Friday, June 30, 2017 Brampton to Haltwhistle
Today we start riding on or near Hadrian’s Wall in earnest. We’re following the National Cycling Route # 72 west to east from Carlisle to NewcastleHadrian, the Roman emperor in 160 A.D., ordered that a stone wall almost 14 ft. high be built the 183 miles across what is now England near the present day boarder of Scotland. It was the most northern reaches of the Roman Empire and built to keep those savages (Reivers) from the north out. There are watchtowers and forts all along the way, turrets (lookout towers), and museums
The area is studded with Abbeys and Priorys dating as early as the 7th century which were built after the Romans left in the 5th century. All are in ruins that resulted from various wars and changing religious affiliations It’s really quite extraordinary and a site to behold. The entire area also peppered with more modern cathedrals and churches dating from the 11th -16th centuries.
and other interesting buildings that were built before Colorado was a state.There are also many people walking the length of the wall. The villages along the way are small market towns with lots of charm.
It was a very hilly ride today with a high of 55 degrees and a cold wind. Our first stop this morning was the Lanercost Priory about 4 miles out of Brampton. It was a church and monks abode built in 1177 with stones from Hadrian’s Wall. The TI women was very enthusiastic and gave us a good history lesson on the place. Both she and the other volunteer said we had a giant hill between there and our next site, the Birdoswald Roman Fort. They were right, just one of several for the day. Mid afternoon we visited the Roman Army Museum just in time to catch the 3 D dramatic adaptation film about the life of a Roman soldier in the second century. All very interesting.
At about 4:30 we descended the 2 miles into Haltwhistle where we checked into our hotel, the Belford House in the heart of the village.
Dinner was at a very old pub called The Black Bull where we met a couple from Utrecht, Holland. They had sailed to England from Holland on their 37 ft. sailboat and were hiking the Hadrian’s Wall east to west. We had a great visit for an hour or so and ended with them inviting us to visit them and go on their boat when we are in Holland in a couple of weeks .
Saturday, July 1, 2017 Haltwhistle to Hexham
Both the weather report and the locals said that this was going to be a nice day with no rain. The no rain part was true. We don’t think these people know what a nice day is. It was cold, around 58 degrees. Our first stop was the huge Roman fort of Vindolanda which sits in a valley reachable by climbing a couple of very long, steep hills. The climbs were worth the effort. The view of the foundations of the fort and other buildings from the top of our climb was a wonderful surprise. We arrived at the fort a few minutes before 11 and were able to catch up with a tour that had just started. This sight is VERY important. About 10 years ago, quite by accident during a archeological dig, a vast number of Roman writing tablets were discovered buried in a natural clay substance which prevented oxygen from infiltrating and destroying them. The tablets are mostly letters from Roman soldiers and other correspondence written with lead on very thin pieces of wood measuring about 3″ x 4″ and are a treasure trove of descriptions of everyday life and soldierly duties. Great care was taken to preserve these treasures from the rapidly decaying effect of being exposed to the air. Some of the tablets are displayed
along with the translation of Latin to English. (The display is changed often and very dark in order to protect the writings. If you look carefully, you can see a light area in the above photo which is one of the original letters whose translation is above it.) This site also produced other amazing things which included about 4000 Roman leather shoes discarded when the Roman Legion left Northern England in the 5th century.
The only downside was the climb to get to the place and the climb out of the valley to the highpoint of our ride along Hadrian’s Wall. Both were very long and steep. Once there however, it was a little like riding at tree line in the Colorado high country. Once we topped out, most of the way to Hexham was downhill and refreshing. Our Airbnb (Rosie and her rescue Greyhound named Allie) was above the town of Hexham.
We walked back down into town to try and buy a new camera as Ed has dropped ours one too many times. The one that literally broke it’s back was when it flew out of his front pack while curb hopping on our way to the B & B. It was right in front of the Abbey, but that didn’t seem to matter! No luck in our shopping though.
Sunday, July 2, 2017 Hexham to Wylam
Once again there was no rain, for which we are thankful, but still early spring cold. We had a tailwind for our 15 mile ride to Wylam. On the way we visited the Roman fort of Corbridge. The history of this fort and the one we visited yesterday are about the same. The stone fort was preceded by 3 or 4 forts built of wood which burned down, often with the help of marauding bands from the north (Scotland), then rebuilt when the Roman legions recaptured the land. Finally a fort was built of stone during Hadrian’s time, some of which remains until now although much of the stones have been pilfered and used for other building projects centuries later. This fort too was huge. Archeologists found a trunk dating back to Roman times with a number of unique items which were on display at the museum.
