June 14

Day 29 Newtown Farm to Gilsland

Yesterday’s stroll was quite enjoyable, in a mild and muted sort of way. The Hadrian’s Wall Way, in its early segment, is more of a notional Hadrian’s Wall Way. The wall’s presence is felt by the names of villages and the presence of small signs plus markings on an Ordnance Survey map. Today, however, all has changed.

One of the many pleasures of a trip like this is meeting complete strangers, people one is unlikely to meet ever again, people undertaking the same pleasurable pastime of strolling along in lovely countryside. I’m not sure which is the most fun, the scenery, the different local beers, the different nationalities of our fellow walkers, the villages through which we pass or the ridiculous silliness Janet and I seem to manage. We have enjoyed running around at kissing gates where there is a cattle grid and refusing to do the job properly.

Anyway, on with the trip. We ate a delicious, plentiful breakfast and learned about our fellow guests from DC and New York then made our way, unencumbered by heavy packs, through the farmyard and out to the grassy banks of the wall.
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The signpost in the picture below is not significant in any way except that it was where we broke through the 300 miles barrier. We still have 300 miles more to do and, I expect, quite a few miles after that as well. Our course is erratic for a number of reasons, lack of accommodation, lack of footpaths and interesting detours. Nevertheless 300 miles is a good start.
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A coffee shop after just 2 miles of strolling was too convenient so we stopped for a swig and the convenient convenience. wandering out of the convenience as I entered was a fellow stroller we had seen the day before, one of two female friends walking as their husbands moved baggage and set up camp.
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Having left the coffee shop in the village hall we met a couple from Belgium the man of this couple asked us about our opinions on the burning political question of the day. We were all in complete agreement on this subject and that of the political dilemma facing the citizens of the US.

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The wall has been the star turn today. This section started well with low walls stretching out into the distance. Then there are the various ruins of towers and mile forts. I have taken many many many photos of wall today. I have managed to restrain my mural exuberance and posted just one or two examples of Roman relicry.
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We enjoyed prandium in open air splendour. What would this building have been like in the years after 122?
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I have included the photo below not because it makes Janet and I look lovely, in fact our tightly cinched waist belts accentuate our mature forms in an alarming manner. No, the reason I have included the photo is to remind me of the lovely group of four from New Orleans the man of which had encountered a shoe failure the previous evening. Being an inventive and financially prudent man he had got hold of some duct tape and taped the upper and the sole together thus enabling him to continue in comfort.
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A fellow stroller, a civil engineer by profession, reminded us with enthusiasm of the bridge in the photo below. He was astonished at the skills of the ancient Romans in building this bridge. The ruins do no justice to the majesty of the original structure. As we ate supper together in the pub we not only discused the beer but how the viaduct must have been built. It is fascinating to get the eye of an enthusiastic expert to bear on these ruins.
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So there it is, a wonderful day. Perfect walking weather, lovely companions from time to time and a very comfortable bed in which to sleep.

For many many years we have intended to stroll among these walls, forts, signal towers and fortifications. They are as wonderful as I hoped that they would be. Birdoswald fort is magnificent but it is the wall, all 80 miles of it, that is the star and which steals the show.

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June 15

Day 30 Gilsland to Huntercrook

Last night we got into something of a stew.Every few days we plan more or less where we will go. Having decided our route we check for accommodation and any other bits and bobs which we need. Back to last night, over supper we couldn’t remember what day it was and had no simple means of checking. Why might this be important? It was important because I had booked two nights in Bellingham for the 16th and 17th. Having had our moment of confusion I couldn’t remember for sure if I had indeed booked the nights of 16th and 17th. Our B&B at Gilsland, Brooklands, was delightful in every way, comfortable bed, lovely friendly landlady, massive breakfast with fantastic black pudding, fast wifi but no mobile signal so I couldn’t check. We decided to wait until we found a mobile signal in order to ring the B&B in Bellingham and ask the owner if I had indeed booked so that we could book the bed for after Bellingham. No need to have panicked as our landlady at Brooklands suggested that we use the landline. All is now ready for 16th 17th and indeed the 18th because the bunkhouse at the next stop has two beds free.

