Only yesterday, Judith and I were sitting outside in the hazy sunshine, saying how nice it was to see the garden again. The first green shoots of grass were appearing and the miniature daffodils were pushing their way upwards. In the field below and alongside the track to our chalet, several Spring Meadow Saffron flowers had appeared. But then, overnight, we had another 15cm / 6″ of snow and we awoke to the scenes below. That makes a full 5 months of the white stuff and, I have to say, we can’t wait for Spring to really start!
Over the years my friends and I have done many long distance paths in the UK, such as Wainwright’s Coast to Coast, the Pembrokeshire Coastal Path, Offa’s Dyke Path and the West Highland Way to name but a few. But this section of Hadrian’s Wall path must be the flattest and most boring we’ve ever encountered.
I shouldn’t criticise it too much as there are a few things along the way (like a café, a pub and a Nature Reserve) and the American couple who we met walking the other way thought it was fabulous – though of course they hadn’t reached the interesting bits yet. Just check out the Route Map photos below and you will see that it simply follows the line, either in the fields to the left or to the right, of the B6318. I rest my case.
So, if anyone out there is thinking of doing this Path then, unless you have a strong desire to complete the whole thing, then I’d simply recommend starting in Brampton and finishing at Housesteads (or vice versa). Note however that there is very infrequent and seasonal public transport from/to Housesteads, so you may have to do what my friend Liam did and walk to (or from) the Red Lion at Newbrough. Together with an overnight stop in Greenhead that would make a fabulous weekend, or 2 day, walk of around 23 miles, or 28 miles if you finish or start at Newbrough (where there is a regular bus service, no. X85, to/from Newcastle).
My mate Pete is a Master when it comes to organising our trips. Everything was booked and in place by October last year, but then, in January, not one, but two of our B&Bs cancelled (due to refurbishment of their bedrooms)! There are not many places to stay on or near the route but, of course, Pete was up to the challenge and he promptly rearranged for us to stay at two different places.
The first was to stay in Greenhead rather than Haltwhistle. This helped in a way, as we would have had to walk off the route to get to Haltwhistle, BUT it did mean that it would add another 2 or 3 miles to our, already long, third day, making it at least 20 miles long. A quick look at the contours on the map told me that this was going to be a very up and down day and, with a 7kg (15.5 lb) pack on your back, it would easily be equivalent to doing a marathon (for which I was certainly not prepared!)
The second change was that the owner of our expected accommodation in the village of Wall offered to pick us up from there and drive us to (and back from) one of his other pubs in Newbrough, which was 5 miles away. (Clearly we were not planning on walking that far off the route!) Again this turned out to be a blessing in disguise as the Red Lion was very comfortable, also had our, by now, favourite beer, called “Ale Caesar” and they served up the best food we tasted all week. 🙂 Not only that but, Liam was suffering from a chest infection, so after reaching Housesteads (about 10 miles or half way in) he made the strategic decision to take the ‘short cut’ directly to Newbrough. However, this still involved going to the top of what turned out to be the last hill at Sewingshields Crags and then walking 4 to 5 miles along the road to Newbrough.
Meanwhile, Pete and I soldiered on (I hope you got the pun there) a further 10 miles along what was thankfully a fairly flat path running alongside the B6318 to Walwick and Collerford, before the path turned south to Wall. The only thing that kept me going was Pete’s promise of a beer in the appropriately name Hadrian Hotel in Wall. Cheers Pete! 🍻 😀
You may have noticed a distinct lack of Wall in my pictures yesterday. That’s because evidence of the remaining Wall doesn’t really start until around 29 miles in from the Solway Coast. So I’ll make up for that today with quite a few images, together with a couple of information boards with artist impressions of what the original Wall might have looked like.
Our second day started in Brampton and finished at the very warm and welcoming Greenhead Hotel. In total we covered about 15 miles, which included the 2 miles we had to walk back to the official route at Newtown and a detour of about a mile to the excellent café at Lanercost Priory. We were very grateful that we hadn’t planned to do the walk the week before, as evidence of the recent snows was there to be seen as we headed, gradually ascending, towards the Pennines.
Almost 2,000 years ago, in AD 122 to be precise, the Roman Emperor Hadrian ordered the building of a wall all the way across Britain, from Bowness-on-Solway in Cumbria to the appropriately named, Wallsend on the river Tyne (near Newcastle). Alongside runs a deep trench called the Vallum and Hadrian’s Wall was made a World Heritage site in 1987. For that time, it must have been an incredible feat of engineering, not to mention a lot of back-breaking work. They completed the 73 miles of wall, which looks to have been about 8 feet thick and contained several turrets or look-out towers along its route, as well as a fort at Housesteads (see Day 3), in under 10 years.
