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Hadrian's Wall, part 5 - Brocolitia to Steel Rigg

Hadrian's Wall, part 5 - Brocolitia to Steel Rigg

Mon 30th May 2011

It started as a wet and windy day with the promise of an improving forecast.

The rain showers did recede but the wind didn’t abate as we made our way west into the teeth of the prevailing and unseasonably strong wind. 

The nominal eight mile walk was at least twelve miles plus in terms of the added effort of battling against it.  The shelter of the few patches of woodland along the route was much appreciated – and yes we were on the lookout for falling branches, there were plenty littering the ground.  

The Beaufort Scale

Beaufort Number    mph          kph           m/s1           Observed Effects on Land Lakes

0 Calm                    <1    1.6                   0.44             No wind, any smoke rises vertically.

1 Light Air               1-3    1.6 to  4.8        0.4 to 1.3      Smoke drift indicates wind direction, ripples on water

2 Light Breeze         4-7    6.4 to 11.3       1.8 to 3.1      Wind just felt on face, wavelets but none breaking

3 Gentle Breeze      8-12    12.9 to 19.3     3.6 to 5.4     Leaves constant motion, some wavelets breaking

4 Mod Breeze        13-16    20.9 to 25.7    5.8 to 7.2     Dust, loose leaves & paper raised

5 Fresh Breeze      17-24    27.4 to 38.6    7.6 to 10.7    Small trees in leaf begin to sway, many white horses

6 Strong Breeze     25-31    40.2 to 49.9    11.2 to 13.9    Larger tree branches in motion, some spray

7 Near Gale           32-38    51.5 to 61.2    14.3 to 17.0    Whole trees in motion, much spray

8 Gale                   39-46    62.8 to 74.0    17.4 to 20.6    Twigs and small branches broken off

9 Strong Gale         47-54    74.0 to 86.9    20.6 to 24.1    Slight structural damage (slates off roof etc)

10 Storm                55-83    88.5 to 133.6   24.6 to37.1    Trees uprooted, considerable structural damage

The table above shows the land criterion for the Beaufort Scale and highlighted is the evidence we observed.  The photograph of the foam streaks on Crag Lough (Force 8 Gale) is even more impressive when you realise that the lough was in the lee of the Whin Sill which was actively sheltering it from the full strength of the wind!  It was even draughtier where we were on top of the outcrop 100 feet (33 metres approx) above the water and totally exposed to the wind.  Nevertheless it was good fun even down to the incredulous looks on the people’s faces walking the “correct or sensible way” (i.e. west to east) with the wind behind them.  With wind assistance they were unsurprisingly “walking” about four times faster than us.

We snatched elevenses in the lee of a wall and a quick early lunch on the downwind side of Sewing Shields plantation, between Milecastle 34 and 25, while watching the cloud shadows racing east faster than the vehicles on the Military Road in the brief sunny intervals.  It was a Bank holiday after all and typical Bank Holiday weather.  The forecast was for a “breezy and showery weekend” which, with typical British understatement we got, I am still glowing with windburn to prove it, sunburn was never a realistic option.  

After Sewingshields Farm the terrain changed to the lumps and bumps of the Whin Sill and we followed the undulating contours from the trig point on Sewingshields Crag from where we could now see Cheviot and Hedgehope 33miles (53 kilometres) away to the north and the radar station on Great Dun Fell in the Pennines 24 miles (39 km) away to the south west.  The visibility had improved markedly compared to the head-in-the-clouds drizzly cloudbase we’d experienced at Steel Rigg waiting for the minibus.  All of the classic elements of the Roman Wall Country now came together and for the first time we could see the wall, vallum and ditch in their correct configuration and on the famous Whin Sill too.  On previous days each separate element had been seen but now for the first time all of the elements were united and classic views revealed.     

Broomlee Lough looked magnificent with its white horses and foam streaks and we were battered by the crosswind as we descended towards Kings Wicket and round to Housesteads.  The shelter below the north gate of the fort was appreciated as was the protection afforded by Rapishaw Gap a little further on where we were joined by the Pennine Way.  Skylarks were actually flying backwards (i.e.  a negative ground speed) whilst singing to their hearts content, amazing.   The descent from Hotbank Crags was a repeat of the Sewingshields Crag experience but this time with the iconic views of Crag Lough looking westwards instead.  Highshield Crags above the lough provided a genuine sense of exposure, as did the steep descent from Peel Crags – at least here the wind blew us into the hillside on the way down.  By the time we assembled at the Northumberland National Park Centre at Once Brewed it was a different world; we sat at the picnic tables finishing-off food and flasks and discussing the day before going our separate ways.   The collective sense of achievement for this rather different experience of Hadrian’s Wall was palpable.  Thank you to everyone for your company and see you again soon for the next walk in the series.   

Monday, 30 May 2011


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