We had veered south off Hadrian’s Wall Path (HWP) mainly to visit Corbridge Roman Town on the outskirts of the modern village/town. But the site does not open until ten in the morning, which would mean that we would not have been on our way until at least eleven. The weather remained unseasonably hot, and if we delayed our walking until such an hour, we feared that we would melt. Therefore, after a light breakfast, we headed off, well before nine o’clock. I’m sure that we will visit Northumberland again, and if so we might still get to visit the Roman Town. But I don’t think we will return to the Golden Lion!
We headed north out of Corbridge, across common land to Cow Lane, under the A69, over Cor Burn (we had the option of going through the latter, but the ford looked slippery), before gently climbing up long Leazes Lane towards the hamlet of Halton. Halton in the early morning sunshine looked perfect – the epitome of Englishness, despite the fact that it lies so close to its northern edge: meadowland sweeping down towards the Tyne Valley, a tiny chapel, and a castle. Well…the castle is a private house with a crenelated tower at one end. The castle apparently dates back to the fourteenth century, but the house and tower look much more modern.
We were now very close to Hadrian’s Wall Path (HWP), and at Halton Chesters Fort (an unexcavated bumpy meadow), we turned sharp east, crossing fields to an old quarry, which cut across the line of the well-defined vallum.
At this point, it might be worth considering what Hadrian’s Wall and its environs looked like in cross-section. North of the wall, as already mentioned, the Romans dug a ditch. But they also dug a ditch to the south of the wall. This was further away from the wall than the northern, defensive ditch, and has been referred to as the vallum. It was flanked, north and south, by mounds of earth. The vallum’s function isn’t clear, but it probably defined the limit of the military corridor adjacent to the wall, within which civilians were not normally allowed.
From the quarry, HWP became somewhat straightforward and prosaic. Sometimes, to the south, sometimes to the north, and sometimes along the Military Road. Under the merciless sun, we trudged through Halton Shields and Wallhouses. The pub at East Wallhouses, The Robin Hood Inn, arrived at just the right time! We dived inside for shade. It proved to be a friendly hostelry geared up for those of us on foot. For instance, there was a table covered with glass pitchers of cold water for thirsty ramblers. Indeed, there were many walkers eating and drinking. The sandwiches – battered fish goujons with tartar sauce, Cajun chicken with herb mayonnaise – did the trick.
Unfortunately, we had to leave the hospitable inn, and continue our quest. We walked in the ditch to the north of the Military Road, passing between the lakes which make up Whittle Dene reservoir. These lakes not only supply water for Newcastle and Gateshead, but they are home to carp, freshwater mussels, a variety of birds, and otters. There was precious little shade in the vicinity of the lakes, so we pushed on along our ditch, up to Harlow Hill. There was a weird rectangular detour around a property south of the Military Road, but at least the path was tree-lined; we sat in the shade and had a coffee.
We knew that we only had a couple of miles left before reaching the Haddon Coach House. On the way, we crossed a meadow adjacent to Rudchester Farm, which was the site of Vindobala Fort. Whatever remains of it is well and truly subterranean; only an information board announces the meadow’s illustrious past. At Vindobala, we passed a group from the eastern board of the United States. They were walking the whole of HWP from Wallsend to Bowness. They were enjoying their adventure; they were enjoying their time away from the US of A! They assured us in no uncertain terms that the muddle of Brexit was small fry compared to living under the yoke of Donald Trump’s administration!
As we approached Heddon-on-the-Wall, instead of turning right over the A69, and on to the village, we turned left, northwards along a half-mile cul-de-sac at the top of which was Heddon House; tucked behind it was the Coach House. We were welcomed by Kim with a cup of tea under the shade of a parasol; the sun was still in an unforgiving mood. At this point, Julia discovered that she had lost her glasses. She was convinced that she had left them where we had sat down for a rest near the house known as Ironsign. Kim’s partner kindly offered to run me back – it was only a couple of miles back down the HWP, but despite a careful search, no glasses could be found. We returned to Heddon Coach House empty-handed. Up in our spacious room, Julia emptied her rucksack, at the bottom of which….were her glasses!
We were given a lift to the Swan Inn in the village of Heddon in the evening. This was a big pub, with good views over the Tyne valley to the south. The highlight of the meal was the ice cream. The ebullient waitress informed us that we were allowed three scoops each. She didn’t want to influence us unduly, but if it was up to her she would definitely have praline, with praline, and then a third scoop of praline. She admitted to being a bit of a praline nut. And I suppose that my memories of Heddon will always conjure up this wonderful waitress.