1. Prestatyn – Bodfari (21 km/13 m)

From north to south

As I said in the short introduction this blog about Offa’s Dyke Path will cover more or less half of the trail and we decided to start north in Prestatyn and head southwards to Knighton. This was mainly decided because of some very practical reasons. One can get to Prestatyn by train. First from Brussels-South to London St. Pancras and from Euston to Prestatyn to Chester. This domestic journey lasts around 2 hours and 40 minutes, which is good, since one can try and get some rest or read about the journey ahead. And to enjoy the ever changing landscape, that becomes more and more green and hilly.

Prestatyn is one of the Welsh towns that was once very popular as a seaside resort, especially in the Victorian era and the early twentieth century, just like Llandudno among others. Today it’s still able to draw a crowd. Because of the ever increasing visitors, the town got its own holiday camps. The closer you get to the beach, the less charming the houses become. Logically, the other way around you see that the further you get from the promenade the more exclusive the residences become and the influence of Victorian splendor becomes visible. We decided to stay in one of those pretty houses. B&B Plas Ifan offered a pretty room and a good breakfast, and we could start our second hiking adventure in good spirit.

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Prestatyn – Rhuallt (13 km/8m)

The path begins on the promenade, where you say goodbye to the Irish Sea (although there will be plenty of sea views left). Passing the city center you immediatly start to climb towards the Prestatyn Hillside. On the side of the path you can see gorse and ferns, which will both appear a lot more later on. Further ahead, you have a great view over the coastal town, the see and the windmills in the distance. It is worth the effort.

It immediatly becomes clear that this path is more challenging than Hadrian’s Wall, even after the first kilometre. A hasty conclusion? Well, time did tell our gut feeling was right. Once you pass the shrubs and plants, the rest of this part is characterised by green meadows and hills. Combined with the blue sky this forms a picture perfect landscape that just oozes that special Welsh wonderfulness.

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Rhuallt – Bodfari (8 km)

Rhuallt is a small village with a pub and consisting of a number of streets, but that is about it. It’s not enough to keep us lingering there too long, so we immediatly continue our journey. The fields are roamed by many different kinds of animals, and their numbers are ever increasing. We mostly meet cows and sheep, but now and then we do encounter something more exotic, something you wouldn’t perhaps expect to see roaming freely in Wales. After some grumbling and spitting (from the animals obviously), Sara and I were able to find a way through.

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After this strange encounter you mainly walk through the same kind of landscapes, rolling green hills, with kissing gates and stiles placed here and there to get through and over walls and hedges. Occassionally there are some architectural elements, like the little church of St. Bueno. After that you climb another hill, until you get on a path that is entirely made invisible by the ferns. With the hands up in the air we pushed and found ourselves a way through. You don’t climb that high on this very first day, but what characterises Offa’s Dyke Path is that it does go up and down a lot, without much a do. It’s often just straight forward, even if it makes for a really steep climb. Eventually we found ourselves a lovely hill and enjoyed the view.

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After a last climb, testing the knees once more, we reached our destionation of the day, Bodfari. This first day was definitely memorable. The sea now lies behind us. In front of us is the first real challenge, the Clwydian range.

The food

As often with these kind of villages you have a limited choice in Bodfari. We went to the Downing Arms, where we both took a hamburger and a good local beer. While going  there we took a short but dangerous busy road. Thanks to local we had a safe yet more tiring route back to our B&B.

The accommodation

Finding a place to stay in Bodfari was not easy. Two B&B’s mentioned in our guides were no longer  active and out of the other available ones one of the owner’s mother had just died and the other was fully booked because of a marriage. Luckily we could still book a room in Llety’r Eos Ucha. It was a clean and comfortably (and really big) room.

Trivia

 – The ll (double l) is pronounced like a slj in Wlesh, a bit like a llama blowing through his teeth. No coincidence that we met a couple of those along the way, I guess.

-Offa’s Dyke Path has it’s own sculpture symbolising both “the beginning” and “the end”, so it can be enjoyed by both the hikers that start and finish in Prestatyn.

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-Apparently it’s a tradition to dip your shoe in the sea and take a shell from Prestatyn, so you can throw it in the Severn at the end of the trail.

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Offa’s Dyke Path: A summary

Whose what?

