20 May 2010
The last day of the official walk and it is going to be the longest one -- nearly 16 miles as I figure it which is 2 more than the second day. This will be something completely different since almost all the walk will be across land as flat as Kansas. It seems that the walk will be a total of 93 miles, exclusive of miles added on by getting lost or intentionally wandering afield. Quite possibly today's biggest hazard will be boredom rather than getting lost since there are few places where one might go astray. Hit the road at 9:10AM or thereabout.
It wasn't too many minutes after starting out, reversing the route from the B&B to the path, that I came across the Sands Centre once again. Seems that I could easily have saved the effort of the previous day and waited but I honestly had no clue it was as close as it was. The building sits right on the River Eden beside the Eden Bridge and is a general purpose venue for entertainment, sports, conferences, meetings and exhibitions but day-to-day it serves the region as a physical fitness facility with swimming pool and gymnasium and exercise equipment. The on-site caf‚ is where the passport stamping takes place. The path follows close on the river out of the city going through parklands until suddenly changing into somewhat muddy rural country. On the river I found someone tending to what looked like an undersized yellow torpedo on a tether. The man was a government hydrologist and he was tending a device which monitored water condition and flow. At that same place I spoke to a couple of other female walkers -- the Australian contingent. I'd seen them sporadically on the trail all the way along but had never met them. They were on pretty much the same schedule as I so I really should have spoken sooner.
Even this close in to Carlisle the area was purely rural and supported some largish dairy herds. Eventually, at the village of Beaumont the trail veered sharply westward away from the meandering river for good. Next up was Beaumont with its own village church and graveyard which needed photographing. I've heard of people who do nothing else on holiday but going from church to church, graveyard to graveyard. I hope I'm not turning into one of them but they do seem to hold a fascination. Beaumont was a perfect place to have lunch while sitting under a tree in the middle of the village; I also managed to phone my Mom while sitting there so I felt better instantly. The path bypassed the village of Kirkandrews-on-Eden. I know nothing of the place except that it is listed as one of the "Holy Wells Of Cumbria". Perhaps they should meet up with the people at the Dilston Physic Garden and discuss things? Next up was the pretty village of Burgh-by-Sands and yet another village church. This one was interesting for the square 14th century tower which certainly looked like a pele tower to my uninitiated eyes. The church, St. Michael's [picture at bottom-left], was built with stones from the Roman fort Aballava which stood on the village site. The church was interesting enough to warrant a visit inside earning them the traditional donation. There is nothing remaining of the fort or of any other permanent Roman structures along this entire stretch except for hints of the ditch and vallum. Odd, since this was one of the most heavily fortified stretches of the wall. A few more minutes and I came to a rather new statue and plaque recording the fact that in 1307 King Edward I died at the village while leading a campaign against Robert the Bruce. History is almost inescapable around here. Probably of equal interest was the Greyhound Inn right next door where I had a half pint of Black Sheep Bitter while sitting on the patio so that I'd feel justified in using their loo. A win-win situation.
Photo-worthy scenery was a quite sparse along this stretch. A pretty white house that has a sundial gnomon projecting horizontally from the wall; petals from cherry trees drifting along the road; and then through the villages of Dykesfield, Drumburgh, and Glasson. An ancient (14th century) stone farmhouse with a sign calling it Drumburgh Castle. A sign pointing the way to a holiday park but which looked like a huge caravan park. The path veered toward the marshy shore of Solway Firth in the middle of this. There was a prominent warning sign at a point along the trail warning that the tides can affect passage through the area and some incomprehensible tide tables. I met a Scottish couple for (from Perth as I recall) by the sign and talked for a bit before they headed off while I sad on a bench and considered. A bit further on a sign declaring that "When Water Reaches This Point Maximum Depth Is Three Feet". They must have been serious because I came to a warning sign telling me not to swim and the sign had a life ring attached to it for instant use. Good thing I wasn't planning on swimming (or even) walking in the marsh. Now that I could understand quite clearly. Luckily the water was still well out past the marsh to the right and presented no eminent danger. The path bypassed the little village of Port Carlisle; the village had once been a center of promising commerce but everything came to naught and there is not much to see except for an old dock and customs house and the path where the railroad once ran. The only sign of life was some men fishing where the old canal ran into the firth. Only a bit over a mile to go to Bowness-on-Solway and the end of the long walk. By 5:08 I was at the little gazebo structure which marks the end/beginning of the path and I talked for a bit with a Canadian couple just finishing up the walk. "Ave terminvm callis hadriani avgvsti pervensisti" as the sign above the door said. I chatted to a couple of others at the gazebo and got my last stamp in the passport and went off to look for my night's lodgings. On the way there I was diverted for a while by the village's Norman church which, not surprisingly, is right beside the Old Rectory B&B where I was to stay. This small church, St. Michael's, is one of the best I've seen on the walk [picture at bottom-right]. If a building ever had character, this is it. A score of pictures from various angles and I was on my way next door. By 5:30 I was sitting on the bed wondering what I would do next.
Well, there was one thing that was on the schedule -- a good meal and a pint or two and the literally the only place to do that is the Kings Arms in the center of town so after cleaning myself up a bit (well, a lot really) I headed off that way. This establishment filled my expectations of a village pub perfectly -- far better than any other I'd seen on the walk. No pretensions and overflowing with character describe it exactly, down to real a coal-burning stove and fireplace at opposite ends of the main room. This pub could be considered the real end of the walk for nearly every walker over the years. They've capitalized on the fact but not in an obnoxious way. In fact they saved me a great deal of trouble. It had appeared that I'd have great problems getting my certificate of completion since it is assumed that such would be mailed in exchange for the passport and some money but from outside the UK I didn't know how it would or could be done. Luckily the pub also gives out the certificates as well as keeping a walker's visitor's book and selling some souvenirs. I broke my own rule about souvenirs and got myself a patch which I'll have sown onto my daypack and a pin which I have no idea what I'll do with. Something that the person cleaning up after my death can puzzle over. Quite importantly for the moment the pub offers some good dinners. I had the chicken curry and found it quite tasty. Of course there was a bit of ale to go with it. The dining area in the pub looked like old home week, holding as it did K. and T., the Australian Contingent, and the Canadian couple. It would probably had the Dutch/English party too but they had been forced to cut the walk a day short and return home.
After dinner I found that it was still early so I wandered the village for a while, took a few more pictures, and then headed off to bed. The next morning would not be an early one since the bus schedule was set up for either workers or shoppers and I wasn't hot to get to Carlisle and run to the office. The shopper's bus was definitely the one I wanted. So off to bed I went with the feeling of a job, if not well done, done completely.