We left Brooklands and headed towards the Hadrian’s Wall path
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Climbing over a wall by means of a stout ladder.
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Then over a railway pedestrian crossing. I understand that there is a move to reopen Gilsland railway station to help with moving the volume of walkers and cyclists visiting the area.
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The path passes near to Thirlwell Castle. The castle has nothing to do with the Romans except that it was built with stones pilfered from the wall, as indeed were most of the other stone buildings here. We thought that the path led past the castle, but it didn’t. We had to retrace our steps and repair our mistake. We were followed up to the castle by another couple who, we later learned, were from Flanders. They were not as lucky as we and didn’t spot tha the path had nothing to do with the castle. They blundered on over walls for quite a time until the were able to rejoin the path. Be careful if you visit Thirlwell Castle.
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At last we regained the wall proper
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Yesterday and today have been truly wonderful. The terrain is a bit rugged and goes up and down a lot but if you can manage it the walk is well worth the effort.
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The hostel at Once Brewed is now closed and is being turned into a visitor centre for Vindolanda. If you need a bed then Once Brewed is no more.
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I depend on my trusty camera as an aide memoire to write this epic prose. This morning I attempted to take a few photos but found out that the disc was missing.I have taken a few snaps woth the mobile phone but its battery went flat. This lack of photographic evidence has hampered my efforts to describe the day so loads of interesting stuff is missed out. As I can’t recall this interesting stuff perhaps it wasn’t so interesting after all

Arriving at our luxurious lodgings we were delighted to be offered an evening meal. For most of today we were reconciling ourselves to a supper of cheese and nuts washed down with tepid water. Our supper was so enornous that even Janet was floored. As we ate our host told us that Prince Harry likes tomato ketchup on his haddock.

Tomorrow Vindolanda and then to Bellingham. Tomorrow will be a long day so now for a bath and bed.

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June 16

Day 31 Steel Rigg to Bellingham

Today’s stroll, you may have thought, should have started at Huntercrook. However our host of last night, over breakfast, offered to return us to the point where we had left the way yesterday evening. By taking him up on his generous offer we could return to the wall, and enjoy walking along it, earlier than we could have done otherwise.
Just before we left our host’s wife, who was very taken by JAnet’s walking skirt said how good it looked. She asked if the skirt blew up in the wind and did Janet wear shorts underneath. All this is a mystery to me of course.

The wind had a real nip in it today. It had changed direction to the north and after about three steps we decided to put on our thin but effective raincoats. The difference in comfort was instant.
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The first bit, the bit where one rejoins the wall, is quite steep and goes up and up a sort of rocky staircase. As this energetic encounter happens quite early in the stroll breakfast power is still very much in the legs. As I had accepted both haggis and black pudding with my breakfast I could steam on without pause. In the dim distance far below you might spot a party of young people enjoying a low level rock climbing expedition.
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I know that hearty outdoor types always say that swarming sweatily skywards is worth the effort when you get there. I am not a hearty outdoor type in any sense but in these hills it really is worth all the effort of lifting the ancient bones upwards to these old stones.
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Our visit to Hadrian’s Wall had to come to an end in order for us to move northwards once again. The Pennine Way crosses the Hadrian’s Wall Way and it was here that we became ex limites and braved the lands of Caledonia. The ladder of destiny beckoned and, over we went.

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Over the wall we were returned to the old Pennine Way of bogs and wide skies eventually arriving at the gate into Kielder Forest. If anyone had told either of us that we would walk through Kielder Forest a few months ago we would have fallen off our shooting sticks with mirth.

Our host told us that she had been running in Kielder and that all the competitors arrived home with blotchy faces having been bitten by midges. We were extremely fortunate today that the wind was strong, continuous and cold, freeing us from the attentions of the nasty little beggars.
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The southern section of the Pennine Way is paved where the trail becomes a bit tricky. This northern part is more gritty or, to be honest, more boggy and muddy. We would have loved a few paving slabs over the bogs today.

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It wasn’t long before we both felt that unmistakeable cold sensation around the toes as stepping in the water once too often tests even the stoutest of shoes.

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I’ve no idea what this flower might be. A fellow stroller, from somewhere in middle America, suggested that it could be some sort of hyacinth. She said that her plant knowledge was poor so she could be wrong
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Everything seems to be takin an age tonight so I shall finish this tomorrow. Tomorrow is a day of rest and contemplation. Where next????
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June 17

Day 32 Bellingham

Before I go on about Bellingham and the things we have been doing I would like to issue some advice. Compeed is very very good stuff for healing sore feet. Compeed is a menace if one ignores the instructions on the tube and applies it to other, more tender, parts of the anatomy. Sitting is not very comfortable at the moment and I walk with an oddly mincing gait. Let us hope that sleep fixes things before tomorrow.

Many years ago we visited Bellingham purely by chance and loved the place. Bellingham is a small but interesting town. Not only is it a pretty town but it has all the stuff that we need. It has a chemist, a pub, a baker and a coop. The next few days are quite challenging in terms of logistics. The mileages are quite long each day and we must be able to get to Edinburgh on Thursday for Janet’s dental appointment. After breakfast our host’s breakfast table was full of maps. Our host is a mine of information, with regard to walking routes, and was able to help us in our endeavours. The next few days could be Bellingham to Byrness bunk house then Jedburgh then Melrose then ??? then a bus to Edinburgh to return to Shropshire for dentistry and morris dancing. Fingers crossed that fits the plan.

