Looks like I’m getting a pattern of posting up every fortnight so here we go again.
So the big news for this post is the Hadrian’s wall walk. The plan was to do this in 48 hours from start to finish and complete the 84 mile route. So did we manage it? Well I’ll not keep you in suspense, yes we did but only just!
With planning things we decided that to try and do it in two 42 mile stretches was going to be too much so instead we broke it down into 3 walks that should have been 12 miles on the Friday evening, 30 on the Saturday and the big 42 on the Sunday with an Ibis hotel and a B&B thrown in there for rests. This is broadly how it worked but there we are few variations.
My mate Martin Forrester was going to be doing the walk with me as he has accompanied me on many other daft exploits like rough camping in Polish woods in -15oC temperatures or running the three Yorkshire Peaks. As he works in Salford the plan was to go from his place on the Friday after work and head north to the start of the wall and then walk east to the other end where my wife would pick us up and take us back home. Well the morning came and to start the day I had to cycle the 16 miles to work and leave my bike there to get the train over to meet Forrest’s wife Laura after work. With a quick stop to grab his rucksack we were on our way north and without incident were at the starting point by about 7.30pm
So inadvertently dressed exactly the same in our Huddersfield marathon shirts (except Forrest had written “half” on his!) and small black shorts we got a quick photo by the water, hitched on our packs and started walking.
We had both done a 40 mile walk before back in March along the Calderdale way so knew it was going to be tough but to begin with at least, even with 13kg on my back we felt good and were knocking along at a good rate, about 3.5 mph. About half an hour in however we had our first surprise when we walked past a sign declaring itself as the start of the wall! So it seems that we parked up a bit far and clocked up an extra mile and a half on our route already. Not the best of starts but at least we were fresh and the walking was easy.
On we went with the water on our left and the path stretching out in front of us, some sections kinked a little but for a while we were on a dead straight road that just went on to the horizon, you could tell it was a Roman one just from that even without what would become a common sight of the white acorns marking the route.
So as the miles and hours went by we found our planned arrival time in Carlisle slipping, what was going to be 10.30pm was pushed back by our false start and then by a section of the path being closed and then by another diversion. As it was we ended up walking in what I think would have been some nice wooded river walk ways, but for us they were a bit too dark to appreciate as we went along them in the dark at 11.30pm to eventually get to the hotel at about midnight. Still we were there and not too foot sore for it even if we did put in 16 miles instead of the planned 12. After a quick shower to wash the evenings grime off there was a good 6 hours of sleep to be had before we were up and away for 7am the next day.
Saturday started well as we wandered out of Carlisle and left the town behind, we were very quickly in green spaces and alongside fields as we left by the river and even with the damp dew on the grass it was good walking and a nice easy route. Stopping occasionally to snap a quick photo and put it on Facebook Forrest found a great way to get food and snacks from our bags without having to stop as well. Just unhitching it and wearing it on your front as you open it up and rummage meant we didn’t have to waste time stopping every few miles and the fact we both had camel packs in our bags meant water wasn’t an issue either.
Watching the miles fall away I felt my spirits rise and fall as we went through dew wet fields and my feet became soaked to then walk by honesty cafés and tuck boxes which I always love seeing on walks as it restores a bit of my faith in the honesty of people. We also found that by using our little rucksack trick we didn’t actually have to stop walking at all, we could eat and drink on the go and so save a bit of time which is what we did. We were going along well for most of the morning and were due to meet up with my Father-in-law, John a little later on the route as he wanted to walk a bit of it with us. However unfortunately the wet weather and the miles seemed to be adding up and hitting Forrest’s feet hard, even with a really good pair of walking shoes he was getting a lot of rubbing and pain which was causing him to limp a bit, but that said he didn’t let it slow the pace just took on the discomfort and kept going as that’s the sort of chap he is.
By the time we actually caught up with John we were a bit further along than we thought and instead of him parking up and walking west along the path to meet us then back to his car, we caught up with him at the car park just as he pulled up. So after a quick top up on our water and Forrest giving his feet some attention we started on the last 5 miles for the day to Burnhead, the B&B we were staying at that night. It was from here on that we started experiencing the rugged north properly with steep climbs up and the wall snaking away in the distance over the hills. With our legs pumping away we kept going up and down often right by the side of the wall till we closed in on the B&B. When we arrived there was a little confusion as the owners had been taking part in a local agricultural show where there was a fell running race and it seemed a lot of the other runners and organisers had come back for a BBQ as the weather had really brightened up. As we were originally expected sometime late in the evening as we booked the place when we thought we would try the walk in two sections our arrival was a little unexpected for them and Forrest hopping over their garden wall I think gave them a bit of a shock for a moment!
But after explanations were made and hands shaken we were able to dump our bags and while Forrest got some well-earned sleep (waking only for some food) and John started back to his car I was offered some burgers and a beer which were very gratefully accepted!
