If you’ve ever gone for a walk of a proper length and you are of the persuasion geek, it is likely that you have allowed your imagination to craft a truly remarkable story of your trek. It could have been the most uneventful outing and yet, in your mind it was a story filled with dangers, encounters with magical creatures, and punctuated with a triumphant denouement. This past Thursday I took a fifteen mile hike around Hadrian’s Wall with three companions and the story and characters we came up with during our journey were just as exhilarating as the gorgeous views we took in. What follows is a brief chronicle of our adventure wherein four motely museum students journey into the wilds of the northeast in search of adventure.
In a college in Durham there lived a student. Now, unlike many of her fellow students, she had a taste for adventure and for knowing what was beyond the mound that stood at the centre of small, close-knit community. Now choosing to go on an epic adventure is not often within reach of many students who often find themselves too concerned with finishing their next paper or studying for an exam to look and dream at the world outside their tiny study bedrooms. I guess I just happen to be one of the lucky ones.
A few weeks before I had put out a call to several of my closest companions asking if any would be willing to join me on an adventure to find Hadrian’s Wall. In the end, three answered the call, Alex, Erin, and Jeremy were prepared to take on the challenge of finding this mysterious wall, which if I’m at all honest is included in many maps of the north of England and has been the subject of books and documentaries. There was a difference though. I had not yet found it, so it was still waiting to be discovered (sort of).
It was Thursday last when we decided to embark upon our journey. That morning I readied my pack: two bottles of water, a map, a guidebook, eggs of the devilish variety, and a ploughman’s sandwich. I tossed in some sunscreen as well (+2 against sun damage) and put on my new trainers. I was due to meet my companions at the station. From there we would take the train to Newcastle and then to Corbridge. We would visit the ruins of a Roman town and then northwards to the wall. I had initially believed it to be a shortish walk of a mere five miles. The truth would be very different indeed.
At the station I met Erin and Alex. We chatted briefly before a train arrived at our platform. We looked around but there was no sign of our fourth party member, Jeremy.
“Is this our train?” I asked.
“Yeah,” replied Erin.
We looked at each other. Already our journey was beginning with a difficult decision. Do we press on or wait in the hopes that our compatriot would arrive? We were on a tight schedule for the second train out of Newcastle and decided we could not wait. Alex sent out a message to our lost friend and we boarded the train and took our seats.
The trip to Newcastle was a mere fifteen minutes. When we arrived we had less than ten minutes to find the train to Corbridge. Thankfully we did not have far to walk. As we took our seats on the next train, Alex received word that Jeremy had just missed the train and would get on the next one. He would be roughly an hour and a half behind us but we planned to rendezvous at the Roman town.
The countryside rolled by our window, country I had never seen before. The River Tyne was never far away and the three of us chatted pleasantly about travel, careers, and going back home after university. Sooner than I expected we had reached the tiny station at Corbridge. We disembarked and the first leg of our journey was complete.
We journeyed toward the town and crossed the beautiful and somewhat redundantly named Corbridge Bridge. The warm, summer air filled our lungs and the sun glinted on the River Tyne as though it were filled with Her Majesty’s most precious sapphires. We were already enjoying ourselves. We felt rid of the obligations of coursework and the small considerations of daily life. We were free.
The town of Corbridge is delightfully small but filled with quaint cafes, bakeries, and a fairly impressive inn. Had we not a quest to complete, I think we all would have taken the afternoon to explore a few of the tea shops and perhaps had a pub lunch at the Angel of Corbridge. As it was we had plans and we began by finding a wooded path that ran beside the river.
The path was green and inviting with the river on the left and a field of sheep on our right. When we reached the end, we found ourselves in the driveway of a lovely stone house. It was the first time that Erin pulled her map out of her pack. She would prove to be a most excellent navigator throughout the day. We discovered that we had circled right around the Roman town and if we continued to follow the driveway it would bring us to the main road and we could enter the site from there. The sun was hot and I was already sweating from the walk, but it didn’t matter. My ears were filled with bird songs and I was delighted to be sharing my day with my friends.
We finally arrived at the road that would lead us to the Roman town. A bright white English Heritage flag fluttered in the refreshing breeze and from the car park we spotted the archaeological remains of the site. We entered the small museum and paid our £5. Before entering the museum, we sampled some of the wines on offer in the shop. I do recommend the Elderflower.
As we wandered through the exhibits it became clear that our year as museum students had changed us. I was concerned less with looking at objects and reading labels and more with the readings on the RH monitors, the case lighting, and the thematic groupings within the exhibition. As we wandered from case to case our conversation turned to matters of conservation and metal corrosion.
We reached the end of the exhibition and found ourselves reunited with our lost companion. Jeremy had managed to take a more direct route through town to the site and our crew was now complete. We wandered outside among the ruins for ten or so minutes. It was odd that four archaeologists should be looking off to the north towards our quest rather than at our feet where some of the richest examples of Roman life in the wild north could be found. We realised it was time to press onward to our goal.
We set off following the main road, hoping to find a path along the A68 which would take us directly to the Hadrian’s Wall Path. We had been reassured by the manager of the museum that this would be possible but as circumstances would have it, we had been badly misled. We meandered through a housing development before coming to a middle school when Erin again pulled out her trusty map. To the left we discovered a foot path and we followed that as far as we could go until we reached a country road that went under the A68.
As we rounded a bend we saw a beautiful horse hitched up near the road lazily munching on some loose hay. Beyond him was a wooden gypsy caravan painted brightly red where a man and woman were sitting near a smoldering fire. A kettle hung over the ashes and as we past the smoky bouquet or campfire filled my nostrils. Instantly memories of every camping trip I had ever been on flooded my mind. As we walked out of earshot I remarked to my companions, “Truly that is one of the best smells on Earth” They agreed.
Not long after leaving the gypsy camp, we reached a stream which rushed past the road. A Land Rover was in the midst of crossing it as we approached and judging from the large splash, it was a deeper stream than we would have initially believed. Could our crew make it across this flowing death trap?
Roll for initiative.
Luckily there was a footbridge to the left of the road and if I am completely honest, the water wasn’t quite so deep or quite so rushing. But it felt like we were finally having an adventure. We had encountered gypsies brewing a magic potion and had crossed a torrent of water. What else would lie ahead on our quest?