We woke up on the Saturday morning stiff but ready for another day of walking. The day was looking quite bright as we dressed and stiffly negotiated the stairs down to the bar for breakfast. We’d done one full day of walking but were still unsure how we might get on today. We ate well – though not so much that we couldn’t move! As well as breakfast, the Robin Hood Inn had prepared a packed lunch for us both. As we continued westwards we would be in fairly open countryside and were not likely to come upon too many supermarkets.
Ready for off we gathered our bags, checked out, stamped our passports at the box on the wall of the pub, and started walking West, leaving just after 8am. By now, in late September, the sun was still low on the horizon at this hour. There were a few morning clouds but it looked like they would burn off and it promised to turn into a nice day. The path follows the line of the ditch by the side of the busy road but it was a pleasant start. We passed Wallhouses and Halton Shields and across a small part of the unexcavated fort at Halton Chester before coming to the roundabout that marked the junction of the Wall and the Roman Dere Street (which ran from York into Scotland). There was likely an impressive gate here at the time of the wall but now there is just an old pub recently converted to a coffee shop and café. There weren’t going to be many places to stop so, although we had not yet ventured overly far, we took a quick break for coffee and cake.
For the next few miles, the remains of the Vallum on the South side of the wall were particularly clear. The path then carried on through a plantation which had some uneven ground and lots of tree root trip hazards, however the trees did provide some cover from the sun which was now getting quite strong. We were about 8 miles into the day by the time we arrived at the site of the Battle of Heavenfield where we made a quick diversion to look at St Oswald’s Church (where we also made grateful use of the pews for a few minutes to rest our feet).
From here we started to drop down from the hills and came upon the first visible stretch of wall since Heddon. The path then takes a diversion along some lanes to avoid a busy stretch of wall side road with no footpath. We headed down into the North Tyne Valley and towards the first major Roman site since Wallsend. After walking to, and across, the bridge over the river, and having walked through Chollerford we were very much ready to have a break at Chesters Fort.
We paid the entrance fee and started with a good look around the excellent antiquarian museum and then found a bench to sit and eat our packed lunch. We had a look around the excavated remains of the fort, probably slightly less full heartedly than we would if we weren’t already tired. We had an ice cream, stamped our passports, and got back on the road.
From the valley the only way was up. From the top some stiles (there are a lot of stiles on the route) led us into a field and into Northumberland National Park. Upon entering the park we were soon we were starting to get to the good stuff so far as the wall is concerned. The stretch through the National Park would take us the rest of today and most of tomorrow. Within the Park we would be following some of the best preserved bits of the wall along the most beautiful and dramatic countryside.
The start of this stretch is marked by a stretch of wall at Black Carts. This is the longest section of wall so far on the route coming in this direction. The joy of finding some proper wall remains here also helps to hide that you are still slowly but steadily climbing onto the hills.
The wall remains disappear but the ditch remains very evident and before long we were turning the ‘corner’ at Limestone Corner. We were at the most northerly point on the walk and the landscape was opening up wider and wider with every passing mile.
It was also getting later though and we had to press on. It was almost 5 o’clock by the time we turned the corner with the best part of 4 or 5 miles to walk. The path follows the line of the ditch close to the road but on the grass, the path is quite uneven and the walking was slower as a result.
Despite this we were soon at the site of Brocolitia Fort, partially excavated but with no extant above ground remains. The path here crosses the road and skirts around the fort. It is pretty, but did add a few more yards onto the straight line distance remaining. You do, however, get to visit the temple of Mithras which is evacuated and open for viewing. After the fort we crossed the road back onto the ditch and some more uneven ground.
With time ticking on, and the sun beginning to set, we came to a point where the path and the road diverge. Here we jumped the fence and onto the road. Our guide book warned against doing this, but we were late and our B&B was a short way ahead alongside the road so this should be a good shortcut. It wasn’t much fun though. Although not the busiest stretch of road, being straight and open most drivers were, shall we say, playing fast and loose with the speed regulations.
However in front of us we could spy the Old Repeater Station and, at just around half past six and roughly 10 and a half hours after leaving the Robin Hood, we arrived and kicked off our walking boots. Les, the owner of the B&B was cooking and we had just enough time to shower and change and join him and two other walkers for a simple but excellent supper and a couple of beers. The other two gentlemen, not traveling together, were an American retired teacher and a Dutch airplane mechanic and Roman reenactor.
The company was excellent. We exchanged tales of where we had been and what was ahead (we were walking in different directions so could share tips). Both gents were using a service that was transporting their luggage from one B&B to the next. Why didn’t we think of that? I resolved to call the company in the morning and see if we could do the same.
Tired, but feed and refreshed, we went back to our bunk beds and fell quickly to sleep.