Miles 30–42, Chollerford to Once-Brewed

It rained all night and I awoke in a soggy tent.
The weather cleared around 7am, allowing me to strike the tent without getting soaked. Still, the water weight added a few unwanted pounds to my backpack .

Phil and I hit the cafe adjacent to the campground when it opened at 9am. I had a full English breakfast (eggs, toast, bacon, beans, sausage, bread pudding and coffee) which made for a hearty start to the day. (I would, incidentally, grow tired of “full English breakfasts” after two full English weeks. Where’s the damn fruit!?).

A half mile out of Chollerford are the ruins of Chesters Fort, an old Roman post built to protect a spot where Hadrian’s Wall crossed the river Tyne. Today the ruins are fairly substantial, including the outlines of barracks, bases of several gates and an intricate riverside bathhouse that shows just how seriously those Roman soldiers took their, uh, hygeine.

Out of Chesters Fort the path climbed up through several fields and next to intricate and more complete portions of the wall. At one point, while standing next to the wall’s ruins, two British fighter jets flew directly overhead. At first I found this to be an interesting juxtaposition of ancient and modern forms of military defense. When they flew over a second time and then a third, I just found it annoying.

The weather wasn’t bad – high clouds with no rain. Despite the cool temperatures a sweat was easy to break under the constant ups-and-downs of the path. Major portions of this stretch of the wall were built on a ridge, allowing for a natural strategic defense position and making the northern ditch unnecessary. The winds on this day were cold and blowing briskly out of the north and across the ridge, but the wall made for a decent windbreak.

The constant dips and rises of this ridge walk (including a place called “Sycamore Gap” featured in Kevin Costner’s Robin Hood) made for a long, though scenic, day. At times I got so tired that I no longer bothered walking around or stepping over the piles of sheep poop, I just walked right through them.

Fortunately I found it easy to pace myself, for I always knew just how far I’d gone that day and just how far I had to go. When the Romans built the wall, they installed a series of small castles spaced a mile apart called (duh) “milecastles”. Evenly spaced between these milecastles were two turrets. The remains of many of these milecastles and turrets still exist on this well-preserved stretch of the path, so my day’s progress was easily measured in turrets and milecastles, piles of rocks spaced a third of a mile apart.

Another significant landmark is the Roman fort of Housesteads, notable not only for its extensive ruins but also as the only portion of the wall atop which people are allowed to walk.

After twelve miles of up and downs, I made my final descent into the valley village of Once-Brewed at 7pm, stopping first at the Twice-Brewed Inn (confusing, huh?) to make sure they were still serving food. Fortunately they were because I was famished.

Unlike the previous two days there had been no pub stops along this high ridge portion of the path. In fact if I hadn't stocked up on candy and nuts at the petrol (gas) station in Chollerford, I'd likely have been grazing with the sheep!

I pitched my tent at the Winshields Farm Campsite, the massive front lawn of an old stone farmhouse overlooking a hillside dotted with sheep. Phil had arrived an hour earlier and was brewing coffee and waiting to see if I’d made it down alive. I quickly showered and the two of us headed to the pub for dinner where we ate and drank like Roman soldiers – soup, steak pie, toffee pudding with custard and several pints of bitter.

That night not even the cackling crows camped in the trees above my tent could keep me from sleeping like a baby.


(Click on images for larger version.)
Chesters Fort gate.
Chesters Fort bathhouse.
Cloudy skies.
Wall on the ridge.
An ancient windbreak.
Ups and downs and ups and...
Sycamore Gap.
Milecastle gate.
Turret ruin.
Walking ON the wall.
Winshields Farm Campsite.