||DAY FIVE: SUNDAY, JUNE 1, 2008
Miles 5066, Greenhead to Crosby
It poured rain on me today.
The morning started out nicely enough, though I had forgotten to zip my tent up all the way the night before and awoke to face full of midges. The sky was bright and I headed down to the Greenhead pub for the full-English breakfast I had pre-ordered the previous night.
After breakfast I walked the mile back to the path, passing by some Greenhead locals out for an early stroll. This section of the path follows some interesting portions of the wall, especially at the River Irthing, where remains of a bridge (both Roman and medieval) can still be seen.
I arrived at Birdoswald's Fort just as the rains began to fall. The small museum at Birdoswald made for a welcome refuge. The exhibit tracks the history of the site, which has been in continual use since the time of Hadrian. On display is a replica of a portion of the wall and a turret, staffed with somewhat kitschy life-sized replicas of Roman soldiers.
There is also a short audio presentation in which I learned for the first (and only) time that Hadrian was gay. Who knew?!
The museum and gift shop were filling up with tourists looking to escape from the rain, so I went outside to look around the partially excavated Roman and medieval ruins, which I had all to myself.
I was hungry, wet and cold, so I stepped back into the museum and had a cup of coffee and a delicious piece of gingerbread. I was hoping, too, to wait out the rain, but to no avail. It just kept coming down.
I continued down the path, which was almost totally deserted. It was muddy as I passed through pastures and woods. Because it was wet and a bit cold, it was incredibly peaceful and I passed by only two other groups of hikers all day.
Eight miles in, at a little road crossing called Haytongate, the owners of a small farmhouse situated just off the path have turned their little backyard shed into a self-service refreshment bar. It was a welcome shelter from the rain.
I hung my socks up to dry and made myself a cup of instant coffee. Lining the walls of the shed are dozens of notes of gratitude from passers-by, thanking the proprietors for this welcome reprieve.
I wrote a note, recounting my previous night's conversation with the bartender who suggested that I had jinxed myself by daring to mention the lack of rain. Right he was.
A mile out of Haytongate I crossed a bridge just down the hill from the town of Walton. I peered down and saw a series of stacked rocks following the stream bed in a perfectly straight line. As I stopped to take a photo an old man approached me and asked about my journey. I in turn asked the old man (who was "born and bred in Walton") about the rocks. "Ah," he said mysteriously, "the locals never tell, it's for YOU folks to wonder."
I asked him if the stone piles ever get washed away. "All the time," he said. "In fact these were just stacked today." I have a feeling that this old guy might be the responsible party!
We discussed his town of Walton and what was there. "Just a pub," he replied sadly. "There used to be more: a school, a store, a filling station, but things have changed. People have moved on."
As we parted ways he said to me, "I don't suppose you want a ride up the hill?"
"No. I have to walk the whole thing."
I climbed up the hill and into Walton where I found the Centurion Pub. The sign out front said that they served food (as is standard in rural England) from noon to 3pm and 6pm to 9pm. It was four o'clock.
I was really hungry and might've looked rather pathetic when I asked the busty woman working at the bar if it would be possible to get some food. "What do you want? Soup and sandwich?"
"Yeah, that would be great!"
I ordered a pint of bitter and she brought me a tuna sandwich and a piping hot bowl of mystery soup. I sat in the dark yet appealing pub, near a fire and a pair of walkers whom I had seen a couple times in previous days. They were staying the night in the pub's upstairs inn and thought I was a fool for camping in the wetness.
As I left the pub the rain had finally stopped and the early evening was very pleasant. I had a decision to make: camp in the Sandysike Farm campsite right outside of town, or take advantage of the dry weather and make a break for the village of Crosby, six miles down the path. I was feeling good with a belly full of hot mystery soup, so I decided to head for Crosby.
The walk to Crosby was quiet and peaceful. I had passed the final visible portion of Hadrian's Wall just outside of Walton, and the walk was mostly through rugged pastureland.
Just outside of Crosby there was a sign near the path advertising the Blue Bell Camping Barn. I didn't know what a "camping barn" was, but my options were limited so I sought it out. I walked up a tree-lined path and into a clearing that looked like something out of a Jane Austen novel. The large two-story brick house did not resemble something that I would call a "camping barn". But I knocked on the door and a friendly man named Mark answered apologetically with a mouth full of food.
"Hi, I'm looking for a place to pitch my tent for the night."
"Oh, you can just pitch it on the front lawn," Mark said casually, as he pointed to his well-manicured yard.
"Okay, great. And what if I need to use a, uh, toilet..."
"Oh, right," Mark said, as if he'd never thought of this. "Well I suppose you could use the one in the camping barn."
He grabbed a key and we walked through their courtyard, past beautiful old white-washed brick guesthouses and to the camping barn.
"You know," Mark said, "no one's staying here tonight, why don't you just use the camping barn. Don't make a mess and you can just pay us the six pounds we charge to pitch a tent."
It sounded good to me, especially after I saw the "barn", which is in fact a solid two-story brick structure which has been thoroughly converted and modernized into a lodge. It could easily sleep 20 people, has two bathrooms, two kitchens and even a TV. Mark gave me the keys and told me to help myself to coffee and the milk in the fridge.
I took a shower, hung up my wet clothes and walked the half-mile into town to the scenic Stag Inn. The pub was lively at 9pm on a Sunday evening, full of young couples, families and wine-swilling older folk. I had a hearty lasagna bolognese and two pints of bitter and headed back to the comfort of the Blue Bell "Camping Barn" which I had all to myself. I slept soundly... warm and dry.
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