Hiking Hadrian’s Wall–the practicalities

If this series on the Hadrian’s Wall Path has sparked your interest, why not walk it yourself? It’s one of the more interesting and less challenging of the UK’s fifteen National Trails.

The total length of the trail is 84 miles. It is well signposted and difficult to get lost. Furthermore, there are plenty of camp grounds, hotels, and Bed and Breakfasts along the way. The scenery is attractive and varied but not rugged. If you want something really challenging, Wales or the Scottish Highlands will be more your style. The Hadrian’s Wall Path is more of a fun ramble through lots of history, with the added bonus of being able to boast that you walked across England.

The first question you have to ask yourself is whether to go westwards or eastwards. I decided to go from east to west because I wanted to leave Newcastle behind me and, with the brief exception of Carlisle, walk through rural areas. Ending a hike in a major city didn’t sound inviting. Plus the fort and museum at Segedunum give a good overview of the Wall’s history. Most guidebooks are written with this direction in mind, including the Hadrian’s Wall Path by Anthony Burton, published by National Trail Guides. This is the one I used. The main disadvantage of going this route is that the prevailing weather is from the southwest so you’ll have the wind and rain in your face. The National Trail Guide uses detailed Ordnance Survey maps that show not only the trail, but lots of other interesting historical and natural features along the way. If you decide to go for another guide, I recommend buying an Ordnance Survey map too.

I did my hike in the third week of August. The path was fairly busy but I had no problem making reservations at hotels and B&Bs just two weeks in advance. The summer is the best time to go in terms of weather and long days, but if you want to avoid people you might want to go in early September when the students are back in school. Spring and autumn could both be fun, but avoid the Path in winter. Many parts are very exposed and walking on the Path at this time can lead to erosion due to muddy conditions.

Accommodation is plentiful. A good place to start is Hadrian’s Wall Country. Their listings are a bit out of date, however, so you’ll need to call the places and doublecheck everything. National Trails publishes a pamphlet called Where to Stay for Walkers, available at Tourist Information Centers in Newcastle, Carlisle, and other local spots. Many of the campgrounds are actually in barns and offer amenities such as showers and a cooked breakfast. If you arrange it right, you can skip carrying a tent altogether and just bring a sleeping bag. There are also a variety of hotels and B&Bs. I only looked at the ones that I specifically mentioned in my posts. Only the Barrasford Arms was anything approaching luxurious. The others provide clean, decent accommodation and a hot cooked breakfast, which is all you really need anyway. There are also several youth hostels along the way if you don’t mind sharing a room with strangers.

Other than camping supplies for those who wish to do so, here are a few essentials:

  • A good set of waterproofs, including pants, coat, and hood. You’ll need them.
  • A sturdy pair of hiking boots.
  • A variety of clothing for cool and hot weather. I walked in everything from long pants and a sweater to shorts and a t-shirt. The weather can change quickly.
  • Sunscreen (the British sun can be surprisingly strong in summer).
  • The usual safety gear like blister treatment, first aid supplies, whistle, etc. While you aren’t hiking to the Mountains of the Moon, you do want to be prepared.
  • Snacks and water. You’ll find plenty of places to buy nibbles along the way except when going over the crags. There it gets a bit remote. It’s best to be prepared on all part of the Path.
  • Sneakers. These are optional, but make walking much more comfortable on the first day when pounding along the pavement through Newcastle.

One final note: don’t expect to get a signal on your mobile phone along much of the route.

How long the Path takes depends on you. I took six days averaging 14 miles a day. I’m no star athlete, but I’m a reasonably fit, regular walker and I was carrying a thirty-pound pack. I had no trouble with that pace. I saw most things along the way but an extra day or two would have given me a chance to make some interesting detours and explore more of Carlisle. Shorter days are certainly possible considering there’s accommodation at regular intervals along the way. You can also do it more quickly. One pub owner told me of a guy who did it in 24 hours. I guess that gave him something to brag about, but he couldn’t have seen much.

