Miles 15–30, Heddon-on-the-Wall to Chollerford

Breakfast at Houghton North Farm was a social event.
Several walkers had stayed the night at the hostel, and I shared the breakfast room with a couple of Germans, a few Brits, two other Americans and the proprietor, Paula, who regaled us with humorous stories of remodeling the old farmhouse and sarcastic pokes at government regulation. It was an all-you-can eat affair and I stuffed myself with as much cereal, toast, pastry, cheese, yogurt, coffee and juice as I could handle, gearing up for another 15 mile day.

I set out from Heddon-on-the-Wall at 9am. The first several miles of the walk follow pastures, farms and fields of flowers. I got the feeling that late-May and early-June might just be the perfect time of year to walk this wall, for the crowds are minimal and the flowers are numerous.

Much of this portion of the path follows the B6318 roadway and for good reason: The road was built atop Hadrian's Wall. At the time of the wall's construction it was bounded on the north by a deep ditch and on the south by a bumpy earthwork called the “vallum,” both of which strategically provided for an extra line of defense. And though the wall is now buried beneath modern asphalt along this stretch, remnants of the ditches and mounds are still visible today.

Since this portion of the walk (and most of it in general) crosses privately-owned pasture land where sheep and cattle graze, it is necessary to ascend and cross via stiles and gates the stone walls or wooden fences that divide one property from the next. At first this pasture hopping is kind of fun, for no two stiles are exactly the same and each provides its own small challenge. But with a pack on your back and legs getting wobblier the stiles and gates become less charming and just a bit tedious.

Ten miles in I hit the village of Port Gate, which as far as I could tell is simply a crossroads of two small highways. Now paved, this was also a major crossroads for the Romans almost 2000 years ago. There didn’t seem to be much retail in Port Gate beyond the Errington Arms pub, where I stopped for lunch. Having passed many sheep and their little lambs I ordered a lamb burger, which was delicious and undeniably fresh.

Midway into my lunch I was befriended by an 8-year-old named Liam. After discussing Spiderman and the Power Rangers he began to talk to me about “gypsy caravans” and asked if I wanted to meet his horse named Jack. I was somewhat bewildered until he led me around the corner of the pub where his dad, Malcolm, was bridling his horse to an ornately decorated carriage which, apparently, is a gypsy caravan. The three of them and their dog were headed north to the Appleby Horse Fair, a week-long trek in each direction with Jack pulling the entire way.

As I bid him farewell, Malcolm said that I must I dip my toe in the Irish Sea upon completion of my journey. Liam walked me to the stile behind the pub and yelled “Goodbye” as I crested a hill in the distance. I continued through pastures, encountering many sheep and lamb, feeling just a little bit guilty about that lamb burger.

Thirteen miles travelled, my feet were really beginning to ache. I stopped and sat under a tree, overlooking the prominent wall ditch. A fellow walker named Phil stopped and we chatted for a bit. Phil’s plan was to do the entire walk in five days, a notion that seemed a bit crazy to me (and I think to him as well) at this moment.

A mile further the path crosses near St Oswald’s Church, built in honor of King Oswald, an Anglo-Saxon who won an historic battle against the Celts in the 7th century on this site. It has been a point of pilgrammage for Christians since that time and the wooden cross that stands there now is a replica of one erected 1300 years ago.

The long downhill into Chollerford was fairly brutal. I passed the first substantial section of Hadrian’s Wall, but had a hard time garnering much interest. Boy did my feet hurt!

I crossed the 18th century stone bridge over the river Tyne and into the village of Chollerford. Just across the bridge is the aptly named Riverside Campsite, which is really just a large swath of grass in the middle of the village. 100 tents could easily camp there, but tonite it was just Phil and I.

I pitched my tent, took a shower and headed out for dinner. Across the street from the campground is the fairly stately George Hotel. I’d asked a local woman about eating there and she scoffed at its pretension.

So I headed out of town about a mile (more walking!) to the adjacent village of Humshaugh and the more understated Crown Inn pub. There I ran into the two Americans I’d had breakfast with that morning in Heddon-on-the-Wall. They recommended the fish and chips, which were really pretty bland. But the pint of the local bitter went down nicely and numbed my feet just a bit. I ordered another pint and slept well that night.


(Click on images for larger version.)
Field of flowers.
The wall, paved over.
Stiles. Many styles.
Errington Arms pub.
Fresh lamb burger.
Liam, Malcolm and Jack.
Rest stop.
Oswald's cross.
Chollerford bridge.
Riverside Campsite.