Category: Travel


Statute Of Liberties!

I am heartened, not to mention a little surprised, in many ways that so many people have read my review on the Snowden Mountain Railway, such that it appears in the first page of a Google search on the thing.  I suspect the views of that post equal all of the rest of mine put together!  It shows that some form of direct action can work and that my voicing my opinion and translating the disappointment my children felt may have avoided at least some others having the same experience. Adults can take these setbacks on the chin and muse and moan about the injustice to anyone who will listen, as indeed I have done, but for children this sort of event is more unfortunate and therefore from a parent’s point of view way more vexing.  In this day and age when getting children out of the house and off phones, computers and games consoles is increasingly more difficult it is essential to pick your activity carefully both within budget and something that will appeal sufficiently for them not to feel resentful for having been hauled out of their pits!  One of the most pleasing things is that the benefit to the Lake Railway has been as tangible and this is well deserved.  The experience we had on that did go a fair way to mitigating that on the SMR and I am grateful for it having done so because I imagine, I hope, what they are more likely to remember the SMR for is their father’s ire and indignation rather than their own memories of the mediocrity it all (thankfully they didn’t have to pay for it!).  The rest of the holiday was equally pleasurable with plenty to do in that part of the world and enough to occupy a few days in Llanberis at ground level alone.

Have I heard from the SMR at any stage since our trip, no. Has it damaged their finances much, I shouldn’t have thought a great deal. But it has a little bit and, however insignificant it may seem, the contempt they have shown to my family and others I know has bitten them in the arse, even if the equivalent of that of a mosquito.  There is such little recourse these days when larger organisations do customers an injustice that it is all the more important to speak out by whatever medium you have available, voices, however quiet can still lead to a conversation.  Review sites like Trip Advisor can have both a positive and a negative impact on places, this is not always a good thing as smaller places can be hit disproportionately hard by one bad review whilst the larger ones can absorb it into a morass of sycophancy.  Look no further at the SMR itself for an example of the latter.

At the time of writing the SMR’s Trip Advisor stats are:
  • Excellent – 486
  • Very good – 378
  • Average – 211
  • Poor – 109
  • Terrible – 118
Total reviews 1,302 – There is only 1 of the “terrible” reviews that the SMR have seen fit to respond to and it is one about the lack of the Welsh language being used, none of the things relating to either prices of the train or the parking are deemed fit for comment.  Conversely the “excellent” reviews are greeted with a great many sycophantic responses, I wonder if the original poster were paid to leave their comments!
I notice gladly that there has been no contradiction of my assertion of the Padarn Lake railway being a positive experience and this certainly speaks volumes.
Their Trip Advisor tally is:
  • Excellent – 133
  • Very good – 117
  • Average – 56
  • Poor – 13
  • Terrible – 9

Total reviews – 328.  Obviously this is far fewer than the SMR but the proportions make pretty stark reading, just under 7% of their reviews are at the worst end (Poor/Terrible). They have had 1 terrible in 2015 which was pretty much as a result of the SMR!  Other than that they not had a “terrible” since June 2013 and had responded to the last 2 they did receive.  Their Excellent/Very Good tally is over 75%.  The SMR’s record on the worst end is more than double the Lake railways’ at around 17% and at the Excellent/Very Good they manage only 66%.  So if you then add cost in to that you’ll get an idea of how it all stacks up.  And I haven’t even come to the car parking, a subject that many people leaving reviews seems to merit more anger than any event of the rest of the day!

I hope the people who have chosen to take the SMR have had a better time than we did, I bear those people no ill will and I hope as few children as possible have had a negative experience because at the end of the day my purpose was in the hope that this would be the case.  Likewise I’m sure many of the people working on the railway do care about their customers and are merely hampered, and perhaps equally frustrated by, the failings of the system at management level but I find it such a shame that the bean counters should have been allowed to rob the railway of its magic that I feel duty bound to ensure that my review remains out there alerting people.  One day a manager might come across the assorted negative feedback and think ‘this is wrong, I’m going to change it and make the railway great again’.  Yeah I won’t hold my breath either!

Song Of The Day ~ The Doobie Brothers – Long Train Runing

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Well the dust has settled, the blisters have completed their expansion, the stench-ridden clothes have been washed and the aches have settled into their level that they promise to maintain for several days.  So comes the time for reflection on what we have accomplished on our journey across the most Northern reach of the Roman Empire.

Young Turks – You should remember us this way, not how we became!

Gaius Simonensis has now returned to Londinium with the Prefect and been given a promotion for his efforts to be part of the Prefect’s personal guard.  It is the equivalent of being removed from the frontline on medical grounds and given a nice safe desk job.  I hear he may even be in line for a future leading role with the IXth Legion when they leave for campaigns in Iudaea and against the Parthians.  I remain here with a detachment from the IInd Augusta near Ratae charged with maintaining the Pax Romana and protecting the amiable Corieltauvni from the hairy-arsed heathens of the Brigantes –  they of  the shirtless bodies and incomprehensible language.  Not that the vulgar Latin spoken in Ratae is much of an improvement but at least it shows willing and one can generally understand the words even if the pronunciation is an aberration.  It is to be borne in mind that before we arrived these people were savages and civilisation has come late to them, they’ve only just got a public bath, by Jupiter.  One must appeal to Minerva to bestow the virtues of tolerance and forbearance.  Simply saying “catapultam habeo.  Nisi pecuniam omnem mihi dabis, ad caput tuum saxum immune mittam” tends not to go down too well for diplomatic solutions, after all this isn’t Alesia.

