Sunday, 17 May 2015

Hadrian's Wall Path

I've just got back from walking the 84 miles of Hadrian's Wall Path. The Wall was built in 122 AD on the orders of the Roman Emperor Hadrian although it is rumoured that he did very little of the actual hard graft of construction. The path is a much more recent innovation (2003) and traces the route of the wall from Wallsend, just East of Newcastle to Bowness-on-Solway on the Cumbrian coast. In it's middle section the route is absolutely stunning with fantastic views across Northumberland. In many places the wall can be seen and there are various forts along the way as well as many mile castles, which seem to crop up every mile or so.

Michaela and I decided to do the walk from East to West, which is the most common way. Most guides seem to think that finishing in Bowness is preferable to finishing with a walk through Newcastle, despite the risk that the prevailing wind will be against you. On balance I think they're right although day 3 for us was hard work with many steep hills to climb and the wind blowing strongly against us.

We cheated a little and had our main luggage transported each day by the very efficient Walker's Bags. This meant that we could have luxuries with us but not have to carry them each day. It makes a big difference. We booked ourselves into a B & B each night and did the walk in six days which works out at about 15 miles a day allowing for getting to the B & B each night.

Day one was largely flat along the Tyne through Newcastle and then a little rise up to Heddon on the wall where we stayed at Heddon Lodge and ate at the Swan. The accommodation was lovely with the best breakfast of the trip. Day two was more rolling hills to Humshaugh where we stayed at the Dovecote and ate in the village pub. The accommodation was again lovely, more quirky and very friendly.  Day three was the start of the more dramatic and challenging part of the walk with fantastic views but also hard climbs. On this day we got the wind blowing strongly against us. At Steel Rigg we descended to the Twice Brewed Inn where we stayed, ate and joined in a pub quiz! Decent accommodation but very slow at breakfast time with a lot of guests in. Day four was again some serious climbs and descents but fortunately the wind had dropped. feet and legs were getting tired now and our accommodation at Abbey Bridge in Lanercost seemed a long time coming. The room was lovely and we ate there with 6 Dutch people, which made a change as the previous two places we'd been with (2 different groups of) Flemish Belgians! Day five we were back to more pastoral scenery with plenty of mud and cows as we walked to Carlisle. Here we stayed in the County Hotel which was our cheapest accommodation (and felt like it!). It was perfectly adequate though and we ate out at a very nice Malaysian & Thai restaurant. Day six was walking through Carlisle and their very fine park and out past the marshes to Bowness and the end of the wall. There wasn't any wall left to see and the feet were seriously battered by now but the way was fairly flat, if muddy, and we got safely to the end. We got lovely accommodation at Wallsend Guesthouse and a decent meal in the only pub in town.

This was the first long distance walk that I'd done and a few reflections I might offer would include:

  1. It's really nice not having to come up with a plan for the day. We'd planned it beforehand and we had to get to the next stop. the only choices were about whether and where to stop for a break. The routine of getting up, having breakfast, setting off walking was somehow reassuring.
  2. There were times when I thought it would be good to have taken a bit longer. Our timetable was perfectly doable but there were really interesting things to see along the way which I didn't linger over because i still had a lot of miles to get through.
  3. Pain can take over all your thoughts. I started the walk with raw heels where they'd been rubbed by new shoes - they got worse. My feet have grown since I bought my walking boots and the right boot was too tight. When my feet were really hurting it was hard to think about anything else. Pain does take over.
  4. Having said that, it is amazing how the human body heals itself and how having walked 15 miles the day before you're able to get up and do it again.
So what next? If I had the time I'd love to do the Coast to Coast or the Pennine Way or Offa's Dyke although they would all take a lot longer or maybe I'll do the Camino de Santiago sometime...

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