Our band of merry travelers, weary from walking through pastures and from the constant presence of sheep find themselves mysteriously on the forest moon of Endor where they decide to stop for lunch and potentially a tangle with Imperial troops garrisoned ahead.
After passing through a wooden gate we found ourselves in the middle of a shady forest filled with conifers. The air was cool and thick and I was convinced that at any moment a fuzzy Ewok would pop out of a fallen tree stump and begin to poke us with spears. It was quiet and still. The perfect place for lunch.
We settled into a nearby tree and began to unpack our food. My sandwich had not fared well in my pack and it tasted rather off. Thankfully the deviled eggs were perfect. We ate in relative quiet glancing around every now and then in case we spotted any scout troopers.
As we munched happily Alex confessed to us, “You know, at the beginning of this year I never would have thought that I’d be here doing this with you guys”
We all cracked jokes in response remarking that none of us could have known we’d somehow make it to Endor. Truthfully, we all felt the same as Alex. We had begun as strangers a year ago and now we were all friends whose personal stories were inextricably woven together. We had been through difficult papers, each had setbacks and moments where the goal seemed unreachable. Now we were nearing the end of our time together and we found ourselves on the edge of a grove of conifers sharing a small adventure together. We returned to our contemplative silence as we finished our lunch.
The route through Endor was muddy and my new trainers had not fared well by the time we emerged from the trees. I rubbed my shoe on the grass in the next field but I knew it was in vain. I resigned myself to a fate of scrubbing them off in the shower later that evening.
The sun was still high in the summer sky though it was now veering toward the west preparing for a lazy trek toward the horizon. We found a sign along the main road which promised a tea shop ahead. We all looked at each other.
So that was what the mysterious entry on the map had meant. It was fairly obvious I suppose but it could have meant anything. An abbreviation of some sort or perhaps…alright, it had been fairly obvious all along. The sign listed the hours and our hearts sunk when we realised we would reach it just minutes after it closed for the evening. We imagined a diminutive, old lady with a kind face turning us away gently with an “I’m terribly sorry, my dears.” What we couldn’t know was that this same kindly woman was in fact a Tea Witch who could transform herself into a muscular, bearded biker at will and would close the shop early to hop on her hog and ride off into parts unknown.
Sorry to interrupt this story, but you should know that at this point we had been hiking at least ten miles and our stories were beginning to grow more strangely with each step.
As we entered into yet another field of sheep, we found our way ahead blocked by one of the creatures. Surely it would move eventually. As we neared it continued to stand in the path staring us down with a boldness that defied its race. It had to have been enchanted perhaps by this self same Tea Witch who had only moments before zoomed by us on her motorbike hellbent on denying us our hot drinks by closing the shop early. We got within ten feet of the bewitched creature before it decided to gambol away towards the rest of his compatriots.
Incidentally, we had all engaged in a detailed discussion of whether sheep hop earlier in the day. It was decided, based upon Jeremy’s knowledge of sheep that they don’t hop but gambol.(I’m not entirely sure how extensive Jeremy’s knowledge of sheep is, but I was prepared to take his word on the subject as a Yorkshireman.)
We finally reached the tea shop where we would turn off from the path and head south to the town of Hexham. We bade Hadrian and his wall farewell as we began the four mile trek back toward civilisation. The country road we traversed was much the same as the one we had used to find the wall path from Corbridge. As we discussed the merits of British sunscreen we turned to notice that a vehicle was coming up behind us. Our group quickly split and dashed into the weeds on either side of the lane. We just had time to glimpse the fair Maiden in the White Ford as she smiled and waved at us all. A cheerier maid you would not wish to meet.
The way was getting more difficult as our legs began to tire and our water reserves became depleted. Hexham seemed remarkably out of reach and I began to wonder if perhaps we should have asked the Maiden in the White Ford for a lift into town. Erin began to lag behind as she reached once more for her map.
“Guys, if we take this path to the left, we’ll save ourselves a fair bit of walking,” she said. We turned and looked over and found a public footpath. Once more our navigator saved the day. We entered into the heavily wooded path and through a gate across one last field. After climbing off of a rather steep stone wall we eventually found ourselves at a busy roundabout. This would be the most perilous part of our journey as we had to dodge cars and lorries which whizzed by at dizzying speeds. Luckily a kind Mercedes let us pass and we were on the main road into Hexham.
Hexham was not as fair a town as Corbridge had been that morning. Corbridge. Corbridge felt as distant in time and space as the town I had grown up in. Had it even been a real place or had we all dreamed it? I thought of Crobridge Bridge as we crossed the River Tyne at Hexham. The river was still that beautiful sapphire blue though a layer of white spume had grown up where the water churned around several submerged rocks.
We arrived at the tiny station with fifteen minutes to spare before the train would arrive to carry us away back to Newcastle and then onward to Durham. After Jeremy had done battle with the ticket machine and lost to the tune of one bank card, we wandered over to our platform and collapsed on the bench.
We had arrived at the end of our adventure. We had succeeded in finding Hadrian’s Wall Path and solving the mystery of the teas. We had met gypsies, forded a rushing stream, visited the forest moon of Endor, defeated enchanted sheep, avoided the Tea Witch, and had encountered the Maiden in the White Ford. We had seen the wonders of Corbridge and been to a Roman town, we had found our way through pastures and forests. We had had a truly wonderful adventure. It was everything and more of what I had hoped it would be. The best part of it was sharing the day with my companions. As we came to the parting of the ways we all promised to band together once more to tackle another quest soon. Believe me it can’t come soon enough.