Wether Hill: a quiet windfarm

8.24 miles 3h 23m ascent 386m

Wether Hill (Christy’s first Marilyn)

After an unintentional detour, and some uncertainty as to whether I had started the walk in the correct place, the car was parked and i sat looking out at the rain. This was a day for full waterproofs, and what’s more if I were to put on said waterproofs outside I would be wet before I started.

It is a challenge putting on waterproof trousers in the car, even more so in the drivers seat. But after much huffing puffing, and squealing as I moved my left hip into positions it did not appreciate, the waterproofs were donned. Once out in the rain I realised the trousers were on back to front. I’ll admit there was a moment of despondency, but I I thought to myself that this wasn’t a challenge, it was an opportunity. I would find out how much difference it made wearing them back to front. Or perhaps it was the lazy choice. Outcome – no big deal.

Craigdarroch Glen

We climbed steadily along a forestry track that wound to the left and then took a tight left turn giving me some encouragement that this was the right route. The forest here had been felled in the last few years and young trees had been planted in places. As the path rose we had views across the felled land down a rain and mist filled Craigdarroch Glen, golds, greens and browns contrasting more to the naked eye than they appear to have done in the photos.

Christy found a stick to carry and shrugged off his coat. We walked on through the rain, and I definitely felt the climb. It was warm enough to manage without gloves despite the rain and wind, which meant we were are overheated at first

The our route took us over the small forested ridge made by Auchenstroan and Ewe Craigs, allowing us to look down into the felled slopes of Carroch Glen. We spotted a gate beside a watchtower and made our way along to it, finding it locked with a bright shiny padlock. At first I had thought the forestry track ended here but it continued downhill beyond the gate. It was easy enough for us to clamber over the gate but Christy needed to be manhandled to the other side.

Watchtower and locked gate

This last forestry track had had recently had fallen trees across it but the trunks had been sawn through to give us a way through. Here our track joined the windfarm’s service road. A portacabin in the livery of Ross Poultry sat opposite a grassy area littered with animal feed holders. Ross poultry are in the business of chicken genetics so I presume this is a second hand cabin whose owner sees no point in repainting it.

Ross Poultry

Near the portacabin the track has a 19 mph speed sign. Quite an unusual number which caused us to pause. We wondered if it might be a converted from 30 kph (which would be 18.6 mph), but once home I was able to do a little google-research and found that signs such as this are used on private roads to improve safety. “The reason for having a 19 mile per hour limit is to attract attention to the signs as it is an unusual number.”  Whether this works is unclear.

One of the many cascades

Water cascaded loudly down the slopes of Craiglirian Craig to our left in several places, and in between it ran off like unfrozen icicles. Yes it was a rainy day. Up ahead we noticed a stand of trees below the road, surrounded by dykes, a large old sheepfold or perhaps a previous farmstead. And from here we had a view down the valley of the Craiglearan Burn. The small path joining the service road here would have been an alternative way up onto the hill, via Craiglearan Farm.

Craiglearan Glen

The low cloud limited our views but once past these trees we got our first glimpse of the wind turbines. We continued up the service road, past the buildings of the Control Centre and eventually stopped for a somewhat belated elevenses in the lee of turbine 11.

Wether Hill’s Moorland

I recalled that reaching the summit called for us to leave the service road near turbine 14 and head uphill. This was upland bog and the going squelchy. We headed up towards what looked like a high point but once there we could see several other possible summit places. We set off across the hilltop in slightly different directions and perhaps by chance my direction took me close enough to the summit cairn to spot it on the other side of a fence beside a dilapidated dyke.

Despite its name Wether Hill (Wether/Wedder is a ram), we saw no sheep on the hill.

Wether Hill Summit

A bit more dog-lifting and human human climbing had us at the summit of Christy’s first Marilyn, which obviously called for a photo. We decided to make our way down to the turbine service road near turbine 7 and head back down from there rather than tramping back across the hilltop bog.

I had intended this walk to include a search for the Glenjaan Craig cairns, but the cloud base was well below us so it didn’t seem a good day to go searching for the cairns in the mist, and instead we followed the service road back and retraced our steps.

I must say that on the way back ‘down’ I was surprised how much ascent we had. Given the weather lunch was had in the car.

 

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Nick o’ the Dead Man’s Banes

**There is a problem with the OS map access, you might get a referee not valid message: I’m working on it.**

8.6 miles 4h 9m ascent 302m

Cullendoch-Loch Fleet

A heron watched us then took flight as we eased our way to the parking spot near Little Cullendoch. This usually has space for a three or four cars, and though it proved a little less accommodating, with a couple of fallen trees lying in it, we were able to squeeze in. We paused to look back towards the Big Water of Fleet viaduct before striding out leaving me to wonder if future archeologists might find remains of that edifice and quite reasonably presume the plaque it wears must bear its name. They will refer to it as “Danger Falling Masonry”.

This walk was a gentle climb along forestry tracks. We crossed the Big Water of Fleet at the bridge near Meikle Cullendoch and then left the national cycleway to take the track heading between Dunharberry and Benmeal. This had once been forest but much is now felled and, as yet, fallow.

As we gained a little elevation on the SW slopes of Dunharberry the views opened up showing us the long curving ridge of Cairnsmore of Fleet, standing like a giant amphitheatre around an autumnal tinged Cullendoch Moss.

Cairnsmore of Fleet across Cullendoch Moss

I was looking out for Dunharberry but couldn’t see it and presumed it to be a bit of a hump, hidden by the forest, rather than a real hill. Our gentle stroll was interrupted close to Benmeal, the track barred by fallen trees with uninviting terrain either side of the track. We had bog with a mess of recent felling to our left and fallen trees barring the forest, also standing in bog, to our right. Christy made short work of the obstruction but the boggy ground proved unappealing to us humans and we were forced to clamber across nature’s barricade.

Human versus fallen tree

 

Dog versus fallen tree

Dunharberry, the hill I could not see, might take its name from Cairbre’s fort, dùn Chairbre. There are similarly named hills in IrelandThe name Cairbre is attached to several characters in Irish legend and myth, but I doubt any of these legendary heroes had a fort here. Cairbre (Carberry) was a relatively common Irish name in St Patrick’s time and some common Cairbre might have made a home on the hill in the distant past. Benmeal with its bare rocks reflects its name more directly, beann mael meaning bare hill.

Back on track after our jungle climbing we came to a track junction beneath Benmeal and found some crocosmia growing wild beside the the forest. I merely thought this a little unusual, failing to register “unusual” plus “forest” as a sign of something magical or enchanted. So I did not notice that a subtle spell had ensnared me. After walking past this junction any recollection of its existence was lost to me.

Sundog in the sky, regular dog on the logs

As we walked on I began to be concerned. Recalling that we were to take a right turn at a junction after Meikle Cullendoch (remembered), a right turn (forgotten) south of Benmeal, and a left turn east of Benmeal (taken), I convinced myself that the left turn we were walking westwards south of Benmeal rather than north to its east. Maps were consulted. My brain, enchanted by the crocosmia, Lucifer’s flower, became convinced that Fell of Fleet to our north was actually Benmeal. I ordered a halt and considered retracing our steps. Luckily my companion was in full native scout mode and pointed out that it being near midday our shadows which stretched out before us indicated we were walking north rather than west. The crocosmia enchantment remained strong though and continued to cloud my navigational sense with doubt. It was only once we had come to an unmistakeable zig-zag in the track that I was released from the spell.

Many years ago, human bones were found in the area between Craigwhinnie, Lea Larks and Benmeal. This had led to the area being called the Nick of the Dead Man’s Banes. The book ‘Cols and Passes of the British Isles’ relates that the surveyors in 1848 recorded it as ‘A hollow between Craigwhinnie and Benmeal in which human bones have at different times been found’. Canmore suggests it might have been an ancient burial site. Or perhaps Cairbre allied forth from his fort and defeated an advancing enemy there, leaving their bodies to rot where they fell? Perhaps other readers will wonder that I own a book such as the Cols and passes of the British Isles. But who among us could see such a tome and not wish too have a copy for their own collection? But as usual I digress. That some local would tell the surveyors this name when Queen Victoria was in her twenties and the name would sit on the OS map over the long years that would see Victoria’s great great granddaughter celebrating her own diamond jubilee, and that I would read the name and be drawn to visit the eponymous hollow, must rank as a form of magic.

Sadly though we were able to look across the natural ossuary, we didn’t get to visit it, the path that way being well and truly blocked by fallen trees. We took a track much less used for the final climb up to Loch Fleet. There were several species of mushroom growing on the path and the diminutive Little Water of Fleet tumbled over rocks to our left. The hill named Lea Larks to our left is not a place to see larks but is liath leargs, the grey slope.