Our room tonight is above a pub called The Black Bull Inn. Spiderman is across the street looking after us.
Monday, July 3, 2017 Wylam-Newcastle
We took the 8:30 a.m. train into Newcastle and quickly took care of our errands including buying a new camera, which we can pick up tomorrow. The charging plug will be an English plug, so we will have to get an American one when we get home. We walked along the river promenade
to our 1:30 Newcastle Tunnels Tour.
The tunnel was built in 1842 to haul coal under the city center down to the waiting boats on the river. It was 2 ¼ miles long, dropped 222 feet in elevation with the deepest point 85 ft. under the street. The coal company eventually went broke. During WW II the tunnel was the air raid shelter for Newcastle and held 7000 people every time the Germans came over to bomb this part of England. The people would stay underground up to 8 hours with each raid. Cramped quarters, smelly bodies, big bucket “toilets” and dark and dank. There were wooden seats for those who got there early. Hard to imagine!
After the tour we walked around looking at the sites of the old city before ending the day back at the Tune Hotel on the river quay.
Tuesday, July 4, 2017 Newcastle
After a great night’s sleep, we awoke to rain which confirmed our decision to skip the free walking tour of the city. We had breakfast in our room. This is the first day in England where the hotel did not have an electric tea kettle in the room so we broke out the backpacking stove and boiled water in the bathroom for safety.
There was an English Heritage Jacobean House around the corner from us so we decided to visit it before heading up the hill to the Cathedral. It was the home of Bessie Surtees whose father was a prominent businessman in Newcastle’s coal industry. The house was very old, and had a few pieces of period furniture.
Bessie’s claim to fame was her jump from the 2nd story window to elope with her bow who wasn’t approved of by her parents. You could still see the scene of the crime (window).
NB: For those of you who will be visiting England for any length of time, consider buying an English Heritage Pass. We bought an annual membership which paid for itself after just 3 sights. They sell passes good for varying periods of time which give you free admission to more than 100 English Heritage sights throughout England.
On to the Cathedral next. Parts of it date to the13th century.
It had a dozen or so beautiful windows.
From there we continued to walk up hill away from the river and deeper into the old town to mail a package. While at the postal station a most helpful and enthusiastic worker helped us pack the two boxes so it would be the least cost. On the sly she gave us the tape, etc. so we wouldn’t have to buy any. She must have gone to the “aggressively friendly” classes that we had at work a couple of years ago. We so appreciated her help that we gave her the extra converter electrical plugs that we won’t need since she said she’s going to Finland in a couple of weeks.
We had lunch in one of the old covered markets. While having our coffee and PBJs, a woman in a sewing stall did a little repair for Maggie. The seamstress wouldn’t take any money and wished America Happy Birthday! We bought a 3 pack of raspberries and gave one each to the postal lady and to her as our thank you for their kindnesses. We ate the third with breakfast the next morning.
It rained from the time we got up until after we retired at midnight. Not one moment of reprieve. One local lady that we spoke to said last week it was “burning up” here. They had a high of 66! … really, burning up? Being the hardy souls that we are though, we kept our date for the “Mushrooms and Glass Houses” walking tour at 7pm. Because of the steady rain, however, the guide just did a lecture about the areas along the river while we took shelter under an overhang.
Wednesday 5, 2017 Newcastle to North Shields
Still raining. We dressed in our wet weather outfits again including the waterproof socks that we bought yesterday and headed down to the river to follow bicycle route #72, Hadrian’s Wall/Coast to Coast path to the ferry town of North Shields. It’s about 15 miles east of Newcastle near the mouth of the Tyne river at the North Sea. We met our Warmshowers host Roy at his home around 3:30 and proceeded to visit with him until he served a most delicious curry dinner. Ed went with Roy to his Bowls match in the evening which lasted about 2 hours. It’s what we’d call lawn bowling. Roy is quite good and sought after by teams.
Thursday, July 6 , 2017 North Shields to Amsterdam Ferry
We had another great night’s sleep and breakfast at Roy’s. We loaded up
and the three of us rode around North Shields looking at the sights. We went to the train station which is vintage 19th century.
and then rode through a beautiful park paid for by one of North Shields aristocrats. We went to the Abbey which dates to about 1300 but could not go in because of preparations for a big music festival that is being held there this weekend. What a fantastic place to go to a concert. The three of us roamed a little more and went down to the beach and had a farewell cup of coffee before Roy had to leave for another game of bowls. We window shopped on the way to the ferry for our trip to Holland.