5.31.04 Hadrian’s Wall Walk: Brampton to Gilsland
Location: On the border of Northumberland and Cumbria
Formerly Called: Rose Hill
Population: Undetermined, but sparse
Featured In: Sir Walter Scott’s classic Guy Mannering
Today: More walking. Surprise! Though, less than the day before. Since to officially Stay On The Right Path I’d have had to walk back to the cattle fence past the Sportsman’s Inn and then, eventually, walk past the Lanercost area again where I stayed, I just figured, heck with it, life’s too short, and besides, there was Naworth Castle to check out.
So I hiked up a long, winding hill and passed by two other Abbey residents (neighbors traveling together; we talked a minute but I had that New York pace going and eventually sped along) on the way to the Castle, which as I’d learned the night before, was closed to the public. And the sign outside told me that, too. Still, like a nosy parker (particularly one armed with a local contact and a Harper’s article) I went past that sign and up the driveway and had a peep into the gardens, which reminded me of the ones used in Franco Zefferelli’s remake of Jane Eyre. Immaculate. An SUV was parked across from the main entrance, but I heard and saw no one, which was probably for the best, and quickly scooted away, self-conscious.
I had to pass by the Priory gate on my way to rejoining the Hadrian’s Wall path, and saw a sign for an arts and crafts sale – which of course, how could I ever turn that down? So back to the Priory and into a section which is usually closed off, where they were holding the little fair. It was a long hall that was apparently used for some kind of entertaining, with an oversized fireplace (one set of vendors could stand up in it) and some faint remnants of a wall-painting of a Griffin. How did I know this? Mr. Lee from the night before was the one taking the 30p entrance fee up at the front, and he gave me another informal and impromptu and informative explanation of the room. “You should charge for this!” an older man running a raffle told him. I walked around the room and checked out the handmade wares, the food, the clothes and ended up not buying anything (anything I bought would have to be hauled around with me all day, so that was a consideration). In the end, I had to get moving so I said my farewells and wished I had a little more time to spend in that area. Heck, I already knew a local!
The walk to rejoin the path meant I had to go hill-climbing again, up a long tarmac road which afforded some amazing views of the surrounding countryside (as you can see from the photos, I went a little nuts with the picture-taking, but it was all really spectacular and it was another gorgeous sunny day, so how could I resist?).
Still, the photos can’t give any real sense of scope or true color. It was all just breathtaking (and some of that came from the long hill-climb). So. On and on through fields and hills, past cows having breakfast and then … Hare Hill! Official first Wall sighting! Proof!
As it turns out, this is not all original wall; some of it has been reconstructed, though not in recent times, as I understand it. Still, it gives a better sense of the scope of the thing — walking by it now it hardly seems that it could keep out sheep, much less maurading barbarians. You’re not supposed to walk on it, of course (though people do) but I felt it necessary to touch it. Imagine, just how old. It needs to be touched. Nearby, more was being excavated. This section was nestled on the side of a hill in a closely-packed area with houses and fences on all sides, as if it had been planted in the midst of a suburban neighborhood, like 2001‘s monolith. I am a little overly-influenced by movies, I think.
Next up: the fort called Birdoswald. Now that I’d seen Wall, it was coming fast and furious. This was my first fort – there are approximately 16 the Romans have built; only a portion of those are unearthed in any fashion – and it was probably the best-preserved, since apparently after the Romans left, the main house was used for living and storage and was highly prized by the marauding hordes of rievers who launched raids on the border.
General Atmosphere: Touristy
Wall Seen: Yes!
Lodgings: Bush Nook
Food: 9 (for use of heather honey in a nut casserole)
Distance from Trail: Bleah. Too far, up hill, shoulder-free tarmac. I miss Martin!
Truffles Consumed: 2
What’s a Birdoswald?
The Internet is not helpful.
Since this was half-term for the kiddies, I wasn’t surprised to find children roaming the areas (roaming the Romans?), but what I couldn’t help but find amusing was that they were often dressed up like Romans, in full military gear, waving swords around, talking about keeping the “barbarians” out. Now, that is a well-adjusted conquered people, methinks. Agreed, they’ve had just about 2,000 years to get used to the concept, and yeah, the Romans did a pretty good job of assimilating the masses (“You will be assimilated. Resistance is futile.”) – but it’s a little hard to imagine the Native Americans eventually re-taking the area we call the USA and then unexcavating some of the white man’s ruins and running around in suits and ties, conquering “the capitalists.” Even 2,000 years hence. But I digress.
Post-fort, I had lunch next to “Turret 49A” (there are a lot of turrets. You get inured) and continued the walk. For once, someone was walking in my direction and I kept either passing him, or getting passed by him, but he wasn’t terribly friendly so we didn’t talk. I moved ahead of him, held to the trail and cut through a beautiful wooded glade at one point, passing through a sheep field (some of the gates warn you to be extra careful because it’s “lambing” season) and then cut back up to the road – and there he was again, somehow ahead of me. Some people, it seems, walk the “Roman road,” which seems to be more directly parallel to the real-life tarmac road. I lost him after Birdoswald. (Some photos you’re seeing here are Not Wall. There’s a lot of Not Wall, and Not Wall Which Might Have Some Real Wall In It around.)
The only downside to the day was getting to the B&B – Bush Nook was quite adorable and I had a nice, narrow room with a real stone wall (!) all to myself – but the walk there was at least a mile from the trail itself, all uphill, all on a no-shoulder, no-path wide tarmac road. It was very unnerving to wonder if a car was going to come barreling over the hill and whack me. I also got more tired towards the end of this day, even though it was a shorter walk, but that was probably because of the day before being piled on top of it. The stay at BN was very pleasant: To feed my vegetarian tastes, they made a wonderful nut-and-veg-and-rice casserole which was so good I tried to pry a recipe out, but could only learn it had heather honey in it. I bought some heather honey later on (not even sure if that’s totally kosher to bring into the country or not, but whatever). Afterwards I sat in the “conservatory” (a glassed-in porch) and was eventually joined by other guests, who had eaten elsewhere. A husband and wife and her sister, walking in the opposite direction. We swapped bandages (mine) and drank cider (me) and vodka (wife) and other drinks and talked. She was a cafeteria cook on holiday and he – I can’t quite remember, but I think construction. Not sure about the sister. His name was Nigel, hers was Sue. Very nice people; the talk turned (as talk always seems to eventually) to politics and immigration and all kinds of very interesting things. We never saw the woman owner again, but the proprietor was very good about bringing us drinks. It was like a full-service pub.
Unfortunately, all of this good weather and good hiking couldn’t last, so … on to Haltwhistle….
Distance: 14.63 km
Time Walked: 3:47:09
Speed: 3.86 km/hr
Rate: 107 steps/minute