Before we left I had applied for a posting back to Aelia Castra, where I had been stationed as a Miles Gregarius in my formative years, it was always an altogether more comfortable spot, not to mention a place of burgeoning culture and learning but my efforts have been in vain and so for now I must stay here amongst the technical detachment and seek to further my ambition in Londinium as and when the opportunity arises.  The dullness of life here is made tolerable by the fact that I have a nice villa and a safe fort to work in, but without the prospect of a holiday in Southern Gaul this year and the inclemency of the weather beginning to show its hand it hardly makes for an exciting prospect during the months to come, it’s not exactly Massilia over here.  I have however replaced my worn-out chariot with a state of the art more modern sporty version which I fell befits my station better, it has a horse which seems faster than the old one even if it does require more hay to keep it going.  The price of hay these days being an utter disgrace it is a wonder that an ordinary legionary can afford a chariot at all.

In spite of all this I will look back upon our trip to the frontier fondly, the cut and thrust of the endless marching, the sense of achievement crossing the almost impassable hills even the regimented routine presided over by the Prefect, joining us so readily in her almost imperial chariot to mark our progress at dawn and dusk.  The trials and tribulations that we encountered made for a journey of discovery both physical and personal.  The natives to the region bedecked in animal hides such that they may seem almost exactly like the fauna were on the whole friendly, except for the odd fracas such as that when we were ambushed and hopelessly outnumbered on the 3rd days patrol.  We have to thank Mars and Diana for getting us out of that one alive.  The terrain is as beautiful as it is brutal and were we to return we would not underestimate it again.  It is a shame with the benefit of hindsight that we did not begin at Pons Aelius for although there is little of interest along the route it would have meant we had covered the whole section leaving no stone unturned as it were.  We could not have known these sorts of things in advance just as we could not have foreseen the damage to our ageing bodies that the trip was to perpetrate, but in spite of the ravages of each day we still awoke the following morning at reveille and continued onward.  We were lucky of course to be fortified by much thea, of which the Britons apparently drink almost as much as the Hibernians, as well as cooked breakfasts of meat and large slabs of cake made in the image of the wall itself.  Bacchus has not in his wisdom provided the ability to grow much wine in this godforsaken climate but the locals brew a beverage in the tradition of Celtic ancestors and this was indeed very palatable and suited the nature of the weather very well.  It was at times a pity we could not have sourced more of it but my suspicion is that the Prefect had made plans to ensure it was in short supply so as to prevent us from waning in our enthusiasm for the  task.  Perhaps that would be a case of sentio aliquos togatos contra me conspirare!

Guard Duty

One might have thought I would be thanking the Gods that it is all over but in fact I would return to the fray right now without hesitation, the camaraderie, the solidarity against all the common foes were exhilarating but perhaps my judgement is clouded by having returned to the mundanity and obscurity of everyday life and the lack of thrills that punctuate it.  A tour of duty on the wall is indeed a campaign I can recommend, take not the challenge lightly but as with much in life you will recoup what you have invested and see much along the way that will stay with you.  Furthermore in times whilst sat in darkened tavernae you will have yarns to recount and should you ever come across others that have completed the quest too there will be smiles and back slapping and shared memories of the 9 peaks of doom and the crags of despair and skirmishes with furry, horned, brown-skinned natives whose stance might make you think they had 2 extra legs instead of arms.   Amongst comrades we may describe the hill that got away, 8 miles high and snow on the top of it there was,  some say it stretched up to heaven and that those who ascended it never came back for they met with the Gods!  Others claim this was merely a hallucination, the result of pain, the local brew and a concoction of a herbal variety that the locals smoke in small clandestine groups!

Such campaigns often afford one the adventure and excitement generally lacking at home, everyone is paradoxically more relaxed in spite of the toughness of the endeavours at hand but one must be careful not to confuse a temporary detachment from the garrison as something that would be the same permanently.  It is a mistake easily made by the disaffected and can be a costly one for the natives are often less accommodating when they are aware that you are not intending to leave at a defined point.  It is a lesson I learned during my long stays in Germania where some of the locals are far more heathen and savage than almost any I have encountered over here.  Perhaps this is merely that I stand out less over here given that my Hibernian credentials are disputed by some, in Germania there was no question and our treatment was adjunct to xenophobia.

Musings on the past and hypotheses as to the nature of permanent relocations aside I will see, I hope,  for years to come the trip to Hadrian’s wall as a positive one, I think by now that should be abundantly clear.  I like to hope that it may form one of those things that my Grandchildren will see as another one of Granddad’s stories which all being well I will still possess enough faculties to tell with verve sufficient to capture their imagination, further embellished by the suspense and drama which time will have allowed to suffuse through the story like the strands of bindweed in a hedgerow.  Whether or not future campaigns may retrace the steps of Quintus Veranus and Suetonius Paulinus into the mad areas of the Druids, whether we shall be recorded for posterity as fondly as Agricola was by his son-in-law Tacitus remain to be seen and perhaps may form the basis of future correspondence.  For now we must content ourselves that we have taken part in an odyssey ventured by a select few (hundreds of thousands – Ed) and the chronicle of same may inspire the modern-day Homers and Virgils to great literary works in tribute, it would be no more than we deserved.

And so alea iacta est.  Valete pro tempera, mark thee well that quidquid latine dictum sit altum viditur!

The belying of the Bitter End

Actum est, comites!

Songs Of The Day ~ Dream Academy – Life In A Northern Town; PiL – Rise (§-Soundtrack of the whole trip available on request!)

