JESS AND ANDRINA - A WALK ALONG THE WALL
MEMORIES OF A SPONSORED WALKER
I retired in March and in amongst my long "To Do" list lay one item marked "Walk Hadrian's Wall".
This holiday walk into the beautiful countryside of Northumberland slowly evolved into "Walk Hadrian's Wall with my Dog". And then - because not all Northumbrian accommodation accommodates Dogs - changed to walking Corbridge to Carlisle along the route of the ancient Stanegate, which predates Hadrian's Wall itself.
And so it was that 1 found myself and Jess outside Corbridge, deposited at the Port Gate stile at the start of our awfully big adventure.
We had been training for weeks. 1 knew that Jess could walk 10 miles in a day, but could she walk 10 miles a day for 5 days? The answer, of course, is that in return for first-class care and two good meals a day she will walk as long and as far as you want her to, provided she has a ball or a stick for company.
Once over the ladder stile we headed off on our first - short - six mile walk to the Hadrian pub at Wall. I fear I looked a rather ridiculous figure on that first day: a haversack full of firstaidkitandcompasandmapandlunchandsweetsandguidebook, an anorak, a handbag, my dog on a lead, a walking stick, and a cumbersome bum bag containing bottles of water for the dog plus her dog bowl. And so to my first lesson of that holiday -take a dress rehearsal with ALL your equipment before leaving home.
24 hours later I cut a much more professional figure.
The following days were a wonderful experience. The countryside went from hilly pastureland to high grassy crags then back to pastureland. The walking was tiring - but comfortably so - and as a fellow walker said to me later on in the journey -"its not as if you have to mow the lawn or cook supper when you get in tonight". My suitcase and Jess's bag were transported for us each day by a little van, which whizzed up and down the wall moving walkers' luggage on to their next B&B. Each night Jess collapsed gratefully onto her own bed but each morning she was up raring¬to-go.
I was blessed with the most beautiful September weather: sunshine, blue skies and a gentle breeze. I have a photograph in front of me now with a view of Bromlee Lough, with cattle standing stock still in the cool waters, like sculptures in a modern exhibition.
My fear of heights complicated life slightly, but whenever I came to a steep downward path, then the answer usually was to throw my stick and my guidebook down the hill and then slide down on my bottom. For the upward sections I either gritted my teeth and just got on with it, or one notable occasion, found a track which skirted the bottom of Sycamore Gap.
Roman milecastles followed Roman turrets for mile after mile.
There were plenty of walkers on the Wall. Stand still for 10 minutes and someone was sure to come along, but most of the time I could enjoy the history and the beauty of the Wall without getting that Bank-Holiday-Monday feeling.
Each evening we were met by modern and comfortable accommodation, with welcoming and friendly owners. Cups of tea or, on one occasion, a jug of iced juice all to myself, were always offered in the first minute of arrival My section of the Wall didn't go through the middle of many villages so organised refreshment stops were few, but one I did come across took my breath away. In the middle of a field a board announced "Snacks - Tea - Coffee". Go through the hedge and there was - a wooden summerhouse, inside of which was a do-it-yourself cafeteria: a kettle, water, cold drinks, milk, biscuits, and chocolate. There was a Trust Box in which to put your money, and pinned to the walls a "visitors book" of messages from earlier walkers - Thank you/Bless you/Just what we needed. This really was an oasis and one of only two such Tea Shack Palaces, which I found on the route. It almost brought a lump to my throat that people could be so thoughtful and provide just what was needed and trust you to pay fairly for it.
We proceeded on the walk, being escorted through farmyards by "on guard" sheep dogs" followed through fields by nosey cows (which to a townie is a bit disconcerting), crossed fields with "Beware of the Bull" notices and met a number of fellow walkers - most of whom were doing the whole route, from Wallsend to Solway.
A lot of people were doing the trail as a charity walk raising admirable sums of money for the Alzheimer's Society or Cancer Care etc. Me? Through the generosity and interest of my congregation at St Mary's plus friends and family, Jess has raised (for she it was who people sponsored) £500 and counting, towards more new tiles on the roof of this ancient and beautiful parish church.
Now back home, with some wonderful memories, the question is: Where Next?