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Just as is the case with Hadrian’s Wall Offa’s Dyke Path also follows a historical border of sorts. Offa (Icling) was king of Mercia from 757 until 796. Mercia was one of the different early kingdoms in England and bordered the kingdoms of Wales, mainly Gwynedd, Powys and Gwent. Even if it isn’t known to what extent Offa was responsible for the construction of the dyke (or even parts of it), it is linked with his reign. So now we know who Offa from Offa’s Dyke fame was, but what the hell is the dyke?

The dyke is an earthen wall, built as a defensive structure. In many places it was supposed to be 20 metres broad and 3 meters high. It went all the way from the Irish Sea in the North of Wales to the south, ending at the Bristol Channel. The whole border was 240 km (149 m), but it also made use of natural barriers. So there was probably about 130 km (81 m) of the actual dyke built. Some theories claim that it was already constructed, either partially or in its entirety, some centuries before Offa’s reign, but there is no historical consensus. In any case, the contemporary border between England and Wales follows the line of the Dyke, even if it is nowhere to be seen in most places. Yes, there does seem to be a similarity with Hadrian’s Wall Path.

A long distance trail?

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Offa’s Dyke Path is, just like Hadrian’s Wall Path, one of the national trails of England, Scotland and Wales. It has a length of 285 kilometres (177 m). It starts up north in Prestatyn, at the Irish Sea, and meanders from England to Wales and back again. The path passes through consecutively through the Clwydian Range, the Shropshire Hills and the Black mountains in the Brecon Beacons, where the highest point of the entire trail, at about 800 metres (+- 2600 feet). It was officially “opened” in 1971. It is a varied and challenging path, where one can find beautiful nature as well as interesting villages and towns in Wales and England.

This blog series will, just as was the case with Hadrian’s Wall Path, describe the different stages, talking about the route, the food and the accommodation as well as giving natural and historical information. I do have to say that I won’t cover the entire path. We did about half of it, starting in Prestatyn and ending in Knighton (156 of the 285 kilometres or 97 of the 177 miles). We used the Trailblazer guide as well as the Cicerone-guide, although the second one describes the routh from south to north. So it’s a bit more difficult to use for navigation. But the path itself is, apart from one specific and cursed point, well-marked by the signs and symbols (the national trail’s acorn) we know and cherish.

8. Carlisle – Bowness-on-Solway (24 km/15 m)

Carlisle

The last day of the trail was the third one to climb above 20 km. What we didn’t know, it was the pre-smartphone era after all, was the fun fact of a orange warning for heavy winds. We only discovered that after we arrived in Bowness, although it had struck us that there were few people out and about. On this last day we would see some nice villages as well as the fourth river of the Hadrian’s Wall Path. After the Tyne, the Irthing and the Eden we would walk next to the Solway, flowing into the Irish Sea and therefore ending our coast to coast walk. Bowness-on-Solway was the perfect end of this magnificent first long distance trail.

Carlisle – Burgh-By-Sands  (13,1 km/8,1m)

Before reaching the Solway, we would follow the river Eden a bit more, in a green environment with lots of trees. After going under an impressive 19th century railroad bridge we needed to leave the path for a bit. Because of a land sinking we had to take an alternative route to Beaumont, mainly following the road. Beaumont is another pretty, small village with a charming little church, as we have seen a couple of times before. Once past the village square things become a bit muddy. A few kilometres later we enter Burgh-By-Sands.

Burgh-By-Sands – Bowness-on-Solway (10,9 km/6,8m)

Our guide told us that we had to be quite attentive after Burgh-by-Sands. The 5 km between Dykesfield and Drumburgh were prone to tidal floods (still the channel of the river Eden). During high tide the road can be under water, and you need to follow the example of the cows and seek higher ground. Although we thought we had checked everything out, the water came closer and closer, and, especially due to a nasty wind, the 5 km from one village to another became very tiring. Driven forward by the water, we reached Drumburgh exhausted, due to the fast pace. From there on it’s only an hour and a half to Bowness-on-Solway and the end of Hadrian’s Wall Path. (Or the beginning)

Bowness-on-Solway

At the end of the trail there’s a sign saying “The end of Hadrian’s Wall Path”. Unfortunately the friendly young man who we had asked to take a photo with said sign, didn’t quite figure that out, so we had a photo of us and of the sign (but we really made to the finish)

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The Food

Bowness-on-Solway has a pub called The King’s Arms. How British can it get right? Because we had enough burgers already, I chose a delicious leg of lamb and Sara went for a spicy chicken dish.

