I wouldn’t recommend anyone do what Heather and I did for Day 5 of our Hadrian’s Wall walk.
The actual mileage of the day’s walk wasn’t that bad- a solid 15 miles- and the terrain was fairly (mostly? completely?) flat, with a mix of pavement and soft grass walking.
But if you read my last post, you’ll remember that I ended it with a bit of a conundrum. Due to time restraints, we only had five days to complete the 84-mile route, but the worst part about this plan was that we’d need to do the final 15-miles AND return to London all in the same day.
I knew it was going to be exhausting. We’d have to walk really fast, and then we’d have to take a bus, then a train, then the Underground, then a shuttle in order to get to our hotel by the airport.
Would it have made more sense to sleep in and enjoy a leisurely breakfast and explore the city of Carlisle before catching our train back to London?
But I bet you can guess what Heather and I did… we walked. We walked really fast.
I can’t say that I enjoyed our last day of walking in the same way that I enjoyed the other days of our Hadrian’s Wall journey; there just wasn’t time to think, or slow down, or hesitate or pause. I took some photos, but I never lingered. And there was a lot to linger over.
The walk weaved through the same park that led us into Carlisle the day before, but due to a diversion we were rerouted out of the park and through the city. I actually enjoyed this diversion quite a bit (aside from the stress of wondering whether it was adding more mileage and time to our day’s walk); we got to pass by Carlisle’s castle, and in general got a much better sense of the city. There was a lot of countryside walking on this route, and that is wonderful, but something I’ve grown to love about these treks is that they’re not wilderness trails. We get to see it all: open countryside and wild moorland and busy towns and cities too.
We had good weather for the entire day: a mostly sunny morning, followed by a cloudy early afternoon. After Carlisle the path returns to the countryside, and passes through several small villages.
We took only one real break, 15 or 20 minutes sitting on a concrete slab in the Solway Estuary (tide was low, thankfully. You’ve got to check tide-times before walking this section, otherwise you may get stuck waiting until the tide recedes- the road is virtually impassable when the tide is high). We scarfed down food and just when I could begin to feel myself relaxing and enjoying the strange beauty of our resting spot, we needed to pack up and continue on.
The path here is all on tarmac, totally straight and it’s like that scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail (have I referenced this before? When I walk I feel like I think about it all the time…): Sir Lancelot is running through a field, ready to attack, but he keeps running and running and never gets any closer. Well, in any case, this is what the walk along the marsh felt like: walking and walking and nothing in the distance seems to be getting any closer and you think you might be walking down this road forever (maybe a bit like the Meseta on the Camino?).
This part was a little tough on the feet, as well, and even after we moved away from the marsh, the path seemed to continue on the road for a long time. So long that eventually Heather and I wondered if we’d done something wrong.
And this was the first time that both of us missed a turn and went off route. It ended up okay- we just followed the road rather than a dirt path, so we didn’t really veer off course- but I think we may have added a little distance. Plus, I’m sure our detour wasn’t nearly as beautiful and was certainly tougher on the feet.
But we powered on and I think we were both anxious to arrive in Bowness-on-Solway. As we got down to our last couple of miles, we knew we’d make it with plenty of time to spare (we had a 1:39 bus to catch out of the village), but we still kept up our fast pace because at that point we just wanted to arrive at the end with enough time to sit down, take off our shoes, and have a bite to eat.
About a mile before Bowness-on-Solway the route passes through Port of Carlisle and it was here that we ran into Roger. At first we only noticed an old man in a floppy hat, propped up on a bicycle. Then we saw a large signpost behind him, with an arrow pointing towards Bowness-on-Solway, but also one pointing back to Wallsend.
The man introduced himself to us, and we soon learned that Roger stations himself in this spot nearly every day of the Hadrian’s Wall walking season. He learns where walkers hail from, and adjusts the signpost accordingly. He changes the cities and mileage with every walker who passes by, and offers to take a photo (he also points out a small donation box, and we were happy to put in a few coins).
I thought Roger and his sign was an excellent way to mark the end of a long walk: what a souvenir, to have a photo of us at the end, with a sign of how far we’d walk and how far we’d traveled to get there!
Another mile to Bowness-on-Solway and then we were done! We found the official ‘end’ of the route, took a few photos, and then settled into a table at King’s Arm, the main pub in town.
We may not have had time to stop and smell the roses for this day’s walk, but I do have to say that there’s something satisfying and even exciting at attempting a physical challenge. At this point I know that I can walk long distances, but walking that fast for that long was something a bit new. When we set off we weren’t totally convinced that we could do it (which was a little nerve-wracking but worst case scenario was that we could have taken a taxi back to Carlisle if we missed the bus). But when we finished, it felt like a real victory.
We didn’t stroll up to the end- we marched there, we sailed there (some might even say that we were carried by the wind).
So that’s another walk in the books; time to set my sights on the next one!