On Monday morning (16 May 2016) I caught the 0910 AD122 bus to Chesters. Hexham bus station is due to be replaced next year, so it is a mess. I eventually found the right stop by reading all the timetables and seeing which one mentioned it. The other notice in the timetable case is currently advertising a public meeting about the new bus station … held last May. Why is it that the powers-that-be spend a fortune on rebranding all the Hadrian’s Wall buses, glossy timetable leaflets, maps and advertising – but can’t manage an A4 poster saying “AD122 bus leaves from here”? I was the only passenger to get on at the bus station, but others joined at Hexham station.
Chollerford Bridge dates to 1175 and is some way upstream of the Wall crossing. I will blog Chesters and the Chesters bridge abutment separately (the Bridge abutment is currently closed due to flooding). Today I got off the bus outside the fort – NY911705 – the bus stop is currently in the middle of water works. At this time on a Monday morning there were all sat in their vans on their mobile phones planning how much longer they can disrupt the traffic. I started walking at 0930 and went back to cross the river again.
The Wall is not visible on the right, though you can see where the field boundary runs down to the river.
The Trail then moves to the north side of the Wall and comes to the church at Heavenfield. I have blogged this church before, so I will direct you there. The story of the Battle of Heavenfield is worth reading and there is a Roman altar in the church.
There was a lovely tea room here – sadly St Oswald’s tearoom is now closed. I missed it, their lemon meringue pie was lovely.Even where the trail is beside the road it is well laid out, but most of the time you walk alongside, in the ditch. Lovely views north.
The next sign takes us to the Port Gate. A walk through some woods (and some devastated wood), then across the fields, and down to the A68 at the Errington Arms. This has never seemed to be a welcoming pub, and their website is currently inviting me to book for Valentine’s Day (which year?) – it wasn’t open at 1145 even for coffee. When Hunter Davies walked the Wall in the mid 70s there was a car showroom here. Hunter Davies’ book was the one I read before visiting the Wall with mum and dad in the late 70s and walking some of it in the early 80s. The A68 is the Dere Street, and the Roman road continues north. The Port Gate sat astride the Wall. Located in 1966, nothing is visible now.
You cross the drive to Halton Castle (originally recorded in 1382, rebuilt in 1696) with a helpful footpath sign. You continue beside the road, then round to the left of an interesting corner with views south over the valley. This drive is in the middle of the fort of Halton Chesters, but there is nothing much to see on the surface. The plan in Breeze of what has been found with geophys is more impressive. According to this website, Onnum Roman Fort was built across the line of the Wall facing north. The west gate of the fort has a dedicatory slab proclaiming “To the emperor Caesar Trajan Hadrian the August, the Sixth Victorious Legion, Loyal and Faithful, made this, under Aulus Platorius Nepos, the emperor’s Legate with propraetorian power.” Aulus Platorius Nepos was Governor of Britain between 122 and 125 AD. Under Septimis Severus (208 and 211) an extension was added to the SW corner of the fort with a bath house, later replaced with a barrack block and stables. For a while Ala I Pannoniorum Sabiniana, the cavalry regiment on the Wall, was based here. They would not only have patrolled the Wall, but also used Dere Street to head north.
The next bit of the walk along through Halton Shields is a bit of a road tramp, but the flowers make up for it. In several places we end up in the ditch, or divert round a farm.
By now I needed lunch – my drinks and sandwich had already been demolished – and I came to the Vallum Tea Room – website. One burger with potato wedges (that sounds healthier than chips) and lots of tea, and I felt better. I also treated myself to an ice cream cone as I continued walking. I did a walk along here a few years ago with my son Gareth. We both treated ourselves to a Vallum ice cream and bought a bag of scones. We felt out of place being passed by Wall Walkers as we strolled along, cornets in hand, plastic bag of scones in the other.
On past the Robin Hood Inn – did he ever get this far north? – which has a nice collection of old signs. They have recently reopened – website. The pub dates to 1752.
Then on to Whittle Dene, a collection of reservoirs built between 1845 and 1888 to supply Newcastle. We have come across this work at Ryal church and right up in the north at Catcleugh (see the church at Byrness).
The path and road climb up to Harlow Hill, where a selection of buildings (including an old chapel and a pub) are all up for sale. If you have a spare million you could do something wonderful here. There are some holiday cottages here too.
Then down the other side and across the entrance road to Albemarle Barracks. These are the home to 39 Regiment of the Royal Artillery – website – and was formerly RAF Ouston. For a while the RAF runway was used as the airport for Newcastle. You can’t see much from the road and I have never been to the barracks, even though some of their children come to Richard Coates School.
On we go … Heddon seems a long way away but the only bus from Albemarle to civilization is in the morning (it runs back to the Base in the afternoon, but then goes home out of service).
The path then leaves the road to go round three sides of Vindobala (Rudchester). I could have done without that! It does not look like this drawing. Breeze writes “apart from some inscriptions built into the farmstead, a cistern known as the Giant’s Grave … is the only visible feature … it is well protected by nettles.” I did not look for it.
The path and Military Road run down towards the A69, then crosses the road, and there is a long (well it seemed very long) haul up to the bus stop outside the Three Tuns at Heddon-on-the-Wall. There is no seat at the bus stop, and I had done 17 miles. There is a garage here that would have sold me coffee, but the 1610 bus arrived shortly after I did and took me back to Hexham; even better, it is a through Carlisle bus so stopped outside the police station close to our house. I was a little bit cream-crackered, but felt proud of the walk I had achieved. It is a long time since I walked this far.