Thursday, July 20, 2017

Hadrian's Wall Travelogue: Part 8 (Carraw to Humshaugh)

Carraw to Humshaugh
Carraw B&B to Mingary Barn (aka Chollerford B&B)

7.63 miles

Carraw B&B was absolutely excellent -  very rural but modern, open, clean interiors. We stayed in the annex and the amenities were luxurious.  Dinner was homemade cream of onion soup with crusty bread, fruit, cheese, and pate. Perfect! 

Rained overnight and woke to off-and-on showers so donned rain gear for the first part of the walk.  Our first stop was the  Brocolitia Fort, outside of which were the remains of a temple to Mithras, built by the Roman soldiers from the fort.  Another sacred spot that inspired whispering despite the passage of time since people worshiped here.

Late morning it stopped showering enough to shed the rain gear, which became unbearably hot as the material just doesn't breathe. 

We planned only a short walk for this day as we wanted to spend all afternoon at Chester's Fort in Chollerford where the English Heritage was hosting a Roman Cavalry event with reenactors. We arrived just in time for the 1 pm performance and got to see a small unit of soldiers fully outfitted and with a centurion (commanding officer) drilling them. I was particularly excited to see them create a shield wall, about which I've read so much. Next came three Cavalrymen, two of which were wearing Cavalry helmets with full face masks.  The announcer, who was part of the reenactor group explained everything they and their horses were wearing, and then they did some drills with spears and shields in full armour.

The fort itself is incredibly well excavated. Here we saw the tallest walls, and the bath house down by the Tyne even had the cubbies in the changing room where people could leave their clothes while they bathed. You could also clearly see each of the rooms, with some of the baths still partially there--you could actually progress from the warm room, to the hot room, hot baths, and then the cold room. 

I also really loved looking across the Tyne to the remains of the abutments of the Roman bridge that crossed the river at this point. 

We ate sandwiches and drank lemonade at the fort cafe, and then toured the museum, which was basically a warehouse of artifacts found on the site--hundreds of altars and tombstones, as well as pottery, cavalry horse armour, etc.

After the fort, we walk into Chollerford and had a drink at the George Hotel, which used to be a coaching inn back in the Georgian days.  Very pretty garden that faces the Tyne--enjoyed the sunshine and had my first shandy (lemonade and ale), which I liked quite a bit!

Then up the hill to our B&B in Humshaugh. Dinner at the Crown Inn, which was packed on this Saturday night, and then a good night's sleep at the Mingary Barn, which was actually an old stone barn, modernized for 21st century living.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Hadrian's Wall Travelogue: Part 6/7 (Once Brewed to Carraw)

Once Brewed to Carraw
Vallum Lodge to Carraw B&B
8.2 miles

We took a layover day in Once Brewed in order to visit Vindolanda, a pre-Wall fort south of Once Brewed. After breakfast at Vallum Lodge, we had a lazy morning, snoozing, catching up on notes, reading, and repacking. Vallum Lodge offers laundry services, which we jumped at.

Late morning, we walked about a mile and a half to Vindolanda. It was a lovely day--sunny, breezy and soft. The site and museum were exceptional--clear maps, great plaques with interesting descriptions.

The site is currently being excavated--they had recently discovered more writing tablets earlier in the week--and we enjoyed chatting with a volunteer, who enjoyed taking a break. She has worked every season for over ten years, and showed us bits of pottery she had just found before we arrived. It's hard, painstaking work but fascinating.

In addition to the excavations currently underway, the Vindolanda Foundation also does recreations to help visitors visualize the Wall and fort system.  Here is a portion of the Wall reconstructed to full height.

After a great lunch at the cafe, we visited the excellent museum--so well organized, informative. Especially interesting were the varieties of shoes displayed--everything from soldiers boots to ladies sandals and children and baby shoes. I was thrilled to actually see the Vindolanda tablets--bits of wood with writing that were discovered in the 1970s and that revealed so much about life in northern Roman Britain. They were under infrared light and impossible to decipher, although their images were projected so you could actually see the writing. 

It seems that so many walkers are severely limited by time or on a mission to do the wall as fast as possible and so skip most of the sites and museums. Since we live so far away and are genuinely interested in the history, we planned our trip so that we could see everything and not feel pressure to keep moving.