The accommodation

Shore gate House is a cosy B&B with a very friendly and welcoming hostess. She asked Sara, admittingly looking a little bit pale, a couple of times if she was ok, adding a characteristic sweetie to it. Our room was very spatious and we had a room with a view, looking over the Solway Firth. A nice view after eight days of meadows and rolling hills.

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– Edward I died in Burgh by Sands.

7. Newtown – Carlisle (19km/11,8m)

Newtown

There was no reason to linger in Newtown. After a delicious breakfast (with eggs from the owner’s chickens) we had to climb (relatively gentle) about a kilometre to get back on the Path. From there on it is a rather gentle stroll along the banks of the river Eden.

Newtown – Crosby-on-Eden (9 km/5,6m)

Day 7 seemlingy doesn’t have as much to offer as previous days. In this first part of the day you do get to see a vallum but apart from that there’s nothing but fields, meadows and green, green grass to admire. The small village Crosby-on-Eden is also one to pass through, although there’s a quaint little church.

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Crosby-on-Eden – Carlisle (10 km/6,2m)

Luckily, the second part is more interesting, especially once you follow the watercourse of the Eden. People who know me are familiar with my love for rivers, lakes and waterfalls, so I did enjoy this section, even if it’s mostly walking on flat terrain. There are also two striking architectural points of interests. Linstock castle is a former Norman castle. Only a part of it survived the passing years and centuries and is now integrated in a farming complex. Rickerby estate is described as a victorian manor with lots of follies. Unfortunately it’s hidden behind hedges and trees and we were only able to see the tower and the guardhouse. After a short walk past the sports centre you arrive in Carlisle.

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Carlisle

If you’re in Carlisle I do recommend you to visit Tullie House & Museum. First of all, it has a large collection of all things from the Roman Era, presented in a fine contemporary and educational manner. Secondly there are also sections about other interesting periods in English (and local) history. You can learn about the looting Border Reivers or the rise of Carlisle during the Industrial Revolution. Carlisle itself offers a lot of buildings from the 19th century and a castle from the 12th century, but isn’t the most bustling place. There are some ATM’s to be found, something that is mostly absent along the rest of the path, between Newcastle and Carlisle.

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The Food

Walking on the British isles is always a wonderful experience, especially if you’re a historian and/or anglophile. The only (minor) disadvantage is the fact that going from pub to pub poses the risk of having to eat fish and chips or french fries and burger a few times. Carlisle, a city, offers a wider variety of culinary experiences. We chose La Mezzaluna, with very friendly staff and good pasta.

The accommodation

Cornerhouse guesthouse is probably the least memorable one were we stayed while walking Hadrian’s Wall Path. It is ok, but lies near a busy road and the rooms are a bit below average. I also made the mistake of taking Carlisle station into consideration while looking for a hotel, which meant we had to walk another 45 minutes to the starting point of the last day. (Not that big of a problem of course)

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According to Morrissey there was also panic in the streets of Carlisle, in het song Panic by The Smiths.

6. Gilsland – Newtown (17 km/10,6 m)

Gilsland

The sixth day was another one below 20 kilometres. Nevertheless, this is a fine day with some authentic Roman remains and a priory with a significant role in English history. The rolling hills roll just a bit gentler, but the same ingredients we’ve come to love can be admired on this stage as well. There are farms and farmlands, walls with stiles and kissing gates, cows, sheep and green meadows. And despite the heavy rain on the previous day, the sun was out and about and a welcome companion

Gilsland – Birdoswald (3,2 km/2 m)

The first reward of the day comes immediately after leaving Gilsland. First there’s Poltross Burn, a.k.a. milecastle #48. Not only is it well preserved but it’s also placed strategically as well as aesthetically at the foot of the slope of the hill. It’s quite a peculiar sight. After that you reach a fresh piece of wall. Not only is it well preserved but it’s probably the best example of a small wall built on a broad foundation. The path than crosses the river Irthing, the second of four rivers (we already had the Tyne). After a rather steep climb you reach Birdoswald, a Roman fort that includes a visitor center and an example of a granary. We decided not to visit it, as we had planned another historical side dish, but stuck to the path.

