15 May 2010

I awoke inappropriately early at 5:30AM but didn't really get moving until 6:00. There was plenty of time to wander back to the center of Corbridge for some photography and sightseeing before breakfast at the B&B would be served. I discovered the path along the dodgy stretch of road and got into town in no more than ten minutes. I also discovered that in the rain the night before I had walked past the entrance to the square where there were eating establishments, numerous stores, and a bakery. I made good use of the bakery since I was ravenous after the enforced starvation of the night before and enjoyed a nice little apple confection. There is a fine Anglo-Saxon church, St. Andrew's, dating from around 786AD adjoined by a pele tower built using Roman stones on the market square. Both are lovely specimens.

PELE TOWERS

A brief digression: pele towers (sometimes spelled peel) are fortified keeps which were built across England and Scotland in the 15th century which acted as watch towers and signal towers and ultimately as refuges from raiders. The Reivers from both countries carried out attacks across the border to steal what they could, and the towers offered a place of safety for the local lord and often would provide protection to entire villages during an attack. Some pele towers were associated with churches and eventually some churches were built using the pele as the church tower, or at lest appear to have been; the church at Burgh by Sands (pronounced Bruff by Sands) certainly appears to be identical to a pele tower. Others were eventually incorporated into manor houses in more peaceful times.

At the assigned time I showed up at the dining room of the B&B for breakfast. As opposed to my room, the dining area was large and bright and airy having been set up in a parlor or sitting room or whatever it was called in the Victorian era. Breakfast was as before. I did have a chance to chat with a couple of elderly English lady tourists about our respective plans for the day. They were traveling to the east coast to visit Holy Island but seemed to be intrigued by my plans to walk all the way in the other direction. I got myself organized and finally set out at 9:15AM for the next bit of the walk. Because of the detour south that I had made there was a bit of a loop to make which was to lead to the City of Hexam before getting back to the wall itself. Sadly, I missed seeing the Corbridge Roman Town site of the fort Coria (alternatively Corstopitum) which was a major hub of activity during Roman times starting in about 90AD, sitting as it did beside a major bridge across the Tyne and on a major north-south route. But my own route lead off the south again taking me across the old stone Tyne bridge which was completed in 1674 and which was the only survivor crossing the Tyne in the floods of 1771. This "new" bridge is not far down stream of the site of the "old" Roman bridge. I met up with K. and T. for one last time as I headed down the hill toward the river. They were heading up for some sightseeing and we never walked together again although I saw them several more times along the way.

The route started out on the south bank of the river and headed west toward Dilston and went past the Dilston Physic Garden which I won't even try to explain. You can look at their website and try to get it straight in your own mind. I actually visited the place but left rather more bewildered than went I entered. I kept thinking of a certain scene from Macbeth...

Eventually the path winds back to the north and Hexham. This is the beautiful main market town of the region and still has a lot of its medieval ambience. The original Abbey was built there in about 675AD although there have been many alterations and additions since then; it is now the Parish Church of St. Andrew after several incarnations. I took the opportunity to sit in the lovely garden beside the bowling green at Hexham House and had my packed lunch. The tulips were in full bloom and everything was amazingly tidy. It would take more time than I had to spare to really see Hexham and I will certainly go back if I'm in the area. But the time came to leave and I headed north again and soon crossed back to the north side of the Tyne and toward Acomb.

Time for a navigational anomaly. Read that as getting lost. Getting to Acomb was quite easy and my route took me past the old church of St. John Lee south of Acomb. The church is modern, at least by local standards, and was built in the 19th century but the parish and the site seem to trace back to at least the 10th century. It stands in a clearing in an old forest; indeed, the name St. John Lee means St. John in the field / clearing in the woods. Enough of that and on to getting lost. My path was meant to take up the hill to Acomb until I came to the pant (fountain) where I was to make a slight zig to the left and then a zag to the right. Looking at Google Earth it appears that somewhere between the zig and the zag or soon after the zag I veered off to the right and wound up following an old strip of woods surrounding a stream. Very pretty. Sadly. according to Google Earth, it left me a good 0.4 miles east of where I should have been and this became clear as I wandered into a large caravan park (campground). Luckily the nice couple (caught by surprise by the camera) who manage the park checked around and eventually found someone who knew the way back to the wall. In any case I had some time for a chat with them and learned a bit about the area. The way back to the wall proved to be easy enough and had I had Google Earth available it would have been obvious that any path leading generally north would have gotten me back to the wall. As it was I wound up quite a bit further east than I should have and soon found myself passing St. Oswald's Tea Room and then finding a path across a field leading to St. Oswald's Church. I had heard the name King Oswald at some time in the past but didn't realize that he was a saint too. Somehow it seems odd that a 7th century warrior-king who lead an army into battle at Heavenfield (the very field in which the church stands) would wind up sainted. But I've since learned that he is credited with saving Celtic Christianity and is still held in high regard over a broad area extending as far as Italy. Sadly the church is not nearly so impressive as Oswald's legend, the present building dating from the 19th century but built on the site of a Saxon and then a mediaeval church. But enough of that. There was still a long way to go before there would be any rest.

A site called Planetrees was next followed close on by Brunton Turret. Honestly, at this stage all I can remember that getting to the remnants of the turret involved wading through a very muddy stretch in a field full of nervous sheep. Nervous sheep were nothing new since lambing time was not long past and the ewes are protective (in their own sheepish way) but these seemed especially up-tight. But I dutifully snapped my pictures and pressed on. The path lead to Chesters Fort (Cilurnum in its day) after crossing a river into Chollerford. The fort is located above the North River Tyne. Given the lateness of the hour and the approaching closing time I was forced to bypass Chesters for now and start looking for my lodgings at a working farm which was somewhere up a big hill and to the right. Since it would only be at most two or three miles back to the fort it seemed best to backtrack and see them in the morning. I used my mobile (cell phone) to call the B&B to tell them that I was coming but would be a while just so they wouldn't given away my room or call out the rescue squad to look for a lost walker. I did finally make my was to Greencarts Farm after picking up a couple of walkers from Michigan, USA who were looking for the same place. They were far more ambitious than I, carrying all of their stuff in backpacks and doing 15 to 18 miles a day. Tonight at 7:30PM I was pretty well walked out and if I had been saddled with a heavy backpack I might not have made it before midnight. A ride to the local pub for dinner would have been available had I been more timely but I was out of luck in that regard. Oh well, maybe I'll lose some weight and that wouldn't hurt me a bit.

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