14 May 2010
Had a nice conservative English breakfast -- eggs, bacon, toast, tea but avoided all of the additional things that might be included in a "full English". It was certainly enough. I could probably have done with another pint of their excellent ale but before 8AM that wasn't practical and if I wanted to walk a straight line it would be best to avoid strong drink before the afternoon.
I walked with K. and T. again. Pleasant enough morning starting out following the Tyne for a while before cutting off toward the north and the village of Heddon-on-the-Wall which is, ta-daa, on the wall. Actually the wall in the eastern part of the village is the first major part of the wall on the walk. The village itself is drop-dead gorgeous and I suspect that it is populated mostly by commuters from Newcastle. The stone and slate architecture which I'll soon learn is endemic in rural Northumbria and Cumbria is wonderfully appealing. Even the newer homes have the appearance of having been there for a while and look as though they'll be standing centuries from now. There were a couple of homes on the way into the village from the south that looked as if they would be more comfortable standing somewhere else -- California perhaps. Very nice homes in their own way but not consonant with the whole village ambience.
Leaving the village, the path followed the Military Road (B6318) which follows the course of the wall, overrunning it in places. This was not the ancient Roman Military Way but was built during in the 1740s during a Jacobite uprising to the north. Large parts of the wall were destroyed for materials in the building of the road. But this was not the first, nor probably the last, time that the wall was subjected to such indignities. They really started soon after the Roman withdrawal from Britannia in the early 5th century as the homeland came under increasing pressure from the European tribes which eventually overran and sacked the city. My reading of history tells me that there was no serious local pressure for the Romans to depart so hurriedly, just a gradual weakening and diffusion of Rome's power which made the maintenance of such a far-flung territory impossible. In any case with the departure of the Legions and effective oversight the wall became a convenient source of free building material neatly distributed across the width of the country and it was disassembled at will and became components of homes, barns, castles, and churches. It is no coincidence that the most intact parts of the wall are in the least accessible and settled areas.
The walk continued past the unexcavated fort Vindobala (Rudchester). The sky to the west was looking less and less welcoming although the weather was rain-free. K., T., and I stopped at a convenient picnic table beside the "Great Northern Lake" which is a combination reservoir and bird sanctuary. This was the first run in with hordes of mosquitos. We were sitting there eating and the insects seemed to sense that they deserved to eat also. As someone who has survived Alaskan mosquitoes I can say that these were merely annoying. A couple of walkers arrived at lake as we were eating and told us that the weather they had just come through was rather bad. Since their clothes still seemed to be wet, we might have guessed that but we had confirmation of what we expected.
After our break we set out again and in a few more miles came to Robin Hood Inn which is one of the places where one stamps their passport. Had I been alone, I might have stopped for a pint. But given the approaching weather and the distance to Corbridge, the next overnight, it was probably best that I didn't. A few minutes after the Robin Hood Inn I had one of those strange experiences which is upon you and then gone before it truly registers. On the left side of the road we were walking along K. walked up to the corner of a pasture and looked out over the animals. As she stood there, I watched as one cow after another ambled over toward that corner. Soon cows were literally galloping from the distance, all to stand in that corner. Never a sound was heard and K. certainly did nothing which I could see which might have summoned the animals. I quickly snapped a picture or two but failed to put my camera into movie mode to capture the events. Could the cows sense that K. lives on a farm in New York? Why would they come anyway since K. raises sheep and shouldn't have any sort of magical power over cows. Oh well, we'll never know . . .
Since our lodgings were in Corbridge some miles off the wall path it was necessary to detour toward the south. The route was a bit vague through this portion, or at least it was vague to me. I do remember passing a very neat farm estate on my right complete with what appeared to be a family chapel (or was I misinterpreting?). There was no doubt that it was just about to start raining so I dug out my ancient poncho from the pack and got it on in preparation. Had I been alone and had the weather been more settled I might have made a detour of a few miles about here to go to Aydon Castle, another English Trust property. There was no such luck this time but perhaps next time there will be. The route toward Corbridge degenerated into a bridle path descending steadily toward the bottom of a valley. This is about the time the rain came. And it came with a vengeance. Probably the worst part of the rain was that the descending bridle path turned into a stream and the water carried along the gifts that the horses had distributed so liberally along the way. At the bottom of the bridle path there was an underpass beneath the A69 where we stopped to check maps. This is when I first came to suspect that my poncho, which I have carried on numerous hikes over the years, was lacking in one key area -- it didn't seem to be waterproof. I confirmed this later when we had to leave the underpass and slog along as the rain became heavier and we entered the northern part of Corbridge.
In the heavy rain I abruptly parted ways with K. and T. since their lodgings were in a different part of the town than mine. Finding my B&B for the night proved to be quite tricky. Eventually I got to the heart of town and, lacking any street signs, I stopped at the Shell station to ask directions. The attendant didn't know where the B&B was either but a driver who came in said that the address should be up the road a half-mile or so. This proved to be the case but getting there was a bit nerve-rattling since the road was fairly busy and hemmed in on both sides by walls leaving no safe place to walk. I discovered later that in the rain I had missed a path running alongside the road where it became most dangerous but that was of little help the first time.
Thus, I found my way to the B&B sodden and grumpy. The building was large and imposing even from the back where I entered. Clearly it had been an "upstairs-downstairs" sort of place back before WWI. My mood didn't improve much that night since the room I was destined for was tiny. No, really, it was tiny. The old term "not enough room to swing a cat", although it doesn't actually refer to the feline variety of cat, applied here. This room probably was not big enough to even contain a largish cat if there were a human occupant and any sort of luggage present. Adding insult to injury the bathroom facilities for this room were "down the hall". There was nothing to be done about it though so I settled in as best I could and then started thinking about food. All the way through Corbridge in the rain I hadn't seen any restaurants or pubs or anything else food-associated. Eventually I made do with some biscuits and tea from the tray in my room and an orange left over from lunch which I found in my pack. Oh well, at least the rain had tailed off and there would be no trouble sleeping tonight.