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Bellingham Heritage Centre is sited at the old station where there is a tea room in a pair of railway carriages.
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Sitting in the driver’s seat I realised how little the driver could see. The window facing forward is about the size of an elongated A4 sheet of paper. I suppose that train drivers don’t need peripheral vision but even so it must have been claustrophobic. What a treat it would be to drive one of these things for an hour or two!
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So that’s it for today. We have had a chat with a Dutch couple who walked the walk we will be doing tomorrow today, if that makes sense. They told us that we will need to avoid one section, as they did, because it has become very boggy and that it looks as though it has fallen into disuse. They also said that it became very cold and that they had had to use hats and gloves for the first time. If people accustomed to the freezing east winds of the Netherlands say that it is cold then that means thermal underwear for the rest of us. I expect that we will find out for ourselves tomorrow.

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June 19

Day 33 Bellingham to Byrness

Breakfast at Bellingham with our new Dutch frends was, as usual, a lively affair. They have done many walks including around Mont Blanc and tours of Patagonia. The Pennine Way seems quite modest in comparison to these mighty travels.

Bellingham is very conveniently placed for the Pennine Way, what a shame that one has to approach it via a busy road and also leave it by a busy road. We hared up the hill out of Bellingham at a fair rate of knots and were delighted to leave the road for the hill.
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Once again the weather has been perfect for walking. It was wonderful to get out onto the hill again, to enjoy the wide open skies and the larks singing. Even the cuckoo was active. I know that cuckoos are parasites but, well, they are British.
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This section of the stroll has been quite crowded. We have seen the same 10 or 12 people quite often. It has been enjoyable to stroll along by ourselves then to meet the others in the evening for a chat.
We could see a party of blokes strolling along ahead of us, following the well trodden path of a thousand strollers, Janet mentioned that we seemed to be off the path I checked and agreed. We then set off over the heather and bog towards the correct path. It appears that the path has changed from when our map was printed.

Up until today we have had no problems with midges. We settled down in the forestry for a leisurely bite of yesterday’s BLT and a slice of cheese when the little blighters rose from nowhere. No more rest for us.
We arrived at the bunkhouse very quickly by not stopping to rest..

The bunkhouse at Byrness is quite comfortable but has one difficulty for those of us of the older, masculine, persuasion. There are beds for 9 people but the lavatorial arrangements are of one shower room with one lavatory in it. If someone decides to take a leisurely shower all the rest have to cross everything until the showerer decides to finish. I nipped into the bushes what the others did? Who knows?

OUr host at the hostel could not cope with the last three people to arrive ie us and a chap doing the Lands End to JOG thing. So we ate pies and beans together.
..

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June 19

Day 34 Byrness to Jedburgh

We rose early, packed, and went downstairs in our hostel. We had bought some bits and pieces to eat for our breakfast when we were in Bellingham. I had a tub of wallpaper paste labelled OatsoSimple. . I don’t think that I’ll go for that again. We had some cheese and some salami too so felt reasonably fuelled up for the day ahead.
We had some difficulty in finding our host in order to pay the bill so spent the time chatting to some of those we have met on the hill who were among the lucky few who could have a cooked breakfast.

The first section of today’s stroll took us up a steep hill with a bit of scrambling.
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The plan has been to start off along the Pennine Way then, at the old Roman Fort to turn onto Dere Street, one of the old Roman Roads. Before setting off up Dere Street we ate some of our meagre rations, cheese, an apple and a swig of water. What an inspired decision it has been to stroll along Dere Street. I think that today might have been the best day yet. We were the only people in this vast landscape. Dere Street is a bit boggy in places but where it is broad, dry and green it is astonishing to remember that it was built so many years ago.

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The rain began at about 4:00pm but we were soon encased in our waterproof coats and kilts. Once off the hill we made good time to Jedburgh arriving at about 6:30pm. By this time our modestly priced impermeable jackets were decidedly permeable.
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There is some sort of horse festival here this week so the bar under our room sounds quite convivial.

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June 20

Day 35 Jedburgh to Melrose

Today’s stroll has been completely different to that of yesterday. We have no internet so I write these few words on my telephone as the signal ebbs and flows
Knowing that we had a short stroll today and having no food, energy or anything else, we were dilatory in our departure. Not only were we silatory in our departure but we departed in the wrong direction too. Having resolved our navigation issue we set out in broad sunshine. After 5 minutes the heavens opened and we hastily donned our waterproof coats and kilts. After 10 minutes or so the rain stopped and we swealtered onwards melting in the warm sunshine. We stopped and removed our rainwear only for the rain to start again. We became very efficient at putting on and taking off rainwear today.Perishing mobile Internet is weakening. Carry on tomorrow I think.

Today’s stroll was quite a bit longer than we expected it to be.

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