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The Weimea Canyon is spectacular. Just driving to the trailhead was pretty amazing, but we weren’t nearly finished. We parked at the end of the road, and geared up.

Not half a mile later, we found this. This valley is just inland from the Na Pali Coast, which makes it inaccessible by most means, including on foot. The best way to see it is on kayak, or from up here.

The trail follows the top of the ridge line all around the valley, with several hundred feet of vertical in the first mile.

At this point, I feel the need to give props to our new favorite shoes ever, the Merrell Barefoot. Normal hiking boots make it feel like your legs end in stumps, but these feel closer to actually going barefoot. Instead of tromping down the trail, you leap nimbly along, like a gazelle. We wear them everywhere, and can’t recommend them highly enough.

About a mile in, there’s a short (but very steep) spur to an overlook. We took it…

…and were rewarded with this. Worth it.

We returned to the main trail for a steep descent down the inland side of the ridge.

…and back up.

The trail, which is paved with a sometimes-rotten boardwalk, emerges into a strange swamp on top of a plateau. The native Hawaiians used this path as a highway from the west side of the island to the north shore, and they did it without the boardwalk.

The trail abruptly ends at the top of a sheer cliff. 2 hours of driving, and nearly 6 miles of hiking, only so we could see our lodgings in Princeville from the other side of the island. The photos really don’t do this place justice, don’t miss it if you’re ever here.

We stopped for lunch and chitchat with fellow explorers, then packed up for the long trudge-climb back.

Back at the top of the ridge, we took a moment to say goodbye to the Kalalau Valley. My phone died about halfway through the hike, so we don’t know our exact distance, but our guidebook says it should be around 9 or 10 strenuous miles.

Hadrian’s Wall: Day Nine

April 10, 2011 – Carlisle to Bowness-on-Solway – 18½ (!) miles

All the walking in my city shoes has left me with a huge blister on my right heel, and Becky has slept poorly. We’re both fighting what could become a day-long bad mood, which I know can only be curtailed with one thing: techno dance music courtesy of BBC Radio 1. It works, and our spirits are much higher as we hit the trail.

The path takes us along the River Eden through most of Carlisle. Passing close to downtown, we see an under-construction scale model of the Hadrian’s Wall Path in stone, and Carlisle Castle in the distance. The ups and downs along the river bank remind us of the crags, but in all honesty are about half as high.

As we pass from city to country yet again, we enter a bridge construction site that is eerily abandoned. Becky is sure we are about to be set upon by a horde of zombies.

Fortunately for them, the zombies stay in hiding. I’ve done my homework.

Once out of Carlisle, it’s back to endless pastures and small rural villages.

The village of Beaumont (bee-mont) is distractingly beautiful.

…so distracting, in fact, that we miss our acorn, and take a wrong turn out of the village!

By the time we realize our mistake, we are so far along the road that turning around would be longer than continuing on. You can see our detour on the map above; all in all, it added two miles to an already exhaustingly long day. We finally reach Burgh-by-Sands (that’s “bruff” if you’re following along), find the pub (and its restrooms) open, and stop for lunch near the statue of Edward I.

Once out of the village, we enter the marshy tidal zone. We stop to chat with another group of Path walkers, who are going the other way, and are nearing the end of their first day, but the tide tables and warning signs cause us to cut our visit short, and we only stop for photos twice.

Leaving the flood plain, we pass by the surreal scene of a finely-manicured mobile home park.

Our feet are hurting, and our bodies are screaming at us to stop, but we know that we are close. We crunch our crisps on foot, and continue on.

Exhausted but determined, we trudge through the village of Bowness-on-Solway.

While there is no Phil to welcome us, the gazebo at the end of the trail is still a welcome sight. We have finished!

We stop for a moment to enjoy our triumph, then find our lodgings in the Old Rectory. After a glorious cup of tea, we’re off to the warm embrace of the Kings Arms, unofficial celebrating place for Wall walkers either starting or ending their journey. We are among the first to sign the log book for 2011, but the proprietor lends us the 2010 book for some fascinating reading.

