Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Life in the ditch

Tuesday 8th August [Hadrian's Wall 2]

I had some preliminary thoughts about how to approach today's walk. Perhaps split it into an early morning section and then late afternoon, avoiding the worst heat and allowing recuperation time. At the back of my mind, as it will be for the next few days, is how to manage the logistics of getting back to the car/hotel at the end of each day's walk.

The earling morning start didn't happen as I decided to sleep as long as possible, and then get all my pictures uploaded while I had wifi access at my hotel.

We resumed the walk at Newburn, starting with an easier-on-the-feet river stretch. Then it was across a golf-course and winding up a hill towards Hedden-on-the-Wall, the traditional end of the *first* day of the westbound walk. Of course that's for folks who haven't already walked 6 miles before the beginning at Wallsend.

From Heddon onwards there was a lot of road-walking. Sometimes that was the nature of the path, but more often than I would have liked, it was because we would have crossed through cow-pasture, and I didn't want to take my life into my hands by aggravating cattle by having an unfamiliar dog with me. Horrible memories of two incidents in Norfolk last year still linger, and I heard of a woman getting trampled by cattle in an English paddock under similar circumstances.

We also had a bit of stile troubles. The only one with a dog gap was lined with barbed wire, and Bondi screamed trying to get through it (he left some belly hair on the barbs) before retreating. I eventually found a hole under a fence to let him through.

Some stretches were quite pleasant, but at this point in the journey there are not many signs of exposed wall, bar the occasional rubble or pathway through Roman ditch. At the end of one such ditch Bondi fell into some disgusting brackish water and came out black-grey up to his Plimsoll line. I was luckily able to borrow a hose from a nearby pub and got most of it out, although it took ages due to low water pressure.

We missed pub lunch hours, and having no packed fruit left, we trudged on. Our next three nights are to be spent in Corbridge, a couple of miles to the south of the Wall route, but on the route of the AD122 Hadrian's Explorer bus. There's an optional diversion from the main route through Corbridge and Hexham that I'm considering.

At the suggested turn-off for Corbridge, there was a sign indicating that this was a private road and did not allow dogs or cyclists thoroughfare. So we wearily marched on, with more awful road-edge to navigate, until we got to the Errington Arms ("Now Open ... but not right at this minute"). This sits at the Portgate, a crossroads between the military road by the wall and Deere Street, the easterly north-south route of the Romans, now covered by the A68.

It was now 4.25pm, and I worked out that if we could cover the 3km down the A68 to Corbridge in under an hour, I could drop Bondi at our guesthouse and catch the AD122 back into Newcastle.

Even with this being a downhill stretch all the way, it was roadwalking on a VERY busy road, with moments where large trucks sped past, mere inches from us huddled against a fence.
Anyway I dropped Bondi off with the guesthouse hostess, and caught the bus with less than a minute to spare - not helped by the guidebook having the busstop on the wrong street. I asked for a fare to Newburn and settled back in my seat to watch the day's progress whizz past in minutes.

Watching for my setdown point, I was alarmed to see the driver take a turn in the opposite direction from Newburn. I rang the bell, and as I stepped out, asked if the bus actually got any closer to Newburn. No, the driver smiled. "Thanks for mentioning that you didn't actually go there when I paid my fare" I screamed silently. Newburn and my car turned out to be another mile, as my left calf muscle took me through my 17th pain barrier for the day.

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