Little Water of Fleet

We had one more fallen tree to pass, a scots pine and this we scuttled beneath having taken off our rucksacks and passed them through. Soon enough we came into the hollow in the Fell of Fleet containing Loch Fleet. Photos of the Loch I have seen show a wooden jetty, but that is long gone, just the rocky foundations remaining. Christy jumped in the water but soon scuttled out shaking the water on to us as he passed.

The old jetty

The loch is at 340m and the hill behind it 470m. The terrain is upland moor and I recall climbing Fell of Fleet from Back Hill of Ochars a few years ago and making my way through what I described as a granite strewn bog with areas of standing water. I kept to the track this time. Though the loch side was pretty, and someone else had obviously had a fire there at some time, there was nowhere dry to sit so we turned about to retrace our steps looking for a good lunch spot. the sun had dipped below the tops of the trees in these last few minutes so though we had walked up to the loch, we walked away in shadow and it was noticeably colder.

the way back down on the slopes of Benmeal

At the blocked track to the Nick of the Dead Man’s Banes, I had a go at finding a way around the fallen trees but came to a wide water filled ditch which was essentially a moat where the fallen trees left off. The ossuary will have to wait for another day. Or perhaps the spirits of those whose bones lie in the Nick had induced the forest dryads to cast trees in my path?

I had entertained the faint possibility of crossing the Nick of the Dead Man’s Banes and finding a way over to the other forestry track beside Loch Garroch, but that was not going to be so we headed back the way we had come, mostly in sunshine and with a brief pause for lunch.

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Itineris Terminus: Hadrian’s Wall IX et X

These were our penultimate and final sections of the Hadrian’s Wall Trail, the official trail ending at Segudunum, the alternate, unofficial, finish at Arbeia, and our own extension to make it into a coast to coast walk.

Day IX: Completing the Official Trail

12.9 miles 5h 39m ascent 153m;  Newburn to Segedunum

Newburn-Newcastle-Wallsend-North Shields-South Shields

After a few weeks of heatwave unconducive to enjoyable hiking we had chosen  a couple of pleasantly warm days, with temperatures of 23° and 26°, a light easterly breeze and sunshine enough to catch me out on the first day and reminded me to use sunscreen the next.

We set out from the the green and monument marking the site of the Battle of Newburn Ford in 1640. The River Tyne must have changed since those days and I wouldn’t want to try fording it here now.

We crossed a wee footbridge over the Reigh Burn and were back on cycleway 72 walking along what would once have been a waggonway. In places we strolled in the shadow of mature trees, while in others the path was surrounded by what I can only think to call urban meadow, with tall grasses and a wealth of wild flowers growing on land that would once have been factories. There was teasel in abundance with yarrow, knapweed, thistle, ragweed, wild parsley and scabious. The route took us by the Tyne Rowing Club with its figurehead of Old Father Tyne, the Boathouse pub (handy for the rowers, but not open for business when we passed), and the suburb of Lemington where an information board with old photos showed us just how industrial the area had once been.

The A1 is quite an obstacle for the HW walkers trail and cycleway, but the trail copes by leaving the old waggonway at Neptune Road, heading through the parkland of Bell’s Close and crossing the Great North Road by way of a footbridge. This took us into Denton Dene which isn’t so much a narrow wooded valley as its name suggests but a series of football pitches with youngsters’ teams giving us our first sight of a Newcastle Football top in its native land. Surprisingly this was one of only three we were to see in two days walking through Newcastle. Whereas I saw nine actual (corvid) magpies in that time. Depending on which rhyme I read I am either looking forward to a kiss or meeting the Devil himself.

One for sorrow,
Two for joy,
Three for a girl,
Four for a boy,
Five for silver,
Six for gold,
Seven for a secret,
Never to be told.
Eight for a wish,
Nine for a kiss,
Ten a surprise you should be careful not to miss
Eleven for health
Twelve for wealth
Thirteen beware it’s the devil himself.

Or

One’s sorrow,
Two’s mirth,
Three’s a wedding,
Four’s a birth,
Five’s a christening,
Six a dearth,
Seven’s heaven,
Eight is hell,
And nine’s the devil his own sel’.

Oh dear! I looked up Devil’s kiss in urban dictionary. That’s given me a shudder.

To be fair I think these refer to total numbers seen at the same time, in which case I was to expect joy or mirth. Both were to come at the end of day one, as you will hear.

The trail dumped us onto Denton Road and we turned back towards the river, passing the rather intriguingly named “Da’Wah Invitation Restaurant”. This left us mulling over whether locals sit in their homes waiting for an invitation, and whether this would be a good business model. A little Google Fu enlightened me, Da’Wah means invitation in Arabic.

Our musings on invitation-only dining were brought to an end when we noticed a statue by the next road junction. A man in old-fashioned working man’s attire led a pony ridden by a boy who from a distance looked like Pinocchio and a girl lifting a mobile phone as if to take a selfie.

A nearby plaque informed us that this was:

In memory of the 38 mean and boys who tragically lost their lives in the Montagu View Pit Disaster on 30th March 1925, when an inrush of water from a burst seam flooded the mine shaft. The pit finally closed on 13th November 1959.

The pitman, pony and tank depict our past heritage. The house represents the regeneration of our community. The children are our future.

The sculpture was made by Exceptional designs.

In Remembrance of Men of Steel.

I pondered on the tank and the house. Where were they? I found the house in the boy’s right hand and I presume the tank is what they they are standing on. The lamp the miner carries is inscribed No.38 representing those who died and I only noticed when looking at my photos that there are flowers in the pony’s bridle. Reading the sculpter’s website, the piece is said to show a miner on his day off taking his children to the Blaydon Races, so recalling happier days. Why does the girl have a mobile phone?

The HW trail rejoined the old waggonway and took us through more post-industrial urban meadows to Paradise, and as the song Blaydon Races says “Noo when we gat to Paradise thor wes bonny gam begun“. Walking on the HW trail one would not have noticed Paradise were it not for road signs and the Paradise Gardens are long since gone. I found a modern version of Blaydon Races’ lyrics which contrasts the emotions in passing through Paradise then with those of today (or ten years ago).

We went further on the journey
But before the bridge was crossed
We tried to visit Paradise
But Paradise was lost
The pubs ‘n’ clubs the shops ‘n’ aal
The streets the bairns had played in
It’s like the middle o’ neewhere
When you’re on the road to Blaydon

That said Newcastle does seem to be regenerating, new growth spreading over the lost industrial landscape, especially around the quayside.

For the first time on the trail we had a walk along a length of a major road. The pavement of the A695 perhaps allowed us to clear our minds for the next section which followed the old quayside. The sound of traffic is not new to me, but it washed through my mind, the weeds of the roadside adding a little colour to the grey of road and paving. I took a deep sniff hoping to notice the flora amidst the cars and lorries and found myself nothing a different smell. My mind immediately said “petrol” but then corrected itself to “like petrol but sweeter”. Neither Audrey nor I could place it, but when we turned off the road and passed a sign proclaiming “JP Ltd Asphalt Plant” we knew the smell.

Two miles to the Tyne Bridges

The Quayside has been renewed, old piers have been repaired repainted and now sport artwork and anglers, the footpaths are decorated with a variety of art, millennium cycleway signs and information boards describing the industrial heritage of the area. Apparently almost all the warships involved in the 1905 Russo-Japanese war were built here (which you may interpret as good or ill as you see fit).

Sculpture by David McMillan 1990.

This piece looked like waves to me but it is said to represent the undulations of the Northumberland hills.

Armstrong’s Arches

The Armstrong works which once covered 230 acres would  have dominated this part of the riverside are gone, replaced by new businesses, expensive dwellings, statues and recreation spaces. These arches are all that remains of the Armstrong Works.

Elswick Pier

Lintzford. Nick Lloyd 1990.

Lintzford is constructed from Ancaster hard white limestone. The title refers to the place in the Derwent Valley where the artist lives and works. The work looks as if it is made up of the remains of a building.but the artist describes the work as portraying the countryside of Northumberland and Durham.

Spheres by Richard Cole

There are several giant spheres made up of concrete rings of varying sizes at three different places along the walkway.

I hadn’t noticed we were in blue and pink

We made use of the seats here to have a rest, take a selfie and look across the river. We could see the Angel of the North on the distance and the Tyne bridges, which in my mind marked Newcastle proper, a little further downriver. Once we reached the bridges we found Newcastle’s quayside busy with people walking, resting and filling the seats outside pubs and cafés. A real promenade.

Tyne Bridges

The city has several bridges squeezed close together. (Edit: autocorrect tried to make that into “togither”. It must be turning Geordie). The old Fish Market, topped with a statue of Neptune himself, had obviously changed its purpose, since it sported a neon sign “Hot Tramp I Love You So” and was surrounded by teenage girls in going out gear (not quite party gear but not just everyday gear). Perhaps they saw themselves as Rebel Rebels.

