Day Twelve; Chollerford/Humshaugh to Heddon-on-the-Wall (15 miles)
After a restless night of sleep (or lack thereof), I was up early enough to run to the small convenience store in Humshaugh before breakfast to pick up a few items for lunch. After breakfast, we met back up with the half of the group that had been put up at a different B&B last night. Apparently, all the B&Bs in Humshaugh only keep two rooms each, so they wont get to big. Also, the convenience store is completely run by volunteers! A very neat small town feeling.
As we left Humshaugh, we walked though town with the school children and their parents. No buses, and only a few cars in sight. Walking is definitely the main mode of transportation around here. All the school children were also in uniforms.
Reaching Chollerford at the bottom of the hill, we crossed the River Tyne and began the long hike up out of The Valley. It really wasn’t too bad – not steep, just long. We began along the roadway, then the path slipped into a wooded area next to the road. For much (almost all) of the day, we walked the path just next to the Military road. From the woods, we crossed a stile into a field where we saw another stretch of the Roman Wall, about 40 yards long at Planetree Farm. It is in this stretch of wall that the 10 ft wide Broad Wall changes to the 8ft Narrow Wall.
At this point, the path crossed the Military Road, crossed some more fields and climbed another hill to Heavenfield. Prior to the Battle of Heavenfield in AD635, Northumbria (ruled by King Oswald) had been divided into two kingdoms, Deira and Bernicia. Deira was ruled by Oswald’s uncle, Edwin, while Bernicia was ruled by Eanfrid, Oswald’s brother. Cadwallon (heathen leader of the British Tribes) made war with Northumbria, killing Edwin, his son Osric, and Eanfrid. Oswald became king and he rallied forces ad raised a rude wooden cross as a standard. Tradition holds this to have been an important moment for the flowering of Christianity in Britain: the church erected here by the monks of Hexham Abbey became the fountainhead for the proliferation of places of worship throughout the kingdom and beyond. The church, St Oswald in Lee, was constructed from Wall-stone hundreds of years later and is still in use today. Paul, Verna and I chose to cross the field to see the church and the churchyard before catching up with the rest of the group.
From this point, the path led into the Wall ditch and across a pasture as it continued to parallel Military Road. This section of the Military road is lined with huge beech trees. Further on, we recrossed Military Road to walk through Stanley Plantation, hiking through a conifer forest. The far section of this forest had been clear cut and we stopped to sit on the huge stumps (two to three people could easily sit on each stump) for “elevensies”.
Crossing across pastures, climbing over multiple stiles, we follow the path the Errington Arms at Portgate. From Portgate, the path crossed the 68 (road), over ladder stiles and back into the pastures. We passed into Halton Chesters, which is the area of a Calvary fort. We could see shallow undulations in the grass that hint at the feature so Onnum Roman Fort , which lay on either side of the military road. Ahead of us, we could see Down Hill. Down Hill is a ditch-incised hill where the vallum has survived. Just as the Romans liked straight or direct roads, so they preferred sharp turns rather than wavy lines; they tended to fight the contours as if to dominate the landscape. This is quite evident on Down Hill.
We crossed the Military Road once again, walking along the verge of the road past Halton Shields. This is a very small hamlet consisting of just a few building. After passing Halton Shields, we once again crossed Military Road and embarked along fenced passages beside crop fields, before once again crossing Military Road and taking us down into the Wall Ditch. We circumnavigated Wallhouses Farm, finding some large stones to sit on for lunch. Once we had finished lunch and completed our walk around the farm, the path led back down into the Wall ditch for a short distance before taking up back up to Military road. Along the road, we passed Robin Hood’s Inn and Pub, and although we had just had lunch, we decided to stop for a drink. The guys had a beer, a couple of the ladies had wine. I had a chocolate coffee with a scone with jam and clotted cream. Was I ever glad that I didn’t eat much for lunch!
Returning to the path, we only had a few more miles to walk to get to our B&B for the night. We followed the path in the fields alongside the military road, passing Whittle Dene Reservoir ponds, and up Harlow Hill. At the top of Harlow Hill is a building that was originally a Church of England chapel that was converted into a barn. It is now a self-catering holiday let and is actually built on Milecastle 16. From here, the trail continues along the roadside verge, crosses over the Military road once again and re-enters the fields. We climbed up Eppies Hill, then turned right onto a minor road. Our B&B was only a few hundred feet down this road.
