6.4.04 Hadrian’s Wall Walk: Chollerford to Heddon-on-the-Wall
Location: Next to the South Tyne River
Tip: Not literally on a wall
Warning: This entry is rated R for violence.
So, it’s the last day of the walk and frankly, I’m pretty walked out. It is easy to get blasé about a 2000 year old wall when you’ve seen it for the past five days, and I’ve got my fill of cows, sheep, meadows, hills, valleys, crags and green. Not to be unappreciative, though – it’s really been an amazing trip, and the idea of walking as far as I’ve done is impressive (to me, at least). I never knew how many shades of green there were until I did this walk; I had no idea just what it was like to stride through these vast open fields with no one else around. I’m incredibly thankful I haven’t tripped or caught myself on a barb wire – or a bull horn – and I think I’ve dodged just about every animal chip laid in my way. I still can’t help but giggle at the sheep – they are so alien and funny and silly and yet look like dirty clouds. The cows have me a little more anxious at all times – they look so docile, yet you never know when one might decide to check you out … or be a bull not happy you’re in his territory. The wall itself has been pretty amazing, though some of that is downplayed by the fact that I have a hard time telling Wall from a farmer’s wall of stones which mark off territory. I’ve absorbed more information about Roman history in England than I ever thought I’d know – and am still trying to get my head around the years involved.
I left the loathed Swallow George early and backtracked about a half mile to Chesters Fort, which I forewent the day before – good choice. The morning was sunny and cool, with the sun vanishing behind big thick clouds that made things look dappled one second and threatening the next. After Vindolanda, Chesters was a bit of a let down, but the fact that it’s on the Tyne River makes it prettier. It also featured a small inner museum of dug-up headstones and statuary and small bits and pieces that felt as if it hadn’t been reorganized or designed since the 1940s. After a trip to Chesters I headed back towards the George, then cut over the bridge and followed directions to the trail. Which seemed to take ages – at one point I was on this inclining tarmac road when the directions pretty clearly said I’d be in a field, and I was getting very frustrated. (Not the view below.)
But I saw other hikers in the distance and cut towards them, finding myself (at last) on the trail after about an hour. Still, a very nice day that got very samey – the trail ran parallel to the main road, just inside a low fence, going through field after field after field, straight on. You’d be at the top of a rise and be able to see the next four or five fields you’d be going through, then you’d get to the top of that and there’d be more. The trail itself was just a narrow worn spot amidst tall grasses which bent one way and the other. I stopped at a pub (named after Robin Hood, natch) and got another stamp (plus some funny looks from a bunch of other walkers who’d taken time out for a pint).
And then, things went downhill (though not literally). My iPod batteries died (okay, yes, it’s probably sacrilegious to be listening to Sade while tramping through the English countryside, but I liked it a lot. Hearing “Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands” while going over some of that exact same terrain had a very nice symmetry), and I shut it down. So what happened next can’t be blamed on distraction – just my big honking feet. I was going down one of those narrow paths with thick grasses on either side of me when suddenly something darted out from those grasses – and before I even had a chance to register movement I heard it: a crunch like a ping-pong ball. I’d stepped on something. Something living. Something frightened and trying to escape the big honking feet walking by. I stepped back, horrified and it was a bird. A small bird. A small, young bird. And the worst part: It wasn’t dead. I’d crushed its skull and it was lying there kicking and flapping and dying.
General Atmosphere: Pleasant and windy
Cows Seen: Many
Bulls Seen: One, maybe
Chickens Seen: 17 (about)
Animals Eaten: None
Birds Stomped: 1
Lodgings: Ironsign Farm B&B
Not To Be Confused With:
There wasn’t any way of saving it. And in retrospect, if I had to step on it, at least I stepped on it and killed it (for it did die in a minute or so) – what if I’d just broken a wing? Then what? So I was trying to find some way to put it out of its misery because I was clearly an evil horrible person with honking big feet and this was the least I could do. But with all of the rocks in the wall I couldn’t find a single lone one to just smash it with. I just couldn’t bring myself to step on it again, so it had to be a rock. And there was nothing but grass. I wasn’t carrying anything heavy enough. So since I couldn’t do anything, I just waited as it kicked out its death throes. Horrible.
Then I heard people coming up behind – the men from the pub, no doubt – and I thought, shit, should I hide it? Are they going to think I’m an evil bird-killer? And then I decided to take off. I left it there, which wasn’t very nice, I suppose, but I rationalized that if they saw this dead bird they might be more careful where they put their big honking feet. Needless to say, that put a damper on the day. Was it a grouse? A pheasant? A snipe? I have no idea – I didn’t know birds nested in the grass. Not the wisest of decisions, in my opinion. But, there you go. Enough on that.
Eventually, the walkers overtook me and I arrived at the crossing where the trail turned – and the Iron Sign B&B stood waiting for me. It was a cute little thing, a house that was converted into bedrooms, with chickens outside and broad fields all around. The people were nice but I didn’t have any real discussions with anyone – I’d gotten a little too much into the French Open (Britain’s Tim Henman was making a splash there and had a stirring comeback midway through his sets, but still lost) and Big Brother 5, which featured a troublemaker named, of all things, Kitty, and she was getting bounced out. I love the nature part of England, but I also love the TV part. It takes very little to get me involved again. So I rested and caught up on my TV and sport, grabbed some dinner and tried not to think of birdies underfoot.
Distance: 18.31 km
Time Walked: 4:41:02
Speed: 3.9 km/hr
Rate: 108 steps/minute