Hadrian’s Wall – Day 6 (a happy ending; how very Grimm)
First to rise, as usual, I decide both our high-achieving Brave Heroes deserve a decent breakfast, so awaken them with the aroma of a full English breakfast and pots of ridiculously strong tea. We pack fast, mostly because we didn’t really unpack. Rufus Baronicus (follow his blog here) is actually starting from Bowness today (not Burgh-by-Sands as I mistakenly put in my Day 5 blog), and walking all the way back to his goddess Vicky at the best pub in the countryTM The Salutation Inn in Irthington, which is at least 24 miles, so a relatively early start is necessitated. I have a long 3 hour drive to the den of iniquity home of RB and don’t want it to be too late a start. The weather has turned, and RB is not likely to have a dry day of it. Quite clearly, ambition is overriding common-sense.
I have custody of my Sooterkin Wordus Nevynicus (read his blog here) and he, I and both our walking sticks will be getting our tourism groove on in Carlisle. We are also keen to say goodbye to the five trillion and 63 flies we have been bunkhouse mates with. We eat and leave. Earlier than we ever have before.
Turning left across the flood plain of farmland adjacent to the Salway Firth, we head towards Bowness-on-Salway, the small settlement to the west. However, we screech to a halt a mere 100 metres away from the drop-off point as we encounter the three strange men of our first night in Greencarts, whom I encountered at the Roman Army museum when spending a bladder-torturing two hours waiting for our insane walkists Brave Heroes to return. The Walk is clearly a well-trodden path. RB makes the instant decision to walk with them, at least to Carlisle where they intend to end the day and from where he intends to walk a further 16 miles. We promise to drive on and take a photo of the putative start point.
We discover a bus coming the opposite way and I am forced to reverse backwards down twisty-turny village roads for some way, at which point I decide to take the photos and leave. Carlisle, here my Sooterkin and I come!
I know the day is going to be wonderful when we encounter a brass band playing (with talent) what appears to be the entire instrumental version of Les Miserables (absolutely my favourite musical ever, even including Rocky Horror), right by the Tourism Centre and my place of worship, Costa Coffee. If I were at all superstitious, I would take these as good omens. But I’m not, so I just enjoy the happy coincidences.
Onwards to the Castle (another English Heritage building, more historical happies for me). We walk through an underpass to get to it, as it has been cut off from Carlisle centre by a rather wide and busy road. As a result, we discover an entire exhibit linked to the Museum (which we sadly did not have time to peruse) running the length of the underpass, entirely composed of display items relating to the history of Carlisle. It’s a stunningly good idea which I have never encountered before, and is topped off by a poetry-inscribed stone as you leave to go up to the castle. Every town should have one. It’s wonderful.
The castle is a total mishmash of different periods, having been in continual use since it was built. It is still in use by the Army, and each headquarter building is named after a famous battle. Those buildings, for obvious reasons, are not open to the public, but the castle does contain the military museum which we were not aware of and did not have the time to go into. To be honest, both WN and I are more interested in the history before the invention of the bullet.
Mary Queen of Scots was imprisoned here. As were the Jacobite prisoners taken during the uprisings in support of Bonnie Prince Charlie. They were treated appallingly, as so many prisoners were (except MQofS, who as a Queen had it comparatively good). They were deprived of food and water, resorting to licked the stones in the dungeon for moisture.
There are blocked off staircases, reconstructed Warden’s Keep rooms, cannons pointing disturbingly towards what is now a children’s playground, and armoured vehicles. . I did not expect to turn a corner in an olde castle-e (doesn’t work when the word already ends in ‘e’) and find armoured vehicles, although it was at this point we realised there was a military museum in the castle. For some reason, I could not stop thinking of Dr Who meeting Winston Churchill and expected a pepperpot Dalek to appear around the corner at any minute.
A tour of this castle is like a walk through hundreds of years of history; interesting, moving and at one point stopping me completely – I’ll Take The High Road will never be the same to me again.
