If you go for nothing else, go to Northumberland for the hospitality. We stayed in Vallum Lodge, and were treated like royalty. The owner is welcoming, chatty, and her spaniel is constantly on watch for a friendly pat on the head. My friend had told us about the Twice Brewed Inn, the only thing I really remember about the pre-walk planning and I was excited to visit. It’s just a pub, and a B & B, a nice pub with wholesome food but they also sell home-brewed ales and spirits. And we decided to take a couple of bottles back for our friend back home. Wasn’t sure if they would really survive the journey – or my case/clothes come to that – but we took the chance.
Sleep was evasive, my leg propped up on my spare pillow, attempting to take the pressure off soft tissue. The problem with my achilles and the pain in my calf plagued me and by morning, tired and stiff from the recent pounding on the hills, I could barely move my ankle. This would be the longest day at about 18.5 miles and I wasn’t sure I was going to make one mile. Added to which, I was tense and angry; the internalised voices from the past raged unabated. The ‘Turn off the TV, don’t leave the lights on’, the condemnation leaked into the morning. I decided I wasn’t going to walk at all; we could surely get a taxi to the next place. The start of the walk was to take us straight back up the hill to Steel Rigg. There was no way. I was done.
…….Ok, so maybe I wasn’t. I would go for a while, see how I felt. The top of the hill we were to climb was shrouded in mist and the air was cool. We had reached the highest point of the walk at 345m above sea level; nothing would be as high as this and although visibility was low, I liked that feeling of only seeing what was right in front of me. My mood was lifting a little. With my poles taking some of the strain, I eased myself into the day, convinced that any minute now I would ditch this day’s walking.
We stopped for a break at the disused quarry, now a large pond, resplendent with reeds, mallards, moorhen and coots. Tired, I ripped off my rucksack so quickly that the chain I had worn around my neck for the past 7 years snapped and vanished. Choked with tears, I scrabbled on my hands and knees in the wet grass to look for it. It had been a gift from my other life, the one before this and it was gone.
As I walked away, with heavy heart, the sun began to filter gently through the clouds, like a message from the Roman gods, slowly breaking up the grey day with bright blue skies and warming air. Whipping the legs off my walking trousers, I was back in shorts and T-shirt, spirits lifting with every degree of rise in the temperature.
The terrain undulates, at times gently, at times more steeply but there is a downward trend that feels we are going the right way, down from Steel Rigg, up over Cockmount Hill and down toward the Roman Army Museum. Somewhere around Walltown, we seemed to take a wrong turn and lose the wall for a couple of miles, ending up walking the road. You walk 84 miles, you are going to take the odd wrong turn!
With a long day to get under our belt, we didn’t stop for longer than a quick sit and snack stop at the museum; if you are there for the history, you probably need to factor this in as there is plenty to see all along the way, forts to examine, museums to top up your interest. If you are there for the walk, the 8 days we chose is fine. If you are there for the metaphor, well….that’s a different story altogether.
In part 2, we rejoin the day’s journey from the Museum to the small town of Brampton.