As the phone alarm buzzed us awake at 9:30am, I could tell even from across the room that Roo was feeling about as enthusiastic as I was. I tried to sit up and winced – every bit of me hurt like hell.
“Are we…?” I began.
Roo just looked at me. I had the horrible feeling she was about to cry.
It was at this moment that a strategy emerged, fully formed, in my mind. Shit I love it when that happens.
“We could get the bus back to where the car is?” I suggested. “Then we could drive back here and hike the next stage without bags. Bus back here after we finish walking and stay here again tonight. Hell, we could do the whole rest of the walk like that!”
And we did.
It was the fastest we’d moved in weeks – the sudden glimmer of life without a crushing weight on our shoulders galvanized us into action. I checked the time-table – we had just less than 10 minutes to pack our shit (currently scattered across the whole dorm) and get our asses down the road to the bus stop. Moving like extras in a bad zombie movie we lurched around the room, gathering up still-moist towels and spilled packets of super noodles. In an instant we were out of the door, bleary-eyed, unkempt and somewhat fragrant. Showers weren’t close to being an option.
By the time we made it to the bus stop, we figured out we wouldn’t be hiking much further that day. Neither of us could walk properly, having pulled pretty much every muscle in both legs. Our backs were stiff, our necks ached, and Roo had a blister which was actually bigger than the toe it was attached to! It was time to admit it – this walk had kicked our sorry behinds from Day One. Perhaps we weren’t as fit as we used to be?
It wasn’t until, mid way through our first morning of hiking sans rucksacks, that we realized we hadn’t passed a single other person with a big bag. Of course! Out of all the people who had dared to hike Hadrian’s Wall, from the frailest old granny to the keenest Army Cadet, we were the only ones stupid enough to try to do it with 15 kilos on our backs.
Everyone else had paid a courier.
2011: A COCK ODYSSEY
There was one thing Roo vitally wanted to see on this particular stretch of wall. Scouring the guide book for bits on interest she had come across something she just had to photograph: somewhere on the mile of wall we had missed yesterday, an ancient Roman comedian had carved a big fat penis.
And so, bag-free, we leapt athletically up and down this stretch of wall, frantically searching for this pre-historic phallus. It wasn’t easy to find. “There’s no cock,” I told Roo.
“There IS,” she declared. “I HAVE TO see that cock!”
“You can see mine tonight,” I offered.
“No. It’s not ancient enough.”
Such is married life. You’ve got to take the compliments where you can get ‘em.
A group of boy scouts approached, optimistically carrying sleeping mats. “Any of you guys seen a big cock?” I asked the lads.
“My missis is desperate to get her hands on that cock,” I tried.
“I think it’s about yay-big…” I held my hands a foot apart.
They must have been foreign.
By this point Roo was running up and down, screeching “Where’s the cock? I WANT the cock!” More than a few passing hikers had stopped to stare at us. But just as we decided to quit (or in fact as I attempted to drag Roo away, with her still shouting “I just want to touch the cock!” – we FOUND IT!
It was spectacular. Not. But then, it had been carved close to two thousand years ago, and it was an amazingly accurate reproduction. I was forced to picture some unlucky legionnaire, ordered by his Centurion to flop it out in the chilly Cumbrian wind and hold it there while the sculptor chiseled a perfect likeness in limestone. On the upside, he must have one of the most famous willies in all of recorded history. And the most handled – both Roo and me had to have a sly stroke – because after all, it is a piece of history. With a great big pair of balls, for realism, almost worn away by the passage of time. And hands.
One unexpected advantage of this new take on hiking was this: instead of staggering into town bare moments ahead of darkness, we had a leisurely lunch and decided to turn in early. Half an hour later we’d found a bunkhouse, claimed the best beds, turned the heating right up and lay in bed reading the books we’d never been able to fit into our rucksacks. Hell, I even broke out the computer and checked Facebook – whilst sipping a bottle of cider I’d had to leave with the car. ‘Ahhh…’ I thought, ‘now this is what hiking should be like!’