The day arrived with azure skies, although on venturing out to breakfast, it was distinctly brassy. No matter, I was in shorts, and determined to stay thus attired. Breakfast comprised of bacon, scrambled eggs, and what I call Scottish pancakes. Oh, and the coffee was excellent. We were heading off fairly early so that we would arrive at Lanercost Priory by their opening time. We bade our compadres farewell, and wished them well.
Lanercost is about 3 miles from Walton, a short detour south of our Path. It is in a beautiful setting, a verdant valley below the ridge on which the Wall would have stood. Founded during the eleventh century by Robert de Vaux for Augustinian canons, and built with the help of stone from the Wall to the north! Part of the priory survives as an extant church, but the majority lies in ruins, primarily because of the reformation.
We regained HWP by climbing steeply up country lanes to the hamlet of Banks. Not long afterwards, we found not only our first piece of visible wall, but our first turret! It was on this stretch that we also climbed over our first style; two-and-half days without a style – we’d been living in kissing gate heaven!
And that is how we continued our morning, walking on, or parallel to the quiet lane that runs east from Banks towards Gilsland, chuffed to be seeing some Roman hardware. At Birdoswald, a mile or two west of Gilsland, we stopped for lunch. This was the site of a Roman fort; the establishment is run by English Heritage, and so we sneaked in free of charge. But first things first – a bowl of sweet potato, carrot, and coriander soup. Not only did it hit the spot, but we managed to sit with our feet under a table for half-an-hour or so.
After a post-prandial stroll around the fort and Birdoswald’s museum (it is designed with young children in mind, but it is very informative!), we continued eastwards, dropping into the beguiling valley of the River Irthing before climbing to skirt the village of Gilsland. In fact, by the village’s primary school, there were signs for a HWP diversion through the centre of the village, but we ploughed on. It transpired that there was a brook without a bridge; as it was a maximum of 20cms across on this particular day, Julia and I carefully negotiated the danger with all due care. If we had taken the official diversion, we would have missed Poltross Burn (milecastle no. 48) a serene, sylvan spot. The last couple of miles of the day took us over meadows into the valley of Tipal Burn. We followed the stream south, a few hundred metres off HWP, to the grandly named Greenhead Hotel, our place of rest for the night. It was a beautiful evening, and indeed it had been a glorious day.
There was something a little ramshackle about the Greenhead, and I don’t mean just its appearance. The staff at the bar didn’t know if we had a room booked and they didn’t know whether our bags had arrived – we found them in the bar area. However, our allocated room was bright, spacious, with bath in the ensuite! Our main problem was the evening meal. We shared halloumi with couscous. Not bad but the couscous was a bit soggy. We both had chicken as mains – I had chicken madras. The chicken was dry, and the sauce was bland. I could not detect a hint of flavour that could classify the dish as a curry, never mind a Madras! Let’s not be over-sophisticated about this – it was downright awful! Julia’s Cajun-style chicken was just as dry although its blackened coating was quite spicy! Julia couldn’t eat it.
I’ve mentioned in these pages on at least one occasion, Britain seems to have changed dramatically over the last generation or two, and now takes great pride in the fare it puts before customers. But the Greenhead Hotel is an exception. I’m hopeless at complaining when meals do not come up to scratch. I’m part of the problem!
I haven’t done this for a while! Stile count for the day = 11 (including 3 ladder styles)