Another Day On That Damn Big Wall

Standing on the wall

Today’s walk was really pleasant, through constantly changing scenery and several tiny villages. Every time we passed an old stone barn or cottage we eyed it suspiciously – there used to be a damn big wall around here at one time, until some bugger pinched it. It wasn’t hard to guess where most of it had gone.

If only it hadn’t been for the 15+ kilos of dead weight crushing the breath out of us. Uphill was a struggle – downhill was borderline suicidal. The rucksacks, now including food for three days and a tent, sat more heavily, their weight resting squarely on bruised hips, the straps sawing back and forth across shoulders rubbed raw the day before.

A lot of people tell me that an average person walks at 4 miles an hour. I’d LOVE to know where this common misconception comes from, but trust me – as someone who’s walked a few of ‘em – miles don’t pass that fast. 4 kilometers an hour is much more realistic – when happily skipping through the park on your way home from school. In thick mud, staggering uphill whilst bent double under a bag the size of a golf cart, you’re lucky to manage half that.

So I wasn’t too surprised to find, after four tough hours, that we weren’t even halfway. It had been a monster day for sure, but we were so sore from yesterday’s mission, and this route seemed all uphill. I was disheartened, but realistic – we had to call it a day at the next town, or we wouldn’t be able to stand tomorrow, let alone hike.

Roo checked the bus time-table – we could just make the last bus! We sat on a huge chunk of Hadrian’s Wall – the first we’d seen – and doctored our feet for the final push.

Infinite WallThe first problem was that we’d clearly bitten off more than we could chew – over 20 miles all told, when I finally tried to work it out.

The second problem was the complete lack of bus stop – after being told by a local that the bus would stop “anywhere you wanted, as long as you wave at it”, we hiked on even further, finally finding an official stop by a ruined watchtower about a mile away.

The third mistake was that there was no bus. It wasn’t listed on the stop. We checked the timetable in a panic – only to realize at the last minute that it was last year’s timetable! I dug the current one out of my rucksack and discovered it was identical except for one tiny detail – the last bus, the one we were desperate to catch, had been axed.

This was not cool. All we could do was soldier on to the camping barn another mile up the road. As we groaned and hauled our bags onto our backs, the wind howled and it began to rain.

We stuck out our thumbs in hope, but nothing happened. We arrived dispirited, aching and so, so tired, at the camping barn – to be greeted with a notice saying ‘CAMPING BARN CLOSED’. That was it. No-one around to ask and nothing else to do. Well, we did a good bit of swearing, but I don’t think it helped much.

We hiked on. Roo had more blisters than toes, and the muscles and tendons in our ankles were screaming at us. Expensive cars roared past us – all carrying a solitary, middle aged woman. None stopped to pick us up.

A mile later we arrived at the Youth Hostel at Birdoswald, ready to collapse.

Well, we arrived at where there should have been a youth hostel. We ditched our bags and explored the Roman Ruins (which, had they been officially open, would have cost us almost a fiver each) – but there was no sign. Only a closed and locked building behind the visitors centre which looked like it could once have been a hostel. Not cool at all.

It would have been time for despair, if it hadn’t been for Steve and John – two awesomely helpful blokes who had also over estimated their hiking speed. They rocked up to the empty fort, decided to call it a day, phoned their wives to come get them and immediately offered us a lift. We got driven to the next town of Gilsland, a frighteningly long distance away. Several hours by foot even. From here I planned to ring the hostel we’d booked in a town even further along the route – only to discover I’d left my phone in their car! With no numbers stored in it’s memory (as it was brand new!), and the phone about to die of battery death any minute, I was terrified I’d never get it back. It also meant we couldn’t call anywhere to get a lift, or to book a room for the night…

I lost the plot for a bit. Only a few minutes before, we’d been debating whether or not we could afford £60 to check in to the nearest B&B in a move of desperation. Now all that paled into comparison – I’d lost a £150 phone, and for all the closer we’d gotten, our nice cheap hostel might as well have been in Moscow. I got change from the pub behind us and waited for the payphone opposite. A bloke had appeared out of nowhere and taken up permanent residence in the phone box, just as I imagined the dwindling minutes in which I could still call my own phone. I sat on the curb, head in my hands. “How can this happen to us?” I asked Roo. “We help everyone. This morning I gave breakfast to that couple with no food – why is Karma being so evil to me?”

Well, someone must have heard me and thought, ‘Sorry, my bad!’

The folks that had given us a lift screeched up and handed back my phone – just as it died – and as we sat on the curb pondering our fortune, a random bloke in a shiny black Vauxhall stopped and asked if we needed a lift somewhere.

Amazing. He took us right to the door of our hostel, despite it being the opposite direction to where he was headed!

We ditched our bags, said bollocks to our super-noodles, and marched into the pub for some dinner. But just to stop me being too cocky, immediately after I got inside the pub, I sat in piss.

Whoever had occupied the seat before me had peed all over it – and no, it wasn’t cider – I could tell this by the smell, and so narrowly avoided taste-testing it. I washed my hands several times, but had no choice other than to sit and eat my dinner in pants that someone other than me had pissed on… and I’d be hiking in them tomorrow too.

To round the evening out I ate a massive slab of lasagna and showered in the dark (due to a busted light in my cubicle) – then fell in the general direction of bed. Not at all sure that, come the 8:30am alarm, I’d be capable of climbing out of it…

So. How was your day?

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