Day 61 Wednesday 16 June Jedburgh to Melrose

Miles walked: Today 20 cumulative 937

I thought 20 miles was too far for my first day so about 2 months ago I drew some short cuts on the map. Unfortunately today I thought they were wet weather alternatives so I walked the full distance. I wasn’t even put off by the couple who said to me : “That’s a long way, it’s over 20 miles.” Anyway, I made it.

The day was dull with occasional drizzle but it was warm. I stopped at Queen Mary’s house, where she stayed when she visited Jedburgh in 1566. It is closed because of COVID but the outside is impressive.

There are some pear trees in the garden. Pears were introduced by the Augustinian canons when they arrived from France and they thrived in the climate of the Scottish Borders. They were highly sought after in the 19th Century, but their popularity waned after the Victorian era.

I decided to leave Jedburgh by joining St Cuthbert’s Way (see day 69 for an explanation) and retraced my steps to Dere Street which I first met on the Pennine Way. Bad move! That added an extra mile, I should have walked down the road. At this point Dere Street is a farm track that descends to the Jed water. I followed the stream through woodland to the river Teviot. I walked along the river, past a swan sitting on her nest, to a relatively new, but wobbly, suspension bridge. I then passed through the mixed woodland and rhododendrons of the Monteviot estate and crossed a road to rejoin Dere Street.

Monteviot House

Almost immediately there was a cafe that had been recommended to me by one of the guides at the Abbey yesterday. The cake was indeed perfect and, as it was stuffed with raisins and had a sugar icing, I claim I ate it for medicinal reasons, to boost my carbs.

Suitably refreshed, I continued in a dead straight line along the Roman Dere Street. This was now a very pleasant grassy path passing between fields and woodland over gentle hills. To the left, on top of a hill about a mile away, I could see an old Victorian mausoleum which is meant to be well worth a visit. After a couple of miles the path passed Lady Lilliard’s Stone. The inscription is worn but is reproduced on a metal plate:

Fair maiden Lilliard

Lies under this stane

Little was her stature

But Muckle was her fame

Upon the English loons

She laid monie thumps

And when her legs were cutted off

She fought them on her stumps

Legend tells of a woman who fought in the Battle of Ancrum in 1544 (in the Nine Years war, see yesterday’s post). She fought the English, some say by the side of her lover, and was grievously wounded but continued to fight on. However, in the Ballad of Chevy Chase there is a verse describing a squire who suffered a similar fate at the Battle of Otterburn in 1388 (recounted in the ballad of Chevy Chase) so it may not be true. An information board near the memorial suggests that even if there was no Lady Lilliard it is an appropriate memorial to all the women who were brutally raped, killed or both in the border wars.

Eventually Dere Street joined the A68. Here I could have taken a short cut along the road but decided to continue along St Cuthbert’s Way. I passed a small church at Maxton that had a stained glass window that was impressive and then had a very pleasant walk along the River Tweed. I had hoped to see Dryburgh Abbey which is on the other side of the river but the ruins were obscured by trees.

I walked through St Boswell that had an interesting monument to commemorate the establishment of a freshwater supply in the mid 19th century

My final barrier of the day drew closer. These are the Eildon hills. My path passed over the col between the middle and right hand hill. There is a Roman fort on the right hand hill, Trimontium. Important finds are displayed in the National Museum of Scotland and there is also a small museum in Melrose.

Just before the Eildon Hills I walked through the village of Bowden. Here there is a Pant Well, one of only 2 remaining. Pant wells were constructed in the early and mid 1800s, water was diverted from a spring or well through a pipe to avoid contamination. Interestingly, this well was built before Snow’s report linking the cholera outbreak in Soho to a contaminated pump in Broad Street; so it appears that the importance of isolating a clean water supply was becoming appreciated at several sites, at least, in the North East and Borders.

I climbed up to the col in the Eildons but I was too tired to go to the top. The cloud cover was heavy and it started to drizzle. Even so, I could see back to the Cheviots and forwards towards the moors that will take me to Peebles.