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

Invaders

Packing is a bit of an arse really particularly when on holiday, but we had stayed our time in Northumberland and were to move to Carlisle and the bracing air of the Irish sea and Solway Firth.  Originally we hoped to be able to make more ground today and get close enough to Carlisle to be able to rattle off the rest on Saturday morning and spend the afternoon visiting the castle. We had been told that the going was flatter and less arduous and the 20 odd miles in the day covered by the group we had met near Twice Brewed suggested the same. But we were battle-hardened men now and would listen to no tales of the ease of passage, we had been fooled by these in the days of our naivety on the journey and like Hannibal having crossed the alps must plan our entry to the city with precision.

After discussion with the Prefect at the start of the day it was evident that she was not impressed with our plan of carrying the load over two days and it was made clear that we were expected to have reached Carlisle by the end of the following day or there would be no triumph afforded us in the city and we would find ourselves conducting a scouting mission into the Northern reaches of Caledonia.  (I had in fact my suspicions that the Optio would be spared such a suicidal enterprise given that there was rumour rife about him conducting assignations with the Prefect.)  Our bodies were not holding up especially well and we did want to ensure a finish, preferably a grandstand one given the herculean efforts we had expended so we accepted the challenge and resolved to try to make it to Carlisle inside the one day, it would involve much struggle against the elements and the terrain but we must be strong and think instead of the rewards that might await in the homeland, Hibernia.

We hadn’t done the Roman Army Museum the previous day so we did it first thing having been warned by the proprietor of the bunkhouse that we should not park the car on its own as someone who had done so found their tyres let down and stuff stolen from inside.  The museum was small but managed to cram quite a lot into it, a 3D film heavily dramatised but quite fun and some lovely aerial shots.  A lot of information about how the army was arranged, a film of an army recruiter, another film showing the everyday life of soldiers on the wall that had clearly taken advantage of the handwriting information unearthed at Vindolanda.  There were models of the infantry, cavalry and auxiliaries that reminded me of a poster I had had on my bedroom wall many many years ago.  It was a pleasant stop off before we continued.

One of our men

When we set off again the going was not as hard, at least in comparison to day two in the hills or day three in the crags.  It was no easier than the first day though and back then we had the naivety to think that the first day was the hard bit coupled with the lack of the sort of pains and aches that now bedevilled every step.  There was still some nice scenery and at times when we were up high the views over the Cumbrian countryside were as good as much of those over Northumbria.  We still had to cope with the odd wildlife incident, talking to bulls across fields and on one occasion navigating a herd of oncoming sheep.  The weather couldn’t seem to make up its mind and we had to contend with rain followed quickly by sunshine and then a bracing wind.  This resulted in us having to put on our waterproofs only to have to take them off again, patience was not a virtue in high abundance as it was, there was simply no time for it!  Sweat however was in plentiful supply and the continuing shuttling of garments meant that we were able to maintain an almost constant supply of cold sweat to our backs.  We marched past forts and mile castles taking the odd picture to show we’d been there and towards mid-afternoon we ran out of wall.  We could have hypothesised about this bringing perhaps a lack of protection from the Picts but we were past worrying about marauding natives and focused entirely on making it to Luguvallum before nightfall so as to assuage the fearsome temper of the Prefect and the likely consequences of its unleashing.

Nuff said!

And then there was the chemical toilet… There can be few places that have managed to absorb all the filth from an entire county but this must have been close.  Don’t get me wrong I appreciate the sentiment of providing a toilet in the middle of nowhere in places where no other method exist and I cannot see cleaning same exactly a job that people will readily sign up for.  The result of which is a convenience that seems like a beacon of relief but then leaves one feeling unpleasantly dirty for some considerable time to come.  Uniquely in my experience as a counter balance there are also unmanned little outposts in Cumbria selling a variety of wares based on an honesty box system.  I sincerely hope that people do not abuse this system as it seems a vital service where otherwise one might go almost a whole day without access to water, sustenance or t-shirts.

I would go so far as to say that this was the first time that the trip began to take on the mantle of being a little of a chore, not in an overall capacity but small shards thereof.  We were no longer able to stand and marvel at the scenery, we weren’t able to sit and drink tea and eat sandwiches and cake and muse on our achievement or to shake off the trappings of the mission, the fatigue and the pain, and relax like men on relief.  We had to forgoe looking round the fort at Birdoswald, though we did sit and enjoy a nice strong cup of tea there and a clandestine piece of cake that we had produced from our personal rations.  The strategy of forced march was necessary if we were to have any chance of finishing and that was important to us now where before we had time, good surroundings and often quite pleasant conditions within which to do it.  Much of the landscape blurred into one conglomerate mass, more by the mist of rain over the valley than the speed at which we were walking.  We encountered an old Pict woman on a bicycle somewhere around Birdoswald (this was not mere artistic licence describing A N Other old crone, the fact that she was a Pict was clearly delineated by her tartan trousers).  She passed a pleasant few minutes with us  until we indicated our intention to walk to Carlisle that same day, at which point she clearly decided that we were mad and cycled off.  Either that or she was the advance guard and was off to warn the chief at the next outpost.  We would not have put up much of a fight at that point, running away wasn’t an option and fighting would have required strength as well as energy so there was no alternative but to be the bitches of some hairy woad-faces.

