Archive for June, 2011

The wall: Newburn to East Wallhouses – June 17

June 30, 2011

Today’s walk: 9.5 miles / 15 km in 5 hours

I slept poorly in the night. I’m not sure how or why I could have trouble sleeping after such a long and tiring day, but it made for a difficult morning.

We set off walking after a good breakfast. The trail at first continued along the river, then veered inland to follow the route of an old disused railroad for a while.

The old railroad line, now a shady green trail for walkers and bicycles

Finally it took a long climb up out of the Tyne valley at Heddon-on-the-Wall.

The way is marked with wooden signposts like this one

Heddon is where the wall becomes visible again. A stretch about 50 yards long stands, robbed out and fallen down but visible on the surface, running just east of the town. We took a short detour off our walking path to visit it. This is the longest continuous visible section of what is called the “broad wall.”


From study of the remains, scholars have concluded that the original plan for the wall was to build the wall to a width of 10 Roman feet (just under 10 British feet– Romans apparently had small feet). Construction was begun to this standard starting from the eastern end, but later, perhaps after the first building season was finished, plans were revised to build the wall only to a width of 8 feet. We don’t know why the plans were changed, but probably the work was going slower than expected. Accordingly, the section of wall built to the 10-foot plan is known today as the “broad wall” and the section built to the 8-foot plan is known as the “narrow wall,” even though 8 feet is still pretty substantial.

More of the Heddon wall. You can see the poor condition of the remains, but even so it is exciting to see so much still standing

Fom Heddon-on-the-wall, the path runs west along the line of the wall, although there a few visible remains because the major east-west road here, the B6318 “military road,” was built on the foundations of the wall itself. The path runs partway along the roadside itself, and then verges off to run through fields and pastures next to the road.

The trail as a mown/trodden path across the pasture

The road did not have heavy traffic, at least not while we were walking, and we were able to enjoy a quiet countryside walk as we passed by cows and sheep in their pastures.

In many places we passed sheep who seemed to have young lambs or yearlings tagging along with them

The weather was cool but mostly dry. The skies were partly cloudy and we got a little sprinkle here and there, but no real rain.

Our day’s walk ended at East Wallhouses, a tiny village– barely more than a few houses clustered along the road, but boasting a pub. Our lodging for the night was actually located back in Heddon-on-the-Wall, so we had to call once we arrived to get a lift back to the town.

Looking down into the Tyne valley from Heddon-on-the-Wall

The place where we stayed was quite a tiny affair, in fact it was a private house where the extra bedrooms had been furnished for guests. Our host was a chatty older lady who was nice enough, but sadly her housekeeping left something to be desired. The room was cramped and damp and set both of our allergies going. At least we were the only guests there that night, so we weren’t bothering anyone else.

Happily, the place we went for dinner was much better. It served locally farmed food and locally brewed ales, all of which was delicious. I would certainly go back to Heddon-on-the-Wall for the food and the archaeological interest, but I’d rather stay someplace else.


The wall: Wallsend to Newburn – June 16

June 29, 2011

Today’s walk: 11.5 miles / 18.5 km in 5 hours

Today we began our walk of Hadrian’s Wall. We started with a good breakfast in our B&B, then we packed up our day packs and left our luggage to be picked up by the courier.

We took the Newcastle metro from Whitley Bay to Wallsend, the site of the Roman fort of Segedunum where the wall came down to the Tyne river.

Here's where it starts

The trail starts just outside the fort museum.

And so it begins

The line of the wall runs right through downtown Newcastle, so there’s almost no remains to be seen and walking the actual course of the wall would mean walking along busy highways, so the trail diverges from the wall line for most of the day to follow the Tyne River.

The Tyne river, just before it starts to get urban/industrial

The Tyne is tidal up to this point. The remains of an old river boat in the low-tide mud.

We started out in not unpleasant suburban surroundings. The trail runs through some parklands and behind some housing developments and comes to the river. We saw lots of flowers in bloom, especially many different kinds of roses growing wild. Fairly soon we came into the heart of the city itself. You can see the remains of Newcastle’s industrial past, but the walk along the river is well taken care of.