View back towards the Cheviot Hills

I continued down a steep path into Melrose. This was a very enjoyable day’s walk through varied countryside. I am staying in Burts Hotel After a long soak in the bath I went down to the bar for some lamb rump and a couple of pints of Timothy Taylor. Recommended.

15 June 2021

So, with lockdown partially lifted, I am off to try to complete Lejog. I am currently on the train back to Jedburgh, where I ended my walk last year, the mountains of the Lake District just coming into view. I decided not to camp this year and my route will follow the “classic” route adopted by many Lejogers.

The Firth of Forth provides a major obstacle to a direct trek north. There are only two crossing points, the Forth Bridge, which entails walking through Edinburgh. Nice as the city is, urban walking doesn’t tick the right box for me. The second alternative is to cross at Stirling but this involves a lot of road walking, again not my cup of tea. The preferred route by most is to head west, turning north between Falkirk and Glasgow.

So, tomorrow I will continue my walk through the Scottish Borders, using what promises to be an excellent walk on a variety of long distance paths in the Southern Uplands. I will drop down to the central lowlands to reach Linlithgow and then follow the Forth and Clyde canal and John Muir trail to the West Highland Way at Drymen. The West Highland Way will take me to Fort William and, if fitness allows, I will bag a few Munros on the way. I then will walk through the Great Glen to Inverness. Finally, if I am not devoured by the Loch Ness monster, I will follow the nascent John O’Groats Trail and finish the walk as I started with coastal and cliff walking.

This route will mean that I can always find a B & B or a pub to sleep in. On the way I hope to learn some Scottish history, from a Scottish point of view, by reading Magnus Magnusson’s book “Scotland: The Story of a Nation.” and I am sure some of what I learn will find its way into the blog.

After arriving in Edinburgh I took the local train to Galashiels, one of the few lines to re-open after the Beeching cuts in the early 1960’s. The line runs along the Gala valley which was very pretty. I then caught the bus to Jedburgh. This gave me a preview of tomorrow’s walk, which looks good. I was tempted to get off the bus in Melrose when we passed the pub I am saying in tomorrow.

I spent the rest of the afternoon walking round Jedburgh Abbey

This was one of four Abbeys built by David I in the 12th Century, the others being at Kelso, Melrose and Dryburgh. Jedburgh was built for the Augustinian order. It must have been a magnificent building, it was attacked many times by the English before being reduced to a ruin by Henry VIII during a series of wars in the 16th century. Walter Scott called them the “Rough Wooing” as Henry’s army carried out a bloody campaign to try to force the young Mary Queen of Scots to marry his son Edward (later Edward VI). The conflict is probably more appropriately named the Nine Years War as it was particularly brutal and was really about an attempt to force Protestantism on the Catholic Scots as well as trying to impose English rule.

I wouldn’t have fancied being a monk. A display at the Abbey describes the canon’s day: up for prayer at 3:30am and one meal a day, usually vegetable stew is not my idea of the good life. They were allowed fish or fowl once a week but red meat was forbidden as it is conducive to sin. Talk was forbidden at mealtimes, the only sound was a canon reading from a religious text. If you wanted more potato you used sign language.

Jedburgh was also the birthplace of James Thompson who wrote the words of Rule Britannia in 1740.

Jedburgh was originally built at a crossroads with narrow alleys, called Closes, leading to courtyards. Some of these had very low entrances. They reminded me of the Wynds in Shrewsbury

The town was really quiet. I ate in Belters Bar (recommended, extensive burger menu including meat, fish, and veggie) and the landlord said that tourism hasn’t picked up yet in the Borders. Indeed, many of the bars appeared to be closed on a Tuesday, only opening from Thursday to Saturday, maybe this will change as we get into summer. There were only 4 small groups (including me) in Belters this evening.