Our total mileage, according to all these maps, is 100½ miles over 9 days.

In which the entire journey is reduced to a table of contents.

  1. Day One
  2. Day Two
  3. Day Three
  4. Day Four
  5. Day Five
  6. Day Six
  7. Day Seven
  8. Day Eight
  9. Day Nine

Hadrian’s Wall: Day Eight

April 10, 2011 – Irthington to Carlisle – 8½ miles

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After sharing our breakfast table with a lovely Dutch couple on their way to Scotland, we set off under a cloudy sky. The tiny bit of sprinkling doesn’t worry us; we’re certain that ours will be the first Hadrian traversal ever to be completed without bad weather.

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We (I) took a short stop to befriend some locals. They were unimpressed.

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Among the novelties to be seen on today’s trek: a fence made not of stone, but of old tires and baling wire.

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Smells like country.

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And flowers.

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We stop at the Stag Inn (colloquially known to Wall walkers as the Stagger Inn), for a couple of half-pints of the local finest, which is fine indeed.

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After a chat with the new owners, who graciously let us sit down for a while before they opened, a glance out the window reveals that our plans for a rainless journey have been dashed. We stow the cameras in the backpack (there’s nothing to shoot today anyways), and put on our trusty rain/wind gear.

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Not ten minutes later, we cross paths with more Hadrian hikers headed the other way. This lot are the clear winners of the best-dressed award for this part of the journey.

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It doesn’t look like the rain will let up for us to stop and eat, so we pull out our sandwiches and enjoy the saddest picnic ever while crossing a 6-lane freeway.

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The weather clears as we reach Rickerby, a town which appears to be made entirely out of a single mansion complex and an open field with a folly tower which was built by a man named George Head Head. I’m not kidding, click the links.

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At the far end of Rickerby Park is the footbridge into Carlisle. The transition from pastoral to urban is abrupt.

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We reached our lodging, only to find that it’s only 1pm! We had rushed through to spend some time walking around Carlisle, but hadn’t expected it to go this fast. The lady of the house graciously checks us in early, and we take tea and awful TV in our room.

Since we have so much time, we decide to bust out our city clothes for a walk about town (though we apparently forgot to bring a camera). We walk to the bank, back to the room, back to the bank (with my passport this time), and duck into the Howard Arms for beer and eavesdropped local conversation. We spy a frozen food store across the street, and wander its aisles as though through a dream. It’s like a Schwann store.

We continue our walk, through a pedestrian mall that, when open, must be quite a happening place. We find our targeted supper destination, the Sportsman Inn, and order up a plate of roasted meats, and a plate of fried things, and a dozen dipping sauces. The table is full, and soon so are we.

My city shoes are giving me serious trouble, and I limp slowly back to the room, with Becky patiently keeping pace. We keep our routine of writing in our journal for a bit before sleep; our longest and final day lies ahead.

April 9, 2011 – Gilsland to Irthington – 11⅔ miles

We awake before the alarm; our bodies apparently like to sleep exactly 8 hours, no matter how tired we are. We slog our way through a truly amazing 3-course breakfast (which included whisky), and are on the trail by 9:30. We are silly, and backtrack about half a mile to try to spot something we had missed on the way into Gilsland – a place where the wall disappears directly under a house. Satisfied that we have seen all this burg can offer us, we continue on.

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The wall’s path shoots straight towards a river whose course has since shifted. A new, slightly higher-tech bridge was then helicoptered in for us to cross.

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Then we hit the steepest ascent since the crags, to a milecastle overlooking the river. We took comfort in the thought that the Romans had to do this while carrying stone blocks.

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Shortly afterward, we found an inscription on the wall. The Romans’ symbols of fertility are dirty.