Birdoswald – Walton (11,2 km/7 m)

Not long after leaving passing Birdoswald fort, you can sidetrack to Lanercost Priory. The priory was built in the 12th century by one of the Norman nobles that had been given land after the conquest by William the Conqueror in 1066. Throughout the years it welcomed some prominent historical figures like Edward I (again), who was bedridden due to illness and spent a few months here, and Robert the Bruce, king of Scotland from 1306 till 1329. As was the case with Thirlwall castle (day 5) and due to the proximity of the Scottish border Lanercost also had to endure many attacks, from border reivers, soldiers and plunderers.

In 1538 it became redundant due to the politics of Henry VIII and the schism of the church of England. Henry’s policy was of course anti-Catholic, but apart from clear religious and political motives, there were also ulterior motives concerning the treasury. Confiscating churches, abbeys, priories and other possessions of the Catholic Church certainly meant easy money. Although it has no roof, Lanercost priory is still in a rather impressive state and well worth the detour. Once back on the main road, you pass through Banks and Walton, two rather mundane places. The very last piece of wall on Hadrian’s Wall Path lies near the latter.

Walton – Newtown (3,2 km/2 m)

The stretch between Walton and Newton consists mainly of meadows and fields, with the main variety being the cattle. Some have cows in it, others have sheep. It does mean that it is a gentle stroll and thus an unchallenging walking experience. Newton itself is yet another tiny village. When we arrived there, there was some sort of event or tournament on the village green. It was rather heartwarming to see the young, the elder and everyone in between gathered there.

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The food

Because we stayed in Irthington and the only pub in town was fully booked, we used Lanercost Priory cafeteria as a plan B. We both ate wraps, which was fine. Especially as the alternative was surviving on cheddar cheese and crackers.

The accommodation

Vallum Barn B&B lies in Irthington, about 1 kilometre from the path. Going there means descending, so obviously we had to climb a bit going back to the trail the next day. It is a very comfortable and spotless B&B, with very friendly owners, who’ll welcome you with tea and cakes. The room was very spacious as were the other facilities. You could compose your own breakfast and pack lunches beforehand.

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– The sheep near Lanercost Priory were quite vain, as can be seen on this photo.

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– Near Walton there’s a piece of a watch tower that looks as if it has sunk into the ground.

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5. Once Brewed – Gilsland (14,5 km/9m)

Once Brewed

Despite the previous day being the most challenging stage, we hadn’t suffered any damage. No sore muscles or cramping, no blisters on our feet and our motivation still intact. After what was described as the toughest stage of the entire trail, this fifth day started in the same vein, only to transform into something entirely different in the second half. Not too long, not too difficult. We would also leave Northumberland (Originating to one of the original sevens kingdoms of England, Northumbria) and enter Cumbria. This is the county of the magnificent Lake District, among other things. Following Hadrian’s Wall Path you’ll be in the northern regions, but you can spot some landmarks from afar. Today’s destination was Gilsland, a small, tranquil village that profits from Wall-tourism.

Once Brewed – Cawfields quarry (3 km/1,9 m)

The fifth day continues where the fourth ended, with the same ups and downs, with walls and crags. It’s here you’ll reach the trig point of the entire route, at Winshield Crag (345 metres). There was no photo opportunity however. This modest summit was entirely claimed by a group of Germans with a very chatty guide who reminded us of Claude François. This is also a land of myths and legends. This is reflected in the place names. There’s a Bogle Hole (Goblin’s Hollow) for instance, and a Bloody Gap. One can only assume what happened here in the past. The ascends and descends become less steep and the landscape starts to transform. Cawfields quarry, a former quarry is now an idyllic place with a small lake and some ducks (although there’s also a car park next to it)

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Cawfields quarry – Thirlwall Castle (5,5 km/3,4m)

The part after the quarry offers some more Roman architectural and historical splendour. One of the hightlights is the Great Chesters fort (which is not the same as Chesters fort and museum, to make things clear), where you ought to be able to find the remains of a Roman altar. Despite a lengthy and thorough search we weren’t able to locate it. There were quite a bit of possible locations/piles of stones). The next few kilometres, walking on the Walltown Crags, offer a few more stretches and vistas that form the quintessential Hadrian’s Wall Path-experience. After a while you cross a bridge that marks the border between Northumberland and Cumbria.

