(July 2018) I woke up in my bunk at the Greenhead Hostel feeling excited for day 13 on the Pennine Way. I’d be returning to Hadrian’s Wall! And I could start my morning with a hot breakfast and multiple cups of coffee!
After the morning fuel I headed out, back through the narrow pathway that had lead to Greenhead and onto both the Pennine Way and Hadrian’s Wall Path. The two routes overlap here, just for 7 miles, but these are 7 glorious miles and I was so happy to be walking them again.
When I walked Hadrian’s Wall Path back in the spring of 2017, I had mostly cloudy, windy days. I had walked east to west (into the wind, which maybe was a mistake), and spring had only just begun. The landscape was still feeling rough, and a bit wild.
But now I was here in the summer, walking west to east, and although my first steps of the day were under gray skies, after about 30 minutes the clouds rolled away and I was treated to more of that wonderful northern England sunshine.
It was so fun to be back at the Wall. I’d really loved my walk in 2017, walking through those long, gray, windy days along the ancient remains of what used to be a massive defensive barrier, imagining what the wall was like when it was built, who had walked the paths that I now walked on, what kind of fighting and battling must have taken place here.
This time, I mostly knew what to expect, and so I just enjoyed every second of those 7-miles. These miles follow the best preserved sections of the wall, from Walltown Crags to just before Housesteads Crags, taking in Great Chesters Fort, the trip point at Winshields Crag, my favorite milecastle (#39), and Sycamore Gap. I took so, so many photographs, I smiled constantly, I found an energy from deep within as I climbed up and down and up and down the steep small hills of the escarpment.
And the weather was perfect. It was perfect! This was the very best day yet, with clouds perfectly dotting the wide blue sky, a light wind that cooled the heat of the sun, the exactly right temperature for walking.
Here are a bunch of photos from the wall (and if you want to read a little more about that same section when I walked two years ago, here is that post). But keep reading after these photos, there were more adventures on the rest of the stage!
I split up my time on the Wall at the Northumberland National Park Visitor’s Center, which is just a slight detour from the path, in Once Brewed. This would be a good place to split the stage if you have the time; there’s a youth hostel here, and an Inn (named Twice Brewed), as well as a campsite a little further down the road. It would make for only a 7-mile stage (Greenhead to Once Brewed), but it would allow plenty of time for exploration and site-seeing and you can take your merry time. I’ll touch on this in a later post, but if I could plan another walk on the Pennine Way, I think I’d give myself 17 or 18 days, rather than 15. And one of those extra days would be here.
The Northumberland National Park Visitor’s Center is shiny and new (and I think it must have been under construction/being built when I walked through in 2017), and it was a nice place for a quick break. There’s tons of information and exhibits on the wall, though I didn’t have much time to linger. I just used the bathroom, bought a couple postcards, stopped by the little shop for a Twix bar and a bag of chips (essential snacks along the way!), reapplied my sunscreen and then headed back out.
After another two miles I reached my turnoff to continue on the Pennine Way, and I have to say, it felt really good to turn left at the signpost and walk north, leaving the Wall behind me. It felt right. Walking along the Wall almost felt like I was on a vacation (even though, technically, walking the Pennine Way was my vacation). But how can I explain it? I’d been there before, I knew where I was going. Even though it was early enough in the morning that I was avoiding the crowds, I was still running into other day hikers and tourists. For those 7-miles, I’d stopped walking north, towards Scotland, and was instead on a bit of a detour and going out of my way to the east. I can’t be sure, but it seems like as soon as I turned left at the signpost, everything grew quiet. And calm. And peaceful. I’d left everyone else behind. I was back on my walk.
But almost immediately I- quite literally- stumbled onto some excitement. I was climbing over a wooden stile and coming down the other side of a stone fence when I nearly stepped on a little lamb. The poor thing was stuck in the gate next to the wall! It was butting its head frantically, shaking its whole body, but one of it’s horn had gotten wedged under one of the railings of the gate and he was trapped.
His mother was standing further off in the field, watching us. I climbed down from the stile, put my pack on the ground, and approached the little guy. As soon as I reached down he froze, terrified.
