Crossing the fields from the museum, we soon find ourselves beside Thirlwell Castle ruin peeking out from its shallow rise. Originally built in the 12th Century and strengthened by stone from Hadrian’s Wall in the 14th, the castle was built to protect the owners from cross border raids which were commonplace; when it changed ownership to the Earl of Carlisle some 300 years later, it was allowed to fall into disrepair. There is something so romantic about a ruined castle; something that speaks, to me, of a life lived, more so than Hadrian’s Wall. But this says more about me; I am starting to unravel and relax. I am starting to become mindful as I walk, taking in the moments of my journey, one footstep after another. There is only now, only this. The boundary crossing from Northumberland National Park and the Cumbrian countryside has begun to have great significance for me.
The guide book tells us that there are the most impressive Roman remains at Gilsland with Poltross Burn Milecastle but it is here that there was (and probably still is) a route diversion. On an 18.5 mile stint, going down steps only to come back up again felt far too out there and we didn’t visit, despite what the guide book said. Instead, the diversion take us on a tour around the village. I have often thought this a great marketing strategy for village economies; people like to follow the route marked, not divert, so if the diverted route becomes the route, then everyone is happy, the landlords of the local pub, the shop, the residents…..well maybe not them!
For me, after passing through Gilsland, love of this route embraced my heart. This was simply the best section of the entire walk. Walking alongside and then down the steps beside the wall as it swoops downwards toward the river; over the Irthing River and its metal bridge and up again to Birdoswald. This is a stamping station so an important stop to make.
After a refreshment stop, and a little bit of souvenir shopping at Birdsoswald, we continue on, along roads and through fields, getting moaned at walking across the ‘wrong part’ of the field near Milecastle 51 (they really did want to argue with the OS app. According to the app, we were following the footpath exactly! And I smugly brandished that at the moany man, which he chose to ignore.) There is great sensitivity to footsteps around the wall; it is the only trail that I have walked where signs ask you to walk side by side and not in single file for fear of eroding ground which may yet have more treasures to be unearthed. The paths are mown short and cared for, volunteers along the route taking their turn to keep the paths in order.
Most of the day, we were blessed with sunshine but as we neared Walton, the weather broke and we stopped to don our waterproofs and for the last few miles of an 18.5 mile day, we strode with heads down determination to finish the day in Newtown where we waited impatiently for our lift to pick us up, feet unwilling to go one step further.