The Cumbrian landscape does look and feel different from the Northumbrian one. The rugged crags transform into fields and meadows. The path continues to go up and down, however. Apart from all the natural splendour there’s also some entertainment for historians and fellow enthusiasts. Thirlwall Castle is a rather pretty ruin. It’s natural decay, caused by the passing of time, was enhanced by the fact that the stones used to build the castle where too small to support the construction. It was also the stage for many conflicts and battles throughout its history. Edwerd I “Longshanks” was one of the prominent historical figures who stayed in Thirlwall Castle when he was on his way to Burgh-by-Sands in 1306 (the trail will lead us there as well). It also had to endure attacks by the border reivers, who initiated raids along the Anglo-Scottish border.

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Thirlwall Castle – Gilsland (6 km/3,7 m)

Despite it being another 6 km, the castle ruins were probably the last place of interest. You do walk past a railroad, a small bit of the wall and a vallum, before entering the tiny Gilsland, despite its size more than fit to welcome the many hikers that pass by or decide to stay for the night. We arrive just in time. After our check-in all hell breaks loose and the rain comes pouring from the sky. It’s not all that bad, sitting in our cosy, warm room in the Samson Inn, sipping from a hot chocolate. Another splendid day.

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The food

It’s quite possible that Gilsland, a village of 400 inhabitants and accommodating a part of the many visitors and hikers of Hadrian’s Wall Path, offered us the best culinary experience. It’s almost unbelievable that The Samson Inn, located in such a tiny village, can offer such great food, thanks to Hadrian’s wall and its tourisme. Sara took a risotto with halloumi, I chose the delicious salmon cakes.

The accommodation

The Samson Inn is also a great place to stay, especially after the sudden appearance of heavy showers and gusts of wind. The rain shower, how’s that for irony, was wonderful. The room was clean and spacious and the restaurant, as said above, was excellent. Gilsland offers three B&B’s with a good reputation.

Trivia

Thirlwall castle has its own castle. Legend tells of a golden table that used to stand in the castle. When a hostile clan attacked it during a raid, a dwarf took the table and jumped in the well, to make sure it was safe. Neither well, table nor dwarf have been found to this day.

– Halloumi usually consists of sheep’s and goat’s cheese. Because of the boiling point, that is higher than is usually the case with cheeses it doesn’t melt. It is a good substitute for meat when cooking pasta, risotto or couscous.

4: Chollerford – Once Brewed (21,4 km/13,3 m)

Chollerford

Our travel guide made no bones about it. The stage between Chollerford and Once Brewed was arguably the most memorable of the entire trail, but also the toughest section. Most people we had met on the first three days of our walk, whether it was a B&B-owner or a fellow hiker, shared that sentiment. The terrain would be a bit more challenging, the wall a more loyal companion along the way and the vistas would become more spectacular than before. We were a bit precautious and nervous about this one, due to our lack of experience with long distance walking. This was our first trail after all. The gentle hillsides that we had seen on the first few days would transform into slopes that would put our stamina to the test. Almost every hiker we saw or talked to was using the luxury of luggage transferal, bringing their heavy load from one accommodation to the other. We decided to keep our backpacks with us, along with the extra weight. This called for an extra slice of bacon at breakfast!

Chollerford – Brocolitia Fort (5,5 km/3,4m)

The stage begins with a seemingly soulless passage, next to a busy road. Seemingly, because not only were we able to admire two of the most lifelike statues of lions that I, as an enthusiast of lion statues, ever saw, but your attention is also drawn to a farmhouse that looks more like a quirkily shaped castle. It wasn’t the first indication that Chollerford is in no way lacking wealth and splendour.

We soon left modern civilisation behind us. The further we went away from the road and into the fields, the more the landscape and path started to go up and down and down and up. After a few kilometres you arrive in Black Carts, where another fine piece of wall awaits the eager hiker. But this place offers more than “just” the wall and for a minute the reason of existence of this national trail  shifts to the background for a historical novelty. A few hundred meters further lies a limestone graveyard. The Romans apparently tried using the limestone to build this stretch of the wall but got frustrated by all the fruitless hacking and pickaxing and dumped the colossal rocks. According to our guide Limestone corner was the northernmost point of the Roman empire.

Brocolitia Fort – Housesteads (8,6 km/5,3m)

The second stretch of the stage begins at Brocalitia Fort. The fort itself looks quite a bit different to the trained eye than the other ones we saw in the first few days. The eye-catcher of this place is the small temple dedicated to Mithras. Mithraism was a religion, originating in modern day Iran, and practiced in the Roman Empire. It was especially popular with the Roman soldiers, who spread the practice of worshipping the deity to every corner of the empire. The temple, called a mithraeum, consists of a couple of altars and a small statue of Mithras. These are all cast replicas. The original copies are displayed in a museum in Newcastle, safe from potential damage caused by heavy weather, wind or careless tourists.

