Hadrian’s Wall Day 1

Low Row to Greenhead  12 miles total (8 Wall miles)

Still a bit jet-lagged, we woke at 5:00AM. That gave us plenty of time to relax, put our day packs together, double check our maps and plans for the day before breakfast at 7:45. Properly fortified with sausages, eggs, mushrooms, tomatoes, and toast, we were out the door before 9:00. The weather was sunny, but surprisingly cold (to me– Craig was neither surprised nor cold.) English “summer” was not what I had expected, but I did gain some insight as to why Craig is generally about one degree from a heat stroke. Fortunately, I had stocked up on fleeces and got myself a jacket before we left Teesside.  I layered myself up, and off we set.

We walked to town and got our bearings then headed west to Lanercost Priory, which consisted of ruins, a functioning church, and a very creepy, overgrown cemetery. We got there about half an hour before it opened, so we strolled around looking at headstones (the ones that weren’t hidden in the jungle-like foliage) and talked to some other early birds after spending as much time in the tiny church which is still in operation. The priory didn’t hold our attention for long once it opened, but I was able to get my English Heritage Overseas Visitor pass and book, which was an amazing value and worthy of its own post. We looked at the crumbling walls and tombs in the floor, but we were eager to get to the Wall.

It looked much creepier in real life.

There's an operating church in there.

The Hadrian’s Wall path is well-marked with wooden signposts marked with an acorn, so we couldn’t really get lost. However, we were still on our way to joining the path. So, we got lost. In our defense, there was a sign marking an area as public access land. Someone forgot to tell the farmer, though. We ended up climbing over a barbed-wire fence, slogging through waist-high wheat, and fording a stream before eventually cutting through a barn to get back to the road, and the correct path. The swath of flattened wheat clearly showed it was not so much the road less taken as the road less convenient.

Clearly this is public access land...

As soon as we got back on the road, we ran into a local who pointed us in the right direction to Birdoswald Fort. She let us know there was a coffee hut (honor system) and a bathroom. So, despite having only walked about an hour or so, we took a break. The bathroom turned out to be a port-a-potty hidden from the road, but fully stocked with tp, paper towels, soap, and running water. Not bad!

A bit pricy for coffee mix and hot water, but I was probably paying for some deadbeats.

While enjoying our not-yet-well-earned break, we met the first walker carrying his gear. Now, let me back up to where I said we packed day packs. For £5 per day per bag, our luggage was taken from one B&B to the next. Some days, the staff  moved them into our rooms before we arrived, others left them at the desk for us to collect, but our bags arrived before us every afternoon. For five pounds each. I realize some people were camping along the way, but I think I would have arranged to have my luggage forwarded to the campsite. Craig and I agreed that it would have been a much different and less-pleasant trip if we had had to carry everything.

But I digress. Coffee finished, we set back out and as we walked, there were ever-more frequent and dire-sounding warnings about the protective mothers in one paddock and alternate routes carefully pointed out. By the final sign, I was expecting, “Abandon all hope…” We had been amusing ourselves by musing over just how angry some farmer’s cows must be. As it turned out, pretty angry. In hindsight, it didn’t seem like the farmer had exaggerated much at all. We kept our heads down, eyes averted, and crossed the field at an impressive clip.

We risked being attacked by cows for this.

Well, if they are going to leave it chair height...

We walked for about four hours, then looked down the hill... at Low Row.

We reached Birdoswald Fort and spent quite a bit of time looking at the remains of the most-intact portion of the Wall. Once we left there, we passed a number of relatively intact milecastles and turrets.

Birdoswald Fort

Our last stop of the day was more of a brief distraction than an actual destination. Thirwell Castle was next to Holmhead B&B, our accommodation for the night. The castle was in ruins and there weren’t enough information signs to keep us occupied for long. We poked around, took a few photos, then walked the last 50m or so to the B&B. Holmhead, like many buildings in the area, had been built using stones pilfered from the Wall. It’s builders went the further step of building it ON the Wall’s foundation. It was not nearly so grand as Denton Farmhouse, but we had a lovely view of sheep and cows.

More a sign post to the B&B than a destination in itself.

Our window is the top left.

As it turned out, the nearest restaurant was halfway between Holmhead and Craig’s aunt’s former house. During The War, Craig’s father was evacuated to his aunt’s house, where he learned not to play with matches. The lesson was learned at the expense of a forest. He was sent packing. Apparently, the neighbors decided he could fend for himself. Anyway, she passed away several decades ago, but Craig had visited her home as a child and we had nothing better to do, so we walked over there to see how the place had changed.

We ended up spending twenty minutes or so talking to a current resident and volunteer Wall ranger (or whatever they call park rangers in England). I’m pretty sure he saw us taking pictures of his building and just wanted to get a good look at us in case anybody got robbed, but he was pretty interesting and filled Craig in on the timeline of the many changes which had been made over the years.

No one here remembers Craig's father burned down the forest.

After a long chat, we said our goodbyes, got photographic evidence that the forest had regrown, and headed to the Greenhead Hotel for dinner.

Day 0 Low Row

Day 2: Greenhead to Twice Brewed

Day 3 Twice brewed to Chollerford

Day 4 Chollerford… to Chollerford