When we got as far as Newtown and the sign for Oldwall, the next checkpoint, the rain was lashing into our faces in a manner normally associated with sailing the high seas and thus with trousers wet through the legs gave out and we agreed, reluctantly, to knowingly deviate from the path for the first time on the trip, it was not a failure given what we had accomplished but it felt uncomfortable and that there was something unfinished.  We didn’t quite know where we were or how far we had left to go, but we were pretty sure it would be folly to continue even if we were physically able to, Carlisle was at our best estimation still at least 7-8 miles away and the likelihood was that we would run out of light even if we hadn’t already run out of energy.  We sought solace in a hostelry in Newtown since alehouses had proven good points to stop on the trip so far and the Centurion would easily be able to put two pints of the local brew away before such time as the prefect could be any the wiser, the Optio however of late had curiously chosen to imbibe a foul-tasting concoction called diet coke whose only qualities appeared for those intent on stripping the enamel off their teeth and those that may feel they had been poisoned and required a vomit-inducing device.  This only served to fuel the rumours of impropriety with the prefect for there could have been no other reason to drink such bilge.  The hamlet of Newtown was far from finished with us, being already the failure point for the day’s military operations, and threw up the dilemma of not being furnished with any such establishment where we might rest our weary legs and exercise our oesophagi.  We were directed by some Roman-friendly locals down a road, which no doubt seemed far longer than it was to the village of Irthington, could this have been a ruse, the road declared that it was twisty and with poor visibility, it seemed stating the bleedin’ obvious to be warning the pedestrians we agreed it might have been more use warning the metal chariots which were likely to do more damage to us than we were to them.

The Salutation Inn was closed when we arrived, but it did exist and was not a mirage as had been feared, this felt very much like kicking the men when they are down and so disconsolately we trooped round to the side to find if there might be shelter somewhere and call for our relief.  No sooner had we sent message to the Prefect when the lovely Vicky, appeared as an angel of mercy and opened up especially promptly to allow the two drenched boys so far from home in and save them from themselves and more pressingly the elements.  She was a veritable vision of loveliness and would have been so even were I not in an almost hallucinogenic state of being glad to see anyone at all.  Coupled with a few pints of the very palatable Thwaites Wainwright beer there was no doubt that the lovely Vicky was worth the rigours and endurance of the day not to mention a strong contender for my throwing out all my clothes to be able to put her in the car on the way home!  I could just see her back at the villa picking grapes and breeding children and waiting to greet me when I returned from hard campaigns.

Artist’s Impression

Simon settled down to massage his ailing knee whilst I got down to business.  I’m a lone operator, it’s better that way, the feral bachelor needs some time and space and not a married man beside to give off the aura that both protagonists may be taken.  As I went in for the kill I brought out my full armoury (matron!) and I know readers will be heartened to know that I was handsomely rewarded by obtaining what I had sought.  And hence the lovely Vicky may be accurately referred to as such due to the item of intelligence garnered, at great personal effort, thus sparing us the ignominy of referring merely to ‘the lovely barmaid in the Salutation Inn in Irthington’.  My prowess and captivation of the female species has proved to have been at a constant level and has not diminished with age, Venus was evidently smiling on this poor bedraggled wretch this night.

As ever the views of my beleaguered comrade can be found here, and the views of the self-proclaimed bossy harridan caring support team asset here

Songs Of The Day ~ The Temper Trap – Soldier On;  Gram Rabbit – New Energy

After the day completed yesterday we felt a bit of a respite was quite definitely required and some time at Vindolanda was the perfect method of doing so whilst continuing the roman theme. We agreed half a day at vindolanda and the other half walking what seemed a comparatively short run to the Roman Army Museum where we’d look in for a while before closing the day.

The site at Vindolanda is extensive, not quite as large as the one at Corbridge, where we understood the Prefect had based herself in the early part of the proceedings, it being the centre for Roman campaigns Northwards, but Vindolanda is impressive nonetheless and has marked out much of the fort and village that has stood there for between 1,600 nearly 2,000 years.  The ruins were interesting not to mention quite detailed, the houses and shops and baths were very discernible by their features and they have reconstructed a stone and timber tower to represent what it would have looked like when it was standing originally.  The village at Vindolanda is the equivalent of a garrison town, the like of which were still common in Ireland to the East of the Shannon in the 19th century, it predates the wall and it was the failure to stabilise towns like this and give necessary support to the campaign headquarters at Corbridge that led to the need to construct the wall in AD122  roman friendly locals were able to live with relative protection and sell their wares to the large cohorts of Batavian and Gaul Auxiliaries stationed there.

You might say that ruins are ruins and that once you’ve seen one set you’ve sort of seen them all but the scale at Vindolanda and the ongoing archaeological excavation uncovering more and more all the time is something that you do not generally see at such sites.  There’s the expanse too, there is enough of the town and fort visible to really lend itself well to imagining oneself there as it would have been. The jewel in the crown that Vindolanda boasts though is something unique amongst such places, the tablets of handwriting that have been found there represent the earliest handwriting found in this country.  Moreover the handwriting of the women found unearthed represents the earliest known by women in western Europe as a whole.  What is fascinating ironically is the sheer mundaneity of the content: birthday party invitations, inventories of stores, requests for more supplies including beer for the soldiers, appeals against punishments, and a response from what was probably a mother confirming the sending of socks and pants!  This gives an invaluable insight into the actual daily lives of the people stationed there and their interpersonal relationships not to mention how remarkably similar so much of human existence is across geographical boundaries, centuries and millennia.  I have rarely if ever found a sight so comprehensive in the tangible feeling of the past that it gives off and the combination of modern reconstruction and original features and excavations is done sensitively and to inform rather than to glorify and exploit.

At Vindolanda there was also a reconstructed temple to the nymphs which I decided to go and make promises of offerings and vows of allegiance if they would bring the Dutch ladies back into my path again.  Well, if you don’t ask…!  In their defence there was immediate delivery of a nice redhead involved in the current excavation so that boded well for the nymphs’ immediate power.  We ate a very tasty but not terribly Roman lemon drizzle cake in the cafe and after watching the archaelogists and volunteers in the trenches as they steadily revealed more and more of the sites size and splendour, not to mention brief speculation about whether the lovely redhead with long hair in bunches and the spade might have been an immediate respnse from the nymphs* (distilled to the actual exchange comprising Tina stating facetiously that I was in love and me protesting, apparently unconvincingly that I was not!) at the shop gifts for children and friends were purchased and Simon and I now have maps detailing the route we will have taken.  Herewith will begin the myths of Centurion Marcus Dominicus and Optio Gaius Simonensis and their perilous journey of strength and endurance on the orders of evil prefect Tina Aurelia that shall enthral lucky pockets of the populations of South East London and a small corner of Leicestershire, their children and their children’s children. Bronzes will be cast in the 22nd century and such will be the reverence that parents will instruct their children that if they want to grow up like Marcus and Gaius they need to eat their cake and not just their greens!

