Hadrian’s Wall (day 9 the Finale)

13/08/2019 by

The news about fine weather cheered everyone this morning and shorts and appropriate attire emerged after the three days of waterproofs and soggy soles.

Down towards the river we passed the birthplace of the inventor of the locomotive, George Stephenson and we were truly on the last furlong of this walk.

It wasn’t long before we reached the banks of the River Tyne and a stunning view over the river to Gateshead and the Angel of the North. You can see her between Jeff and Margie’s heads 🙊

Gateshead Council’s brief was simple; to create an ambitious artwork that would become a landmark of the region’s character. Antony Gormley’s winning design is now one of the most viewed pieces of art in the world. It is seen by more than one person every second. That’s 90,000 every day or 33 million every year. 

With its prime location, on a panoramic hilltop by the A1, the Angel of the North has become one of the most famous artworks in the region.  The sculpture was installed in February 1998 and over the last twenty years has become one of the most recognisable pieces of public art ever produced, winning many accolades and awards.

Then our final leg took us along the river past the historic Scotswood Road, the armaments factory, Vickers Engineering who made tanks, the old coal staithes at Dunston and the now defunct Elswick Shipyard. The Tyne shipbuilders were once responsible for building 25% of the worlds ships – including the SS Mauritania. Whatever happened to British industry and ingenuity that brought us the British Empire and the admiration of the world? Sigh!

The sun shone brightly and beckoned us to stop on the Quayside for refreshment. Never one to pass up the opportunity of promoting the Toon I thought it about time the group sampled a pint of Dog. In the North East, Newcastle Brown Ale is often given the nickname “Dog”, alluding to the British euphemism of ‘seeing a man about a dog’. It is also known as Broon, “brown” pronounced in the Geordiedialect. Elsewhere in the UK, it is known as Newkie Brown.

Of course the Blue Star label incorporates the Tyne Bridge in its design so what better place than under the same bridge to sample it!

The walk along the Quayside took us past the Millenium Bridge and the Sage centre as well as the Baltic Flour Mill – all iconic landmarks of this culturally rich area.

The walk through the concrete of urban landscape won’t suit everyone but on a day like today it makes a pleasant departure from the other days.

After lunch stop we marched in best Roman Centurion fashion into Segedunum and the Roman fort for our final salute to Emperor Hadrian.

All that remained was to celebrate the successful finish with a little Prosecco and lots of smiles.

Thanks to Margie, Rosie, Sarah, Jeff and Walker for being the best group ‘ever’ not forgetting Judy and Fiona who joined us for part of the walk. You were all brilliant and I enjoyed every minute of your company.

I hope to see you on a walk sometime in the future somewhere in the world 😊

Hadrian’s Wall with Badger Adventures and Treks

Hadrian’s Wall (day 8) Robin Hood Inn to Newburn

12/08/2019 by

Heavy overnight rain cleared as we left Twice Brewed and Walker was quick to pay homage to the fact

Leaving the Robin Hood Inn, Jeff was determined to be prepared for all eventualities. I wager he still gets wet feet today though.

Meanwhile Rosie and Walker are raring to go by the look of it. Now that Walker has mastered putting his waterproof trousers on the right way round, there’s no stopping him.

Walking past the reservoirs there are usually plenty of wildfowl specimens to observe from the hide – if only we could get to it 🥴

Ah well at least the path ahead was clear …….well maybe not then!

Torrents of rain over three days have ravaged the area with flooded homes, roads closed with landslides, paths submerged but nothing stops these guys from getting closer to the end point at Wallsend.

Some of the wildlife are still recovering

Heading down through Heddon-on-the-Wall the sun broke through encouraging Walker to get his legs out to his great delight.

Down the hill now to the sight of the River Tyne and our first view of the beautiful City of Newcastle ahead. The sound of Mark Knopfler and Going Home, the theme from Local Hero fills the air making the hairs on the back of my neck stand up (if I had any).

Late lunch by the Tyne then minibus back to our lodging at the Robin Hood and a welcome beer/shower/laundry wash/ boot dry (delete as appropriate).

One day to go until we complete the 83 mile Hadrian’s Walk – let’s hope we have good weather for that last walk along the Quayside and the Tyne.

Hadrian’s Wall with Badger Adventures and Treks

Hadrian’s Wall (Day 7) Brocolitia Fort to East Wallhouses – 22k

11/08/2019 by

This was a wet walk – and I really mean a wet walk!

