Ha ha! We awoke and the sun had deserted its post! In fact it was quite misty. We were keen to be on our way, as our last day had to cover some miles: a good mile into Heddon, and then 15 miles on to Wallsend. But we lingered over breakfast, and chatted with Kim. We had enjoyed our stopover at the Heddon Coach House; tiny details really impressed us: the offer of a hot drink when we arrived; the fact that our bags had been carried up to our room. In addition, Kim told us that she only takes one booking per night; she likes to focus her care and attention just on one group.
It was still misty as we slipped away after nine o’clock. But the sun was back on duty before we reached Heddon-on-the-Wall. In the village, we took a small detour to have a peek at what we believed to be the last we would see of the Wall. From Heddon, we descended down country lanes and woodland paths into the Tyne valley.
This brought us to the Wylam Waggonway, an old railway – tree-lined, shady and cool. Our path soon became a Tyneside walk, and this would, by and large, be the case for the rest of the day. We were soon on the outskirts of Newburn, where we found sanctuary in the café of the Riverside Country Park. Coffee and shade – despite the early morning mist, this was the third consecutive day of clear skies and a sun intent in burning holes in us.
We fell into walking with a gentleman walking his German Shepherd along a disused railway towards Lemington. He was despondent about the detritus left by alcoholics and drug users in that area. He was going to leave it all behind – he was getting married and settling in Italy. He had met an Italian lady through a German shepherd association; she had come across to Northumberland on several occasions….but, as yet, he hadn’t been to Italy! His plans seemed to involve a huge leap into the unknown, but he seemed confident that his wife to be was worth the risk!
On to Scotswood, and the touching memorial to the Montagu pit disaster in 1925. We passed four ramblers coming the other way – 2 couples, one from Queensland and the other from up the road from us in Congleton; they were brother and sister with their spouses. They pressed us about the delights and dangers that lay ahead on HWP. We wallowed in our perceived worldliness, and waxed lyrically about the craggy landscape.
I’m sure they were glad to be on their way! For our part, we were overheating and getting seriously hungry. We trudged along the A695, a busy, noisy dual-carriageway, through an area known as Paradise. We proceeded on a riverside path by a modern business park. Where do all those busy, working-types go for lunch? Eventually, we found Liosi’s Sicilian café and bar. It was wonderful – salsiccia (Sicilain sausage seasoned with fennel) panini and salad Niçoise, followed by ice cream; views over the shimmering Tyne beneath a cloudless sky. Our lassitude and irritability evaporated.
We were fast approaching Newcastle itself. I’ve been before, but approaching from the west on foot, on this cloudless afternoon, it looked majestic. The bridges (seven of them within a mile or so), improbably high, produce a unique vista. For half-an-hour, the Tyneside path was as busy as Blackpool’s Golden Mile. Indeed, we passed the Quayside Seaside, an area of sand with buckets & spades, deckchairs, and busy with scantily clad people burning up! But within half-an-hour the crowds had slipped away as we followed the Tyne seawards, around the quaint St. Peter’s Marina near Byker, passing the occasional walker, cyclist, and angler. Some of the people we had met on their quest west on HWP had bemoaned this area’s industrial dereliction, but in the afternoon sun, all seemed to be well with this world – the brick, concrete and steel overgrown with swathes of grasses and wild flowers, which were rapidly reclaiming the riverside landscape.
For the last couple of miles, HWP moved away from the Tyne, which had glimmered and shimmered flirtatiously all day. We climbed through woodland – Walker Riverside Park, to Walker itself where the path took us past houses and engineering works. Yet another disused railway line provided our last few hundred metres to Wallsend….and Segedunum, the final Wall fort, and the end of Hadrian’s edifice. I presume that the river was deemed to be defence enough east of here. If Caledones fancied their chances of swimming or rowing across, well….good luck to them. Besides which, Arbeia Fort, south of the mouth of the river, would mop up those recalcitrant wall dodgers who made it across.
We had bust a gut to arrive at Segedunum before it shut at 5 o’clock. We made it with about 25 minutes to spare. It was deserted. The man behind the desk apologised for the lack of facilities, but they didn’t have the manpower to open the cafe. Never mind. We were tired. We bought water and tee-shirts, had the inside cover of our Trailblazer guide officially stamped, and went off to find the Metro.
The Tyne and Wear Metro, with a station just across the road from Segedunum, whisked us away from Wallsend and back to Newcastle. Considering that this was rush hour, the service worked really well. We were staying the night at the Royal Station Hotel, cheek by jowl with the railway station. It was grand; it was old-fashioned, but not faded. Our room was very commodious, but everything about the hotel suggested that space was not at a premium.
Spruced up and presentable, we ventured out to eat. Unlike most of our stop- overs, Newcastle presented a mind-boggling array of eateries. We opted for the Old George Inn, the oldest pub in Newcastle, primarily because it was well within hobbling distance. The higgledy-piggledy hostelry is surprisingly part of a large chain – Stonegate Pubs. Despite its olde worlde charm, there were TVs in all the rooms relaying events from the World Cup in Russia. So I spent the evening gawping at a TV watching football. I didn’t particularly care about the game’s outcome; I watched out of habit; it’s the way I’m wired. We ordered a bottle of wine: MMM Macho Man Monastrell – Monastrell being the name of the grape; it is from the Jumilla region close to Murcia in SE Spain. It’s cartoon label belies a wine as dark as the night; serious and sombre. We ate well too – nachos before macaroni cheese and pizza. Italian food to celebrate the completion of eight days shadowing the Romans. Cheers, Hadrian!