The wall: Gilsland to Walton – June 22

Today’s walk: 8 miles / 13 km in 5 hours

This morning showed us that British weather has a nasty sense of humor. As we were setting out from our B&B for the day’s walking, the sky was mixed sun and clouds. We were only a few steps away from the door when a sudden downpour came it and drenched us. We had just pulled our rain gear out of our packs when the rain stopped and the sun came out again.

The beginning of our day's walk

There was a long stretch of wall in good condition at the start of today’s walk. Very soon we came to the remains of the Roman bridge over the River Irthing. The river has shifted it’s course, however, since Roman times, so the channels and abutments are now on dry land about thirty yards east of the river.

These were originally channels and abutments for the bridge. Now they stand in an open field

On the far bank there is a very well preserved section of wall which has some interesting inscriptions on it. One is what’s known as a centurial stone, inscribed with information about the gang of soldiers who worked on and completed this section.

A centurial stone stone in situ on the wall, near Birdoswald fort

"COH(ORS)VIII / C(ENTURIO) IVL(IVS) PRIM(VS) F(ECIT)" "Julius Primus, centurion of the seventh cohort, made this" (The backwards, angular C is an abbreviation for centurion or century)

There are also a couple of wall stones which have each been carved with a phallus to serve as a good luck charm and ward away evil. The use of the phallus shape as a kind of magical protection against evil was widespread in the ancient world; no doubt Dr. Freud would have had a good deal to say about that.

Phallus carving for warding away evil, near Birdoswald fort

Since the picture isn't very clear, a little help

We continued on walking through countryside that got flatter and flatter as we went. After the morning’s deluge we had sunny skies and warm air, but as the afternoon wore on the sky got gray and cloudy. When we were about halfway through the day’s scheduled walk, it began to drizzle on us, and then to rain in earnest. We sheltered under a tree for a while, hoping that it was a passing shower, but the rain just kept going, and so, eventually, did we.

We're well out of the crags now, and coming out of the rolling hills into flatter country

Our evening’s lodging is actually situated a little off the track. About two-thirds of the way along we had the option of turning aside from the wall trail and walking down there. We considered making the turn and ending our walk early that day, given how miserable the weather had turned, but we decided to keep on walking despite the rain, not wanting to miss a substantial section of the wall trail.

The rain continued, but we made our way to Walton, a little village which I’m sure would have been charming if the weather had not put us in an unpleasant mood. We had hoped to shelter in the local pub while we called for a ride to our B&B, but it turned out that the pub had recently closed down (we later heard from our evening’s host that a lot of rural pubs are shutting their doors because stricter drunk driving laws are cutting into their business so badly as people just stay home to drink) so we found a bus shelter to huddle under. While we were waiting for our ride to appear, a couple of other hikers came to take shelter in the bus shelter as well. When our host arrived with the car, he offered to give them a lift to their lodgings. When it turned out that their lodging would not be open to them for a few hours, he offered to take them back with us where they could have a shower and a change of clothes and wait out of the rain.

Our B&B for the evening is in an old converted 17th-century mill, a lovely stone building which has been well taken care of and inventively updated. It has the charm of old buildings where there are nooks and bits and odd spaces that used to have one purpose and have been remade into something else. Our hosts are a delightful older couple who have only been running the B&B for less than a year, but seem like old hands at it. They are welcoming, generous, and gracious. We could not have asked for better after a long slog of a day.

Once again, we are too far away from town for us to go out and get dinner on our own, so our hosts prepared a dinner for us. It was wonderful, simple home-cooked food: fish pie for dinner, with fruit crumble for dessert.

We were the only guests in the B&B tonight, and in fact the place doesn’t seem to be set up for very many. We really liked the place. We have had very good lodgings for the past couple of days, places we would gladly go back to if we ever had cause to be in the area again.


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