Monday, 14 July 2014

Hadrian, Day 2: The Cows Continue to Freak me Out, and we Walk to Twice Brewed

Woke up, asked politely for a vegetarian breakfast, ended up getting a half pound of bacon fat dripping off my plate anyway.  Sigh.  I try.  At least there was coffee.  

Boots on, ready to go.  I started to cross the first cow field of the day but ended up tiptoeing past with wide eyed suspicion.  


Lining up to graze in a Stonehenge-type formation is not cool.  Using the sheep as sarasens.  NOT COOL, COWS.  Have you ever seen them do this?  I don't think I've ever seen them so orderly.

Off to sunnier happier thoughts.

Thriwall Castle, a lovely old ruin.  It was built in the 12th century.  Hmmmm, what happened to that Wall that was running past here?

The castle is built from Wall Stone, and was abandoned in 1748.  While not a huge grand castle, it was probably quite a cozy family home, and it's a ghostly site on the trail.

I had planned the trip to allow plenty of time to check out various ruins and museums along the way, and I'm happy I did.  Although, the Roman Army Museum is right on the trail but they didn't open until 10am, making it fairly useless to ramblers wanting to get to their destinations before dark.

Just ahead of the museum, there is a parking lot and a lot of day-trippers get out to climb to the top of the quarry to get a view of the wall, including this angry huffing man in a kilt.

I was racing ahead, trying to get well in front of a very noisy busload of college-age kids and their guide, but happily, they stopped for a photo op at the top of the hill and hiked no more.  The trail opened up across the first sizable hills of Walltown Crags.

The views up here were fantastic, and clear enough to see all the way into Scotland.  Most of this day was hiking through Northumberland National Park.

Here is the best preserved parts of the wall.  It follows a hilltop ridge pretty much unbroken for many miles.  The stone was hard to get to up these steep hills, and fewer people in this part of the country to scavenge from it, so it was basically left alone.  While it's suffered and isn't as tall as it once was, it is impressive in its size and scale none the less.  Well, considering it was built in 122 AD, so you expect some wear and tear.

The hills were steep (well, you know, for England), and it was fairly challenging.  While the path was grassy and easy on the feet, there were lots of steep climbs and vertiginous plunges.

Ahead, many more miles of craggs and hills to conquer filled the horizon as the trail drifted south.

There is also a Roman military road that runs along the south side of these hills.  It would have been impracticable to have a supply road running up and down the crags, so they built a low road to go around it.  You can still hike it as it is a public footpath; if you don't feel for hills you can do as the smarter Romans did.  

Although the temperatures were cool and perfect for hiking, it was sunny and very windy.  If I stopped too long for a break, I'd have to layer up in wool while slightly shivering.  I love places where heatstroke in July is no concern at all.

Parts of the wall, lower on the hills looked a mess, with barely a wall at all:

The trail took us through a pasture filled with Shetland ponies.  These diminutive but strong beasts were created to pull carts of coal around the mining tunnels, and in the past, many never saw the light of day their entire lives.  Now they are re-purposed as childrens' ponies, but as anyone who had to endure them as a child will tell you they are bratty as hell.  I'm talking about you, Snip.    


Another quarry.  This one apparently had Roman graffiti of a phallus carved into the walls.  My impression of the Romans is they were all teenage boys.  

There were quite a lot of people on the trail, but by afternoon, they started to thin out a bit.  Which was welcome relief for me as there weren't a lot of places to pee trailside.  Thistles were about as much coverage as I could find to duck behind.    

At one point, I looked over the lonely barbarian side of the wall and pointed to a farmhouse.  "That's our hotel" I said, as there was no place else it could be, and it was.

It was still early in the day, so we decided to go the opposite way of the B&B and head on down the hill to the hamlet of Twice Brewed, which had nothing to do with beer except that they do have a pub there.

From here, we took a country lane another two miles to Vinolanda, a Roman fortified village that is now a major excavation site and museum.  Along the road which paralleled the wall, we had beautiful views of the hills and the wall that ran along the top.  Also, I found out later that if we would have stayed on the trail a bit longer, we would have come to the Roman road which would have brought us directly to Vinolanda without much actual paved road walking to deal with.

That's Sycamore Gap, an iconic part of the Wall trail:

Vinolanda is worth the detour and the price of admission.  If you are inclined, you can sign up to excavate with the resident archaeological team, which did seem like a lot of fun.  

Along with the ruins of the fort and village, there was a rebuilt section of what Hadrian's Wall would have looked like in its original form, and a fantastic museum with a great deal of the dug-up finds.  Most of it was junk that Romans had thrown over the fort wall into a ditch as rubbish: worn-out shoes, broken pottery from France, writing tablets and coins, broken bits of weaponry.  Pieced together, it gives archaeologist a pretty good idea of what life was liked for both soldiers and civilians at this lonely end of the frontier outpost.

They seemed to live in relative luxury and comfort compared to the crofters who farmed here in later centuries.  Heated floors, sewage systems, bath houses, solid granaries, relative security from the outside world.

We stayed until they closed at 5, and I was quite thankful that they let us ditch our heavy packs in a store room while we wandered the site and sat in the sunny tea room for a civilized cup.

Back on the trail: we had to walk the two miles back to Twice Brewed, stopped for a quick pint at the bustling pub there, and then back over the hill to Saughy Rigg, the farm/b&B where we were staying the night.  Our museum visit tacked quite a lot of road walking miles onto our already long day of hiking, but the sun was out and it was just so lovely and interesting, I couldn't even fathom a complaint.

Plus, there was something so charming about staying on the Barbarian side of the Wall.  Like, they probably serve you tea with their bare hands or something, and just throw down Turkey legs on the unlaid table for you to politely nibble on while Vikings rifle through your luggage.

It actually ended up being the best dinner we had on the trail, with a properly trained chef at the helm and good quality ingredients.  I'd most certainly eat a shoe after a day of walking, but it was really nice to have something other than pub food.  The B&B was cozy, and they had probably 8 rooms, most of them filled with fellow hikers, one of which was walking the trail with his guide dog and a total lack of vision.

I went out for a little post-dinner stroll to catch the sunset, but alas, these northern summer sunsets stretch way too late in the evening for me after such a long day.  

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