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We ducked into the museum at Birdoswald Fort; the exhibits here are about what happened after the Romans left, which was a part of the story we had been missing till now. We took a picture in the reconstructed loo, and I saved a bee.

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We bought some sweets at the shop (clotted cream fudge!) and take elevensies on the lawn.

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Then it’s back to sheep pastures. Fortunately, the lambs still manage to charm. Somewhere along the path we overhear some American accents (rare in these parts), and happen to bump into two women from Portland, who initially mistake our accents for English (Becky) and Canadian (me), and are walking the wall in the other direction!

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This day is quite warm. So warm that we shed our long-sleeve tech shirts, and I feel the need to convert my pants into shorts. I don’t want to stop, though, so for a mile or two I rock this look:

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We try to take a picture whenever the scenery changes. The difference in this shot: cows!

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At long last we reach Walton, which boasts the last intact bit of Roman wall we’ll be seeing on our journey. With that amount of hype, you can imagine our disappointment when we arrive to find that the city has buried the ruins to keep the hillside from washing out.

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Becky’s closest-ever encounter with real horses.

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Shortly after this last picture, we walk the road into Irthington, and several manure trucks pass us on a perilously narrow road, spewing their windblown filth into our hair and clothes. Thankful for our sunglasses and the ability to breathe without opening our mouths, we tromp into town in foul spirits. We arrive at the Vallum Barn (creative as ever with naming things, these British), enjoy a hot soak, and (ourselves again) go to hunt down supper.

April 8, 2011 – Twice Brewed to Gilsland – 9½ miles

We awake to still-wet bathtub laundry. With hope but not much optimism, we arrange our wet socks on the radiators and head downstairs for breakfast and lively conversation. We return to find them still sodden, and after 20 fruitless minutes with a blow-dryer, our host takes pity.  He opens his tumble dryer to us, his teapot to the baggage man, and then drives us to our starting point (at an “award-winning” car-park, whatever that means), jabbering jovially all the way. We say goodbye three or four times and climb the first ascent; today we cross the Winshield Crags, the highest point of the trail.

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Pro tip: this is called a kissing gate.

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This is still the remote part of the trail, so the outlines of the milecastles and turrets are clearly visible.

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At this point, we noticed that this milecastle is numbered 42 out of 80.  We’re more than halfway done!

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Today we take elevensies at a picnic area near an old quarry.

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This was once a grand fort. Now it has sheep gamboling around it, prancing through its gates and on the crumbling remains of its walls.

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This is called “King Arthur’s turret.” It’s easy to see how legends could spring up in a place like this.

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We stopped at the Roman Army Museum for lunch and a break. The exhibits here are about the army itself rather than the archaeology, and it’s well done. We were advised to take in the 3D film, which is a sort of year-in-the-life of a Roman legionaire, and the museum thoughtfully provides hipstery shades.

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A short while later, we came upon Thirlwall Castle, which was a farmhouse when it was built in the 1100s, but it was fortified into a castle in 1330 to protect the family from the reivers (and you thought that word was invented by Joss Whedon!). We arrive just as the light becomes awesome, and drop everything to take some pictures.

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This railroad crossing has a sign reading “Beware of Trains!” Becky and I tell many a scary story about the Reiver Steamie of Northumberland. WoOOooOO!

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More lambs; more grins.

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Just past Milecastle 48, we reached the village of Gilsland. A short, exhausted tromp across the river and up the hill leads us to the Brookside Villa, which is the most civilized lodging we encountered on this trip. We enjoy hot showers and an amazing dinner, send our laundry away, and settle in for a restful sleep.

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:

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We step out into the inviting sunshine, and immediately put on our windbreakers. The wind cuts to the bone today.

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We make our way past several scenic farmhouses, and through a wood, back to the path of the wall.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.)

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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.

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Becky is predictably charmed by the lambs who were keeping us company for our meal.

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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.

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Not long after, we are cheered by the sight of the fluffiest darn cows we’ve ever seen!

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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:

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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.