The thing that makes this hike unique, the Wall itself, means that extra caution must be taken while walking. Please do not climb on the wall or remove stones. There’s one short section at Housesteads where they’ve reinforced it enough that you’re allowed to walk on top, but please only do that there. Also, stick to the official route. There are a lot of sensitive archaeological remains and areas of wildlife on either side, so it’s important to keep this in mind. Also follow the Countryside Code, which is mostly common sense but a good thing to reread every now and then.

The Path often cuts through private land. While you are allowed to walk there, please stick to the trail, don’t alarm the livestock, and close gates behind you.

Enjoy your hike, and when you’re done, share your experiences in the comments section!

You can read the entire series here.

Hadrian’s Wall Day Six: reaching the coast

It’s the last day of my hike and I wake up excited. I have only fifteen miles to go to finish walking across the country! Sure, I’ve been going along one of the narrowest parts of England, but it still feels good. I’ll be staying at the same hotel in Carlisle, the Brooklyn House, again tonight, and that means I can finish up my hike with only a day pack.

Back in Roman times Carlisle was called Luguvallium. It started as a wooden fort that soon attracted a civilian community. When it grew in importance the fort and town grew as well. As I make my way through the streets towards to Path I see Carlisle is fairly diverse, with many Indians, Pakistanis, and a few Arabs. It was diverse in Roman times too. The legions came from all over the Empire and members of various local tribes settled here to trade with them. There’s even a report that when the Emperor Septimius Severus visited in 208 AD during his campaign against the Picts he met an “Ethiopian” legionnaire here, the Roman term for a black African. The Roman Empire never controlled any parts of Africa south of the Sahara, but people from well beyond its borders immigrated to seek their fortune.

Walking out of Carlisle takes much less time than walking out of Newcastle did. Soon I’m strolling along the south bank of the River Eden as it wends its way through forest towards the Solway Firth. A few traces of the Vallum are all that show me that I’m still following the Wall. Although the Path is well marked, it would be nice if there were more informational signs. I would have liked a sign telling me, “This is the last bit of Wall above ground, so take a photo.” Yesterday I passed a stretch of the Wall that my guidebook tells me has Roman graffiti and the engraving of a penis, put there to ward off evil spirits. There was no sign to mark the spot, and not only did I miss the penis, I even forgot to look for it. I guess that sort of thing happens to a man when he reaches 40.

Now the Path strikes out away from the river and I’m walking across farms again. I hop over a stile into a field and up a low rise. When I get to the top the rest of the field comes into view and I stop short. A large herd of cows and their calves are standing not twenty yards away. It’s calving season and cows get very defensive of their young at this time of year. The biggest one starts bawling with a noise sound like a mixture of a moo and a roar. I back away as the cows line up between me and the calves. Earlier this year a hiker was killed by cows, and former cabinet minister David Blunkett was injured in a separate incident and suffered a broken rib. More of the herd start mooing angrily and cows from other parts of the field start converging on me. I knew I shouldn’t have touched that cursing stone back in Carlisle. Now I’m going to get trampled. My friends will remember me not for the son I raised, or the books I wrote, or the countries I visited, but as the guy who got killed by cows.

%Gallery-72023%I move quickly but calmly away, which is the best thing to do with an angry animal that isn’t actually attacking. They hold their ground, still braying, and the rest of the herd joins them to make a long line facing me. I make a detour around the edge of the field to get to the other side. Even though I’m a couple of hundred yards away now they turn their line to face me as I go around. If they make a move I’ll hop over the fence and damn the barbed wire.

I finally make it to the other stile and climb over with a sense of relief. Hanging there is a sign saying, “COWS WITH CALVES. ENTER WITH CAUTION” Thanks. It might have been nice to have that sign on both entrances. I continue on, feeling cocky. I’ve looked death in the face and survived. I’m going to eat hamburger tonight. Just then a drop of water splots on my head, followed by another, and then half a dozen more. I yank my raincoat out of my pack as the whole sky opens up. A heavy rain drums against my hood with a punishing force. That damn cursing stone is after me again. I pull on some waterproof leggings and continue on.