We said goodbye to Fiona who needed to return to London and her tax clients…. we weren’t enough of a challenge clearly 😂

Nice to have met you Fiona and hope to see you again in the future somewhere in the world.

The rivers were flooded, paths were lakes and streams became torrents. All in all not a great day to walk 22k in the rain. But these people are as hardy as any roman legionnaire, ready for anything rain, wind, and even hail Ceasar! – sorry I couldn’t resist it.

The brief dryish interlude this morning allowed us to get to Chollerford and Chesters Fort to admire the standing wave on the river.

Even a brief excursion to see the Roman graffiti on the bridge was scuppered due to flood water. Lucky that the ever resourceful guide with us (me) had a photo to hand to illuminate said graffiti. Said to be a symbol of prosperity but you can make up your own mind from the picture below.

We stopped for lunch at St Oswald’s Church in Heavenfield the scene of a battle of Christianity against the heathens in AD645 and the church is always worth a visit with its roman altar and hatchment on the wall.

We battled on to Port Gate where Sarah and Rosie decided to seek a pot of tea and take an early shower back at Twice Brewed. So Margy, Jeff, Walker and I battled our way through torrents of rain to the Robin Hood Inn and our minibus back to Twice Brewed. It wasn’t before we encountered a little problem though – fortunately nobody took a bath today although I think Jeff was going to shower in his clothes to attempt to get clean.

Anyway, day 7 done and a steady walk to Segundum remains and the end of the walk in two easy days. I think the group are currently praying for dry weather – there is no doubt that I’ve never seen so much rain in three days since Storm Desmond in 2015.

Well done Legionnaires – I salute you!

Let’s have a beer 😊

Hadrian’s Wall (day 6) Badger Adventures

10/08/2019 by

Today was a wet, wet day on the Wall. With the forecast looking like heavy rain all day, it was with some trepidation that our 5 trainee Centurions began their march from Steel Rigg to Chesters Fort at Chollerford.

I always think that this stretch of the Wall is the most dramatic and interesting. The landscape is beyond spectacular with views north and south and as you walk the wall you know that you are walking history following the Romans of 2000 years ago.

The first major point of interest is Cat Stairs up to the crags and onwards to Sycamore Gap. This is the gap in the crags where the iconic sycamore tree grows. This is the Robin Hood tree featured with Kevin Costner in the movie of the same name.

The tree’s performance is perhaps less wooden than Costner’s but only my view!

Our latter day Robin Hood and Maid Marion looked a lot less so even in the rain.

The group were in very heavy rain over the top but the temperature made it humid and actually strangely pleasant. Up and down over the crags and clocking up the milecastles as we went east.

Walker even took time to extol the virtues of his latest coffee machine at home in Oregon to Jeff.

Housestead Fort soon came into view and a welcome coffee stop too. It is the best preserved Roman building anywhere in the world – probably another good reason why this is a World Heritage Site.

The fort is well worth a visit just to see the underfloor heating, latrines, and saunas – they knew how to live did these Romans!

After Housesteads it was on to Sewingshield Crag. But not before yours truly found himself up to his thighs in an impromptu river after making sure the group were high and dry on the wall to cross a flooded area. Above and beyond but all in a days work for a Badger Guide!

Lunch time arrived just as the rain started again so it was just as well we broke out our temporary 4* accommodation just in time.

After lunch it was a straightforward heads down and tails up walk to Brocolitia fort where we curtailed the day just as severe rain threatened to hit us again.

So it was back to Gilsland and the lovely House of Meg tea shop with Andi and his cake creations before heading back to the hotel and hot showers and old newspapers to stuff our boots.

Tomorrow we’ll pick up at Brocolitia for the walk to East Wallhouses. The Fort name literally means ‘Fort above a badgers sett’ another example of the Romans adopting a colloquial term to ingratiate the natives and suggest normality in a situation that was anything but, being it was a military exclusion zone!

Fingers crossed for some sunny intervals or at least some rain intervals.

I’ll let you know tomorrow 😊

Hadrian’s Wall (day 5) Badger Adventures

09/08/2019 by

What a day of bad weather – heavy rain, thunder and lightning to end it! Intermittent spells of bright weather and sunshine made it a memorable one nevertheless.

As you can see from the picture above, our ’lightning rod for calamity’ aka Walker is getting ready for the rain by putting his waterproof trousers on (albeit back to front) but who noticed. I hope it doesn’t mean he’s going to walk backwards all day.

