Tuesday 26th August: Greenhead to Bellingham – 21 miles
The night at Greenhead was fairly awful. The dorm room was freezing and I got bitten all over (at least I got it into my head that the bed was full of bugs). The breakfast at the hotel was much better and just after nine o’clock Mark and I parted company. I started off and he waited for the bus to Carlisle (to head back to Nottinghamshire via Leeds).
On my own again for the first time in over a week, on the way out of Greenhead I surveyed the ruins of Thirwall castle – a rectilinear medieval keep atop a mound, a portion of the lower walls were intact.
Onto Hadrian’s Wall
After a climb away from Greenhead, the great stretch of Hadrian’s Wall began at Walltown Quarry. Here one could see the great stretch of cliff that the wall sits upon (the Whin Sill), and would have presented a huge natural barrier to those looking South.
Up first was a short but fantastic run of Roman wall just after the quarry. I had to bomb along, having 21 miles to do, but all too frequently I broke off to get my camera out.
The wall disappeared and was replaced by a barbed wire fence along the top. After passing through a small wood, on the other side were two farm houses and the forlorn remains of Great Chester’s Fort. Cawfield quarry led onto another rise of the Whin Sill and another great section of wall.
A young family were looking around, taking in the milecastle.
I myself was taken by the view of the farm at Cawfields and of Northumbria behind it.
The seven miles along Hadrian’s was quite tough: the path followed the profile of the wall (upon the Whin Sill) and kept dipping sharply up and down – in places every few hundred metres.
I had to descend and then ascend sharply to follow the wall along the tops. These drops and rises, with lifting a 90 litre backpack, were quite challenging even for the first few miles of the day. I had to take 15 minutes to crash at the trig point on Windshield Crags (another stretch of wall).
Sadly it was too long a day’s walk to contemplate and absorb the scenery other than at a driven march, so I continued along up the splendid stretches of Wall at Steel Rigg, the Sycamore Gap and Hotbank Crags.
For me, it was perhaps less the wall but the beauty of the surroundings: Crag Lough, the Crags, and the route the wall (and its footpath) cut through.
The grassy climb up to Hotbank Crags forced me to have another sit down and rest– I was hungry and ready for some sandwiches, but had determined to finish along the wall before eating. Finally, a mile ahead of Housesteads, I left Hadrian’s Wall and headed north.
Onwards from Housesteads
By then it was 1.45 and desperate for my lunch I stopped a few hundred yards along Ridley Common, on meadow cum marsh ground. Here was a nice spot that offered a view back to Hotbank and Housestead Crags; and also of Greenlee and Broomlee Loughs to the east and west.
The next third was much easier, half marsh and half forest track, all fairly level and straightforward to navigate.
Halfway over the marsh of Haughton Common, I stopped for 10 minutes in an odd 10m x 5m walled enclosure for a rest and a bit of shade.
The weather was fine and warm, particularly now that I had left the wall top and moved onto the sheltered forest tracks. This walking was not difficult and all too often dull, but it did allow you to make up time.
Late Summer Evenings Walking
The last third of the 21 miles really began at the lovely Warks Burn (with its weathered stream wall) and took one on paths between farms (Horneystead, Leadgate, Linacres), followed by a mile along a single track tarmac road (which I didn’t object to, having already done five miles ambling up and down along Hadrian’s Wall).
Oddly, given my weariness of the previous two or three evenings, I was full of life and happiness. Was it being by myself again? Or the fine weather? Or was it the country I was passing through? Or a harmony of all three?
Approaching Bellingham, the climb up to Shitlington Crags wasn’t too tough. I then had two miles to finish, heading off the top of Ealingrigg Common and then down along the road into the village.
The late summer evening there was so beautiful that I felt calm and content as I approached Bellingham (the wide, calm river was lovely).
The bunkhouse was a new establishment (connected to the neighbouring campsite and was very comfortable. I fancied a Chinese, but as it was a Tuesday, I headed to the pub to get another round of pie and chips. A really great day – I felt great.