As we led our intrepid, and fictions, legionaries back on the walk again from Steel Rigg we knew we had done the hard bit, *(we thought we had done the hard bit), the Picts had not been sighted and we were happy in the knowledge that this would now be a nice leisurely stroll.  We reckoned without Walltown crags which had other ideas.  The large rocky hills were just as large as the hills yesterday but the drops and ascents were often sharper and in places quite treacherous.  The steps up put pressure on the already complaining thighs and the steps down tweaked the calves which then started to complain as bitterly as the thighs were.  On the plus side the views were often made better by some large sections of undulating wall snaking over the landscape and this perhaps more than any other is the day that gives the sort of pictures that you think of in your mind when you picture a walk along Hadrian’s wall.

We had figured on 2 hours at most to do what the road sign said was 7 miles, we revised that estimate by about an hour halfway through the crags due to their severity but still thought we would make it in reasonable time. The crags chose not to let up though we manfully tackled them.  Where there were paths skirting round the the sharper climbs we took on the peaks, for anything else would have seemed pointless having come this far.  We were not going to be defeated by some rocks that the Romans had not only clambered up but built a fecking wall on.  It was only when a microlyte passed soaring high above the valley and yet still below where we were that we became aware of just how far we had walked upward.

As we got to a particularly boggy section of field (right up a bloody hill mark you) we found another herd of bulls.  We had laughed about the bulls yesterday and made up funny stories about them hunting us down but we had not swayed from our path and they had been happy to let us pass save for the occasional glance or chorus of deafening mooing reverberating across the gap.  They were clearly the lookouts, our progress had been monitored, and Brown 833 was to prove somewhat less accommodating about public access.  You may think that bovine menace is a contradiction in terms but you weren’t fucking there man you wouldn’t understand!  As we crossed the stile and into the field a group of bulls between us and the fence had started to move away as if they were behaving in the same way as those that had been before.  Brown 833, or the ringleader as is clear now, who was amongst them did not seem to feel that they should vacate their position and took umbrage at our presence.  He advanced on us suddenly, we backed off slightly thinking that he might be merely trying to get out of the way, he did but only in the sense of wishing to occupy the space we were in he advanced on us with a little more haste. We very briefly and futilely tried to reason with the animal and engage it in debate on the fact that this was a public right of way and that we meant no harm merely wished for safe passage through the field.  Brown 833’s response reminded me of Bill Hicks telling of Jack Palance in Shane, or even the same actor in City Slickers, the contempt for ‘city folk’ was certainly of the same mould.  At this point we did not feel that remaining in the field in an incendiary standoff, being ourselves the weaker of the two parties in matters of both firepower, bulk and menace, and thus proceeded, at some velocity, back over the stile whence we came.  It is amazing how adrenalin seems to keep a little energy in reserve for just such eventualities and it should be pointed out that whilst potentially tempting neither of us pushed the other one out of the way in our dash for safety.  As we stood there laughing nervously Brown 833 advanced to the point of completely blocking the path right in front of the stile and gave clear indication that he was not prepared to move.  In addition he eyed us in a sinister fashion.  He had an itch on his side but each time he went to scratch it with his tongue he would suddenly wheel round to look at us just to make sure we weren’t trying to make an escape into his territory, which after the first two occasions of him doing it we had stopped trying to do.  This situation might well have lasted into the hours of darkness were it not for two ladies coming over the rise of the hill.  We tried to draw them to the attention of Brown 833 in what was, I concede, not our most gallant hour!

The ladies must have wondered what the two imbeciles were doing cowering behind a stile laughing fit to burst whilst a brown bullock stood motionless on the path.  We tried to warn them of Brown 833’s malevolent temper but they walked on it what could have turned out to be an unnecessarily cavalier manner.  The reality was that Brown 833’s backup man, who was standing directly behind him in order to look brave without being so, decided that a two pronged attack from front and rear was odds he didn’t fancy and started to leg it at which point the incensed ringleader of the worm-turning rebellion pursued and butted him instead making it quite evident that we had adopted the correct strategy.  We made our speedy apologies to the advancing bemused ladies who were yet to even have shortened their stride on approach and we walked legged it through the field declining to look round in the hope that the childhood adage of if ‘I can’t see you you can’t see me’ worked on bulls. We half expected the rumbling of advancing hooves in charge mode and me with my weight and Simon with his injured knee began silently to weigh up options of how to disable the other enough to ensure escape at their expense.   When out of the field we agreed that the praying to the nymphs whilst not delivering the two Dutch girls that I had asked for did make good on the delivery of two Australian ladies who had saved us from the bull and we shouldn’t be churlish about this as a granting of a wish.  So I got what I needed even if not exactly what I wanted.  In order therefore to have any chance of evoking the Dutch girls we would have to return to the temple and this lamentably was not on the agenda.  I bear the animal no malice and since he was a worthy adversary I would feel strangely disappointed to hear of his demise.  I would like him to live out his days long and healthy, just never in the same county as I happen to be.