The rain is cutting down visibility, but as I crest a high hill I can dimly see the hills of Scotland beyond the River Eden to the north. Soon I come to the village of Burgh by Sands on the site of the Roman fort of Aballava. There’s not much to be seen of Aballava now except for the 12th century church, which, like so many buildings in this part of the country, is made of Roman stone. The church is small and plain and provides welcome shelter from the incessant rain. Set into the wall to the left of the altar is an old stone face of some pagan god, a round smiling fellow with a Celtic-style drooping moustache. Why the builders would put such a thing in their church is a mystery.

A more practical addition was the 14th century tower, which doubled as a pele tower to protect the parishioners from Scottish raids. It was erected after the death of Edward I, who despite his nickname “Hammer of the Scots” never defeated his northern enemies and died of dysentery while camped at a marsh not far from here while waiting to cross Solway Firth for another invasion.

I need to pass through that marsh now. The tide from Solway Firth comes in quickly and I have to time my crossing carefully to either three hours before or one-and-a-half hours after high tide. As I make my way along a narrow two-lane road I see a big red sign saying “ROAD CLOSED”. A tidal calendar tells me it’s almost two hours after high tide, but with the heavy rain and strong easterly wind I hesitate. Drowning a few miles from my goal wouldn’t be as embarrassing as getting trampled by cows, but the result is the same.

I decide to chance it. It’s five miles along the marsh to Drumburgh, where the land rises again and I’ll be safe. A couple of high spots along the way can provide refuge in case of trouble, and there’s an old sea barrier by the Path I can retreat to at any time. Unless the rain causes some record flooding, I should be OK.

I walk quickly, the rain getting stronger as a clammy wind comes off the Solway Firth and over the marsh. A variety of waterfowl peck at the tall grass, but I’m not about to go squishing over the marsh to get photos for the folks back home. I keep casting nervous glances at the waterline. This doesn’t help, because the waterline varies. At points it’s far in the distance; at other times it’s almost to the Path. I can’t tell if it’s going in or out. A few cars go whooshing along the road nearby despite the signs at regular intervals saying it’s closed. This gives me some confidence. If the locals feel the road is safe, it probably is.

After a grinding five miles during which the inside of my waterproofs turn into a humid jungle, I make it to Drumburgh and its local castle. It’s a fortified house really, with thick stone walls and high windows. The stout front door is set onto the wall of the upper floor. There’s a stairway to it, but in the days of the Border Reivers there would have been a crude drawbridge that could have been pulled away to make the house inaccessible. Here I spot a last hurrah from Hadrian’s Wall–a Roman altar used as a garden ornament.

I only have a couple of miles left to my final goal of Bowness-on-Solway. The rain keeps coming and the Path is abandoned. I squish along wondering what it must be like to live in such a spot. Solway Firth is beautiful despite the wretched weather, a sweeping vista of gray water with the green hills of Scotland to the north. The flat marshland with its innumerable rivulets and marshgrass has its own subtle beauty.

Squish squish. Squish squish. This is hardly a glorious last two miles to my hike. I pass through a bit of forest and some weathered stone farmhouses covered in yellow and green lichen until the sigh
t of a sign stops me short.


This is it. At this spot was the Roman fort of Maia, the western end of Hadrian’s Wall. A short stroll up a little lane past stout stone buildings and an inviting pub and I see the Path end at a little hut. A sign congratulates me for finishing. It’s stopped raining for the first time in hours and I stand looking out over Solway Firth as it widens out into the Irish Sea. There’s no-one about and all I hear is the distant cry of gulls and the soft breeze rustling through the marshgrass.In six days I’ve walked 84 miles across the borderlands of England and Scotland, once riven by warfare and now safe but for the occasional herd of cows. I feel a bit sad it’s all over but I know I’ll be doing another long hike in England or Scotland next year. How couldn’t I?