I was kind of terrified, too. Sheep are great and all, but only when they’re at a bit of a distance, grazing in a field or tottering away down the path. I’m not scared of sheep, but to be honest I’m not sure if I’ve ever touched a sheep before. Petting zoos weren’t really my thing, and if they ever were, I’m sure I was only looking, and not petting.
But I couldn’t leave the poor little lamb stuck in a gate, and the whole thing was probably comical if anyone else was watching because I’m sure it took me far longer to get the guy unstuck than it should have. But after some maneuvering and gentle pushing I got his head unstuck and like lightening he dashed away to his mother and then they ran off together.
After my valiant lamb rescue, I continued on, down a forestry track, briefly into a forest and then back out into the open land. My guidebook mentioned a small enclosure just off to the side of the path which would make for a nice rest spot (or wild camping spot). I saw it from a bit of a distance and when I approached, I found that it was- indeed- the perfect place to stop for lunch. I climbed over the low stone wall, found a flat spot on the ground, and settled in for a little picnic. Even though I was in the open country of Haughton Common, I felt secluded away, protected and safe.
A satisfying lunch and then more walking, on and on, the sky wide above me, the countryside stretching out before me. It was sometime during this afternoon section that I had one of my perfect walking moments. It’s a little hard to describe these, only that I know I usually have one or two on every long-distance walk I’ve ever done. The moments are made up of similar ingredients: usually there is nearly perfect weather, making for very comfortable walking. I feel strong and energized, full of food, my feet free of blisters, my legs free of any pain. I am all alone, with no one ahead and no one behind. Sometimes I am listening to music, sometimes I am listening to the wind.
This time, all I know is that I was walking along and this feeling was building and building- I think it was joy, or maybe utter happiness- and then it nearly overwhelmed me and I felt like I could fly. Or at least run, or dance, or spin, and so I did all three: there, alone in a wild field, spinning and dancing down the trail and smiling up to the sky. I feel so free in those moments, so certain that where I am is exactly where I’m meant to be. I feel like I want to do this- I want to walk and be free- forever.
The moments never last forever though, but I have to say that this time, the feeling of happiness followed me all the way to Bellingham. I had miles to go, but I can’t remember much of them, other than they felt easy and I felt strong.
But before Bellingham- maybe a few miles before?- I passed through a farm and saw a sign painted on an old green door, reading ‘Pit Stop’. “What’s this?” I asked myself, before venturing inside.
The little shed to the side of the main house was a walker’s oasis. It was a dark and a bit dingy inside, but obvious care had been taken to provide walkers with everything they might need. There was a fridge stocked with rows of cold drinks. There was a basket full of packaged biscuits, and jars of candy. There was a notebook registry, and a basket of medical supplies. There was a box full of things that walkers had left for others to use. There were couches and there was even a bathroom, with rolls of toilet paper! Toilet paper!
I only had a few more miles until Bellingham and I was still feeling strong, but I had already walked nearly 20 miles and I was starting to feel tired, so I gratefully sat for a few minutes with a cold drink. I left a few coins in a donation box and signed the registry, leaving a note for the friends I’d met that were somewhere behind me.
On my way out I met the owner of the farm and his wonderful black Labrador, chatted for a few minutes, then continued on. And because this was shaping up to be a wonderful day, the path continued to provide so much beauty and joy around nearly every corner.
Once in Bellingham, I found my lodgings- Demesne Farm Bunkhouse (I wrote about it for the Independent Hostels UK website!)- was shown up to my room (alone again, naturally!), showered and washed my clothing and then set back out into town, to buy supplies from the grocery store. Along with lunch and snacks for the next day, I bought stuff for dinner and took it back to the bunkhouse, and set up my little feast in the kitchen. Just as I was about to head up to my bunk room, I met several cyclists who were in the middle of the Reivers Coast to Coast Route. While they made tea, I answered their questions about the Pennine Way, and in turn, asked them about their own adventure.
Then my usual routine in my empty bunk room: a few ginger cookies, a few chapters of Jane Eyre, and then fast asleep under the heavy blankets with a cool breeze blowing through the open window.