Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Day 2 In which Robin Hood looks suspiciously like Errol Flynn

The Swan along the Hadrian's Wall Path
I will digress for a short history lesson. The Wall was built and repaired over four centuries, probably starting around 122AD and in use until the Roman legions left. The main purpose was to stop the raids from the Scots and the Picts who came down from the north. It was built when that part of Britain was still wild and woolly. Some parts, the Crags, for instance, still are. It was originally built of roughly quarried stone and rose to a height of twenty feet in some places. A deep ditch called the Vallum ran alongside. As the centuries passed, the stones of the Wall were taken and used to build monasteries, houses, and other stone walls. Sometimes so little remains that its very hard to see where it was and in some places... the Military Road, the B6318... the Wall was paved over. We began to see brief signs of the Wall in the area we were walking today.

It was a relief to get out of the urban areas and out into the country side. The only downside was this was one of the parts that got paved over, so we ended up walking alongside a narrow and VERY busy highway with cars passing by at a very fast clip. And on the left. I almost got clipped myself crossing a road. I looked right, left, right as I was taught, not even thinking about it. I started across when... wham... a truck (OK, lorry) came shooting around the curve. Note to self... it's left, right, left in this country.

When we were in Newcastle, we met two girls, well, actually women, who were walking the Wall. This group, the Wall Walkers, is a dead give-away to spot. They are the ones wearing day packs, hiking boots, maps and guide books; everybody else has on business clothes or suburban casual. The "Girls" were friendly. Distant cousins;  they were walking the Wall on their vacation. They were also thirty years younger and faster than we were, but we kept meeting up with them along the way. At one point they had taken a turn that led them three miles astray and STILL they were ahead of us!

If you look carefully, you can see that the path is mown. We met one of the mowers... that's all he does... he mows a section of the Path. When he is done, he takes his mower and starts over... all season long. This mown path is very handy, as it keeps you moving in the right direction. It's no fun getting lost when you're tired and all you've got to depend on are your two legs!

The Girls...

We found a pub along the way and had a sandwich. I found the more I walked, the less I wanted to eat, especially during the day. My body just didn't want to carry all that weight around, I guess.
 I was struck by how agricultural this part of England was. We were mostly walking through fields and pasture, with acres of wheat and some other crops (millet?) growing and being harvested. But get out of the way of those tractors. These men needed to work and get the harvest in. They meant business. Get out of the way you feckless Wall Walkers!
At around 3:00 p.m. we got to a landmark... the Robin Hood Inn. The slightly dilapidated sign outside showed Errol Flynn in his Robin Hood guise, c. 1938.

And who should be there enjoying a cup of tea, but the Girls. They didn't stay long... they were headed off to a B & B five miles down the road. We knew from our Celtic Trail guide that our B & B, Matfen High House, (1735) was a mile off the trail. So we said,
"Hey! Let's have a pint of bitter!"
 Big mistake! The body starts to relax; it says, "OK, I'm done!"
But I had to tell it... "Oh, no... you've got to schlep another mile."
And it wasn't happy. "Do I have to?" it whined.
We walked down a weed choked path... and got lost! We could SEE the damn place... or where we thought was it but couldn't get over the fences... so we backtracked a half mile... groused... grumped... recriminations flying... and called the B & B. "Oh, everyone knows to take the path through the wood," our hostess said. Hah! It doesn't SAY "Take the path!" But a hot shower and a bit of lie-down helped and in a little bit, we were taken back to the Robin Hood for dinner.

Matfen High House...

The Robin Hood had recently changed hands. I mean RECENTLY. They didn't know what they were doing. We had an edible meal... barely... and a new waitress who was so new to the job that she didn't know how to take a credit card. Frank had to show her. And this is probably as good a time as any to talk about the North Country accent. Tonight's hostess, Mrs. Struan of Matfen High House fame spoke what she proudly called "BBC English." This also set her apart from the locals.  Mrs. Struan was one of the horsey set and my guess was most of the proceeds from the B & B  went to the upkeep of those expensive nags.
Anyway, there is a Northumbrian accent called "Geordie" derived from the early Anglian (not "Anglican"... Anglian!) settlers in the region. At it's thickest, it is unintelligible to the American ear. Our waitress had a thick one.
"What? Could you say that again?"
We finally figured out what she was saying. And it's funny. She could understand US much better than we could understand her.  The influence of American TV and movies? Probably.
Mrs. Struan picked us up and and took us back to the B & B for a GOOD night's rest. Finally!
The following morning started off with a "full English Breakfast," something we became very familiar with in the course of our trek:  eggs, "bacon" (more like pieces of Canadian bacon) grilled tomatoes, mushrooms (yum!) and some nasty sausage, especially the stuff called "black pudding" which was made from blood and sage. Bleh! The other guests that morning were interesting... an elderly Danish couple, very formally dressed who had spent some time in Boston (he was a banker) and a photographer for the National Geographic on assignment to photograph Vindolanda, the remains of a Roman fort.
Then we were off for the day... rested, refreshed and rairin' to go.

Next stop... Hallbarns in Simonburn and we meet Margaret!

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