A costa is most definitely required, although it doesn’t take much for me to find an excuse for a costa. As we sit drinking our refreshing beverages, our thoughts turn to our intrepid colleague RB and his crazy quest for The Salutation Inn. The rain has been falling, and is expected to become increasingly stormy. He is alone, damp and walking through bogs. The exquisite Vicky and ambition are excellent motivators, but we do feel sympathy for his predicament as we tuck into our cakes (walnut coffee for me, lemon poppyseed for him, since you ask) and massive coffees. A little bit of ridiculing may also have occurred…
It occurs to me that I have not actually seen any of Hadrian’s Wall the entire time I have been up here, and this must be remedied. Our hallucinating protagonists Brave Heroes passed by Birdoswald Fort on their way to the Goddess Vicky The Salutation Inn; there is plenty of Wall there for me to see. Plus, again, it’s English Heritage. Fed and watered, we return to our steel carriage of 400 500 a lot (probably, it’s a 4×4) of horses and, for the a million and twelfth time, I drive. It’s well worth the trip. FINALLY I see the wall, but not only that, I clamber all over it, and you can’t say that about many historical artefacts! The Wall is imposing, even in its dilapidated, looted state, and stretches for miles and miles and miles (etc). The achievement of our maniacal tramp(er)s Brave Heroes comes sharply into focus. Unprepared, unfit, insane they may have been, but they did it and they should be rightfully very proud of themselves. I am, but again, don’t tell them that. I have a reputation to maintain.
Birdoswald Fort is yet another prime example of how history can be brought to life in even the smallest of exhibition spaces. To make up for my inability to photograph WN in the pillory earlier this week, he kindly posed for me on the reconstructed latrine (only a two-seater this one, unlike the communal 16-seaters of earlier historical visits).
I got slightly obsessed with the beautiful skies surrounding us on this hilltop fort, and was slightly disturbed to find out that the fort will, one day, fall into the river below which was slowly eroding the land in the way in which nature tends to do. There are no plans to save the fort at the moment; it is deemed by the site that this is nature at work and it may be best to allow nature to have its way. I find myself conflicted by this. On the one hand, nature should be allowed to behave, well, naturally. On the other hand, history destroyed! It’s a conundrum.
We wander around the fort, and manage to finish just as a little gentle rain falls on us. Time to drag ourselves away; a couple of quick photos at the end of the visible Wall mere yards/metres* (*delete as applicable to spatial awareness) and it’s off to The Salutation Inn to meet our weary wanderer. It’s getting late already, it’s a long drive to Chez Rufus Baronicus, we don’t want to be too late.
The Inn is packed and our dinner order must be served to our table in the bar. I have never tasted such exquisite food in any restaurant in which I have ever eaten, although it appears the chef is not retired from a major London eaterie nor trained to the gills, nor are there any Michelin stars outside to advertise the chef’s skill. We are both utterly astounded and lament that poor RB is unable to partake of the repast. Eventually, at 8 pm, soaked, sweaty, exhausted and more than a little malodorous, our lone Brave Hero returns, to a fitting hero’s welcome. Well, it would have been, except it is your HW and WN about whom I write, so he returned more to a sarcastic, teasing, affectionate welcome. As reward for his valiant efforts, I capture an image of the beauteous Vicky for RB to be able to keep, forever.
Many pints are imbibed before we set off on our final journey (for RB, of course my Sooterkin and I must drive further to reach our welcome home on the morrow). 3 ½ hours of driving late at night, through storm, tempest, fog, gale and rather nasty weather all round and we arrive at RB’s abode at 1 am. Bliss, a comfortable double-bed, with duvet, warm and welcoming. Our holiday is ending in a most fitting way.
As is my blog. I hope you have enjoyed my tales of woe and wonder. It has been an ambition fulfilled for all of us, as although I did not ever entertain the idea of walking the Wall like our imprudent ageds Brave Heroes, it was a place I had always wanted to visit. RB and WN have achieved a lifetime goal. Now all that is left is memory; sweet and sharp. My constant companion Orlando will now be well rested.
End of Day Six, End of Wall Blog.