The crags continued to come for what seemed like a never-ending age and we had to admit defeat on our ETA and that we would not be able to visit the Roman Army Museum after all, now the only aim was to get to the museum before the Prefect Tina got so bored of waiting that she decided to leave us there to teach us a lesson.  The joking idea of spending the afternoon in the Twice Brewed Inn photographing their marvellous selection of real ales had never appealed quite so much.

Crags can be aesthetic when in isolation and looking up but when having to incessantly ascend and descend them the brand of scenery tends to seem rather homogenous after a while.   At the end of the crags we found a place to sit and enjoy a cup of tea and slab of the fine Hadrians Wall cake. Some men arrived in a jaguar and strolled up to the Walltown crag turret, we laughed at their amateurism as we sat and enjoyed our tea and cake!

The prefect back at base camp was substantially less pleased to see us than we were to see her, which may have had something to do with us being really quite ready to sit down for a long long time whilst she had been sat for what seemed like a long long time waiting more for the ability to avail of the facilities and not to see the brave intrepid conquerers of the horned sheep and vengeful bull-infested crags of doom. We will remember the frequent bogs, the fabulous undulating wall, the size and history of Vindolanda and Brown 833 who will haunt our darkest nightmares with Bovine malice, occasional inexplicable cold sweat and face of terror will ensue.  It was hell and only men of the greatest fortitude could have survived.  When the story is told to grandchildren and great-nieces and nephews Brown will be the size of a house and the field 3 miles wide, the two saviour ladies will have been mysteriously forgotten having a generation before been labelled as harpies and the evil prefect will have imprisoned the two heroes in a latrine upon their return!

As ever for the viewpoint of my erstwhile compatriot see here, for the views of the High Priestess hired help highly strung Tina see here

Songs Of The Day ~ Villagers – That Day; Tubelord – Night of the Pencils

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

So the wanderers return from the day’s endeavours, not humbled by their experience but perhaps with a new found respect for those roman legionaries that might have had to walk miles with 80lbs of kit only to have to then build camp when they arrived.

We walked a total of around 14 miles today , the vast majority of which was spent not in the abject pain that we ended the day in. The weather was changeable, we didn’t see much of the actual wall but still managed to entertain ourselves and take copious quantities of pictures of the beautiful scenery, ramparts, vallum, settlements and signs that proved we were actually here and the odd natural phenomena like the rainbow we saw as we rounded the corner and glipsed our destination.  We had greeted the local fauna, many sheep, cows, bulls and a scooby doo in a hedge.  We had only marginally destroyed the landscape by taking with us a couple of stones that we believed may at one point have been part of the wall and were lying broken at the side of the path.  (Later inspection revealed some of them to be slate and of no further interest.)  However if the Berlin wall which only stood for nearly 30 years had quadrupled in size according to the amount of pieces now attributed to be from it then heaven knows how many alleged pieces of Hadrians Wall must have made it to the far-flung corners of the globe.

It had not started well when we strode off down the wrong path and realised we were heading in the direction of Scotland which was unlikely to be right.  We did not know at that stage of the little Acorn signs that were to be our saviour on many subsequent occasions.  Our first scheduled stop was due to be a pub called “something with a fox in” as the people we’d shared with last night had said.  They had taken 3 hours to get there from Heddon so we were hopeful of making it in time for lunch.  When we found the ‘Robin Hood’ (go figure!) we had made good time and tucked into their gourmet burgers with relish, I think I only had a single pint which would have shown remarkable restraint given our hung ho attitude to the progress we had made over the course of the morning! We now had an idea that we were ahead of the game somewhat and would make The George Hotel in Chollerford before dinnertime.

En route we saw the odd person, though not many, there were 3 blokes slightly younger than us who did seem to be following us much of the time though. We walked up hills, ran headlong down a few and saw a stunning Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost at the Errington Arms, a pub we sadly did not stop at.  The car was taking part in a centenary celebration of the 1911 rally from Edinburgh to London and happened to have stopped here due to a puncture.  By this time it was well after lunch and we felt we’d done some serious miles and were not in any major discomfort which was a bonus not to be underestimated given the number of long-term muscle complaints between the two of us.  Things were to change.

The weather had largely been kind up to now, it was blowing a gale a large proportion of the time, particularly when up on high ground, and at times the headwind was more than a little bracing but there had also been some blue sky and even some sun.  For the last part of the afternoon run it turned on us as if to mirror the mood of our sinews which were beginning to strain.  The first signs of general walking fatigue had happened a little while ago, tensing up of the muscles behind the knees and a little aching in the feet on the heavier parts of the terrain, this was to be expected and very much the rigours of the trip, we were big men, we could cope with this.  At the point though that the usual suspects of a longer term type of pain kicked in the task ahead seemed a great deal more sizeable then it had appeared on the map.  Both of us had been pretty stoic about the discomfort, save for the occasional mention of new ailments as and when they occurred, it was a sort of top trumps of conditions and degrees of pain.  With the benefit of hindsight my assertion that as I walked 1 1/2 miles to the pub and back and occasionally 2 miles and back to catch the bus to work and that therefore I was ready for such a challenge was no more than lunacy.

Planetrees was a lot more what we had come for, a large section of about 30ft of wall still in extremely good condition.  This gave more of a sense of the whole structure though it was not the full 10ft high that it would have been in it’s pomp it was nevertheless a small piece of magnificence and a great deal of photos were taken from all sorts of angles to best appreciate it in the comfort of our own home.  These bits of wall were important, there had been precious few on this first day and we knew this was likely to be the case but they were a certain spur when we did find them, little beacons and times to stop and marvel and enjoy the steeping of history.