Once the Roman Empire crumbled, so did the Wall, as a lot of the stones were removed to build other structures, like the Lanercost Priory (see Day 2), various nearby farmsteads and no doubt other walls. But some of the central and most remote sections remain visible today. So it’s not surprising that there is a recognised long distance path (of around 86 miles) which attracts keen walkers from all around the world.
For logistical reasons, my ex-running mates Pete, Liam and I decided to start our journey in Carlisle (about 14 miles in from the west coast) and finish at Heddon-on-the Wall, which is 15 miles short of Wallsend in the east. Our day 1 proved to be a good ‘warm up’ of around 12 miles, from Carlisle to Brampton (where we detoured off the route to find excellent B&B accommodation at the Howard Arms). The going was a little damp underfoot, but dry above and relatively flat all the way.
On our final full day in Sicily, we decided to explore the lagoons of the Vendicari Nature Reserve. As well as resident and migrating birds, the reserve is where you’ll also find the remains of an old ‘tonnara’ or tuna processing plant.
Our flight home wasn’t until late afternoon the following day so, on the way to the airport, we called in at the Maddelana peninsular – to check out the lighthouses (of course 🙂 ). From there you also get a great view of the ancient city of Syracuse across Porto Grande bay.
Before travelling to Sicily we’d read that Calamosche beach was one of the best in Sicily, if not one of the best in Italy. So we had to visit but, sadly, we were disappointed. Firstly, there a very bumpy track to get to the parking area and, we didn’t mind but, some may not fancy the 1.2k walk to get to the beach, but the beach itself was covered in (presumably) washed up rubbish and piles of dried seaweed leaves. There was only one small area where we could enter the sea without walking or swimming amongst the leaves. (Yes, Judith and I are crazy enough to go swimming in the Med. in March!)
A by far better beach is Marianelli, which can be reached by a slightly better track and a much prettier walk, from an entrance off the main road maybe half a mile or 800m further north, towards Noto. It’s a much longer beach and the sand gently shelves away into the crystal clear water.
Be warned though that you might be sharing the beach with some naturists.
Situated about 10 km inland from the current town of Noto is the old town, originally called Netum or Neetum, but now known as Noto Antica. In 1693 the town was completely destroyed by an earthquake and an eyewitness is quoted as saying (in Italian obviously):
“Then came an earthquake so horrible and ghastly that the soil undulated like the waves of a stormy sea, and mountains danced as if drunk, and the city collapsed in one miserable moment killing more than a thousand people.”
Apart from a little cosmetic reconstruction to the main entrance and tower (to make it safe and to encourage visitors) and a ‘new’ monument in the centre, the site has been left to decay naturally. So much so that there is virtually nothing left to see. Indeed I have to say that I was a little underwhelmed by the ruins (or lack of them) given the apparent size of the original town. However I was very impressed to see the number of wild flowers and butterflies that have taken full advantage of the very peaceful and undisturbed terrain.
We returned via the Cavagrande del Cassibile nature reserve, which boasts the most impressive canyon that I’ve ever seen (having never been to the U.S. Grand Canyon). In previous years, visitors could walk to the bottom and bathe in the natural pools, but a recent fire (in 2014) and subsequent landslide means this option is currently closed.
There’s only so much snow that a person can take and, after 3 months of looking at the white stuff, my wife, Judith, was in need of a break. In previous years, we’ve driven over the Simplon Pass to the Italian Lakes, but the forecast for that area wasn’t great, so the decision was made to fly further south, to Sicily.
If nothing else, the internet is a fantastic resource for finding accommodation and we booked ourselves into the delightfully peaceful Terra dei Limone agriturismo, near Noto, in the south east corner of Sicily.
As regular readers will know, Judith has a passion for the sea and lighthouses, so it was no surprise that on Day 1 we drove down the coast road to Cappo delle Correnti, which is at the very southern tip of the island and where the Mediterranean sea literally crashes into the Ionian sea. (See pic 21). On the way we stopped off at the beautiful fishing village of Marzamemi, which was all but deserted when we were there that day. But it was clearly a favourite destination for the Sicilians too as, when we returned on the Sunday afternoon, it was packed with people parading in their finest designer clothes, as only Italians can do.
After all the snow and icy weather we’ve had, it was great to have the sun on our backs and see green fields and wild flowers everywhere. Sicily is noted for its agriculture and wine making and we saw ample evidence of that in the fields as well as in the restaurants of Noto during the evenings. 🙂
I confess that I’ve been extremely lazy recently and I’ve not been out walking very much at all. In my defence there has been a lot of snow, which has led to a lot of avalanche warnings. There are not many routes to choose from at this time of year either, but one that I thought would be well trodden was the track up to Le Salay from La Forclaz.
Looking at the route today, (see below), you would not believe that the Postbus goes up there in the summer. But, then, you can see why it stops in La Forclaz in the winter, especially when you see the state of the tunnel… (In case you are wondering, I ‘crawled’ across the ice on gloved hands and feet!)