Newcastle city center. The Tyne is crossed by many different types of bridges along this short stretch.

The city gradually receded as we kept walking west. The day was cool and cloudy, but mostly dry apart from a few sprinkles of rain. The path was almost all pavement and after several hours of walking, the soles of my feet were getting quite sore. My legs were fine, no sore muscles, just the soles of my feet from all that walking on hard pavement.

Into the countryside west of Newcastle

We arrived at our lodging in the early afternoon. It’s a brewery/pub that also has a separate lodge building as a B&B.

Our food, drink, and lodging for the night

The room was pleasant enough. We got a few hours of rest off our feet, then went for dinner at the pub. When I saw toad-in-the-hole on the menu I figure I had to order it, just so that I could say I’d had it. It turned out to be rather good: imagine a giant popover filled with sausage and mashed potato and slaked with gravy. I also had some of their own brown ale, which was very good.

In the evening there was a Morris dance performance at the pub. E. found the evening too chilly and stayed in the room, but I went out to watch. The performance was supposed to start at 8. A little after 8, there was a group of guys in colorful costumes standing around drinking beer. After they’d all had a round or two, a few of them finally picked up accordions and fiddles and the rest started to gather up on the patio outside the pub. Once they got going, though, they were a lot of fun to watch.

A sword dance. The dancers start in a circle holding flexible short swords between them which they then dance around, over, and under.

They did several different kinds of Morris dances and sword dances, introducing each one by explaining where it came from and something of its history. All the dances were very local, coming from villages not more than a few miles away. They danced about a half-dozen dances altogether (with frequent pauses for more beer).

The wall: Edinburgh to Newcastle – June 15

June 28, 2011

We took a bus from Edinburgh to Newcastle. We had originally planned to take the train, but the bus turned out to be a good deal cheaper.

This statue is close to the university in Edinburgh. Can you tell?

It was a ride of only a few hours, much of it through pretty countryside. We passed close by Traprain Law, a hillfort site with many finds of Roman artifacts that was important in my dissertation. It was nice to get another look at it, even on the move.

Traprain Law from the north

In Newcastle, we dragged our luggage around from bus station to train station where we got on the metro. A long ride on the metro took us to Whitley Bay, where we spent the night before our first walking day. Whitley Bay looks like an old seaside resort town which has fallen on hard times, but is starting to make a comeback. Just down the street from our bed and breakfast was a long beach. Across the street from the beach was a strip of nightclubs and restaurants. Many of the buildings are old and in poor repair, but the businesses in them seem to be thriving and you can see things are starting to be put back into better shape.

The beach at Whitley Bay on a cloudy afternoon

We had dinner at an Indian restaurant in the beachside strip. We got a great prix-fixe deal and had some of the best Indian food we’ve ever tasted.

The Indian resturant where we had dinner is one of these

The room in our B&B was simple, but comfortable. The one problematic thing was the shower: no matter how you adjusted the controls, it just kept alternating between cold water and scald-your-skin-off hot. You could manage to have a decent shower by jumping in and out, but it took a while to get properly clean. Brits and their showers just boggle me: of all people in the world, you’d think they could figure out falling water. (To be fair, this was the only time we had trouble with the shower. In other places it either worked all right or we had a bathtub.)

Tomorrow the walk begins

The wall: Travel and Edinburgh, June 11 – 14

June 27, 2011

We’re back at last from our trip to Britain, so it’s time for some show-and-tell.

On Saturday, June 11, we finished our preparations and headed to the airport. We’ve gotten rather good at this trans-Atlantic travel business, so apart from getting ready to walk 84 miles, our preparation was pretty routine: pack bags, eat up the perishable food, make sure all the windows are closed, etc. I can still remember travel days of panic and last minute shoving stuff I’d forgotten to pack into odd corners of my bag, but today was so quiet as to almost be boring.

Having checked some prices, it turned out to be cheaper to drive to the airport and use one of the commercial airport parking lots than to hire a car, so that’s what we did. The parking lot bus delivered us right to our terminal and we got checked in for our flight.

