Over the past few months, I’d been looking for a new challenge to do following the Isle of Wight Challenge I took part in last year (2016) which I thoroughly enjoyed. I found a lot to choose from online but the majority were either too far away or not even in the UK and while they all looked amazing, I wanted to remain in the UK. Thankfully, an idea came to me while driving not far from home while passing a place called Segedunum (“Roman Fort”), a museum situated on the same spot where an ancient fort once stood that protected the eastern end of Hadrian’s wall.
Hadrian’s Wall, a defensive fortification started way back in AD 122 on the orders of Emperor Hadrian, that represented the northern limit of the Roman Empire at the time. Stretching from the Solway Firth by the Irish Sea in the West to the banks of the River Tyne near the North Sea in the East, the remains of the Wall have been a recognised UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1987.
The UK’s National Trail organisation officially named the Hadrian’s Wall Path in 2003, a long distance path of 135 km (84 miles) from Bowness-on-Solway in the West to the town of Wallsend in the East and the majority of the path follows the remains of the Roman Wall. Clearly, having such an incredible route to enjoy so close to home was too good an opportunity to pass over and the decision on what and where my next challenge would be was over!
Many chose to “Walk the Wall” over a number of days, typically from East to West, but I’ve decided to go West to East for a number of reasons… firstly, I feel it will be motivating towards the end of the walk with tired legs to be heading in the direction of my home rather than away from it! Secondly, in the late Spring/early Summer months the Sun (yes, we do get some sun occasionally!) and the westerly winds will be behind me, not in my face as I walk which I think’s preferable!. Thirdly, I like the idea of starting the walk from the rural Bowness-on-Solway and finish in the urban city of Newcastle upon Tyne, sort of a wilderness-to-modern-city transition. And finally, the “Milecastles” marking the route are numbered in descending order from West to East and I like the idea of a visual countdown as I progress along the route as opposed the count upwards I saw in the Isle of Wight!
I’ve decided to attempt the walk on the weekend of 26-28 May (2017) travelling over by car to the start in Bowness-on-Solway on the Friday evening staying at a place called Midtown Farm ready to start the walk early on Saturday morning so that I make the most of the long daylight hours of Spring. Sunny weather will be a bonus but a light cool breeze would suit me perfectly!
As I intend to walk the majority of the route alone, I’ve signed up a good friend (and his car!) to be my mobile support for the walk…. Joe’s a good friend I’ve known for years and he kindly offered to help by meeting me at various pre-arranged check-points along the route so we can talk about how it’s going so far and whether I’m in good shape to carry on to the next check point, etc. It didn’t feel wise to set off on the entire route alone and make no contact with anyone at all so I’m very grateful he’ll be monitoring my progress on the day. We’ll be keeping in touch by mobile phone and with two-way “walkie-talkie” radio’s to cover the gaps where mobile phone coverage is poor/non-existent.
I’ll be taking the following gear with me on the walk:
Shoes and clothing: Waterproof walking boots, walking socks (quite a few spare pairs too!), waterproof trousers and jacket, gaiters, hat and gloves, walking pants and light top layers, light footwear.
Walking kit: rucksack (35l), walking poles, binoculars, head-torch and spare batteries, guidebook, map, compass, whistle, torch, first aid kit, insect repellent, waterproof rucksack cover, cash/coins, water carrier, food snacks (for between check points), mobile phone, mobile charge cells, walkie-talkie.
The Route and check-in points
I’ll be heading East* checking in at various points along the way, aiming to start on the Saturday morning at 08:00h (high tides permitting):
Stage 1: Bowness-on-Solway to Carlisle (24 km / 15 miles) ~ est. 4h 09:30-13:30
via Boustead Hill, Burgh by Sands, Beaumont, Grinsdale
Stage 2: Carlisle to Walton (18.5 km / 11 miles) ~ est. 3h 14:00-17:00
via Rickerby, Crosby-on-Eden, Newtown
Stage 3: Walton to Once Brewed (26 km / 16 miles) ~ est. 6h 17:30 – 23:30
via Banks, Birdoswald, Gilsland, Walltown
Stage 4: Once Brewed to Chollerford (19 km / 12 miles) ~ est. 4h
via Housesteads Crags, Archers Wood, Carrawbrough Farm
Stage 5: Chollerford to Heddon (26 km / 16 miles) ~ est. 6h
via Halton Red House, East Wall Houses, Eppies Hill
Stage 6: Heddon to Wallsend (24 km / 15 miles) ~ est. 6h
via Bell’s Close, Heliport, Millennium Bridge, St Peter’s Marina
I plan to post my check-ins online so real-time progress can be followed by anyone and so that I have a personal record of times for each check-point!
Anyone interested in following my progress ‘live’ as it happens can use the following link which will update my location every ten minutes: http://www.racedrone.net/event/455
First attempt failed!
So, I headed across to Bowness-on-Solway last Friday ( 26 May) ready to set off on Saturday morning. I had all my gear ready, training had gone well, and weather the was looking as erratic as possible, 27’c on the Saturday but heavy rain at times and an overnight low of 14’c.
I set off at just after 9 am after getting my “start photo” taken then headed off on the route. I took a rest stop for 30 mins in Carlisle and another and Gilsand, completing Stage 1, Stage 2 and Stage 3, thus almost half of the route by around midnight. I decided to stop due to an increased aching just above my feet and below my shin and not wanting to risk any further injury decided not to proceed.
At a medical check the next morning I was told it was either a small case of tendinitis or a skin infection caused by numerous insect bites I’d picked up along the way. Two days after a course of penicillin and it’s very much improved already to the point I could even go for a short run now so I’m inclined to believe it was indeed an infection rather than tendinitis due to the speedy recovery. I’m no medical expert though, but relieved to be on the mend so quickly!
Despite not completing the route at my first attempt, I’ve picked up some good lessons for next time, primarily these:
- Starting in the evening not the morning so the middle section which is higher up and more remote is walked during the day and not at night. Better for safety more than any other reason.
- My fitness training plan was definitely up to scratch! Despite my injury making me stop at 40 miles, every other part of my body was in great shape with no aches or pains anywhere so I’m confident that I’m good for the full distance when the time comes!
- Insect repellent – and lots of it! I don’t care if I scare people (or sheep) off when i approach them stinking of repellent, I’ll be lathering it on frequently as I don’t want that to ever be a reason for having to stop again.
I’m looking at August for my second attempt, over a weekend once again, this time heading to Bowness mid-afternoon and starting the route late evening and (hopefully) finishing Saturday night. I’ll update here once I’ve confirmed a date!
Thanks for reading!