I returned to my B and B to sort out my maps for tomorrow. I edited the blog during lockdown and noticed I often grumbled about pain in my left hamstrings. I decided to do something about this after the Pennine Way. I joined a gym and a personal trainer, Conor O’Hanlon , has been working on me. Previously I thought all I needed to do was a few walks to build up the relevant muscles and a bit of stamina. He impressed on me the importance of balanced training and a strong core. During lockdown he set me a routine I could do at home, although the weights were limited to a couple of kilo bags of rice and I have trained hard since the gyms were allowed to reopen. I feel much fitter and I felt much more comfortable on the walks that I did this spring.

Day 60 Saturday 19 September Wessenden Head to Hebden Bridge

Miles walked: Today 20.9 cumulative 917

This was the section I missed when I had heat exhaustion. The problem with pre-booking accommodation is that if you have illness or injury you have to miss that section out or all your B and B are lost for the rest of the trip.

I returned back to the point from where Angela rescued me in August. Angela Taxis again provided transport. They have proved invaluable this leg and I would recommend them on Trip Advisor (even if the fleet comprises of a single Citroen C1; if you request luxury transport she puts the radio on). They are even free! When we arrived at Wessenden head the cloud was heavy and low and it was very windy. I set off downhill and I was lulled into a false sense of security as the wind dropped as soon as I left the ridge.

Almost immediately after the path left the road I came upon an art installation by the Yorkshire artist Ashley Jackson

His aims are to demonstrate how the artist views the landscape, to show the viewer, how great the landscape is and that it can be a “free” art gallery for all to enjoy; hence the quote “many people look but only a few see.” It is true that it is possible to walk all day and not really take in the surroundings. I try to use mindfulness techniques at intervals to really absorb the sights, sounds and smells of the environment.

Today was a walk around reservoirs. Lots of them. Some were built to supply water to the local towns, including ensuring a constant supply to the local mills who relied on water power for their machines. Others were built to provide a reliable source of water for the canals which were an important transport infrastructure before the coming of the railway

Castleshaw reservoirs from Marsden moor

Below the Wessenden reservoir the path turned West and ascended back on to the moor. The strong wind picked up as soon as I left the valley and stayed with me all day. Fortunately it was mainly behind me and pushed me along. The cloud quickly broke up and there was sunshine all day.

Much of the day involved either crossing moorland, which felt very remote, despite the proximity to Manchester and the frequent roads crossing west to east, or walking along outcrops with good views to the west. The walk flirted with the Lancashire/Yorkshire boundary. Obviously, the Lancashire sections were the best. All together a great days walk.

Millstone Edge

Much of the moor consists of grasses. There is a project to re-introduce a wider variety of plants such as heather and spaghnum moss. This will have the benefits of raising the water table (spaghum traps a large volume of water). As well as improving plant biodiversity and offering a habitat for a wider variety of moorland wildlife the increased water content should reduce the risk of wildfire and downstream flooding

Just before crossing the M62 I passed the Holme Moss transmitter mast

This was an important television transmitter until 1968. It also formed part of the “Backbone” microwave network during the Cold War. This was a “line of site system” designed to maintain communication between cities in the event of a nuclear war damaging other systems. As you can see, all the TV antennae have been removed. The mast is still used by mobile phone providers.

I crossed the M62 and Blacktone Edge for a final but misty view back to Manchester

At the north end of Blackstone Edge the is a medieval marker stone

Aiggin stone

This was originally about 7 feet high. These stones served as waymarkers for travellers but were also used as a site to pray for a safe journey. Some were used to transport the deceased to consecrated ground for burial and had places to rest a coffin nearby so a prayer could be offered for their souls.

A Roman road descends to the north. There are still paving stones on the road, but historians differ as to whether these are the original Roman stones or make up a newer road built on top of the original.

The path then passes more reservoirs before crossing Withens moor to reach Stoodley Pike

Stoodley Pike was originally built to commemorate the fall of Paris after the battle of Waterloo. It collapsed after a lightening strike on the day the Russian ambassador left London prior to the Crimean War. It was rebuilt at the end of the Crimean War.