Vallum Lodge was excellent--Claire, the owner, has everything down pat and it's efficiently run, pleasant, comfortable, and well-situated, less than a quarter mile down the road from the Twice Brewed Inn, a pub/restaurant/lodge where we ate dinner both nights. Only place to eat if you're on foot. 

There's a new visitor center, dubbed The Discovery Center, that is opening the end of July. It is quite large, cool design, and promises great exhibits on history (not just of Roman Britain, but Northumberland since the Romans left), geology, biology, weather, agriculture, etc. I was so sorry to miss it.

After our layover day, we were eager to get on the trail. Our next step was Carraw B&B.

The first three miles of hiking were quite strenuous. Lots of steep climbs and descents, requiring trekking poles and careful footing. Views were tremendous, and the famous Sycamore Gap tree was fairly early on. We got an early start, so we could take lots of pictures without other hikers in our way.  Just for the record, this was voted the most photographed tree in Europe in 2016, and if it looks familiar, then you recognize it from the Kevin Costner Robin Hood film, Prince of Thieves, which I will be rewatching just to see the tree!

With the exception of the Sewing Shields crags, I found what the guidebooks said to be true--the views are best walking west to east. We had great view of all the crags as we approached them, except Sewing Shields, and even after we climbed up and descended, I never did get a view of these crags. 

Stopped at the Housesteads Fort. The fort itself is extensively excavated but I was surprised and disappointed that there wasn't a museum. There was a shop, the back of which had a few artifacts on display and short movie. On the site itself, the plaques were well done and informative, but the wind had picked up and so we were blown about quite a bit trying to read up on the history of the fort. We did get to see the all-important lavatory for the fort--a small room to serve the 500 soldiers stationed there! It's the most complete excavated lavatory from Roman Britain, and was the top of my list to see at Housesteads, weird as that sounds.

After we left the fort, we had lots of company along the trail as many of the people who drove to the fort did hikes from Housesteads in order to see some of the magnificent scenery. We found a sheltered spot next to the wall where we picnicked on the sack lunch we bought from Claire at Vallum Lodge that morning. Delicious homemade meat pies, chips (aka crisps if you're not American), cookies, and apples.  Good thing we decided to bring a lunch as there are absolutely no places to stop for food or drink at the top of the Wall path. In fact, I think the shop at Housesteads only had candy and chips.

We saw a several gorgeous loughs (small lakes, pronounced lochs, I think), and with the sunshine dappling on them, and surrounded by field of green, they were breathtaking.

We arrived early at the B&B--checkin time is typically 4-7 pm, so we lounged in the sun for almost an hour, which was a treat in itself.

Another wonderful day high above the farmland, in the sun and wind, surrounded by wild beauty and the remains of a powerful civilization whose impact permeates modern life.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Hadrian's Wall Travelogue: Part 5 (Greenhead to Once Brewed)

Greenhead to Once Brewed
Greenhead Hotel to Vallum Lodge
9 miles

Steps not recorded because I used hiking poles all day long.

First--Greenhead Hotel was not a good choice. Whole place is shabby and the room was small, overlooked the main road, bed was small, bathroom ancient. Shower head came off in Jeff's hand, spraying water all over the room. Couldn't open window for fresh air as tea things in way. Dinner was mediocre; breakfast was the usual ham/bacon, sausage, eggs, tomatoes, beans, toast.

Easy walk from Greenhead to the Wall Path and then up a short distance to the remains of Thirlwall Castle. Lovely ruins--it was a bastle house on a hill, and the walls were thick. We saw swifts at Thirlwall Castle. Would love to come back and spend more time in the area, but that would require doing extensive reading on Sir Walter Scott, who basically put Gilsland and the surrounding area on the tourist map.

Another easy walk to the Roman Army Museum--got there near opening time at 10 am.  Wonderful museum--huge school group with about 100 8-year olds running around.  Okay except they made it hard to hear the 3-d movie. Bought a ticket good for both this museum and Vindolanda Fort, both of which are run by the Vindolanda Foundation. 

The 3-d movie was pretty good--it wasn't exactly on par with the HBO series Rome, but was a good way to visualize the Roman army in the area. The museum itself was first rate--good clear exhibits, and a good balance between telling the story of the invading Romans and the native, occupied Britons.  Well worth the hour and a half we spent there.

