Hadrian’s Wall: Day One

Bowness to Crosby-on-Eden – 3rd July 2009 – 18.5 miles

Today started out as the perfect walking day. It was overcast but warm with no wind. I paid my poorly octopus (£6) to the site owner and I was on the path by 07:20. Brilliant.

This first section of Hadrians Wall is a bit of a mixed bag of terrain. In fact it reminded me very much of the first couple of days of Offas Dyke… lots of fields, plenty of road walking, a few sunken lanes with high hedges blocking out the view and also a fair amount of riverside walking. I hated this when I walked the Dyke, but today it was fine. Not the ideal walking scenery, but not hateful. I guess it’s as much down to the state of mind you bring with you on a walk as it is the scenery through which you find yourself walking. The only noticable difference today was the number of stiles. ODP has about 60 stiles on the first day, I think I had to negotiate about 2 or 3 today along the Wall.

The guide books pretty much all guide you from east to west along the Wall. I’m not really sure why, perhaps they’re trying to get the rubbish section out of the way first – the walk through Newcastle city centre. In fact I have no idea if it’s crap or not and I won’t find out on this walk as I’m not going all the way. I’ll be finishing at Heddon on the Wall. However, city centre walking is never particularly inspiring, it’s normally something you do to join two rural walks together.

Anyway, walking west to east makes much more sense to me; not least because you are heading to Wallsend. You also tend to get the weather at your back, although that’s often not the case. It’s also the way you read, from left to right. In fact the maps in the Trailblazer guide feel wrong as you are reading them from right to left.

A consequence of walking in the ‘wrong’ direction is that you pass so many people coming down the path in the ‘correct’ direction. In fact I started meeting people as early as 09:00. They would be getting to Bowness by 11:00, a strange time to be finishing the walk. But then transport is an issue from that end and you have to rely on the Hadrians Wall bus service, which runs periodically through the day. So maybe the 2 lads with the massive packs who slogged past me with their heads down, clutching the Official NT guide book were hoping to get the first bus as the prelude to a long journey home? See below left.

I also met a guy (see above right) walking with a carrier bag and one of those draw top gym bags that we used to put our pumps (plimsoles) in when I went to junior school. He was on day 6 of his walk and I can only assume he was using a baggage courier as I find it hard to believe he had all his gear in an Iceland bag and a Man U pump bag. He’d lost his reading glasses in Carlisle and was following the white acorns on the finger posts as he couldn’t see his maps anymore. Strange bloke.

For a grumpy old fart like me walking against the flow is great. You get to meet loads of people, none of whom you are going to have to spend more than a couple of minutes with and there is no chance of any of them asking the worst of all questions ‘mind if I walk with you for a bit?’

It’s been months since I’ve walked with a full backpacking load and today was hard at times. Shoulders take time to get used to the extra weight. Feet are not used to carrying so much weight and the muggy heat meant that I was sweating like a cornered virgin all day. I took great pains to rest for 10 minutes or so after every hour of walking. This allowed my feet to get a break and also allowed my shirt to dry out. Last weekend I spent all day with a sweaty back and my day pack rubbed me raw with a resulting sweat rash causing me lots of pain for the last hour or two of the walk. I was keen to avoid aggravating that rash, and besides I had loads of time, so was determined to enjoy the time I had on the path.

By lunch time my right heel was sore and by the end of the day my left heel joined it. So I’m going to have to apply some Compeed to then tonight I think.

I took refuge from the spotting rain in a sports centre cafe at about noon and then the heavens opened and down came the rain that the weather guessers had promised us. I waited as long as I could in the cafe, but eventually I had to concede defeat and don the waterproofs and head out into the tumult.

I had 5 miles to do and it never stopped for the whole time. I could feel the water seeping through the waterproofs. Why oh why aren’t they ever waterproof? The only jacket I have that does what it says it should is my Paramo but that’s too heavy to use on a backpack.

Anyway I’m rambling now if you’ll forgive the pun. I’m in the Wallfoot Hotel having had a very average pint of electric john smiths but an excellent steak pie. You win some you lose some eh?

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