Hadrian’s Wall Path: Day 1 – Carlisle to Gilsland

(Hadrian’s Wall Path.  16th March 2014 – 18½ + 1½ miles off route)

The Howard Lodge (a central B&B I’d stayed in before) served up a fine breakfast of poached eggs and fruit salad (separate plates) and a remarkably horrid jam in a plastic tub.  But, unfortunate jam aside, it’s a good stop for the night: friendly, comfortable and affordable.  I was away by 8.30 and almost immediately noticed that all the shops were shut (I’m a very observant person).  Walking day after day it is easy to lose track of days and I’d forgotten that my first on the Hadrian’s Wall Path was a Sunday.  My plan to buy lunch at a decent sandwich bar crumbled to dust and, sniffling, I hurried out of Carlisle, hoping that I’d find vittles on the path (and wishing I’d ordered a bigger breakfast).

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After half a mile or so of city walking and passing through a couple of underpasses (with bright murals and nice pants)

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I emerged blinking into bright sun and set out following new signs on a new path.

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It was a fine day and covering fresh ground was exciting: the remaining 150 miles of my walk would all be new to me.  I strolled along the banks of the River Eden in good spirits,

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crossed a handsome suspension bridge (built in 1922 you’ll want to know) and entered Rickerby Park.

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The park was busy with Sunday morning runners and cyclists and dog-walkers and it was only as I left to join a cycle-way that people dropped away and I was mostly alone once more.

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A quiet lane led eastward and I assessed how my body felt after seventy-odd miles and with the Cumbria Way under my belt.  Any initial aches and strains from starting a long walk had mostly faded.  Though my back was still painful, I was generally in fine fettle and my feet were in great shape – no blisters.  And remarkably I wouldn’t get one blister on this 220 mile walk.  Praise be to Meindl boots.  Praise them, praise them high. Praise be to …. bored with praising now.

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Soon, I crossed the M6 which felt momentous – though it isn’t particularly.

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My rucksack was comfortable to carry.  Over the years I’ve become better at paring down the weight.  Shame then, that as I left my house in Seaford, I impulsively thrust a lightweight (-ish)  camera tripod into it.  I would use it precisely twice: neither to good effect.

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I briefly rejoined the River Eden at Crosby-On-Eden before leaving it for good to meet the line of the Wall.

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This length of the HWP was pleasant, easy walking but after the grandeur of the Lakeland fells, it felt a little unexceptional.

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A long abandoned farm machine set me wondering.  I imagined a farm hand, stretching after a long day’s work, wiping a hanky over a sweaty forehead, gulping some water, scratching his bottom, walking away – perhaps not realising that he would never use this machine again.  (I had no-one to talk to remember).

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On the approach to Bleatarn Farm I saw my first obvious evidence of the Wall – this ’causeway’ marks its line.  I caught up with the two people ahead: New Zealanders who had travelled across the world, chiefly to walk the path.  I did some rare chatting and they told me about the Bowness-on-Solway to Carlisle section.  It didn’t sound like I had missed so very much and I didn’t regret starting the HWP at Carlisle.

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At Bleatarn, the sun slipped behind cloud and the rest of the day was cold and overcast.  My tummy was rumbling and I increasingly thought of grub.

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Miles of path disappeared beneath my feet as I ruminated on my lack of food.

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Despondently flicking through my guidebook, I was delightedly reminded that a pub lay up ahead.  Great news.  And I should reach it about lunchtime.  Greater still.

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With my spirits restored, I looked up from staring glumly at the path beneath my feet.  Over my right shoulder I could see the Pennines away off to the south.  I think that central height is Cross Fell – the highest point on the Pennine Way.  (Further on, the HWP would coincide with the Pennine Way for several miles).

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Bridges,

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small rivers,

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weirs,

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and helpful flagged steps … but precious little Emperor’s Wall.

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Miles from anywhere, alone, unloved, forgotten – and so was this teddy bear

My guide-book, a 2012 edition, told me that the pub I was aiming for was in the small village of Walton.

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But when I arrived in the village – a little wide-eyed with hunger – I couldn’t find it.  I walked about in ever-increasing circles but still no pub.  Then, a passing dog-walker told me that The Centurion Inn had closed five years before.  So much for my recently updated guidebook.  Sad, hungry, tearful, I staggered on.

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I saw my first ‘bit’ of wall in the afternoon … but it wasn’t much to write home about.  So I didn’t.

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At 3.30, as I approached the Roman fort at Birdoswald,

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I saw my first proper section of wall with turret

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but to be honest my mind was wholly focused on food.  I’d walked 18 miles and eaten nothing but an apple since 8am.

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Thankfully the excellent café was open.  I barrelled in, sending dawdling customers sprawling to left and right, before grabbing a breeze-block sized slab of carrot cake and a mug of tea.  Rarely, have I appreciated food more.  I found a quiet corner to feed in and growled if anyone came too close.

