Hadrian's Wall, part 7 - Walltown to Walton
Sun 17th July 2011
Sunshine and showers was the forecast and what we got, very heavy showers and 20 minutes of sunshine whilst waiting for the minibus in Walton. Ironically we were waiting outside the Centurion public house which had ceased trading – so near and yet so far!
We started the day in waterproofs and we ended the day in waterproofs. In between we tried to pretend it was summer but invariably ended up donning jackets and overtrousers post haste, especially when we decided to stop for a snack and particularly when we arrived at Birdoswald for lunch when the heavens really opened and the thunder and lightning we’d previously heard in the distance moved overhead.
The light westerly wind meant that the showers were very slow moving and the clouds deep resulting in very large raindrops and lots of them. It was a good job that some of us are interested in meteorology. Watching the showers approach down the Tyne Valley and gradually obscuring the fells of the North Pennines and knowing we were soon to get wet again soon was particularly galling when the sky to the north, over the Scottish border, was turning blue. It gave us lost to talk, even laugh, about we were all British after all. It certainly added to the interest at the river and stream crossings which ran uniformly high, turbid and peaty brown, we’d had a lot of rain in the last 48 hours.
Today was the day we crossed the watershed near Gilsland, left Northumberland to enter Cumbria (for the Cumbria & Northumberland Border Rain Festival?) and moved off the iconic scarp and dip profile of the Carboniferous Whin Sill rocks onto the more subdued pink coloured rocks of the New Red Sandstone.
The landscape became gentler once past Gilsland and when it wasn’t raining and the visibility improved we could glimpse the Carlisle plain and once even saw the Caldbeck fells “Back O’ Skiddaw.” The Wall in this section of the walk was new to most people and the transition from stone wall to turf wall made an impact.
The section between Gilsland to Birdoswald was particularly interesting with the long section of continuous wall, the abandoned Roman bridge abutments due to the migration of the meander of the River Irthing and the modern Willowford Bridge. We climbed the steep hill up from the bridge towards Harrow Scar (Milecastle 49) in a brief burst of warm sunshine only to very quickly don waterproofs at the top. By the time we reached Birdoswald “for lunch” on their picnic benches lunch was out of the question. We sheltered briefly in the coppice adjacent to the English Heritage facility and moved on, the trees just made the drips bigger (no, not us). Lunch was thirty minutes late taken standing-up with rucksacks and wet kit draped over farm gates. After a few minutes drought the monsoon season resumed.
Most of us ran out of food by the Pike Hill Signal Station stop just before Banks so it was both a relief and a pleasure to encounter the self service Haytongate Snack Hut with picnic benches and a WC only 150 yards off-route, luxury. This excellent facility enhances your faith in human nature. As this was out seventh day together on the Wall Walk everyone knows each other’s foibles quite well and the banter flows freely with lots of dry humour. This friendly continuity is one of the outstanding aspects of this series of walks – sometimes I almost relax! Thank you to everyone for your many and varied contributions to yet another excellent, if somewhat damp, day out. Our next appointment for “The Hadrian’s Wall Walking Therapy Group” is Sunday 28th August for the Walton to Carlisle leg.
Sunday 17th July 2011