Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Hadrian's Wall in Four Easy Steps

I once met a journalist in London who was about to retire. She had been at the forefront of world events over a long career. “So what are you going to do next?” I asked her expecting a reply about consulting and board membership. “Walk Hadrian’s Wall” was her response.

And boom - the idea was planted. It sounded so iconic. Hike across England along a wall marking the northern edge of the Roman Empire. But not the kind of thing one would do by oneself. So I mentioned this cool idea to a good friend who was (conveniently) 5,000 miles away in North Carolina.

Step Number 1 – Just mention Hadrian’s Wall to one keen hiker and watch what happens

Before I could say ‘lets think about this a little more’ there were 10 keen Carolinians, mostly from the mountains, mostly lawyers who were all packed and ready to go.

Now what?

Step Number 2 – Get support

 You could organize a walk by yourself. But you don’t need to and, I would argue, you don’t want to. There are several companies that can help you organize your walk providing everything from itinerary planning to accommodation booking and luggage transfers.  We used Hadrian’s Wall Ltd run by Gary and Stacey Reed whose passion for the region, local knowledge and organizational skills turned our experience into something much more than a walk along a wall. From the company’s extensive range of services, we chose the 7 Nights Part Guided group option that included a custom itinerary, an orientation meeting on arrival, top of the line B&B accommodation, baggage transfers and 2 days of guided walking with Gary. It was an article in the Observer by Jane Dunford that convinced me that we had to hike with Gary and you can read that article here. And yes, he was every bit as good as his press.

Step Number 3 – Take your time

There are several ways to trek Hadrian’s Wall. You could focus on how quickly you can do the distance but then you will probably miss the full experience. Hadrian’s Wall Path is really an 84-mile encounter with the Roman Empire filled with some of the most important archeological sites in Europe such as the Roman Vindolanda fort. Go too fast and you miss the chance to revel in the history. If you are short on time or don’t want to walk too far each day, go for the middle bit considered by many to be the best of the wall. Our group did a wonderful 47 mile stretch from Carlisle to Chester Fort near Hexam which allowed us to walk a reasonable 8 to 10 miles a day (with the prevailing winds to our back – this is important), enjoy the landscape, explore the antiquities and meet the  people.

Step Number 4 – Meet people

I am a city mouse so my natural instinct is to be wary of strangers. But I learned something on this trek from the gregarious Carolinians and thanks to them, we did meet just about everyone.

From the young barkeep at the Hallmark Hotel in Carlisle who was so chuffed (UK slang for a state of delighted satisfaction) to have made his first American friends, to the ‘Miss Marple’ pair of ladies we kept bumping into on the trail to innkeepers Dee and Gary at the marvelous Battlesteads in Wark, we made so many new friends and exchanged countless stories.  In the pantheon of great walks, it doesn’t get much better than that.


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