Shoes off and sitting in the sun I was glad we had stopped early in the day as with the sun out and things heating up it would have been hot work to have kept walking so after an hour or so snoozing I filled up on some pasta and divided out the food we had ordered for delivery before setting an alarm for 2.45am and having an early night.
The 2.45am alarm was planned as sunrise was around 3.30-4am so we thought that at 3am there would be enough light to get by and start walking so we could be up and going but unfortunately this was not to be, as I looked out of the window after the alarm went off the sky was still dark and it was raining. Perhaps if the sky had been clear it would have been light enough to get going but as it was neither of us wanted to risk a twisted ankle on a dark wet rock especially given the footing we were expecting based on the day before. So back to sleep for another half hour and unfortunately it was the same story at 3.30am but by 4 it was light enough even with the rain to get going and we really couldn’t put things off any further. So with Forrest in his water proof and me lamenting giving mine to John the day before to cut down on weight we hitched our bags in place and started off on the path.
Frustratingly the first mile or two from the house was flat easy footpaths and probably something we could have done in the dark had we started earlier but there was nothing we could do about that so cursing the loss of an hour we just got going as the hills started to rise.
I won’t bore you too much with all the sights we saw along the way, the wind beaten remains of the agricultural show or the ever snaking wall rising up and over the dramatic crags that vanished into the morning mist but I will say you really got a feel, walking at that time of the morning of how remote you were and how harsh the environment would have been for the soldiers on the wall 2000 years ago. Walking through soaking grass and climbing muddy slippery slopes it must have been something of a shock to these soldiers that even in the middle of summer they would have been cold during their night watch and wet as often as they were dry!
But the wall, wet as it was had some amazing views along it, going over the highest points for miles around we saw the country spread out before us as the mist cleared and although we were both now starting to suffer with wet rubbing feet I was enjoying the route. After around 5 hours walking we reached Chesters fort and decided on a short stop to use their loos which we were very kindly allowed access to even though we were there an hour before opening time, the chap that let us in even remembered Forrest from a medieval photo shoot he did for English Heritage there a couple of years before. So after a change of socks and the cruel temptation of a bus stopping opposite us, that went all the way to Newcastle I think, we were up and going again.
By this time Forrest was really suffering with his feet and in a fair bit of pain, mine were starting to throb and I was pretty sure I had multiple blisters from having done a good portion of the route so far with wet feet. But the route was clear and the weather had stopped raining at least so we kept our heads down and marched on trying to keep to a 3mph pace. By 1pm we had done a fair bit of road walking and had left the wild hills behind and were going alongside the wall as it pulled straight and headed for Newcastle, it was along here that John paid us another visit, pulling over by the side of the road to help out with fresh water to top up our bottles and as we were now carrying so little each we decided to put it all in one bag and leave the other with John to try and make things go a little easier.
Packed up again and with spare socks thanks to John we were again away and letting the pavement and beaten foot path fly under our feet. By around 3 or 4pm we were looking at our position on the map and the realisation was dawning that we were not going to make it for our 7.30pm dead line at the rate we were going so desperate times and all that meant we broke out Forrest’s military marching powder, a mix of dextrose and other sugars that is like Haribo sweets on steroids we chugged it down and started jogging. The pack bouncing on my back we ran for a good couple of miles and must have looked a sight to the other walkers and cyclist we were passing, bedraggled and chests heaving as we went along swapping the pack between us to get the most out of the boost the sugars had given us. Eventually we had to bring our pace back down to a walk and ease our tired legs.
Looking then at our place on the map it seemed like somewhere along the way we had picked up a few extra miles, the full route is supposed to be 84 miles but by our calculations we were going to end up doing more like 87 or more so again our time table was under threat! We decided that we would crack on as best as we could with short planned rests every couple of miles to try and last out our feet. Then for the last part we would try another burst of effort to run the final couple of miles to make it on time, so finishing off what was nearly the last of our water and planning in the short stops we were away again. Aching and clock watching we were getting closer and closer to our end point but not fast enough for our deadline and so with 2 miles to go we made the decision to push on and run. 85 miles behind us and around 30 hours of effort we got our legs moving as fast as we were able and with me trying to answer “yes” every stride to the internal question of “can I run one more pace?” we saw signs for Segedunum and then the place itself. Just by the closed gates to the site was my wife parked up waiting for us as we staggered in literally to the second of 48 hours! The final count was 87.45 miles and we felt every one of them as we cooled off and stretched our legs. The both of us had multiple blisters on both feet and stank like wet dogs as we slumped into the car after a few photos by the end point.
Exhausted and aching I did however feel elated that we had done it and managed to crack our 48 hour target and could now wear my Hadrian’s wall T-shirt with pride and not guilt!