When I was twelve, the librarian in my small town suggested I read an author who was writing for a new category of books, young adults. The author she suggested was Rosemary Sutcliff. Miss Sutcliff wrote a series of books that took place in Roman Britain from roughly the years 43 AD to 410 AD. These were the years that Roman soldiers controlled almost the whole of Britain... excepting Scotland and Wales. That's a period of time longer that the English settlement of America and the rise of the United States. And for all the advances the Romans brought... a better diet, paved (and straight) roads, a system of laws, heated floors, hot baths, sanitation... their influence basically disappeared from Britain when they left. Some remmnants of Latin remain in place names. Castra, or "camp" became "Chester," for instance, but they left little behind when they were recalled for the last defense of Rome in 410... except for the roads and the Wall, an 84 mile stretch going from Bowness on Solway on the Irish Sea to Wallsend near the North Sea.
I continued that interest with Roman Britain for over 50 (!) years. Fifteen or twenty years ago, I read in the Boston Globe about a couple that had walked the Wall path, which piqued my interest. Then, in 2003, the path became a national trail and a World Heritage Site.
I had to go. It was like having one of those Japanese cats... the kind that has only one eye and you fill the other in when you have achieved your objective.
That blank eye staring at me... daring me.
But I'm not a lithe and limber twelve year old any more; I'm sixty-three. AND I've had two hip replacements AND I weigh considerably more than I did back then
On my sixty-third birthday, my husband took me out for dinner.
"What would you really like for your birthday?"
"I want to go to England and walk Hadrian's Wall."
He was floored. In fact, he thought I said Adrian's Wall, having never heard of it.
But it was now or never and, at the age of sixty three, the "never" aspect was a real possibility. I had already lived longer than any of my grandparents.
When my husband said "yes" I immediately sent in a down payment on a self guided tour (Celtic Trails) and charged the airline tickets. That was in February. We weren't leaving until September, but I wanted to nail the trip down... and the payments were non-refundable. Celtic Trails were great. They mapped out the trip, made provision for our age and relatively slow rate of walking (ten plus miles a day... which actually turned out to be more, because that wasn't counting getting to the B & Bs). They booked the B & Bs for us and arranged for our luggage to be taken from place to place. All we would be responsible for was a day pack each for supplies on the walk.
We flew to Manchester, barely making the plane from JFK (not our fault! Delta mechanical problems in Portland!!!) We ran onto the plane as they called final boarding. After we got to Manchester, took a train to Newcastle and then took a cab to our first night's hotel in Whitely Bay, a tired old resort town overlooking the North Sea. This was the biggest fumble from Celtic Trails. They couldn't get us into their regular hotel so booked us into a "new" one.
It was stinko. I mean really stinko. It smelled of nasty cleaning fluid. It was so tiny, we could barely get the suitcases in! The room had only two electrical outlets and they were filled with plugsfor a TV, a couple of dim lights and a telephone but the sheets were clean. We were dead tired, having been up for twenty-four hours so we went to bed. We woke up early (five hour time difference), had breakfast and lit out of there, headed for our first days walk. We took the metro to the Wallsend section of Newcastle (Segedunum). That was our starting point. There was a Roman fort on that site two thousand years ago, back when Britain was largely wild forest and thinly settled. Unfortunately, I left my camera packed in the luggage, so no pictures on that first day. But that's OK. Newcastle looks like a more worn version of Boston... all dark and dingy, but they have a great bridge across the River Tyne at the City Center, the Millenium Bridge. It moves! And there's a modernistic silver building on the other side that looks like a giant, reflective slug. This is also the city of "The Angel of the North," a giant rust colored thing that looks like a plane standing on its tail.
So much for Newcastle. We followed the path which follows the Tyne through a lot of not too pretty industrial areas until we got to the Keelsman Lodge in Newburn, which was a welcome sight. It was a first class, well maybe "really comfortable and nice" class of restaurant and hotel... with showers!
Restaurant at Keelman's.
The night's sleep was something else again. Every blessed bone in my body ached. I lay awake for hours. In the morning, I was almost ready to pack it in... I'm too old; too out of shape; too... who knows. But the sun was shining. If the birds were singing, they kept it to themselves. We got put onto the Path again and we were off. A beautiful day and lovely walk along the Tyne.