17 May 2010
After the regulation breakfast the Dutch/English party and I hitched a ride back down to the path at a site called Steel Rigg which we had passed the previous evening. My next intended stop was the fort Vindolanda which would mean getting off the path yet again and venturing to the south a bit. On the way down the road toward Once Brewed I happened to come upon my original walking companions K. and T. who were coming up the other way heading back to the path after having spent the evening in the village. Their lodgings were closer and easier to get to but I'll bet that they didn't have a dinner as good as mine. On the way south I stopped at the Northumberland National Park Centre - Once Brewed for a call of nature before continuing down the road for Vindolanda. I guess that there must be frequent questions about where the name came from so they've posted an informative sign to answer it. To quote the sign: "How Once Brewed got its name During the Jacobite uprisings, Bonnie Prince Charlie was seeking support for his cause in Carlisle when General Wade tried to give chase. The road from east to west, however, was so bad that Wade's army couldn't pass, and Charlie escaped back to Scotland. In 1751, the order came to build a new road along the route of Hadrian's Wall. The thirsty road-builders were glad to see an inn, about 200 metres west of here, but they found the ale so weak that they demanded it be brewed again. The inn, invariably, became known as the Twice Brewed Inn. In 1934, the Youth Hostel here was opened by a staunch teetotaler, Lady Trevelyan. She said 'Of course there will be no alcohol served on these premises, and I hope the tea and coffee will be brewed only once.' Ever since then, the Youth Hostel and the Northumberland National Park Centre have been known as Once Brewed!"The Vindolanda fort is another site where one pays to enter. Even though it is only about £6 to enter it is apparent that entry fees could be a considerable expense if one were inclined to visit every possible site. Vindolanda is associated with The Roman Army Museum, one that I unintentionally missed, and a ticket good for both would save a bit of money. I've only seen digs on television and read about them in books and neither really conveys the true scope. There was a horde of archaeologists, students, and volunteers swarming over a couple of areas. What finally sunk in was how tedious most of the work must be removing soil gram by gram and digging down to some unknown depth hoping to find something important but almost never doing so. But, given the past finds at this site, there is still a good chance that even more will turn up even though the chance that any single digger will make the discovery is near nil.
A bit past noon I decided that I had better get moving down the path so I backtracked the way I had come and then headed west again. I met a couple beside the wall taking a lunch break. They were from Washington, DC. It never ceases to amaze how many and the wide variety of people make this walk that I had only recently become aware of. Back on the trail I soon came to the highest point on the walk at Winshields Crag. It was only 345m high but given that this is not a mountainous region it seemed high. This was more of the crag walking like yesterday but didn't seem so relentless (I hoped). Maybe not so much of the up and down which threatened my ankles. This was a very empty region and probably always has been. Around 1:00PM I took a lunch break and sat down in the lee of the wall to get out of the wind. Parts of the wall up here are quite high, at least the infill portion. As everywhere more of the high-quality facing stones were missing. The altitude gave me a bit of signal on the mobile so I took the chance to call home while I ate and was glad to hear the everything was well. Bit of a trudge over the next stretch although there were many bits of fine wall. In fact this may have been the best portions of unrepaired wall so far. Eventually there was a descent to an abandoned quarry at Cawfields. This is a relatively modern quarry, not Roman, but I read that quarrying in this area was responsible for much destruction of the wall as they removed large scarps of a hard valuable stone where the wall stood.
A very lonely stretch, this. I've seen only a couple of other walkers which seems unusual given the number I've seen recently. Perhaps it is just because it is Monday and the weekend walkers have gone back to work. But the near-total lack of people is a bit eerie. I certainly wouldn't want to wander out here on a moonlit night although the photographic possibilities are intriguing. Moonlight on the Wall and all of that. But this is getting to be a long trudge since I have to get through Gilsland to find my next lodging and at this point I don't know how far that is. My hopes of easier walking were dashed along this section as it got pretty rough and steep. Passed turret 44b, also known as King Arthur's Turret for some unknown reason, which is in excellent condition. Laid out on the ground inside are the original stones which made up the arch over the entrance. Some more up-and-down on the Walltown Crags and past some very substantial parts of the wall and the terrain settles down to something more walker-friendly. Sadly, this stretch is without much trace of wall -- just some earthworks remain. As I walked I was looking forward to finding the ruins of my first legitimate castle on the walk. The hulking remains of Thirlwall (gap in the wall) Castle appeared on a rise on my right. This edifice could be called a building in very bad condition or a ruin in fairly good condition. But the sky was clear and the weather fair so I clambered around the remains of the keep for a while and snapped pictures. This fortified family home was built, as were the pele towers across this swath of England, in the 14th century for protection during the border reiving.
My next lodgings were at a B&B south of Gilsland, somewhat off the path, but somewhere between the castle and the town I managed to get diverted from my intended path. Lost again but I still haven't figured out how nor how far off the path I had gone. Not that I didn't have an idea where I was bound but the directions to the B&B given to me by the tour company pretty much counted on me being on the path and not wandering down a randomly-selected country road. I eventually found my destination rather far afield and up a steep grade after using a railroad as a landmark. This meant getting into the B&B rather later than intended (a pattern developing). This was one of the three locations where I was booked for the evening meal. By the time I walked in I found that the other guests were seated in the dining room and eating. The hosts did a bit of a scramble and put together a meal of chicken breast and roast potatoes. Given the hour I guess I couldn't complain since some food was better than no food as I'd enjoyed after another late arrival. They at least had some local ale on tap to wash the meal down. And an apple tart with ice cream made up for some other lacks. Later, in my room I finally managed to get through on the mobile to the friend who and dropped me at the airport. Seems that I had the wrong number in my notebook and no pre-programmed numbers in the phone. The perils of hastily-planned trips I guess.