The vast scenery, gentle hills, quietly grazing sheep, the peaceful atmosphere of rural life, that’s what I got to see on my second day of my journey. The people here are friendly and helpful. It seems to be common practice to greet total strangers and have a short conversation with them. After I had mastered the first steep (and quite long!) climb, I had such a conversation. A senior man had been walking his dogs and quietly watching me fight my way uphill, huffing and puffing and sweating. When I reached what I thought was the top of the hill, he said to me with a friendly smile, „Oh there’s another climb up there.“ pointing at the way ahead. But he clearly was friendly, and not gleeful. A little later, after I had stopped to take some photos, he caught up with me. I said, „Catching my breath looks much better with the camera in my hands, doesn’t it?“ He laughed and stopped for a moment and looking at the scene of the valley and the River Tyne I was photographing that this was the exact place where the river stopped being tidal. I come from a rather metropolitan area, and I must say: Such simple friendliness is quite unheard of there. Not that we are grumpy and unfriendly all the time. Most people are friendly and helpful there, too, when they are asked for help. It’s just not common practice to „disturb“ total strangers in their privacy. I guess that’s what happens with increasing population density.
Today’s leg of the Hadrian’s Wall Path was meant to be 24km long. That’s what my travel agency had told me. It was quite a challenge for the inexperienced and unfit walker that I am. Even worse, it turned out to be much longer than that. On the next day, I talked to a walker with a GPS device, and he told me that according to his device this stage was about 31km long and that the information provided by my travel agency was wrong. And he was right. Back at home, I used Google Earth to measure the exact length of the path I had walked, and the walker’s information proved to be accurate.
But what made today’s leg, so very exhausting and strenuous was not the number of climbs (that most of the time were not particularly steep but very long) or the sheer length of this stage of the journey – it was the condition of the ground. Often, the trail was very uneven and wobbly which forced my feet to adjust and counterbalance constantly. From about 3 PM onwards I would have liked to wave the white flag, but there was nothing I could do. I had to trot on because the next accommodation was still miles ahead.
But apart from some genuinely lovely views, I got to see Hadrian’s Wall twice this day. The first time was in Heddon-on-the-Wall about 1.5 hours after I had started out this day. Seeing the remains of the wall in a photograph doesn’t do it justice. Even in its current state, it is awe-inspiring. That an iron age civilization built a wall of this scope along a track of about 117km becomes even harder to believe when you are standing next to it. These stones have been in this exact place for almost 2000 years (in words: two thousand!!!) – and now the locals let their dogs pee on it.
Another highlight of today’s stretch was the Robin Hood Inn. There, I enjoyed the most delicious and refreshing Pepsi I have ever had in my entire life. And I got the second stamp in my passport there.
The second time I got to see a glimpse of the wall was in the evening about 30 minutes before I reached this night’s accommodation. The ability to marvel at anything, even at a 2000-year-old wall, had long gone by then.
The pain in my feet didn’t lessen a bit even long after I had taken off my shoes and socks. On that night, I was so tired that I didn’t even have dinner. I just went straight to bed. I seriously considered the notion that I might have bitten more than I could chew on this trip.