(19th March 2014 – 19 miles)
On the ninth day of my walk across England from Ulverston to Berwick, I woke early, pulled back the curtains and gasped. Blue skies! Sunshine! After three grey days, a sunny spring morning was a bit of a shock. I danced a little jig (not really), had a shower and considered what to wear. Eventually, I decided on the Black Paramilitary – which was just as well. It’s all I had.
I said hello to the solitary chap in the dining room (he didn’t respond), picked at a sad breakfast (watery coffee, tinned grapefruit, too greasy full English – you get the picture), grabbed a packed lunch and rejoined the path. It was 8.15am. Today would be a long 19-miler and I couldn’t hang about.
I continued along the route of the Hadrian’s Wall Path for a couple of miles
to arrive at the C18th Church of St Oswald, Heavenfield.
A 1920’s wooden cross marks the spot where Oswald’s small army defeated the larger forces of Cadwallon, King of Gwynedd and the Mercian King, Penda. This cross, which replaced an earlier stone one, marks the beginning of the St Oswald’s Way.
But though I was now starting a new path, actually it coincides with the Hadrian’s Wall Path for another five miles or so.
There was still evidence of the Wall, if not nearly so much as during the previous couple of days. Above is a length of the north ditch, but the Wall itself lies beneath the adjacent B6318, the Military Road. Road builders in the C18th used Roman stone for hardcore and the line of the Wall as the foundation. How sad is that? Though as my guidebook points out, the tarmac may help preserve any surviving ruins for future generations to study. So that’s kind of alright then.
It was a glorious morning, full of birdsong and, despite the constant drone of traffic from that busy road,
I waltzed along, enjoying the sun on my face. I crossed the road a couple of times and after a final bit of vallum,
left Hadrian, his Wall and that irritating road for good. I marched off to the north, whistling, towards the Northumbrian coast.
The going was dry underfoot and quick,
and I had plenty of time to twiddle dials and push buttons on my camera (I still have no idea what some of them do) and photograph things that pleased me.
Today was completely devoid of walkers. The St Oswald’s Way isn’t a National Trail and whilst I expected it to be quiet, I didn’t meet any distance walkers – nor indeed did I for two more days until I reached the coast.
I was relieved the wind wasn’t gusting.
It’d be hairy walking this high, exposed country in a storm … with huge branches crashing about my ears and yours.
Lunchtime and I approached the village of Great Whittington. To my predictable delight, I saw a very appealing pub indeed. But as I stood outside, releasing straps on my backpack, I realised it was a cruel chimera; an evil tease. The pub had closed down and pleasant thoughts of a leisurely lager shandy with a packet of cheese and onion wafted away on the breeze.
Disheartened, I gulped warm water (hardly the same) and traipsed slowly onwards. The quality of the walk took a dive after Great Whittington and for long miles, the path was no path but road.
A long, very straight couple of roads – if thankfully almost traffic free. But I sped up, cheered up and hammered through the day.
I like to post a selfie now and then if only to prove that I was actually walking the walk and that this isn’t all some elaborate-if-difficult-to-fathom-why-fiction.
An interlude from road stomping saw me under a ‘Far From The Madding Crowd’ sky
with huge views of a county I have fallen for. And a bit of mud. And a sheep.
Three riders passed me by but didn’t stop to chat. Perhaps they noticed my big intake of breath, look of intense concentration and steely determination to talk at them. Whatever, they barely acknowledged me; let alone stopped. I’ve made a mental note to look less intent when attempting to talk at people.
As the day wore on, the sun grew bored and slipped away
as I was consigned once more to tarmac.
It grew colder and I became impatient with asphalt bashing. Many of the trees were sculpted by the powerful, prevailing south-westerlies.
Which pleased me. I did get a glimpse of red squirrel but the only photo I managed was so pitifully poor, I won’t bother posting it (which, if you saw the one I posted on the Cumbria Way section, is a damning indictment).
In the tiny village of Great Bavington, I sat on a step, admired a Victorian post box, and scoffed a superb beef and horseradish baguette (The Hadrian Hotel does make a grand sandwich at least).
I pressed on (a VR post box is only so interesting) and as I crossed a paddock, deep in solo-walking-thoughts and munching another apple, I was suddenly, violently shoved forward.
“What the #%*‡!!?” I swore, staggered, barely avoided landing on my nose and whirled round to face my foe. Brigands? Robbers? A gang of youths out for a rumble? Or a placid-looking horse intent on my apple? OK, it was a placid-looking horse … but with an impressively silent stalking skill. What a rude oaf. He certainly did not get my apple but he possibly got the core.
In mid-afternoon, I pulled on my Goretex coat for the last few, bitterly cold miles into Kirkwhelpington.
There is no choice of accommodation on this first stage of the SOW: there is only one option. When I had booked my fifteen night stop-overs weeks before, I confirmed my booking for Kirkwhelpington first. It’s a linchpin on which this whole coast to coast hung: if I couldn’t book Cornhills Farmhouse for my preferred date, my entire 15-day itinerary would need shifting backwards or forwards. Luckily, my booking request was successful.
I called Lorna, the owner, from the village and a few minutes later she pulled up and whisked me a couple of miles away to her sheep farm. As we drove, I spotted a cast sheep. On hearing my mumbled observation, Lorna did a magnificent Starsky and Hutch brake, turn and squeally stop and together we ran over to right the unfortunate animal. (Got a brownie point there, I think).
The house is beautiful – built in 1840 by Lorna’s husband’s family. It might be a little old-fashioned inside but I liked it very much. At dinner, I sat in a large, empty dining room for my three courses. It was a little odd, sitting alone, listening to family conversation from the kitchen, with longish pauses between courses. But the mushroom soup, beef with cheese scones and Eton mess were all excellent. If I was a little disappointed at the lack of beer, I don’t suppose my liver was.
I was more tired than I realised and, returning temporarily to my room, fell asleep within minutes – still clutching my Kindle. At 9pm. Even the diverse horrors of ‘American Psycho‘ couldn’t hold my eyes open. I slept for a solid, very sound and delicious ten hours.