Category Archives: Hadrian’s Wall: a mini England C2C

84 miles pub-to-pub following the Roman Empire’s 122 AD northern border wall.

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!?

Mud Exposed at Low Tide

Day 5’s hike, 10 miles from Chollerford to East Wallhouses, was our smoothest and easiest yet. Maybe we’re just getting good at this, but we’re estimating our arrival times within minutes.

Other than 10 minutes of rain this morning, the only annoyance out on the trail was me to Seth, courtesy of my Duolingo Spanish audio lessons. Whenever I caught up to within earshot of him, Seth would hear something random like, «Un sándwich con carne pero sin tomate, por favor.» Or «Yo necesito un boleto de autobús a la Ciudad de Morelia. ¡Muchas gracias!»

In lieu of your regularly scheduled green grass, blue skies, gray wall, white sheep, and cow-colored cows, I bring you a selection of notable signs from my journey. «¡Disfruta!»

I began my Hadrian’s Wall journey visiting Laura at Polokwane. She and MA grew up together in South Africa, and our families have stayed tight through the decades. Or I guess through the millenia?! She packed me enough trail snacks to last all 84 miles. 🥰
This represents 99% of the signs we see, enabling hiking auto-pilot mode.
Yet somehow Moe misses every one of these.
I only took 3 years of Latin, but I’m pretty sure it says, “Good luck with that.”
The sign is extra funny, since nothing has ever happened in Once Brewed, on any date.
And yet also no guns to shoot them down? How do they expect to maintain any semblance of law & order in this country?!
This art installation was about as subtle as an Andorran duty free shop. But I loved it.
Bibby is the surname of the English branch of my family tree. These are my people!
Camouflaged for their amusement?
When water reaches this point, don’t trust this water-damaged waist-high sign!
I’ll leave you with that image. «¡Adios!»

Orange You Having a Better Day Now?

Jessica has had a few less than stellar days back home. I think subconsciously, deep deep down, she’s starting to miss me. So I took a picture of some flowers that are her favorite color.

Day 6 today was an easy breezy 9.5 miles from East Wallhouses to Newburn on the outskirts of Newcastle. We’re definitely in the city now. Like when Buddy the Elf hikes through seven levels of the Candy Cane forest, through the sea of swirly twirly gum drops, and then emerges from the Lincoln Tunnel. It’s kinda like that.

Meanwhile, tomorrow is our last day of Hadrian’s Wall! So I’m going to get some extra sleep before our long day of hiking, celebrating, and onward travel. But first I’ll put a smile on your face:

Moe and his pudding!

Our Watch Is Ended

“I am the sword in the darkness. I am the watcher on the walls. I am the fire that burns against the cold, the light that brings the dawn, the horn that wakes the sleepers, the shield that guards the realms of men.” ―George R.R. Martin, A Clash of Kings

If you’re wondering if George had Hadrian’s Wall in mind when conjuring the wall in Game of Thrones, apparently that’s a big yes.

Day 7’s 12 mile walk from Newburn to Wallsend went by super fast. We wanted time to properly celebrate before going our separate ways beginning with Moe’s 4pm train. So we averaged sub-16 minute miles without stopping, banging out this last leg in barely more than 3 hours.

The last sign post, or the first for those traveling east to west.
Having seen no wall yet all day, it was nice to get this final glimpse at the very end!
Dave, an old AMD work buddy for all 4 of us, kindly received our luggage at home and delivered it to us at a pub across from the train station. Seth & Dave go waaaaay back.

After breaking company, Eric and I took a train to Whitby. Unfortunately, it arrived 15 minutes late, which gave us just enough time to wave at our bus to Robin Hood’s Bay as it pulled away on schedule. Fortunately, there were taxis available, which would get us to RHB before the bus would have! Unfortunately, the taxi only took cash. Fortunately, Eric had an old £10 note in his hat (don’t ask), and I found an old £5 note in my backpack. Unfortunately, our cash was so old it’s now out of circulation and the taxi driver wouldn’t take it! Fortunately, we convinced him to take a $20 bill instead.

So now we’re back in Robin Hood’s Bay, the finish line of our 2015 Wainwright Walk. I have some unfinished business with MA, who’s also completed Hadrian’s Wall with us now, and is itching for a swim tomorrow. Seth and fam are planning to drive up from York as well. So more on that tomorrow!

God Only Knows What I’d Be Without You

Yesterday morning, while the sun was still just rising on August 6, MA’s birthday, I scattered the rest of her ashes in the North Sea at Robin Hood’s Bay. She’s hiked along the length of Hadrian’s Wall with us in a jar in my backpack. This was the same spot of our glorious conclusion to the 192 mile Wainwright Walk back in 2015. (MA hiked herself across that one!) Eric took photos to mark the occasion.

Bye, MA. I love you tons.

Walking along the beach back to the village, Eric told me how several of his elder family members had instructed him to scatter their ashes on the family farm, though he doesn’t totally understand why. I suggested maybe it helps give them peace as they get older, knowing that they’ll eventually make it back to their Happy Place. And it’s nice to think that MA has many happy places. My sister Maggie has already brought some of her home to her beloved Florida Keys, and there are probably some other Happy Places in store…

View from one of MA’s many happy places.

And if you can believe it, with Eric as my witness, when we walked back to the Wainwright Bar next to the beach, the Beach Boys were playing this blog post’s title track. It brings me right back to the end of Love Actually, with the mosaic of family reunions at the airport. Kills me every time. ❤️

Eric hooked us up with a sweet post-hike cool-off weekend in RHB.

Big props to Hadrian’s Wall Wingman Eric, who made possible a post-hike weekend in Robin Hood’s Bay. I had given up on finding lodging, as everything was booked months in advance. But he found the cutest little AirBnB, one of the many cottages along the alleyways halfway down the steep hill. (If you’ve been to RHB, you know what I’m talking about!)

Eric noted the seagulls are worse for sleeping than howler monkeys in the Amazon.

Only downside: the seagulls are VERY active between the hours of 4:30am and 11:00pm. Right over my head in the attic bedroom!

Sophie feeding the fish a discovered quid

Thanks also to Seth, his mom Anne, Ealish, and Sophie for joining us in Robin Hood’s Bay for a lovely beach afternoon. We revisited the Bay Hotel for dinner, the same place where we celebrated 7 years ago after finishing the Wainwright Walk. Such great memories it evoked.

I’d only seen RHB at high tide before. What a difference!
Any science nerd knows what makes these in the sand? [We have an answer: worm poo.]

Until our next adventure… Adios! (A tip of the sombrero to all the Duolingo Spanish we were all doing by the end of the trip. 🤓)