It was a short walk down the hill to Hebden Bridge. This was a fine walk to complete the Pennine Way and my crossing of England. Scotland awaits in 2021.

Day 59 Monday August 31 Kirk Yetholm to Jedburgh

Miles walked: today 17.8 cumulative 896.1

Now I have left the Pennine Way the sun has come out! There was a slight delay at the start as someone had gone home with the kitchen keys. While waiting for breakfast, I had a wander round the village, which is mainly centred on the village green and I visited the Kirk

Today’s route followed the St Cuthbert Way. Following a vision, St Cuthbert trained as a monk at Melrose Abbey. At the age of 30 he made a pilgrimage to Lindisfarne and the Way is meant to recreate his route. As is the norm on this walk, I am travelling the opposite way, ie towards Melrose

As I have already said, some Lejogers leave the PW at Dere Street and go straight to Jedburgh. The route it takes from Jedburgh through the Southern Uplands appealed to me so today I headed south-west to Jedburgh. I walked alongside Bowmont Water which passes between Kirk Yetholm and Town Yetholm. I crossed a field containing rather belligerent looking cows. Their eyes said: “don’t mess with me Jimmy.” They left me alone and I was soon climbing up Wideopen Hill with fine views back down the valley and across to the Cheviots.

On the way down the hill I met a retired vet by a field gate. The path crossed the next field but there was a rather fierce looking bovine the other side of the gate. “That’s a bull” the vet said. Indeed, inspection of the animal’s undercarriage confirmed a male member of the species. There were two bullocks with him. He looked like he wanted to teach his sons how to terrorise the English like the good old days, we avoided the field.

The hard work of the day done early, I descended to Morebattle. The name probably has nothing to do with fighting but derives from the Anglo-Saxon mere-bodl which means “the house by the lake”. It did have a rather nice pub, so I had a leisurely lunch sitting in the sun in the pub garden.

The afternoon was an easy, slightly undulating walk through farmland and along quiet lanes. After a couple of miles I came to the ruin of Cessford castle.

The castle was built by the Ker family in the late 15th Century. They were a powerful reiver family who also had a bitter blood feud with another reiver family, the Scotts. It sounds like the Borders were a lawless area at this time. A placard at the castle quotes the Bishop of Ross as saying “They do not concern themselves whether it be from the Scots or the English that they rob and plunder.”

The path the went through some pleasant, light woodland and joined Dere Street. I will follow this again when I return, but for now I turned off towards Jedburgh after 200 yards. Jedburgh looks a pretty town and has an old abbey. I plan to look round it when I return to the walk next year.

Day 58 Sunday August 30 Windy Gyle to Kirk Yetholm

Miles walked: today 12.7 cumulative 878.3

The wind dropped during the night but the temperature dropped to just above freezing and I had to wear a base layer and socks in my sleeping bag. It was misty (and cold) when I woke up but this soon lifted and it became a nice day with sunny intervals. There were excellent views across the hills.

The importance of wild camping is to leave no trace behind.

I only had half a bottle of water left so breakfast was cereal bars and an apple. I then set off along the ridge. The Cheviots look beautiful; green, rounded hills but they are one enormous bog. There are only a few short sections of paving stones. Simon Armitage wrote in his book that most of these come from old mills and the grooves on the stones are where machinery was attached. I read on a notice by the path that peat is an important carbon store and erosion by walkers leads to increased carbon emissions. The causey stones therefore help mitigate the effects of walkers on climate change. Bodies such as the National Trust and National Park Authorities are also trying to re-seed denuded peat to help prevent further erosion.