Bought sandwiches and candy bars from the cafe to eat along the way. My new saying is that I couldn't hike the Hadrian's Wall Path without trekking poles, ibuprofen, and Mars bars. 

From there we mostly climbed all day, either up or down, rarely level. Fantastic views--wall exposed for long stretches, and many turrets and milecastles provided a good excuse to stop, take pictures, and rest.

Trekking poles required both up and down steep slopes where you really had to pick your way carefully.  Would be extremely hard to do in any wet weather. 

Sunny and breezy all day--I got sunburnt and wind burnt, despite wearing sun screen and a hat all day.

Encountered many wall walkers--mostly Brits, Americans, and a large group of Germans. Many were just doing day hikes or a 3-day stint along the wall, but some were end-to-enders. 

Sheep everywhere except the very highest stretch along the Whinshields Crags.

Walltown Quarry area with a small pond was lovely. Lots of people in cars picnic there and then do short walks up along the walk. We saw one young family with the father carrying a toddler on his shoulders and the six-year old scampering around in flip-flops. My feet hurt just watching him!

Shortly after reaching the highest point on the path, we climbed down to Once Brewed where the Twice Brewed Inn is located, and our B&B, the Vallum Lodge was just down the Military road a bit.  Relaxed, did laundry, and then headed back to Twice Brewed for dinner--it's the only place around and was packed!

Hadrian's Wall Travelogue: Part 4 (Lanercost to Greenhead)

Lanercost Priory to Greenhead
9.5 miles
Lanercost B&B to Greenhead Hotel

43 flights of stairs according to my Garmin Fitbit wannabe--steps not accurate because I used trekking poles for some of the day.

Lots of climbing--hills, stairs, stiles--up and down all day.

Started with another communal meal--breakfast at B&Bs are that way, and I opted for pancakes this time and bacon while Jeff had yet another English breakfast, but no beans this time. Good thing we're walking all day!

Climbing Hare Hill we stopped and watched birds at a bird feeder and identified a Siskin. 

Saw the wall first at the top of Hare Hill (and did a selfie) after which we stopped at remains of turrets and milecastles on our way to Birdoswall Fort, the first Roman fort that has been excavated at this end of the wall. Beautiful vistas of the Pennines to the south, and rolling grassy hills covered with sheep and cattle all around.

Saw some very shaggy cows near Birdoswall. As we neared the fort, we walked along the wall for a good stretch. After arriving, we had lunch in the cafe, then we toured the site--the cafe is in the tower next to the Bastle house. We ended up getting a guide book at each fort/museum and did some reading in them each night.

Here is the Bastle House on the Birdoswald Fort site--it operated as a farm until fairly recently.

The plaques at all the sites are really good--here's a great example.

We walked to the very back of the fort perimeter, and looked down a steep incline to the Irthing River below. Absolutely gorgeous.

Started walking again around 2 pm--needed the trekking poles for long steep climb down to the river. Crossed the new Willowford bridge (1999--helicopter placed it) and then went on to see the remains of the Roman Willowford bridge. River must have changed course over the last 2 millennia as the bridge abutments were far from the river itself.

Long, tiring trek to Gilsland--lots of steps and hills and climbing. Diversion through Gilsland and so backtracked to Poltross Burn milecastle. Met up with tour group and listened in a bit. This milecastle was built on a hill so interiors needed steps within one side of room to the other.

Took break and drank water, ate trail mix and used camp stools soon after Poltross Burn milecastle, before final leg to cutoff to Greenhead. Young man gave us directions to Greenhead shortly after we came down off trail and were looking at map. 

Greenhead hotel was pretty shabby--not on same level as any of the BBs, but okay for one night.

Here is an image of the ditch, which runs north of the wall and is part of the overall defensive zone of the wall.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Hadrian's Wall Travelogue: Part 3 (Park Broom to Lanercost)

Park Broom to Lanercost Priory
Park Broom Lodge to Lanercost B&B
10.7 miles
27160 steps

Got a late start--around 10 and rainy.  Had to stop and put on rain gear--rookie mistake--don't mistake rain for mist. It rained most of morning. Crossed paths with some wall walkers. Walked through lots of fields of cows and sheep with kissing gates at each field end.