We flew Aer Lingus from Boston to Edinburgh, connecting in Shannon. We’re starting our trip with a few days in Edinburgh for my research and also to give us a few days to recover from jet lag before we start walking. By the time we arrived in Edinburgh, of course, we were pretty well exhausted. E. dozed a little on the plane, but I didn’t even try. I just don’t sleep on planes, so I don’t bother trying any more. We got the bus from the airport into the city and started dragging our luggage to our hotel, visions of pillows and blankets in our eyes.

Now, Edinburgh is a city built on hills. We knew this from visiting Edinburgh before, but thought we had our route to the hotel figured out. It turned out that what we thought was a crossroads where we could turn left was actually a bridge the road we wanted to turn onto was fifty feet below us. Still, we found our way there in the end and collapse for a few hours.

After a little sleep we got up to go find some dinner. The front desk clerk recommended a nearby place where we got excellent food and drink. We then promptly headed back to the hotel and went back to sleep.

When we woke up again it was in the wee hours of Monday morning. Our bodies were still adjusting to the time difference, so even though we were tired, neither of us could get back to sleep for a few hours. After that, we seemed to be pretty well adjusted to the time difference. I suppose it should be no surprise that our adjustment to British time seemed to go fast; we’re accustomed to adjust to Finnish time which is both a bigger time difference and a longer journey.

After breakfast that morning, we pulled on our hiking boots and went for a walk up Arthur’s Seat, a wonderful, wild bit of mountain in the midst of Edinburgh. The weather was windy and the clouds were low and gray, but we did not get rained on. We’ve been walking all spring to get in shape for walking the wall, but the Georgetown area is flat. Coping with the steep slopes of Arthur’s Seat was a challenge.

Looking up at the shoulder of Arthur's Seat

Yeah, we climbed that-- but not up those steps. We took a longer, gentler path

Looking back over Edinburgh

And we weren't the only people there, even on such a day

In the afternoon, we spent several hours in the National Museum where I wanted to check up on some artifacts. One large section of the museum is closed for major renovations, but the section where the Roman-period finds are displayed is still open so I was able to see what I wanted to.

I've been wanting a better picture of these for years (the one I took back when doing my dissertation was awfully blurry). They're called hippo-sandals-- temporary horseshoes designed to give better traction on snow and ice. Winter tires for your horse.

On Tuesday morning we made our travel arrangements for continuing on to Newcastle-upon-Tyne, the next stage of our trip. Then we went back to the museum to meet up with Fraser Hunter, the curator for Iron Age and Roman archaeology whom I worked with a bit when doing my dissertation. We went to lunch together so he and I could chat and I had a thoroughly enjoyable time talking with him about my research, his research, and the state of the field in general.

In the evening we thought about going to see a movie. I got direction to a theatre from the hotel desk clerk, which ended up taking us to completely the wrong place. After getting very frustrated wandering around some run-down areas of town, we made our way back to the hotel and finally, with difficulty, got correction directions. We walked over to the theatre at last, only to find there was nothing playing that we wanted to see. Oh well. It was some more walking exercise for our legs before the big challenge.

Flora and fauna

June 1, 2011

The spring flowers are passing, but the woods are full of green.

The blueberry bushes are heavy with blossoms turning into berries.

Blueberry blossoms

Bountiful bunches of blueberry blossoms

The raspberry bushes are growing with abandon and producing lots of little green nubs that will become berries in a month or two. One of our cherry trees is full of little fruits. The other has produced only a couple this year, but those are the first fruits it has put out.

One green cherry

Lovely little cherry, grow up to be big and juicy and delicious!

The pear trees were full of blossoms in the springtime, but it’s too soon to tell whether any of them are turning into fruit.

Our recent local animal spottings include two brown rabbits, a fox, gaggles of geese with downy goslings, and uberloads of chipmunks.

The weather lately has been into the low 80s and humid. We’ve had several thunderstorms come through, one of which created a two-hour blackout a couple weeks ago. We had a noisy one this morning that made the lights flicker for a second, but no worse. I haven’t been into the pond yet, but I’m hoping to rectify that very soon.