The Fish Market’s Neptune

Wow. I just looked it up. That song was released 44 years ago. I pause, and look up, my mind wandering, the world becoming monochrome. The cadence of my rocking chair slows, disturbing the old hound who lifts his head, looks at me with milky eyes and sniffs the air. I murmur “don’t worry boy, that was long ago. The diamond dog will be as grey as me and his joints stiffer than yours.” He rests his head back down and I turn my gaze back to the laptop as the nostalgia passes and colour refills my perceptions.

Bringing me back to earth, my laptop shows me that the Fish Market is now described as “a high class ale house for the booze sodden partygoers that make the nightly pilgrimage to this centre of revelry.” There’s a sentence fit to spawn an entire sociology lecture.

By now we were looking for a place to sit and eat our sandwiches, but Newcastle seems to have taken a decision to only provide public seats without backs. We soft north-westerners searched for an elusive backed-bench, but had to make do with a low wall topped with a wrought iron fence (against which we could rest our weary backs).

River God

I sat eating my ham and mustard sandwich on Sandgate, the Millennium bridge framing the Baltic Flour Building, a busker singing the works of Dire Straits and a bronze figure, The River God, looming above me. The River god, atop a steel column, holds a mace and chain and appears to be blowing at the Siren, another statue.

Siren

The Siren had her effect on me. I climbed the steps to reach her (for a photo) and while there a local woman, identified as such by her accent, mumbled about her husband being back where we had come from. At first I thought she was talking about her own husband but she meant the Siren’s husband, the River God.

The wall beneath the Siren was inscribed:

As Aa cam thro Sandgit
A hard a lassie sing
Weel may the keel row
That ma laddie’s in

This is a traditional song Keel Row. It is not a poem by Kipling as several internet sites claim – presumably someone has made a mistake and others have copied it. Audrey recognised it and broke into song, but I had not heard of the song. It certainly wasn’t one of the traditional songs such as “The big ship sails through the Alley Alley O” that I sang at primary school. I did intend linking to a version of Keel Row but boy do the recorded versions sound dire.

So after a brief chat about sirens and school songs we set off along the quayside once more. There were several more art installations each of which I paused to contemplate, and one that I thought was a corporate logo for a hotel, and ignored. What does that say about my appreciation of art? (Authorial intent does not art make…repeat one hundred times).

Rudder – Andrew Burton (1996)

 

Blacksmith’s Needle (1996)

This needle has six sections each relating to one of the six senses.

Swirl Pavilion (Raf Fulcher 1998)

This is described as a folly for the Quayside. It has the names of destinations carved around the inner rim, which the artist found on a faded sign for a local shipping company. The Swirl takes its name from is a hidden stream that joins the Tyne nearby.

?

I’m not sure what to make of this fish

As we had strolled along the quayside promenade at Elswick, a walker resting on a bench called to us asking if we were on the Hadrian’s Wall Trail. when we admitted we were he said he had begun just that day and warned us that the way ahead was industrial. After the nnnamed fish statue we crossed the Ouse Burn and left the regenerated quayside and passed into an  post-industrial landscape of concrete, where sharp topped fences surrounded abandoned and neglected plots of land and To Let signs provided the brightest colours. Even the pavements were overgrown.

Beyond the Ouse Burn

And then amid the dire colours was an oasis of colour and regeneration at St Peter’s Marina.

St Peter’s Marina

The HW trail then took us back to the riverside towards St Anthony’s Point, passing a small shipwreck in the tidal mud and more artwork (its artistic effect unsullied by knowledge of authorial intent).

Artwork at Walker Riverside

As we walked we looked across the river to a large factory each of us trying to read the name on its sign. It eventually revealed itself as AKZO Nobel, a manufacturer of paints and coatings and not explosives as I had guessed from the name.

The final mile to Segudunum was along a cycleway between houses to our left and what were once shipyards to our right. As we walked we mused on how we would mark the end of the official Hadrian’s Wall Trail. We agreed photos would be in order, and given the temperature we decided that ice-cream would be our “champagne”.

Joy at reaching Segudunum

Segudunum has a rather imposing, and somewhat out of character tower, which from a distance I had presumed was some sort of coastguard building. We knew we had reached the fort when we found the signpost.

Statue at Segudunum

After that we walked into the fort museum ready for our ice-creams. I mentioned to the lady on reception that we had walked for 12 miles in the sun and were now ready for ice-cream. Her face fell a little and she told us they had no ice-cream. Inwardly I sighed thinking I had been looking forward to ice-cream but I could make do with an ice-lolly. Then the truth hit home as she told us that the Café wasn’t open. She obviously saw our disappointment and offered to make us a cup of tea, but we didn’t think that was what we needed.

We headed across the road to ASDA and got our celebratory ice creams there. It wasn’t funny then, but it is now (mirth).

Segudunum marks the end of the official Hadrian’s Wall trail which is listed as 84 miles, and the wall itself was 73 miles long. We had clocked up 86 miles getting from Bowness at the start of the trail to here, but had already decided to carry on our trek to Arbeia fort in South Shields, and then on to the coast, so we returned to Newcastle for R&R before the final day’s walk.

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Newcastle Castle

 

 

Day X: Across the Tyne to the Arab Fort

7.61 miles 3h 31m ascent 87m

Segedunum to Arbeia and the coast

Our second day proved hotter than the first, with more blue sky than cloud, and sharp shadows dogging our steps. Having learnt from the previous day I applied sunscreen at Segedunum Fort, quod praesidio sine glacies crepito, then strode east along Hadrian’s cycleway through a post industrial landscape between old shipyards and corrugated fences. The end of this part of the cycleway was marked by an arch, painted to blend subtlety into its surroundings. Our route was the No.72 national cycleway and it was signs for that route that would guide our way through the day.

The Hadrian’s Wall Hotel once stood here

After Hadrian’s Cycleway we stepped onto Hadrian’s Road for a few hundred metres then left the road to cross Willington Gut by footbridge. The impressive viaduct looked newly painted and as we stood admiring the structure a local chap asked if we had seen the date stone on the viaduct. Since we had not he told us where to find it. He told us the viaduct dated from 1839 (as the stone inscription said) and then asked if we knew how old the footbridge we had crossed was. Eight years he told us, chortling. Info on the net says it was designed by John and Benjamin Green who were also responsible for Grey’s Monument and the Theatre Royal in Newcastle. The viaduct was originally built in wood and stone, the present ironworks added in the 1860s. It now carries the Tyne and Wear Metro line.

 

Willington Dene Viaduct

From the viaduct we headed along Western Road, past the derelict Bogie Chain pub, with a railway carriage built into it, and on to the Old Albion Inn. I liked the road speed sign that emphasised the speed limit was “for a reason” but didn’t tell us what.

We then reached a route conundrum and wandered about for a few minutes trying to find our way. The map and a cycleway sign suggested a particular direction but there did not appear to be a way through. Just a factory.

With a reason

There is in fact a path but its entrance was hidden by branches and overgrown hedgerows. This took us to a Coronation Street type road then through more industrial meadows, across the A19 on a footbridge near the Tyne tunnel tolls, and on to a cycleway beside a dual carriageway.

We saw a number of repeated graffiti tags,  the name Rogers, unadorned with drawing and the more artistic one below.

Tag on the footpath

The A19 proved to be a border between a neighbourhood in the Autumn of its economic existence, where land abandoned by industry was being steadily reclaimed by nature and another in its economic Spring with newly built roads, modern buildings and parkland. Each area has its own aesthetic.

We could see the slides of Wet ‘n’ Wild, and as tempting as it might have been in that heat to cool off there, we still had miles to go (more than we thought) and neither of us had thought to bring a swimming costume.

Path into Redburn Dene

There is a landscaped park at Redburn Dene. A quite unexpected find. Reclaimed Groynes stand beside the path and a henge atop a low hill (perhaps just a grassy knoll).

Groynes

I recognised these as groynes  when we came to them and was pleased to find I was correct on finding the name written on them. It is a testament to serendipity that I should come across such a construction so soon after learning about groynes, and their use in preventing coastal erosion, during an impromptu tutorial from a civil engineer at my son’s stag party. And let that be a lesson to you all. Don’t mix alcoholic drinks and civil engineers.

Henge overlooking Redburn Dene

The henge affords excellent views of the Tyne and the nearby Marina. Within the henge itself is a mosaic of the British Isles made with pebbles.

At this point we both thought that we were almost at the ferry, a belief that had been supported by the various signs we had passed each suggesting a gradually lessening distance to said ferry. So we were surprised on reaching the Marina to find a sign informing us we were still two and bit miles from the foot ferry.

I saw Audrey pass through the five stages of loss: denial (“it can’t be two more miles, the sign two miles back said two miles”), anger (facial expression became a scowl), bargaining (did not help), depression ( “Oh Hell”) and then acceptance. I think I skipped straight to acceptance when I had looked at the map and realised the signs we had seen earlier had been for the vehicle ferries.

