Tuesday, 20 May 2008

Hadrians Wall Path – Day 4 – Greenhead to Walton– (Northumbria) – 13/05/08 – 8 miles approx – Helen

First stop of the day, within spitting distance of Holmhead guest house, was the ruins of Thirlwell castle which was built sometime around the 14th century. Its relevance to our tour, is that it was built exclusively from material pinched from Hadrians Wall. Apparently (and somewhat ironically) when the castle itself fell into disrepair, much of its stonework was pinched again by local farmers. Anyway suffice to say there really wasn’t much there to see or spend time on.

So off we trotted diverting into the small village of Gilsland where Meg of Megs café, provided us with coffee, cake, and sandwiches for later. I did think I overheard her mention to someone that there were 300 soldiers heading our way, however sponge cake can do funny things to you that time of the morning so I dismissed that as something she was talking about from last nights telly. Also around this time we passed the home of Jefficus (with shield on display outside), who apparently can be hired out as a Roman soldier to anyone who has a taste for that sort of thing. I must admit I felt a little sad about this, as the guy’s career options have obviously been severely restricted by virtue of his name.

So off we were again travelling past Poltross Milecastle, Willowford Roman Wall, Willowford East and West Turrets and best of all Willowford Bridge. This was in fact one of three bridges built on this location as the Romans tried to adjust to the changing course over time of the River Irthing. What I particularly liked was how much remains and stands comparison with the on site information plaque (which I hope the photos illustrate). Looking at the contemporary bridge that spans the river now, I couldn’t help noticing the amount of stones on the bed in the vicinity and wondered whether these were part of the first two bridges that were swept away ?

Another steep climb and another milecastle followed, as well as a fair amount of wall before we arrived at Birdoswold Roman Fort & Study Centre. I have to admit that of the the three museums/forts we visited this was the least impressive both inside and out, or maybe I was just getting a little museum/ruins fatigue. It was also noticeable outside looking around the fort, that despite the sunshine there was a biting chill wind if you stood around too long in it. Suffice to say we didn’t, and after more coffee and cake, we were back on the march.

Once on our way we came to realise that the 300 soldiers thing wasn’t a joke after all, as wave after wave of young squaddies came route marching towards and past us. They all seemed friendly enough though, and I think I heard later that they were marching the full 84 miles for charity in half a day (or something like that). Naturally we were on a slower schedule, which was just as well as there was still plenty to investigate en-route such as: Piper Sike Turret, Pike Hill Signal Tower, Banks East Turret, and Hare Hill.

Oh yes Hare Hill, where apart from another section of wall they have a slightly overhanging tree on the path that passes the farm of the same name. Needless to say yours truly (distracted by a cow pat) walked straight into it. I tried my best from that point on, to alarm Helen of the possible consequences of brain damage if my head swelled up later on in the day, which of course she was having none of. In fact so blasé was she about everything at that point, that walking through a field about six feet past the nose of a massive bull (minus cows in said field) held not the slightest concern for her. I took a different point of view on that one however, and decided (whatever the sign said) to take a serious diversion round that particular field. Partly because I was wearing a red shirt, and partly because I thought one bump on the head was enough for that day.

Our last point of interest as we were on the approach to our B&B was another piece of remains called Dovecote Bridge. There Helen met a really nice horse and they both agreed to keep in touch after the holiday. I on the other hand was getting a tad impatient for us to get to the B&B to answer a call of nature. Fortunately I was able to hang on the 5 minutes or so it took to get there, only to find the bastard place was closed. Thus no amount of banging on the door, phoning up landlines or mobiles, or eventually contacting the (nothing like this has ever happened before, call us tomorrow) tour company, could get the door open. Anyway remember that chill wind I was talking about earlier, well yes that was starting to kick in with a vengeance. A quick conversation with the sole human life form in the area (cutting his grass) established there were no other options, besides they had our luggage. However some 45 minutes after our first bang on the door, the B&B owner deigned to let us in, at which point she wanted to know did we want our ‘complimentary coffee’s’ outside ……..aaarrrrgggghhhhh.

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