In walking terms the scheduled 8 miles was virtually a rest day, which in the event was extended to 9 by virtue of refusing a lift from the B&B back to Steel Rigg car park (well it was supposed to be a walking holiday). So the plan was to do all of the walking up to and around lunchtime, leaving the afternoon to browse around the en-route Carvoran Roman Army Museum.
There was a distinct chill in the air when we set off, and once we had picked up the trail from the car park, it was back to where we were the previous evening, with the best preserved sections of wall, the most rugged scenery, and an assortment of turrets and milecastles to investigate. Part of the post Roman history of the wall, is that over the centuries it has been systematically plundered as a source of free building materials for everyone in the region. It is therefore logical that the parts of the wall that are furthest away from civilisation (read the cities at either end, the B6318, and local farms), which also tend to be in the most inaccessible places, are where the wall is at its tallest, widest, and longest. So that was where we were currently walking.
Our first real objective was to reach the marked public convieniences at a car park in Cawfields. Thus having reached Cawfields milecastle 42, we found ourselves being greeted by a very friendly cat. We exchanged the customary greetings with it, explaining in the process that we didn’t have any food, and then wandered up the very steep stepped elevation, that was part of the milecastle. To our surprise the cat decided to then come up the stairs and join us. Not quite knowing what to do then, we gave it a few more strokes and came back down, all the while watched by our new feline friend from its lofty vantage point. Perhaps it was trying to tell us something ?
Onwards and often upwards we continued, at one point debating whether the dry stone walling we encountered to our left in a local farm, was really the hidden fort that was marked on the map. Although most of this section was continued as part of the walled elevation. Not for the first time we wondered that given the sheer drop to the North in these parts, was it really necessary to build any defensive wall here at all. Anyway by the time we found somewhere to stop for an outdoor cup of coffee, passing by a surplus of park rangers, it was early afternoon and we were virtually at Carvoran Roman Army Museum.
The museum itself was far superior to the one at Chesters the previous day, not least for the 20 minute CGI driven film about how the wall looked and operated back in AD122. The premise being that this was being seen from an eagle’s eye (or helicopter’s), which Helen admitted had made her feel dizzy. In my case however it managed to send me unintentionally to sleep (I did manage to stay awake for the second viewing though). There was also another film intended to be a recruiting clarion call for the Roman army (although it was not made clear whether this was original footage or not), as well as the usual posters, pictures and lifeless dummies (but enough about the gift shop and its staff). Also making its presence known in the museum was a very loud, know it all American kid, with his entourage of parents and siblings. Although I did try and see if there was a Roman sword within handy grabbing distance, nothing suitable was in reach, and the plastic gift shop ones would probably not have been up to the task I intended.
So not too late in the afternoon we arrived at Holmhead Guest House confusingly by the back entrance. Now this was definately the most unique B&B of the whole holiday. Helen wasn’t impressed by the fussy pink frillyness of the bedroom, and for my part I found the bathroom shower arrangement somewhat unusual. However unlike anywhere else there was a large common room for all the guests (which we had to ourselves) stuffed to the gills with magazines/books/photos/collectibles of all things: Hadrians Wall, country walking, and tourist Northumberland. The real surprise however was the three piece meal that ended up being set before us. Host Pauline and her staff, really cook to Gordon Ramsey standards, and it was without doubt one of the best meals I have had in years. Be warned however whilst the prices are not quite what you would pay at Gordon Ramsey’s, it is as well to check your Visa’s credit limit before you let her indulge you (not a problem for me on this occasion however, as it was Helen’s turn to pay).