Distance: 21.33 km
Even with hindsight, the walk out of Carlisle remains the low-point of the holiday. Insufficiently caffeinated, under-rested and struggling to digest an almost preternaturally greasy breakfast courtesy of the Hallmark hotel, The Sheep and I greeted the rain with no small amount of ill humour.
Things began badly with a mud-drenched trek along the banks of the river Eden. The further we got from Carlisle, the more it rained and the more it rained the more the path seemed intent upon dragging us through muddy woods and fields. Mud that sucks the boots off your feet, mud that makes you feel unclean even though you are not actually touching it, mud that drains energy and saps morale. By 11am, the rain was so ferocious that walking across an uncovered bridge felt like stepping into a shower fully clothed. Despite it being still early in the day, we rapidly entered trudge mode and stayed there till lunchtime.
Exiting the muddy woods, we decided to stop off for an early lunch in Burgh-by-Sands. The Greyhound Inn is a lovely, spacious and welcoming country pub that lifted our spirits almost immediately. As we consumed hot chocolate and coronation chicken sandwiches, the gloom lifted and we began to titter at the large group of teenagers attempting to nonchalantly order pints of cider. Maybe it was the sugar, maybe it was the caffeine, either way, we left Burgh-by-Sands with a spring in our step.
Having trudged through all the mud in Cumbria, we welcomed the post-lunch paved surfaces and steamed through a number of small villages before arriving at The Solway Plain. Rightly considered an area of outstanding natural beauty, the Solway Plain is a large salt marsh that floods and drains with the movement of the tides, tides that habitually place the Hadrian’s Wall pathway under three feet of water. Not for the first time, the stark and barren beauty of the landscape stunned me and the walk across Solway must rank as one of my favourite moments of the entire holiday.
Solway marshes traversed, we stopped off at the Highland Laddie pub in Glasson. Glasson is a tiny village and the Highland Laddie is an appropriately tiny pub but the drinks were cheap and I spotted a copy of Luther Blissett’s Q (2000) on a shelf suggesting that the owners of the pub have excellent taste in Italian anarchist historical fiction.
Our arrival in Bowness-on-Solway coincided with an improvement in the weather and so we completed the official Hadrian’s Wall walk with sunshine on our backs and smiles on our faces.
After the passive-aggression of Abbey Mill and the soulless competence of the Hallmark, the Wallsend Guest House at the Old Rectory offered us a master class in unpretentious hospitality. While our room at Wallsend was perfect and our breakfasts superb (freshly laid eggs, unusual jams, plenty of toast and delicious coffee), what really stayed with us were the little touches. Touches such as the presence of animals that somehow make the place seem a lot more laidback and homey, the fresh milk that we were given to have with our afternoon tea, the plush moose head above the fireplace, and the library of books we were free to browse all combined to make for an exemplary overnight stay. After a week on the road, it occurred to me that it is these little touches that make or break a Bed and Breakfast and the owners’ eye for detail make Wallsend Guest House one of our better stays.
The following morning, we boarded a bus back to Carlisle and then a train to London. Having never been on a walking holiday before, I hadn’t known quite what to expect but despite some questionable meals, some disturbed nights’ sleep and some astonishingly grumpy walking, I can really see why many people prefer walking holidays to time spent on beaches: you return home knackered, disorientated and blistered but you also return home with a clear head, a fresh pair of eyes and a completely relaxed state of mind. There is real clarity and escape to be found in reducing your life to a series of meals and miles. Walking holidays are intensely tiring but also intensely uncomplicated and to experience such an uncomplicated life, even for a few days, is truly refreshing.
For those of you who may have stumbled across this post, here are all of the posts in the series:
Day One: Tynemouth
Day Two: Tynemouth to Harlow Hill
Day Three: Harlow Hill to Chollerford
Day Four: Chollerford to Saughy Rigg
Day Five: Saughy Rigg to Gilsland
Day Six: Gilsland to Lanercost
Day Seven: Lanercost to Carlisle
Day Eight: Carlisle to Bowness-on-Solway