Despite the increasing difficulty of the terrain (relatively speaking, this is still an accessible hike for all sorts of walkers) we did get the company of more and more people. Brocolitia Fort is a popular starting point for a day trip to and from the most spectacular portion of Hadrian’s Wall Path. An easy way to admire and enjoy the marvel of emperor Hadrian’s legacy. This is the begin of an area consisting of hills and crags, such as King’s Hill or Kennel Crags, places where the wall remained intact and survived the elements and the need for building material, mainly because there was a lack of settlements or human activity nearby. Upon reaching Housesteads, we already have tamed 14 kilometers, two thirds of the stage. After that the path became really tiring for us amateur-walkers, but what an impressive, fulfilling and awe-inspiring experience.

Housesteads – Steel Rigg (Once brewed) (7,3 km/4,5m)

In Housesteads you can visit the fort with the same name. Because of feet that were starting to ache and the will to arrive on time in the youth hostel we decided to skip a visit to the museum and prepared ourselves for the last 7 kilometres of this beautiful but challenging stage. The ascends and descends were increasingly steep. In some places stepping stones were placed to ease the climbing and descending. The last bit was breath-taking, both literally and figuratively speaking. Feet were starting to hurt, calves were getting sore and the weight of our backpacks was harder to ignore with every step we took.

After more exhausting ups and downs and a short walk over the Highshield Crags, a part that somewhat feels like a modest cliff walking experience. Last but not least, a final surprise awaited us. The cat stairs are steep enough for the average walker, but with tired feet and the weight of the backpacks we needed to pay full attention to the descend. Just a kilometre further we finally reach our destination, knackered but happy.

The food

Immediately after arriving in the youth hostel we plundered a pack of Oreo’s. We also ate at the hostel, a simple yet tasty hamburger with “French” fries. My girlfriend took the vegetarian one.

The accommodation

YHA Once Brewed was opened in 1934 and is one of the oldest hostels of the Youth Hostel Association in the UK. Needless to say, it could use a refurbishment here and there, especially the shower facilities (when we were there back in 2014, it might have changed since then!), but still value for money.

Trivia

Nearby the temple of Mithras you can also find the rudimentary remains of a well, dedicated to the Celtic goddess Coventina. During excavations in the surrounding area archeologists found 22 altars and 16000 Roman coins.

– On the location of our last resting place, Sycamore Gap, stands a, surprise surprise, sycamore tree. It was made famous by Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, a movie starring Kevin Costner as the righteous bowman.

– The large stretch of wall starting at Housesteads is often called the Clayton Wall, after the archeologist John Clayton who bought the piece of the wall and restored it, in doing so often diverting from the way the Romans had envisaged and built it.

– A part of the wall between Housesteads and Steel Rigg was damaged in 2004 after a group of 800 Dutch bankers walked on the remains for the entire stretch. It may have been a good team-building activity, but it was a terrible idea.

– The village Once Brewed is also called Twice Brewed. Both names are in use. If you come from the east, you’ll see a sign welcoming you to “Once Brewed”, if you come from the south, you’ll see “Twice Brewed”.

3. East Wallhouses – Chollerford (14,4 km/9m)

East Wallhouses

Walking holidays have many advantages. First of all, you make the best of every minute. You walk from place A to place B and every step you take is part of the journey. You don’t lose time by having to drive somewhere or take a bus or train or by standing in a queue. Secondly, you have all the freedom in the world. Your schedule is entirely up to you. You can start whenever you feel like it and take breaks along the way. It also gives you an opportunity to relax, no need to think too much or ponder, unless you like to reflect on things while walking. And last but not least, especially for an anglophile from the continent, is the fact that hiking a substantial amount of kilometres every day, with a relatively loaded backpack, gives you the opportunity to have a full English breakfast, without feeling too bad. The breakfast at the Robin Hood Inn was more than enough to keep going for an hour or four in the wonderful Northumbrian nature.

