Thursday 22 September 2011

Northern perigrinations

 Originally I had been contemplating Scotland for my next trip, however, this would mean a twelve hour run on the night coach. That was something I felt unable to face and train fares are horrendous. Much time pouring over maps and I came up with the germ of an idea. It took a bit of juggling but I had a rough idea for an interesting, if different type of trek. At least, that was the general idea.
Autumn is most certainly upon us and I cannot but ponder as to where the summer went? the onset of the Autumnal season subsequently means a heavier pack weight. From what I could glean from the long term weather forecast it seemed that I was in for some unsettled weather. light, summer clothing is replaced by warmer wear. Gloves are added to spare clothing, a heavier soft shell replaces the light gilet used during the summer.

Thursday15th September.
Leaving first thing in the morning, I was in Carlisle by early afternoon. Fortunately it is an easy city to get out of, a quick walk through the town centre and down to the river to join the Hadrian's wall path. The day was dry and warm and I was anxious to push on. Sometimes it is not so easy to settle down to a decent walking pace. In the city my walking is often hurried, shuttling along at a rapid quickstep; whereas on the hill it is a slower but manageable pace that eats up the miles. The H.W.path is certainly well marked, every junction, stile or gate there is a marker.The way leads through paths, lanes and tracks and the walking is easy. Something I found rather unique was the self serve tea huts. One wandered in, looked at the prices on the wall and helped themselves to tea, coffee, soft drinks and snacks and popped their money in the honesty box. Some folk have described this section of the path as boring and bland. Personally I would not go that far, varied, yes, a different type of walking to my usual. Herons glided along the river edge, a flock of geese kicked up a noisy hullaboo in the distance, a water vole plopped in to the river. Having seen the river Eden as a young, fresh and joyful clamouring stream and seeing it now in its maturity. Broad and deep, more matronly; the water a dark muddy brown, heavy laden with silt washed from the land after the recent rains. Soon now nearing its journey's end. It was noticeable how up market the properties where in this area, garden, and lawns manicured just so; carefully clipped hedges, strategic signs announcing,'private', just to make sure the hoi polloi did not stray within.Crossing a bridge over the M6, oh my, what a clamorous, noisy din and I was glad to push swiftly on.  A combine harvester droned in a field next to a track I was walking, a tractor with a large trailer pulled along side ready to receive the newly reaped golden harvest. My hope had been to find a campsite, I was aware wild camping on this stretch would be difficult. Not seeing anything I asked at couple of farms for permission to camp but was refused. Crossing a stile by Heads Wood I noticed a few Shetland ponies and a large mare grazing in the field. The path cut diagonally across the field, shortly after entering the field I heard the drumming of hooves behind me. Looking back I saw the horse was cantering toward me at a rapid rate. Coming to a stop it nuzzled at my rucksack, obviously looking for a handout. Horses are not stupid and it was obvious this horse had been fed tidbits from the many walkers crossing through the field. The problem was, the horse now expected it. The mare lunged at my rucksack again, almost knocking me off my feet. Tiring of the horse's persistence, and worried that the horse may damage the rucksack; I gently but firmly took hold of the halter it was wearing and led it across the field beside me. It tried to turn in to me a couple of times but quickly realised I was having none of it. Risky? Maybe, if the horse owner thought I was horse rustling?  My advice to anyone who thinks of offering treats to horses, be aware, it can lead a horse in to bad ways. The edge of the field dropped steeply away down a bank with stone slab steps and I left a somewhat bemused horse at the top of the bank. Spotting a quite dense wood I checked it out, thinking it may offer somewhere for a wild camp. The many pheasants scattering in every which way and the feeders in the wood suggested that it would not be a good idea. Checking the map I noticed a bunkhouse or similar marked at Sandysike farm.It was a a rather upmarket camping barn. With some twelve miles walked it was time to stop; I was growing weary. Accepting the inevitable I booked into the camping barn, something I am not that keen on. If there is one thing I am extremely reluctant to do though is wild camp in agricultural areas. Having asked permission a few times and been refused, stopping at the camping barn was the easiest option. This could be an expensive trip!