As the day went on the cloud dispersed and there were fine views over the moors. I passed the second mountain refuge on the ridge, very similar to the first. Finally the last peak of the Pennine Way came into view: The Schill

The Schill. The border fence is still on the left

Stunning views from the top. I could see the Solway Firth to the West and the North Sea to the East. Behind me the ridge I had been following was spread out in a semi-circle. In front was the lowland between the border and the Southern Uplands. I was so taken by the panorama I forgot to record a video.

I descended from the top and crossed the border fence for the last time to enter Scotland. The Pennine Way splits into two and I selected the lower route, I had had enough bog trotting for one day. I soon was walking through farmland. I knew I was in Scotland when I saw:

A trailer full of Tunnock’s wafers. Heaven!

I was soon in Kirk Yetholm and the end of the Pennine Way. I have walked across England. Just 450 miles of Scotland to go.

That evening four of us sat in the bar reflecting of the high and low points of the Pennine Way. We agreed High Cup Nick and the Yorkshire Dales were the best bits and the waterlogged moor above Greenhead the low point. The others were going home but I had one more day planned.

Day 57 Saturday August 29th Byrness to Windy Gyle

Miles walked: today 14.3 miles cumulative 865.6

Today was the first half of crossing the Cheviot Hills via a long ridge. I found today one of the hardest on the PW, despite the short distance. There was 2616 feet of ascent and I have had a northerly gale blowing in my face the whole day. Oh yes, it rained most of the morning.

The path from the campsite goes through the forest to Byrness. There is not much at Byrness. It was a base for the workers planting the forest and building the Catcleugh reservoir. Now there are a couple of houses, a hotel (which was shut) and a church.

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The church was built in the 1790s. In 1903 a stained glass window was installed in memory of the 64 men, women and children (a 12 year old was killed by a stone crusher) who were killed during the bulding of the reservoir, using money raised by public subscription. According to a sign outside the church, it is a site of pilgrimage for trade unionists.

There was a steep and muddy climb up through forest to gain the ridge. I was passed by another couple who I had met before on the Way. They had also stayed at the campsite but had rented a pod. Luxury!

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Looking along the ridge from Byrness Hill

The path runs alongside the Otterburn military range. A short, but succinct warning to take care:

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The path then went past the Roman camp and fortlet at Chew Green. Later, there was a medieval settlement here. There is little to see now apart from a few ditches. I took the opportunity to fill up my water bottles from the river Coquet as there was no more running water until Kirk Yetholm.

I then followed an old Roman road, Dere Street, up to the ridge and the Scottish border. Dere Street went at least as far as the Antonine Wall and some LeJogers leave the Pennine Way here and follow in Roman footsteps to Jedburgh. I will meet Dere Street a few times on Lejog but I wanted to complete the PW, even though it entailed a 2 day detour.

The English/Scottish border runs along the ridge

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Border Fence

Not very substantial and the gate is no Checkpoint Charlie. Ms Sturgeon will have her work cut out if Scottish independence occurs. I will follow the border for most of the next two days, the path dipping in and out of Scotland.

The path was boggy, steep in places and the head on wind was tiring. There were good views over the desolate but beautiful Cheviots. A walker passed me at about 3pm carrying a full pack. He had walked here from Bellingham, about 22 miles. He was hoping to stay in the mountain refuge hut about a mile further on. When I passed it, it looked more like a shed. Welcome shelter in a storm but I wouldn’t fancy spending a night in there. Later on I passed another walker who said the hut was full. I don’t know whether the previous walker found a space there.

Pairs of Starburst sweets started to appear on the path at intervals of about 200 yards. What was this? An offering to the Hill Gods? Something Angela had planted to goad me on?? It transpired that a couple with a dog had walked along the ridge planning to meet another family and then walk back. The sweets were to encourage the children to walk on.

I arrived at the top of Windy Gyle very tired at about 7pm. The combination of the bog and the wind had made me very slow. I had planned to go on another two miles and drop down to a waterfall to camp. There was a large cairn and a wall on the top of the hill which sheltered a grassy patch on which to pitch the tent.