You can read the entire series here.

Next: Hiking Hadrian’s Wall–The Practicalities

Hadrian’s Wall Day Five: across the lowlands

Getting up early I take a last look at the crags that I crossed yesterday before heading west and towards Carlisle. I’m now in the lowlands and after scrabbling over steep rock for the past two days it’s very easy going. Add the fact that it’s sunny and I only have eleven miles to walk today, and I have an easy ramble ahead of me.

The countryside is more populated here, and I pass by hedges, fields, farms, even housing developments. Yet there are still wide swathes of untouched land. Rabbits hop into hedges as I approach and I spot the track of a fox in the mud. The Wall, sadly, has almost disappeared, quarried over the centuries for use in other buildings. I’m still along its course, though, as the ditch to the north and the Vallum to the south show me. They’ve survived better than the more durable stone.

The richness of this region made it a target for reivers, and I pass another pele tower, almost swallowed up by the more modern house built around it. There were probably more around here but they’re been quarried for stone just like the Wall was.

I stop by the side of the trail for a snack and meet some other hikers. I’ve met a few along this hike, but this group is different–it’s a whole family, including a ten-year-old boy and an eight-year-old girl. They’re doing the entire Hadrian’s Wall Path and have already made it all the way from Newcastle to this spot, more than sixty miles. They’re taking it slow, the kids carrying little day packs and being encouraged with a steady supply of treats, but they’re doing it. Hmmmm, perhaps I should have picked a more challenging hike for my midlife crisis. It helps that these are two of the coolest kids ever. I ask them if any of the other kids in their school have ever walked across England and they blush and smile and shake their heads no. Impressive. Once my kid is a bit bigger I’ll have to take him across the country too. At age three he’s already walking a kilometer each way to and from school.

Next I come to the River Eden, which flows westward to Solway Firth, my final destination. Thick bushes colored with purple wildflowers grow along its banks. It’s a peaceful spot, but I see the tops of buildings ahead.

It’s not long until the River Eden winds its way into suburban Carlisle. I pass through a city park and nod at someone passing the other direction. He gives me a confused, wary look and I realize that I’m off the trail, where conversation is easy and everyone is helpful, and back into the world of city attitude.

%Gallery-72022%Carlisle is the most northerly city in England (it would be hard to go further north without ending up in Scotland) and has a population of a little more than 100,000, although it feels much smaller. An ugly ring of modern sprawl surrounds a few winding historic streets with a soaring cathedral, a few very old buildings such as the Guildhall built in 1407, and a massive castle. Carlisle Castle is built atop a Roman fort and the oldest bits still visible were built by Henry I in the 1120s. It was actually finished by David I of Scotland, who captured Carlisle in 1136. This city and Newcastle, where I started my hike, were top prizes in the constant English-Scottish border wars. David was one of the great early kings of the Scots and helped unify the rival clans into something approaching a national identity. It took a lot of fighting to bring the proud families under the feudal yoke, and he was only partially successful, but the Scots loved him because he was good at killing Englishmen

In a pedestrian underpass in front of the castle is a large boulder of sculpted granite that has got to be the strangest example of public art I’ve ever seen. It’s a reproduction of a famous “cursing stone” made in 1525 and inscribed with a curse against the reivers by the Archbishop of Glasgow. It’s pretty nasty, going on for more than a thousand words and inscribed in a spiral around the entire stone. For sheer spiteful detail, it cannot be matched.

“I curse their head and all the hairs of their head; I curse their face, their brain, their mouth, their nose, their tongue, their teeth, their forehead, their shoulders, their breast, their heart, their stomach, their back, their womb, their arms, their leggs, their hands, their feet, and every part of their body, from the top of their head to the soles of their feet, before and behind, within and without. . . May all the malevolent wishes and curses ever known, since the beginning of the world, to this hour, light on them. May the malediction of God, that fell upon Lucifer and all his fellows, that cast them from the high Heaven to the deep hell, light upon them. . .

