Every few years I go for a long walk with my Dad and older brother. The most recent trip we made was to the Hadrian’s Wall Path. Whilst backing up the computer the other day I took another look through the photos I had taken. They reminded me just how breathtaking some of the landscape along the route can be, especially in the central section between Chollerford and Walltown Crags.
In some places, especially in the high stretches where the Wall follows the course of the Whin Sill, taking advantage of the natural barrier formed by the cliffs, it isn’t hard to imagine the perspective of a Roman Sentry, gazing out over this land at the extreme Northern edge of the Empire, wondering when, or if, you’d return home to the warmer climes of Dacia, Lutetia, or Rome itself. George R. R. Martin was so struck by Hadrian’s Wall that it inspired him to create the vast Wall that marks the northern border of the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros in his ‘A Song of Ice & Fire‘ series – now better known as Game of Thrones.
“I stood on Hadrian’s Wall and tried to imagine what it would be like to be a Roman soldier sent here from Italy or Antioch. To stand here, to gaze off into the distance, not knowing what might emerge from the forest. Of course fantasy is the stuff of bright colours and being larger than real life, so my Wall is bigger and considerably longer and more magical. And, of course, what lies beyond it has to be more than just Scots.” – from The SF Site, A conversation with George R.R. Martin
We spent five days walking to Carlisle – stopping on the way at Houghton North Farm, Heddon on the Wall, The County Hotel, Hexham, Once Brewed YHA hostel (a welcome site in the distance as you draw near the Wall’s famous Sycamore Gap), Sandysike Bunkhouse near Walton, then into Carlisle.
Few places in England afford such vast and open views, that seem to stretch on and on far beyond the horizon. One particularly enjoyable part of the trip – apart from the heavy rain that sent us on our way – was walking out of Newcastle. There’s something enormously satisfying about leaving a city on foot and watching the urban world slowly fade into the rural as you head into increasingly – albeit never entirely – open country. It seems ridiculous now, but until I set out on this walk it hadn’t occurred to me that Wallsend, is literally the Wall’s End. As you follow the course of the walk, there are plenty more Wall inspired place names like this to take in, such as Walltown, Wall and Heddon On The Wall.
Highlights for me were a very warm welcome out of the rain from Paula at Houghton North Farm – along with graphic tales of her dogs’ ratting activities, a gigantic pie in the Swan at Heddon, looking back east on where we’d come from on top of the Whin Sill at Crag Lough, the stunning views around Walltown quarry, exploring Housesteads Roman Fort and discovering that, far from being a spartan barn type accommodation, Sandysike Bunkhouse provided left-over Shepherd’s pie, bunks and a bottle of wine for us, inside what I think had once been the farm’s stables.
A wonderful minor pleasure along the way was regular walking into and out of small areas of woodland and copses atop many hills along the route.
If you make the trip and stop over in Carlisle, I’d strongly recommend a visit to the excellent Tullie House Museum and Art gallery – where I was surprised to see Samuel Palmer’s Harvest Moon, Shoreham amongst its collection. On nearby Castle Street, another pleasant discovery was a gigantic, sprawling, bookshop called Bookcase. Here there are four floors of books, spread over 30 rooms, packed with overflowing shelves, covering almost any subject you care to think of, from Local History and Literature, to Natural History, Scotland, Sci-fi, Art and Science. The shop also specialises in Classical Music and has a large selection of new and second-hand Classical, Jazz, Folk and World Music CDs and records. After a visit to The Boardroom pub for a pint or two and a pub quiz, I couldn’t have asked for a better way to finish our trip.
Links & References
Hadrian’s Wall Path – Official National Trail Guide, Anthony Burton, Aurum Press, 2003