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After a lovely night’s tossing and turning as much as one can in a cosy sleeping bag on a comfy-ish sleeping pad in a tent, the day dawned bright and dry.
Colin packed most of his stuff up and made breakfast of a cup of tea with vegan creamer (not as nice as our usual Alpro Soya not-milk, but better than no tea) and a titanium cup of porridge, finished his breakfast and packed everything else up, including the tent. Meanwhile, I, not as speedy as super Colin, started packing up, had my breakfast and finished packing up.
Then I reset my walking poles to my preferred walking-pole height after they’d been set to the tent’s preferred tent-pole height overnight. Yes, my walking poles are the tent’s tent poles. That’s how light we’re travelling.
After we assured the gadgie we would have breakfast in Carlisle, which we did not intend doing despite his intensity and enthusiasm, we set off on day two of this crazy madness that people usually call walking the Hadrian’s Wall Path. We were the last of the people camping there that night to leave. I’m not sure how the others escaped the gadgie’s clutches so early.
We caught sight of the others up ahead as we walked down and up the permanent temporary-diversion where there was a landslip outside Beaumont. We all slowed right down as we mounted a scary set of steep steps with what can only be generously called a handrail. I was glad of my poles because they helped me up. I was scared of falling the whole way up, and I was very relieved to finally get to the top.
A grassy field later, and we were crossing Sourmilk Bridge. It didn’t smell of sour milk, and there were no trolls. After some power lines, we got to a stile and gate. The guide book  said to ‘use stile not gate – sign is very specific’. The guide book was not wrong: the sign was very specific. We used the stile, not the gate.
The approach to Carlisle was treacherous to Caities: it was a dirt path with a sharp drop into the River Eden on the left with various steps and steep steps. Our guide book marks the gradients with double arrows for steep and a single arrow for quite steep. Where steps are marked steep or quite steep, they seem to be steeper than gradients without steps. Are you following? To clarify: I did not like any of the riverside steep steps, regardless of whether they went up or down.
Eventually, we came out on tarmac, and passed a construction site under the train bridge, which was not closed, where they were doing something to the river. Flood defences or weirs or something, we surmised.
Spending a penny
We eventually came out at a park, where we had a rest and an energy bar. We continued through the park, when a tonne of rain decided it must fall there and then. We hastily donned our waterproof jackets and carried on. But someone needed the loo, and they weren’t the only one.
A helpful sign in the park pointed to loos over yonder, so we followed it, but there were no loos. The rain continued to insist on falling. We eventually found the toilet block. There were some food stalls around, but the only vegan offering was spaghetti, which seemed too messy given the circumstances, so we continued.
We should have stamped our passports in the Sands Sports Centre, but it’s closed; we’d stamped it back in Bowness instead.
We continued our way round the meanderings of the Eden; the rain became bored of falling. We crossed the iron bridge, which people call a suspension bridge even though it’s a cantilevered bridge, according to the guide book, into Rickerby Park, which has a war memorial and cows.
Passing behind Rickerby village on a cycle path, we passed a random tower in a field; the guide book says that ‘This eccentric architecture was the work of the eccentrically name George Head Head (1795–1876), a nineteenth-century mayor, magistrate, banker and mine owner’ (p.109). There’s a fancy pile called Rickerby Retreat, which is now an expensive-looking spa and restaurant that used to be his gaff. There’s also a ‘strange village-estate-country house’ (p.109), which we noticed was crenellated. In fact, the guide book says that ‘Rickerby, an entire village that, with all its towers and turrets, resembles one enormous Victorian folly‘ (p.109). It really is an odd-looking place. I’ve seen uglier places.
Some excitement in the route: we crossed the M6. We didn’t actually cross it: it’s a motorway, and people aren’t allowed to walk on motorways. There was a road bridge approaching Linstock, another village, which crosses the M6. But it was shut. But only for vehicles. Pedestrian access was unaffected.
The surface of the road was bright orange for reasons best known to itself, and very much fenced off. Looking down from the bridge at the M6 wasn’t a good idea: I was convinced I was going to drop my poles down there, despite my tight grip on them.