There were plenty of opportunities to see the Vallum and wall today with some striking views over Walltown Crags.

There was even a badger sett in one part of the ditch but no sign of Chief Badger – then again Badgers are mostly nocturnal.

Fortunately as we reached Cawfield Quarry towards lunchtime, the torrential rain stopped and the sky cracked with warm sunshine, drying us and making our lunch very pleasant overlooking the lake.

The walk over Whin Sill is always a pleasurable one even in bad weather. It is a volcanic extrusion and the change in geology from sandstone makes a pleasant interlude.

By mid afternoon, we were on top of Whin Sill and the trig point / only 345m but the highest point on the Sill.

After a quick photo stop at the trig point, it was time to meet our transport at Steel Rigg var park and head to House of Meg’s Tearoom in Gilsland for well earned tea and cake.

Day 5 of 9 completed and ahead of us tomorrow is the most iconic day of the lot in my opinion including a visit to Housesteads Roman Fort.

Hadrian’s Wall with Badger Adventure Treks

Hadrian’s Wall (Day 4) with Badger Adventures

08/08/2019 by

Day 4 meant us heading to Gilsland from Newtown today – a modest 15k and easily manageable by this intrepid group.

Sarah’s about repairs looked decidedly dodgy and unlikely to last – and so it came to pass after a short distance. Duct tape and super glue are good but they can’t work miracles.

Anyway, off we went into brilliant sunshine and lush green views all around.

Note to Ritchie – ’the obligatory landscape view’ from the north Pennines to the Solway Coast.

Pretty soon the views were a panorama of perfection – enough to make Jeff smile too.

The only noise pollution in this idyllic landscape came from an inconsiderate RAF Hercules checking out our elevenses.

The day was idyllic for weather even making sunscreen obligatory.

Even a dip in a ’Roman’ (sic) bath was the order of the day. It wasn’t long before we started to move from the turf wall to the stone wall to the delight of all.

We arrived at Birdoswald Fort for refreshments and a tour before heading on to Gilsland Spa and our destination hotel for the next three nights.

It’s been a great day with no mishaps other than Sarah’s dissolving boot and the meeting of a poor fellow (from Sunderland so there you go!) who was struggling badly with blistered feet, no back up support bus, and no guide – why would you want to walk the wall without Badger Adventure Treks who take care of all your needs?

It’s such an interesting walk packed full of 2000 year old human history – and the scenery must have been why the Romans came here in AD55 – not just for the Newcastle Brown Ale and stottie cake 😂

Hadrian’s Wall (day 3) Carlisle to Newtown with Badger Adventures

07/08/2019 by

We abandoned the urban environment of Carlisle City today and headed out through Rickerby Park towards the east. Ahead of us, 15k of unfolding countryside with vistas of the Eden Valley sandwiched between the Pennine Hills and the Lake District mountains.

The river Eden was substantially swollen from last evening’s rain and due to its wide catchment embracing the streams flowing off Spadeadam Forest, the western slopes of the north Pennines and the eastern lake of Ullswater for 64 miles it was running fast and deep for the ONLY English river to flow north.

Passing the Cenotaph and Rickerby House and the folly tower called the Bull Pen we passed the bijou residence and gardens of local entrepreneur Fred Story.

Onwards passing over the M6 into the pleasant village of Linstock and it’s picturesque gardens and buildings.

Entering Crosby on Eden, the group resisted the Stag Inn for refreshment despite its allure.

Many local houses offer welcome snacks, refreshments and rests for the weary ’waller’ passing by.

Continuing eastwards a lunch stop just before Bleatarn gave us our first clear sight of the vallum that marks the beginning of many ’Roman’ miles ahead.

Now we will be enticed by the wall and ditch for many a day ahead with milecastles and forts to marvel at.

Let’s hope Sarah’s boots will respond to some loving running duct tape and superglue repairs from Ritchie and that our ”lightning rod for calamity” aka Walker continues to dodge any mishaps.

Tomorrow is another good day of 13k to Gilsland and the heart of Hadrian’s Wall country.

Hadrian’s Wall with Badger Adventure Treks

Hadrian’s Wall (day 2)

06/08/2019 by

10k of walking and missed all but two of the forecasted heavy showers didn’t deter the group from enjoying the last slice of West Cumbria.

Starting from Burgh where we finished yesterday, we headed into the atmospheric and historic church that is St Michael’s.

