A new day, but no clouds; we had a good look for them. The breakfast at Greenhead Hotel was surprisingly good; it was just after nine o’clock when we left the premises, crossed the road and, with an eye to our next meal, bought sandwiches at the Greenhead Tea Rooms.
Walking north to regain Hadrian’s Wall Path, we soon reached Thirlwall Castle, built as a private residence in the early 14th century by a John Thirlwall. His building material was purloined from the adjacent wall! It was fortified in order to repel cross-border invaders. We clambered amongst the ruins before setting our sites once again upon our oriental quest.
We re-crossed the pretty, babbling Tipal Burn. By ten o’clock, we had reached the car park at Walltown quarry, the hour at which the nearby Roman Army Museum at Carvoran was due to open. We vacillated – we’re good at that – but we agreed that although today was but a shortish walk, there was only room for one visit, and we both wanted to see Vindolanda, where there was an active archeological dig going on.
The climb away from the disused quarry was spectacular; ahead lay a precipitous escarpment, the Walltown Crags, and as we ascended, we were accompanied by a stunning stretch of the wall – presumably too inaccessible to be looted! Having reached the crags, the path was extremely undulating with steep climbs and stressful descents. At the top of the climbs, the views were far-reaching on this clear, bright and hot day. Indeed our progress was slow due to the terrain, the heat, and the frequent stops to take it all in!
After Great Chesters Fort, we descended into the valley of Haltwhistle Burn, where we found unoccupied picnic tables upon which to sit and enjoy our sandwiches. We were joined by a young Dutch couple who, on their tour of the UK, had just one day to explore Hadrian’s Wall. So they had parked their car at
Halsteads, taken the ‘bus west to Walltown, and were walking back to their vehicle. Conversation gravitated towards Brexit, and all four of us gave vent to our frustrations!
Ah well! If you can’t put the world to rights over lunch, one had better keep walking. Around the corner from the picnic tables sits the site of the old Cawfield Quarry, now a lake with car park. From here we climbed onto Cawfield Crags, following the wall along its undulating course. By the time we reached the lane that runs up to Steel Rigg car park from the military road (B6318), we were tired out despite having only covered 7-8 miles of HWP.
It was still baking hot when we sauntered down the lane to Once Brewed, a hamlet which seems to have little to it but for a giant modern building, The Sill (a YHA and the National Landscape Discovery Centre), and our bolt hole for the night, The Twice Brewed Inn. The inn sits cheek by jowl with its own brewery. It is a bright, busy establishment with a friendly vibe. Our room was modern, clean but a little cramped.
Vindolanda is probably only one and a half miles from Once Brewed, but there was no way we were going to walk! In fact, our instincts were to have a rest in the environs of the inn, but, on the other hand, we had promised ourselves this little trip. We took the AD122 ‘bus from The Sill. It is no coincidence that AD 122 was the year in which Hadrian visited Britain and instigated the building of the wall that bears his name. Work started in earnest in September of that year, so it sounds as if Hadrian wasn’t one to get bogged down in red tape! Within 3-4 minutes, the ‘bus that hugs the wall as best it can between Hexham and Haltwhistle, had taken us to the entrance of the fort.
Vindolanda is an impressively large site. Walls have been excavated which allow visitors a clear idea of the lay out, not only of the fort, but also of the adjacent village which supplied sustenance and succour to the garrison. The highlight of the visit was undoubtedly the live dig. Archaeologists and an army of volunteers were painstakingly clearing a defensive ditch. There was great excitement as a leather shoe was uncovered, and we were able to inspect it at close quarters.
We were very weary. The sun had been beating down all day. Hence our visit to the museum was somewhat cursory. We returned to Once Brewed on the punctual AD122. The evening meal at the inn was a treat. The restaurant had great views south over Northumberland’s rolling hills. We fell into conversation with a couple who were walking the Pennine Way, south to north. We hadn’t fully realised that the two national trails shared about ten miles from Thirlwall Castle eastwards. The meal was excellent, particularly the fish of the day – coley, served up with an array of fresh vegetables.
We were in bed not long after nine o’clock, more than a little perturbed as to how a short walk of a few miles had left us exhausted. The next day would be nearly twice as long in distance. If the terrain remained craggy, how would we cope?
Stile count: 13 (including 10 ladder stiles)