And on and on and on. It’s so creepy, in fact, that one local councilor has blamed it for everything from foot-and-mouth disease to floods and tried to have it removed.

Luckily reason won out over superstition and the cursing stone remains in place. But having read it and touched it, will my good luck on this hike hold out?

Read the entire series here.

Tomorrow: Finished!

Hiking Hadrian’s Wall: Day Four–over the crags

I set out from Twice Brewed having hiked halfway across England without discovering any problems in what is now officially my middle-aged body. In fact, I feel pretty damn good.

The central portion of the Hadrian’s Wall Path is dominated by a series of crags. The Wall goes right up and over them. It would have been easier to build around, but the Romans wanted to take advantage of the natural defenses and commanding views the crags provided.

And the views are impressive. I can see for miles across an open land of rolling green. Herds of grazing sheep and cows appears as a dusting of white dots, and every now and then the sun will glint off loughs, the local spelling for “lochs”. When the weather is clear, as it is for a few hours today, I can see all the way to Scotland. On the rare instances when I meet people I can hear the difference in the local dialect. Border areas have always fascinated me because of their mixture of people and cultures. All along this hike I’ve been hearing a variety of dialects from northern English to Highland Scottish and a few regionalisms I can’t identify. Sadly, the cuisine hasn’t turned Scottish up here. I have yet to be offered haggis or a deep-fried Mars bar.

The hike today is a series of ascents and descents with the Wall as my constant companion. I see few hikers and fewer farms. The hamlets I spot from the summits of the crags look tiny in this vast, open landscape. It must have been a lonely existence for soldiers up here. Some compensated by bringing their families with them. The fort of Vindolanda near Twice Brewed had a large civilian community around it. The damp soil has preserved a whole series of wooden slats with writing on them, called the Vindolanda Tablets. These were letters by soldiers and civilians and offer a rare glimpse into a life not all that different from our own:

“Claudia Severa to her Lepidina greetings. On 11 September, sister, for the day of the celebration of my birthday, I give you a warm invitation to make sure that you come to us, to make the day more enjoyable for me by your arrival, if you are present. Give my greetings to your Cerialis. My Aelius and my little son send him their greetings. I shall expect you, sister. Farewell, sister, my dearest soul, as I hope to prosper, and hail. To Sulpicia Lepidina, wife of Cerialis, from Severa.”

Other letters were about military affairs:

“… the Britons are unprotected by armor. There are very many cavalry. The cavalry do not use swords nor do the wretched Britons mount in order to throw javelins.”

If you’re in London, go to the Roman section of the British Museum and you can see the letters for yourself, along with translations. It’s one of the most evocative displays in one of the world’s great museums.

The Romans left their mark on the countryside in many ways–not just the Wall, but in the stones reused for later farms and churches, the milestones used as gateposts, and the altar stones and troughs that can still be found amidst the herds of grazing sheep. Later epochs are visible too, as I soon discover when I leave the last of the crags behind and descend into the lowlands.

%Gallery-71936%As I come to an open valley, I realize this would have been a prime place to invade. I bet the Wall was stronger here, but it’s hard to tell because many of its stones were hauled away in the 14th century to build Thirlwall Castle. Set atop an artificial hill with thick, sheer walls, it must have been impregnable to the many bands of Border Reivers who terrorized this region from the 13th to 17th century. These bands of cattle rustlers came from both sides of the border and knew no loyalty other than to their own kin. Local lords would build castles to protect their communities. Poorer people made simple pele towers, single towers that were proof enough against the reivers, who usually lacked siege equipment or artillery. Despite the many forts the reivers were the terror of the borderlands, sweeping down on isolated farms at night to take cattle and anything else they could get. This was rough country and it was a long time after the Romans left before any real order was reinstated.