Firstly, the building is magnificent with some splendid features befitting a 12th century church. Stunning stained glass windows depicting saints with a northern bias – Bede overlooking Lindisfarne and Cuthbert outside Durham Cathedral among them. This was the first resting place of. ’The Scottish Hammer’ aka King Edward I after he died in Burgh in 1307 before he was finally rested in Westminster Abbey. His death subsequently led to a huge increase in nefarious activity with the Border Reivers wreaking havoc in the area. The villagers turned the church into a veritable fortress by adding a fortified tower with arrow slits and iron gates for protection and it certainly stood up to the task. A large amount of the stone came from the nearby wall and so the connection with AD122 was strengthened.

The walls were certainly impregnable and clearly withstood the ravages of the Reivers.

Inside the tower are some stone carvings of animals of the time.

Dodging showers enabled us to enjoy some intermittent sun and even allowed Sarah to demonstrate her prowess as a gate vaulter. Who knew she was an Olympic gate vault medallist?

There are occasional glimpses of the wall and it’s surrounding on this stretch but the best is yet to show itself to us. Meanwhile we content ourselves with the knowledge that our hotel in Carlisle was once the largest single garrison of cavalry anywhere on the wall with over 1,000 men. The wall is visible in the car park and under our feet – you just need to know where to look to see the history.

We marched onwards following the River Eden into the Border City via Bitts Park and ready to recharge our batteries for the 15k walk tomorrow to Newtown.

Sorry Ritchie – best landscape photo of the day.

Meanwhile, as a border town, Carlisle has much to uncover with the Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery, the Castle and it’s museum plus a vibrant shopping centre with cafes and cake.

The historic quarter also contains some great old buildings, the Cathedral (Carlisle is a city) and some quaint old alleyways linking castle and cathedral.

If you fancy experiencing AD122 and Hadrian’s Wall, check out Badger Adventures

Hadrian’s Wall with Badger Adventures (day 1)

05/08/2019 by

Well the weather forecast looked like we might have needed our waterproofs but it stayed away and our first day was mostly dry. The group consists of Margie and Jeff, Rosie and Walker, and Sarah all from Portland in Oregon apart from Bristolian Sarah!

From our hotel base in Carlisle we travelled over to Bowness on Solway on the Solway Firth to start our 9 day / 84 mile walk along Hadrian’s Wall with Badger Adventures

Starting from the Kings Arms pub, our first job was to find the very Roman Path Pavillion on the beach overlooking the sparkling waters of the Solway to Scotland and of course it strikes home the sense of being at the far-flung edge of the Roman Empire!

Having taken a few minutes to explore our route and set the context of Emperor Hadrian Aelius’s dream – i.e. Contemporary acclaim and lasting renown. He had come to power in AD117 inheriting a volatile situation around the edges of the vast empire. Failed attempts by Governor Agricola to conquer Scotland a frontier road was established between the Tyne and the Solway. Hadrian’s idea was to construct a stone wall (is this where Trump got his idea?) and this audacious idea gained huge support and awe from the Senators in Rome and echoed what the Chinese had done to quell the Mongols with the Great Wall in China!

And so the idea took shape as a statement of authority, with Hadrian taking influence from the much admired Greeks – a factor which led him to grow a beard rather than remain clean shaven in Roman manner – Hadrian was a “trendsetter”.

So in AD122 work began on this huge undertaking. Here we are some 2000 years later about to walk its path in the wake of these impressive visionaries and of course witness some of the finest archeological remains anywhere in the world.

Gardeners echo the heritage of the wall as we start out – maybe our boots will look like this as we finish in Wallsend! Let’s hope Walker doesn’t require this modern day accessory though …….

Of course, over the years this area has seen local people plunder the wall stones for houses and buildings to detrimental effect. Some houses incorporating Roman altar stones as door lintels and houses built as fortifications against the Border Reiver incursions. None more so than Drumburgh Castle with its castellated end, Roman altars, coat of arms for the Dacre family and the griffins with spread wings – altogether an impressive fortified home.

Not much further on we met Roger at the Solway Signpost at Port Carlisle. How spooky that he had the distance to Oregon on his signpost ready for our group picture!

More importantly – 83 miles to Wallsend from here. Port Carlisle gives us an insight into the history of the canal basin, the demise on the arrival of the steam train and the steam packet ships that used to leave here enroute to Whitehaven and Liverpool taking immigrants across the Atlantic to Ellis Island before entering their new homes in New York. The building known as Hesket House now, used to be the Steam Packet Inn and the parents of Thomas Woodrow Wilson lived here. When he became the 28th President of The USA in 1913 he made a pilgrimage back to his parents’ last home in England in Botchergate, Carlisle.