East Wallhouses – The Portgate  (6,7 km/4,1 m)

Our third day began with a lot of stiles. The first few were rather pleasant, as they did offer us some rather fun photo opportunities. But since there were thirty of them on the entire stage, the fun soon faded and it came a bit of a task. Here, in the country roads of East Wallhouses, we were able to enjoy some remarkable fauna and flora, like a really tiny frog (luckily we didn’t step on it) and a snail with a double set of shells (a shell was growing on its shell). Our thirst for historical experiences was quenched as well. After about 3 kilometres we stumbled upon the most impressive example of a vallum that we’d see on the entire trail. The vallum is a construction, combining two walls made of compressed earth and a ditch. The purpose was to make it even more difficult to reach the other side and to separate the military area with the residential and commercial ones.

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A modest Historikerstreit lasted for a minute between my girlfriend and I about the location of the vallum. She defended the Caledonian point of view, by claiming it was behind the wall (Romans, vallum, wall), whereas I chose the Roman side, by saying it was in front of the wall (so Romans, vallum, wall). We decided to call it a draw. A kilometre further you can spot Halton Castle from a distance, dating back to the 11th century.

The Portgate –  Heavenfield (5,9 km/3,7 m)

Our third day on the trail was the first day where the weather forecast had predicted some rain. When the first drops started to fall from the heavens, we took our precautions and without hesitation, we put on our raincoats. Fortunately it was just a bit of drizzle and in the end we were more bothered by the sweat than the rain. After a short passage through Stanley’s plantation, consisting of conifers, it’s only a good 2 km (1,2 miles) to the picturesque St. Oswald’s Hill, with its eponymous church in the middle of a field. Just like the one from the previous day, this one is also built with stones from the wall. It dates back, in its earliest form, to the 7th century, but the contemporary one is mostly 18th century. According to the legend, it stands on the place where Saint Oswald, who was at the time a mere mortal and king of the catholic Anglo-Saxons, planted a wooden cross before going to battle against the heathens from Mercia and Gwynedd, modern-day Wales. The battle was crucial for the future of Christianity on the British Isles.

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Heavenfield – Chollerford (3,8 km/2,4 m)

From Heavenfield it’s only 3,8 km to Chollerford, our destination on this third leg. But it does offer two wonderful pieces of the wall. It is thought that it is in Planetrees (or close by) where the Romans decided to change the concept and build a small wall on broad foundations. The fact that we can still admire this piece of the wall is the merit of William Hutton, the first Hadrian’s Wall-historian, who stopped a group of labourers from destroying the wall and went straight to the landowner. He agreed to preserve the wall, even though a good 200 meters had already been demolished. The second piece lies in Brunton Turret and is probably more spectacular than the earlier chunks in Heddon-on-the-Wall and Planetrees. This is a piece of a Roman turret, a watchtower that was placed in between every two milecastles.

 

Chollerford

Chollerford is a small village. Not only can it brag about its impressive portion of Roman archaeological heritage, but also the Chollerford Bridge, built in 1785 by Robert Mylne. It also has one of the museums that are located near the trail. Chesters museum harbours the remains of a Roman fort, including a well-preserved bathhouse. On the other side of the river lies a ruined bridge. This is where the wall was crossing the Tyne. Chesters museum is situated about a mile from the “centre” of Chollerford, but history enthusiasts are advised to visit it after arriving there. The next day is relatively tough and definitely much longer, so combining it with a morning visit isn’t as practical or recommended.

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The food

A simpel fish & chips & mashed peas & fried scampi in the Cross inn, the only pub in Irthington.

The accomodation

In Chollerford lies the George Hotel, which is a bit more expensive and relatively chique and seems to be less suited for young(er) hikers. We decided to move a kilometre away from Chollerford, to Humshaugh (Hums-half). Vallum Barn (now Mingary Barn apparently) offers a very comfortable stay, with a spatious room and a great shower.

Trivia

– The mini-frog, as mentioned above, was really mini, as can be seen on this photo. The little creature was spared the gruesome fate of being squashed under my boot because my girlfriend spotted it in time.

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– Our travel guide mentioned that somewhere on the remains of the bridge a carved penis can be found. Since he didn’t discard the exact location we weren’t able to find it, unfortunately. So no photo!

– A full English breakfast consist of eggs, bacon, tomatoes, mushrooms, toast, sausages and beans. You can also add blood pudding and hash brown to it.

– William Hutton wrote The History of the Roman Wall, about his journey along the wall and historical border in 1802, when he was 79 years old.