The Hadrian’s Wall Walk. 14th – 20th August 2016
Walking Hadrian’s Wall in 5 days, over 91 miles with a total of 4,000 feet of hill ascent, (and descent!). It was always going to be a tall order, but Donna and I didn’t realise quite what we had signed up for when Luke and Tamara started looking for recruits.
By way of preparation, Tamara organised a weekend and on Saturday we walked 17 miles over the downs from Shoreham to Lewes, and on the Sunday we did 8 miles from Shoreham to Bramber and back. It certainly taught us a few basic requirements such as taking enough sun cream and learning how to walk using walking polls. Within ten minutes of using the polls, Donna and I were sold, we found them so useful in creating a fast walking rhythm and were indispensable in keeping us stable up and down hills.
Some uncertainty about what socks or boots to wear mean that we both developed some bad blisters on the Saturday, and had to learn to walk with them on Sunday. This, it turned out, was a very useful lesson!
Donna and I did one further long walk of 13 miles, from Worthing to Amberley and back along the South Down’s Way. It was very hot, and we were exhausted when we got back, which surprised us. We realised that we were in for a real challenge if we were going to do 18 or so miles a day for 5 days.
Luke and Tamara did a fantastic job of organizing this week, and we received maps, GPS coordinates for phones and a list of accommodation and so on. They had also booked ‘Hadrian’s Haul’, a company which would transport our bags between one bed and breakfast and another, so they had really thought of everything.
Donna and I had decided to go up to Carlisle a day before the others, as we wanted a chance to rest and prepare. We met a lovely Lancashire man on the train, who didn’t stop talking and all his expressions were so reminiscent of Lawrence. We stayed in a lovely B&B in Carlisle on the Saturday night, although there was a bit of a mix up over transport to Bowness-on-Solway on the Sunday. We ended up in Bowness at around 10am, before the B&B there was ready for us, and there is absolutely nothing to do in Bowness! Later that evening, ‘Crack’ (Andreas), and Hannah turned up who were running the route, along with Luke and Tamara. We immediately warmed to ‘Crack’ and Hannah and knew instinctively that it was going to be a good week.
Monday 14th August.
Bowness to Carlisle.
We set off eventually, having determined the right path and having stamped our ‘passports’ at the little booth at the start. Everyone we met was extremely friendly, asking where we had come from and where we were going. One man whose property overlooked the Solway and the beginning of the trail, had erected a signboard and offered to take pictures of any walkers in front of the sign showing the distance to their home town. We stopped for lunch at a little ‘hospitality shed’, that some kind locals had erected for the walkers. It had a fridge with cold water and chocolate bars and a bench to sit on. You just put money in a ‘honesty box’ and took what you needed. What an excellent idea! It was well needed and came at just the right time for us. It was a good day’s walk and since all the others were running that day (including Luke), Donna and I were pleased to have map read successfully and got (eventually) to the next B&B. The last few miles were difficult and we were very tired. It was great to meet up with the runners and have a cold beer in the B&B garden and exchange stories.
Tuesday 15th August.
Carlisle to Gisland
Luke walked with us today and we started our first real off road walking and climbing. We were overtaken by a couple of women who were walking, who it turned out were from Brighton and Chichester. We kept coming across them all week, and by the end of the week felt we were friends! The scenery started to get quite spectacular as bit by bit we climbed higher and came across the first parts of the wall. It was a bit sobering to realise that this day was only 15 miles or so and the next day was going to be the real challenge! I had started to get a blister on my foot and was beginning to get concerned! By the end of the day, the blister was as hard and round as a marble.
We came across another ‘snack shack’, this time with a kettle and tea making facilities! There were lots of notes of appreciation stuck up on the walls of the shack.
Wednesday 16th August.
Gisland, Brampton in Cumbria to Hexham in Northumberland.
We are beginning to collect little ‘sound bites’ from people we speak to as we go through this week. When we mention we are doing it in five days, there is sometimes an indrawn breath and silence! The landlady today told us that the walk today from Gisland to Hexham was ‘a hellish walk!’ We did our best to get an early start, which wasn’t easy by the time we had breakfast and settled the bill. However we had learnt from the last few days that lunch is indispensable, Donna particularly had run out of energy yesterday, but fortunately the Landlady had made us a packed lunch.
Tamara, Luke, Donna and I walked whilst Hannah and Crack ran. It was a long long day! Nine and a half hours on our feet, twenty one and a half miles and a total days climb of 2,000 feet! However, the scenery was truly spectacular, and the ruins impressive. It was just a shame that our timetable didn’t allow us to do much sight seeing. I think it is dawning on all of us that there are some majestic areas of England, and lots to see. The hills however were very steep and by the afternoon I realised I was in quite some pain in my feet. We met up with the lady walkers again and exchanged tips!
The pub in the village in Hexham stopped taking food orders at 7.30 pm so a decision was made to take a taxi from the Roman fort, which was the last point on the path, to the pub about a couple of miles away. I realised that I wouldn’t get to the fort in time as I was lagging behind so asked the others to pick me up in the cab. The good news is that Alana has joined us for the last two days. Luke’s friend Tom is also going to join us for the last day. Alana is tired having finished her dissertation and now completed here Masters, but is looking forward to the walk.
Thursday 17th August.
Hexham to Heddon on the Wall.
It is getting to be like the film ‘Groundhog Day’ where everyday is a replay of the last one! The alarm goes off, we attend to our blisters and pack water bottles and get walking! Today has been hard!! The countryside isn’t nearly as attractive as yesterday, and there isn’t as much wall. Not only are that but there loads and loads of stiles, all making the walk difficult. The stiles are quite high and when you are tired they are a real pain to cross. I was slowly having my will broken by the pain in my feet and the difficult terrain underfoot. Although it was only rough grass, I found the unevenness too unforgiving for my blisters. Eventually we made it to the pub at mile 10 and with only five miles to go, I realised that I would need to get a taxi to a chemist to stock up on plasters and pain killers if I had any hope of walking the following day. The walk has taken on the same attributes of a marathon – sometimes there is elation and euphoria, other times you retreat into a slow plod, just staring a few feet in front of you and not noticing anything else. The taxi took me to a chemist and then on to the B&B.
Friday 18th August.
Heddon on the Wall to Newcastle.
I realised last night that I wouldn’t be walking today. The blister on my right foot is enormous and my big toe nail on my left foot is extremely painful and about to come off. I waved the others off and was just packing up when the ‘Hadrian’s Haul’ man turned up and I was able to get a lift with him to the hotel which was a relief.
I was a bit saddened that I wasn’t able to complete the entire distance, but 70 miles in four days is still an accomplishment. I spent the morning at the hotel, and welcomed the runners in at about 2.30. Donna, Luke and Alana finished in the rain at around 5! I was so pleased for them. That night we had a great Thai meal in Newcastle and celebrated all round.
Satuday 19th August.
I found my way to the Minor Injuries Clinic in Newcastle whilst Donna, Luke and Alana went into town and round the castle. As suspected, my toe nail is infected and my blister that Donna lanced yesterday has filled up again and is very painful. The nurse released the pressure, and dressed the wound and I spent the afternoon watching the Olympics at the hotel.
Meeting Crack, Hannah and Tom has been a privilege, what great guys, and what runners. It was sad to say goodbye having spent the week together.
Luke and Tamara have done an amazing job of organizing this trip, there hasn’t been anything that has been overlooked. We are really grateful to them for a great time. It has given us a lot to think about if we are serious about walking the Camino. Donna and I have a lot to learn if we are to do it successfully.