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It was clear and I had high hopes of a star filled sky. As it got dark the cloud and mist came in and my hopes of experiencing the Northumberland dark sky were dashed. Maybe it was because I was camped on the Scottish side of the fence and not in Northumberland.

Day 56 Friday August 28 Bellingham to Byrness

Miles today 14.4 cumulative 851.3

Spoiler alert! I have reached the end of the Pennine Way and I am back home. I have not had good WiFi since Bellingham so I have a bit of catching up to do. I hope I have remembered everything I was going to write as I don’t keep notes as I go along. As you know, if you have followed the blog, I have to go back and do the bit I missed when I was unwell.

A late start today. First I had to queue outside the Co-op before I could buy food for the next three lunches. Then I found out there has been a landslide so there are no buses between Jedburgh and Edinburgh. After a bit of dithering I have booked a taxi. Finally, when I left the hotel (Cheviot Hotel, recommenced) I thought I was on the opposite side of the road so it took a while to find the Pennine Way. I eventually left Bellingham at about 11am.

It was another cloudy day. There were some showers but I was confident it was going to dry up before I had to put up my tent. The path headed steeply uphill though farmland with views back towards the way I had come and the end of yesterday’s walk.

Bellingham

I soon entered moorland and most of the rest of today’s walk was spent keeping my eyes on the ground in front of me trying to avoid the deeper sections of bog, no causey paving today. This is where the walking poles come in useful, by probing ahead you can decide whether it is safe to proceed (pole stops after an inch or so); hop across quickly (pole sinks slowly); look for another route (pole doesn’t stop sinking).

Eventually I came to the main part of the Kielder forest. When you look down on it from Padon hill you can see how vast it is

The path descended for several miles through the forest. At first there were views forwards, towards tomorrow’s walk. Eventually the path descended below the treetops and there was nothing to do but press on. There are meant to be red squirrel in the forest but they were hiding again today.

I stayed at the campsite at Cottonhopeburnfoot, about 2 miles south-east of Byrness. Backpackers were shunted off to a small field, only part of which had been mown. There was a loo and a shower but it was somewhere to sleep. There were three other groups of PW walkers in the field. One was sitting in a Lounger outside a large tent. I thought this was unnecessary weight to carry but it transpired he was following his wife and her brother while they walked and he carried a lot of their gear in his van. I recognised the other two tents from Dufton but the occupants didn’t emerge. We had some spectators.

Not the best days walk but it gives me a chance to tell you about the Pennine Way. It was the brainchild of journalist and open spaces activist Tom Stephenson. He first raised the idea in 1935; three years after the Kinder mass protest (see day 42, Edale to Crowden). In 1938 there was a conference of interested walking groups, although the Access to Mountains Bill had still not been passed by Parliament. This was eventually passed as the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act in 1949. Despite this, access to the route was not finalised until 1964 and the PW was opened in 1965. Andrew McCloy has written a book on the history of the Pennine Way and a good summary (from which much of the above is derived) is published on the Cicerone Press web site.

I was now at the foot of the Cheviot Hills, the final barrier to finishing the PW.

Day 55 Thursday 27 August Twice Brewed Inn to Bellingham

Miles walked: today 15.8 cumulative 837.9

Today started dry and the sun even made a feeble attempt to break through the mist. I returned to Hadrian’s wall and my first task was to climb Steel Rigg. There were good views along the wall. There was no Wall at this site, but the field wall had stones looking suspiciously like those in the remnants of Hadrian’ wall.

I dropped to a depression between two outcrops of dolerite and there was THAT tree

Sycamore Gap

I have never seen “Robin Prince of Thieves” so I do not know what happens at the tree. It is a long way from Nottingham, but it was a large budget movie so they were able to use locations all over the country and apparently the long shots of Nottingham castle are actually the walls of Carcassonne in Southern France.

