We awoke early to clear skies. After having showers (so much for going dirty), and breakfasting on our pots of porridge, we were handing in our keys before 8.30a.m. and on our way. Our first port of call was a shelter on Banks Promenade, a quaint area of Bowness-on-Solway, where the plants are manicured and the views over the firth quite stunning. The shelter is the start & end of Hadrian’s Wall Path (HWP), and has the feel of a shrine. An impressive landmark from which to embark upon our journey east.
It proved to be a tough day. Although the terrain was flat, the going underfoot was hard – not firm, but hard. This was partly due to the high proportion of road walking over the course of the day. But even the woodland paths, the bridleways and the meadows had been baked by a warm, dry May. There was little spring under our feet, and the 15+ miles caused aching soles and ankles.
As hinted at above, HWP in these parts has a propensity to stick to the horizontal – one traipse across marshy terrain between Drumburgh and the hamlet of Dykesfield, arrow straight, billiard board flat, and on Tarmac, must have been nearly three miles in length. Elegant herons and manic skylarks provided distraction, but I have to be honest, the main sensation was one of aching boredom! Despite all this, the day’s walk proved to be a daisy chain of charming villages and hamlets:
Within a mile of Bowness, we skirted Port Carlisle. We saw the ruined remains of the old port, a point of embarkation for many on their way to North America during the nineteenth century; and we came across the remnants of the canal which ran from this port into Carlisle, bypassing the silty Solway Firth and River Eden. Overlooking this scene, a retired gentleman had created a signpost along the lines of those at John o’Groats and Lands End. He slotted in “Stoke-on-Trent 141” (miles) and took our photograph. He also gave us a potted autobiography, including his escapades as a young haafnetter.
On through pretty Glasson and onto Drumburgh, where we sat down at a table provided by the proprietor of The Grange. Not only do they provide a table, but a little honesty box tuck shop, “Laal Bite”, and toilets!
After the miles of marsh and Dykesfield, the village of Burgh-by-Sands strings out along the main road, and provided a timely watering hole, The Greyhound Inn, open for a beer and sandwiches. Near to the Greyhound is a statue of Edward I who succumbed in this village whilst he was in the borderlands attempting to subdue the separatist ambitions of Robert The Bruce. And further east, St Michael’s Church, is where his body was taken to lie in state briefly before it was moved south. St. Michael’s is the first example I’ve seen of a fortified church in Britain. Apparently, it was the tower which was designed for defence. When marauding warriors from north of the border were close at hand, the villagers congregated in the tower for protection. Unless the population was less than a handful, the tower must have been heaving!
From the church, a climb across meadows and along a bridle way brought us to Beaumont, where we sat on the circular bench surrounding the trunk of a small sycamore, positioned in the middle of the village’s triangular green. We briefly popped into St. Mary’s Church, which sits atop an old motte, and is apparently the only church which lies directly on the line of Hadrian’s Wall.
From Beaumont, through the hamlets of Kirkandrews and Grinsdale, we reached the River Eden, whose course we would follow for the last three miles into Carlisle. By now we were tired, and I fell into the trap of believing that walking a river bank would be easy. But in fact, we walked through woodland adjacent to the river, repeatedly dropping and climbing as we crossed tributary streams. As we drew nearer to the town, and the river meandered around a large sports ground and lead us into well-kept Bitts Park, the going became much more straightforward. By the time we reached our guesthouse, Cartref in Victoria Place, it was beginning to spit after a humid day of some sunshine and quite a lot of cloud. When we left an hour later to find food, it was pouring down!
We had booked a table at Alexandros’, mainly because we couldn’t think of a Greek restaurant in our native city. They were most welcoming to their two new, wet-through customers. The food was very, very good – haloumi and watermelon as starters, and we both had moussaka. The latter was out of this world! The chef described in some detail how he prepared it. It was obviously a labour of love, requiring hours of dedication on a daily basis. His bonhomie was typical of what we’d encountered all day. But not only were people very friendly, they seemed immensely proud of their Path. Hadrian’s Wall Path – that’s what the Romans did for us!