Hadrian's Wall 2011

 

Introduction and Planning

After finishing the West Highland Way last year, I knew immediately which path I wanted to tackle next – Hadrian’s Wall.

Back in 2008 my husband John and I did 4 days cycling along Hadrian’s Cycle Way. I loved that trip, but I really wanted to do the full national trail. There was just so much fascinating scenery and history in the area. Even another trip to the Wall in 2009 (this time by car, with my mom who was visiting from Canada) wasn’t enough to get the idea out of my head. Nothing but walking the whole path would do. So I floated the idea past my usual partners-in-crime after our success on the WHW, had some interest, and was off into planning mode.

This previous experience of the area made planning this walk much easier. I knew where the interesting bits we would want to linger over were, so could make sure the short walking days corresponded with these. It meant we did end up with a rather non-standard itinerary of longer days at the start and end of the walk and shorter days in the middle. For anyone who wants to join walking the national trail with plenty of time to see the sights, I think this is the way to do it.

We opted for an East – West crossing going from Wallsend, a suburb of Newcastle, to Bowness on Solway, a small village on the west coast. I have to agree with Antony Burton, author of the national trail guide book, that it seems more natural to walk out of a big city into the countryside, than the other way around. Another reason to walk E-W is that there is more Wall at the eastern end then the western end. At the start of the walk all the Roman stuff is fresh and interesting, but as the days pass, in many ways the forts become a bit samey. By the end you don’t mind so much there isn’t anything Roman to see. If you are doing it W-E, you can be two days in before you even start seeing Roman remains. However, the big reason against an E-W walk is the wind. This did end up bothering us quite a bit as we made our crossing, and it seemed we met more people going W-E for just this reason.

I already had the Anthony Burton guide book from when I was planning the cycle trip, but I also purchased the Trailblazer guide and the Harvey Strip Map. I found the Trailblazer guide to be extra helpful in planning the walk due to its inclusion of accommodation options for the route. For some strange reason I really enjoy the planning process for walking holidays. I spend a great deal of time working out where I think the best places to stay are, creating an itinerary and organising it all.
The group setting out on this year’s walk was Jacquie, Jess, Susan and me, along with Susan’s friend Alison, who was to join us at Housesteads for the remainder of the walk to Bowness on Solway.
We planned to walk at the end of May again. There was a good reason for this. I’m doing a part-time degree and I was to write exams in early May. Last year’s trip was a bit of a reward for me, and I liked having the trip to look forward to after the stress of exams. In fact, this year I was doing a Classics course on Roman Britain, so I was hoping the trip would help put some of my book learning in context.
We booked the accommodation in February and March and were able to get our first choice everywhere but one night. We purchased train tickets as far in advance as possible, and were able to get a good deal on the East Coast line from London to Newcastle using a groupsave, it was only £33 for three of us! Things were more expensive on the Virgin West Coast mainline for the return from Carlisle to London, but still very reasonable at about £30 each bought well in advance.

We had continued our monthly walks in the countryside around London so were feeling pretty confident we were well prepared for this one. Unfortunately, I had more boot problems in March. My big toenail, which had just finished re-growing after the West Highland Way, went black during one 13 mile walk. There was no way I was going through all the same problems on this walk if I could avoid it. So I ditched the Scarpas I had replaced the Brashers with, and made a quick trip to the Paramo shop in Covent Garden. I had my feet measured and came away with a new pair of their leather Anatom boots that are extra wide at the front. Unfortunately I didn’t have much time to break them in.

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