Shortly theafter the path deviates majorly from where the wall is and you descend a hill on a small road until you reach the aptly if not especially imaginatively named village of Wall.  The scenery was still enjoyable though it’s lustre had slightly dulled by the desire to be somewhere with feet up and a glass in ones hand.  As we walked along beside the road being buffeted by the wind and slapped in the face by the horizontal rain it seemed for the first time that whilst this might still have been a fun idea over a pint it might not perhaps have been the most prudent of one to put into practice.

As if sent by mother nature to reward our fortitude a full-arced rainbow appeared and we rounded the corner to see the bridge over the Tyne that we knew heralded the location of The George and discomfort was held in check by the psychological knowledge that fame and glory (at least between the two of us) lay in wait a tantalising distance away.  Throughout the day pain had presented itself all the stronger when we were not actually moving and the inventory of mutinous parts of the body when we slumped into the chairs was a litany of middle-aged evidence.

I had a singularly unpleasant cold shower upon return to the bunkhouse whilst simon had a hot one, time will tell which one of us may have made the wise decision, though maybe based on the joints hangover we are both likely to have tomorrow that question may have been answered the moment we set out on this foolhardy endeavour.

At home we were joined again in the evening by more impromptu squatters in the next door bedroom and spent a pleasant few hours chatting to the 3 even more idiotic men from Felixstowe who had been planning to camp in the middle of the current hurricane and whom the landlady had taken pity on.  They at 49, 60 and 60 were performing a similar sort of age milestone to us  Our amenable acquiescence to their companionship was strained a little when woken at stupid o’clock in the morning by heavy chatting in cheerful tones amongst themselves next door.  Still we would be on our own the next two nights and could catch on our sleep then.  At least we think that’s the plan.

For an alternative viewpoint of this whole affair, keep up with my compadre here.  For this of a more caustic bent the views of the sarcastic mare support team can be found here.

Songs Of The Day ~ Janes Addiction – Three Days; Stagecoach – Break

Tonight we start as such, having reached the wall officially and even briefly seen a section but as yet without the rigours of actually having walked anywhere save for the car to the bunkhouse which was of precious little historical interest.  The weather is as unwelcoming as it could be with the remnants of Hurricane Irene buffeting the farmhouse laying waste to the trees across the pastures. Had the Romans to deal with this sort of inclemency it is a wonder they didn’t abandon the island altogether and make for the more familiar and hospitable surroundings of Gaul erecting the wall across the coast of Normandy to repel would-be insurgent help from Britannia

The task facing us remains a little unknown, as drinking, smoking and party companions we are well-rehearsed but as walking compadres this is a new adventure.  There is solidarity that comes with our ever-advancing years.  For men of our age have as many niggles as needs, the localised war wounds of the urban oppressed, deprived of proper oxygen and exercise over many years that has led our muscles to revolt upon activation of any kind so ill-prepared are they for sustained travail.  There is little more pitiful than the awakened middle-aged, aware of having lead the body to ruin during the healthy days, now old enough to be cogniscient of the fact that to continue at this pace heralds certain peril.  It is too late for some damage not to have been done but there is a sandwich period during which the body has begun to give out but the mind is yet to accept the fact.  The body cannot recover as it once did, when youthful exuberance and excessive quantities of alcohol could be shrugged off by a good nights sleep on someone’s floor or municipal bus shelter.  The wanton abandon of youth should come with a greater health warning than cigarettes or alcohol for they are merely the conduits of the mind’s trip to self-destruction central.  Now we must fight the ravages of these far distant times of our past with its withering of the short-term memory that has made all of us either forget that which we meant to pack for the journey (in this case bespoke coat and shoes) or whether or not we did pack it after all and yet make no mistake about our metal mule being the lighter for it.  Now we require much to make a stay comfortable that we would have baulked at before  Now our cocktails are those of the pharmaceutical combatants to depression and general uniform pain, a dulling of the more excessive peaks and troughs that might once have seemed the excitement of life when devoid of responsibility.

That all being said we will be walking in the steps of so many hundreds of thousands or millions these last nigh 2000 years since the great edifice was built. The history and the well-trodden path will yield much of discovery both natural and personal. It is if you like the sedate form of road trip undertaken by the slowing-down who recognise that breakneck speed means you miss much of fascination.  As grateful as anything to be removed, if only for a short time, from the daily life as its heel pushes one’s face deep into the fetid mud of internal politics and corporate greed that suffocates creativity and growth.  For now we are free to dream and speculate on what is to come in this adventure rather than dread that which greets us on our return.  We have sanctuary and refuge provided by the structure built originally to preserve the relative comfort of the furthest reach of the empire from the woad-bedecked madmen of the north whose incomprehensible gibberish seems at times to have changed little over the millennia.

We will sally forth tomorrow buoyed by tales of hostelries, history and the worst of the howling gale being over for the next few days. Come what may it will be an experience and one that defines the transition to the stage of life that is to come.  I am the last one up, waiting for the urge to sleep to come upon me, it may be the last night in which I have the luxury of doing so.  Moritori te salutant.

For the views of our patient designated driver (later to be known as Evil Prefect) they can be found here.

Songs Of The Day ~ My Bloody Valentine – Soon; Squeeze – Up The Junction

I grew up on Rev W Awdry railway stories and so did my children so we were really looking forward to the Snowdon Mountain Railway, it was one of the principle reasons for going to Llanberis to base ourselves.

I was not prepared to pay the full price of the tickets which was an eye-watering £25 for adults and £18 for chidren, because this did not give you the free-reign of the railway for the day it was for one trip only which I’m afraid I found so astonishingly expensive I preferred the normally unheard of step of getting up at 7am to catch the 9am train to receive the “Early Bird discount” which cost a mere (!) £43 for myself and the 2 kids.   To start with when we arrived we had to stand out in the rain getting soaked whilst the coach sat empty at the platform, the children were pretty crestfallen to find it was a diesel and not a steam train – they don’t mention mountain diesels in the railway stories – even I was pretty disappointed, there’s something magical about those Swiss engines that are built on a wonk, the smell, the noise all the things you expect of the trip which we weren’t able to experience which was a real pity.