Just to rub salt into our open (psychological) wounds, the road we should have walked along was closed and the poorly signed diversion added both a little extra distance and some unnecessary backtracking. But at least we could look forward to refreshments and amenities (toilets) at the ferry terminal.

Tyne ferry -Pride of the Tyne

With regard to the refreshments and amenities, we were at least well versed in denial, anger, bargaining, depression and were able to move quickly to acceptance that we would not be enjoying these.

We had a 15 minute wait for the ferry and a chance to have a seat for the journey across to South Shields. The shorefront here has newish apartment buildings either overlooking the river or overlooking water filled pools that were once docks I imagine.

Spirit of South Shields – by Irene Brown

This wee girl ‘The Spirit of South Shields’ stands on the shorefront, a protector guiding ships through the seas safely, holding a sailing ship in one arm while raising the other in greeting. She stands on a plinth which shows a contour map of South Shields with several local features: the Groyne, Arbeia Fort, the Old Town Hall and Westoe Colliery.

The Fleet

Nearby, one of the enclosed pools of water has these steel ships, an installation by Irene Brown. “The Fleet”  is made up of seven Collier Brigs  floating in an old dry dock. They are said to give the impression of a fleet heading out to sea, but they each seem to heading in their own direction.

I stopped to look at a road name “Comical Corner” and a local couple told us that it was so called because the South Shields sea cadets building here used to be a theatre where comedies were performed. They also told us that this is where the original ferry landing had been which is directly opposite the Ferry terminal we had left on the river’s opposite bank.

At little googling suggests another explanation for the name Comical Corner, that ships would often misjudge the bend in the river here. I prefer the theatre story but can’t verify either. While researching it though I did come across this titbit:

May 27 1856. A woman, living at Comical-corner, South Shields, was cleaning a haddock for dinner, when she found a pair of gold ear-rings in the intestines of the fish. (from Historical Register of Remarkable events …. Newcastle 1833-1866 by T Fordyce. Which sounds like the sort of book Arthur Bryant would have on his bookshelf. He was reading “Diseases and Treatments of Congolese Tribal Elders 1870–1914”  in Strange Tide, the last Bryant and May book I read.)

Arbeia

From Comical Corner we walked a little further along the road then climbed several flights of steps up to The Lawe, and Arbeia Fort. Arbeia is said to be a Latinised form of the Aramaic for ‘the place of the Arabs’, because the last known unit stationed there was a company of bargemen from the region around the mouth of the Tigris. But its strange that its name reflects the last garrison there. Others think Arbeia might mean ‘the stream where wild turnips grow’,  but that seems an awfully large amount of information in a word with six letters.

An inscription on a stone at the fort reads:

To the gods the Preservers for the welfare of the Emperor Caesar Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus, Most Great Conqueror of Britain, [and of the Emperor Caesar Publius Septimius Geta Augustus, conqueror of Britain], the military unit at Lugudunum paid it vow for their safe return.

Perhaps Lugudunum was its real name, perhaps the locals started calling it the Arab Fort when the Mesopotamian marine unit was there. There is also a suggestion that it was called Horrea Classis.

The fort, dates from AD120, and both protected the sea approaches to Hadrian’s Wall and served as a supply station. There is a reconstructed gatehouse and the usual Roman ruin foundations as well as a small museum. Interestingly the word ‘museum’ above its entrance is written in uncial letters which might look “old” but are several centuries younger than the Roman Capitals seen on inscriptions at the site. I suppose Roman capitals look too modern despite being a couple of thousand years old. Enough musing.

Walkers at Arbeia

This was the completion of our Hadrian’s Trail, so it seemed fitting to pause and reflect on our achievement as we looked across the remains of this ancient Roman Fort. The camera was then called into action from a celebratory photo before we packed up and set off for the coast just a few minutes walk away.

Our last artwork was Conversation Piece, a 1998 sculpture of 22 life sized bronze figures by Juan Munoz known locally as “The Weebles” .

Once we had crossed the beach and stepped into the waves I turned off the GPS and considered the walk over.

Ice-cream was again called for, and yet again we had to go without. But to make up for that we called in at Twice Brewed on the way back for some refreshment, and to say we had been there. Nothing exciting happened while we were there.

At Twice Brewed

 

Our Hadrian’s Wall Walk Statistics:

Total miles 101 (plus 9.5 miles we repeated in better weather)
Ascent 1884m (plus 394m repeated)
Time 50h 42m (plus 6h 15m repeated)
Average speed 2 mph
Longest walk 12.9 miles
Shortest walk 7.6 miles
Weathers: dry, wet, hail, snow, fog, winds on our back, wind from the side, wind in our face, and every temperature from bitterly cold to heatwave.
Highest point: Winshield Crags
Lowest Point: no ice-cream
Longest Duration 7h 10m
Shortest Duration 3h 31m
Number of times lost: None!
Falls 3

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The rollercoaster: Hadrian’s Wall V (II – iter repetivit)

9.5 miles 6h 15m ascent 394m

Walltown-Housesteads

Well this was a different walk from the same route a month earlier. We returned to this section of ridges between Walton and Houseteads, which we had walked in rain, mist and a strong headwind last month. Now with a sunny day forecast, and a gentle breeze at our backs we were looking forward to an easier walk with a chance to see the views.

The wet weather camera was left in the boot of the car, but I was less optimistic than Audrey when it came to waterproofs. I took my jacket whereas she left hers. She hinted that she might play the chivalry card if we found ourselves in a storm. Little did she realise that behind my blank expression my mind was doing the equivalent of laughing maniacally and wringing may hands as I considered her likelihood of getting the jacket.

We took the AD122 bus from Housesteads car-park to the Roman Army Museum near Walltown, though had I not been restrained I would have boarded the earlier bus (going the wrong way). I just thought the bus I wanted had come earlier. I have

Bird at Walltown quarry

There were no frogs on the path this time in Walltown Quarry. And no deer this time. We did though have swathes of cuckooflower and trees in blossom this time.

 

A month earlier

The visibility was good enough that we could see Criffel and Burnswark from the top of Walltown Crags.

Walltown Quarry

 

Cuckoo flowers

Walltown Crags

 

Cawfield Quarry from Milecastle 42

The visibility was good enough that we could see Criffel and Burnswark from Walltown Crags. I had been reading about the Nine Nicks of Thirlwall, but my research had been incomplete. I hadn’t been able to work out which hills were the Nine Nicks.  Apparently there are only seven nicks now due to extensive quarrying. So we spent some time looking back later in the walk and trying to count the nicks. We presumed a nick to be gap rather than a summit and we were looking westwards from Cawfields Crags. I now wonder if the picture below, looking east, is actually the nine nicks.

Nine Nicks?

Green Slack Trig

 

Peel Crags

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Dandelions and Dead-Nettles: Hadrian’s Wall VIII

10.3 miles 4h 39m 131m ascent

Wallhouse-Tyne Riverside Country Park

This was a walk of three halves, and I am not referring to beer. The first half was dry with a chilly breeze, the the first half of the second half was cold enough to need jackets and hats and the remainder was wet, but warmer.

We parked by the river in Tyne Riverside Country Park and walked up to the Keelman Pub to get a taxi to the start. When I had looked at the route beforehand I had been left with a feeling that we would be walking mostly downhill, but once on the ground there were undoubtedly some sections with a gentle ascent.

If the last section had seen the celandine blooming, it was the dandelions that were putting on the show this time. There were plenty of red dead-nettles and some white dead nettles.

Robin Hood Pub

The taxi driver had told us that the Robin Hood pub had been where some pub scenes from the Likely Lads had been filmed, but it was blurred so we couldn’t go in for a drink.

Looks like a Roman Road

This section is beside the B6318, which follows the route of Hadrian’s Wall, as far as Heddon-on-the-Wall where it leaves the route of the Wall to descend Heddon Banks and then follows the Wylam Waggonway beside the River Tyne. Initially there is still some remnant of the Wall in the form of a ditch, but no mile castles or Turrets remain here, though there is long section of surviving wall at Heddon-on-the-Wall.

Much of the day was spent walking along the edge of cultivated fields or fields with sheep. There were hedgerow flowers aplenty with primroses, cowslips, and dead nettles red and white.

Whittle Dene

From Wallhouses we walked down to the reservoirs at Whittle Dene. There were carpets of butterbur growing close to the water and cowslips on the grassy banks. Fences made getting access for better views difficult and signs warned against trying to do so. These reservoirs were built in 1848 to provide Newcastle with a regular, clean supply of water. Prior to their construction the city’s water had been pumped by windmill from flooded colliery workings.

