It was a little over a year ago that I spent a week walking the width of England, following the National Trail that runs along Hadrian’s Wall.
It was a memorable adventure that raised a lot of money for charity. But as I hiked those scenic crags, it always felt like something was missing. I soon realized that I wanted my family to be there with me to experience the ancient Roman wall and the breathtaking English countryside.
Almost a year later, I was able to share the walk with my wife and kids. Well, maybe not the entire 91 miles. In fact, we just walked the best bits of the wall. 5 miles of it in total.
Oh, and this time I left home the stiff boots and overweight backpack.
We started out at Birdoswald Fort, touring the museum there while we waited out an early morning rain shower. After the sun appeared, we walked east to the village of Gilsland, where the kids rejoiced over an ice cream shop.
From there, a short bus ride deposited us at Housesteads Fort, a dazzling Roman site which includes one of the best preserved latrines from nearly 2000 years ago.
You wouldn’t think we could get excited over an old army latrine, but it was kind of cool to see where the Centurions did their business.
On my solo walk, I missed Housesteads, only stopping briefly at the gift shop for postcards and a bottle of lemonade. So, it was nice to leisurely soak up the history this time. The kids completed a scavenger hunt that the visitor’s center hands out, and were rewarded with a small prize.
After the full tour of the fort, we set out to the west for what is generally regarded as the most scenic part of Hadrian’s Wall. It’s certainly one of the most intact. You can really get a feel for what it must’ve been like for the soldiers who had guard duty on this lonely frontier.
I heard none of the usual kid complaints that accompany the beginning of our hikes back home. No, this time they were eager to walk, even as they could see that most of this section of the path is like a rollercoaster, up and down the steep crags, with a few spots requiring the use of hands to scramble up the stone steps.
They also knew that this was what they’d heard me talk about so much over the past year. The cliffs, the crags, the lough, the milecastles, and the famous Sycamore Gap. They wanted to share my memories for real.
It all turned out perfectly, as you can see from these photos. There were no sprained ankles, wrong turns, or torrential rainstorms. The closest thing to a mishap we had was a missed bus.
That night we had dinner at the Greenhead Hotel Pub, where I had dined before on my own. When I pointed to a booth in the corner and said, “That’s where I sat with Iain and had the tastiest lasagna,” my daughter promptly walked over to the booth and sat down. A minute later, she came back and explained, “I wanted to sit where Daddy sat.”
More than that, she walked where Daddy walked. Even though the two walks were a year apart, my memories of them have now thoroughly mixed together so I can almost imagine that my family was with me the first time.
The feeling that something was “missing” is gone.