Most of Thrilwall Castle’s walls stand to their full height, although a big part of the eastern side has disappeared, exposing a winding staircase leading nowhere. I walk inside, seeing where regular sockets in the stone held beams to support three floors, and windows where people once sat looking out over the same views I’ve been enjoying. It must have been the center of its community, a place where people came not only for protection, but to appeal to the lord for the rule of law and commerce. Now it’s just a shell and I walk through it alone.

Just beyond I come to Milecastle 48, another of the Roman fortified gateways along Hadrian’s Wall. This one still has the lower few steps of a staircase that once led to the top. Archaeologists calculated the angle of the stairs and figured out that they would have met the nearest side at 15 feet above the ground, a simple yet clever way of figuring out how tall the Milecastles once were.

I’m in richer land now, and I pass by prosperous farms and through lush stands of trees. It’s a remarkable transformation from just an hour ago. Part of the reason is the River Irthing, which flows from the northern peat bogs and deposits nutrient-rich soil along its banks. The foundations of a Roman bridge stand in the middle of a field, left high and dry when the river changed its course. I cross over a modern footbridge as the river flows the color of tea below me. The peat bogs have preserved some startling finds from prehistoric times including swords, wooden idols, and even human bodies. I don’t see any bog bodies floating down the river, though, so I continue on my way.

Another major attraction on this portion of the hike is Birdoswald Roman Fort with its Roman Army Museum and reconstructed barracks. Suddenly I’m back in civilization again. The spacious parking lot is full of cars and kids in Roman costumes run squealing through the museum. The fort and museum are well presented and worth a look, but I feel glad to get back to the quiet trail where I see only the occasional hiker or some farmer standing in a distant field.

I don’t have much more time to enjoy it, though, as the sun slants to the west and I climb a long, hard hill on my sixteenth mile of the day to stop at the Centurion Inn. As the country darkens into night I sit by an open fire and drain my well-earned daily ration of two pints of fine British ale. Good and good for you.

Read the entire series here.

Tomorrow: Day Five: through the lowlands.

Hiking Hadrian’s Wall: Day Three–The Underwater Temple

After yesterday’s first glimpses of Hadrian’s Wall, I’m anxious to see what’s ahead. I hitch a ride from Barrasford back to the Path from an old woman whose son and his boyfriend are hiking the route in the other direction. Just over the bridge spanning the North Tyne and past the little town of Chollerford is Chesters Roman Fort with its extensive museum. It doesn’t open for another hour and I decide to head out. I have 12 miles to hike and I don’t want to lose an hour of daylight. Funny how our goals limit us.

There’s a severe weather advisory for today and as I make my way over hilly farmland the skies to the north and south are ominously dark, yet overhead patches of pale blue show between the clouds. Every dry step is a bonus.

At the curiously named hamlet of Black Carts I see my first well-preserved section of the wall. Portions of it are waist high and Milecastle 29, so named because it’s on the 29th Roman mile from Segedunum, stands even taller. I’ve been seeing a steady trickle of hikers going both directions, and at the Milecastle I meet none other than famous English guitarist Geoff Easeman, who kindly takes a picture to prove that even though I’m 40 I can make it 29 Roman miles.

One downside to the Hadrian’s Wall Path is that a modern road follows it along its entire length. This started as a military road built in 1754 after the Jacobite rebellion. The English army found the going pretty rough in this part of the country and decided to add a road to their many defenses against the Scots. They didn’t need to worry about Clan McLachlan though. We all got slaughtered at Culloden.

There aren’t many cars, and at times the road strays from the path far enough that I can ignore it, but now I have to cross it and pass through a parking lot to get to my next goal–an ancient temple. The wind has picked up and I have to put extra energy into each step. I hope the rain keeps away until I get good shots of the temple. At the parking lot I come across one of the Path’s more pleasant surprises, a guy with a portable espresso machine in the back of his car. A double shot is overpriced but he knows I don’t give a damn. I take delicious hot sips behind the shelter of a low wall as the wind howls over an almost treeless countryside. The land has become more barren, remote, and besides the espresso guy and a couple of other hikers I’m alone with the horizons.