During the last hour or so of our walk, we had some drizzly, light rain. Just enough to have us keep our waterproofs on, and to keep us wet – but not enough to soak us. Since we have gotten to the B&B, there has been a steady rain. Hopefully it will clear out before our last day of walking!
Day Thirteen: Heddon-on-the-Wall to Segedunum (19miles)
Our day started with the sun trying to burn off the mists and fog of the morning. The grass was damp from dew and rain, and the temps were right around 40 degrees (F) when we awoke. I started walking with my jacket, wool hat and gloves; as I warmed up from the exertion of walking, I quickly began to shed those items. We quickly finished the last couple of miles into Heddon-on-the-Wall proper, crossing fields along a narrow fence-side path, passing Vindovala Roman Fort. Covered by grass, the foundations of the fort are barely visible and the sheep don’t seen to be too concerned about the history below their feet. Crossing the Military Road, and then the A69, we continued into town.
Just as we enter Heddon-on-the-Wall, a large bus pulled up, letting off about 100 hikers for the day. We skipped a small loop of the walk through the town to try to get ahead of the group, and ended up meeting up with some of them just outside of town. Fortunately, in an area that the Wall Path turned left, they turned right! We wound our way through the town passing estates with names such as Trajan Walk and Centurion Way – proof of the Roman influence in this area. The road became a track, then a path that led to the back of Close House (a stylish hotel with a beautiful golf course). The Wall path passed Close House, and then through a portion of the golf course before turning onto Wylam Waggonway.
Wylam Waggonway was a railway built in 1748. The locomotives began hauling coal waggons. This Waggonway was essential as the river at the time was too shallow for keeled boats. An interesting fact: the 4foot 8 1/2inch standard gauge of the railway precisely matches the width of a Roman cart.
Leaving the Waggonway behind, we turned past a few houses, down a short lane and met with the River Tyne. From this point on, our walk would continue along the River Tyne. The next six miles being through the Tyne Riverside Country Park, a recreational path that runs six miles to Newburn. After passing Newburn, the Wall path continues through urban areas along the river: passing into Denton Dene. This is a coal town, and we walked by a steel sculpture of a collier with his lamp, pit pony and children. The statue is a memorial for those killed in a pit mining collapse in 1925.
We continued to walk along the cycle-trail into Newcastle! We had arrived…. Well, almost. We still had 6 or 7 miles to go! The path continued to pass along the River Tyne. We must have been coming through at low tide, as the tidal mud flats were quite evident. As we approached Newcastle Quayside, we could see multiple bridges that spanned the river. The Quayside is a vibrant city waterfront – with lots of shops and places to eat – as well as places to just sit and watch the river flow by. There were multiple art installations that were quite interesting. Each bridge was very different as well. The Millennium Bridge was very modern, built in 2000. This bridge actually tilts to allow tall ships to pass the bridge. The bridge tiles as a single, rigid structure. As the arch lowers, the pathway rises, each counterbalancing the other to ensure a minimum of electricity is used during each tilt. The hydraulically operated swing bridge was installed by William Armstrong in 1876 to develop his shipping armaments factory. It is thought that the swinging bridge rests where the Romans spanned the river with their Pons Aelius, dedicated and designed by the Emperor Hadrian.
Leaving the Quayside, we walked through St Peter’s Marina, a marina pool surrounded by a red-brick apartment village that was opened by Princess Diana in 1991. We continued on the cycle-trail path along the river, passing fishermen who were fishing for codling. One fisherman had quite a number of fish in his bucket! After rounding St Anthony’s Point, the trail climbed the steep banks in a series of switchbacks and continued through the town of Wallsend to the Segedunum. It was here that there was the remains of a small Roman bath, as well as the remains of a Roman Fort. The last section of Wall leaves the fort foundations and ends at the path walkway. Outside the museum, we took a group picture near the statue of the Roman Soldier to show the end of our journey.
But in a sense, we weren’t quite finished! From the Secedunum, we found the metro station and had a 20-30 minute train ride out to Whitley Bay to find our B&B for the night. Whitley Bay is on the seaside of the North Sea. After a quick shower, I headed out (because I hadn’t walked enough for one day) to explore the Promonade along the seaside. A great end to a great day!