A short cycle through western Europe (Part 2)…

Hadrian’s wall…

We arrived in Gretna green early on in the afternoon, with plenty of time to get to the chip shop and indulge ourselves. Gretna is famous for young couples and weddings, due to it’s position just over the border, and we saw a couple of matrimonial convoys passing by; but other than that the place wasn’t of much interest to us, so we just continued inland to find a spot to camp.

dscf7001We had planned on cycling all the way south through Britain to Dover, and continuing into Europe from there. But after realising how long this would take us, and also how quickly the money could go down, we decided to take a different route. We were going to catch a ferry to Amsterdam from Newcastle. If we turned inland and started heading east it was only about 70 miles to the port, a distance we would be able to do comfortably in a matter of days.

Chance had it that this route followed that of Hadrian’s wall. We hadn’t planned to visit it, it just kind of popped up. A sign stating its whereabouts came into view after the first couple of miles, and we were pleasantly surprised. It’s a place we’d both always been interested in seeing, and well, here we were satisfying that curiosity.

It’s a special place, is Hadrian’s wall. At the very least it is a quiet, secluded stretch of land one can journey through in peace and serenity, something that’s a rarity in England. But the fact that so many people come and do just that makes it even more special. And then there’s the history. The Romans chose the route of the wall specifically for its geology. The land juts up in a line for miles and miles, creating a natural barrier; which is what they built on and dug at. And ever since it has remained largely rural, even barren. A fair amount of the wall remains, as well as forts and other Roman remnants. But it’s the journeying people that fascinated me most of all.

dscf7045To be on a designated route for travellers is something magical. Especially if most people on that route are travelling by foot, or by bicycle. It creates a wonderful atmosphere; a great positive feeling. Everyone is exhilarated, stimulated by the vigorous exercise and passing wonders. There’s such great spirit emanating from each person, which is shared, everyone having a similar experience. Everybody smiles. Everybody gives way to one another. Everybody is kind and indulges in pleasant conversation. And the locals along the way enjoy it too, offering up humble services for those in need. But it’s not about spending money; it’s just about movement, visuals and unfamiliar sensations; nature reigning supreme. And the great acceptance of travellers; of tatty bags, muddy shoes, windswept hair; it makes folk like us feel quite at ease.

We spent a week travelling through it all, revelling in the sights. We accidentally took a detour half way, onto the Pennines- something that I wouldn’t recommend anyone travelling on a tricycle to try. The brakes weren’t very effective, and at one point I almost lost it, which would have sent me and Rags tumbling fast into serious injury. But then we got back up to the wall and enjoyed many nights of camping under the endless stars, clambering over various parts of the remains, and having the odd pint in those quaint little country pubs which so kindly pop up in the middle of nowhere.

dscf7066It got really hilly in places, like, really hilly. We would sometimes spend a whole hour just scaling one of the inclines. It was a tiring ride. And it was scorching hot as well, with not much shade around. But eventually we made it to the river Tyne, and onto the shaded cycle path that followed its length, and things became a lot easier. And that path would lead all the way to the port at North Shields, where we could catch the ferry, and actually start our continental bike ride!

We’d found a place to stay with another keen cyclist on the ‘camp in my garden’ website. It was directly on the route, and the lady was very kind and informative. And the next day, with her directions, we continued for a few miles through Newcastle, arriving at the port in no time.

Enjoy this story? Then you might like my book, ‘At Home in the Bushes’. It’s about a year I spent cycling, wild-camping & busking around Britain. You can order your copy for £10 now!

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