Now fully jazzed, I head over to the temple. It’s a Mithraeum, sacred to the god Mithras. This deity originated in Persia and became a favorite of Roman soldiers. His cult was hugely popular and a major rival to early Christianity. Mithras, you see, was born on December 25, had Sunday as his holy day and died to save humanity. His worshipers used to gather to share bread and wine and his priests wore a garment similar to that of Catholic bishops. As Christianity became more powerful, Mithraeums became prime targets.

Mithraeums were built underground to resemble a sacred cave. The recent rains have turned the temple into a pool, with just the tops of the walls poking out. The three altars remain above water and carry a strange allure. One has a few offerings of flowers and coins, left by travelers passing this desolate spot. I throw a tuppence on there in the hope that the old god will keep back the storm. Any righteous tirades in the comments section will be ignored due to the fact that it worked. More or less.

%Gallery-71867%As the land gets hillier and human habitation almost disappears, ancient remains stand out more clearly. An artificial hill ringed by a ditch marks a fort from Anglo-Saxon times, and not far off are faint traces of a Roman camp, while burial mounds from long-forgotten chieftains dot distant ridges.

The hills give way to crags now, steep promontories with sheer northern faces of stone. As I go up one crowned by a little cluster of trees the clouds open up in a sudden squall of cold, pelting rain that’s trying it’s best to turn into hail. The wind whips to an angry roar and I realize the clouds that are raining are actually a good half mile to the southwest. The wind is carrying the rain all that way to smack in my face.

Good old Mithras hasn’t let me down, because this happens just a few steps from the copse. I hurry under the cover of trees, pull out my raincoat from my pack, and put it on. By the time I make it the hundred yards to the other side of the trees it’s stopped raining.

I descend the far slope of the crag as the clouds break and their shadows glide over the landscape. A little further on I come to Housesteads, one of the best preserved Roman forts on the route. At a tiny little museum I sit down next to an altar of the Three Hooded Gods and munch on a chocolate bar as kids stare at me. This site is even better preserved than Segedunum. I walk on steps where centurions once trod, and run my hand over the floor of the stable, cleaner now than it was back in the day. The land is rough here, and to the south of the fort I can see terraces cut by prehistoric farmers. They were ancient by the time the legions came here and reused them. I wonder if the Romans thought much about the people who had made them or if they were simply grateful to have a lucky break in a harsh land, like the early farmers in Phoenix who cleaned out old Hohokam canals and reused them to water their fields.

The sky is gray and lowering as I continue on my way, but it’s only a couple more ups and downs over crags before I make it to my stopping point for tonight–a friendly country pub called the Twice Brewed Inn in a tiny village of the same name. Nobody really knows where the name comes from. There are lots of stories related to how the residents preferred stronger beer than the villagers of nearby Once Brewed. Old maps show that the place name existed before the hamlet did, when there was only a Drovers road passing between two hills. Since an old Scottish term for hill was “brew”, that might be the answer.

Whatever the origin, I get twice brewed myself from a couple of pints of local ale and a massive pile of Cumberland sausages. My appetite has been huge on this hike. The pub is a loud, friendly place full of locals and hikers, and the owner is an interesting guy who has made the inn as ecologically friendly as possible. He has his own treatment system for non-solid waste that uses no energy. The waste simply flows into an artificial wetland where the reeds and other plants act as a natural filter.

A gut-stuffing meal later, I head back into the night to get another look at the crags. The skies are vast here, bigger than anything I’ve seen since I moved away from Arizona, and they still glimmer a dim blue at nine o’clock on a late summer night. The fields are a darkening green with the crags a pale brown. There’s no sound except for the rush of a hidden stream and the distant bleating of sheep. Other than the pub I see only two distant lights, one at the base of the crags, and another to the south on a nearby ridge. The southern light winks out. It’s bedtime in farm country. I head to sleep too. Sixteen miles tomorrow.

Next: Day Four–over the crags

You can read the entire series here.