Today I would be closing a gap in my walking progress around the coastline of Great Britain. I opened up a “second-front” at the Scottish border town of Gretna in May 2016. Since then I have made excellent progress northwards to Arrochar, in the Scottish highlands. Meanwhile, on the English side I have been soldiering-on in single day trips up the English West Coast, getting ever closer to Gretna. I was thinking of making todays walk a two-day jaunt, but decided against it, preferring to save the money otherwise spent on a hotel.
Today I had the added bonus of being able to follow a National Trail, the Hadrian’s Wall Path as far as Carlisle. I have the National Trail guidebook and intend, at some point to complete the path across to Wallsend on the East coast, at least I will have made a start on the section stretching towards Carlisle. The National Trail, more or less follows the route I intended to take anyway. From previous stuff I had read I was not expecting to find much left of Hadrian’s Wall in this neck of the woods. In actual fact I found nothing! I did not even find any evidence of the Vallum ( a 6m x 3m trench) running south of and close to the wall and whose true purpose is not fully understood. In actual fact. I probably did see parts of the wall, but within the many buildings I passed along the way, in the church’s, castle’s and houses. Over the centuries, people had used the ready cut stone of the wall as a cheap available building material.
As we rapidly approach the Winter Solstice, days are at their shortest and I know I must get a move on to get 22 miles in. My logistics to complete this section are quite simple. Drive to and park in Carlisle (£2.50 all day), catch the 6:35 #93A bus to Bowness (£5.60 again that still hurts), walk the route to Gretna, get a bus/ train back to Carlisle (in fact I got the #79 bus back at a cost of £3.50). To get that 6:35 bus I leave Shropshire at the ungodly hour of 02:15. This ia always the hardest part of travelling, the going to bed early, getting up early and then setting off. But the benefits of virtually empty roads and getting a start at the crack of dawn cannot be denied.
I arrive in Bowness at 7:30 and it’s still dark. The irony of starting a walk in the dark to ensure that I do not finish a walk in the dark, is not lost on me. It is my favourite time of the day, but I need to ensure I can be seen as most of the todays walk will be along roads. I don my hi-vis vest, my head-torch set to strobe, I also wear my bicycle lights, which are quite light and have a red-flashing strobe at the back of my head and an additional light on my rucksack. I am like a mobile Christmas Tree!
I walk down a short alleyway to an area known as The Banks, this marks the start/end of the Path as well as the Wall itself. A number of information boards are contained in a small wooden arch building with a lovely mosaic floor depicting wading birds and the words Ave Maia meaning Hail Maia, the name of the fort Bowness was built on.
I begin walking east along the coastal road towards Carlisle, it is still quite dark, but no cars pass me for a few miles. I pass through the small hamlet of Port Carlisle, long since used as a Port. The morning light begins to glow from the east and I can easily make out the lights across the Solway towards Annan and East Riggs. The sky is overcast and grey, but warm and dry. As I pass through Port Carlisle the only noises I hear are from the wading birds on the nearby salt marsh on the Solway. I see a collection of flocks, some large, some small. Some are performing murmurations in a beautiful synchronicity.
The road is very straight, the Roman influence, undoubtedly. I pass various small hamlets before coming into Drumburgh with its distinctive Castle, or more precisely its Bastle (a fortified house and quite common in these borderland areas). The bastle is built of stone taken from the Wall.
I continue along the very straight road all the way into Burgh by Sands. This is quite a strung out village, but has a fine collection of houses. The course of the wall passes through the village, but little evidence is seen of this other than the church of St. Michael’s being built of stone from the wall. St Michael’s has also a fine example of Pele tower, used to offer protection to those seeking shelter in the church during the times of the borderland raids. The church was also the temporary resting place of Edward 1 , who died close-by while waiting to cross the Solway into Scotland.
For the first time today I follow the Path off-road across fields and green lanes to the small village of Beaumont which is situated on the banks of the River Eden. The local church again draws the eye as it is situated on the mound of a former motte and bailey castle, with stone again from the wall. I follow a minor lane down to Kirkandrews-on-Eden, because the adjacent National Train is closed for safety reasons. At Kirkandrews I leave the road again and follow the path across country to the village of Grinsdale. I am about 3 miles from Carlisle, but after walking along the banks of the Eden I reach its first bridging point, the A689 bridge forming part of the Carlisle Northern development Route and only 3 to 4 years old and its time to start heading northish. I walk alongside the busy A689 on a wide footpath until I reach the first roundabout and take the minor road towards Cargo and Rockcliffe. Although the road is not busy, the traffic is moving at quite a pace.
I pass through Rockcliffe and descend down to the banks of the River Eden. The river is quite wide here and although it has some way to go before it enters the Solway, it still continues with its broad meanders. I follow the river out towards Demesne, where if I continued out to Demesne Marsh I could possibly join an earthen sea-wall which would join up with where I was going anyway. Not knowing the state of the sea-wall, I opt to continue on the minor lanes through Rockcliffe Cross to Halltown farm. Here I cross through a muddy field onto a equally muddy lane. For the last 3 miles I have not been able to see a thing, the area is just so flat. Just before I arrive at the farm Garriestown, I get a bit of a shock as a shotgun is discharged about 30 meters away on the other side of some trees. It’s a shooting party of 3 men with their dogs. I’m on a public footpath, but not sure on the legal standing there. I walk around the farm at Garriestown, with its many horses and follow a track down towards a huge metal bridge which crosses the main West Coast rail line.
The view from the railway bridge is excellent; I can make out in the distance the village of Gretna and the River Esk which I will need to cross soon. I walk along the River Esk a short way before coming to the Inn at Metal Bridge. To cross the Esk I need to climb up a small embankment onto a minor road, which runs adjacent to the M6. I now on my final leg as I walk along the verge on the minor road towards Gretna. I eventually join up with the B7076 and walk a short distance before I arrive at the bridge over the River Sark, which marks the border between England and Scotland. I think back to May of this year when I first stood on this bridge and began my Scottish walk. After 6.5 hrs of almost continuous walking I need to rest now; but first I need to get back to Carlisle and my car. Fortunately I have only a short distance to walk and wait for a #79 bus back to Carlisle.
So what next? Well I have now have walked a continuous section from Poole in Dorset to Arrochar in the Scottish Highlands. I intend to continue pressing on up the Scottish west coast, in 2 or 3 day-long trips. In oder to get some day trips in over the coming months I therefore intend to open another second front, starting at Berwick-upon-Tweed and working my way slowly down the east coast of England.
Distance today = 22 miles
Total distance = 2502 miles