Red Dead Nettle

There was then a gentle ascent to Harlow Hill, once the site of milecastle 16. A sign at some holiday cottages here confused me a little. It read “Harlow Hill, No Boundaries, MXVI”, and I spent quite some time wondering what had happened in 1016. It was the year Æthelred the Unready, the last monarch buried at St Paul’s, died and that Canute invaded England, but I couldn’t see the link with Harlow Hill. Then the penny dropped…MXVI = Milecastle 16.  But I’m none the wiser as to the lack of boundaries alluded to.

We walked on towards Eppies Hill, passing the site of Milecastle 15 of which nothing remains, and past a gate with a large red metal heart with attached padlocks, each painted with a single letter, reading Indians Indians with 16/20 in the centre. God only knows what this means.

Heart on a gate

Above us we watched airliners descending into Woolsington having me crick my neck looking up at them while a long line of bikers in their leathers roared past on the road.

Wall at Heddon on the Wall

Heddon-on-the-Wall nearly had me going off piste. I was following the fingerposts but my attention was diverted by a guy walking his westie. He kept us on the right route (almost) and bumped into us a little while later to give us directions again. The Hadrian’s Way doesn’t actually visit the long section of Wall in the village, but it is only 60m off the Way. You would think the HWW would include it.

Looking across to Newcastle

As we walked down Heddon Banks we got our first glimpse of the Tyne, and I joked that it did look as if there was fog on the Tyne. But it wasn’t fog, it was rain and within a few minutes it had reached us and it stayed with us all the way to the end of the walk. There were bluebells beneath the trees and what looked like oversized C3POs peeping at us from a clearing. Actually an observatory.

After passing a rather unwelcoming sign we joined a cycleway/footpath running along the route of the old Wylan Waggonway. The waggonway was built around 1748 to carry coal from Wylam Colliery to Lemington for shipment down the River Tyne. Originally the  wagons were pulled by horses along what were initially the wooden rails then from 1808 iron rails. During the Napoleonic Wars  demand for coal was high and the colliery owner wanted to improve the transport of coal. In 1812 he asked the Colliery Manager, William Hedley, to build a locomotive. By 1813 Hedley had a working prototype and in 1815 Hedley’s steam engines were established on the Waggonway pulling eight wagons compared to the single wagon a horse could manage. So Hedley produced his steam engine locomotive a year earlier than the better known George Stephenson. Both men were locals, Hedley was from Newburn and Stephenson’s cottage is close to the waggonway. William Hedley also had the important insight that coupling the locomotive wheels meant the weight of the locomotive alone would allow adequate grip between smooth wheels and smooth rails.

Totem at Newburn

The final section of the walk took us along a riverside path back to where we were parked, at the site of the Battle of Newburn. Information boards around the memorial stone give quite a bit of detail about the battle and where the Scots and English forces were deployed. If it hadn’t been raining I might have spent a little more time there.

 

 

 

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The Military Road: Hadrian’s Wall VII

10.1 miles 5h 12m ascent 288m

Chesters Fort-Wallhouse

Except for a wee diversion at Brunton, this section ran beside the B6318, rarely drifting more than a stone’s throw away. The B6318 is apparently the longest B road in Britain, and because it is so straight I had presumed it was following the route of an old Roman road. But I was mistaken. It is labelled as “Military Road” on the OS map and dates to the 1750s. At the time of the 1745 Jacobite uprising, Marshall Wade had been unable to move his troops from Newcastle to Carlisle to intercept the rebels because of the poor roads, so a new road was planned. It was built close to Hadrian’s Wall which provided a handy source of stone for the construction.

The days of military rebellion now lie in the past, hopefully and the B6318 is frequented by tourists visiting Hadrian’s Wall. I wonder how much more may have survived if the military road had taken another route.

We began at Chesters Fort and walked along the pavement into Chollerford. The hedgerows suggested that Spring had sprung with profusions of flowers, and unlike the previous day’s walk which was carried out in waterproofs I was in tee-shirt and sunhat with exposed skin sheltering behind SPF30. Though despite these efforts I was greeted with “looks like you’ve caught the sun” when I arrived home.

North Tyne River

The North Tyne River is a substantial watercourse here, and though the name Chollerford suggests that Ceola forded the river here, we crossed on Chollerford Bridge, a single lane affair dating from 1785. The first bridge here was built in AD122 (What did the Romans ever do for us?), and the military road had used a bridge dating from 1394, but that was destroyed in the Great Flood of 1771 which laid waste to most of the Tyne’s bridges include the original medieval Tyne bridge connecting Newcastle and Gateshead.

Chollerford bridge

After the bridge we walked uphill to a a crossroads and waited patiently for a gap in the traffic before heading along the A6079 looking across to see where the original Roman bridge would have stood. A waterwheel stands beside a house here in the absence of a watercourse. I’m not sure why the Hadrian’s wall Path has this little diversion. Perhaps because there is no route to take beside the road, which itself has no walkway, or perhaps it is to soften the climb with a zig-zag.

Brunton Turret

Anyway, the diversion took us by the remains of Brunton Turret so we walked up to have a closer look before returning to the road. We then turned up a minor road to walk under the shade of trees back to the military road. The woods here had a carpet of wood anemone and we could spy a small building described on geograph.co.uk as an obelisk. I wonder though if it might be a dovecote or a well.

Hadrian’s Wall Planetrees

Once we reached the B6318, we did not walk along the road but parallel to it through Planetree woods, which were rich with spring flowers. It was a gradual climb through the woods and then across fields and we took a bit of a breather at the section of Hadrian’s wall. There were excellent views back as far as Whin Sill from here.

The trail then crosses the road to continue climbing up to Heavenfields, the site of a battle in 634 where Oswald of Northumberland defeated an army of britons led by Cadwallon.

Before the battle Oswald had a vision in which St Columba told him “Be strong and act manfully. Behold, I will be with thee. This coming night go out from your camp into battle, for the Lord has granted me that at this time your foes shall be put to flight and Cadwallon your enemy shall be delivered into your hands and you shall return victorious after battle and reign happily.” This led Oswald to erect a large wooden cross before the battle a modern replica of which still stands beside the road. He was victorious and Cadwallon was killed. Oswald went on to unite the Northumbrian kingdoms of Bernicia and Diera.

A small church now stands at the site of the battle surrounded by trees and fields in which sheep quietly graze. The clash of battle has now been replaced by the calls of birds and the occasional rumble of traffic on the B6318.

In planning the walk I had realised there would be a climb out of the river valley at Chollerford and thought Heavenfield would be the end of the ascent, but the trail continued to climb all the way to the trig pillar on Whittington Fell.

Quoits pits Portgate

Once we were ‘over the top’ there was a gentle descent to Portgate where we came across some strange square areas partially covered in wood. A little research has identified these as quoits pits. The game originated from throwing horseshoes at spikes and is likely to have been introduced into Britain by Roman soldiers.

HW path Whittington Fell

Portgate marks the site of a major fortified gateway in Hadrian’s Wall controlling traffic on Dere Street. Dere Street was a major Roman Road running from York to Scotland, reaching as far as the Antonine wall. The Roman name is not known and Dere likely dates to Saxon times referring to the Northumbrian Kingdom of Deira. The name Portgate is also of Saxon origin, the original Roman name for the gateway being unknown.

We had intended to have lunch at Portgate. We could I suppose have used the facilities of the Errington Arms, but we had our sandwiches and the weather was lovely so we wanted to be outside. Portgate itself is a junction of two busy roads, the A68 (the old Dere street) and the B6318 (the old military road), so we walked on until we found a quieter spot off the road and overlooking the site of Onnum Roman Fort.

Down Hill

Ahead we could see Down Hill, which proved to be less massive than it looked from afar. The trail passes around the woods here and there are a number of large rocks that be great to sit on for lunch. But we had just had lunch and there were already people on the rocks. One chap asked us to look out for his cap that had blown away and asked us to return it if found. It apparently had his email address inside.

Halton grounds

From here it was a gentle descent (flat really) through the grounds of Halton Castle with its large gates, and through Halton Shields. The OS has a phone box marked here and I had read that it was bilingual, English and Welsh, probably due to a confusion between Wrexham and Hexham rather than harking back to Cadwallon’s time.

I pleased to say I finished this section without exhausting myself. Firmer ground, and better weather certainly helped.

Since our drive to and from these walks has taken us through Once Brewed and Twice Brewed, on the B6318, I thought I would look into the names a little more.

“These peculiar names stem from the thirsty soldiers building the Military Road in the 1750s whose gratitude at reaching the local inn was tempered by the weakness of the beer, and they suggested that it needed to be brewed for a second time to make it stronger. The name “Twice Brewed” therefore became associated with the local inn, and the hamlet that grew up around it. Roll forward a couple of centuries to 1934, and the opening of the Youth Hostel (one of the first in the country) by the local Lady Bountiful. As she was a confirmed teetotaller (and the YHA was a temperance movement) she disapproved of the boozy association of the hamlet’s name, insisting that nothing stronger than tea would be served in the Youth Hostel, and that only needed brewing once! So was coined the name of the Youth Hostel, and subsequently the adjoining Visitor Centre.”