I met an Australian walking Hadrians wall east to west. He was wearing a Melbourne City shirt (one of the Manchester City Group teams). Only one other pair of Pennine Wayfarers passed me today. There was another couple at breakfast but I left before them and did not see them along the path. I am no longer the slowest walker on the Way.

After the next outcrop the Pennine Way said farewell to the Wall and turned North. Looking back at the outcrops of rock and the Wall I thought that if I has been a rebel and seen the barrier ahead, bristling with Roman soldiers, I would have turned round and gone home.

There is little else to say about today. Other than a view over Greenlee Lough (Northumberland spelling) the next phase of the walk was memorable only for the bog. The worst bit was going through a forest on Haughton Common where it felt like I was walking on a sponge. My walking poles were used as probes to assess where I could put my feet without sinking up to my knees. The other problem with today was that much of it was through Wark forest (part of the Kielder plantation) meaning there were no views. Red squirrel are meant to live in the forests up here but they were hiding today. Eventually I came to open country and had views over the rolling countryside. It remained wet underfoot but I made my way over the unfortunately named Shitlington Crags.

From the communications mast, there were good views towards Bellingham and back along the walk. There was an easy descent to Bellington. I am afraid that I agree with other bloggers that, after leaving Hadrians wall, today isn’t the most exiting day of the Pennine Way. My legs are tired but at least I am 16 miles closer to John O’Groats.

Day 54 Wednesday 26 August Gilsland to Twice Brewed Inn

Miles walked: Today 8 Cumulative 822.1

I couldn’t find anywhere to stay in Greenhead and my original choice e mailed me, while I was on the Pennine Way to say it still hadn’t re-opened after COVID. Thanks go to Support Services, i.e. Angela, for finding me somewhere to sleep. She has been working overtime this leg! The Samson Inn was next to the Hadrian’s Wall way and only a mile off route. It is run by three local farmers and their best lamb had gone into the Hot Pot.

All of today’s walk followed the Wall. As you know, this was built by George R R Martin, is made of ice and is 700 feet high… what? Wrong Wall?? You know nothing Ray! That’s enough Game of Thrones jokes.

The wall was, of course, built by Hadrian. The Romans actually pushed as far north as the Grampian mountains but withdrew back to Northumberland as the troops were needed to quell an uprising in what is now Germany. Hadrian commissioned the wall to prevent incursions by the Northern tribes who later united to become the Picts. (Antonius Pius later tried to subdue Scotland again and established a wall between the Clyde and the Forth but more of that next year)

Much of Ice and Fire, the books on which the TV series GOT is based, reflects political and social events in medieval European history, so that Wall has its inspiration from Hadrians Wall. If you are a GOT fan it is well worth reading the history of Plantagenet England and trying to work out on whom the characters and events were based.

Much of the wall was built on outcrops of the Whin Sill which formed an extra, natural, barrier. Elsewhere, the Romans dug a ditch in front of the wall

Whin Sill outcrops can be seen in the distance, the defensive ditch is in the foreground

The problem with a wall as a defence is you need men to defend it. It is estimated that up to 1500 men were required to defend the wall. Consequently, when the Romans withdrew the Picts, and later the Scots were able to cross the wall and raid Northern England. It requires consensus to maintain borders, modern day politicians seem not to have learnt this lesson.

Once the Romans left, stone was removed from the wall to build homes, roads and field walls. One such building was Thirlwall Castle, one of many Peel, or Pele, towers built to protect farmers and other residents from raiders (also called reivers) from the North. It was not until the 19th Century that conservationists began to preserve the remains.

Thirlwall Castle

Every 2000 yards or so there are the bases of milecastles, where a garrison was stationed.

Between the milecastles were two turrets where a small squad could be stationed. The milecastles have gateways on both sides of the wall and some historians think that the Wall was important to control the flow of people across the frontier for peaceful reasons and could have provided infrastructure for customs and taxes as well as defence.

Quite a lot of wall was visible on today’s walk.

As you can see, the wall was quite thick. It is believed that the wall was originally 4-6 metres high.