Left this morning around nine, feeling tired from yesterdays push, my decision was to take things a little easier. The morning started off better than forecast, dry and quite warm.There was a noticeable change in the type of countryside I was passing through. Rolling, hilly terrain, quite lush and verdant. It was surprising to see how the path is not only way marked at every conceivable point but also specially constructed in several places. Notices too instructed walkers to keep to the mown pathway! Another striking feature was the sheer amount of people walking the wall. Groups of folk from two up to twelve and more. Also  noticeable was the amount of people travelling with just daysacks; their luggage being forwarded for them on a sherpa system. The legions are still marching, phalanxes of them, still coming from many points of the globe, only now they march only for the leisure of it. Many appear to travel using just the guide books. For me, personally, I find it too crowded and am rather uncomfortable with so many folk around. Heading up toward Birdoswald, a fine, thin mizzle began to make things wet.Nipping in to the fort, I stayed long enough to use the loo and get in to waterproofs and hurried away. Fine, maybe I am anti social but I do not do crowds. The path drops steeply down to the river Irthing and leads round to the remains of the Roman bridge. Now that is one impressive bit of building, it must  have appeared spectacular when it was built. One thing the Romans where extremely good at was engineering.The labour involved must have been awesome! Certainly it would have kept the troops well occupied? Coming around by Gilsland I stopped for a break and mulled over my choices for the rest of the day. By now it was raining steadily, not driving rain and encased in waterproofs I was fairly comfortable. My main concern was that my legs felt heavy and leaden. There was no rush and deciding on a shortish day was an easy decision. Checking on the map there was a camp site marked at Greenhead and so I headed over only to find it closed. Someone suggested another campsite. However, it was another six to eight miles further on. With sense of resignation and with the rain now becoming heavy I finally opted to book into the Holmhead camping barn.

Saturday 17th camped, OS map43, gr,739673
An easy enough day, given over to just a gentle meander. Sticking to the path I just pootled along, past the bustling Walltown carpark and starting climbing; the path leading to a low crag. Awesome views to the north. What crosses my mind though is not the immense scale of construction but the men themselves. Auxiliary troops drafted in from far flung regions of the Roman empire. The sheer journey to get there, what where conditions like for them? The mile castles look tiny, life must have been quite basic for them.What where the thoughts of the men on duty looking out north at what must have seemed the end of the known world to them? It was enjoyable following the line of the crags; nothing strenuous, just the occasional short, sharp steep bit. Looking around Aesica Roman fort at Great Chesters, although little remains today, it is still an impressive piece of work. In winter though, conditions must have been pretty awful. Wanting a lazy day, I was keeping one eye open for a possible spot to camp.However, speaking to a couple of lads that where carrying camping gear, they had experienced problems every time they had tried to wild camp. Even when they got away from the wall and tried to stealth camp they had been moved on. Having heard that I detoured a few times checking out possible places to camp with no success. Picking up water was a problem too. Eventually I headed back to the wall and found a spot just about out of the way. However, I felt uneasy and although the rain was back again, I waited for a couple of hours before setting up camp. The rain currently is heavy, beating a steady tattoo on the tent.

Sunday 18th.
More rain during the night but this morning dawned calm and still with a heavy dew. This in turn meant a wet tent. Breakfast was a hurried affair, I was anxious to get the tent down, although soaking wet. Just as I was striking camp I could hear a quad bike in the distance and drawing nearer. Instinctively I hastily bundled the tent in to the rucksack and as the machine came in to view I was sitting perched on a boulder trying to look innocent. The farmer came to a stop. " Has't tha bin campin?" Hoping he had not spotted the flattened grass where the tent had been, I waved my camera at him. "Camping?" He growled something under his breath. And launched in to a tirade about folk who wild camped."It's against the law, so it is and strictly forbidden all along the wall. We have the law on our side so we do." He ranted on, telling me how local farmers like him had a living to make and folk should make use of his campsite  and not deprive them of their hard earned income. Finally he ran out of steam, started up his machine and continued on his patrol. It was tempting to ask him how much it cost him in time and effort to patrol the area but I refrained. The rest of the day was spent wandering over Winshield crags and exploring some of the vellum and then meandering back to Walltown. There had been showers on and off all day but things had momentarily eased in the afternoon. Being a Sunday there where a lot of folk out and about. My immediate concern was where I was going to stop for the night. Exploring some nearby woods it would have feasible to camp but the thick, dense undergrowth would have meant a wet and uncomfortable night. Feeling a tad dispirited I bowed to the inevitable and headed back over to Holmhead camping barn. There goes next months house keeping money! Ah well, at least I can have a hot shower before changing into clean clothes.Will be catching the bus out to Carlisle in the morning.
Well, things turned out much different from what I expected. Probably some folk will think I am an old curmudgeonly grump. Maybe or maybe not? The H.W.path was something I had considered doing, this was a way of tipping a toe in the water, a taster of what to expect. Firstly, I have nothing against the path or the people who walk it.There is nothing really difficult along the route. It is well provided for in the way of public transport. The local tourist industry benefits from it and fair play to them. There is a plethora of differing forms of accommodation provided along the route. The one downside I see is the sheer volume of traffic. As a major archaeological site it takes an awful pounding. Wild camping is obviously out, unless one is prepared to travel light or use a bivi bag. The maxim of stopping late, re, last light and being away again at the crack of dawn would apply. That is the other downside, the sheer cost of using bunkhouses, camp sites or whatever. Costs which are beyond me.The bigger issue for me personally is the sheer number of folk, I am uncomfortable in large crowds. That is a personal issue though, part and parcel of me. Mind, I have the germ of an idea. There are some interesting routes from Haltwhistle?