After the unfortunate demise of Optio Gaius Simonensis, being invalided out of service and taken by the Prefect to the Fortress at Luguvallum for trial I was forced to decide whether or not the march should be ended or if I should try to lead the fictitious IInd legion alone.  It wasn’t really a choice, the quest had to be completed or the campaign would be left with a very very small amount of sourness that we had been unable to conquer the great edifice in spite of us having had a lot of fun most of the time trying.

Our billet for the night had been a farm house with a faint smell of bovine faeces, perhaps the last laugh of Brown 833, it was closer to the actual end point of the wall at Bowness than it was to Carlisle, our original planned destination.  I knew that it would have grated with me had I not gone the whole hog* (whole bog as it turned out!) so I was dropped off at Bowness, the prefect perhaps thinking that this would most surely mark the death of me.  Fortunately at the same time the 3 gents who had stayed in the bunkhouse with us on the 2nd night were setting out on their last day, a strange coincidence that they too were walking in the opposite direction to the one in which they’d started.  It was good to have some company on the journey as I had been a little daunted by the idea of an entire day on my own reconnaissance!  We walked along what seemed almost like a causeway with a nice view across the Solway to Gretna.  It was a pleasant walk, except for the odd shower but we made pretty good time towards Burgh-on-Sands, although according to the mileposts the place seemed for some time to be ever receding into the distance, much to the chagrin of the caffeine-hungry crusties!

At the Greyhound Inn, Burgh-on-Sands it was like a reunion of all the figures over the past week with the couple from the first night and their two dogs, the three blokes that Simon and I had been constantly passing and being passed by since the first day.  This was everyone’s last day, for some merely the short 8 miles to Bowness, for others the similar amount to Carlisle, for me the ever more daunting task of the last leg to Newtown.  I decided to leave everyone else to their lunch, something told me that I would need to get a shift on but could make it if I set off straight away, it was a hard decision saying farewell to probably the last chance of company for the day, but since there was no need for the Steves and Neil to go at the same sort of pace that I would need it would have been either frustrating for me or unfair to them to have continued together after that point.

The going to Beaumont was pleasant and I stopped for a quick bite to eat believing that I was well on the way and deserved some sustenance and a cuppa.  Kirkandrew and Grinsdale passed in unmemorable fashion, though I am sure they are perfectly charming little Cumbrian villages if seen at a leisurely stroll.  The terrain had been passable up to then, the bogs had still some way of getting round and I had not had to navigate any hostile wildlife, even the sheep seemed amenable and content to just toddle out of my way.

Bog

I should have known based on previous mistakes thinking that the going at any given time would be easy that this was a ruse waiting to ensnare me.  The quagmire was the instrument that was to make this abundantly clear.  We’d had more severe gradients on our route over the last few days just as we’d had bogs to navigate and plenty of them.  What we had not had was a hill without any stones or grip on the path that then led to a wide bog at the bottom.  I would like to make it quite clear that given those circumstances the predicament was inevitable.  In such a situation as you slip down a hill out of control you can either allow yourself to continue slipping and risk injury based on the lack of control over your movement and possibly a catastrophe with the camera or you can attempt to take matters into your own hands and run it out.  I chose the latter option and it was indeed the right one for the navigation of the hill in isolation as I descended successfully and without injury or incident.  Sadly it was not the right strategy for the marsh beneath and as I landed at not insignificant pace my shoe remained behind and I continued unwillingly apace for a fair number of steps.  Looking back the braking distance for a large oaf travelling at terminal velocity was always going to be problematic but it is a credit to my shock adsorbs that I did so in about 5 steps, this may also have had something to do with the depth of the swamp making each step harder.  The bog was almost up to the knee so I now had wet legs and soaking wet socks not to mention cold, mucky, squelchy shoes.  When I shortly thereafter trod in a clump of grass that contained a luminous green cow pat which splattered all over me I confess the prospect of giving up was almost irresistible.  I vented my frustration by shouting a string of vernacular Anglo-Saxon and German and would have gone so far as to kick Brown 833 up the arse had the beast been present.

The road to Carlisle was barely discernible as having anything to do with the wall save for the occasional acorn plaque and wall path sign for direction.  The only time there was not one of these I was fortunate enough to meet a man walking his dogs who informed me that the sign had been knocked down by a tractor and then carried away by a flood!  This seemed to suggest that this mild piece of fortune meant my luck was changing and that all being well the remainder of the walk would not be as mammoth of a task as it was beginning to look.  This was as well as my feet were not exactly content having to drag mobile ponds around with them at every step.  The first sight of Carlisle was as I went over a temporary steel bridge over some roadworks, much of the other sights of the city visible from the path were equally inauspicious comprising of the industrial estates and the sort of dull soulless architecture that tends to congregate around the fringes of cities and towns.  The river was nice enough and the odd derelict redbrick railway building broke up the monotony.  Bitts Park was a pleasant interlude and a trip back to civilisation and the first time I had seen people in proximity since Burgh.  At the end of it the park was the only real commemoration of the wall I was to see all day.  Blocks of stone representing each of the forts along the route and a large wooden stake with Luguvallum (Carlisle) on it.  It was a shame Simon and I could not both have ended our walk there together, it would have been a fitting point to do so.

