April 7, 2011 – Grindon Farm to Twice Brewed – 9¾ miles
We awake at 7:30, trying to hit the road early, as we plan on extending our hike today. We wolf down croissants and lovely British butter, and marvel, yet again, at how good the coffee is. Becky MacGuyvers her shoelaces into a configuration that won’t agitate the sore spot on her foot:
We step out into the inviting sunshine, and immediately put on our windbreakers. The wind cuts to the bone today.
We make our way past several scenic farmhouses, and through a wood, back to the path of the wall.
There is a lot of vertical today; we’re hiking the ridgeline of the crags, and our track will climb the same 200 vertical feet about six times.
There are lots of ruins here. Apparently this region was too remote for the medieval English to be building castles and churches, so much of the stone wall remains.
It’s easy to see why the Romans built the wall here; looking south, there’s a long, fairly gentle slope, but the northward view is down a hundred-foot-cliff and over miles of flat pastureland.
The wind is almost strong enough to blow us over at the top, but in the shelter of the modern field wall, it’s almost warm enough to take off our jackets. (“Modern” in that it is less than a thousand years old.)
About midway through the day, we pass Housesteads Fort, which we could pay admission to tour, but we have better plans for the afternoon. We use the port-o-lets, peer over the ruined walls, and take elevensies on the battlements before continuing on.
Becky is predictably charmed by the lambs who were keeping us company for our meal.
We stop for a break at the highest point over Crag Lough, our feet dangling over a hundred foot drop into the lake. The wind pushing up over the cliff creates an updraft playground for birds of all kinds. We stay for a while, and remember Margaret.
Not long after, we are cheered by the sight of the fluffiest darn cows we’ve ever seen!
We pass through Sycamore Gap, whose eponymous tree starred opposite Kevin Costner in that movie with the Bryan Adams song. Our guidebook notes that “despite having the distinct disadvantage of being a tree, it still managed to appear less wooden than its co-star.”
Here’s a prime example of Roman bureaucracy. The front gate of this milecastle opens to a 50-foot sheer cliff. But it was built anyway, and to the same dimensions and strength as all the others.
We descend our last crag for the day at 1pm, and stop for pints at the village pub (where we will later eat dinner). We had arranged room in our afternoon for a special outing, which took us along treacherous, one-lane roads with no sidewalks.
Our destination is Vindolanda, which is both an excellent modern museum of Roman artifacts, and the single largest archaeological dig on the entire wall. It’s actually the only dig; since all the scientists are here, all the other sites have been left unexcavated. Here’s an exhibit of just shoes:
Also among the exhibits are a replica of the stone wall we’ve been walking along (it used to be 20 feet high); some ancient wooden “postcards” with Roman handwriting on them (including an invitation to a child’s birthday party); and the extensive, multi-layered ruins themselves. It’s probably the best-preserved site on the path, and we highly recommend it if you’re in the area.
We asked our exhausted legs to go one more stretch; back to Once Brewed for food and rest. We passed what appeared to be a nest tree:
We find our lodging, and our friendly hosts make us feel like we were visiting the kind of relatives you like to visit. We take some tea and unpack a bit, then it’s off to supper at the Twice Brewed Inn, where we are surrounded by Friday night revelers. We return to our room and pass into a dreamless sleep.