Moss Troopers Trail 1: Walltown to Housesteads
Wed 1st August 2012
It was sunny and warm when I left the coast to drive to Housesteads. By the time I reached the westbound A69 it was cloudy, drizzling and the indicated temperature had dropped from 18° Centigrade to 13° Centigrade, an omen of things to come? The car park at Housesteads proved to be a “bit draughty” adding (subtracting actually) to the wind chill temperature. Some people who shall remain nameless optimistically arrived in summer gear so at least their legs would be self-draining later in the day!
We made a positive start with the transfer to Walltown by minibus and enjoyed a civilised cup of coffee from the cafe prior to beginning the walk. A quick overview of the reclaimed Walltown Quarry site and we were on our way, past the distinctive profile of Collar Heugh Crag the glacial erratic near Hangingshields Rigg finally leaving the tarmac just beyond Low Tipalt Farm.
We were soon into the long wet grass near Bundle Hill and on to the saturated rough grazing land north of Chesters Pike. The final hundred metres to the road en-route to Benks Hill was a morass which hops, skips and jumps between infrequent stones did nothing to improve – it may be marked as Burnhead Moss on the map but it is supposed to be summer. We took the longer, but drier road route towards Edges Green stopping-off for lunch on the way. We enjoyed the brief sunny interval but as soon as we set-off again it rained, then it rained hard, then really hard. On balance we definitely preferred watching the showers sweeping in from the west to our south over the North Pennines or to our north over the Wark Forest but we were to get used to sunshine (think of them as short periods of drought) and heavy showers for the remainder of the day.
The Resting Gap bog snorkelling event went well followed by the ditch jumping experience. This entailed jumping from waterlogged mire to waterlogged mire over much deeper open water (i.e. the actual ditch, aka The Moat) to continue our route which was blocked by a fenced plantation not marked on the map.
Tracking east to the north of Swallow Crags via Gibbs Hill and the clear felled Greenlee Plantation we arrived at the Greenlee Lough boardwalk. Luxury, we were actually walking above water level for a change, even if our feet were still enclosed in wetsuit style soggy boots.
It got busy on this section of the walk; we passed two people going the other way. We visited the bird hide seeing no birds whatsoever but the sheep on the side of Greenlee Lough were building rafts. A note in the hide diary mentioned the muddy few yards from the path down to the hide – they don’t know they are born, a mere nothing to our happy band.
On past East and West Stonefolds to intercept the Pennine Way going south to Rapishaw Gap on Hadrian’s Wall. Just before the Wall we gave the two bulls, numerous cows and their offspring as much space as we could but inevitably they were tightly grouped around the only available stile. The two bulls were bellowing at each other from either side of “our” stile! Everyone went into “Best British Stiff Upper Lip” mode and, totally ignoring the livestock threat, (no not really) we continued carefully but swiftly on our way. Actually everyone very kindly let me go first in my red jacket – but I knew that cattle are colour blind so it made no difference; I was equally ready to make a quick dash. Housesteads car park and its facilities were in sight and time was getting-on.
1. Moving Time: 4 hours 54 minutes (We can’t really call a lot of what we did walking, can we?).
2. Stopped Time: 2 hours 19 minutes (includes minibus transfer and morning coffee, bog snorkelling, falling over, getting-up, being stranded, ditch jumping, etc).
3. Total Distance Walked: 20.72 km (12.87 m).
4. Moving Average: 4.1 kph (2.54mph).
5. The Terrain: Mostly “Geet very soggy” to “Thick, muckle clarty” with short sections of “Just too shallow and claggy to swim in” on the North East Dampish Underfoot Scale.
6. Everyone present had a lot of “fun,” whatever that is, and professed to having enjoyed themselves whilst becoming expert on the natural history of the Border Mires. Everyone can instantly recognise and describe sphagnum moss from both head height and ground level (at a range of 2 – 3 cm) when finding themselves temporarily prone on its surface. Some of our number inadvertently tasted it too!
7. There is no surcharge for the mudpack beauty treatment experienced by all as it wasn’t advertised on the Shepherds Walks website at the time of booking.
It was sunny and warm when I arrived back at home, had been all day apparently!
RNH Monday, 30 July 2012