Day 2 of my walk across England was memorable for many reasons.
It was the day Hadrian’s Wall made its first significant appearance. I was so impressed by this marvel of ancient Roman engineering that I had to just sit myself down upon it in reverence.
Or maybe I was just tired.
That second day was also the longest of the entire week. It was supposed to be 16 miles, but some walkers figured it was closer to 18. Whatever the distance, I was on the trail for close to 9 hours.
And that doesn’t include the two-hour tea break!
Day 2 started off well, with the happy realization that my legs still worked. I seemed to have recovered from the first day of the walk. The pack was still heavy, but my spirit was light.
We left the hostel as a group, but very quickly separated into sub-groups of fast, medium, and slow walkers. I found my partner in slowness, Martin, and we plodded along together through the increasingly beautiful countryside.
I saw no need to hurry. The wall wasn’t going anywhere.
We weren’t too far along the path from Heddon-on-the-Wall to Walwick before we’d lost sight of all other walkers. That’s when you start to worry and think maybe you’re off the trail. Or maybe there was a change in plans, and they’ve all decided to head north for Scotland.
I watched for bootprints in the mud, or bent stalks of wheat. Some kind of sign that others had been along here before us.
That’s when we saw the creepy family of Scooby-Doos arranged on the side of the path.
What were they doing here? What was it all about?
I imagined some Children of the Corn scenario, where devil-eyed toddlers would drag me into the wheat to be sacrificed to He Who Walks Behind The Rows.
Or maybe I would find myself locked up by a pagan cult in a giant Wicker Dog, burned alive to appease the gods of Hanna-Barbera.
The mind plays tricks when you’re tired and alone.
And, gulp, ALONE!
Martin was nowhere to be seen. Just like the song, I looked around and he was gone.
Not far from the creepy Scooby Family, I came upon the Robin Hood Bar & Restaurant, just opening for the early lunch crowd. There was a group of walkers (but still no Martin) waiting to use the toilets. It was at this point I realized that my sack lunch (provided by the hostel) was with Jo, another slow walker who was still behind me. I wasn’t about to spend another day on the trail with no lunch, so I decided to wait for her to catch up.
After about an hour, Jo’s group showed up and I retrieved my lunch. By this time I was more than ready to get back on the path, but then these lovely people asked me to sit down with them for a proper tea break. And who can resist an invitation to tea?
Taking that 2-hour break from walking turned out to be a great decision, as it gave me a chance to get to know Oli, Catherine, Richard, Jo, and Ellie. Plus, it meant I wouldn’t have to continue on alone and run the risk of being abducted like poor Martin.
This was early on the second day of the walk, and people were still getting to know each other. As the lone American in this small group at the back, I felt out of place at first, but they warmed up to me after awhile. One thing I didn’t know, but would soon find out, is that Oli was already very well acquainted with me.
Not long after leaving the restaurant, we crossed a road stretching back to Newcastle. “17 miles to the train station for anyone who chickens out,” I thought. That’s when I spotted a familiar looking shape trudging up the road.
It was Martin! He hadn’t been dragged into the wheat after all. He’d simply taken a wrong turn. A very long wrong turn. Something everyone of us would do at some point on this walk.
With Martin back among the living, we came upon the first significant sign that the Romans had built some sort of military fortification here. We found ourselves walking along the Vallum, a 10-foot deep, 20-foot wide ditch that, at one time, ran along the southern side of the wall from coast to coast. It’s amusing, and slightly sad, that not long after completing the Vallum, the Romans deemed it something of a nuisance and filled much of it back in. What survives is impressive.
Even more impressive is what came next along the path. The first big chunk of actual wall. The very sight of this 50-foot section of wall at Planetrees boosted our spirits and stamina. So much of the wall has disappeared over the centuries, as the stones were carted off to build churches, cathedrals, castles, and even other walls. But here, in this more isolated mid-section, the wall remains. And over the next few days we would become very familiar with it.
We also became familiar with something else today. The trail crosses through sheep and cow pastures, so there are obvious natural, uh, formations that must be avoided underfoot. I never realized just how much dung can come out of a seemingly small number of cows. At times it was like walking through a mine field. I wondered if maybe a few of those farmers had trained their animals to defecate on the trail side of the fields, just for giggles.
The rest of the day’s walk was a leisurely stroll through pastures and poop, along country lanes and highways, over hill and dale, and, finally, to Greencarts Farm, our destination for the night.
After devouring a variety of food stuffs (I was so hungry, I just blindly ate) laid out for us in the farm’s dining room, most of us assembled in the bunkbarn to help Arjan, our Dutch walker, cheer for his country’s team in the World Cup semifinal match against Uruguay.
The Dutch won the game, and Arjan spent the rest of the walk with a smile on his face.
After such a long day of walking, all I wanted to do now was sleep. But I couldn’t, because of Oli. Remember I wrote earlier that he was already well acquainted with me? That’s because the night before he had been in the bunk above me. Around 4am, he took a picture of himself trying to shut out someone’s incessant window-rattling snoring.
And by “someone,” he meant me.
After jokingly showing me the picture that afternoon, the whole idea put a major worry into my head, that I would be disturbing everyone’s sleep with my snoring.
It was like Freddy Krueger had suddenly joined the walk, and was waiting for me to fall asleep to cause mayhem in my dreams. For the next three nights, my brain resisted sleep. I think I averaged just 4 or 5 hours a night.
Luckily, this didn’t affect my ability to walk. I may have slowed down even more, but the increasingly awe-inspiring scenery gave me enough energy to keep going.
Coming Soon: Day 3 – Wall, wall, and more wall. The most scenic day of all.