Rain stopped midday--bought candy bars at "Stall on the Wall" and ate them, and then stopped at Newtown at a honesty stop where we shed our rain gear and had a cup of tea and some jerky and trail mix and rested at the picnic table. 

Dry afternoon - walked up and down hills and fields and passed through many gates.

Saw Lanercost Priory in the distance and walked down to it. Very pretty setting with beautiful flowers. The B&B has a great garden and they keep chickens, and they make or local source all their food. Nice big room (the River room), overlooking the River Irthing, and beautifully done up. A real treat after the cabin the night before.

Arrived late afternoon and toured the Priory ruins (they close at 6 pm) and St. Mary Magdalene church (the part of the church that wasn't ruined and still functions as a church) before dinner. Priory ruins wonderful--especially seen through glass at back of church.

No sign of Hadrian's Wall yet, but expect to on day 4.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Hadrian's Wall Travelogue: Part 2 (Beaumont to Park Broom)

Beaumont to Park Broom
11 miles, with several diversions due to the 2015 flood of the Eden River.
24995 steps

Left Roman Wall Lodges after a panini breakfast with tea/coffee. Here's our rustic cabin--comfortable with everything we needed for a good night's sleep.

Backtracked up the road to St. Mary's church in Beaumont and then walked along roads, through fields, and along the Eden River. Saw a blackcap warbler in Kirk Andrews on Eden and a marsh tit (a lot like our chickadee except the songs/calls are different).

Most of the other people on the trail were locals going for a walk with their dogs. We saw a bunch of birds swoop out of a hedge and the passing farmer said that meant rain within an hour, but it only sprinkled slightly.

Saw lots of wild foxglove, daisies and other wild flowers. When we took the diversion through the Carlisle suburb of Newtown, we saw lots of hydrangeas and roses.

In Carlisle, we went to Direct Sports (lucky it was open on Sunday as many shops and restaurants were not), and replaced my backpack buckle with that on a inexpensive waist pack that we bought. Then we hit the cash machine outside of the Crown and Mitre hotel and had lunch at the Dutch Uncle. Shared a delicious sausage/basil pizza and steamed fish--Jeff had a Carlisle Bell ale from the Carlisle Brewing Company.

After lunch we headed to the Sands Centre, where we stamped our Hadrian's Wall passport in the cafeteria, crossed the river (another diversion), and walked through Rickerby Park. Saw a few Wall Walkers but most of the others were locals enjoying the sunshine, blue skies, and light breeze.

Saw three mute swans along the river--two adults and a cygnet, who were shy and swam away when we stopped to watch them through our binoculars.

The trail was mostly through parkland with a stretch along a road--we crossed the M6, and then walked through Linstock, which was all residential.  Next came farm roads where we saw a buzzard circling above a field.  

There was another diversion at Park Broom, which took us to our hotel, situated on a busy road, that we had to dart across.

Lovely big room, but right on a busy road. Went down to dinner and had a drink while we waited for our meal and chatted with the landlord; I had chicken with chorizo sauce and Jeff had steak and ale pie, and we swapped midway through. Both were delicious and then we had pavlova for dessert.

Went for a walk in the garden and then watched birds at the bird feeder--saw lots of goldfinches, which are a different bird from the American goldfinch. Not much yellow, but very striking and colorful.  

Carlisle - we actually visited Carlisle before we started walking, and loved it. The castle was our first stop, and where we bought a 14-day international visitors pass for English Heritage sites.  Virtually all the places we are visiting and EH sites, so it was well worth the 64 pounds we paid for two passes.

The photo above is doodles made by bored medieval guards.

Carlisle Castle is old and apparently one of the smaller castles. We were pretty jet lagged, but still enjoyed walking around, climbing spiral staircases, and remembering scenes from The Princess Bride were the Farm Boy and Inigo Montoya engage in sword fights while racing up and down the stairs.

We visited Carlisle Cathedral that evening (btw, the sun sets much later this far north--it was still-outside-and-read light at 10 pm) and had the place to ourselves. We still whispered. Regardless of your faith, I find most people whisper in sacred places.  It was absolutely lovely and peaceful and the best way to visit a place like this. They locked the doors after we left

We visited Tullie House Museum the next day, and it was fabulous. The exhibition on the Roman Cavalry was superb and the docent talked with us for a good half hour, explaining everything. The exhibits, especially the dioramas, were exceptional. The main exhibit on Roman Britain was also superb--they had a standard Roman tent that housed 8 soldiers set up with all the kit available to examine.

