Friday, July 22, 2011

Hadrian's Wall from Acomb 1

On arriving at Fallowfield Dene, we were blown away with the lovely little static caravan which would be ours for the next seven days. We decided not to hire the bedding because we did have sleeping bags.

After unpacking, we walked down into Acomb (after first trying a nightmare "shortcut" through a wheat field) and on to Hexham to shop for the weeks supplies. I had been somewhat amused at the one campsite employee: when I asked her to recommend the cheapest shop in Hexham, the hesitation in her eyes and eventual reluctant recommendation seemed to convey a shameful admission that she would know of such a place.

In Hexham we bought two 5-day tickets for the Hadrian Wall Bus which allowed one to climb on and off the bus any number of times along the route. After strolling through the attractive sights of Hexham, we did our shop at Aldies. They called a taxi for us to take us back to the campsite with our goods and we were tickled when the driver turned out to be the same one who had driven us from the airport to our first campsite in Wylam. For the rest of that Saturday, we just indulged in  really hot showers and hairdryers in the super ablution block (the bathroom in the static caravan was tiny), watched the telly  and just chilled.

The following day we left the camp at about 6 am and walked from the campsite back up to the spot near Heavenfield's St Oswald in Lee church, from where we had detoured a few days previously, and resumed that stretch of the walk. It would be a long day, taking into account that part of the previous section was being included. We were wearing sturdy boots which reached above our ankles and, for the next few days, we would be grateful for this.
After about an hour, we followed a detour around some farmland when we came across a group of people embarking on an early morning hot-air balloon ride. We stood around for about 30 minutes to observe the preparations and final lift-off for a dreamlike journey.

                 Up            Up                and away!                             

Our route wound around and, just before Chollerford Bridge, we came across a section of the Wall and ruins of a Roman turret in a farmer's field (well signposted), which we investigated. 

Chollerford Bridge

Interesting garden feature near Chollerford Bridge

Shortly after the bridge, at the entrance to Chesters Roman fort, the third stamp for our Hadrian Wall passport was accessible in a box on the wall, outside the entrance. After about another hour of walking, we came across a good section of the Wall. 



Further along, we crossed the Military road to look at the Mithras temple. 

Temple of Mithras for soldiers' QT

From there onwards,  the walk became much steeper, climbing up the ridges of hills.   

Over the years, only this higher terrain has discouraged the wholesale removal of the Wall. In the lower reaches, where the Wall has disappeared, stone farm walls run for miles across the land, no doubt, along with the  Military Road and local stone farmhouses, built from dismantled parts of Hadrian's Wall. 

We encountered ruined Turrets and Milecastles along the route now.

Coesike Turret

Wingshields Milecastle 35

Wingshields Milecastle

It was a strenuous but beautiful walk.

  Finally we reached the Housesteads Roman Fort on  the Wall, one of the settings in Anthony Riches’ Wounds of Honour  

Unbeknown to us, the famous postcard view from the Western side of Housesteads could only be seen if one looked back towards the way we had just walked! 
We returned on our last day by bus to Housesteads for this single photograph.

 And on we went....


Milecastle 37 has the almost complete North Arch on Housesteads Crags,
about 1 km West of Housesteads Roman Fort

Serene Swan

Further along, we walked off the Wall and down to the Military road, which we could see from the Wall, and we ended the day's walk outside the Info centre and Once Brewed pub...but alas, not inside the pub...where we waited for a bus  to return us to Acomb. We paid cash for that trip because we only wanted to "activate" our bus cards the following day.   At Once Brewed,  we were careful to stand at the correct bus stop: The stop, on one side, collects passengers going to Vindolanda, which is just up the road from the pubs, and the other goes to Hexham OR Carlisle. If you stand at the wrong stop, the bus might just pass you by.

Hadrians Wall Bus: we learnt never to take it forgranted that the bus would stop. Put your hand out to show that you want it to stop for you, even if you are standing at the bus stop!!! When we disembarked at Acomb  bus stop, at the lower end of Acomb's Orchard Rd, we girded ourselves for the long haul up through Acomb and then on to the campsite. I soon got used to this added torture at the end of every day!! At least it was pretty.

Main drag through Acomb, looking back downhill

Between Acomb and the turn-off to Fallowfield Dene,
looking back towards Acomb

For the next day, we had decided to do the last section of the walk, out of sequence, because we knew it would be a flat walk. It would not reveal stunning  scenery and there would be no sign of Hadrian Wall remnants. That section was to be undertaken purely to achieve the goal of having walked the full length of the route of the Wall.  After studying the Hadrian Wall bus timetable, I discussed with Roy the idea of  taking the train to Carlisle in order to arrive early enough to  guarantee completion of the Carlisle to Bowness-on-Solway section in one day. There was only one Hadrian Wall bus per day which traveled all the way to Bowness, with an half-hour pause before returning to Carlisle. It was imperative that we caught that last return bus from Bowness. The problem was that the earliest we could arrive on a bus from Acomb to start the walk from Carlisle, did not leave us enough time to reach the end of the walk before that single bus returned to Carlisle.  Roy baulked at the expensive trainfare, especially after the bad start to the day when we had used the train to Brampton from Wylam. He felt that there had been expenditure for little gain. So we decided to take the bus, walk that section as quickly as possible, and hoped that we would reach the end before the only Hadrian's Wall bus returned to Carlisle from Bowness-on Solway.
English country gardens
Burgh on Sands church with its 14th century tower
It was a source of great frustration to me that, despite going like the clappers, we didn't make it but had to board the returning bus about 5 km short of our destination. We managed to get our passport stamped at the Sands Centre in Carlisle before returning to Acomb. We returned the following day with that single bus, taking hours to get there from Acomb,  disembarking at the place where we had halted, yet still, there was not enough time to complete that small section before the bus returned .   

En route back to Acomb, we spent an hour at Vindolanda before catching the last bus. 


 from Vindolana

On a third day, after first walking part of one of the other sections, only to return to it later in the day, we returned to complete the last teeny bit of that final section (I was feeling a bit like an obsessive compulsive by that stage!) At last at the Kings Arms Pub,  another stamp in our passport

The Solway

Time wasted meant that we never did explore Carlisle, Hexham, Corbridge or other sights.  Completing the full route was Roy's only goal. Different visions for  the same journey. I asked Roy today whether, with hindsight, he would have done it any differently but he insists that he would do the same again.  Let me say no more about it, except, should you ever decide to do this trip, just bite the bullet and pay for trains or taxis to ensure time for everything!! Or investigate the idea of paying for transferred luggage so that you overnight  at the start of the next section of the walk every day.

Putting aside those days, we girded our loins for some more strenuous walking and beautiful scenery in the days to follow.

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