Breakfasted, and out of the front door at The Hadrian Hotel by nine o’clock. And already the sun was baking. Wearing hats and sun-protection, we climbed through Wall. The pretty village was very quiet; we presumed that the inhabitants were enjoying a lie in after a night of riding around on motorcycles and tractors. At the top end of Wall, we were reunited with HWP, which followed a quiet country lane before it inevitably found the B3618, the Military Road. Today, we would follow HWP for little more than a mile – we would be going off piste on a southerly loop to follow the Tyne valley and visit the townships of Hexham and Corbridge. To be honest, the B3618 was behaving like one of those affable but persistent dogs that follow your every footstep; we thought that we would try and shake it off.
Before doing so, we visited the atmospheric church of St Oswald, really just an isolated, rural chapel. It sits on the site of one of Oswald’s greatest victories – the evocatively named Heavenfield. In the 7th century, Oswald was a local king, and his muscular approach to converting folk to Christianity certainly met with success; hence his promotion to sainthood. The church is also the beginning and end of a 97-mile walk through the magical county of Northumberland to Lindisfarne.
From the church, we headed south whilst HWP and the Military Road continued east. We hadn’t realised how our journey thus far had been a piece of cake as far as route-finding was concerned – every landmark and junction has an HWP way-marker to make it almost impossible to go wrong! We followed a lane until we reached a point where we had to cross meadowland. Out came the compass and map; we felt like real hikers. Our southerly stroll brought us into the village of Acomb, and despite our compass, we managed to get completely disorientated in a housing estate. Luckily, Acomb is blessed with the most distinctive of landmarks – public houses. Having found The Queen’s Arms, we could proceed to The Sun Inn, and then to The Miner’s Arms, which brought us to the fountain at the village crossroads. We were back on track.
The weather remained sunny and hot, but the track leading south from Acomb was shady. We visited the church of St. John Lee, seemingly a church without a village; in the middle of nowhere. From here it was but a short meander -including two bridges, one over The A69, and a second over the River Tyne – to Waitrose on the outskirts of Hexham! Having bought our lunch, we climbed the quaint, crooked Hallstile Bank to Market Place. Here we sat on a bench with our sandwiches, admiring the squat majesty of Hexham Abbey.
The Abbey proved to be well worth a visit. We were very fortunate that a lady volunteer kindly opened up the crypt for us. This lies below the level of the nave floor, and has to be reached by a narrow, steep stairwell. It dates back to the 6th or 7th century, when St. Wilfred built a Benedictine Abbey on this site, using stone salvaged from local Roman ruins.
It was really too hot to walk, but we had to reach Corbridge for our night’s rest. This entailed walking south through Hexham, before climbing steeply, initially on tarmac, and then on through Halfmile Wood. This brought us to an unmade track running east through cool woodland and green lane to the hamlet of Dilston. Here we crossed the busy A695, and continued on a path beside the fancifully named Devil’s Water, a stream running north to meet the Tyne. The banks of the Tyne took us to Corbridge. This last couple of miles was mainly across meadow with precious little shade. Some young people were paddling in the Tyne – it looked too shallow for a swim.
We crossed at the bridge that presumably gave the town its name, and then climbed up Princes Street to the Golden Lion, our place of repose for the night. But on entering the bar, repose seemed to be the last thing on everybody’s mind. It was busy, noisy, and chaotic. The England football team had won at the World Cup during the afternoon. The inebriated celebrations on an oppressively hot early evening seemed to be whipping up a storm. In addition, the Sunday karaoke was about to start!
The mayhem was all too audible up in our tiny room in the roof. We fancied a pint, but didn’t want to have it at the Golden Lion. So we sauntered along Hill Street to the Blue Bell. Here, although it looked less like a scene that might have inspired Hieronymus Bosch, it was still excessively noisy. The perpetrators were almost exclusively males between the ages of 40 and 70, swearing and shouting. What was this all about? Julia and I reflected upon our sheltered lives. The Blue Bell has a compact garden, but even here the noisy brigade had spilled out, turning the air blue.
We decided that we were not going to eat in a pub. We found an Asian restaurant down towards the river. Artisam is in a terraced street of local stone, and indeed it looks as if it has been created by gutting a couple of the old houses. Besides feeling like a great place to relax, it was, thankfully, quiet and friendly. The food was good – crispy, aromatic duck to start, followed by scallops with spring vegetables and king prawns with cashews and asparagus. Meandering back to the Golden Lion, all was still; the revellers had disappeared, and the karaoke had been switched off. Our garret was warm but calm. The forecast for the morrow was for continuing hot weather, so we wanted to be on our way as early as possible!