I took 4 days off after the South Downs Way, and then I headed North, to Carlisle to get the 06:35 bus to Bowness-on-Solway on Valentines Day.
I *love* walking but that had nothing to do with starting on V-Day. Travel and hotels just worked out cheapest this way. Very few couples are running away together for a romantic night in Carlisle it seems.
It was a great start as I worked my way back from Bowness to Carlisle Memorial Bridge. Flat easy walking, with a lovely sunrise, and lots to learn about the wall from the info boards at the start.
I had really been looking forward to this one, the history of the wall having fully caught my imagination having never previously crossed my mind. I lapped up some audio books that set the scene, and got me in the mood.
I’ll admit now, I did only one of the English Heritage sites on the route, figuring it was worth coming back in a car to do them properly – but had a great time ‘playing’ with the learning aids intended for kids at Birdoswald Fort. I’m a sucker for some simplified learning, or an artists impression of what it looked like back then!
I was worried about the flooding that Storm Ciara had left behind, but it had largely receded by the time I walked through the park in Carlisle. No wet feet, but it was obvious just how high the water had risen. Apparently a Major Incident had been called for the flooding in the park. All I saw was large tractors working flat out to pump water away.
However – as I ate an early bird meal deal at about 4pm – mainly because I was starving after a 27km day 1, but also because I didn’t want to be surrounded by couples out for a V-night treat at the Brewers Fayre attached to the Premier Inn – I started to read about a new Storm.
The little brother to last weeks Ciara was coming in – Storm Dennis.
How bad could it possibly be? I was sure that having headed inland on the Seven Sisters during Ciara, I was risking chickening out of the Carlisle Memorial Park to Gilsand section unnecessarily. I had after all once been up to my knees in water, I remembered, on the South Downs Way. So – a little water couldn’t be that bad?
When I got wet on the SDW, it was a river bank that had over topped by about 2 feet. Then – I had no choice to press on, as the detour was about 8 miles, with no guarantee there wouldn’t be a section just as bad 5 miles into that. I had assured myself it was safe enough to wade as I could see the way to the bridge I needed, and could judge the depth pretty well.
I’d taken my poles out, to carefully feel my way like I’d seen the pros do whenever Hebden Bridge or Mytholmroyd floods and in the end went for it as it seemed to me that the furthest I was going to float was into some poor blokes flooded garden. It worked out fine.
Sure – I got soaking wet feet until I changed my socks for waterproof ones later in the day, but I think I balanced the risk / alternative route pretty well. It was very slow moving water, nothing with a current so the risk was OK in my view. So maybe, I thought, I shouldn’t worry too much about Storm Dennis in Carlisle and the flooding it promised to bring?
Looking out of my hotel window, it was dry, but the workmen from the Utility company were being interviewed by an ITV camera crew about the previous floods. I read every report for the weather. Considered options to get up and walk from 03:00 to miss the storm. But the timing didn’t work out. I’d have to walk into the likely flooded area around Rickerby park and beyond and hope it was OK. I checked alternative walking options, along roads if it came to that – they were not good, especially if they flooded as well. The main issue was if it got bad, then obviously there are few options to bail out of the day. You end up walking it whether you like the weather or not!
So – once again, and I admit worried I was being unnecessarily risk adverse I decided to skip the section. I got the bus to Haltwhistle, and another bus up to Birdoswald – where I got to enjoy the empty fort by myself. I read every detail of the info boards at the museum with a full day to kill before my pub lodgings would open at 5. However – the 2.5km trot from the fort, down to the pub in Gilsand in the afternoon (in the middle of Storm Dennis’ worst tantrums) sort of proved the point, I got drenched despite being a fully equipped rambling hiker – thanks Kev!).
Skipping the section was the right decision though – as I think this picture proves, asI would have been walking through the middle of that:
The storm faded, and apart from high winds the next 3 days were fantastic. The best bits of the wall, and some fantastic views. First – 16km to The Sill, where I once again did all the kids exercises in the ‘play and learn’ part of the museum. Proud to say I saved the virtual town from flooding, on the interactive eco-section, by spending my flood defence money wisely, but sadly arrived too late for the wooden spoon carving master class!
After that it was 30km to The Errington Arms. And the day after into Newcastle after a long 35km. Newcastle was freezing cold, that’s all I can remember, aside from a Mexican food place with the tagline “tonight burrito, tomorrow repeato” which wasn’t quite the world class marketing they thought it was. I went for pizza.
I finished up with a section of the trail that struggles to impress compared to the rest of it. Wandering to the finish from the Tyne Bridge to Wallsend, its nice to be by the river, but becomes industrial, and then is as unremarkable as most cities at the very end. West / East is definitely the way to walk this trail, it starts well, gets better and better in the middle, and could finish spectacularly under the bridge in Newcastle. But that final section is an important, if low key, must do to bag the whole trail.
Speaking of the whole trail… I reckon I have 18%, about 25km left to do. From Birdoswald Fort, back to Carlisle Memorial Bridge. To be returned to ASAP!
Day Charts, and then a Gallery:
Day 1 – Bowness-on-Solway to Carlisle Memorial Bridge
Day 2 – Birdoswald Fort to Gilsand
Affected by Storm Dennis and the 25km I need to go back to finish the HWP…
Day 3 – Gilsand to The Sill
This was an amazing section. Loved it.
Day 4 – The Sill to The Errington Arms
Also fantastic walking…
Day 5 – Errington Arms to Newcastle
Day 6 – Tyne Bridge to Wallsend and The Finish
Edit July 1st 2020 – The Final Section, avoided during Storm Dennis…