All in All We’re Just Attempting Hadrian’s Wall

84 miles in 7 days of hiking across England. And a farewell tour for MA. Join us, won’t you?

Welcome to another installment of Adventure Time with Benj!

Romans in 122 AD knew how to keep the White Walkers out.

In this episode my usual partners in crime, Moe, Eric, and Seth, will again join me to cross from the Irish Sea to the North Sea. But this time we’ll cross a stretch of northern England that’s a straighter shot and less than half as far as the Wainwright Walk we did in 2015. And instead of carrying pebbles across the country, this time we’ll carry MA with us in our hearts. And in a jar.

More to come as hiking permits! Stay tuned…

This Time MA Is My Pebble

My mother was diagnosed with ALS upon returning from our 2015 coast-to-coast Wainwright Walk. What perfect timing! She started being tested for neurological issues before the 192 mile hike, trying to figure out why her feet were becoming numb. We had no idea what was coming, and that ignorance was bliss. She wouldn’t have risked the trip, possibly ruining it for anyone else. So in hindsight her presence in Northern England was a gift to us.

Within hours of stepping off the train in St. Bees 7 years ago, Ma met my friends for the first time down at the beach. Maurice, Eric, and I polar bear swam in the Irish Sea, Seth looking on in amusement, while Ma and Ealish filmed us for posterity. This would be the beach where we’d kick off 16 days of “walking” the next morning, my 40th birthday. Also where we’d select pebbles to transport to the finish line in Robin Hood’s Bay on the North Sea, a Wainwright tradition.

When my 100yo grandfather passed in October 2021, MA was done. She had been holding onto life with a tight grip so he wouldn’t outlive his daughter and mourn her loss. Indeed, she had made the most of the challenging life ALS gave her, surviving much longer than we could have hoped. She even became adept with VR in her final months! But MA left us just a few weeks after Papa in November 2021, with my brother Paul, sister Maggie, and me by her side.

MA travels so much more easily now!

This time back on the Cumbrian coast, I brought some of Ma’s cremation remains along in a jar. (Thanks, Maggie!) With Maurice, Eric, and I recreating that polar bear swim of 7 years ago, and Seth filming from the beach, I scattered half her ashes in the Irish Sea. The other half will hike along with me in my backpack for the coming week, in lieu of pebble, and then take another swim during a short side-trip to Robin Hood’s Bay after Hadrian’s Wall is finished.

After MA went half-in, the rest of us went all-in.

Seth concluded the celebration by raising a whisky toast to MA’s memory, with a fist-bump for Moe who doesn’t touch the stuff. We poured one out for MA, too, but a small one because she would have hated to waste even a drop!

Pour one out, but make it a small one. This stuff is good.

With that solemn mission behind us, we can head to the west end of Hadrian’s Wall, at Bowness-on-Solway, for Day 1 of hiking! MA’s packed up and ready. Are you?

First 3 Days in a Nutshell

Nutshell? See what I did there? An acorn is UK’s national trails marker!

I didn’t start blogging until the end of our first day of hiking. Long story short, I was locked out of my own blog! So instead of trying to maintain a 3 day lag for the rest of the trip, I’ll just quickly bring you up to speed!

Our before picture in Bowness-on-Solway, iTunes silhouette edition.

Day 1: Where’s Walldo?

The entire first day of hiking, 15 miles from Bowness-on-Solway to Carlisle, saw no actual wall. On the Ordinance Survey map (UK’s version of USGS topos) we could see where the wall used to be. Occasionally there would be a bench to sit on and a sign pointing out where a milecastle — the taller structures every mile along the wall where Roman soldiers would take turns sleeping and keeping watch — used to be.

You can’t see them because they’re hiding, but these cows are standing on Hadrian’s Wall.
With great meat pies come great responsibility.

Apparently 19 centuries is too long to expect a farmer to avoid the temptation to borrow a rock or two or two thousand to repurpose in their fields and their homes. So day 1 of Hadrian’s Wall was much more… theoretical. But the weather was gorgeous, sunny, cool, and dry, so this was a great day to just remember how to walk far.

Day 2: Okay, that’s a lot of wall. And rain.

A rainy day self portrait.

It rained all day from Carlisle to Gilsland. A light, steadily saturating rain. It was too warm out and too much bother to break out our raincoats, so we just embraced it. After all, today’s 20 miles would just fly by, right? Mile after mile of sheep, and cows, and green pastures, and hedgerows, and sheep, and rain, and what was this path named after again?

Every glamping tiny house should come with its own lamb.

Then there was wall.

It’s wall, it’s wall, it’s big, it’s heavy it’s stone…

And forts, and castles, and ditches… When it rains, it pours.

How it looks in the cookbook vs. how it looks when I try to make it.
Hadrian’s Wall, I am in you.
OK, seeing wall is off my bucket list now. What’s next? Oh. More wall. OK.

Day 3: Already taking shortcuts for beer!

The wall was all starting to look the same, until we saw this guy peeking out the window.

Today, Gilsland to Once Brewed, was a lot of up and down compared to the last 2 days. Luckily it was offset by perfect whether and only 9 miles of hiking. Once you’ve seen enough old wall, you also start wondering if there might be a shorter path to get to your next pub. After all, who needs to religiously stick to an arbitrary millennia old path? (Answer: Moe, who could care less where the next beer lives.)

The applause within Twice Brewed Inn was deafening as the Lionesses sealed the deal.

We front-loaded our schedule with the longest, hardest days of hiking. We’re already past the half-way mark after only 3 days out of 7. So perhaps more time to stop and smell the flowers tomorrow!?