According to the management most people don’t care what takes them up whether steam or diesel, I’d like to know what they are basing these claims on as I doubt they are surveying many real people, however if they wished to stand by their spurious statistics then why do they not publicise which type of locomotive will be working in advance and people can then make their choices?  I suspect it has more to do with the fact that the fuel costs are vastly different between steam and diesel, I saw something that said according to 1987 costs the diesel round trip cost £3.05 in fuel whilst the steam train was a little over £50. These costs are undoubtedly significant but when you consider that there are at least 40 people in each carriage and if you take £18 as the base rate that’s £720 per trip, which bearing in mind there are trips every half an hour between 9am and 4.30pm is £1440 per hour and therefore well over £10,000 per day.  Now I know fuel is not the only cost and some trains in the off season are not full but when they’re making £10k per day I think they’ve enough surplus, bearing in mind the revenue from the various cafés and gift shops is in addition to that.  I also suspect you’ll find that the Early Bird discount or skinflint bastard trains as they probably see it are deliberately all diesel-hauled.  If it were a weather thing that would be a fair excuse but to see steam engines chugging up with their passengers as we were on the way down does make you feel pretty hard done by.

The carriage itself was basic, in fact the windscreen had a huge crack across the middle of it so photos through that were out of the question, it had hellishly uncomfortable seats, I’ve sat on 3rd Class wooden seats that gave me less arse-ache, and there’s barely anywhere to sit if there are 3 of you, which meant on the way back the children had to sit somewhere completely different to me.  We couldn’t hear any of the commentary at all so we just got a droning noise with no discernable words the whole way up – there is no commentary on the way down, probably by this stage even the SMR have given up the pretence that they are trying to provide a service.  The carriage windows got steamed up so quickly that in the breaks in the cloud no-one could see anything anyway and the train only stopped at the now disused stations.   The stations themselves are all boarded up so it doesn’t feel like a railway more a grudging shuffle of people to the top and down again just to have fleeced them of their money.

You don’t get a certificate for your £43, that costs extra, you don’t even get to send postcards from the Summit with a special stamp unless you pay extra 25p per card, and beware you don’t run out of time before you can write them because that 30mins goes pretty quick, just enough time really to get up to the top, take a few photos, use the loo (one of the only things that was free so you might as well enjoy it.) and get to your train, otherwise you fall foul of the “Friendly notice” which is literally stuck up everywhere telling you that if you miss your train down the railway is not obliged to take you down and it’s a 2 hour walk.  When I say this notice is everywhere you’d struggle to find any area more than 2 ft sq. that didn’t have it at least once and perhaps multiple times.  It doesn’t come across as friendly but then neither does much of the railway.

The trains aren’t to blame, nor are the drivers who are nice fellas but this whole thing is run for profit, not by enthusiasts as most of these sorts of things are, this is what happens when the money men get it and suck all the life out of endeavours.  What I find so sad is that these are feats of engineering built by men of vision and when raped by the bankers to squeeze every last fiscal drop they are robbed of their very soul.  You don’t get clusters of people hanging around the station chatting and taking photos, little boys gawping at the engines whilst their (grand)fathers stand with glazed nostalgic looks in their eyes, no on the SMR you’re practically herded out into the overpriced gift shop, I’m surprised the platform doesn’t recede after 5 minutes, it all leaves a really sour taste in your mouth. I had to explain to the children that we couldn’t go on again to get one of the steam locos because we’d have to pay again and it would be £61 which I couldn’t afford and bloody wouldn’t have wanted to.

Yes I know I had done the maths beforehand, I knew what the price was and the fact that we only got 30 mins at the top, I could have found out they might run diesel or steam, there are always get-out clauses, so one could say I in fact contributed to this situation that allows these bastards to rip more people off each year by knowing these facts and still paying up, but what I find sticks in the craw so much is the way we were so blatantly used, it is the very zenith of using children to prise you from your money, and then the SMR has the temerity to claim that it is Wales’ favourite family attraction, well I’m sorry but that’s just bollocks from many of the reviews I’ve seen and I wish to try to do my bit to redress the balance a little and if I can stop one family parting with their money then I will have put my words to good use.

I offer this advice to anyone considering such a holiday, do go to Llanberis which is a really nice place but take your kids (or your inner train spotter) on the Llanberis Lake Railway which cost us around £12, the ride is nice and the drivers are superb, a far nicer activity and much more worthy of the money. It’s exactly like the Skarloey and Rheneas part of the railway stories and has a load of history of slate mining surrounding it.  Go to the National Slate museum which the railways runs past and is free and wonderfully rich and entertaining, have ice creams at Giorgio’s and fry-ups at Pete’s Eats and Pizza and a pint in the evening for these are all the sorts of things that holidays are made of and not only will your children have happy memories but you won’t be sporting a bank statement with a galling entry for the Snowdon Mountain Railway and all the exploitative capitalistic claptrap that it stands for.  You will feel better for it, trust me, I don’t wish you to have to find out why.

I tried writing a complaint but as yet still no response, and I don’t expect to get one either because they give off the very strong impression that once they’ve taken your cash they really couldn’t give a toss.  On a different note I wrote an email to the Lake railway thanking them for being so pleasant to the children and they wrote back within 24 hours delighted I had taken the time and thanking me for doing so.

Song Of The Day ~ The Doobie Brothers – Long Train Running