Spring flowers: Celandine, cowslips, wood anemone, dandelion, daisy, speedwell, violets, honesty, woundwort, marsh marigold, primrose, forget-me-not, eyebright, stitchwort, chickweed, bird cherry, grape hyacinth, daffodil, dog’s mercury, pignut, coltsfoot.

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Mithraeum, Mud and Misnamed Rock: Hadrian’s Wall VI

9.7 miles 5h 5m ascent 192m

Housesteads-Chesters Fort

Better weather. The last two sections we walked into a strong headwind, first with snow and then with rain. Today the wind was at our backs and though rain and despite we walking beneath ominously grey cloud, the rain held off except for short light showers.

Spring was here. There were banks of celandine by the roadside, daffodils in various states of flower, and what will probably be the last snowdrops we see this year.

We parked at Chesters Fort (Cilurnum) and took bus number AD122 to Housesteads. I like taking public transport between sections and this was particularly enjoyable since much of the trail was visible from the bus. The air felt ready for rain and we had seen some walkers stopped, putting on waterproofs, as we drove along the B6318, so we walked in waterproofs.

Housesteads car park is about a kilometre away from and 40-50m below the Hadrian’s Wall trail, so we had a bit of a warm up right at the start. Vercovicium was obviously a sizeable fort. It was built in AD 124, the Wall itself was begun in AD 122 (hence the Hadrian’s Wall bus number). As soon as we reached the ridge beside the fort we knew we were in for better visibility than our last outing since we could see Broomlee Lough.

Vercovicium

From the Fort we had a slight descent, crossing Knag Burn into a muddy quagmire and then made our way to the far side of the wall to climb beside it up Kennel Crags. The path beside the wall then seemed to peter out. I looked across what was now just a stone dyke rathe than Hadrian’s Wall and saw a gate through another wall on the other side. A gate with an acorn sign. We had crossed outside the wall when we should have stayed to its south. So we could either go back down, cross the quagmire and climb back up, or….

We clambered over the wall, Audrey pulling her shoulder as she did so. So I took javelin duty for the rest of the day.

Clew Crag and King’s Crag

We were now on the ridge proper and strode out over Clew Hill and King’s Hill, with a flock of sheep watching us find our way up the latter. The ancient wall is no longer here but a dyke, no doubt made up of stones from the original wall runs along the whole ridgeline from Hosesteads until just short of the trig on Sewingshields Crags. Then the original wall reappears. We met the wind once we were on Sewingshields but it was at our back and the few spots of rain were easily ignored. We passed a gate marked with a sign “King’s Wicket” where the wall and path turn north to climb to Sewingshields and this had me wondering what a wicket is. I wish now I had taken a photo of the gate rather than just the sign, because a wicket is a gate.

Broomlee Lough

Sewingshields has nothing to do with sewing or shields, but derives from Sigewine’s Shiel. A shiel is a temporary shelter, perhaps used by a shepherd and Sigewine is an Anglo-Saxon name. “The Place Names of Northumberland and Durham” gives a variety of previous spellings: 1279 Swyinscheles, Sywinescheles ; 1286 Schiwynscheles, Siwinshell ; 1296 Sewynsheles ; 1407 Swynscheleys ; 1479 Sewyngshelez ; 1610 Sewenshield ; 1663 Sueingsheels ; 1711 Sewen Shields, which show its evolution. Presumably the crags and the wood take their name from the nearby farm.

Sewingshields Crags

There is a small burial cist beside the wall up on the crags, a little east of Milecastle 35. This is thought to be post-Roman. The trail then passes through Sewingshields wood which is a sparse plantation of Scot’s Pine that wouldn’t offer much shelter from the elements. The land then flattens out and the trail crosses a boggy moorland, but the path itself raised, presumably on the walls foundations, are only superficially muddy in places. Grindon Turret (34A) has substantial remaining foundations but Milecastle 34 itself is gone, though its position is marked by a walled stand of trees.

Cist

I had wondered about stopping in the lee of theses walls for elevenses, but someone was having a pee in the woods so we walked on and sat in the open at the remains of the next turret. As we sat a gentle rain started to fall. But we stopped for a rest anyway. Since I was not driving I had brought along a wee dram, choosing a lightly peated whisky which I thought fitted the terrain, (Glenglassaugh Torfa). Hip flask and collapsible cup used together for the first time. It is important to keep in mind that the cup will collapse if put down.

Shield on the Wall

It was then a long straight walk in one-point perspective. We passed the site of Milecastle 33 which had some of the Wall remaining but otherwise existed only as a small raised area of ground. Shield on the Wall Dam (a small lake) was on our right.

Milecastle 34

I wondered about stopping for lunch near Carraw, since the buildings and trees there might offer some shelter from the wind, but the path beside the farm, though paved, was under semi-liquid mud so we pressed on intending to stop at Brocolitia Fort. That would mean no shelter but the car park ought at least to give us firm ground to sit on.

Somewhere before Carraw my right hip had started to ache and I was hoping for a rest in the near future. But it wasn’t far to go. Down a gentle slope. But the ground grew softer and muddier. The trail crosses the B6318 and leads up to Brocolitia Fort via the Mithraeum. What I wasn’t expecting was Meggie’s Dene Burn/Coventina’s Well.  The burn here arises at Coventina’s Well and takes its name from Old Meg a witch who was burned at the stake, and buried in the Dene with a stake through her heart. No half measures in those days.

Meggie’s Dene Burn

This was a waterlogged area. No, that doesn’t capture it, submerged is closer to the mark. Water stood between us and the Mithraeum. Stepping stones looked to have been flung into place rather than placed with thought. Another walker stood on the opposite side surveying the same problem. “You first” he shouted.

So I went for it. My undoing was the largest stone, close to the middle. It rocked. And I don’t mean it had flair akin to a rockstar, I mean it was unstable. As my left foot landed, the stone rotated forwards. the next stone was to my left, so without a pirouette I wasn’t going to get a foot there.  So I launched as far to the right as I could, the water there looking shallower. then back to rocks. On the plus side I remained vertical and still had one dry foot. The guy on the other side, dressed in walking gear but wearing what appeared to be plimsolls, proved more agile. But to be fair he was probably half my age.

Mithraeum

The Mithraeum was just a stone’s throw away. I wondered why a temple had been built in a waterlogged hollow, since most churches and temples are on high ground. Temples to Mithras, however, are usually in caves or constructed to appear like caves, and running water was a part to play in the devotions. This temple was only found in 1949. Another temple, to Coventina had also stood nearby, but no longer exists.

Tulips on the Altar

Mithras was originally a Persian God of light and truth, and in the Roman pantheon became associated with the battle between good and evil, bravery and manliness so was often worshipped by Roman soldiers.

The altar stones in the temple had tulips laid upon them. We have sat in the temple for lunch but it seemed a little disrespectful, so we plodded up over the mounds of Brocolitia fort to a car park surrounded by hal-metre high walls offering the options of firm seating but no shelter, sitting on the ground with a bit of shelter, or the one we chose, sitting on concrete steps with partial shelter. Sandwiches, chocolate, coffee, whisky, and rest until we started to cool down too much.

a gate without a fence

Beyond Brocolitia there was one of my favourite sights, a gate without a fence. Not quite as impressive as the locked gate without a fence we saw on the Southern Upland Way. We had another long walk along a mound stretching to the horizon at Limestone Corner. The boulders there certainly did not look like limestone, and the muddiness and general bogginess of the ground suggests that the underlying rock is not limestone either. Wikipedia says it is quartz-dolerite whinstone. I see now why the long ridge is called Whin Sill.

Limestone Corner

We passed a couple of walkers sat on perhaps the only dry ground, just beside the wall. They told us there was a waiting list for the place.

Black Carts

After crossing another minor road we passed first Green Carts and then Black Carts (carts deriving from cearts meaning rocky), where there is a section of Hadrian’s Wall and the remains of a turret.  The ground here became even softer and sapped my energy pretty quickly. The trail takes a detour around Walwick Hall, “a country boutique hotel” then reaches a minor road leading back to the B6318.

The last half mile was on the pavement, which was a relief after the soft muddy ground, past some stone lions and along to Chesters Fort for a coffee in the shop.

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Northumberland Rain: Hadrian’s Wall V

10.8 miles 7h 10m ascent 490m

Thirlwall-Housesteads

Qui dat pluviam super faciem terrae

This was a walk in the rain. When we set out the rain was light enough that I decided against waterproof trousers. The forecast suggested it would stop by 1pm. Both the decision and the prediction proved to have been overly optimistic. But walking in the rain and mist has its own delights. It’s just annoying trying to take photographs with rain on the camera lens.