As the walk passes over the rocky outcrops there were widespread views towards Scotland

Looking North from Hadrian’s Wall

While in Roman times much of this would be forest, the strategic importance of the wall could be seen. There was a Roman Road just to the south of the wall and running parallel to it, presumably so troops could be moved rapidly to the site of any possible incursion.

To the South of the wall there was a linear ditch and mound structure: the Vallum.

Historians are not certain what its function was for, but there is a consensus that it marked an exclusion zone for civilians living in the communities that would have developed close to the wall to provide soldiers with food and other services.

So today’s walk was short but interesting. It was strenuous, going up and down outcrops, reminiscent of walking the Cornish coast path. I remembered coming here with Tim when he was an early teenager for some dad/son bonding. We camped near the Twice Brewed Inn and did some walking on the wall. We gave up after a couple of days as Tim had outgrown his boots and got really bad blisters. Bad parent!

I am staying at the Twice Brewed Inn. On check in I was told there is a drying room for residents. Bliss! Dry boots tomorrow. No-one is sure how the inn got its name. There has been a pub here since the 15th century (the current building is modern). It is said that Yorkist soldiers stayed here before the battle of Hexham. They thought the beer was too weak and demanded it be brewed again. It was and they won the battle. I am afraid there is no evidence to support this tale.

Socialising is still possible in this post Covid world. I spent a convivial evening in the company of an ex-prison officer and his wife who live near Lincoln (where Angela is from) and a young couple walking the Hadrian’s Wall path who come from…. West Didsbury. She was brought up about 5 miles away from me in North London. A small world. Another high point of the evening was that we were able to sample various beers from the pub’s own microbrewery.

Day 53 Tuesday 25 August Alston to Gilsland

Miles walked: today 17 cumulative 814.1

I can heartily recommend the Cumberland Inn in Alston. Good food both nights. Last night I had a starter of Bhaji , samosa and potato curry with raita thinking there would be one Bhaji etc. Instead I got a large plate full of the above with a side salad. It was almost main course size. It was also delicious, as was my chilli con carne to follow. PW gives you an appetite, I scoffed the lot. Amazingly I managed a cooked breakfast this morning.

Today started with storm Francis. PW and Lejog bloggers all seem to hate this leg as unrewarding boghopping. I also didn’t fancy driving rain and 50mph winds on the hill top. A sensible walker adapts to the conditions so I set off along the South Tyne Trail which follows the valley. In fact, the PW crosses this several times as it meanders over the adjacent hillsides.

The trail follows the old branch railway line that ran from Haltwhistle to Alston. The stretch between Alston and Slaggyford has been restored as a narrow gauge railway by enthusiasts.

A cycle route runs along the course of the old railway. A couple of miles outside Alston I crossed into Northumberland, my last English county. The names of the streams have changed from “Beck” to “Burn” so I must be near Scotland.

It was raining heavily but I was protected from the wind. I had reasonable views over the adjacent farmland and low hills. I decided I had made the right decision to keep low when I saw that even the sheep were trying to find shelter by huddling against a dry stone wall

The railway ends at Slaggyford and the path goes through the village. There was a deconsecrated Methodist chapel that looks if it now a private house. Unusually, the stained glass windows were still present. There was a stone lean-to building alongside which was the Sunday School.

After a further six miles I reached the Lambley viaduct. I have seen several examples of Victorian engineering on this walk and every time I am amazed what they managed to build without modern technology. The stones that make up the viaduct each weigh about 500kg.

I turned uphill to rejoin the PW. I was now in the northern foothills of the Pennines and had one more moor to cross before reaching the lowland between the Pennines and the Cheviots. For the first time I had true PW conditions. Hartleyburn Common and Blenkinsop Common were one massive bog with not a causey stone in sight. The footpath was under 2 inches of water and at one point a burn had overflowed and I had to wade through about 10 yards of knee deep water to regain the boggy path. I squelched my way to Gilsland.