We were hoping to be on our way from the Twice Brewed Inn soon after 0815, as we wanted to get going before it got too hot. As it turned out, it was 20 to nine as we walked the short stretch of Military Road back to the lane up to Steel Rigg. In fact, this Saturday morning was cloudy and chilly; I felt distinctly underdressed in my tee-shirt.
Although it was overcast, the walk by the Wall was very dramatic, with a descent into the picture postcard Sycamore Gap, and the subsequent walk along the escarpment above Crag Lough and then on up above Hotbank Farm. Our walk was once again craggy with steep climbs and dips, but we seemed to make better progress than on the previous day. I suspect that this was down to the kindly cloud cover. At Rapishaw Gap, we were relieved of the burden of walking two national trails, the Pennine Way striking fearlessly northwards into the lands of the Caledonia. Not much further on, we nosed around Milecastle 37. We had become rather blasé about milecastles as they come along every 1500 metres or so. But 37 was a little different: it guarded a gateway through the Wall, and displayed the rudiments of a stone arch. Julia and I were struggling with the 21st century phenomenon of taking a selfie – getting both our faces and the archway in the same frame was proving frustratingly difficult. Happily, a young man walking westward put us out of our misery and kindly took our photo. He was from the “Toronto area”; he was only walking the Wall for a couple of days between business trips.
Our craggy, undulating path continued until we reached a trig point at Sewingshields Crags. In retrospect, this was quite a landmark for the day, as the rollercoaster terrain gave way to several miles of gradual descent. Unfortunately, it brought us very close to the busy Military Road, the B6318; in many places, only a wall or hedge separated us from its angry roars to our south. Not that our walk was devoid of delight. We were walking next to the ditch dug out by the Romans, just north of the Wall, and it is an impressive earthwork, now invaded by a swathe of grasses and flowers. There were to be few vestiges of the Wall from here onwards; the Military Road had been built as a matter of urgency in the mid eighteenth century to facilitate the movement of troops to quell the Jacobite risings, and General Wade had used the Wall to create hardcore for his road between Newcastle and Sewingshields.
Having passed Carraw Farm, we sat on a grassy knoll and munched our sandwiches (courtesy of the Twice Brewed Inn), and greeted the eastward and westward walkers, many youngsters amongst them, hiking on their way to a Duke of Edinburgh Award. Not far beyond our picnic spot lay Brocolitia Roman Fort and it’s temple to Mithras. And here I came upon what was for me one of the highlights of HWP. Adjacent to the temple is a ditch, and it was filled with strikingly yellow flowers. On closer inspection, the petals had splodges of rusty pink. Individually, the flowers are beautiful; ensemble in the ditch, they were magnificent. They are apparently Hybrid Monkey Flowers, and I have not knowingly come across them before.
We continued to accompany the Roman ditch, which runs east north-east beyond Brocolitia. At Limestone Corner, HWP, the Military Road, and the ditch turn right and follow an east south-east route. So Limestone Corner was the most northerly point of the old Roman Empire, and the ditch here is impressively hewn out of the rock like a railway cutting.
Our descent from Limestone Corner brought us to to the hamlet of Walwick, from where the HWP followed the unprepossessing B6318 on its way to Chollerford. As was normal towards the end of a day’s walk, I was shuffling along, endeavouring to keep Julia in view ahead of me, when I noticed that she had stopped to chat to a couple. As I drew nearer, I noted that they were chatting at a ‘bus stop. My arrival coincided with that of a ‘bus, and I was hurriedly herded on to it! It transpired that Julia had been persuaded that the remaining one-and-a-half miles to Wall was an uninspiring stretch of pavement-bashing. Looking out of the ‘bus window, despite the elegant bridge over the Tyne at Chollerford, it seemed to be an excellent piece of advice. No more than four minutes later, we were deposited slap bang in front of the hotel.
The stolid Hadrian Hotel with its no-nonsense, square-cut stone looked a little foreboding. But it proved to be very hospitable. It seemed to be run by three young ladies who were busy at the bar, serving food, and welcoming guests. The senior of them, who will not have been far into her fourth decade, had eye-catching turquoise hair. This had been a recent development, according to her colleagues; apparently she had been platinum blonde until a day or two beforehand.
Our room was on the second floor – in the roof, and was a little cramped. The pitch of the roof was such that we had to practice walking around the bed with our torsos tilted to the side. Back on the ground floor, we opted to eat in the restaurant rather than the bar – as at Twice Brewed, the dining room was bright with great views south over England. Our meal was excellent. We started by sharing nachos with cheese, guacamole, sour cream….the whole caboodle. This was followed by tasty fish cakes and fish pie, before we finished off with crème brûlée and ice cream. We chatted with a couple who had motored out from Newcastle for a Saturday night out. They were Northumberland aficionados, and made us aware that HWP was but a thin line running through a fascinating chunk of Britain.
The night was hot. I opened the skylight – this certainly reduced the temperature, but allowed the noise of cars, motorbikes and tractors into the room. What were people doing driving around in the night? Ah well, Wall must be one of those 24-hour villages. We attributed the heat to our proximity to the roof. But that Saturday night was the start of a heatwave – many weeks of open windows and restless nights, not only in Wall, but all over our little island.
Stile count: 16 (including 8 ladder stiles)