This section started beside some houses that presumably were originally for railway workers, and we crossed the railway itself at an unmanned crossing, then the Pow Charney Burn on a footbridge. From there it was a short walk to Thirlwall Castle.

Thirlwall Castle

The castle dates from 1225. Its name means something like “hole in the wall” and it is likely to have been constructed with stone from Hadrian’s Wall. The castle was important enough that Edward I stayed in 1306, and a later Thirlwall, Sir Percival was killed at the battle of Bosworth Field in 1485, fighting for the Yorkist cause. He was Richard III’s standard bearer and is said to have held the standard even after his legs were cut from under him. He likely died by the King’s side. With the union of crowns in the early seventeenth century, the borderlands lost their need for castles and Thirlwall fell into disrepair.

From Carrvoran or the head of the hill just over against it, down to Tippal water, both the walls and ditches are very conspicuous. They leave Thirlwel castle to the north. Here, according to tradition, the Scots and Picts broke through the wall. But the castle might be so called from the passage of the river through the wall. Just beyond Tippal water and this castle Hadrian’s vallum makes a little turn, whereby the walls begin to diverge, and Hadrian’s vallum becomes more obscure. Farther west, at a house called the Chapel, which stands within a castellum, the walls are about five chains distant from one another. For about a quarter of a mile before, Hadrian’s vallum and ditch, the south and north agger, are all in the second or third degree. But at the Chapel all of them again begin to be obscure. For the space between the two rivers Tippal and Poucherling, Hadrian’s wall is mostly in the second degree, and from thence, except a little here and there, continues obscure to Burdoswald. But near the chapel Severus’s ditch is very large, being in the third or fourth degree, and the wall itself in the second. The military way isalso visible in the first or second degree. At Foultown the way is lost, but the wall and ditch continue in the second degree. And Hadrian’snorth agger is here and there pretty large.

William Camden’s Britannia 1789

After the castle, we crossed the Tipalt Burn and headed back to the Hadrian’s Wall trail. We had left the land of becks (Saxon/Scots) for that of burns (Norse). It is interesting that the Pow Charney Burn is the Pow Charney Brook in the 1829 civil engineering report of the Newcastle Carlisle railway, and the Tipalt Burn here is the Tipple River. In 1789 we had the Rivers Tippal and Poucherling. I can’t find the derivation of either.

Lovely weather

Our stroll up a gentle climb brought us to a stone dyke with a gate that proved too tricky to open and a stile which took us out onto exposed moorland. Once back in the wind (and rain) there was no question that full wet weather togs were needed so we climbed back over the stile into the lee of the wall to change. A couple of walkers caught up with us while we we changing, but they didn’t really seem properly attired and we noticed they turned back soon after. But we pressed on, walking into the wind and rain.

Though the photos may look as if there were times without rain, that is because I dried the lens for each shot and took  two or three shots at each place.

Walltown Crags

The day’s walk was mostly on exposed ridges with more names than I can remember without looking at the map, and included Walltown Crags, Cawfields Crags, Winshield Crags, Steel Rig, and Highshield Crags. We had multiple ascents and descents on slippery rocks making it slow going. But much of the walk was beside actual remains of Hadrian’s Wall or visible remains of the vallum. We reflected that Roman soldiers would have experienced similar weather while building and manning the Wall we walked beside.

Cawfield Crags

There are a few places along the way where the trail drops off the exposed ridge, and in better weather these would have been pleasant places to stop for a wee drink or a bite to eat. We had a wee break for coffee in a shallow hollow in on of these gaps. ( I originally described these as cols, but gaps feels better.)

Bird at Walltown Quarry

Walltown quarry had an empty car park, toilets, picnic benches, a bird sculpture, and a kiln/oven. A deer watched us from a stand of trees by the Quarry Lake, and we had to watch where we were stepping because of all the frogs on the path. I stopped counting after two dozen. There were a few riding piggy back on others and at first I thought they were mating but those riding were all much smaller than the frogs being ridden. Apparently some frogs will carry their young, but I’ve never seen it before.

Looking back to Walltown Quarry

We passed turrets and milecastles, and every so often a larger fortification such as Aesica  and Vercovicium. At Aesica (Great Chesters) we noticed that the field by the farm had the remains of turrets at each corner, not something one normally sees in farms in the UK.

Aesica Fort’s Western Wall

We were looking out for a likely spot for a lunch break and eventually gave up and decided to stop anywhere with a bit of shelter. So lunch was at at Cawfields Quarry. It was still raining, a heavy drizzle really. There were picnic benches, but no shelter other than the public toilets. The best shelter we could find was in some trees and these might have protected us from the rain a little better had they been in leaf. But there were moss covered trunks for seats and the rest was welcome.

Cawfields Quarry

At lunch I got the map out and realised we were making quite slow progress, having taken three and a half hours to walk a little under 5 miles. The terrain was mostly to blame I think, forcing us to take care with each step, and later in the walk this was brought home to me since I fell three times, and almost fell many more times. I took special care on the rock steps which were often muddy, and when walking through mud, but I must have let my guard down when walking on grass. The mud I fell into had mostly been washed off by the rain but I fell a final time as we walked towards Housesteads and the rain didn’t get a chance to wash that mud off. I probably should have taken more notice of myself rather than looking at my footing. I caught my foot on rocks a few times, and rather than recognising that I was tiring, I spent my mental effort thinking how I would describe it in the write-up. I had decided that something like “the foot lifting sub-routine became corrupted” would do nicely, or perhaps “walk.exe became corrupted”.

Winshield Crags Trig

Along Winshield Rig we were walking in mist. We paused at the trig point to admire the ‘view’, see above. Each time we had descended and reclimbed a gap we hoped it was the last, but then another height would emerge from the mist. Each time sapping a little more of our morale. Esmerelda warned me that she was approaching her tantrum threshold.

Hadrian’s Wall

My failure to recognise fatigue came home to roost half way up the climb onto Steel rig. We were passing a French Family, with cries of laissez le passé (or something like that) from the father when I was then struck down with cramp in first my left thigh and then a few seconds later the right. I couldn’t walk any further and found I couldn’t even bend my legs to sit on a rock. Stretching didn’t help. The cramp seemed well localised to vastus medialis on both sides. If only we had brought a physiotherapist with us. But we hadn’t so I took a stiff dose of Jelly babies (about ten) and after a few minutes I could complete the climb. I suspect that the repeated step-like climbing up and down had fatigued my thighs. The cramp recurred a little later, but settled with more rest and water.

I decided to look into exercise induced muscle cramps, and it turns out I was mistaken in my beliefs that these are related to electrolyte imbalance or dehydration. I suspect my problem was repeatedly performing an unaccustomed type of exercise (climbing rock steps) with inadequate rest breaks (due to the weather). I’ll take catching my foot and falling more seriously next time.

Bog near Hotbanks

As we approached Highshield Crags we climbed into a Scots Pine woodland with Crag Lough beneath us. Some of the trees looked to have had shapes carved into their trunks and I wondered if some ‘natural artist’ had been up there carving the trees. But as we walked on I noticed that some of the ‘carvings’ were too close to the ground for art, and I wonder if deer had been stripping lichen producing these curves. The photos are all blurred due to moisture on the camera lens.

This walk seemed to have been going on forever. I had put my map away since it had become waterlogged inside its waterproof case inside my waterproof pocket, so had not been able to keep track of where we were.

Housesteads

We walked on looking for Housesteads Fort, hoping we hadn’t missed it in the mist, and eventually out of the mist we saw a wall that was too robust for a farm wall  and knew we were there. We followed it off the ridge and found a footpath to the nearby carpark. I was too tired to go round the museum shop.

Luckil there was some shelter at the car park to change into dry clothes for the drive home.

And it was a bloody expensive car-park (IMPO).

 

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* He sends rain on the face of the earth. Job 5:10

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Frigidus Ventus: Hadrian’s Wall IV

10.46 miles 5h 17m ascent 257m

Walton-Thirlwall

“Bitterly cold with strong winds and snow showers”. That forecast by the Met Office was spot on. Temperature -1°C, easterly winds at 28mph, gusting to 40 mph, snow showers and a ‘feels like’ temperature of -7°C seemed about right. Throughout the day we walked directly into the wind, which seemed to become much stronger when it snowed. We had blue skies at times but recurrent heavy flurries of snow that snatched the visibility away from us. A characterful day.

Craggle Hill

But we were multi-layered, in the literal sense, and I had brought along a quilted jacket as well just in case. My ski mittens proved far more effective than my usual gloves and only once did I wish I had brought goggles, when the snow was blowing directly in my face forcing me to walk hunched looking at my feet, somewhat like Quasimodo, Esmerelda trudging beside me. There were some gusts of wind that negated a step forward, and walking was a much greater effort than usual.