Here's a Roman Cavalry Helmet - found by a detectorist!

In addition to the castle, cathedral, and museum, we really enjoyed Carlisle. Nice pedestrian area in the city center with lots of shops and restaurants. We enjoyed The Shabby Scholar and The Dutch Uncle, which are affiliated, the best--good variety and easy to access. 

Monday, July 10, 2017

Hadrian's Wall Travelogue - Part 1

Bowness on Solway to Beaumont
Shore Gate House B&B to Roman Wall Lodges cabin
12 miles (26403 steps)

After months of planning and training, my husband Jeff and I are officially walking the Hadrian's Wall Path, west to east, from Bowness on Solway to Wallsend.  

Bowness on Solway is a hamlet on the Solway Firth, and marks the western border between England and Scotland. Wallsend is a suburb of Newcastle, not quite on the North Sea and no longer on the border since the Romans preferred straight lines while the England/Scotland border angles up and to the right from Bowness on Solway to just above Berwick upon Tweed.

We flew into Manchester from Denver, via Newark, and then took the train to Carlisle through the Lake District.  We stayed the night in Carlisle, getting over jet lag and visiting the Castle, the Cathedral, and the Tullie House museum. Early in the planning stages, I had thought we would do this sightseeing when we walked through Carlisle as part of the Wall trek. So glad we opted to visit these wonderful places first instead as we didn't have time to sightsee in Carlisle at all when we passed through...more about that later.

We then took a cab (30 pounds) out to Bowness on Solway. Took a walk to the nature preserve and had dinner at the King's Arms. Jeff is sticking to local ales and tried the Cock-a-Hoop ale.  Janet is sticking to Chardonnay. Our B&B was Shore Gate House where we had a room on the top floor and looked out on the Firth and watched the tide come in. We spotted lots of new birds (for us!) including blackbirds, black-headed gulls, and curlews.  

After a hearty breakfast we started walking, stamping our Hadrian's Wall passports at the start/finish hut and walking through town and down the road. Our pace was pretty slow because we birded along the way, seeing our first lapwings and a gray heron, as well as white egrets and cormorants, plus swallows (same as our barn swallow), house sparrows, and house martins (another new bird).

We also chatted with people on the trail--mostly locals out for a walk, and had our picture taken by Roger, who custom outfitted his signpost to include mileage to our village of Niwot, CO.  He was also fun to talk with--he is retired and we visited the Methodist church where his wife provides tea/coffee for hikers.

Rookie mistakes - we missed a turn and had to walk along the road instead of on top of the Vallum on our way to Glasson, but a nice lady in the Lock Smiths House pointed out the way. I discovered that half of my backpack's bottom strap clasp was missing, so we had to rig a way to fasten it.

We stopped for a short break at Drumbrugh and shortly after we got back on the road, we passed the Drumbrugh Castle, which was a bastion house during Reiving days.

It was very pretty where we walked along a ridge overlooking the salt marsh where cows and sheep were grazing, and some were up on the trail, but scampered away as we approached.

Had a late lunch at the Greyhound Inn in Burgh by Sands--the barmaid served us even though we arrived after 2 pm. Had chicken, bacon, leek pie, with chips and mushy peas.

Stopped at St Michael's after lunch, which has been a church for over 700 years, built on the site of a Roman fort. It has a Pele tower and was used for defense during Reiver raids. Took a picture of Edward I's statue--he died there on July 7, 1307 on the Solway Firth, and was carried back to St. Michael's where he laid in state before being carried to London for burial.

Made our way across fields of sheep to Beaumont, where we had to ask a farm girl in a tractor directions to Roman Wall Lodges. In the course of our first day, the trail took many forms, but the most important thing was to look for the acorns marking the trail.

Took naps and showers and had tea in our rustic cabin before heading off to dinner at the Drovers Rest, where the steak was excellent and so necessary for restoring tired muscles.  Slept great, knowing we had completed the first leg of our trek.