. There is a section of wall that was uncovered last century, but since it was made of sandstone, it was eroding quite quickly, so they covered it up again. The Vallum is often in evidence though, so you still feel that you are following the line of the wall. We arrived in Carlisle fairly early in the afternoon, but without the energy to go and explore. We were picked up from the Sands Centre leisure centre, which doesn’t look like it’s changed much at all since I left Cumbria back in 1995! I’ve got a bit of a soft spot for the Sands Centre, it’s where I fell in love with Shakespeare the first time I ever saw it performed live: Simon Russell Beale as Richard III.
Sunday 6th August: Carlisle to Bowness-on Solway (14.5 miles)
The final section today, starting with a nice stretch along the banks of the River Eden, the only river in England that flows north – now there’s a pub quiz question if ever I heard one! A has now discovered what the muscle on the inside of the knee does – it keeps the lower leg facing in the right direction. And his isn’t! Well, really, it’s only his right foot. It’s waggling about on the end of his leg like something not right, and he’s walking a little like a penguin. We got to Burgh-by Sands (6.5 miles) by 11.15am, so too early for the pub, to A’s dismay. It also started to rain here, the kind of rain that the Irish call “soft” that doesn’t pelt you but soaks you pretty quickly. There is a three mile section from Dykesfield to Drumbrugh that follows a dead flat, dead straight road that I found pretty soul destroying – I don’t know why but I would guess it was the rain – the mist was down low on this stretch, which is very open as it goes along the salt marshes. On a clear day, you would be able to see Dumfries and Galloway across the estuary and Skiddaw to the south, but the mist put paid to that! We stopped for a lunch break after 12 miles, at the Highland Laddie pub in Glasson. The mushroom soup is to be recommended (A says the same about the Stilton and Broccoli!) and we timed it so that we were able to see most of the Grand Prix. Well done Jensen! The final stretch was quickly covered and we were at the end in Bowness-on-Solway! And the pub was a Jennings pub!! Sadly, my personal favourite, Cocker Hoop wasn’t available, but you can’t have everything. They did have a beautiful Kune Kune called Joe, though!
So there it is – we finished it. We covered about 91 miles in about 33.5 hours walking time over a week, with the bulk of it (85 miles or so) in 6 days and 31.5 hours walking time). Something to be proud of, I feel. My feet were fine after that first blister, but my ankles took a battering and swelled up the day after we finished. A's knees are jiggered and his feet are a mess of blisters. He spent most of last week creaking around the house in much the same way as I did! So, the Ridgeway next?