Scents and smells
We were still roughly following the river, although we were ignoring its continuing meanders, while massive pylons crackly-fizzed overhead. As we left the river on the path into Low Crosby, Colin perked up: he could smell pub – yet our guide book assured us the only pub in the village had closed down. But the smell of pub chips was indisputable. I warned him not to get his hopes up, just in case, but then there it was, in all its pubbular glory: the Stag Inn. We debated whether to go in there and then or to find our campsite first, then come back.
The problem was that the campsite hadn’t got back to Colin’s query, so we weren’t sure of we’d find a place or not. All the people who’d camped with us the night before were staying at Blea Tarn, which is where we’d have to go if our campsite was a no. Blea Tarn was too far to come back to the pub from; we were risking a no-pub day. A no-pub day.
I was knackered by this time, so we decided that we’d go to the campsite and see if we could stay there for the night.
At the campsite, which was conveniently located up a hill, we found a farm and a farmhouse but no one there to answer the door and no other campers. We looked in the honesty box, an open-fronted shed, but it was practically bare. There was a sign on the gate saying to phone them, so Colin phoned them, but got no answer.
After I bemoaned the situation and the place, a vehicle drove up with a man in it. We moved out his way, and waited for him to get out. He said we could indeed camp there overnight. I was kind of relieved, but not wholly. We set up the tent and unpacked, then I went to the shower block.
The shower block
The shower block was in a field with some of those fancy pods (which last night’s campsite also had) and some sheep. Sheep. All staring at me as I opened the gate while watching all of them. As I entered the field, the sheep formed a wide arc with me at the centre. I sidestepped left and round, and they rotated the arc correspondingly. We rotated like that until I was at the shower block door, which was directly opposite the gate. I entered with relief that I hadn’t been devoured by sheep, animals well known for leaving no prisoners when it comes to blades of grass.
Inside the shower block, I was less than delighted. It was dirty, and there were urinals just there for all the world to see. Of the three toilet cubicles, only one had toilet roll, which lived on the toilet brush handle. Of the two shower cubicles, only one had an opening door. It was grubby inside, and I didn’t like it. I’d finally plucked up the courage to just get on with it, having forgotten to pull the cord to turn the electricity on, when I saw a massive earwig in the shower tray.
That was the end of that.
I used the sink to wash the necessaries, got changed and hurried back through the sheep field, trying to avoid the sheep poo that I could only really notice now that the sheep were all huddled in the corner.
Colin wasn’t so wussy, and he went and had a shower – devoid of earwigs by that time.
A solitary walker looked fruitlessly in the honesty box shed before moving on; later, two of our previous fellow campers passed by on their way to Blea Tarn.
I was very glad to get to the pub. It was less than ten minutes downhill without being laden down with rucksacks containing all the things.
The only thing that was vegan on the menu was the fries, so we had a basket of fries each with salt, ketchup and that grand – apparently northern – condiment malt vinegar. I’ve rarely seen a pub down south with vinegar available for your chips. We scoffed them, and would have loved some more, but there was something funny going on with changes of shifts or staff or menus or with the person who cooked the chips being unable to be found or something my little brain couldn’t fathom. So we didn’t have anymore chips. Shame, because they were really nice.
There were a couple of blokes sat out while we were scoffing our chips. One of them said he’d thought we were Dutch from our accents. But I put this to you: if we were both Dutch and in the UK, wouldn’t we still talk in Dutch amongst ourselves? I didn’t think of this at the time. The other bloke said he was from just over those fields there. He sounded Scottish to me, but that might have been because he reminded me rather a lot of this bloke I used to work with who was from Scotland. If he’d been doing the Guardian cryptic crossword, I’d have said it was him.
We went inside after a while, after the blokes had gone home. We’d noticed the stove was lit when we went in earlier, and thought it ridiculous. But while Colin was at the bar chasing down fruitless chips and fruitful beer (fruity cider for me, actually), I settled down in front of the fire, all cosy; I also noticed a couple of handy sockets for charging our phones. This was especially useful because only one socket in the honesty box shed worked.
Returning to the campsite won’t be that bad. It’s only for one night, and we’re going to have soup then noodles. And there are cats and kittens. Unfriendly farm cats and kittens, but cats and kittens nonetheless.
- (2020). Hadrian’s Wall Path, 6th edition. Trailblazer Publications: Surrey, UK