Today in no small part was the one that I had dreaded, there was no telling how much things would hurt nor which of them I would still be forced to contend with upon waking.  The potential prospect of walking then in pain was unappealing.  As it happens, all things considered the aches were relatively minor and certainly substantially less than the night before when we had returned not quite broken but aware that in terms of fitness we were certainly not at our physical peak.

Today was Chollerford to Vindolanda and beyond which promised to be better than Vindobala, the latter being little more than a plaque in a clump of grass.  Having walked 14 miles previously it was important not to make unrealistic expectations about the day ahead and we had thought that Vindolanda was 12 miles from where we were to be dropped off, the point at which we had stopped yesterday, which seemed just about an acceptable proposition.  However we were then led to believe that it was only 5 miles away and this seemed slightly wimpy even for us.

The truth was somewhat different to either of those hypotheses and had we known it at the outset we might have had just cause to be sore afraid.  We had been told by the landlady of the bunkhouse that today would be a great deal hillier than it had before but we could not have surmised from this the nature of the task that lay ahead.  The going from Chollerton to Brocolatia and the Temple of Mithras was mostly even ground and relatively uneventful with some hills that with the benefit of hindsight appear to have been contemptibly mild but didn’t seem so at the time.  Firstly at Blackcarts we came across a proper section of wall, this was what we had signed up for genuine signs of roman involvement not merely the promise that there had been at one time.  After that a quarry like area where chisel marks appeared to have been cut (potentially by the Romans) in an attempt to sever small sections of rock from larger.  Stopping within some of the largest worked stones I have seen for some time we drank tea and ate fruit and agreed that in spite of some dull aching inherited from the day before it was no more than residual, we were confident of reaching our destination in good time.  The path wound back down towards the road where we came to Brocolatia, one of the small forts en route. The Temple of Mithras itself was in good condition with the statues at the altar largely intact, the ubiquitous few coins in the bowl on the altar, and a very clear structure.  After that we headed up towards the next checkpoint at Sewingshields which purported to be around 3 miles.  Atop the first hill there was a small cut off pyramid like structure that we surmised must signify the highest point on the wall, we had a sense of achievement at that and congratulated ourselves and soaked up the view as the wind threatened to blow us off the ridge.

We enjoyed walking along the ridges and seeing the spectacular views acrross the former pict dominated landscape.  The gradient did start to tell on our thighs and by the time we had passed the Sewingshields mile castle before the woods we started to crave a sit down, a cup of tea and a good sandwich.  As it was raining we made for the wood to make camp and chugged through the entire flask of tea and all of lunch before resuming in the belief that we had broken the back of the climbing and could look forward to some downhill where I could run helter skelter like a mad eejit as I had done yesterday when it had seemed to loosen my muscles nicely.  We took heart from the fact that that rather than stopping halfway up the hill for lunch we had in fact done so at the top and therefore proven our manhood were the matter ever to be brought into question.

The path at this point did not seem clear, the modern wall went one way but the arrow indicated quite another that appeared to be diverging.  Trudging through the bog that we found at the bottom it was an unnerving sight to see other walkers in the distance by the modern wall.  After stages of doubt followed by conviction and then more doubt we decided that we were following the path as instructed and all the others must be wrong!  The others though clearly knew something we did not (very likely since they might have had the foresight to have guide books and maps).  We laughed at such bourgeois fripperies and sank into the resulting quagmire up to our ankles.  We wondered whether or not we might have made a fatal error and been half way up towards Dumfries but the die was already cast and we had come this far to turn back would have necessitated navigating the bog again and neither of us could be sure that our shoes would remain on our feet on a second occasion.  Another wood took pity on our mud and cowshit laden shoes and gave respite for a while, the comfort only marginally weakened by the fact that no one passed us on that path in either direction.

Back out in the swamp we mused upon the fact that the footprints appeared fresh though we agreed that it was just possible that the odd set of idiots had come this way before making tracks that had merely given hope to each set of idiots that came thereafter.  And then it all started to look up, literally.  We saw then a clear settlement which we presumed must be Vindolanda as it did not seem to be along the wall path at all, would explain why the others had headed that way.  Since we had decided earlier that we would visit it tomorrow we were in high spirits, it had stated 12 miles by road from Chesters fort near where we had started and the way we had walked was longer than the road.  We had made excellent time and were confident that we would surely be at Twice Brewed in time for a good and well-earned pint.

