Carlisle, or in Roman times, Luguvalium, was the most beseiged city in the British Isles and many sites there will interest the historian. We wandered around some of the sites in the evening, too late to make the most of a visit but not ignoring the significance of the city. We had, of course, been here just seven days before and recognised where we had started our journey.
The route ahead had little in the way of visible remains of the wall and that too said something of my own journey. I had both built my own and breached it in the last seven days. I was starting to feel the flow of energy seep back in. Although the work I had yet to do would prove to reach far beyond the days by the wall, I was different now. My friend had weathered my tempests with a quiet shrug. A day like today’s finale needed to be set to music and long panning shots of the Solway as the journey draws to a close.
We are both anxious for this to be done today; me, to go home, to see who I am now. My friend, he has aching feet and never wants to walk again. We trace our steps from the guest house back to The Sands Centre and begin our journey winding beside the river. There is a simple joy in being beside flowing water and we stop more often today to take photos and to notice, the sand martins in flight once more, the architecture of the stone bridges.
The path wends its way beside the river, up and down muddy steps, across fields and away from the city. At Beaumont, the path follows a diversion due to a landslip, again, a temporary one likely to become permanent.
The Greyhound Inn was a welcome stop, with friendly staff and the array of walkers, many of whom we had met at various stops before. We shared stories and, as is either a very British thing to do, or a walker thing to do, depending on your perspective, commented on the weather.
As we begin our final stretch we find walkers are few in number beside the Solway but I am finding contentment; not because it is our final stretch but because the day is grey and the water is grey and the sand exposed by withering tides is grey. The sheep and cattle graze in huddles and the distant curlews cries fill the air with loss and sorrow. Tired, cold, we rest for a while in the wind and rain, looking out over the river to the Scottish side of the border; Gretna, the place of togetherness, is not far over there.
The bed and breakfast inches painfully into view and then, as is common on a long trail, it is upon us. We arrive with no ceremony. 84 miles done, and some, but I can’t sit still yet; I wander the shoreline, the first time alone in a week and find a barrel jellyfish washed up on the shore. Not having seen one before, I examine it for a while, standing at a safe distance. It was dead, of course it was.
I am ready to go back now. I have a life to return to, just not as it was before.