Onwards we walked towards Burgh by Sands and again another milestone in history. It was here on 7 July 1307 that King Edward 1 was making another assault on his most hated foe, Robert the Bruce that he met his unfortunate demise due to dysentery. He instructed his troops to carry his body into one more assault but they instead turned back – a fact always reminded by the Scots in their national anthem ‘the Flower of Scotland’. Edward’s body lay in the church at Burgh before transfer to Lanercost Priory to his final resting place in Westminster Abbey – the ‘Hammer of Scotland’ as he was known is commemorated by a wonderful bronze statue not far from the scene of his death.

So day one ended at Burgh by Sands, Chief Badger, Ritchie met us with the minibus to take us back to our hotel in Carlisle before heading out to Victorian seaside town Silloth for a fish and chip dinner.

Tomorrow we head back to Burgh and walk into Carlisle for a leisurely 10km walk along the River Eden to the Border City and a landmark end to the West Cumbrian passage of the journey.

For more details of this walk and many others, take a look at Badger Adventures

Kildalton Cross, Mull of Oa, Laphroig Distillery and Islay Woollen Mill

11/05/2019 by

The last full day on Islay has arrived and we were lucky enough to get rising air pressure and sun bathing us in warm rays most of the day.

Our first objective was to visit the Kildalton Cross and Port Mor first. The Cross dats back to the late 8th century and is really well preserved to enable us to see the carvings of David killing the lion, a peacock, Cain slaying Abel, the sacrifice of Isaac, the Virgin and child, four lions and a snake. The church is alsou home to many ancient grave slabs well worth a visit.

The Kildalton Cross

Decorative Grave Slabs in Kildalton Church

Following the visit to the church we walked the short way down to Port Mor through lovely wind shaped oak trees to the Loch in bright sunshine.

Having seen books in the local shops of Kilted Yoga, and the various ‘calendar girls’ genre of publications, the ladies thought of publishing a lobster pot ladies calendar using Islay scenery – not sure it works though – what do you think?

Lobster Pot Ladies Calendar?

‘Hieland Coos’ look on over the Mull of Oa

The American Memorial – Oa Peninsula

Walking over the soft turf of the Oa peninsular is delightful. Wild goats and Highland cattle ignore us as we make our way up to the American Monument. A monument built by the American Red Cross to honour the men from two ships sunk just off the coast in 1918 with a tragic loss of lives. The Tuscania was a passenger liner, on its way from New Jersey to the coast of France with 2,000 American soldiers and a crew of more than 300. At Halifax, Nova Scotia, they joined a convoy and entered British waters between Islay and Northern Ireland on 5 February. The convoy was followed by a UB77 German submarine which torpedoed the Tuscania. The direct hit resulted in heavy damage and the Tuscania sank 7 miles off the Oa Peninsula. An estimated 230 lives were lost.

Eight months later, on October 6, another tragedy occurred only a few miles from the same place. The HMS Otranto was carrying troops from New York to Glasgow when it collided with the steamship HMS Kashmir during a heavy storm. Over 400 lives were lost. Many of the victims were buried at a military cemetery at Kilchoman near Bruichaladdich.

Cliffs on the Oa Peninsula

After lunch near the memorial, we walked back along the stunning headland back to the minibus to head into one of the three nearby distilleries for some sampling and shopping.

We chose the Laphroig whisky distillery at the head of Loch Laphroig on the south coast of Islay. Established in 1815 it is the only whisky to carry the Royal Warrant of the Prince of Wales, which was awarded during a visit in 1994.

The pier head at Laphroig

We then headed to the Islay Woollen Mill at Bridgend to see how the mill still uses Victorian looms and machinery to produce world class yarns and tweeds for many high class tailors in Saville Row, London. The Mill is run by Gordon Covell and the tweeds are much in demand from the Hollywood film industry, having featured in Braveheart with Mel Gibson, Forrest Gump with Tom Hanks and Rob Roy with Liam Neeson.

Our day and trip were finally celebrated with a delicious dinner at Lochside in Bowmore before heading home to our accommodation. Tomorrow we take the ferry away from Islay to the mainland no doubt with a hint of regret but also with a love of the South West Highlands and Islands.

It’s been a wonderful week with some lovely people and a pleasure to guide them on behalf of About Argyll Walking Tours in Scotland

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