All that aside, I enjoyed this section and there was was quite a lot of the actual Wall to see along the way.

At Dovecote bridge the HW trail leaves the road to follow King Beck for a while, but a sign told ud that the route was temporarily diverted along the road. We tried following the river bank, passing a homemade shelter, but found the path had been washed away. We then tried the adjacent fields but turned back to follow the temporary route. The sign did actually look rather permanent. This meant half a mile along a minor road before we rejoined the HW trail.

After our first snow ‘shower’ near Garthside, we had a warming climb up Craggle Hill, watching Cold Fell appearing and disappearing as the showers passed.

Hadrian’s Wall at Hare Hill

At Hare Hill we came across our first Wall remnant. An information board gave more details and suggested that this section may have survived because it was incorporated in a farm building, while the stone the wall here was carted away to build Lanercost Priory.

Willowford

 

Wiilowford two minutes later

Most of the day’s walking was either beside surviving sections of Hadrian’s Wall, along turf banks on the site of the wall, and past several ruins, each with an information board.

  • Turret 52A East Banks: observation tower
  • Pike Hill Signal Tower
  • Turret 51A Piper Sike: frontier watchtower
  • Turret 49B Birdoswald West
  • Birdoswald Fort
  • Milecastle 49 Harrow’s Scar
  • Willowford Bridge
  • Turret 48B Willowford West: watchtower
  • Turret 48A Willowford East: watchtower
  • Milecastle 48 Polcross Burn: fort

Ahead on the horizon we could see Steel Rigg which grew visibly closer as we walked on.

No bridge

The route was relatively straightforward and well marked. I’ve already mentioned the detour near Dovecote Bridge. We did lose the trail near Appletree. After crossing a footbridge I turned left onto a track and up towards the road, whereas a small sign ahead of me, which I hadn’t noticed, pointed to the right, and after a hundred metres or so a gate too us back onto the turf bank. And finally, in Gilsland there is a notice and signs for a detour. the reason given was “no bridge”. We decided to brave it, and there was in fact a bridge, over a beck that could have been easily jumped.

Willowford Bridge

The Roman Bridge at Willowford is long gone, though the ruins of Hadrian’s Wall that stood adjacent to it are there to see. We crossed the River Irthing, on a modern footbridge dating from 1999. Walking across the bridge I paused to look at the river and noticed a sign, “STEPS”. looking over the side I didn’t see any steps, and thought the sign a little strange. Then Esmerelda warned me to be careful since she had stumbled on the steps. The far side of the bridge was stepped.

Lambs near Turret 52A

We sheltered in Turret 52A for a coffee break. My photograph of the ruin is taken in bright sunlight, but by the time we reached the turret itself it was snowing so we only stopped for five minutes. We planned to stop at Birdoswald for lunch but found the visitor centre shut and the gates padlocked shut. We definitely needed a break, but the wind was bitterly cold and we could see there was no shelter along the route beyond Birdoswald so we climbed the fence and dropped down into the remains of a Roman Turret. Here we were sheltered from the easterly wind, and had only light snow.

River Irthing below Milecastle 49

The snowdrops were still abundant, but past their best.


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A diversion averted: Hadrian’s Wall III

10.1 miles 4h 55m ascent 128m

Rickerby-Walton

This section of the route was relatively straightforward, along minor roads, farm tracks, riverbank, and sheep filled fields, without any tricky navigation. And we had time to drop in on the aircraft museum on the way home. A shelter on the village green in Newtown gave us somewhere to sit for lunch. The temperature was 3° but with the wind it felt much colder. Flurries of snowflakes fell like blossom, and snowdrops filled the hedgerows but Winter was giving way to Spring. giving us the first  celandines, daffodils, and a newborn lamb.

We began at Rickerby Park, in sight of the modern stone circle, and set off along the minor road beside Eden School and then through Linstock.

An octagonal three storey tower stood bed the road. A folly built by George Head Head, a local banker, whose house is now Eden school. It dates from 1835, so it is a Georgian rather than a Victorian folly. There is some suggestion that it may have originally been a dovecote, but it was built at time when tower follies were all the rage. On the other side of the road is a wooden sculpture of a bird which presumably won’t last nearly as long.

Rickerby Folly

In Linstock we passed a house with a very Cumbrian name, Tethera Oaks, (meaning three oaks) and we stood looking at the three trees beside it wondering if they were actually oaks. We weren’t convinced but didn’t feel like trespassing for a closer look.

Just before leaving Linstock my eye was caught by a flash of yellow at eye level, which turned out to be early flowers on broom. Looking at these I mused that the lesser celandine should be out soon, and looking down there it was, the first celandine I had seen this year.

Sculpture at Rickerby

Then we reached M6, the modern version of a mighty river dividing the the land (but we were able to cross it by bridge). The section we were crossing was opened in 1970. The M6 runs from Rugby to Gretna, though in reality it continues as the M74 all the way to Glasgow. This route was completed when the road joining the M6 and M74 was upgraded to motorway in 2008 on the 50th anniversary of the opening of very first section of the M6. The plan had been to rename the M74 as M6 once they were joined, but it doesn’t look as though that will happen now.

At Linstock we left the road for a much more minor road and then a track towards Park Broom. A sign near here informed us that the trail from Park Broom to Low Crosby was closed and offered a diversion along the A689. We had been forewarned by pre-walk research and had decided to stick with the original route if we could. So we walked down to the River Eden and along its bank. Much preferable to walking along an A road. My worry was that the footbridge near Eden Grove might be no more and sure enough, it was ‘closed’ following the floods of December 2016.

River Eden

At Eden Grove we stopped to admire some snowdrops and crocuses and found the year’s first daffodils. We walked on towards the ‘footbridge’ and as we crossed a wee beck I commented that I would have called it a vehicle bridge rather than a footbridge. Then we saw the actual footbridge 10m further down the beck, with a sign saying it was not safe.

So the trail had been diverted because the footbridge was unsafe despite there being an alternative bridge within an actual stone’s throw. The flood was over two years ago. F**king ridiculous. There has been plenty of time to fix the footbridge, and no need for a diversion while waiting.

The closed footbridge (vehicle bridge immediately behind it)

There were still signs of the flooding of 2016 with tree trunks high on the banks and witch’s knickers (plastic bags) in the trees. In one of these tree trunks we found a 16GB memory card embedded in its bark. (PS I took it home, and put a photo of a group of folk at a wedding on Facebook, and two days later it has been claimed.)

In Low Crosby the churchyard was filled with crocuses and there was a beautiful modern stone amongst the older graves. Beside the church is a gate dedicated to Glyn Vaughan for his efforts in flood protection.

St John the Baptist churchyard

From Low Crosby we walked along a road following the route of the Stanegate, a Roman stone built road several decades older than Hadrian’s Wall, that once joined Corstopitum (Corbridge) with Luguvalium (Carlise). But we only followed its course for a little over half a mile. We left the Stanegate to cross the A689 on a bridge that looked to be designed for livestock. A track beyond here is marked on the OS map as Sandy Lane (track). Presumably it is named after a person called Sandy, because there certainly wasn’t sand underfoot, in fact it was pretty muddy.

Old Machinery on Sandy Lane

From Sandy Lane we turned right on to a a track marked on the OS as “Roman Military Way” and then followed the course of Hadrian’s Wall through fields past Beatarn and Oldwall to Newtown.

There was no sign of the ancient wall itself but there was a definite raised section of land leading towards Bleatarn. The tarn itself is really more of a water-filled hollow surrounded by many small mounds. If the whole area had been like this one would have thought they were glacial but a nearby information board explained that the tarn itself had been a quarry to get stone to build the wall and the mounds we could see were rubbish heaps from the quarrying.

Bleatarn

From Bleatarn to Oldwall we walked along a slightly raised area with excellent views to the north with the recognisable shapes of Burnswark and Criffel on the horizon. The fields here had many sheep and we passed one ewe nuzzling a new born lamb.

Tyre Wall, near Bleatarn

We gave the ewe a wide berth (the photo is with telephoto). I felt a little sorry for the lamb, it was bitterly cold in the wind. Our route here was beside a ditch lined with hawthorns that I am sure will look impressive once their blossom appears.

As we walked towards Newtown the northern hills of the pennines (Cold Fell) grew noticeably closer. we had been looking for a likely spot to have lunch for quite a while but could not find shelter from the cold wind with somewhere to sit until we reached Newtown.

The HW path near Oldwall

From Newtown it was a short walk through farmland to Walton, but the lunchtime stop had chilled us and I was glad to get back to the car and a little warmth.

You will see from the picture at the top that I called in at the aircraft museum at Carlisle airport on the way back to enjoy the machines there. The Vulcan and I are about the same age.

Heads Wood

This section has taken us a little further into the countryside but I am looking forward to slightly wilder terrain as we trees onwards.

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