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I mistakenly thought I still had a long day’s walk ahead of me and didn’t have time enough to explore this marvellous fort and museum.  In retrospect, I could easily have spared an hour or even two but, I suppose, it is good to have a reason to visit again and explore the site properly.

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Whin Sill, centre horizon

I left Birdoswald behind, licking buttercream from my fingers, and had my first glimpse of the Whin Sill: the distinctive ridge of rocks and crags along which the central section of the Wall strides.  My eyes were fixed so firmly on that, I missed seeing the phallus carved on this stretch of wall.  How annoying is that?  You walk forty miles of Hadrian’s Wall and miss the carved phallus.  Actually no, there are two.  You walk forty miles of Hadrian’s Wall and miss two carved phalluses.  You wait all those miles for a carved phallus, then two come along together and you miss them both.  I so wanted to show you a photo of what was supposedly carved to ward off evil spirits.  Supposedly.  Sounds more like the endeavours of a cold, bored, teenage soldier to me.  (If you really want to see the carvings, and I know you do, I’ve saved you the trouble of a Google search – here).

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I crossed the River Irthing and finally arrived in Gilsland – my stop for the night.  But my B&B, Bush Nook, was a further long mile out of the village along quite a busy road.

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When I arrived at 4.30, the place was deserted.  I waited anxiously for half an hour, kicking my heels and fretting, before Stephen, the owner’s very apologetic son, arrived and showed me to my room.  And as he offered to drive me to the ‘Samson Inn’ in Gilsland for supper and pick me up again afterwards, I quickly forgave him his memory lapse.  After a gut-busting sloppy burger, chips and a pint or three, I was fast asleep and snoring contentedly by 10.  Today had been the longest day of my coast to coast trek.  And if I was disappointed by the lack of Hadrian’s famous Wall, the following two days would make up for that.

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17 thoughts on “Hadrian’s Wall Path: Day 1 – Carlisle to Gilsland

  1. Hi!
    I want to walk the Hadrian’s Wall Path in April/Mai. Did you use a GPS device or just a map and a compass? Or didn’t you need any of this because the path is well signed?
    If you use a GPS device, are there any good Open Source Maps available for UK?

    Best wishes from Germany,
    Maria

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    • Guten morgen, Maria. Wie gehts?

      I didn’t use GPS just a guidebook and compass but I didn’t need the compass. The path is very easy to follow and well sign-posted. I used the Cicerone guide book but actually, I didn’t much like it. I much prefer Trailblazer guides – they’re generally excellent and have GPS waypoints on their maps. They also provide GPS downloadable files which you might find useful. This is the link:

      http://trailblazer-guides.com/gps-waypoints

      I hope you enjoy the walk – the three day section I did was smashing. Dave

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      • Danke David, sehr gut. Und dir? 🙂

        Thanks for your reply! I already own the Trailblazer guide for the Hadrian’s Wall Path – Yeay! Done everything allright so far. 🙂
        I am going to visit the UK with my car. So do you know where I can park my car for the time of walking the Hadrian’s? I found no information on that on the website. 😦

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        • Auch sehr gut, danke (you’ll probably have guessed by now that my German is limited!). Hmmm. Not sure I can help with that, Maria. Personally, I would ask a B&B or hotel at one end of the walk whether I could leave my car with them for a few days. Obviously you’d have to stay with them for the first night and possibly the day you picked up the car too. You could try parking in a quiet residential street for a few days – but obviously there’s some risk with that. Also try Googling “long term car park” plus the name of the town. That might be safer than leaving your car on the street but might be expensive. I generally travel by rail so this isn’t a problem I have. Viel gluck. D

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          • Thanks for your answer.
            Who would have thought that England would be such a criminal hot spot? I mean, how far can they drive with a stolen german car on an island? 🙂
            But obviously some people can. In Germany that wouldn’t be a problem in rural areas, so I thought in England it would be the same. Bummer!
            So thank you very much for your warning and your suggestion with the B&B. That sounds a good idea. Maybe they will give a hand to a young german lady who tours alone through the United Kingdom. I hope so.
            Best wishes aus Deutschland,

            Maria

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    • Hi Julie, sorry for confusing you. 220 miles is the distance from Ulverston to Berwick – the whole walk that this forms a part of. 150 miles is what I had left to do after I’d completed the 70 mile Cumbria Way. Dave

      Liked by 1 person

  2. So glad to finally be continuing the adventure…vicariously, of course.
    (I imagined that you had experienced some horrific circumstance, prompting you to never speak of this walk again. Phew! Glad that is not the case.)

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  3. This made for hard reading, my eyes brimming with tears at the lonesome bear, the lost phalluses and your self punishing regime of walking 18 miles on a poached egg with fruit salad (a combination I can’t see myself ordering anytime soon). Anyway, even if you are too late to join the centurions, your legendary stamina might well get you into the Foreign Legion. Or has that gone, too? Bravo!

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    • Hi Charles, sorry to have squeezed a tear or two out of you. The Foreign Legion hasn’t gone but they don’t allow much time for pausing and studying pretty flowers, so I’ll give them a miss thanks. Dave

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