After Carlisle I can only say the going was really bloody hard, I took a mere 28 pictures by far the least I had taken in any one session on the whole trip.  It was all just about finishing it now and whilst I had faith that my mind would keep pressing me on there was no guarantee that my body would be able to live up to such endurance nor that I would have the time to finish.  My socks and shoes were soaked through, my trousers were muddy, shitty and damp and my t-shirt was drenched in cold sweat, as was my jacket, these were not ideal conditions to walk in or, I would assert, do anything in except strip off and have a bath, and inside to boot.  Some wall or even the odd turret would have stopped the fields all congealing to a great green mass of wet grass and stiles but instead the only variation was the frequency of the bogs and fields of bulls to navigate, the latter invariably stopped what they were doing and regarded me with suspicion like the cowboys in the saloon when a stranger comes into town.  When you have potentially another patsy compatriot to sacrifice to them for solidarity one can presume that one might make good an escape might stand side by side in unity!  On my own I did not have this luxury and after the Brown 833 incident I was more on edge than I otherwise would have been.  Invariably large groups of the vicious bastards would congregate in sinister mobs on the path itself, I mean a whole fucking field to choose from but no, they have to be on the bloody path don’t they?  Whilst I was not in the mood to trifle with any of the livestock on route I was even less inclined to be invalided out of the journey so close to the end by the actions of some steak-in-waiting.  As already mentioned I bear no specific animosity towards the beasts, I would have preferred a mutual arrangement of leaving one another well alone but they broke this pact and consequently I am justly aggrieved!

Flood

Shortly before Crosby I did not have the assistance of a man with his dogs when I came out of a field and onto a fork in the road with no sign in sight, I had a choice of two roads and I picked the one which looked the straightest, the wrong one!  There were no turnings off the road so not only was I forced to trudge all the way back to the last point at which I had thought I was still on the path to take the other route but I had to walk beside a golf course with a higher than usual ponce quota.  I was heartened to find the path again and welcomed the next occurrence of the acorn, though somewhat incandescent that today of all days I had added an unnecessary 2 miles to the trek.  Things had seemed to have started to go from bad to worse, my feet were being constantly chafed by the wet socks, I suspected I might be about to get my first blisters, and the tops of my toes had been rubbed raw.  My shoulder was seriously feeling the strain of the rucksack on my back every day and my hip was complaining so loudly that it couldn’t really be ignored.

As it got closer and closer to the end it was sheer stubbornness that kept me going, I had no energy left save for the adrenalin that was coming from the large amount of pain coming from more areas than I could list.  I knew the last 4 miles would be the toughest when I saw the first sign for Newtown as the next checkpoint, it was a question of so close you can practically smell the victory, and the beer, the end is almost in sight, as is the lovely Vicky!  But akin to the acute discomfort of the need for a piss being the worst when you actually get into the toilet and the anticipation almost makes you burst, (or is that just me?!) so the mind has less control over the body when there would be no other way but to walk the last 3 miles.  I think I went a little mad during that time, the internal dialogue became more of a constant angry tirade and I’m afraid some sheep had to listen to a diatribe that was not of their making.  I would like to apologise to them unreservedly, my conduct was unacceptable and the description of them as bastard cunting fluffy feckers that should be stuck on a pole like a giant candy flosses does not reflect my true views on the ovine population.

Darkness begins

When I made Newtown as dusk began its descent I could not help but raise my arms aloft as if finishing the London marathon, which wasn’t much more of a distance than what I had just covered, though doing the distance in 3 hours may yet be beyond me for some time.  A lady in a car parked closely to my finishing line decided that I was obviously quite mad and refused to look anywhere near me as I passed her.  I had thought that the walk down the hill to Irthington would be perhaps the toughest part because it wasn’t even the wall path but so relieved was I to have completed the epic that I barely felt anything on the way down.  The “Sally” was once again a warm haven of seats and beer and of course the lovely Vicky, who was spared the embarrassment of any further questioning from me since I had to first change my utterly objectionable smelling clothes, in an extremely posh bathroom mark you (the first in a pub I think I have come across in a long while that didn’t have at least 3 generations of piss to smell.) it took the last ounce of energy I had.

The salvation of the Salutation

I couldn’t even muster enough to eat of the sumptuous banquet that the Prefect and Optio had been heartily tucking into whilst I had been risking life and limb crossing the frontiers.  As if to further torment your hapless correspondent it was explained to me that this was the finest food they had ever tasted!  Ever the Celt at heart I satisfied myself by the partaking of ale whilst gazing longingly at the lovely Vicky, and dreaming of how different life might have been if she’d seen me as the hero I knew I was for that briefest of moments.  (With the faintest question in my mind as to whether if I had some woad I might impress her more than the grimy fecker that had presented himself at the bar these last two evenings.)

All that was left was the chariot ride back to barracks North of Ratae Corieltauvorum during which time I was in sufficient pain that I distracted myself with thoughts of profound lewdity, which and about whom I shall not go into in polite company.

For those who simply cannot take any more of the pain being inflicted (upon me that is, this is no time to cast aspirations as to my writing style) the more comfortable day of marital bliss, capitalist pig dog coffee and slabs of cake and gentle strolling around castles before being rounded off by sumptuous banquets in the company of the lovely Vicky (who as she falls into the myth of memory becomes steadily more like Aphrodite every day in my head) please adjourn to the soft furnishings here and here.

Songs Of The Day ~ Bobby Cook – Gone So Far; Electronic – Get The Message

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