Our optimism was decidedly misplaced.  Each hill seemed like the daddy only to give way to the realisation that there was an even steeper hill just to come and there was a moment when cheery countenances became a little strained, the hills were substantial enough that we could see nothing behind them that suggested anything else of similar stature and thus having already proven manhood earlier we felt there was nothing at this point of which we were not capable. However each time we made the arduous crossing of one it was difficult for our hearts not to sink a little further looking at the one to come which just seemed to have materialised out of nothing and heralded an even steeper climb than its predecessor and I think we both began to believe that they would never end until eventually we would be forced to abseil down the last one.

Given what Simon had led me into by that stage when during the hills two extremely attractive and friendly young Dutch ladies passed in the opposite direction I was ready to give Simon up to the elements and throw my lot in with them.  (I hasten to add whilst I think they were Dutch this could have been nothing more than the deluded hallucinations of the tired man.)  Had we been at the temple of Mithras offerings would have been made including human blood if required, Simon’s of course, I would need my strength for the ladies.  Many might have allowed their compadre a shot at one himself, others of a more moral bent might have allowed him the option of declining on account of his being happily married, my thoughts were far less generous, and informed more by the fact that Simon whilst good company was unlikely to put out and I was less likely to be in the sort of ‘intoxicated to the point of poisoning’ state where I might have been tempted to take him up on the offer had he done so.  By the time I had completed the internal dialogue and schemed a stratagem for the “accidental” removal of Simon from the proceedings and my subsequent wooing of the Dutch lovelies they had vanished off into the insanely hilly section and whilst my spirit, not to mention libido, was keen to pursue my legs had rather different ideas and had calculated that Twice Brewed pub was clearly the white building in the distance and they were going to head for it.  They were in league with the stomach which fancied a pint of finest ale and the brain which had long since realised that this whole quest was lunacy and should be stopped immediately.

We reached Steel Rigg milecastle which did deliver on it’s promise of stunning views it was also carved seemingly into the middle of a large cliff so we decided to take tiffin and enjoy some cake.  The cake was worth the wait and for a moment whilst eating it seemed as if everything had stopped hurting in order to unite in cake enjoyment to give it the respect it richly deserved.  The man at the top of the hill waiting for everyone to go past so that he could tai a picture of it unmanned was less pleased with our enjoyment of high tea and was the only person along the whole route not to greet us in a friendly manner, according to Simon muttering something about “that’s right, have another cup of tea don’t mind me here.”  Miserable old goat!

Sense of humour failure hit when after the Steel Riggs climb when we found yet another hill and some bulls blocking the path who by the level of the cacophony they were making were not pleased about something.  We had already passed through a field of bulls that had seemed sinister and looked to be luring us into a boggy trap before exacting revenge for generations of slaughtered beef.  This bunch were telling us in advance that this was what they were about to do and shouting it as awarning for everyone else.  The noises bounced from one side of the cliff to the other and was the loudest I have heard cows at any time in my life.  Fortunately they were all moo and no action but it was a rather disquieting experience.

Once at the top we stopped to chat with a straggler from a group that had marched 26 miles from Carlisle on their first day and had hoped to do 20 today but weren’t going to get much more than 16 and were to be calling it a day at Steel Rigg.  He told us that the next hill did indeed give way to a car park and that beyond that there was a village of some sort.  He ominously wished us luck for the next section but in truth it was nothing as severe as the many we had just accomplished.  As we walked down the road from the car park and saw the Twice Brewed Inn we were switched to auto pilot and the body started shutting itself down in anticipation.

The ale was as sweet as it has ever tasted.

For the alternative view see that of my compadre here.  For the views of the twisted sarky chronicler Trivial Pursuit adversary see here.

Songs Of The Day ~ INXS –  Just Keep Walking;  Turrrentine Jones – Della May

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