Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Hadrian's Wall Path - Bowness-on-Solway to Carlisle

24 km

Hadrian's Wall Path marches across the breadth of northern England: from Cumbria in the west to Northumberland in the east. It follows the route of the massive stone Wall built in the early years of the 2nd century by the Romans under Emperor Hadrian, who declared that this part of Britannia was a geographically logical place to build a wall not only to underline the northern edge of his empire but to hold at bay the wild and murderous tribes to the north. 

Built within just a few years by Roman troops gathered from the wide extent of the existing Roman Empire, the Wall was guarded and maintained by them, supported by the inevitable services and families that gathered to the south around the milecastles for the next 300 years until the unexpected and precipitous departure of the Roman Empire from Britain in the 5th century. A brief attempt 20 or so years after the building of Hadrian's Wall to build a more northerly turf wall, the Antonine Wall from the River Clyde in the west to the Firth of Forth in the east, another obvious narrowing of the land and so, a seemingly sensible place to build a wall did not last more than a few years and the troops soon returned to the solidity of Hadrian's Wall. 

My first awareness of this great Wall was during early elementary school history lessons. The idea of this great stone Wall undulating across England immediately captured my imagination and stayed in my thoughts for the next 65 years. 

Hadrian's Wall National Trail opened in 2003, the same year of my first long walk in Wales and it seemed like a logical choice as a walking destination this year when I wanted a coast-to-coast experience but determined the actual Coast-to-Coast Path a bit beyond my capabilities (mountains to cross in the Lake District, longer, not a National Trail so not as well marked, Pennine Mountains in the central part and did I mention mountains to cross?) Hadrian's Wall Trail is tamer and both well-maintained and well-serviced and mostly clearly marked, although we were not the only ones who lost the way. It turned out to be more challenging than I had anticipated, with significant ascents and descents with outstanding vistas. And, of course, there was the historical significance - that sense of touching the distant past.

The Trail is advertised as 84 miles long between the official start/stop points of Bowness-on-Solway in the east and Segedunum, Wallsend in the west. According to Wendy's Fitbit however, we walked considerably more than that. Admittedly, our extra miles included recovering from going the wrong way, aka getting lost, official diversions due to parts of the Trail being closed for repair, getting to B and B's and restaurants and extra walking on our rest day. All told, in the 8 days of walking and 1 rest day, we walked 128 miles! 

Our walk actually began the day before when Wendy and I met up in Bowness-on-Solway. I had been dropped off around noon and she arrived on the early afternoon bus. We stowed our luggage and walked out to the nature reserve west of the village, then visited the beginning/end of the Hadrian's Wall Path, depending on which direction you're walking. We, needless to say, had opted on the west to east direction. 

Bowness-on-Solway is a small village with a few houses, a church, St. Michael's, which was built with a few Wall stones, a pub, The King's Arms, a charming tea shop in the old manse, a bus stop and a couple of B and B's. We enjoyed the village gardens. 

Ever-present gorse
That night we stayed very comfortably at Shoregate House, on the east side of town, ready for our early morning start to walk 24 km, for us, a challenging distance to start an 8-day trek. 

After an over-the-top breakfast, our walk started at the pavilion in town.

This first day of walking was fortunately mostly flat, a great deal of it alongside the Solway flood zone. It didn't take long to miss a turn, first of the many we missed!

Not far away we encountered a lovely man who set us off in the right direction. (The directions for this walk are impossibly complicated and we went astray more than once!) A retired person who has a garage right on the Path that he uses as a workshop, he decided a few years ago to create a signpost that would be relevant to walkers from around the globe. He has made signs that he can quickly add to the post to suit individual walkers. Just the day before he had met walkers from the Netherlands (we talked to them too, the day before, just as they finished their walk) and put up the sign for Arnhem. He quickly grabbed and installed his Oregon sign for Wendy and took our pictures. 

This is him:

We made a small donation to defray some of his expenses.

Can you see how dark the photos are? The weather was grey and showery. My photos of the Solway Estuary are so dark they didn't make the cut for being on this page.

During the course of the day, we discovered that severe flooding had made diversions (i.e. detours) necessary in a few places. Note to myself and other walkers: it's always a good idea to photograph the diversion map for future reference.

We were saved from walking part of this diversion by a very kind local man with his dog who escorted us through a shortcut for which we were extremely thankful!

Because this first day was long: really long. Then there was an issue with finding the B and B in Carlisle. Tired people are not good at reading maps while walking. Fortunately, Wendy used Google Maps on her phone to get us there but it was after 6 pm by the time we stumbled up to the front door. 

Our information was that a choice of restaurants lay within an easy 10 min. walk. Are you kidding me? We were both waaay too tired to even consider going back out for dinner. We just collapsed in our rooms, showered, ate a small snack and hit the sack. You can see that I was so tired, I didn't even take a photo of our accommodation, which was a lovely big house with a comfortable room and the most comfortable soft mattress on the bed with a cushy pillow, just what was needed that night of our first day of walking!

This was Day 1